Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, May 16, 2014

Entergy's Fukushima-clone GE Mark I FitzPatrick reactor is in trouble.

Entergy’s Fukushima-clone GE Mark I FitzPatrick reactor is in trouble.

Nuclear Power

Entergy’s FitzPatrick reactor on the shores of Lake Ontario has had so many leaks in its cooling system that it had to reduce power 11 separate times just in the first three months of 2014. The leaks are in the Fukushima-clone reactor’s condenser system and are the result of years of neglect by Entergy. The condenser system, which has a lifespan of 15 years, was last replaced in 1995–meaning it should have been replaced four years ago. But FitzPatrick has been a marginal reactor for Entergy, and is high on many lists of the most endangered reactors. So Entergy just hasn’t been putting the money in for repairs that it should have. The leaks themselves do not pose a radiological hazard, but the condenser would be a problem if accident conditions developed.

As the article states, “If a nuclear plant reduces power unexpectedly more than six times in 7,000 hours of operation, the NRC puts the plant under heightened oversight. FitzPatrick has been in that category since January 2013, and its unplanned power change rate recently plummeted to 18.4 per 7,000 hours.” UCS’ nuclear safety expert David Lochbaum described the issue as “amazingly steep declining safety trend.” The utility says it will make major repairs at a refueling outage scheduled for later this year; on the other hand, that could end up becoming a decision point as to whether the company will try to keep the reactor operating in the face of difficult market conditions and prospects for NRC-required Fukushima-related upgrades.

Southern Company’s two new Vogtle reactors may be under construction with a handsome $6.5 Billion taxpayer loan in Southern’s pocket–and another $1.8 Billion likely to come to Southern’s smaller partners–but the complex does not yet even have a water withdrawal or consumption permit. That issue is up for public comment right now, and is the subject of a public hearing in Augusta, Georgia tonight. It’s not a small issue, as this article points out: “The new nuclear reactors, for which you’re already paying if you live in Savannah and use electricity, aren’t expected to be in operation until 2017 or later. (It keeps getting later.) The state issued a draft water withdrawal permit in January that allows for the maximum daily pull of 74 million gallons per day or a monthly average of 62 million gallons per day.

“For comparison, the city of Savannah takes out a maximum of 55 million gallons a day from the river for drinking water. And if you think Vogtle will return most of the water to the river after using it for cooling, think again: the consumptive use is estimated at 71 percent on average. Worst case scenario is that the cooling process will send 88 percent of the water into the atmosphere through evaporation.”

Add in Vogtle’s two existing reactors, and the four units would use about as much water as the cities of Savannah and Atlanta combined. Nuclear Watch South has more information on the issue on its website here, including an e-mail action to oppose the water permit here.

It didn’t take long for the three Senators who introduced three new bills this week related to decommissioning and radioactive waste storage to press their case before the NRC. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Environment Committee held a hearing on the bills and brought in NRC Commissioners and staff for a browbeating. As the New York Times reported, “In one particularly sharp exchange, Ms. Boxer tried to get a witness from the commission to agree that waste storage at the shuttered San Onofre reactors on the Pacific Coast was unsafe and required expedited efforts to move the old fuel to dry casks.

“Ms. Boxer asked Michael F. Weber, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s deputy executive director for operations, materials and waste, if he was concerned that the spent fuel pools were designed to hold 1,600 fuel assemblies but now held 2,600.

“Does this disturb you, this fact?” she asked.

“We ensure that,” he began, but Ms. Boxer cut him off and asked again if this disturbed him.

“Yes, we ensure safety,” he replied.

“Yes, it concerns you,” she said, adding, “If it concerns you then why aren’t you moving now” to get the fuel out.”

Separately, Entergy Corporation admitted its decommissioning fund for Vermont Yankee is underfunded; it has only about $600 million available but faces projected decommissioning costs of more than $1 Billion for the mid-sized reactor. Entergy opposes the bills because meeting the requirements would cause them to spend more from that already insufficient fund–potentially forcing the utility to make up the shortfall from other operations. Given the economic and other problems the utility already has at FitzPatrick, Pilgrim and elsewhere, the company could be in for a rough time.

Part of India's Koodankulam nuclear complex.

Part of India’s Koodankulam nuclear complex.

This didn’t take long. Less than a week after India’s Supreme Court ruled that it is satisfied with the safety measures at the Koodankulam reactors, six workers were injured–three seriously–in an accident on the non-nuclear side of the plant. Unfortunately, this is not likely to be the last incident at this flawed facility.

