The popular press loves nuclear. I read several news feeds about reactors and from the headlines it very often appears that things are going well for the industry. Recently you will see:
But the real stories are actually more pessimistic for the industry and usually at least somewhat hidden from the rosy booster pieces.
Japan: The Abe government has been struggling to get any of the 50 shuttered reactors back online, despite fairly widespread public opposition to the plan. What these articles are conveniently ignoring is that while Japan may restart some of its reactors, most of them will likely stay off line forever, representing perhaps half a trillion dollars in lost revenue to nuclear utilities.
Unlike the US, where the nuclear regulator regularly trumps states’ rights and can keep reactors open despite legislatures and governors wanting them closed (as happened with Vermont Yankee), the local Japanese governments can keep reactors shuttered. The under-reported story from Japan’s recent poll showed only 20% of the provincial governments with reactors would allow them to reopen. But this is only the first filter; secondly the nuclear regulator has to approve reactors for restart, and some of these sit on top of known fault lines. So Japan’s once mighty fleet of reactors (third largest in the world) will likely be reduced to a handful of restarted units. And all these reactors are at risk if another accident hits this unlucky country.
US: It is true that the Federal government just provided loan guarantees for $6.5 billion to the Vogtle reactor complex in Georgia. What is also true is that this is likely to be the only loan provided by the Feds to any reactor from a program what was supposed to jump-start reactor construction in the US. At the height of the talk about a “Nuclear Renaissance” in the US there were applications for 30 new reactors in this country. Only 5 are currently being built and they are all in places where if the project gets halted, the utilities can continue to profit from the cancelled project, just as they did with the $1.6 billion ripoff at Crystal River in Florida. With Wall Street uninterested in new reactor construction, only in states (like Virginia) where the utilities own the government can new nuclear construction still make sense. Not because the economics are reasonable, but because profitability can be insured for the utilities through state subsidies and bailouts.
Small Modular Reactors: It is very nice for Babcock and Wilcox to be getting a big navy nuclear contract. And it is unsurprising. Nuclear power in a military context has never had to worry about economic efficiency. What the media is barely reporting is that the same company, which was aggressively seeking to build small modular reactors for commercial use is now trying to dramatically reduce its risk in this field and they are finding no buyers.
Small Modular Reactors (SMR) were the great white hope for rebirth of the nuclear industry in the US. The idea was that smaller “assembly line” construction of reactors would cut costs, reduce the opportunity for terrorist attack, solve the waste problem, reduce the chances of an accident and permit more flexible deployment contrasted to the larger units which have been built worldwide. It turns out all these claims are false. This did not stop a number of companies from trying to prove otherwise. Last month, Westinghouse ditched their SMR program citing a lack of prospective customers. Now with B&W out, this really only leaves NuScale which recently received up to $226 million for the US Dept of energy for development of their small reactor design.
So those are some of the specific counter stories the mainstream media is not especially interested in covering. They are also only minimally covering that over 100K people in Japan can not return to their homes because of Fukushima radiation. Somewhat more often we hear about the 300+ tons of radioactive water flowing from the Fukushima accident site into the Sea of Japan.
But the real headline which is missing is that the fundamental economics of nuclear is doomed when compared with real renewables. Uranium and petroleum and coal are all extraction-based energy sources. As you draw down extracted resources, they become harder and more expensive to recover. Solar, wind and geothermal are all harvest-based energy systems. These become cheaper as time goes on and the technology cheapens. Renewables will win out, the only question is how many foolish nuclear deals will we make before we make the inevitable switch?
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
McDonogh Prep Assembly Speech Feb 19, 2014
There are nicer words for what I am trying to do here, it can be called spokesperson or representative. Perhaps more precisely you would call me an evangelist or a salesperson. But my preferred term for this job is propagandist. My work is telling stories and making sermons. And propagandists like salespeople are trying to get you to change your mind, to get you to buy what they are selling. I use this reviled label, to put you on your guard, I want you listening with your sharpest critical thinking engaged.
I want to talk about models of success. McDonogh represents a classical model of success. You study hard, you get into a good school, then you work hard to get a good job, you build your resume, you marry, you have kids, you buy a nice house, and you live comfortably ever after.
This is a success model which is focused on you and largely on the future. I come from a different place. There is still hard work. But it is work without bosses. It is work that changes as your desires and interest change. You might work in the dairy or the kitchen in the morning and in the afternoon you might manage one of our businesses or work on the computer or do child care.
