Tag Archives: Department of Energy

35 clean energy organizations urge DOE to end nuclear loan program

Seven years later, the DOE's $18.5 Billion nuclear loan program has paid only for this (the Vogtle reactors as of March 2014). And according to Southern Co. execs, the taxpayer loan wasn't even needed.

Seven years later, the DOE’s $18.5 Billion nuclear loan program has paid only for this (the Vogtle reactors as of March 2014). And according to Southern Co. execs, the taxpayer loan wasn’t even needed.

Today, 35 clean energy organizations from across the country submitted formal comments to the Department of Energy (DOE) urging it to end its nuclear loan program. The comments are in response to a DOE solicitation seeking to revive the failed program which, after seven years, has succeeded only in providing one loan to a nuclear project (the Vogtle reactors in Georgia) whose executives publicly said they didn’t need it and offering a loan to another project (Calvert Cliffs-3 in Maryland) for which it would have been illegal for its principal to receive it.  Continue reading

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Nuclear power and water: DOE almost gets it…

waterusagebygenerationsourceSeveral years ago, at the height of the nuclear “renaissance” when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was reporting that it received or was expecting some 30 new reactor license applications, I met with a group of Capitol Hill staffers generally skeptical of nuclear power.

To be honest, I don’t remember what the main topic of the meeting was. But toward the end I brought up the issue of whether anyone in the federal government had ever looked at the impact of a major new reactor construction program on U.S. water supplies. Nothing but blank stares. I suggested it might be a really good idea to do so since nuclear reactors were being proposed in several areas that at the time were experiencing drought conditions, and since reactors use far more water per megawatt/hour of electricity produced than any other generation source.

And, given that the industry and some Congressmembers at the time were advocating for 100 or more new reactors (some Congressmembers are probably futilely still advocating that, but it’s not gonna happen), the impact on our drinking and agricultural water supplies would be highly significant. It seemed obvious that someone with a lot more resources than NIRS should be looking at that.

Everyone nodded their heads and agreed that, oh yes, that would be important. And the issue was undoubtedly forgotten or dismissed before they even walked out of the room.

NIRS did try to raise funds to do some of that work, and also to try to sort out the myriad of federal, regional and state laws and regulations governing water withdrawals and use so that grassroots activists would at least be able to participate somewhat knowledgeably and effectively in water permit issues. We partnered with some other groups on proposals and submitted to several foundations. No luck there either.

Since then we’ve joined with the American Clean Energy Agenda (ACEA), composed of a few national and dozens of grassroots groups working against dirty energy technologies and for a clean energy system. The energy/water nexus has been a major focus of that work, and last September ACEA issued a major report on energy and water issues.  For our part, we’ve also put up a section on our website on water and reactors, linking to a few useful documents.

Now, finally, the Department of Energy has released a major new study on the water/energy nexus. You can find it and the executive summary here.

Solar and wind are not only nuclear and carbon-free, they're also virtually water-free in their operation.

Solar and wind are not only nuclear and carbon-free, they’re also virtually water-free in their operation.

The report is on target in a lot of its analysis. It includes an entire chapter on the impact of climate change on water and energy. It points out that most renewables require virtually no water to operate. It points out that some nuclear reactors in recent years have had to shut down because intake water temperatures had become too high and exceeded their technical specifications. It recognizes the growing use of renewables as essentially water-free technology (by the way, according to a press release today from the Sun Day Campaign, renewables accounted for 88% of all new U.S, generating capacity in May, and so far are at 54% of all new capacity for the year. New nuclear capacity, of course, remains at zero). And, as the chart on the top of this post taken from its report clearly indicates, DOE recognizes that nuclear power is the largest consumer of water among generation sources by a wide margin. Solar and wind, other than concentrated solar power, which does require some water to operate, don’t even appear on the chart since their consumption is minimal.

Nuclear advocates might argue that much of the enormous amount of water required by nuclear reactors with once-through cooling systems, as shown in the above chart, is returned to its source–normally a river, lake or the ocean. But, as NIRS documented in its 2001 report Licensed to Kill, that water is returned at a much higher temperature, causing devastation of marine life in the region of those reactors. Reactors with cooling towers withdraw less water from their source, but return a much lower percentage of that water–much of it is evaporated by the towers. And, of course, reactors tend to release radioactive materials into water, especially radioactive tritium–which has occurred at about three-quarters of U.S. reactor sites. Releases of other radionuclides also has been documented.

