Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Latest in Nuke News

Last week, we interviewed Mary Olsen (of Nuclear Information and Resource Service) on Occupy the Microphone. (For the best in recent nuke news, check out NIRS.org)

Some of the news Mary shared with us:

[] In March, the NRC denied a third reactor to Calvert Cliffs nuke in Maryland:
The five-member commission [that oversees the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission] upheld an earlier Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruling on the Calvert Cliffs 3 new nuclear reactor application, which had denied UniStar Nuclear Energy LLC’s application because of its failure to meet NRC foreign ownership requirements for US power reactors.

On Aug. 31, the three-judge ASLB denied a license for the proposed Calvert Cliffs unit 3 project because UniStar was bought out by Electricite de France in November 2010, resulting in 100-percent French ownership of UniStar.
[] In April, the Crystal River nuke in Florida was permanently shut down due to cracks in the containment dome and other problems; it has been offline since 2009 and has been a long-term headache for Duke Energy ever since:
The Crystal River plant in Citrus County, Florida, is operated by Progress Energy Florida. A failed repair to its thick reactor containment building led to repeated problems with cracking concrete in the structure.

Duke cited differences with merger partner Progress Energy last year over Crystal River’s condition. Progress CEO Bill Johnson, who was fired as chief executive of the combined companies, had favored repairing the 36-year-old plant.

But a Duke-commissioned engineering report late last year concluded that, while repairs were feasible, they could cost up to $3.4 billion in a worst-case scenario.
[] In May, the Kewaunee nuke in Wisconsin was permanently shut down:
The Kewaunee plant, which opened in 1974, was sold in 2005 to Dominion, based in Richmond, Va., by its owners, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and Wisconsin Power and Light. In the past, the lengthy decommissioning process that nuclear power requires was in the hands of local companies, which have had the option to go to a public service commission and ask for a rate increase to pay for the job if it proved unexpectedly difficult.

But Kewaunee was a “merchant” plant, a sort of free agent on the grid, selling its electricity on contract, at a price set by the market, not by the government.
Earlier this year, [Rep. Edward Markey] pointed out, the owners of the Crystal River 3 plant in Florida decided to retire it rather than repair its containment structure, because of unfavorable economics. Industry experts say that several reactors are operating at a loss while their owners wait for the glut of natural gas to disappear. How long that will be, and how many will last, is not clear.

“Once these old nuclear reactors shut down — as we’re seeing now — it will take 60 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to decontaminate them,” Mr. Markey said in a statement. “Taxpayers should have assurances that these nuclear relics don’t outlive their corporate owners and their ability to fund nuclear cleanup costs, leaving ordinary Americans to foot the bill.”
[] The NRC denied a license to Nuclear Innovation North America LLC for their proposed South Texas 3 & 4 Project (a joint venture between NRG Energy and Toshiba) because Toshiba owns a controlling interest in the nuclear reactors, in violation of US law:
The federal regulator denied the application of Nuclear Innovation North America LLC for a license to build the reactors, noting that Toshiba’s ownership stake in and “overwhelming financial contributions” to the project afford it a degree of control over the nuclear power plant that exceeds the limits of the Atomic Energy Act.

“The staff has determined that Toshiba, a Japanese corporation, through Toshiba American Nuclear Energy Corp. … its American subsidiary, is the sole source of financing for NINA,” the commission said in a letter denying the license.
[] Nuclear plant San Onofre 2 & 3 in California, has been shut down permanently, due to one disaster after another:
[The] nuke plant’s two operating reactors had already been shut down since January 2012. Southern California Edison’s decision to give up the ghost can be traced to its pattern of extreme mismanagement of plant operations, consequent huge financial losses, and the tenacious opposition that rallied local communities to take action to keep the unsafe plant shut down.