We are doing some advanced experiments in sharing things: clothes and cars and buildings and bicycles and musical instruments. By sharing things we don’t have to buy as many things, which means we can work much less for money. The key to this sharing system is trust. To make these systems work and for the place to feel fair we need to trust each other. This success model is focused on us rather to me and unlike the conventional forward looking model, our success is quite often about right now.
If you get nothing else from these minutes of me speaking I would ask you to start thinking about sharing in a new light. Sharing is not the quaint notion that you learned in kindergarten and have mostly forgotten about. Sharing is one of the few long lever tools that can get us out of this jam that we are in.
The average group of 100 US Americans have 77 cars. Twin Oaks is a bit more than 100 people sharing only 17 cars. This means we don’t have to buy and insure and maintain 60 vehicles. That is a chunk of change.
It also means we need to design systems to satisfy the needs that those vehicles provide. In this and in most of our sharing systems, we have largely succeeded. And this is the key – when you look at the energy consumed, the carbon released, the solid waste produced, the per person water use. By any metric you can imagine we have dramatically less impact and are considerably more sustainable than our mainstream counterparts.
Most guidance counselors don’t include intentional communities like Twin Oaks and Acorn on their lists of possible job opportunities for the prep school grads.
But if you are bothered by the ambient level of fear and crime, if you don’t want to get bills or deal with money, if you want to live more sustainably and model a world which is not in decline, if you want to live in the now and want to foster something that is bigger than yourself, but is not a faceless corporation. Then perhaps you can do your senior project or spend part of your summer at these rural Virginia communes.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
Back in 2010, I had just finished defending myself in a court case for trespassing at the information center for the North Anna Nuclear Power plant. The county prosecutor had suggested I be sentenced to as long as half a year in prison for this misdemeanor offense. I had requested a much shorter sentence. We did not disagree on the facts of the case. We did have a disagreement about whether MLK broke laws to make political change. The county prosecutor was quite sure King had not been involved in breaking the law.
Almost two years before my trial, a dozen activists (including myself) had taken over the public tours which were being given at the Nuclear Information Center and started giving our own tours. The center management had called the police from the moment we arrived. The police were very polite and gentle with us, perhaps because there was lots of media around. Perhaps because it was clear we were not a real danger to the safety of the plant. Likely some of both was at play.
At the suggestion i spend half a year in jail, i started to think about Willow and how he had come to rescue me the night I got arrested last time. I worried about missing my time with him, i was fearful of wasting time while in jail. And i had known that it might go terribly wrong when i decided to do this action.
Ultimately, i would be sentenced to only 5 days in jail. Having already served one of them when we were arrested the sentence was really only 4 additional days. With time off for good behavior for a misdemeanor i would be out after just two days and three nights.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
The nuclear industry is often referred to as a priesthood, by critics and supporters alike. The thought is that the followers of the belief in nuclear power have to have a strong faith in the technology and a willingness to sacrifice themselves to advance the ideology. Some of the hardest working people I have ever met, promote nuclear power.
Part of the understanding within the priesthood is that you try to never harm the position of others in the industry when you change your plans. So it was with special interest i read the recent news that Westinghouse had dropped out of the small reactor market. In this news story the Westinghouse spokes people (who are always very careful what they say to the press) tell us that the only reason they are dropping out of this technology is “there are no customers.” They go on to elaborate that the only way they can actually make money on small reactors is by selling a bunch of them. The Westinghouse CEO confessed, “Unless you’re going to build 30 to 50 of them, you’re not going to make your money back.”
Worldwide, no one is building reactors without huge financial incentives from the manufacturer or their supporting country. The idea that small reactors are going to be snapped up by utilities without external generous financing is as fanciful as the notion that nuclear power will be “too cheap to meter.”
But what is really going on here? My guess is that Westinghouse has done the economic math and they see that “they can’t get there from here.” That the persistent experience of the nuclear navy is repeating itself in the non-military world . That being that reactors do not shrink in an economically advantageous way. Nuclear power is fantastically complex stuff, the French EdF/Areva have put a lot of time and money into going the other way and building even larger reactors, hoping to get economies of scale. The problem is not that you have to sell 50 of them, the problem is that no matter how many you sell, other energies are going to be cheaper, and so it is likely a loosing game from the get go.
