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Child Cancer at Fukushima

It is extremely difficult to link radiation from a nuclear accident to cancer.  Part of the problem is that there is no way to determine what level of radiation exposure an accident survivor received.  Typically it takes 4 to 6 years for their to be any detectable symptoms, excluding people who had very high doses.  Further complications include for childhood thyroid cancer (the most common type of nuclear fallout cancer) are not screened for in the population in general at the same rate as it is for accident survivors, so we find more cancers because we are looking harder.

2013 kid examination near Fukushima - photo credit NPR

2013 kid examination near Fukushima – photo credit NPR

All this said, the latest news from testing done on 370,000 children from the Fukushima area looks quite distressing. Ultrasound tests have found 137 of these children have developed thyroid cancer.  This is 20 to 50 times higher than the national rate in Japan.  Some medical experts are saying that it is too soon to tell.  Others claim the increase is due to increased testing.  Still others are claiming it is not the same type of thyroid cancer we saw at Chernobyl and thus it is not likely from Fukushima’s triple meltdown.

What we know from Chernobyl is that there is a huge range of estimated premature deaths.  The WHO/IAEA study estimates 4,000.  The NY Academy of Science published report estimates nearly 1 million.  And the protection of children, both in terms of evacuation and screening of food in Japan has been much better than in the Ukraine.

What we do know is that renewable energy is cheaper than nuclear and we sill continue to build reactors because a certain group of powerful people make a lot of money from it.  And perhaps this (and the associated health toll) is the greatest crime of all.

I hate it when that happens – Volcano erupts near restarted Sendai reactor

Despite Japanese polling 2:1 against restarting the reactor fleet which has been completely shuttered for the last two years, the Abe government forced through the first restart of a reactor at Sendai complex.  Sendai was chosen for a number of reasons.   Comically, one of the reasons was that it was far from possible natural disaster.  Perhaps the most important (not listed in the excellent BAS article) is that it is the farthest from Tokyo (over 1000 km), where anti-nuclear protests continue.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at protest of Sendai reactor restart

Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan at protest of Sendai reactor restart

Former PM Kan spoke at the protest.  He was in office when Fukushima melted down and it destroyed his political career.   Now he is reminding fellow citizens that 1) Many new safety standards (like separate control rooms) have been skipped in restarting this reactor. 2) Tens of thousands of people remain unable to return to their homes because of radioactive fall out in the Fukushima area. 3) Japan does not need nuclear power to have a vibrant economy.

And as if  Mother Nature had a sense of humor, five days after the restart the nearest Volcano to the Sendai complex started erupting.    In all fairness, the active volcano at Sakurajima erupts quite regularly.  This time however it has reached level 4, which is the second highest warning level meaning that the 4,000 local residents should be prepared to immediately evacuate.  Level 5 is immediate evacuation.  The last major eruption of Sakurajima was in August 2013 (see above video), when ash and debris flew 5 km from the volcano.  Sendai is 50 km from the volcano.

sendai reactors

The first reactors to start in over 2 years in Japan.

Shuffling Titanic Deck Chairs – EdF plus Areva = Trouble

The big announcement in the nuclear world means almost nothing.  Electricity de France (EdF) is taking over Areva.   EdF runs Frances fleet of nuclear reactors.  Areva builds them.  But since there is only one reactor under construction in all of France and no solid plans for more (in fact the country is moving rapidly away from nuclear, cutting it national nuclear fraction by 33% in the next 10 years).  Areva instead tries to export them and builds them mostly in other countries.

The French state owns 85% of each

The French state owns 85% of each

But it does not try very successfully to complete them.  The flagship Areva nuclear power plant worldwide is the troubled Gen 3 European Pressurized Reactor.  There are 4 of them under construction globally.  2 in China, 1 in Finland and 1 in France.  They are all late, they are all over budget, hugely so in France and Finland.  Areva posting a US$5.3 billion dollar loss last year (which also resulted in S&P down grading it’s long term debt to junk bond status).  The reactor vessel head failed its structural test by the highly independent French nuclear regulator, further delaying and perhaps even jeopardizing the native project.

