Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Nuclear Power

Exelon loves free markets, until it doesn’t. Excellent commentary on Exelon’s effort to rig the electricity market in Illinois to favor nuclear power over cheaper and safer alternatives. Exelon clearly wants it both ways–they were proponents of deregulation when it suited them, now that they can’t compete they want re-regulation–both only for their nuclear reactors. This business writer, who is a lot more sympathetic to Exelon than we are, isn’t buying it. Sample quote: “If Exelon’s nuclear plants are losing money, the company has only itself to blame. Exelon chose a business strategy that worked well for a while but turned south as market conditions changed.”

Exelon doesn’t need CWIP (Construction Work In Progress), also known as “early cost recovery” laws, since the utility has no current plans to build any new reactors. It had proposed building two new reactors in Victoria, Texas a few years ago, but dropped those plans when it became clear they could never be economic. But in Florida, where ratepayers already have been assessed hundreds of millions of dollars for reactors that never will be built and botched repair jobs on existing reactors, the issue is still important. Ivan Penn of the Tampa Tribune has written another essential article on the issue–which may again turn out to bite Florida ratepayers. This time it’s because Florida Power and Light used the law to spend $5 Billion to upgrade its Port St. Lucie reactors to produce some 500 MW more power than originally designed. And shortly afterwards, as Penn revealed last week (Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, February 24, 2014), new steam generators at Port St. Lucie are exhibiting an abnormal number of flaws–the same kinds of problems that forced the shutdown last year of California’s San Onofre reactors. Not surprisingly, momentum to repeal Florida’s early cost recovery law is growing quickly.

Indian Point, photo NRC

Indian Point, photo NRC

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is asking the NRC Commissioners to reverse, or at least review, the assumptions made by NRC staff in its assessment of the consequences of a severe accident at the Indian Point reactors. That assessment was made as part of the review of Indian Point’s license renewal application and last November an NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) ruled that the assessment was reasonable. Under NRC rules, the ASLB decision cannot be formally appealed until a final decision is made on the application, which could still be a year or two away.

Schneiderman said the NRC was relying on “entirely unrealistic and unreasonable” assumptions. For example, according to the Journal News, “Those include determining the region could be decontaminated within 90 days, which, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said, would require 1.5 million workers. It also said the cleanup’s price tag in a worst-case scenario could top $1 trillion, seven times more than Entergy has estimated.”

US Enrichment Corp. filed for bankruptcy this morning. The company says it has $1 Billion+ in liabilities and only $70 million in assets. Despite frequent infusions of taxpayer dollars to this failed uranium enrichment company, the fact is that it is a failed company and certainly should not receive any more taxpayer largesse. But expect House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), despite his fondness for austerity budgets for the poor, to try to find some more tax dollars to put into this sinkhole.

Protect Our Sacred Water! That’s the plea from Native American tribes seeking to protect the Black Hills from uranium mining. This is an excellent article on the issue from the UK’s The Ecologist. While we’ve seen a little media in the U.S. on the uranium mining proposals and the spirited opposition, it’s been embarrassingly little. Sad commentary that it takes a UK publication to  really shed light on the controversy.

The WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) transuranic radioactive waste dump in New Mexico remains closed and there appears to be no timetable for its reopening following a radiation leak two weeks ago whose source remains unknown. Meanwhile, dozens of canisters of radioactive waste are sitting on a parking lot outside the facility and inside the plant’s fuel handling facility. From there, the waste normally would go deep inside the caverns. Under New Mexico regulations, waste cannot stay in the parking lot more than 30 days nor in the fuel handling building for more than 60 days. But the state now has extended those limits to 60 days and 105 days respectively. (Sidenote: The Albuquerque Journal, which is the source of this article, requires you to answer a silly question before being able to read the article. Why print-based media think putting up roadblocks to people reading their digital comment is a sound business strategy is beyond us).

The Southwest Research and Information Center, which has followed the WIPP issue more closely than anyone for some three decades now, has issued a useful paper outlining what is currently known (as of February 27) about the events at WIPP, and more importantly, offers a long list of the questions that still remain unanswered. (pdf file)

Here’s a site to find (and post) actions nationwide commemorating next week’s third anniversary of the beginning of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Clean Energy

new electrical capacity 2012-2013, SEIA

new electrical capacity 2012-2013, SEIA

In what will (hopefully) be our final year-end report for 2013, the U.S. solar industry grew by 41% last year and accounted for 29% of all new U.S. electrical generating capacity for the year–outpacing both coal (10%) and nuclear (0%). Reports the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), “At the end of 2013 there were more than 440,000 operating solar electric systems in the U.S. totaling over 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP.” Added SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch,“Last year alone, solar created tens of thousands of new American jobs and pumped tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy.  In fact, more solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the 30 years prior.  That’s a remarkable record of achievement.” Meanwhile, The Ecologist published a nice piece this week reflecting on solar power’s recent accomplishments but arguing that, especially in Europe and Japan, solar could and should be doing a lot better. Worth reading.

Business Week reports that the German utility RWE suffered losses of nearly $4 Billion for 2013–the first loss for the company since the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949. Reason for the losses? RWE is heavily invested in nuclear and fossil fuel plants and neither are part of Germany’s energy future. And the company has been slow to invest in the renewables that increasingly will power the country–a sign that this may not be the last year RWE runs in the red.

Africa has some of the best renewable energy potential in the world, and because much of Africa is not served by a traditional utility power grid, some of the greatest need for renewable energy. And, those realities put it in an ideal position to become a world leader in distributed generation. But progress for renewables has so far been slow. But this article reports the situation is beginning to change. A major market analysis firm, IHS, ranks South Africa as “the world’s most attractive emerging solar photovoltaics (PV) market.” And other countries are beginning to show more interest in renewables, especially Ethiopia, Uganda and Ghana. Still, there are a lot of institutional and financial barriers in the way that must be overcome before the continent’s full potential can be realized.

How U.S. cities used energy efficiency and renewable energy dollars

How U.S. cities used energy efficiency and renewable energy dollars

A report from CleanTechnica on how 204 U.S. cities used the energy efficiency and renewable energy money they received from President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus program.

87% said money went to municipal projects and operations
83% said the city’s retrofit government buildings
42% said it was used for LED/other energy-efficient street lighting
31% said they used it to to install solar energy systems on public buildings and facilities (including my small town of Brentwood, Maryland)

Overall, the program seems to have worked well. The biggest problem now is that federal funding has almost completely dried up for such programs. Said Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch, “We really hope that Congress will see through to do it again. We need to re-up this funding. Do it again. Do it on a continual basis.”

Inside Washington

Somewhat surprisingly, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on Thursday–and expected to approve–a new bill sponsored by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) establishing energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings. Unfortunately, the bill is rather weak–the standards would be voluntary, although the federal government would be required to set energy efficiency goals for its data centers. A similar, though somewhat stronger, bill was reintroduced in the Senate last week by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and could be taken up anytime. Its prospects appear improved from last Fall, when it was withdrawn after Republican Senators tried to attach it to an unrelated Obamacare repeal effort.

Michael Mariotte


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One thought on “Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, March 5, 2014

  1. Don Richardson, M.D.

    Take a long view: If Congress does not shut down all nuclear activity and shift funding to clean, cheaper, safer renewable energies, while reining in the population explosion, that body will be
    indicted for genocide.


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