Unfortunately, but as expected given the DOE’s inane “all of the above” energy strategy, the report is short on solutions and recommendations. It simply refuses to connect the dots and acknowledge that the single best step the U.S. can take to protect precious water supplies is to replace reactors with renewables as quickly as possible. That’s certainly not the only step: natural gas–especially fracking–and coal use and pollute a lot of water too. That’s just one more reason why full implementation of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system should be the nation’s number one energy priority. That it isn’t is not a failure of technology, it’s a failure of political will and foresight. Good ideas don’t just happen on their own, especially when there are powerful forces working against them for their own benefit. That’s why it’s up to all of us to educate, organize, mobilize and keep up the political pressure at every possible opportunity.

Michael Mariotte

June 23, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/06/23/nuclear-power-and-water-doe-almost-gets-it/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nuclear Power

Exelon is up to its old tricks–the kind that already got it kicked out of the American Wind Energy Association. The nuclear giant is once again trying to kill production tax credits for wind and solar power, but it sure doesn’t want to give up its taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power. The reason is, of course, that wind power (in the midwest especially) and natural gas, but even solar power, can and do provide electricity when needed most at lower prices than Exelon’s aging fleet of expensive nukes.

Both the wind and solar tax credits may be in trouble. Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) unveiled a new tax credit bill yesterday that didn’t include either. However, Wyden, who supports both, is likely to add them as amendments to the bill in a committee markup session that could occur as early as tomorrow. But there is concern that the intense lobbying by Exelon and some right-wing organizations could make the amendments overly controversial in an election year.

Florida's St. Lucie reactors. Photo from enformable.com

Florida’s St. Lucie reactors. Photo from enformable.com

Safety concerns are ignored as NRC denies petition to keep FPL’s St. Lucie-2 reactor closed pending hearing. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) had filed the petition with the NRC in light of disclosures that the St. Lucie reactors, especially Unit-2 are showing signs of severe degradation of their steam generator tubes. Although the exact nature of the degradation is said to be somewhat different from what caused a steam generator tube rupture at San Onofre, eventually leading to the permanent shutdown of both reactors at that site, the possibility of such a rupture seems real, as does the probability of expensive repair work ahead. The NRC has not yet ruled on SACE’s request for a hearing on the issue.

Japanese families are torn as the first Fukushima evacuation refugees are being allowed to return to their homes. It’s a tiny area that Japan says has been cleaned up: 357 residents are eligible to return, but many of them say they won’t. The toll on mental health caused by stress, confusion, and lack of transparency by both the government and Tepco simply cannot be overstated. And the continued dangerous work involved in decommissioning and cleaning up the Fukushima reactors will put any returnees into harm’s way again for decades. Japan needs to acknowledge that the evacuation zone is for now and the foreseeable future a dead zone and instead focus its efforts on preventing a second Fukushima disaster rather than spending billions in largely futile attempts to clean up contaminated areas in that zone.

Don’t you love it when nuclear energy giants go clawing after each other over their failures? Duke Energy has sued Westinghouse over the cost of its cancelled Levy County nuclear project. Of course, Duke is getting most of the money it put into Levy County from ratepayers anyway, even though the reactors won’t be built, due to Florida’s outrageous “early cost recovery” law.

The Monticello reactor. Photo from NRC.

The Monticello reactor. Photo from NRC.

Another dangerous, aging reactor: the NRC is troubled by ‘degraded’ performance at Minnesota’s Monticello–yet another one of America’s Fukushima-clone GE Mark I reactors. The biggest issue for the agency is the site’s readiness to handle floods. Monticello is on the banks of the Mississippi River, which floods fairly often; a 2011 flood that partially submerged Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun reactor site kept that reactor down for more than two years. So flooding is one issue that the NRC is for the most part taking seriously. Unfortunately, the agency seems to be taking less seriously the possibility of flooding from the potential for major breaks in some of the country’s aging dam network, such as at the Oconee site in South Carolina, where whistleblowers inside the agency put the risk of meltdown at the three-unit site at 100% if a nearby dam fails.