Now that Westinghouse (which is the number 2 maker of reactors worldwide) is following the French (number 1) lead and Siemens (the German nuclear giant) is stepping out of reactor construction completely, we have to ask. ”What do the most experienced and best financed reactor makers in the world know about small reactors that the rest of us don’t seem to know?”
Perhaps it is this: Small is Ugly.
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]
The Virginia State Legislature is rushing thru legislation that would give Dominion half a billion dollars for the money they have already spent on third reactor at North Anna.
A HALF BILLION DOLLAR FOLLY AND DOMINION WANTS MORE?
Dominion wants to be reimbursed $570,000,000 by ratepayers for a project unlikely to be built. Dominion last year abandoned its Wisconsin nuke as “uneconomic”, yet wants Virginia customers to pay even if this uneconomic new dinosaur never produces one kilowatt (exactly what happened in the 1980s with the first North Anna 3).
PEOPLES ALLIANCE FOR CLEAN ENERGY (PACE) OPPOSES GENERAL ASSEMBLY WILLINGNESS TO ACCOMMODATE DOMINION
SB 459 sponsored by Sen. Stosch – Henrico for Dominion Virginia Power is currently making its way through the General Assembly. It has already passed the Senate 40 -0 and will likely pass the House. (Dominion is the largest contributor to Virginia legislative campaigns and does not discriminate between Democrats and Republicans.)
Dominion will be authorized to recoup up to 70% of $570,000,000 it has already spent to obtain licensing and construct North Anna Nuclear Unit 3 by passing on costs in ratepayers’ monthly bills. The bill will also permit Dominion to pass on future construction costs to Virginia ratepayers.
PACE asserts that SB459 is yet another attempt to bilk the VA ratepayers by socializing the risks of new nuclear constructions and privatizing the profits.
The plant might never come on line, but ratepayers will have been committed to pay costs of construction, and if the plant never generates electricity, for costs associated with subsequent dismantlement. This has happened before with VEPCO on the same site in the early 80’s. Ratepayers paid the dismantling costs of two units that were never completed.*
Jerry Rosenthal of the Peoples Alliance for Clean Energy said “Virginia homeowners, businesses and industry are offered higher electric rates with increased risks and less regulatory oversight in exchange for a pie-in-the-sky proposal. This is a lose-lose situation for the taxpayers and ratepayers.”
Dominion has not officially committed to build North Anna 3. Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not be approving any new projects until October 2014 when the Waste Confidence ruling is expected.
It is irresponsible of Dominion to build a third nuclear unit on a site adjacent to an active earthquake fault (knowledge of which they suppressed in the 70’s) and also because to date no solution has been found to the ongoing accumulation of high level radioactive waste on site.
PACE believes that the VA ratepayer should not be paying for Dominion’s poor planning or to assure shareholders high dividends. PACE would prefer that Dominion abandon the third nuclear unit and instead invest in conservation, energy efficiency, smart meters, smart grid and renewables.
PACE would hope that Virginia legislators put ratepayers’ interests above those of Dominion and its shareholders.
* Nuclear power has a history of cost overruns and construction delays. Some companies have abandoned the projects but ratepayers are still paying construction and other costs. (In the case of Crystal River 3, Duke Energy closed the plant after spending $2 billion for worthless upgrades, repairs, and replacement power. These costs were passed on to Florida ratepayers. In Florida by law, Duke Energy can collect up to $1,466 billion for repairs, operation maintenance and construction.) It’s been called “the gift that keeps on giving” and it appears Virginia ratepayers will be giving as well.
For other disturbing information on Dominion – see this report on their shareholder meeting
Closure of the Kewaunee Reactor
Yes, things are very bad at Fukushima but it’s not the Apocalypse
Blogpost by Jan Beránek
There have been a number of news stories recently about the radiation escaping into the ocean at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that have raised great concern. Some are worried about how escaping radiation may or may not be affecting ocean eco-systems around the world.
Since Greenpeace has been working on the Fukushima nuclear crisis since it first began in March 2011, we can offer some thoughts on people’s concerns.
We have sampled sealife along the Japanese coastline, both from the Rainbow Warrior and in conjunction with local fishermen and Japan’s food cooperatives.
You can find some of the results of our independent measurements on our Radiation Surveys – Fukushima webpage.
While we don’t have a marine biologist on our team, we have a number of radiation specialists whose findings and assessments we share with scientists and academic researchers.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the continuing impacts of the disaster on people and the environment. These include the ongoing leaks of contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima reactors into the ground and ocean, the unresolved issue of how to reliably store huge volumes of contaminated water, as well as the massive amounts of radioactive material produced by the decontamination efforts in FukushimaPrefecture.
