Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, February 24, 2014

Nuclear Power

Ivan Penn at the Tampa Bay Times has done consistently excellent reporting on Florida’s nuclear power industry, utilities generally, and state government actions and inactions, especially the ongoing battle over “early cost recovery” in the state–which has already cost ratepayers billions with zero results. Now Penn has turned his skills toward the St. Lucie nuclear complex, where he uncovered the fact that thousands of steam generator tubes at both reactors are corroded and getting worse. Indeed, although the generators were replaced just seven years ago and should still be in relatively good shape, the number of indications of significant wear rival those experienced at San Onofre, which closed permanently last year because of its steam generator problems.

Penn notes that at NRC hearings, Southern California Edison pointed to the wear at St. Lucie to argue that the problems at San Onofre were not terribly out-of-line: a strategy that didn’t work. The last inspection of the generators at St. Lucie was in November 2012–that’s the inspection which uncovered the thousands of corroded tubes and found that the problem had grown worse since the previous inspection in April 2011. Since then however, the reactors received permission to uprate their power, which likely has put even greater stress and wear on the generators. The next inspection is scheduled for next month. Could St. Lucie be the next reactor site to close because of this kind of serious safety issue–i.e. the kind that costs hundreds of millions of dollars to try to fix? Certainly, St. Lucie has not previously been on anyone’s short list of likely reactor shutdowns. But with this kind of trouble ahead, the reactors are certainly vulnerable. This is terrific investigative journalism; support it by reading it.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that for the first time, Japan is lifting an evacuation order in the Fukushima restricted zone. The order is for the eastern strip of the Miyakoji district of Tamura, which lies within Fukushima prefecture. It covers about 360 people who were evacuated at the time of the March 2011 disaster. But parts of the area remain contaminated above government limits. The reason for the lifting of the order? Money. People ordered to evacuate are continuing to receive government compensation payments, and the government wants to cut its costs. The report adds that, “In addition, decontamination costs will snowball if the government tries to achieve its long-term goal of lowering annual airborne radiation doses to 1 millisievert or less in areas where evacuation orders are in place.” Japan’s treatment of Fukushima victims continues to be shameful.

Germany has about $46 Billion set aside (supposedly) for decommissioning its nuclear reactors. But some experts are now saying that won’t be enough. And, to make matters worse, the utilities collecting the funds from ratepayers have been investing the money in projects (for example, other power plants) that may make it difficult to actually use the money when needed. A clear lesson for the U.S., where decommissioning funds collected by utilities are also likely to prove grossly insufficient, especially for reactors that close early.

The U.K. admits that the private contractors doing the decommissioning of the Magnox reactors will not be held liable for any problems–even a radiation release that could cause billions of dollars in damages. Taxpayers will have to foot the bill. Yet another largely unseen subsidy to the nuclear power industry.

We’ve been writing a lot in these pages about how the nuclear industry’s top priority this year is to figure out a way to rig the deregulated electricity market to ensure that nuclear reactors can keep operating even when they aren’t competitive with other fuel sources. Further proof that this is indeed a top priority is this op-ed in Roll Call, a publication widely read on Capitol Hill, from the CEOs of Exxon and Exelon–two companies with aging reactors that just can’t compete with gas or even renewables anymore in many parts of the country. For normal people, that would be a sign that it’s time to retire the uncompetitive power plants. But for the nuclear industry, it’s just another reason to hold out its hand and look for stealthy new subsidies to prop up its failing business.

this really doesn't need explanation as to why it's a bad idea.

this really doesn’t need explanation.

Sometimes words fail us. An Australian uranium company thinks that transporting radioactive materials unsecured on the back of a small pickup truck is just fine and dandy. And the nuclear industry wonders why people don’t trust them…

Yet another reason why nuclear power and climate change don’t mix. The U.K. has ordered the radioactive waste dump in Cumbria on the Irish Sea to step up its efforts to protect against flooding. The government is rightfully concerned that climate change could lead to increased flooding in the region, and the site is currently defenseless. Oddly, the government claims the threat is not near-term and that the site should be safe for the next 100 years, but also acknowledges that “there is already a risk of flooding to the southern area of the site.” Trying to have it both ways, apparently…. Nuclear sites on both U.S. coasts will need similar expensive upgrades to protect against flooding unless they’re dismantled first.

The idea of transporting high-level liquid radioactive waste from Canada to South Carolina is generating new concern, especially since the route would go over Buffalo, New York’s famed Peace Bridge–located in a highly populated area. Shipments supposedly have not begun, but were approved last May. The lack of transparency about the shipments is only adding to public unease.

Last week we pointed out a very good article from on the toxic legacy of uranium mining in New Mexico (Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, February 21, 2014). But we missed another very good article on the same subject, from the New York Times, so we make up for that now. Dozens of people on Navaho land may be forced to leave their homes permanently because of radioactive contamination from old uranium mines.

Very good book review from the LA Times on the new book from Union of Concerned Scientists, “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster.” Read this review, then read the book. You’ll want to.

Clean Energy

Very thoughtful and useful essay, especially for those of you fighting to protect or increase renewable energy standards: Calling Anti-Renewables Campaigners NIMBYs Is Often Inaccurate And Always Unproductive. But the anti-renewables campaigns sprouting up all over the U.S. (and in other parts of the world too) may well be sponsored by nuclear advocates, fossil fuel apologists, and global warming deniers (alone or in combination) and/or others who want to block the future of energy.

A few nice recent solar statistics via CleanTechnica to cheer your day. Example: “… installed solar capacity has grown ten-fold from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 13 gigawatts today.”

99% of all new electric capacity installed in January was from renewables, according to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration. Most of that was solar, with 287 MW installed of the 325 MW of new power total.

Inside Washington

File this one under the “know your enemy” category. At a Washington press conference today, the Nuclear Energy Institute unveiled its “2014 advertising campaign and messaging priorities to help influence opinion leaders and drive policymaking on energy issues.” But if you were thinking that an ad campaign so sensational that it would merit its own press conference would bring anything new–or, more to the point perhaps, some flashy or well-known new spokespeople, well that didn’t happen. Nope, instead NEI trotted out the long-discredited and disgruntled former Greenpeacer Patrick Moore, who has been shilling for the industry’s CASE organization for years, and two others you’ve never heard of: Leslie Dewan, chief scientist for Transatomic Power and Mark Verbeck, nuclear reactor training manager for Georgia Power. A fourth industry spokesperson, former FERC commissioner Vicky Bailey, was unable to make it for the big announcement.

Michael Mariotte


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