Clean Energy

The potential from solar energy dwarfs that from all other energy sources combined.

The potential from solar energy dwarfs that from all other energy sources combined.

Solar energy is the motherlode. The world currently uses 16 TerraWatts of energy per year. The sun provides the earth with 23,000 possible TerraWatts per year, far dwarfing any other potential energy supply. The trick has been in harnessing all that free power, and the solar industry is finally doing so efficiently and cost-effectively. That’s why the sun will be the dominant energy source of the future. The great graphic above says it all.

Or does it? Right now at least, the real motherlode isn’t solar, or wind, or nuclear, gas, oil or coal. It’s energy efficiency, or as Amory Lovins has described efficiency: negawatts. Either way, energy not used to perform a task is like energy produced to perform that task. And increasing energy efficiency has been, and continues to be, the cheapest source of “new” electricity. While power demand continues to grow worldwide–and will continue to do so as large parts of our world are not even electrified, in the U.S. electricity demand’s peak was in 2006 and it has not yet returned to that peak; in fact demand has been falling as state-level efficiency programs and federal appliance and other efficiency standards have kicked in.

Michigan utilities are on target to meet their modest Renewable Energy Standard of 10% renewables by next year. But a new study from Union of Concerned Scientists argues the state could increase its standard to 30% by 2030 at basically no cost to taxpayers and ratepayers. However, Michigan voters in 2012 rejected a proposal to increase the standard to 25% by 2025, so it is not clear there is a sufficient political mandate there to adopt such a proposal.

Finally today, a great piece on CleanTechnica: Solar Power Advantages Versus Insanity. Want to save the planet? Go solar and the planet will thank you. More important to you to save some money? Then definitely go solar and your wallet will thank you. As the article concludes:

In the end, many of us have a fairly simple choice:

Get solar power on our home and/or business, help the planet, and benefit financially.

or

Continue sending our money to electric companies to make a handsome profit on our insanity while polluting the planet.

Sanity vs insanity. Your choice.

Inside Washington

Exactly the wrong approach: The U.S. Department of Energy is pushing Europe to increase its use of dirty energy to reduce its reliance on Russian natural gas. That’s advice that Europe, most of which is well ahead of the U.S. in adopting clean renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, really doesn’t need, nor probably want, to hear. The DOE told European nations they should increase nuclear power, natural gas fracking and carbon capture and sequestration technologies (not that those have worked in the U.S. yet, and likely never will be cost-effective). We get that the Obama Administration, and the President himself, likes to pretend that the “all of the above” energy strategy makes any sense at all. It doesn’t, it’s just a way to avoid making easy choices that would alienate one energy sector or another. But there is really no need to push such an inane policy on the rest of the world too. And that strategy is primarily driven by the DOE, first by Secretary Chu and now by Secretary Moniz. This is an agency that needs a major overhaul and needs to understand that in an era of limited financial resources, choosing all of the above is effectively the same as choosing none of the above.

Michael Mariotte

April 2, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/04/02/nuclear-newsreel-wednesday-april-2-2014/

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The WIPP story: it is now and will be a saga…..

Radioactive waste casks outside the WIPP facility. Photo from DOE

Radioactive waste casks outside the WIPP facility. Photo from DOE

When a radioactive waste truck caught on fire inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on February 5, it seemed like it was probably an isolated incident, not the beginning of a saga that could affect U.S. radioactive waste policy permanently and even radwaste policy internationally.

But the truck fire was followed by a still-unexplained Valentine’s Day offsite radiation release–including plutonium. That was then followed by a second, for a time unrevealed, and also still-unexplained, radiation release on March 11, the third anniversary of the onset of the Fukushima disaster. And it became clear that the WIPP saga will have long-term ramifications, not only for the nuclear weapons radwaste WIPP was built to handle, but also for the far larger and much more radioactive inventory of commercial high-level nuclear waste.

The immediate impacts are clear: WIPP is closed and will remain closed for quite some time. The Department of Energy Monday issued a document outlining its preparation plans for re-entering the WIPP facility, but did not even speculate on when workers may actually be able to go back into the site to see what happened.

Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico has withdrawn plans to allow an expansion of the WIPP site and it’s not likely that expansion will be allowed anytime soon. And radioactive waste that was supposed to be delivered to WIPP has been diverted to the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) “low-level” radioactive waste site in Andrews County, Texas–which is just a stone’s throw from the New Mexico border and the region’s “nuclear corridor.” But it’s not at all clear that WCS is licensed to accept such transuranic waste, which by definition is far longer-lived than much “low-level” waste. Continued shipments like that is likely to set up a battle between environmentalists and WCS backers in Texas that may not be resolved quickly.

Former DOE official Bob Alvarez has written a thorough and thoughtful piece about the long-term implications of the WIPP saga on the nation’s program for handling nuclear weapons waste in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. But he finds far more questions than answers in this saga:

“At least 66,200 cubic meters of transuranic waste sit at Energy Department sites, awaiting shipment to WIPP. The Energy Department is also considering disposal of 5 tons of excess plutonium now at the Savannah River Site in WIPP. Over the past decade, the department has also been seeking to use WIPP to dispose of the contents of several high-level radioactive waste tanks at Hanford by reclassifying those contents as transuranic waste. WIPP is being eyed as a final resting place for tens of tons of plutonium from dismantled weapons as well, because the Energy Department is backing away from the $30 billion price tag now attached to a plan for mixing the plutonium with uranium and using that mixed-oxide to fuel nuclear power plants.

An extended closure of WIPP would no doubt increase political pressure emanating from Washington state, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, and New Mexico, none of which wants to be left with large amounts of nuclear waste and nowhere to put it. The stakes are large. The questions are many. Competing forces await answers. Surprises should be expected.”

For the much larger problem of commercial high-level radioactive waste, some nuclear advocates had been promoting WIPP as a potential alternative to the cancelled Yucca Mountain, Nevada waste dump project. That concept is not only on hold, it is certainly more permanently buried than the WIPP waste itself has turned out to be.

And that has left legislators in a quandary. Some, of course, still have dreams of reviving the Yucca Mountain project (one group’s dream is most peoples’ nightmare…), but that idea cannot get through the Senate as long as Harry Reid of Nevada is Majority Leader, and wouldn’t be signed by President Obama, who ended the project, anyway. And the longer Yucca stays dead, the harder it would be to resurrect no matter who runs the Congress and White House in the future.

On the Senate side, Energy Committee members already have admitted defeat this year in their effort to move any kind of radioactive waste legislation–for most their preference had been to establish a mechanism to create “interim” storage sites for high-level waste, but the Committee got bogged down in details and the concept remains controversial and publicly unpopular. Last week, four Republican Senators toured nuclear facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and expressed their concern about the problems at WIPP, but couldn’t offer any solutions to either WIPP or the commercial waste problem. INL officials said that their Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project–WIPP’s biggest current user–has suspended all shipments to WIPP, meaning the waste will stay onsite at INL for the indefinite future.

And Canada, which is considering a low and intermediate level waste geologic disposal facility on the Great Lakes, has ordered additional public hearings on the proposal in light of the WIPP problems. Given that WIPP is the only deep geologic disposal facility currently operating in the world (in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, it is frequently–and incorrectly–described as a “high-level” radioactive waste site by nuclear advocates), the lessons, whatever they turn out to be, from the series of WIPP failures surely will affect other proposed and potential sites for years to come.

For an excellent overview of what has happened at WIPP so far–and the overlooked but potentially critical impact of natural gas fracking and oil wells in the nearby area (there are more than 100 operating natural gas and oil wells within a mile of the WIPP boundary)–check this article by Dahr Jamail for TruthOut.org.

Michael Mariotte

March 26, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/26/the-wipp-story-will-be-a-saga/

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Nuclear Newsreel, January 16, 2014

Strike threat looms at Entergy’s Indian Point reactors, already battered by economic & legal challenges. The unions, including control room operators, are threatening a strike at Indian Point and have even set up “practice” picket lines in front of the site. But this story goes beyond the labor strife and looks more deeply at the growing list of challenges faced by Entergy which could well lead to shutdown of the reactors. Let’s keep adding to the pressure, folks….

