Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, January 27, 2014

The Georgia Public Service Commission says it needs more staff to track spiraling construction costs of Vogtle reactors. Under Georgia law, ratepayers are already paying for construction of the Vogtle reactors, which already are hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. But the PSC is supposed to be monitoring those costs and acting to prevent overruns from being passed on to ratepayers. Right now the PSC has one full-time person and one consultant assigned to that mammoth task. They’re asking the legislature for money to hire two more people to delve into these costs and go up against Georgia Power and, as the article states, its “small army of experienced attorneys, engineers, lobbyists and financial experts to make its case” in rate hearings.

Wise repurposing: Ukraine turned abandoned reactor construction project into a disco. Both text and video at this page. The reactor was proposed for a seismically-active area in Crimea, and fortunately was abandoned before being completed. But the locals decided not to let the partially finished structure go to waste, and put it to a much better use than splitting atoms.

Nuclear chief’s despair over Sellafield firm NMP revealed in letters written by UK nuclear decommissioning boss. From the harsh tone of these letters, the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear complex in the UK is quite the mess.

Ralph Nader, who knows something about both nuclear power and governments that withhold information from their citizens, writes on the Fukushima secrecy syndrome. The lessons of history beckon.

A look at what Fukushima safety requirements mean for the Millstone nuclear complex in Connecticut. The first round of new NRC regulations will cost Millstone somewhere around $10 million, maybe more. And more new safety requirements will come. This article is a good overview of what just about every U.S. reactor faces. But Dave Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists says the modifications are not good enough.

CNBC seems to be trying hard here to sell the public on SMRs (Small Modular Reactors), but at least they do mention a recent study from Institute for Energy and Environmental Research which is highly critical of the SMR concept. Of real interest here is the acknowledgment from the Nuclear Energy Institute that we can expect 73 reactor retirements over the next 20 years. With only 99 operable reactors currently (as soon as Vermont Yankee actually closes), that’s most of the U.S. nuclear fleet. Unfortunately, CNBC didn’t seem to get the implications of that. With only five reactor projects underway (Vogtle, Summer, Watts Bar)–all in situations favorable to utilities that don’t exist in most states–the nuclear industry is hardly facing a “renaissance”–SMRs or not. Rather, it’s increasingly unlikely the industry can come close to even replacement level construction.

And the inevitable decline of the nuclear industry as its aging reactors are forced to closed is spurring industry interest in a different idea–running reactors for 80 years. U.S. reactors originally received licenses for 40 years, most already have received license extensions to allow operations another 20 years beyond that. Now many in the industry–and in government–are talking about a second 20-year extension. Of course, since no reactors ever have operated 60 years, it may be a bit premature for the industry to talk about 80. And recent history suggests that both economics and safety issues will close most reactors well before their 60th birthdays. Note: this article suggests far fewer reactor shutdowns over the next 20 years than the CNBC article cited above. We will look into that discrepancy and report on it in a future post.

The New York Times notes that serious rail accidents involving oil transport surge. We’ve all seen photos of these fiery train wrecks, which are occurring far more often than in the past because more and more oil is being shipped by rail. What are the implications for radioactive waste transport? So far, no one in government, at least, seems to be paying attention. But the concept of a Mobile Chernobyl certainly resonated with the public twenty years ago when Congress first wanted to begin radwaste transport on a large scale. That resulted in a veto of the program by President Clinton. And the issue appears relevant now, as the Senate Energy Committee has proposed legislation similar to that vetoed by Clinton. Some 42,000 people last year signed a petition opposing Mobile Chernobyl despite the fact that as far as we can determine, there has been zero mainstream media attention paid to the issue over the past year. You can find out more about the issue on NIRS’ website here.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect nuclear and fossil fuel interests to ever understand that yes, people really like clean, safe and affordable energy. After all, that is certainly not in the interests of the polluting fuels. But elected officials ignore that reality at their own peril. In solidly conservative Kansas, a new poll shows substantial support for the state’s renewable energy standards. But it looks like the far-right ALEC organization will try to take them down anyway. Meanwhile, in Arizona and elsewhere, the New York Times reports that support for renewable energy among conservatives and some Tea Party activists is causing some fissures in the Republican Party between the clean energy supporters and nuclear/fossil fuel backers like the Koch Brothers.

The Sun Day Campaign reported today that, based on Department of Energy statistics, renewable energy accounted for 37% of all new U.S. electric generating capacity during 2013, more than triple that of nuclear, coal and oil combined. (pdf file).

Is energy storage ready for primetime? Moving to a nuclear-free carbon-free energy future will require better energy storage, which in effect can enable solar and wind power to provide the kind of “baseload” 24/7 power thus far reserved for large nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Storage technology is advancing rapidly and, as usual, California is leading the way. But other states are now joining in.

Ohio’s Ostrich Syndrome: The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio EPA and state health officials are dealing with the radioactive water threat from fracking by ignoring it. There are a lot of reasons that natural gas fracking is not an answer to our energy future; that it frequently brings up radioactive water is one pretty good reason why. It doesn’t help, of course, when state officials deliberately decide to ignore the issue.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/27/nuclear-newsreel-january-27-2014/

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