Then there is the plight of over 100,000 evacuees. Their lives are in limbo. After nearly three years, they still have not received proper compensation from either the government or the corporations responsible for the accident.
Many people have been exposed to significantly elevated levels of radiation. Thousands of square kilometers have been contaminated and will be for many decades to come by radioactive fallout from the accident.
Then there are the challenges of dismantling the whole crippled nuclear power plant whose melted reactors still have lethally dangerous nuclear fuel inside them.
These alone are enough to conclude that the situation is really, really bad.
However, there are also stories that exaggerate the risks and create news of potential catastrophies that are well beyond reality. Given that people’s trust in public authorities has been shaken (and not without a reason!), one can often find alarming but unconfirmed information on social media.
Most recent have been the stories of rumours about ongoing nuclear reactions inside the crippled Fukushima reactors and vast radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean and US West Coast.
We have checked these stories and our conclusion is clear: these are not stories based in fact. For example, while unprecedented amounts of radioactive cesium have ended up in the Pacific Ocean, significantly contaminating sediments and fisheries along the Japanese coastline, there is no plausible mechanism that could transport significant levels of contamination across the Pacific to reach beaches in the US or Australia.
Yes, there are detectable traces of those radioactive isotopes in US waters, but they are at very low levels, and their contribution to radiation doses is far below the natural background radiation level.
This does not necessarily mean they are completely safe (no radiation dose is low enough to be 100% safe), but the additional risks they present to living organisms, including humans, are negligible. Certainly, these levels are not causing radiation sickness, deformities or mass deaths of ocean life.
That is why we continue to focus on the big post-Fukushima problems in Japan itself. This is where you can occasionally still catch a fish whose contamination exceeds the official standards.
While the frequency of such catches has indeed fallen since 2011, they still occur and send a reminder of the ongoing risks and need for precautionary measures when it comes to seafood from Japan’s northeastern coastline.
But to repeat: the idea that contamination from Fukushima presents a risk to the coastal waters and their ecosystems of the US or Australia is seriously over-stretched.
Jan Beránek is the leader of Greenpeace International’s Energy Campaign
The following is the beginnings of a blog post i wrote on this topic, which gets at a few more Fukushima myths needing to be debunked.
There are numerous places where you can find completely wrong things about Fukushima. Several of them are websites which are claiming to be reasonable voices trying to protect the environment. One story (from the Voice of Russia) claims the mysterious steam over Fukushima is a pending spent fuel meltdown, which will release 89 tons of radioactive waste on the US. Another from the European Union Times claims that there have been new underground explosions at Fukushima and that
[N]ew reports coming from the United States western coastal areas are now detailing the mass deaths of seals, sea lions, polar bears, bald eagles, sea stars, turtles, king and sockeye salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines due to Fukishima radiation.
This is the classic failed environmental reporting, in that it assumes causality with too short a time horizon. Mass deaths of these sea creatures would have to be caused by something else, and there are many reasons to believe they might be. Here is a fine piece documenting how Fukushima is dangerous still but not ready to explode just yet. So dont worry too much about the mysterious smoke which has been reported emanating from the melted down reactors. Which is not to say there are not lots of completely legitimate things to be concerned about in the Fukushima aftermath.
My dearest friend Joan Jr altered me to this Indiegogo campaign for scholarships to the eco-village training course in Missouri. As with most good crowd-sourcing pitches they have created a compelling video which i would ask you to take a couple of minutes and review.
While this is an international project, it has a strong set of local roots and a commitment to investing mostly locally. This text from the Indiegogo project description.
Your contribution does much more than to help bring a student from the other side of the world to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in mid-America. Your contribution has further impact by growing our local economy and local currency system. Last year, 87% of our budget was spent within five miles of our community. EEUS and Dancing Rabbit model the power of local economy 365 days a year using our alternative local currency, ELMs. Scholarship contributions help immerse students in our community and continue to strengthen our local economy long after the students return home.
Please feel encouraged to help this scholarship fund crowd sourcing appeal.
i hate mission statements. The business press is clear that i am a fool in this believe because virtually everything written about mission statements harps on how important they are, how they help direct and guide people in the company, how you can’t really succeed unless you have a carefully crafted mission statement.
i have been involved with well meaning board members who drafted or recrafted mission statements. i have been involved with dozens of organizations (both for profit and non profit) which have mission statements. i have never once seen a mission statement used to solve a problem or direct a decision. As best i can tell, they get written (often by too many people) and then they get ignored. They are, as best i can tell, a complete waste of time.