Clean Energy

solarusgermanyWe’ve written before about the Koch Brothers assault on renewable energy, most recently here. Now Union of Concerned Scientists has published a similar, and very heavily linked, piece documenting the assault and providing a lot of information to counter the false claims being peddled by the Kochs, as well as American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other extreme-right wing groups. Very useful for compiling your factual arguments.

In case you’re still wavering on solar power (though you’re probably not), here is a handy new piece on the top 10 reasons to go solar. Show it to your reluctant relatives and neighbors.

Inside Washington

There was a time when energy efficiency and wind power were almost up there with mom and apple pie–nearly everyone on every side of the political spectrum supported both. After all, what’s not to like about not wasting energy, or generating clean power. Those days are over in this polarized Congress, where even modest, simple bills need a supermajority of 60 votes to pass and fall to overreaching, especially on the Republican side.

This week, the Senate killed a bipartisan and very modest energy efficiency bill authored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Bob Portman (R-Ohio). One reason, according to Grist, is that former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown asked the Republican leadership to defeat the bill to avoid handing a victory to Shaheen. Scott, who says he has moved to New Hampshire, is running against Shaheen this year. But another big reason is that Republicans saw an energy bill reach the floor and wanted to add unrelated amendments to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and block EPA efforts to set new Clean Air standards for power plants. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered a separate vote on Keystone after the efficiency bill passed, but Republicans rejected the offer. Although the bill had seven Republican co-sponsors, only two of them voted for the bill in the end.

Meanwhile, another bill of interest to the energy community also appears to be falling victim to the petty politics of the day. This one is a tax extenders package on a variety of issues, but including renewable energy tax credits. This time Republicans wanted to offer amendments to end the wind production tax credit, as well as an Obamacare medical device tax credit, and blocked this bill as well. However, given that this bill affects much more of the economy than the energy efficiency bill, it likely will pass in some form or other before the end of the year.

The Obama Administration is considering a much wider-ranging and stronger effort to limit carbon emissions from power plants, according to several articles published today–this one gives a detailed look at what is being contemplated. Of course, this could be merely a trial balloon and the actual proposed rules, due out the first week of June, could be much weaker. But, disconcertingly, rumors are also going around–sorry, nothing beyond the rumor stage and thus no articles to link to–that the Administration’s overall climate action plan, of which these rules are a big part, will include a major role for nuclear power; perhaps including efforts touted by Exelon and others to benefit operating nuclear reactors at the expense of other generation sources. Expect an action from NIRS on this soon.

Have a great weekend, we’ll be back next week with results from our PAC poll and much more.

Michael Mariotte

May 16, 2014


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10 thoughts on “Nuclear Newsreel, Friday, May 16, 2014

  1. Joanna Kirkpatrick

    Michael wrote:
    “The Obama Administration is considering a much wider-ranging and stronger effort to limit carbon emissions from power plants, according to several articles published today–this one gives a detailed look at what is being contemplated. Of course, this could be merely a trial balloon and the actual proposed rules, due out the first week of June, could be much weaker. But, disconcertingly, rumors are also going around–sorry, nothing beyond the rumor stage and thus no articles to link to–that the Administration’s overall climate action plan, of which these rules are a big part, will include a major role for nuclear power; perhaps including efforts touted by Exelon and others to benefit operating nuclear reactors at the expense of other generation sources. Expect an action from NIRS on this soon.”

    This is extremely disturbing. Why do you and others in NIRS think that Obama hasn’t gotten the message about the extreme dangers and costs of nuclear energy by now? What IS this president’s problem? Greed? Ego? Is he mentally challenged? Revenge on the voters? who he now knows are so disappointed by the diff. between his campaigns and what he actually does?

    1. Michael Mariotte Post author

      The administration’s reasons for its position are complex, but in my view boil down to two elements: 1) a genuine belief in an “all of the above” energy strategy to fight climate change and 2) pressure and countervailing pressures from the various components of the (very powerful) energy industries. “All of the above” plays into that, of course, because it means all of the various parts of the energy industry are included…. We, of course, disagree with both elements.

