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]
There was a script we were supposed to be following in Japan after 3/11/11. It went something like this.
There would be a parliamentary study of what went wrong and Fukushima. The nuclear regulator which was very cozy with the nuclear utility would be blamed, it would be disassembled and new “tougher” regulator would take it’s place. The government at the time would be blamed for it’s poor handling of the disaster, and it would lose control of the nation in the upcoming elections. The utility responsible for the accident TEPCO would lose so much money it would be nationalized. All the reactors in the country would be closed (because local government are involved in these decisions in ways they are not permitted to be in the US). There would be huge demonstrations against nuclear power by the normally complacent Japanese people.
Then good things (from the industry perspective) would start happening. Two of the safest reactors would be re-opened to show Japan was not anti-nuclear and to prove that the country could not run without at least some of them being online (47 others remained idle). Fearing China militarily and a weak economy, the Japanese would elect a pro-nuclear government. Less than one year after the Fukushima triple meltdowns the utility would announce that they had attained the status of “Cold Shutdown” and that clean up efforts were moving forward apace. It would often be reported that “No one died at Fukushima” There would be expert reports on blackouts if Japan did not return to nuclear power. More reactors would be approved for restart under new stricter rules. Some small number of renewable projects would be built. Japan would continue to export reactor technology. Tokyo would win the hosting privileges for the 2020 Olympics and everything would be back to normal.
But this script has gotten a bit derailed. It turns out that not only is Fukushima not under control and getting cleaned up. It is getting worse. One problem is water. The quantities of radioactive water which the utility is trying to store are huge – over 200K tons is currently in onsite tanks and the quantity is growing. Increasingly these tanks are leaking. But dont be fooled by the idea of tanks holding this poisoned water. It has always been TEPCOs plan to dump radioactive contaminants in the ocean. It has done this repeatedly since the meltdowns and has been lobbying for permission to continue. While TEPCO currently permits about 600 tons of radioactive water per day to go into the ocean. Fishing in the area has been suspended indefinitely.
The new tougher nuclear regulator has requested the government take over from TEPCOs failed effort to address the accident, which is likely a good thing, because TEPCO is looking at the problem from a “how do we spend as little as possible on this” perspective.
But the Abe governments real problem is that reality is not following the script. The mainstream media is picking up that the situation is getting worse (and the government efforts will likely have little more efficacy than the utilities). Not only is the situation not well contained, if sea water is not endlessly pumped into the areas where the reactor fuel has burned thru the bottom of the plants we are looking at another series of explosions and releases at Fukushima. There are still about 100K people who are displaced because of the meltdowns alone. And the efforts to dismiss health effects are being countered. And while Japanese PM Abe is heading off to try to secure Tokyo’s Olympic bid, back home critics are demanding he declare a state of emergency.
Declared or not, there is a worsening emergency at Fukushima and it is knocking some of the worlds best paid PR people off their clever script.
Finding the perfect length post is an art, and of course there are different audiences with different desires. I read this brilliant blog post the other day that Rejoice posted called “The Problem with Polynormativity“, but as i read this long personal and clever piece i thought to myself, “this piece is too long for many readers, i want to hijack it, add compelling images, summarize it and reblog it myself.” Lines i have lifted directly from the original blog post by SexGeek are in italics. So here goes:
The mainstream media (MSM) has discovered polyamory and it is quite “in” these days. We have a few TV shows depicting poly relationships, we have regular news shows interviewing charming poly groups and talking about how they deal with jealousy, we have conservatives freaking out saying gay marriage will lead to bestiality and polyamorous marriages. It’s all good, right?
Actually, being embraced by the MSM is often the kiss of death for radical ideas, because they have an agenda and it is not the same as ours. The MSM needs to sell papers so it loves to think of itself as edgy, sexy and cool. But their agenda starts with some powerful and twisted assumptions:
- Polyamory starts with a couple
- Polyamory is hierarchical
- Polyamory has lots of rules
- Polyamory is heterosexual(-ish). Also, cute and young and white. Also new and exciting and sexy!
1. Polyamory starts with a couple. The first time I came across the term “poly couple” I laughed out loud. It seemed to me the most evident of oxymorons—jumbo shrimp, friendly fire, firm estimate, poly couple. But lo and behold, it’s really taken root, and nobody seems to be blinking. Polyamory is presented as a thing that a couple does, as opposed to a relationship philosophy and approach that individual people ascribe to, as a result of which they may end up as part of a couple but—because poly!—may just as well be partnered with six people, or part of a triad, or single, or what have you. With this norm, the whole premise of multiple relationships is narrowed down to what sounds, essentially, like a hobby that a traditionally committed pair of people decide to do together, like taking up ballroom dancing or learning to ski. So much for a radical re-thinking of human relationships. So much for anyone who doesn’t come pre-paired.
2. Polyamory is hierarchical. Now what is true is that there are lots of primary or central poly relationships, wherein new or additional relationships do not have as much power or access. And what is also true is that if you are willing or daring, these initial conditions need not be the on-going agreements and that if we are being emotionally honest with ourselves, we can admit that our feelings and desires change with time. This means we either need to be open to our relationships changing, or we have to start lying to ourselves.
It turns out that the mainstream relationship models often have a big interest in us lying to ourselves. Loyalty, stability and property rights are critically important in maintaining the status quo and transparency and emotional honesty are potentially damaging to the way things are. Poly can often be messy. To make it more easily understood and safer, it is depicted by the MSM as more controlled than it often really is.
And hierarchy is a model that the mainstream is very comfortable with. But problems quickly pop up with this stratification. I have oft argued that the real definition of a primary relationship is that it is the one you take care of when you can’t agree on what to do. It is not hard to see how this definition can lead to bad behavior, where an uncompromising primary partner forces their will and damages all the other relationships and often their trust.