But people love them, including clever people who i like and work with. When we started talking about forming a new urban high achievement oriented community – which is currently called Point A – there was a call for a mission statement. i just let go of my resistance and helped make it happen.
Point A – Mission and Commitment
To create a community that:
- Inspires and supports high achievement by the community and its members.
- Propagates itself by spinning off new communities.
- Balances the success of the community with the mandate to radically transform and improve the world.
High achievement means significantly contributing to constructive, extroverted, endeavors. Bringing out the new world that lives in our hearts and making a post-revolutionary paradise for ourselves is not enough. We seek change towards greater humanity and sustainability not just in our lives but in the lives of everyone. The commitment is to be a force pushing for positive change in the world.
High achievement requires high communication. Effective decision systems are of necessity rich/high bandwidth communication environments. On the personal relationship development side we will need to agree on some tool kit which could be transparency tools or landmark or something which MBAs use that we dont know about. The commitment is to be in a dynamic conversation about the needs and desires of both the individuals and the group and be committed to action and experiments which fill those needs and desires.
Communiversity: Incubating new communities requires an openness to people outside the residential collective and a willingness to teach and mentor them and learn from them. This part of the project could specialize in assisting with launching economic engines for groups. Modeling successful resource and money management will thus be a high value. The commitment is to look for allies who want to start innovative communities and figure out how we can mutually reach the goals.
Responsibility for more than our footprint. We propose that the community improve the world, and to do so the community must be successful in its mission which will require intelligent tradeoffs.. We recognize our obligation to be advancing improvements which have great leverage. Sharing systems, libraries, labor banks, sustainable manufacturing, clean energy production, worker coops and gift based economic models all likely have a role in this. The commitment is to do an analysis of impact and accessibility and figure out which of these systems makes the most sense to deploy first and what the plan is for likely future systems implementation.
I’ve waited 25 years for the map below which was just put out by the fine folks at Beyond Nuclear. It shows the reactor sites across the US with red X’s through the 4 sites (and 5 reactors) that utilities have closed in 2013 (VT Yankee will close in 2014). These include Crystal River 3 in Florida, Dominion Resources Kewaune in Wisconsin, the two reactors at San Onofre in California and Vermont Yankee. I have a special place in my heart for Vermont Yankee as it is the reactor complex in the US which i have most frequently been arrested at.
And this is just the beginning, as an excellent recent report by Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School points out. There are a ten more US reactors which are facing such serious problem that they are at high likelihood of closing in the near future. These plants are:
- Palisades (Repair impending, local opposition)
- Ft. Calhoun (Outage, poor performance)
- Nine Mile Point (Site size saves it, existing contract)
- Fitzpatrick (High cost but offset by high market clearing price)
- Ginna (Single unit with negative margin, existing contract)
- Oyster Creek (Already set to retire early)
- Millstone (Tax reasons)
- Clinton (Selling into tough market)
- Indian Point (License extension, local opposition)
- Davis-Besse (High repair costs, poor operating record)
So the game which activists have been playing with utilities and nuclear construction companies is still playing out in the same old way, if we can delay, we can often win. This was why i was quite heartened to hear that Vietnam (which has no reactors yet) was delaying their joint venture with Japan until 2020. What this really means is this reactor will never get built.
Why you ask? Well, there are several factors. In the short term there is still, much to my sadness, fracking. Despite fracking bans in France and Bulgaria (as well as temporary prohibitions in Romania, Germany and number of provinces, states and cities) this practice is on the rise worldwide. Fracking will continue to depress natural gas prices, making relatively expensive forms of power (like nuclear) undesirable. But in the middle and long term it is the continued decreasing cost of renewables which will kill reactors, especially ones which are delayed til 2020.
This does not mean the work of anti-nuclear organizers is over, far from it. The nuclear industry has way too much money at stake to do the right thing and die quietly. It will use bribes, the illusion that it is helpful for climate change and their huge access to cash to try to sucker as many countries and counties into buying their poisoned power. Our job is to just hold them back until the truth triumphs over this madness.
[Special thanks to McCune, a long time supporter of anti-nuclear efforts, for technical assistance on this post]