Even BP admits renewables are the fastest-growing energy source, will pass nuclear generation by 2025. BP dropped the pretense of it being a big player in solar power a few years ago, but even their analysis shows that renewables are the future. The figures are staggering: BP projects the use of renewables in power generation will rise 768 percent in China by 2035, 539 percent in India, 227 percent in Brazil and 277% in the U.S. Still, BP likely understates the case and still predicts fossil fuels will remain dominant, providing about 75-80% of the world’s energy (not just electricity) in 2035. A guy who is out to change that dominance is Elon Musk, owner of Wall Street’s favorite electric car company, Tesla Motors. This article looks at Musk’s plan to wean civilization from fossil fuels, not only through electric cars, but through his involvement with SolarCity, which is one of several companies behind the extraordinary acceleration of rooftop solar in the U.S. Musk is not the only one to believe that solar power will be the dominant source of electricity in the U.S. by mid-century, but he is one actually making that happen.

Two press releases from allied groups, Friends of the Earth and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, focus on the only two private new reactor projects in the U.S. moving ahead now–what’s left of the “nuclear renaissance.” SACE’s release talks about the continued secrecy from the Department of Energy in attempting to give a taxpayer loan for the Vogtle reactor project (a loan that reportedly has been blocked by concerns from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget). Taxpayers kept in the dark as deadline looms to finalize $8.3 Billion nuclear loan for Vogtle reactors. And FoE examines newly released documents that show all is not as rosy as the utility, SCANA, has publicly portrayed progress at South Carolina’s Summer nuclear project. Another nuclear debacle: Cost overruns, delays and construction woes bedevil V.C. Summer reactor project in S.C.

MOX funds in spending bill top budget request. Yesterday, we noted that the omnibus budget bill included more money for the controversial small modular reactor (SMR) program than requested by the Obama Administration. We forgot to mention yesterday that the SMR program last year received Taxpayers for Common Sense most uncoveted Golden Fleece Award. Today, as journalists continue to delve into the fine print of the 1,000+ pages of the omnibus bill, we learn that Congress wants to give the MOX program more money than the Administration requested. This program is even more controversial–after years of delay and overspending, the Administration actually wants to end this program entirely. The program involves building a facility at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site to reprocess reactor fuel into plutonium-based “mixed-oxide” fuel. It’s a dangerous, dirty, and entirely unnecessary program whose only real constituent appears to be Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

Report finds increased cancer cases near St. Louis radwaste landfill. The oldest radioactive waste dump in the US lies near the runways to the city’s airport; it’s a vestige of World War II that has never been cleaned up because, as is the case for just about all radioactive waste, no one wants it and there is really no place for it to go. As to why no one wants it–this story should make that clear.

How solar power beat natural gas in Minnesota. Seriously, if solar power can beat natural gas (which itself beats nuclear power and coal) in Minnesota–no one’s idea of a sunny resort area–then can there possibly be anywhere that solar power has not become the cheapest electricity source? Well, maybe in areas well-suited to wind power…

Stock analyst says avoid Exelon stock in 2014. and warns of nuclear shutdowns ahead. The analyst names three single-unit Exelon reactors he believes are vulnerable–Oyster Creek, Clinton and Ginna–that also have shown up on other lists of potential near-term reactor shutdowns. But he adds a fourth, the two-unit Quad Cities site on the Illinois/Iowa border, as vulnerable too, apparently due to competition from Iowa’s fast-growing wind industry.

Japanese taxi company refuses ride to anti-nuclear lawmaker in fear of retribution from nuclear industry.

The Colorado legislature yesterday beat back yet another attempt to weaken the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

RealClearPolitics released a list of who it calls the 10 most influential legislators on energy issues. Some names on the list are obvious; some may surprise you.

Finally today, researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered a new way of storing energy from solar power production. Energy storage is probably the hottest field in the energy arena right now, and is the last, though quickly disappearing, obstacle before renewables become a 24/7 “baseload” kind of power source. Not that the old concept, still pushed relentlessly by the nuclear industry, of “baseload” power has the same level of relevance to a modern, distributed energy grid that it did in the 1970s.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/16/nuclear-newsreel-January-16-2014/