Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nuclear Power

Yesterday’s revelations in the Tampa Bay Times about extensive degradation of steam generator tubes at Florida’s St. Lucie reactors have sparked calls for investigations and a new effort to repeal Florida’s early cost recovery law. In this article, the Times’ Ivan Penn follows up on yesterday’s story and quotes a former NRC official, Joe Hopenfeld, who is clearly concerned about the degradation.

“The guidelines the NRC and FPL are using to assess the severity of the tube damage are the same ones used to measure a different type of wear, he said. The current inspection criteria are for wear caused by stress corrosion cracking, he said. St. Lucie’s tube wear comes from the tubes vibrating too much, which caused them to rub and bang against the antivibration bars.

Those are different problems, Hopenfeld said, which call for different types of evaluations.

‘This is not black and white as being presented by the NRC,” Hopenfeld said. “There’s some sickness. I don’t know the degree, but there is some sickness. It’s getting sicker, sicker and sicker.'”

And in this article, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy calls for full repeal of the early cost recovery law, which has allowed Florida utilities to collect millions of dollars from ratepayers for a failed steam generator replacement project at the now-shuttered Crystal River reactor and costs for the now-cancelled Levy County reactors. Last year, an attempt to repeal the law fell short in the Florida legislature, although some reforms were accomplished. The problems at St. Lucie, previously regarded as a relatively solid performer, are likely to add new impetus to the repeal effort.

Japan still hasn’t learned: the conservative government of Prime Minister Abe’s new energy plan calls for resumption of nuclear power. But the document is vague about how that will be accomplished, and acknowledges that reliance on nuclear will have to be reduced. Still, local officials in Japan may be able to block many, if not all, attempted reactor restarts.

DOE says more airborne radiation has been detected from the leak at the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project) transuranic radioactive waste site in New Mexico, but provides little real data. The DOE press release announcing the new information is available here. At a public meeting last night in Carlsbad near the WIPP site attended by 250+ concerned citizens, DOE conceded that the leaks are very serious, but told area residents that, as all nuclear officials are apparently pre-programmed to say, there is no threat to public health and safety.

The experts (mostly) agree: government shouldn’t be supporting the nuclear power industry. In the wake of the approval of the taxpayer loan for construction of the Vogtle reactors, the National Journal asked several energy experts to weigh in on whether the government should be investing in nuclear power and whether the Obama Administration is doing too much or too little to back the nuclear industry. Most of the experts agree that nuclear power is not worthy of additional taxpayer support, although their reasons differ.

Clean Energy

Roadmap to a 100% renewables-powered California.

Roadmap to a 100% renewables-powered California.

Powering the US with renewables, a state-by-state roadmap. Good article on the recent work by Stanford’s Mark Jacobson that provides a clear roadmap on how the US can meet the target of 100% renewable electricity by 2050. Each state has different pathways to achieving that goal. In California, for example, his model projects “55 percent solar (both distributed and large-scale, including a lot of CSP), 35 percent wind (both on- and offshore), 5 percent geothermal, and 4 percent hydroelectric, plus a big contribution from energy efficiency.” Washington state, by contrast, would rely more heavily on hydropower and wind with a model of “43 percent wind, 28 percent solar PV, 26 percent hydro, 2 percent geothermal, and half a percent each of wave and tidal.”

But Jacobson and his colleagues have done more than simply provide sample ways to meet the 100% renewable goal. They also have looked at other benefits from implementation of the goals and project that their policies would “create a net 178,000 permanent jobs, avoid $131 billion in annual healthcare costs, and pay off the 631 GW of new installed power within six years”–in California alone. The issue of avoided healthcare costs, due largely to air pollution from fossil fuels, but also potentially from health effects from nuclear radiation, is one that too often is overlooked in the debates over our energy future.

New report from Rocky Mountain Institute: The Economics of Grid Defection. By “grid defection,” RMI means that the combination of affordable rooftop solar power along with battery storage will allow, by mid-century, virtually anyone in the U.S. to be electricity self-sufficient, i.e., to disconnect from the electrical grid for about the same costs as they are currently paying for electricity (although, in reality, many will remain connected to the grid and will be selling back excess power to the grid). Hawaii is already there, according to the report. But other states will be following soon: within a decade, for example, both New York and California residents could achieve this type of grid parity. And, as we have been saying in these pages, that reality presents profound challenges for electric utilities and will change the entire nature of the electric power industry. Nuclear power, of course, has no role in this new 21st century energy model.

Electricity use is declining and energy efficiency may be a factor says ACEEE. Actually, ACEEE is being rather conservative here. Their own findings show that state-level energy efficiency programs and federal efficiency standards are doing exactly what they’re supposed to: reducing electricity demand. If that trend continues, and there is little reason to believe it won’t, that means fewer power plants of all kinds, but especially fewer expensive old-line “baseload” power plants and greater opportunity for distributed generation.

Inside Washington

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects that in 2017 U.S. utilities will begin applying for new license extensions that would allow them to operate reactors for up to 80 years. Most reactors already have received extensions allowing operations up to 60 years, although a couple dozen applications remain in the pipeline or are expected relatively soon–some of which, like Indian Point, are highly controversial. The NRC staff has told the Commissioners that the license renewal rule needs to be changed to accommodate the expected applications and has asked for permission to issue a rulemaking proposal soon. Of course, no one knows if reactors will even last the 60 years they have been re-licensed for, much less 80 years. A license is a piece of paper–not a guarantee of ability to operate.

In a sign that the Obama administration still doesn’t understand the nuances of nuclear non-proliferation policy, nor the notion that the U.S. nuclear power industry does not merit U.S. government support anywhere, President Obama has signed off on a controversial civilian nuclear power agreement with Vietnam. The agreement would encourage Vietnam to buy enriched uranium from the U.S., although it would not require the country to forego installation of its own enrichment capability. And it would encourage the sale of nuclear technology to Vietnam–a country that certainly has ample renewable resources and no need of nuclear reactors.

Michael Mariotte


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4 thoughts on “Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, February 25, 2014

  1. Don Richardson, M.D.

    In my view nuclear power is already dead. The mortician has done a good job, and supporters are gathered around the casket saying “Don’t it look good?”

    1. Pete Sipp

      The cheerleaders are trying hard with the same depleted comments. A dead horse is that: DEAD!!! Lest we forget that the waste will have to be tended SAFELY for ah…mmm… er… !00,000 years. Pete Sipp
      Feb. 25, @ 6:09 p.m.


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