Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, February 7, 2014

Exelon says it may close nuclear reactors if it can’t get higher prices for their electricity. The problem for Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear utility, is that many of its reactors can no longer compete with lower-cost wind and natural gas. Exelon’s preferred solution is that its reactors get preferential treatment, especially over wind, which the company says receives heavy subsidies and is intermittent in nature. Exelon seems to have conveniently forgotten that nuclear has historically been even more subsidized than wind…. Most in danger of closure appear to be the utility’s single-unit Clinton reactor and the two-unit Quad Cities station on the Illinois-Iowa border. Clinton–a large, extremely expensive reactor in rural central Illinois–never made any economic sense to begin with and nearly bankrupted some rural electric co-ops (and their farmer members) during the initial construction. After a few years, Illinois Power dumped it off on Exelon for a fraction of its original cost just to get rid of the headache. Despite its small investment in Clinton, Exelon still can’t make it work. Quad Cities is in the heart of the Midwest’s growing wind power market–it’s not hard to understand how that aging complex can’t compete with more modern wind farms. But other Exelon reactors, from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Illinois, could be at risk of shutdown as well.

Nuclear giants urge market changes to thwart closures; complain market favors low-cost energy sources, not nuclear. This is a related story, in which both Exelon and Entergy complain that the market is stacked against nuclear. Actually, the market is stacked against high-priced electricity, which is exactly how the market is supposed to work. The nuclear utilities want to somehow–how isn’t exactly clear–restructure the market so that nuclear power is favored just because, well, just because it’s nuclear power and these utilities own a lot of it and they’re starting to lose money on it. As Dave Hamilton of the Sierra Club states in this article, “the markets are changing and nuclear operators, also highly subsidized, cannot ‘turn back the clock.’ ‘They’re fighting the markets … trying to make a bad bet a good bet,’ Hamilton said.” This will be a growing issue over the coming year, and one that activists will need to understand and become involved with.

Tepco admits some past Fukushima radiation readings were wrong–way wrong. Record-high strontium-90 levels were detected in a July groundwater sample, but Tepco is just now publishing the results. When Tepco first reported the results, it said there were 900,000 bequerels/liter of Strontium-90 in selected groundwater samples–itself a worrying number. Now Tepco says the real number was at least 5,000,000 bequerels/liter–the highest reading ever recorded–and it may actually have been higher for all beta-emitting substances.

Earth Track: Sen. Baucus’ energy subsidy tax reform proposal would provide a windfall to nuclear power. Sen. Baucus is leaving the Senate to become Ambassador to China, but his legacy is this proposal to restructure energy subsidy and tax programs. Unfortunately, his proposal would greatly benefit nuclear power while doing little to promote clean energy. While it’s not clear the proposal will gain traction given Baucus’ impending departure, it bears watching. NIRS already did one action on this proposal, generating nearly 10,000 e-mails to the Senate in opposition to it. If you haven’t yet taken that action, you can do so here:</a>

The Ecologist: The true cost of disaster insurance makes nuclear power uncompetitive. Europe is grappling with insuring against nuclear disasters given the extraordinary costs of Fukushima–currently estimated at anywhere from $200-500 billion dollars, far more than any utility can handle. It’s their equivalent of the Price-Anderson Act, and the Ecologist argues that when insurance and disaster costs are factored in, nuclear power isn’t competitive with other energy sources. Of course, we already knew that; if Price-Anderson didn’t exist, it’s highly unlikely any reactors would be operating in the U.S.

NRC Chair warns against ‘hasty construction’ of new nuclear stations. Chair Macfarlane appears particularly concerned about new reactor construction in developing countries with insufficient infrastructure to properly regulate and operate nuclear reactors. That could, of course, lead to more nuclear accidents, which could threaten the viability of the industry worldwide.

Politico reports this morning (it’s behind a paywall, so no link) that the shuffling of Senate Committee and Subcommittee chairs that accompanies the departure of Sen. Baucus likely will lead to Sen. Bernie Sanders, probably the strongest critic of the NRC and nuclear industry in the Senate, becoming Chair of the Senate Environment Subcommittee on Nuclear Safety, replacing Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who has been a supporter of the nuclear industry and NRC. This could make for some very interesting hearings in the near future….

Michael Mariotte


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