Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, March 3, 2014

Nuclear Power

This is a thorough and factual post from St. Louis Public Radio on the World War II-era radioactive waste dump at the West Lake landfill near the St. Louis airport–a site never designed to hold radioactive waste. A fire has been smoldering at an adjacent garbage landfill since 2010; one key question is whether this fire, which apparently is immune to efforts to put it out, will spread to the radioactive site. The other key question is what the consequences would be if the fire does spread there.

A former Ontario Power Generation (OPG) scientist says that the company has “severely underestimated” radiation levels from Canada’s Bruce reactors that would go to a proposed radioactive waste site on Lake Huron. By “severely underestimated,” Dr. Frank Greening means by a factor of 100, sometimes as high as a factor of 600. He says that the company relied on theoretical data to produce its estimates, rather than using actual measurements of the radioactivity. Greening also called into question all of OPG’s data for waste that would go to the site. “If they’ve got these numbers wrong, what other numbers have they got wrong?” he said. “Because I’ve only looked at one set, and the set I’ve looked at was wrong.”

The Russian-spurred crisis in Ukraine may have at least one positive result: if economic sanctions are imposed by the West against Russia, it could threaten a proposed Finnish reactor project 34%-owned by Russia’s Rosatom. Rosatom has been actively seeking other nuclear projects it can build, especially in Europe, but also the Middle East and elsewhere. Strong sanctions could torpedo the company’s chances of building anywhere outside of Russia for many years–something Putin might want to think about before embarking further on his terror campaign against Ukraine. Ukraine’s concern about Russia and its intentions is exemplified by its request for international monitors to be sent to the country to help protect its nuclear power plants from attack.

But this issue gives me the chance to vent about some people in the U.S. who seem to think the U.S. and/or NATO are the aggressors in the Ukraine, and must be held back to avert a larger war. Actually, it was that little tinhorn Stalinist Putin (thought I’d never see, much less use, Cold War era phrases like that….) who tossed out international law and existing treaties and invaded a sovereign nation, all the while claiming no such invasion was occurring at all. I don’t actually expect Putin to try to take over all of Ukraine, although the possibility can’t be fully dismissed. And I certainly don’t expect either NATO or the U.S. alone to take military action against Russia. Neither thinks Ukraine would be worth a full-scale war and there are no treaties compelling them to defend the country. But again, to be clear: Russia is the aggressor here, not the U.S. and certainly not the Ukrainian people who rose up and threw out a corrupt “leader” who looted the country–moving the nation’s entire bank accounts ($70 Billion!) out of the country to places unknown–and was responsible for the murder of his own people.

Some on the left in the U.S. have unfortunately been deceived by Russian-based propaganda that the Ukrainian revolution was led by Nazis and other fascists. Not so. There is a far-right in Ukraine, as there is in most countries. And it is true that the far-right, especially a group called “Pravy Sektor,” was deeply involved in the revolution and among its most militant elements. Many credit them for being the ones in front who withstood the attack on the protestors and Maidan that led to more than 80 deaths in one day. But the reality is that the far-right is not popular in Ukraine. They are not part of the new government. They could not win a presidential election in Ukraine any more than Michelle Bachman or some other tea party member could win an election in the U.S.–in fact, their popularity in Ukraine is probably quite a bit less than the Tea Party’s popularity in the U.S…..

Our allies in Russia–the anti-nuclear and environmental groups we work with daily–know this, and are unanimous in their condemnation of the invasion. Some 300 people were arrested yesterday in Moscow in protest against Russia’s action. I believe Americans should be supporting the Ukrainian people in this crisis and need to be careful: there is a lot of misinformation and propaganda out there…

Chinese electrical capacity 2012. EIA.

Chinese electrical capacity 2012. EIA.

China moves forward with new nuclear reactors. Two things really caught our attention in this article. The first is in the EIA graph reproduced to the right, which shows that despite China’s much-vaunted nuclear construction program, nuclear power still accounts for only one percent of the nation’s electrical capacity. Wind power accounts for five percent and while solar is still tiny at 0.2 percent, China’s commitment to building new solar (at least 12 GW this year alone, on top of a similar amount in 2013–which is not reflected in the graph’s 2012 figures) means that figure will go up quickly. China is expected to bring 8.6 GW of new nuclear online in 2014. The second thing that caught our attention is that China is predicting the cost to build two Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors will be $5.1 Billion, or a little over $2.5 Billion each. Compare that to the $16-17 Billion now estimated for construction of Southern Company’s two AP 1000 reactors in Georgia. We’re not sure why China’s costs are so much lower–labor costs are surely a large factor–but it does make one wonder about safety standards there and what kinds of corners they may be cutting to reach a price that low. Speaking of Vogtle, the $6.5 billion (soon to be $8.3 billion) taxpayer loan for construction of those reactors has sparked a lot of discussion; this post on GreenTech media for example, received nearly 500 comments.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has released documents indicating that the newer tanks the Department of Energy has installed to hold high-level radioactive waste at the Hanford site may suffer from the same problems that caused a leak at an older tank in 2012.

What’s really going on with EPRs in Europe? The Stop Hinkley Campaign has put out a useful statement on lessons from the Finnish debacle for UK’s Hinkley Point project.

Clean Energy

NRG Energy is again leading the way: rather than fight the inevitable it is embracing it. The company will offer rooftop solar to its customer base of 2.3 million homes.

The energy transition tipping point is here. Or so argues this very good complement to our Friday post “Why we’re writing so much about the changing nature of the electricity business–everybody else is. Oh, and because it’s important.” In our view the optimism of this piece, and perhaps even our own, needs to be tempered a bit by the recognition that utilities, regulators and legislators tend to move more slowly than desired, and there are certainly forces pushing in a backwards direction. In short, while things are moving in the right direction, more activism will be needed to ensure we get there, and get there quickly.

A bipartisan group of Governors is advocating steps to improve transmission capability to handle more renewable energy. Renewable energy is one issue that is beginning to attain widespread agreement on all sides of the political spectrum.

Facebook, Microsoft, environmentalists, farmers–all weigh in support of distributed generation in Iowa. Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy is less keen on the idea, especially of widespread use of rooftop solar power, charging that if large numbers of people install rooftop solar, the burden of maintaining the grid will fall on those who decide not to install solar–the basic conflict of the net metering argument now being waged in states all across the U.S. And while there is some truth to their position, Wally Taylor of the Iowa Sierra Club points out, “If a person upgrades from an inefficient refrigerator or freezer to a more energy-efficient unit … the industry doesn’t make accusations that the rest of the customers are bearing more than their fair share.”

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/03/nuclear-newsreel-monday-march-3-2014/

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