EdF is the largest nuclear operator in the world.  Areva is the largest nuclear construction company in the world.  And they are both in trouble (tho Areva more than EdF).  The reason it does not matter is both companies are 85% owned by the French government.  Think Titanic deck chairs.


Could you move a little to the right?

EDF said the acquisition of a 51 to 75 percent stake in the reactor business would have a neutral impact on its 2018 cash flow and it would be completely protected from any risks related to Areva’s long-delayed Olkiluoto 3 reactor in Finland, where Areva’s customer TVO is claiming billions of euros in damages.

Oh, i don’t think this is going to be that easy.

Energy Futures – Riyadh, London and Austin

Different countries and cities select different energy solutions for myriad reasons and examining these can help us understand why different options are being selected.  There is news from various capitals around the world which i want to examine briefly.

Austin, Texas:  As reported in SafeEnergy.Org, the city of Austin has just locked in 600 MW of solar power for under $0.04/kwh.  Utilities have not been able to buy power at these prices since the 1960s, even without correcting for inflation (which makes it an even better deal).  They asked electricity suppliers for solar power specifically and got over 8000 MW of bids (this is the equivalent, after reducing for capacity factor, of 2 or 3 full size nuclear reactors).

A compelling combination

A compelling combination

Before you start harping on the intermittency (or as the nuclear boosters like to call it “unreliability”) of solar power, please get your facts straight.  It is no longer 2005.  Inexpensive utility scale battery technology, like those offered by Tesla Energy, is bringing the cost of storage in at around 2 US cents/kwh.  What this means for Austin and other cities with reasonable sunshine is that “base load” solar power is going to be cheaper than almost anything else.

In a reasonable world, this would mean the end of new nuclear power construction, because it is much slower to build, far more expensive and fraught with problems from waste handling, to proliferation issues, to liability nightmares, to decommissioning costs to lack of private investors.  Sadly, we live in nothing like a reasonable world.

London, England:  Austria is challenging the EUs approval of 108 billion British pound (US$166 billion) in subsidies for the UK’s plan to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point.   This legal challenge has been joined by a collection of German and other renewable energy providers.  Austria is objecting to both the price of power from these reactors being set at twice the current wholesale price for power for 35 years and insuring profits for the constructing company even in the event that the reactor is closed early.


While it is unlikely the Austrian challenge alone will stop this ill advised project, it might be one of many factors which scuttles the deal.  The other reactors of this design in France and Finland are over a decade late in construction.  The French reactor had almost tripled in price, before this expensive failure was reported. The pressure vessel for Hinkley had already been forged, by the same plant which forged the pressure vessel for the French reactor which just failed its safety tests.  This one will now be used for destructive tests, adding more hundreds of millions in cost presumably to the French reactor company.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:  In the last few months Saudi Arabia has inked deals for new nuclear power plants with South Korea, France, China, Argentina and Russia.  The Saudis are hoping to build 16 reactors by 2032.  The French deal (which is really an agreement to investigate possibilities) has a price tag of US$12 billion on it.  Saudi Arabia seems to be living in the dream world in which they think they can build reactors for US$ 2 billion each.  The west is looking at prices 3 to 5 times this high.

It should be recognized as a triumph of money over politics.  And that in fact nuclear power is secondary, what Riyadh really wants is nuclear weapons, and they are unapologetic about it.  Especially in the case of Russia, Saudi Arabia is making a deal with a political opponent (on support for Iran and Syria particularly) so that it can have access to weapons fabrication technology.  Saudi Arabia (unlike Iran) is making no effort to hide it’s nuclear weapons ambitions, in fact it is celebrating them in what they call the “nuclear defense doctrine“.  There is already talk of an accelerated Middle Eastern arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  What could go wrong?

Want to be part of our club?

Want to be part of our club?

And since there is no sun in Iran or Saudi Arabia, there is clearly no alternative to nuclear power.

