Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nuclear Power

Tom Henry’s (Toledo Blade) blog: The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is pinning a lot of hopes on its upcoming Wall Street briefing tomorrow. Henry says NEI President Marvin Fertel will try to “regain some of the investor confidence it has lost in recent years.” That’s a tall order. Wall Street already has bailed out of supporting any new nuclear reactor construction; the real concern for NEI and the nuclear industry is that the trend of reactor shutdowns that began last year will continue and perhaps accelerate. But it’s not likely that Wall Street will care that much–reactor shutdowns are occurring for two primary reasons: 1) in some parts of the country even existing nuclear reactors that are paid for cannot compete with other sources of energy, especially natural gas and renewables and 2) self-inflicted wounds from botched and expensive repair jobs and other aging reactor problems as at San Onofre and Crystal River.

Davis-Besse. This is not what a reactor pressure vessel head is supposed to look like.

Davis-Besse. This is not what a reactor pressure vessel head is supposed to look like.

Davis-Besse is highly likely to be the next one on that list as it undergoes steam generator replacement over the next several weeks–even if the replacement itself goes smoothly, who knows what other underlying problems will be uncovered during the process? Davis-Besse has a long history of expensive safety issues that were discovered well after the fact, including the infamous hole in the top of its reactor pressure vessel and cracks in its containment building which First Energy claims came from the very cold winter of 1978.

Fertel is likely to argue for a restructuring of electricity markets to give preferential treatment for nuclear power because, well, because it’s nuclear power, dammit. Meaning he’ll argue that nuclear power is “baseload” power and those pesky renewables are “intermittent,” even though the future of the electric grid is for distributed generation that can easily handle “intermittent” renewables. In fact, large nuclear power reactors are a hindrance to a grid designed to handle clean energy technologies because power that is more expensive (like nuclear) is used last, and nuclear reactors cannot power up and down quickly enough to be useful in that context. Further, when large reactors scram or shut down for other reasons, especially suddenly (and reactors to tend to do that from time to time), they need large amounts of replacement power to be able to be brought online suddenly. A 200 MW wind farm that encounters a breeze-free day is one problem, a 1200 MW nuclear reactor that scrams is quite another.

Fertel is also likely to say that the cold weather snaps the midwest and east have been experiencing this winter are further proof that nuclear power is needed, since many reactors have been keeping up a steady high capacity factor and gas prices have spiked. That argument may play to this crowd, if they can even get to the briefing, since New York City is expected to get about a foot of snow overnight….. Then again, if that’s the best argument the industry has: that it runs when it snows, the industry is in weaker position than perhaps even Wall Street realizes. After all, if its power is still more expensive, and snow is only a factor about two months a year (and wind farms have continued to operate just fine during this winter), that’s not much on which to hang the prospects of an entire industry….

You’ll be able to watch the NEI briefing live beginning at 8:30 am eastern time here:

California PUC issues its proposal to replace San Onofre power: a lot of clean energy, but should be more. Under the proposal, which will be voted on in March, San Diego Gas & Electric would have to build 200 MW of new clean energy; Southern California Edison would have to build 400 MW. But that leaves 800 MW that could be new natural gas plants, which environmentalists oppose.

UCS: All six of TVA’s nuclear reactors are among 23 reactors identified as worst by NRC report cards. UCS reactor safety expert Dave Lochbaum explains the NRC’s “report card” rankings and discusses why TVA is the worst-performing utility in the country. Why are there six TVA reactors on the list? According to Lochbaum, “Probably because TVA only operates six reactors.”

Greenpeace UK analysis of European Commission’s initial verdict on UK’s proposed subsidies to build Hinkley Point reactors. Article includes link to the full 70-page Commission report, which may result in a finding that the project violates European Commission rules. That would almost certainly end the project for good, but would save British ratepayers billions of dollars. Perhaps the most telling finding: The Commission also said that all these favours being done for the nuclear industry “might crowd out alternative investments in technologies or combinations of technologies, including renewable energy sources.” That’s the hope of the nuclear industry everywhere, and the concern of clean energy advocates everywhere. Unfortunately, financial resources are not infinite. Spending billions of dollars on risky and dangerous nuclear reactors makes those billions of dollars unavailable to spend on the 21st century clean energy technologies that can actually address our climate crisis and improve our lives.

Clean Energy

Details emerge on ConEd’s plans for large-scale energy storage as part of its replacement plan for Indian Point’s power. But California is still leading the way on storage as the technology moves from demonstration project stage to early commercialization. The next stage, of course, is widespread commercialization and when that happens the need for “baseload” power from large-scale power plants, nuclear or otherwise, will begin to disappear.

Sol-Systems-What-Investors-Want-InfographicInfographic: what solar investors want. The infographic may be self-explanatory, but a lot of work went into creating it; read about it here.

It’s not just energy efficiency anymore: Smart buildings are another factor that will rapidly change electric utilities and help bring a clean energy future. Key quote from the article: “Thanks to smart grid and smart building technologies, the relationship between utilities and buildings is shifting. It is moving from a one-way relationship–-utilities produce energy and buildings consume it-–to a two-way relationship, whereby buildings generate electricity on-site and sell it back to the utilities.”

Scotland-1, Trump-0. Donald Trump loses battle to stop offshore wind farm in Scotland; court rules it can be built. Trump thinks offshore wind turbines will ruin the view from whatever mansion he built or plans to build. The court thinks addressing Scotland’s power needs is a bit more important

Inside Washington

Senate Energy Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has confirmed what we reported here yesterday: S. 1240, the Committee’s Mobile Chernobyl radioactive waste legislation is dead for this Congress. Of course, as a co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Murkowski doesn’t call it “Mobile Chernobyl….” But, as a co-sponsor, she is in a good position to know whether the bill will move or not. Clearly it won’t. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), another co-sponsor, notes here that some senators are concerned that the “interim” high-level radioactive waste sites the bill is intended to encourage would become de facto permanent ones. Hmm, that’s one point we’ve been making for a year now…..

From DeSmogBlog: 76 big business groups announce offensive against Obama administration carbon rules, renewable energy. Last week, Entergy and Exelon spoke at a Platt’s energy conference and while they don’t appear to be joining the group taking on the carbon rules (although we haven’t seen the full list of the 76 groups), they also plan a direct assault on renewable energy programs this year. Duke Energy already is doing that in North Carolina and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is planning on attacking renewable energy laws across the country, despite having failed in similar assaults last year. See a trend here? The big polluting energy companies have a fundamental choice: adapt to renewable energy and all that goes with it–distributed generation and a whole new utility model that we’ve been discussing in these pages for weeks or fight back and try to kill renewable energy before it grows into the country’s dominant energy source. The progressive companies, like NRG Energy, are making the first choice; the dinosaurs wagging their tails are joining together in what may be their last-ditch effort to restore the 1970s to American life.

Michael Mariotte


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