Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nuclear News

Civil Society Institute adds to nukes/climate debate at Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: The renewable energy transition has begun. Dr. James Hansen’s November 3 letter to environmentalists urging us to support “safer” nuclear power as a climate strategy, and the NIRS/Civil Society Institute January 8 reply is beginning to get attention from broader audiences. Over the weekend, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published a piece by Dawn Stover, which essentially argued in favor of the Hansen position; today BAS published a response from Civil Society Institute. And, if you scroll down to the next article in GreenWorld, today we published a must-read response to Hansen et al from four Japanese academics informed from their unique experience of Fukushima.

From the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal: Attack on California substation raises alarm on potential for terrorism to disrupt grid. Last year, in what many observers, including former FERC chair Jon Wellinghoff, fear may have been a test run, unknown people (they have not been identified or caught) attacked a substation with the apparent attempt at knocking out part of the electric grid. For 19 minutes, snipers shot at 17 giant transformers that distribute power to Silicon Valley. The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., said Wellinghoff.

Unfortunately, the article fails to mention that when the grid goes down for any extended period of time, nuclear power reactors tend to melt down. Reactors need off-site power to run their cooling systems. That was the basic cause of the Fukushima meltdowns–power was lost because of the earthquake and tsunami (although at least one unit is believed to have experienced significant damage from the earthquake alone). And successful attacks on the grid, especially that affect a major portion of the 2,000 transformers that are the backbone of the grid, could be lengthy.

According to the article, “The country’s roughly 2,000 very large transformers are expensive to build, often costing millions of dollars each, and hard to replace. Each is custom made and weighs up to 500,000 pounds, and “I can only build 10 units a month,” said Dennis Blake, general manager of Pennsylvania Transformer in Pittsburgh, one of seven U.S. manufacturers. The utility industry keeps some spares on hand.

A 2009 Energy Department report said that “physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”

Some activists have been warning about threats to the grid for years–from potential electromagnetic surges due to large solar flares, from cyberattacks, and so forth. A petition for rulemaking on the issue has been languishing at the NRC since 2010. But efforts to strengthen the grid have fallen far short of what is necessary due to a combination of complacency, lack of resources and perhaps a lack of understanding among policymakers about the severe consequences of a long-term grid failure.

Reuters Special Report: Areva and Niger’s uranium fight. Uranium mining has enriched Areva but Niger remains one of the poorest nations on Earth, with 60% of its 17 million residents surviving on less than $1/day. The contract between Niger and Areva–by extension the French government, which owns Areva–is now up for renegotiation.

According to Reuters, “Areva and Niger’s just-expired agreements have never been made public. But Reuters has reviewed documents which reveal that Areva’s mines pay no export duties on uranium, no taxes on materials and equipment used in mining operations, and a royalty of just 5.5 percent on the uranium they produce. A spokesman for Areva declined to confirm the authenticity of the documents and did not comment on their contents.” The article goes on with more specifics in the documents, indicating Reuters is happy about their authenticity. The article is excellent as far as it goes, but while it does a fine job of portraying the economic consequences of the mining, it skirts the environmental damages Areva has brought to the country.

Unfortunately, there’s no article to link to here. One appeared yesterday in a paper in San Angelo, Texas, but it’s behind a paywall. Really, the San Angelo newspaper cares so little about getting its name and information out there that it trades that for some pennies that a few people are willing to spend to get beyond their paywall? Anyway, the Seed Coalition and Public Citizen of Texas have alerted us to the fact that a Texas House Committee is looking into the possibility of offering up the state for a high-level nuclear waste dump, either or both interim or permanent. It’s been a long time since the Texas Congressional delegation knocked out Deaf Smith County as one of three options the U.S. was looking at back under the 1982 radioactive waste policy act; the other two being Washington state and, of course, Yucca Mountain, which was chosen by Congress in the infamous 1987 “Screw Nevada” bill. Apparently too long for Texas Governor Rick Perry to remember…. I bet most Texans didn’t realize his “bring your business to Texas” campaign, or whatever it’s called, includes bringing in the one business guaranteed to send the rest of them running out of the state…..

ConEd facing reality? The utility suggests big incentives for energy storage as partial power makeup for Indian Point shutdown.

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe doesn’t seem to be having much success in marketing nuclear power to India.

Clean Energy

Yesterday we noted an article in which outgoing Duke Energy Chair Jim Rogers made some rather startling statements about how if he were just entering the utility business he’d be concentrating on rooftop solar and going after the customers of traditional utilities like, well like Duke Energy. Today, the co-chairs of the The Alliance for Solar Choice published an open letter to Rogers pointed out that the current chair of Duke, Lynn Good, is doing the opposite and recently attacked rooftop solar. The authors urge Rogers to use his remaining influence to turn Duke around and see the (solar) light.

There are actual reasons why the Northwest is the cleanest section of the United States, and relatively sparse population is only part of it (after all, Seattle and Portland aren’t exactly small towns). Hydropower remains the region’s number one source of power, and, as this brief article points out, energy efficiency is the second most important “source” of power in the region. Other areas can’t copy the hydropower capacity of the Northwest, but they’d do well to emulate its energy efficiency practices–they work everywhere.

A new study finds that self-contained microgrids are emerging as a viable power option for everything from data centers to single-family homes. Although the article doesn’t explicitly say so, such microgrids can also be formed at the neighborhood level, where families can join together to create a solar-powered microgrid and share the costs, which typically would be lower per household than having each install solar separately.

John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance argues that natural gas isn’t a bridge fuel, it’s a gateway drug to nowhere. Especially for electricity generation, the “free fuel” renewables technologies are more cost-effective.

Interesting article from Australia, which finds that the period of peak energy demand during similar heat waves in 2009 and 2014 shifted dramatically in those five years in a region of South Australia. The reason: widespread installation of rooftop solar during that time. It now supplies 450 MW of power for a region with a maximum demand of only 3,000 MW.

Michael Mariotte


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