France cuts nuclear to 50% by 2025

If you talk with nuclear boosters, they are most likely to tell you about two countries: France and China.  When praising France, they will talk about the ambitious coordinated effort to switch their electricity generating profile after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, when the country moved from basically no nuclear power to having over 75% of its generating capacity coming from nuclear in less than 20 years. It was something of an engineering marvel.

What you won’t hear them talking about is the new national energy policy adopted on July 22 after 150 hours of parliamentary debate.  This new policy mimics French PM Hollande’s campaign promise to cut nuclear power to 50% of its generating total by the year 2025.  France will replace nuclear mostly with renewables.

France will need to triple its wind and solar generation by 2025 (Hydro is currently 13%)

France will need to triple its wind and solar generation by 2025 (Hydro is currently 13%)

What does it mean for clean energy campaigners worldwide that the world’s leading builder of nuclear power plants, the country with the largest fraction of nuclear generation and the biggest nuclear construction and operating companies in the world, gets a pink slip?  This new national policy also quadruples the price of carbon emissions.  It means the real world of new nuclear power construction is dying and Europe, unlike the US, seeing the writing on the wall.

This is huge.  Champagne corks are popping in energy campaigning offices around the world.

The US mainstream media has no interest in this story.    The only coverage in the US of this story (24 hours after the vote) is Bloomberg News and the Montana Standard.  Instead, just as we are foolishly debating whether human induced climate change is real in this country, we are still focusing on the bright future of nuclear power.

Just like the US, France has not long term nuclear waste storage solutions despite spending decades and finding a solution and failing completely.

Just like the US, France doesn’t have long term nuclear waste storage solutions despite spending decades and finding a solution and failing completely.

Turkey Point > Small Reactors – Going where the fight is

I track the nuclear reactor news; it’s an old habit that i can’t seem to kick.  There is a lot of digital ink spent on small modular reactors (SMRs).  Bill Gates is funding them! Department of Energy has millions for research for SMRs! Virginia will lead the Renaissance with SMRs.  This must be a happening thing right?
Bill Gates
Actually, it is not.  If you care about the future of clean energy in this country, you are not going to put in a bunch of time fighting Small Reactors.  That fight is over.  The nuke boosters lost again.  Same old reason, nuclear power (especially from inefficient sized reactors) is crazy expensive and the market will select anything else that is cheaper, or in some cases no carbon foot print and cheaper.

Shouldn’t we do more research?  Well, the Navy has for 60 years and can’t get small (non-modular) reactor costs down to anything reasonable in either aircraft carriers or submarines.  They do them anyway, because these are cost plus rather than market driven projects, but don’t look for cities or utilities, which have to watch bottom lines, to follow the military in energy investment strategy.

We can just build them like this and pay 10X the market rate

We can just build them like this and pay 10X the market rate

If over half a century of well funded research and significant motivation on the part of the military does not convince you that economical SMRs are not imminent, then let me up the ante.  Westinghouse Nuclear, the largest nuclear construction company in the US, has dropped SMRs. This means the second best nuclear marketing team in the world thinks they can’t sell these.  

All five reactors under construction in the US currently are Westinghouse designs.  Westinghouse’s reason for ditching SMRs, “There are no customers”

To be clear, just because these reactors that make no economic sense will not stop a few of them from being built.  But there will be no commercial contracts for these reactors, no orders from other countries, no merchant reactors operating in the US.  In terms of the dangerous part of the fight, this is not where the action is.
The fight that matters and that we totally can win is the campaign against new reactors in the US.  And there are proposals for new ones, especially Turkey Point blocks 6 and 7.  Below is a letter i wrote to a Florida green group on the topic:
I am interested in working with you providing information and strategy suggestions for the campaign to block the Blocks 6 and 7 at Turkey Point.

First the good news (for fighting TP6&7, not for the citizens of FL or the environment):

These reactors are early in their licensing stage, so there is plenty of time to slow down/bog down the approval process and or kill the proposal outright. Specifically, we have until July 17 to get comments into the NRC.

The reactors use a tremendous amount of water in an area which likely can’t handle it, even if local sewage treatment water is heavily used.  The existing reactors are not able to stay cool despite huge quantities of water being used.

