Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nuclear Power

As we have been reporting regularly, the nuclear industry’s top priority this year is an effort to rig the deregulated electricity markets to favor higher cost nuclear power over cheaper renewables and natural gas. But to do so, they’re going to have to win over at least some public opinion, and especially that of “opinion-leaders”–as the sociologists term people who are able to exert some influence over public thought and public policy. That means getting their message out in a variety of ways, forums, and by people not necessarily directly tied to the nuclear industry. Here’s an example: an op-ed on by James McGovern, who’s described as an energy consultant, that argues the nuclear industry’s position precisely.

Unfortunately for him, McGovern has to admit that “…nuclear power in some parts of the country can’t compete with cheap natural gas and subsidized renewable energy.” He’s particularly concerned about the Three Mile Island and Oyster Creek reactors, which in fact are in exactly those “parts of the country,” and which many have predicted are headed for early shutdown because they are no longer economically viable. So, since nuclear can’t compete economically, ratepayers obviously have to be forced to pay higher rates than they otherwise would because nuclear is so valuable–that’s the crux of his argument. Of course, if nuclear were actually that valuable, it would be economical as well. And note that he uses the phrase “subsidized renewable energy,” when nuclear power historically has been the most subsidized energy source ever used in the U.S. We’ll take a bet that if the Price-Anderson Act subsidy were to be repealed, both Three Mile Island and Oyster Creek would be closed the next day…. As always, the nuclear industry wants it both ways: it’s up to clean energy activists to ensure that they don’t get that and that the marketplace continues to function as even the most conservative economists say it should–by delivering the lowest-cost electricty to consumers.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has issued a report that is being widely misinterpreted as an “all-clear” signal indicating that there will be few health effects from radiation exposure from the Fukushima disaster. Unfortunately this article from Huffington Post does little to clarify the issue.

In fact, as the article does note, the study is limited to radiation exposures received after 2012–but, as the article doesn’t make clear, does not take into account the higher doses many, probably most people in the region received in the hours, days and months following the disaster. The study also looked at only one radioisotope–cesium. But hundreds of different radionuclides, like Strontium-90, were also released from Fukushima and each has the ability to cause serious health effects.

The article correctly says that the internationally-accepted limit for radiation exposure is 1 millisievert per year, it also says that the average background radiation level for Japan is 2.09 millisieverts/year, and that those exposed to Fukushima radiation after 2012 received an average of 2.51 millisieverts/year. Another way of looking at that is that those exposed to the Fukushima radiation received doses 250% higher than international limits and 50% higher than normal background (if indeed that is a correct average background level) even since 2012. Those are not insignificant increases, especially for women and children who are far more susceptible to radiation exposure than men.

In short, the article–while probably better than most in the mainstream media–is a relatively lazy effort to report on the NAS study, and thus continues to perpetuate the myth that there will be few if any casualties from Fukushima. While casualties will not be as high as many feared in the immediate aftermath of the accident (and as some non-credible internet sites continue to allege), there will be non-trivial numbers of deaths and disease caused by radiation from Fukushima. The NAS report provides no evidence otherwise, nor–given its limitations–was it designed to provide evidence otherwise. That the full effects of nuclear disasters take time–years–to emerge offers opportunity to nuclear boosters to make unwarranted claims that there will be no effects. The reality is that the cancers and other health effects are, in fact, already showing up in Japan in small numbers and those numbers will increase in the coming years.

Harvey Wasserman reports on EcoWatch that a new report, based on e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, indicates that U.S. Navy officials were aware that their aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which was just two miles from the Fukushima site, was being subjected to high levels of radiation. 81 sailors from that ship have filed suit charging they have experienced health effects from exposure to that radiation. The new report, Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty, was written by Kyle Cleveland, an Associate Professor at Temple University’s Tokyo campus, and is a comprehensive look at both the confusion and deliberate misinformation that characterized (and continues to do so) the immediate response to Fukushima. As Wasserman notes in his article, Cleveland obtained one document prepared by an unnamed U.S. nuclear expert who had returned from a helicopter trip over the Fukushima site: “At 100 meters away it (the helicopter) was reading 4 sieverts per hour. That is an astronomical number and it told me, what that number means to me, a trained person, is there is no water on the reactor cores and they are just melting down, there is nothing containing the release of radioactivity. It is an unmitigated, unshielded number. (Confidential communication, Sept. 17, 2012).” Cleveland’s full report is long, but well worth reading.

While the apocalypse that some alarmists predicted would occur from the removal of fuel from the Fukushima Unit-4 fuel pool hasn’t materialized, the operation hasn’t gone exactly smoothly either. Workers excavating at another part of the Fukushima site damaged an electrical cable Monday, which cut off power to the Unit 4 cooling pool. That forced suspension of the fuel removal operation, and briefly raised fears that the pool would overheat. The fuel in the pool, however, is at a relatively low temperature and it would take quite a while for it to heat to a problem level in a power outage situation. A backup power system was installed, although it is not clear whether the fuel removal operation has yet resumed.

