Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The question of exactly why South Carolina’s largest utility SCANA has embarked on building two new reactors at its Summer site has been rather hazy from the beginning, and SCANA partially covered itself by corralling partners like the Santee-Cooper co-op to take large shares of the second reactor. But Santee saw construction prices rise and electric demand fall and got cold feet. It’s been trying to sell as much of its share as it can to whoever will take it. But it seems like no one really needs or wants the power from the new Summer reactors. Duke Energy yesterday dropped the idea of joining the project; Santee had been hoping it would take a large share. That forced SCANA to bail out Santee a little and take a larger share. But SCANA doesn’t really need that much power either. Could this be a sign that the second unit at the site won’t be completed? At this point, it’s hard to see who would benefit from completion.

NRC sends special inspection team to Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs reactors after both units shut down during snow storm. The January 21 storm was pretty bad in the Northeast, we hear, but really, a few inches of snow in southern Maryland shouldn’t be a big deal–certainly not enough to shut down two reactors. But it was cold, and losing both reactors at the height of the deep freeze didn’t sit well with regulators. We expect the Maryland Public Service Commission will look into this as well, especially if the NRC inspection finds operational, rather than strictly mechanical, problems.

I spent many years of my life fighting Urenco’s attempts to enter the United States and have to admit it’s always a little depressing to read about their operations, and expansionary plans, in New Mexico. Urenco is a European uranium enrichment company that announced in 1989 that it would build an enrichment plant in northern Louisiana. Calling itself Louisiana Energy Services, the project was greased by then Senate Energy Committee Chairman Bennett Johnston. Well, we stopped his legislation that would have prevented public hearings and an Environmental Impact Statement on the project; we brought in a plain-spoken but fiery representative from the multi-racial citizens group that formed to stop the project to testify before Congress; I traveled to Homer, Louisiana several times to speak to the group and townspeople and put them in touch with some of the best environmental/nuclear lawyers in the country. By the time the hearings were over in 1997, the project made history as the first courtroom verdict of environmental racism in the United States–resulting in outright denial of the license application by the NRC.

But rather than scurry back to Europe as we had hoped, Urenco popped up again a year or two later in central Tennessee, at a site near the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel’s national headquarters–which put up the first $5,000 to fight the project. Local citizens hired a friend of the community–who happened to be a nuclear industry consultant. Some thought it was a dangerous move but he quickly became appalled at Urenco’s plans and within a year or so succeeded in getting all of the nearby counties to adopt stringent waste disposal and emissions criteria that Urenco couldn’t possibly meet. End of that project. The company then became interested in using an abandoned TVA site in Alabama; it only took us a couple months to beat them there.

But then Urenco hooked up with a new Senate Energy Committee Chairman, Republican Pete Domenici of New Mexico, who invited them–perhaps pleaded with them would be a better description–to build their plant in the tiny town of Eunice on the Texas border. We tried again to stop them, but this time the NRC hearings were stacked against us; promised opposition from Governor Bill Richardson and the state of New Mexico didn’t materialize; and $300,000 later, we lost and the plant was built. You can see why I get depressed about Urenco “success” stories.

Anyway, Matt Wald of the New York Times offers a look at Urenco now and contrasts it with the only U.S. enrichment company, USEC, which is teetering on bankruptcy and, as we’ve noted in these pages recently, exists entirely on taxpayer bailouts at this point. Interesting article, but not really much news to it.

The full story of the fight against Urenco in the U.S. has never been told (maybe it’s up to me to tell it some day), but in 2002 Earthjustice, whose lawyers played a key role in the Louisiana victory, published a beautiful book: Justice on Earth, which includes a well-done chapter on that battle. As far as we know it’s never been made available in digital form, but you can purchase a copy here.

Some things we read so you don’t have to, like this pathetic piece from Mike Rencheck, president and CEO of Areva that for some reason (cash perhaps?) The Hill saw fit to publish. In it, Rencheck, whose company designed the ill-fated EPR reactor–perhaps the most expensive single thing man has ever devised–sheds tears because President Obama’s recent directive that executive branch agencies obtain at least 20% of their power from renewable sources doesn’t include nuclear power. Really. That’s 10 minutes of my life I can’t get back; if you want to waste your time you can do so here.

A new study shows that solar and wind already are cheaper than fossil fuels throughout Europe; rooftop solar, even in cloudy northern Germany, will be cheaper soon. Meanwhile, a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance has determined that unsubsidized renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels in Australia. And, of course, fossil fuels in both places are cheaper than nuclear…. Kind of looks like a trend, doesn’t it?

Solar power is growing fast in the Southeast, and it’s forcing utilities to change their business models. But it isn’t only the Southeast, as we’ve pointed out in Nuclear Newsreel several times already, distributed generation–whether from solar or wind or any other source–is going to change the entire nature of electric utilities and how Americans receive and pay for their electricity. And that is happening much faster than anyone expected. A bit more insight into the changes ahead is found in this transcript of a TV interview with four experts on the subject, including former FERC chief Jon Wellinghoff. As Peter Behr of E&E Publishing’s EnergyWire put it, “This is a great example of some of the pressures that are on the utility sector, the electric/power sector at a period of very intense transition. This is probably the most change that this industry has seen since the end of the 1800s when it took its modern form.”

This article is a reply to an absurd article from someone at Energy Collective who tried to argue that there are at least 10 reasons “intermittent” solar and wind power are a real problem. The article starts off on target, pointing out that “The more accurate term is ‘variable renewables,’” explains energy consultant Nancy LaPlaca. “The word ‘intermittent’ reinforces the impression that wind and solar are unreliable. The word ‘variable’ underscores the fact that, like all energy sources, wind and solar can and must be managed by grid operators.”

“Wind and solar energy are variable because their output changes gradually over many hours, and those changes can be predicted,” explains American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Senior Electric Industry Analyst Michael Goggin. “Fossil and nuclear power plants are the ones that are intermittent, as their failures occur instantaneously and without warning, which is far more costly for grid operators.” And the article continues on target from there.

The solar power industry created nearly 24,000 new jobs in the U.S. in 2013–a 20% increase–bringing total jobs in the sector to about 142,000. It expects to create about the same number of new jobs in 2014. For comparison, the nuclear industry claims about 100,000 jobs nationwide. Nuclear power provides a greater percentage of U.S. electricity than does solar, that it does so with far fewer jobs per Megawatt produced is a reflection of its highly capital intensive nature. The obvious conclusion is that solar is not only better as an energy source, in terms of job creation it is probably the most productive energy source available.

Lancaster, California, a city of about 160,000 about 50 miles north of Los Angeles, plans to become the first net-zero energy city in the world. Already 26% of its power comes from solar, by June of this year it should be up to 50% solar. All new homes in the city must be powered by solar. In this interview, the city’s mayor Rex Parris talks about the city’s energy goals, the need to take action to address climate change, and how it wants to serve as a template for cities around the world to attain net-zero status.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/28/nuclear-newsreel-january-28-2014/

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