The site is located both near parks and at a very low water level that will flood in the event of hurricanes and otherwise rising waters.

The key is cheap, reliable storage - Tesla Utility Scale Batteries

The key is cheap, reliable storage – Tesla Utility Scale Batteries

Solar PV augmented with new Tesla Electric utility scale batteries trumps TP6&7 financially today.  And the longer we drag out the discussion, the more true this becomes. The most recently ordered (but not yet confirmed) nuclear reactor, Hinkley 3, is more expensive than either Solar PV or onshore wind in the UK, twice as much.

All of the 5 reactors under construction in the US are both late and over-budget.  As has been every other reactor built in the US of the last 70 reactors in a row. FLP will almost certainly blow its proposed budget for this pair of new reactors.

Now the bad news:

Florida has Construction Work in Process (CWIP) which allow utilities to charge rate payers for expensive project failures.  This was central to the new reactor in SC and Georgia being approved, when they can not get similar projects thru in states without CWIP.

The nuclear utility has tremendous political power and are generally able to get both the FL Public Utility Commission and the FL State Legislature to give them everything they want.    This said, it is still worth talking with state activists to see if there had ever been a successful campaign to lobby the PUC.  Certainly, loud enough campaigning can influence the legislature, though they are screamed at with some regularity and bought off far more often.  The nuclear utilities in Florida have made a most fascinating argument against solar power: it helps rich people get richer.  Because of the high up front costs of roof top solar PV, only rich people can afford it, so, since we want a grid funded by everyone, the rich should be prohibited from profiting from their capital and everyone should pay for the grid. To be clear, the reason utilities build nuclear power plants is that they have a bunch of money (or credit) now and want to buy this incredibly expensive thing, that only they can buy and then make lots of money off (by not paying for waste, insurance, terrorist risks, etc).   So the incredibly rich FL utilities have convinced the sunshine state that solar power is bad here, because it will give the rich more money.

Instead of Reactors, let's do this in the Sunshine State.

Instead of Reactors, let’s do this in the Sunshine State.

The Solutions Project has 50 plans, one for each state, on how to get to 100% renewable energy in the US by 2050.  Not one plan uses nuclear reactors.

Finland Cancels Its Last Reactor

I read about reactors everyday.  It is a trillion dollar industry worldwide, with over 30 countries with operating reactors.  The stories are often contradictory and there is incredible national and international politics at play. (For example, Russian incursions into the Ukraine have damaged its nuclear export business because it depends on component vendors from countries which now have trade embargoes up against it).

importantly, this does not include over 40 reactors

Importantly, this does not include over 40 reactors “temporarily” closed in Japan after Fukushima.

One of the most important nuclear countries in the world is tiny Finland. In 2003, Finland became the first country in Europe in 15 years to order a new reactor.  They ordered a French reactor, the first European Pressurized Reactor (or EPR) from Areva.  This was supposed to be a model for new nuclear construction worldwide and because they were taking a chance with an untried technology, they negotiated a fixed price for the reactor and pre-sold the electricity based on this fix price.

It was supposed to cost 3 billion Euros.  It was supposed to be completed in 2009.  Originally, nuclear giant Siemens joined Areva in the contract to build this reactor, but the project went so badly in 2009 they dropped out.  Now it is at least 9 years late in completion and it will be over 8.5 billion Euros, almost 300% over budget.  Even with this project getting further delayed, ambitious nuclear Finland decided in 2010 to start the process for  the construction of a 6th and 7th reactors. The Finnish government had given the nuclear utility TVP until end of June to finalize its building permit request.

This week TVO, the Finnish nuclear utility with the option to build these new reactors, scrapped their plans.  This little reported story is actually very bad news for the global nuclear industry.  Finland is a rich, technologically advanced country and it leaving the fold of countries which might build new reactors is another nail in the coffin of this dangerous industry.

The official reason for scrapping these proposed new reactors is that they have no confidence in the completion of the EPR which is under construction.  Let’s hope the Brits who are thinking about building two of this design reactors are paying attention.

And if the facts don’t hit hard enough, perhaps this powerful subtitled Japanese video will.


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