  2. miningawareness

    Everyone needs to be looking at the forthcoming, June 4th, EPA rules proposal deadline for how much nuclear plants will leak in the USA. I keep coming back to see if it is being done by the NIRS. It is of critical importance for the USA and for the world. Please let us know if NIRS or anyone else is doing anything on this. It is a complex topic and this is only the first round but it matters a lot. People need to comment but they need to know how to comment. The FDA and much of the English speaking world now allows exceedingly high levels of radiation in food and water. If the nuclear industry is allowed to continue to leak high or even higher levels, the interim step is for the EPA to allow higher levels in water and soil, leading eventually to the max levels in food and water. Currently the EPA appears to have no standards against nuclear water leakage. The only no-brainer, easy question EPA asks is if they should speak of mortality (death) or morbidity (illness). From a social, economic or individual perspective morbidity or illness matters the most. Dead is dead but who will care for the sick? Who pays? Then there is the needless suffering. Also, death often excludes those who die after 5 or 10 years of fight with cancer. But, I see no reason they should not count both deaths and illness! The only place where deaths matter more than illness is for something like AIDS in Africa, where deaths hit working adults disproportionately and leave orphans. Radiation appears to impact vulnerable children and the elderly even more than adults.

  3. miningawareness

    These were Exelon Corp.’s campaign donations to Obama and DP which also indirectly offers support during campaigns. I think that slightly more comes from Exelon Business.
    Barack Obama (D)
    Democratic Party of Illinois
    The most money from Entergy went to US Senate Energy Chair and appropriations committee member Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Also, she got lots of Shaw funding. Others have gotten money too and it’s all at that link. People should be opposing Landrieu because even if a Republican is worse on one point or two, they will not get this high level appointment so can’t cause the damage she does. As I’ve said elsewhere if they are not constantly “outed” on these points by as many people and blogs as possible, what does anyone expect. You would think that as a lame duck president Obama could do the right thing, though. Also, would seem more lucrative for Exelon to keep old leaky nukes going than invest in new, unless there are some construction engineering company donations tied in as with Shaw and Landrieu. The only solution would be for left and right to run non-corporate funded politicians. Then there would be no split vote. It may be that certain elements threaten the families of politicians. Also, the possibility of mafia involvement should not be underestimated. A lot of major construction projects went down under Mary’s father Moon Landrieu in New Orleans, when he was Mayor. Godfather Carlos Marcello was still alive and active at that time. Mafia is big in Chicago too or it was. Ties between New Orleans and Chicago have been historically strong because of the north-south Illinois Central railroad and I 55 highway. More than one person has suspected or even accused Moon of mafia connections because his law firm represented a gaming company at one time, but of course nothing could be proven in that regard. Fukushima is known to have yakuza mafia in there but there’s no reason to believe that the same might not be true in the US, France, Russia. No one will ever know for certain.

    1. Joanna Kirkpatrick

      Michael wrote: “You would think that as a lame duck president Obama could do the right thing, though.” Yes, one actually would so think.
      But no, Obama’s now in the millionaire camp and will do nothing to annoy his corporate, especially nuke, backers. As time passes toward the end of his 2 terms in office, he is actually tending more right-wing.

      1. Joanna Kirkpatrick

        PS–thanks for the Exelon financial support sums donated to our non-dear leader. I’ve not seen them anywhere before. There must be more from other like-minded donors?

      2. miningawareness

        Yes, we totally agree. And, if he doesn’t straighten up what comes next will be even worse unless left and right run alternative candidates.
        Maybe there is a need for Congressional term limits, along with presidential? Obviously need for campaign finance reform. Yes, that link has all sorts of interesting things on both parties. There is a related similar site too. They are licensed Creative Commons so you can spread the word easily. Entergy gives to all or almost all of the Congress people (mostly Republicans) in Louisiana and Mississippi, for instance. Plenty of stuff on Bush and others. For new plants you have to look at who is building it, etc. There are apparently other strategies as well, because the CEO of EDF (partner to Areva nuclear and Areva is active in the US), Henri Proglio, is well known for giving jobs to the relatives of politicians – at least in the UK and France. The head of UK environment Ed Davey’s brother is a lawyer for EDF. Ed Davey approved an EDF-Areva nuclear plant for the UK (after saying he was anti-nuclear). PM Gordon Brown’s brother worked for EDF too. I think that Ed Davey’s party was supposed to be “progressive” and perhaps that’s why people don’t out him. Ditto for Obama and Mary Landrieu. (You do know that Obama’s trying to take high level German rad waste to the US, to dump on the poor people at Savannah River?) Dr. Kirkpatrick, you are also in a particularly advantageous situation to help fix these problems and educate people, as you are a still young but quasi-retired academic emeritus. You can make a huge difference. Maybe you should consider your own wordpress blog? You will be surprised at the number of “students” you can gather. Godspeed.

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