NY Times: DOE set to reopen the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project) transuranic radwaste site after last week’s radiation leak. Officials are trying to assure nearby residents that there are no health and safety issues caused by the leak and if their statements about radiation levels are accurate, that will be the case. But the still completely inadequate explanations about what happened and why radiation was released at all, and whether there is still a potential threat of more releases, promote a lot of skepticism about WIPP, the agencies running the facility, and the project’s future.

Lithuania’s Nuclear Dilemma. Lithuania was forced to close its aging Chernobyl-clone reactors at Ignalina as part of the price of admission to the European Union. At the time, Lithuania was exporting electricity; with the reactors closed, the country had to import 70% of its energy supply. Just before shutdown, 90% of the country’s residents had voted in a referendum to keep the reactors open, but to no avail. Still, the government’s plan all along was to build new reactors within a few years. But when the government put the issue to a referendum in October 2012, 62% of the voters opposed construction of new reactors–probably an indication of just how strongly the Fukushima disaster has changed public opinion on nuclear power in many countries in the world. Now the government’s path is uncertain; it seems to still want to build new reactors, but it may not get its wish.

Clean Energy

germansolarcityThis German city is designed to not only be 100% renewables-powered–that would have been too easy. In fact, Sonnenschiff, which is a part of Freiburg, Germany, produces four times more electricity than it uses, electricity that can then be sent back to the grid. Freiburg is a city of 230,000 (we don’t know how large the Sonnenschiff section is, but from the slide show accompanying this article, it is a substantial area) and is reputed to be the sunniest large city in Germany (which doesn’t necessarily mean it would be considered especially sunny in other countries…..). The photo here is from the slide show, which is definitely worth a view.

As we’ve noted in these pages before, the extreme right-wing business group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is planning a new attack on state-level policies that encourage renewable energy. Although ALEC failed in every one of its similar efforts last year, the threat is real. This year, ALEC’s priorities include weakening net metering policies that benefit fast-growing rooftop solar installations, repealing state renewable energy standards, opening loopholes in disclosure requirements for fracking chemicals, and countering federal EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. Greenpeace recently wrote to nine major electric utilities asking about their support of ALEC and its goals. Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Energy responded that it and its subsidiaries do not support ALEC, but several others–Alliant Energy, Ameren, APS, Dominion Resources, NiSource, and PG&E–have not responded to Greenpeace’s letter and must be presumed to be supporting ALEC. Perhaps tellingly, a Dominion vice-president recently told an audience at the National Press Club that utilities might seek to “tweak” state laws, including “modifying” net metering policies, to address the problems distributed generation like rooftop solar can cause to traditional utilities. The understated language may seek to mask the intent behind the statements, although the VP official said Dominion itself, at least, does not yet feel threatened by distributed generation. That will change in the coming years.

By the end of this decade, Texas will–by itself–be the world’s fifth largest producer of wind power, with some 16,000 MW of wind power online by 2016 and more to come. Even considering wind’s lower capacity factor, that is equal to about five or six large nuclear reactors. The key to Texas’ success is not only the obvious reality that it has strong winds to tap, but that transmission lines capable of handling wind power have been completed and are in operation. recently asked its readers whether they believe a 100% renewables-powered energy future is possible. The vast majority say yes, and many offered comments on how that can be achieved and what roadblocks must be surmounted to get there. The site has published many of the comments; interesting glimpse into the future and the obstacles in the way.

Inside Washington

The Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) latest spokesperson, Patrick Moore, is apparently not only a flack for the nuclear power industry, he is now joining the ranks of the climate deniers. Testifying before the Senate Environment Committee yesterday, Moore said “There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years.” He added that even if the earth is warming up it would be no big deal because humans are a “subtropical species.”

As we reported Monday, February 24, Moore is one of four spokespeople NEI is using this year in its 2014 advertising and PR campaigns designed to “help influence opinion leaders and drive policymaking on energy issues.” If Moore, who has been shilling for the nuclear industry for years, is the biggest name the NEI could find, they’re in worse shape than we thought. Moore is, of course, still cashing in from his short stint as an early Greenpeacer–an organization he left nearly 30 years ago. In some circles apparently, being an ex-Greenpeacer can lead to a pretty cushy lifestyle. Which might lead one to conclude that since there are so few such ex-Greenpeacers trading their beliefs for dollars, not very many–like none–think Moore has any credibility whatsoever.

Michael Mariotte


Note: We will not publish a Nuclear Newsreel tomorrow, Thursday, February 27, 2014. I will be out having a minor medical procedure that hopefully will provide some major benefit. We’ll be back Friday!

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