What i see is that there are lots of different poly relationship topographies and often there is no single top or primary relationship.
3. Polyamory requires a lot of rules. If we start out with a couple, and we want to keep that couple firmly in its place as “primary” with all others as “secondary,” well, of course we need to come up with a bunch of rules to make sure it all goes according to plan, right? Right. (And there is most certainly a plan.)
This is a control-based approach to polyamory that, while not exclusive to couple-based primary-secondary models, is almost inevitable within them. Rules are implicitly set by the “primaries,” the “poly couple”—at least that’s how most discussions of rules are presented.
Here’s the thing. Rules have an inverse relationship to trust. They are intended to bind someone to someone else’s preferences. They are aimed at constraint. I will limit you, and you will limit me, and then we’ll both be safe.
What is true is that there is often lots of process in poly. You have jealous feelings and you don’t have exclusive agreements. This is a conversation and you could make agreements – to go slow, to keep a partner informed, to not have unprotected sex. These are more complicated than “don’t talk with/flirt with that person”.
But lots of people who are willing to step out of the “one lover” rule already have a radical viewpoint and are willing to have dynamic, informal (and potentially dangerous) agreements. Certainly, poly offers a myriad set of places for rules, and there are alternatives to rules which many non-monogamous couples choose instead.
4. Polyamory is heterosexual(-ish). Also, cute and young and white. Also new and exciting and sexy! Polyamory is resolutely presented in the media as a thing heterosexuals do, except sometimes for bisexual women who have a primary male partner and secondary female partners. It is exceedingly rare for lesbian, gay or queer poly configurations to be included in mainstream representations of polyamory, even though LGBQ circles are absolute hotbeds of polyamorous activity, and LGBQ people have a long and illustrious history of non-monogamy, recent enthusiasm about marriage notwithstanding. Go to just about any LGBQ gathering—even the most mainstream—and you can’t swing a cat without hitting at least half a dozen people who are doing some sort of non-monogamy, from regular “monogamish” bathhouse adventures to full-on poly families. It’s so common that it feels (gasp!) normal.
We can imagine lots of reasons for these biases. These are the markets this media is looking to sell to, this biases makes it easier to imagine the reader having a desire for this type of arrangement, that stretching beyond this demographic is too exotic for their imagined average reader. And what a loss this is. Stories of long experienced poly partners are sure to hold wit and wisdom. Stepping out of a heterosexual centric view will likely add a more political bent to the story.
I want to change her conclusions slightly:
- It sucks to be secondary
- Norms delegitimize deviant models
- This whole state of affairs screws over the newbies.
Hierarchical pairs means that “secondary” relationships start with fewer rights and less access. After this whole fight for marriage equity are we going to start enshrining structurally unequal and imbalanced poly relationships? This seems like a journey in the wrong direction.
For me poly starts with the presumption that you are a complex person who desires several different types of relationships to meet your emotional and sexual needs. It would be foolish to think your partners were simple plug ins; they too are likely complex and nodes in their own romantic webs. These types of structures are non-formulaic. Unlike monogamy, we are, in some sense, building our own relationship models with poly almost every time. It makes no sense to try to come up with what a “normal deviant relationship” is, unless your principal objective is to hustle papers or click-throughs.
Before the MSM got excited about poly, you had to be something of an adventurer to figure out what was going on. Poly books including The Ethical Slut and Love Without Limits are fairly inclusive texts, not hyping these normative models and encouraging partners to figure out what works best for them, with a bunch of insightful tools.
But today if you google “polyamory” an avalanche of normativity comes down on new explorers. You are likely to think that poly comes in this one sexy, white, young, hierarchical, couple centric rule-based flavor. Don’t be fooled, nothing could be further from the truth.
The way the mainstream media (MSM) reports it the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) foolishly patted down Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissenger on a recent flight from NYC. From my perspective the only thing which would be more appropriate would be if they had arrested him for acts of terrorism.
The cases against Henry Kissenger are tremendously compelling.
He was involved in the secret bombing of Cambodia, the over throw of the elected government of Chile and decries the restrictions on assassinations.
If TSA had been doing their job, Kissenger would be in jail awaiting trial.
At the one year anniversary the mainstream media will pull out various stories about the triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors. But what i am guessing is we will never hear another word in the MSM about two near meltdowns which happened in the US in Nebraska last summer at the Fort Calhoun reactor.
In late June of last year heavy rains flooded the Missouri river and put both the Fort Calhoun and Cooper reactors in danger. The air space over both plants was restricted with no clear reason to my thinking except to minimize the number of pictures like the one above from hitting the airwaves and newspapers.
There are several reasons why Fort Calhoun is more important than Fukushima in my thinking. The first is that the exact same thing could easily happen in Nebraska this year or worse with heavy rains. And climate shifts are increasing the probability of this every year. The second is that Fort Calhoun and Cooper are not some far off country on the other side of the world, where most Americans have never been and many can’t even find on a map. People have relatives in Nebraska, they have driven through it. Fort Calhoun is 20 miles from Omaha. Third is that it did not take a 1 in 10,000 year earthquake and tsunami for this accident to happen.
We got lucky at Fort Calhoun. Fortunately the reactor was down for a fuel change when the flooding started. Fortunately, it did not keep raining the small amount more it would have taken to completely overwhelm the stations after the make shift berms which had been placed around it broke.
And because we are hiding from Fort Calhoun and looking instead at Fukushima, we are pretending that the “lessons learned” from the triple meltdown will enable us to continue to operate dangerous reactors in this country. The real lesson learned is we should be phasing nuclear power out, like Japan, Mexico, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Venezuela, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands have done or are doing. The world is souring on nuclear power it is time for the US to stop being blind as to why.