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.
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.
We’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.
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.
May 16, 2014
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