San Onofre is the largest nuclear power plant to be shut down in the US. One reactor was retired in 1992. The other two, just cut loose, formerly generated 2200 Megawatts of electricity to 1.5 million households. Located between San Diego and Los Angeles, the plant supplied power to 1.5 million households. 8.7 million people live within 50 miles of it. The two reactors at San Onofre had been scheduled to operate until 2022.
Long before Fukushima, San Onofre had already been having its own problems.
Reactor Unit 1, started up in 1968, had to be shut down in 1992 after problems with equipment that came back to haunt Edison with a vengeance in recent years at its other reactors.

In 2006 workers found radioactive water under Unit 1 that was 16 times more radioactive than EPA permitted levels for its presence in drinking water. And this was 14 years after that reactor had been shut down.
In August 2008 the Los Angeles Times reported “Injury rates at San Onofre put it dead last among US nuclear plants when it comes to industrial safety.” Later that year it emerged that a battery system, key to providing backup power to pump water to flood Unit 2’s reactor in case of a potential meltdown “was inoperable between 2004 and 2008 because of loose electrical connection,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported.

And also in 2008, the Radiation and Public Health Project reported, in the European Journal of Cancer Care, that the counties nearest San Onofre, had the highest child leukemia mortality rates, of counties near nuclear power plants studied for the years 1974-2004.
All this led to 2009 and 2010, when Edison found it necessary to replace the four massive steam generators in San Onofre’s units 2 and 3. The original steam generators lasted over a quarter century, though they were supposed to last for the life of the reactors, 40 years. Steam generators facilitate the creation of steam to turn turbines to generate electricity in the type of nuclear plants most common in the US. Water pipes run through reactors and are heated by nuclear fuel. But this water also picks up lots of radioactivity. The steam generators have tubes that pass on the heat to another set up pipes that make the steam, while not passing on the radioactivity, which otherwise would escape into the environment and contaminate it. Thus the steam generators are key to keeping these nuclear plants running safely. Edison reportedly spent $680 million on the replacement steam generators. Since the plant was not originally designed to need replacements, the utility had to cut huge holes in buildings to get them inside.

And then they turned to junk in just a few years.

In a March 2012 report , Arne Grundersen, of Vermont’s Fairewind’s Associates, a former nuclear industry engineer, described the decisive moments when San Onofre’s shut down began in January 2012: “Unit 3 was operating at full power and experienced a complete perforation of one [steam generator] tube that allowed highly radioactive water from inside the reactor to mix with non-radioactive water that was turning the turbine. As a consequence, an uncontrolled release of radiation ensued, and San Onofre was forced to shut down due to steam generator failure.”
[] And finally, Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy has shelved all plans for a nuclear reactor in Iowa, opting for wind turbines instead:
MidAmerican Energy has scrapped plans for Iowa’s second nuclear plant and will refund $8.8 million ratepayers paid for a now-finished feasibility study, utility officials said Monday.

The utility has decided against building any major power plant: “We opted for what was in the best interest of our customers,” MidAmerican vice president for regulatory affairs Dean Crist told The Des Moines Register.

Mid­American will focus on its plan to build up to 656 wind turbines in a $1.9 billion project across Iowa, which also will trim power bills by saving fuel costs.

Thanks to Mary for coming on our show; she will be revisiting us soon.


D. said...


Craig said...


JoJo said...

The one in Plymouth is still operating despite the large population around it. And their 'evacuation' plan of sending everyone to Cape Cod, and you can't even get on Cape on a summer weekend due to traffic.

Sevesteen said...

Many years ago I read a story of a reactor funded by one department of the Federal Government. In the contract was a clause that if the builder was fined for safety or legal violations, those fines would be paid by the government.

Every form of energy is dangerous, as is a lack of reasonably priced energy. Wind doesn't work without subsidies, and it merely shifts the environmental damage to China--the rare earth minerals needed for efficient wind generators are so nasty to mine that it is extremely difficult to produce them economically in a country with enforced environmental laws. We need to compromise on nuclear--Rather than "no nukes ever", we need tough but stable regulations that are properly enforced. Instead enforcement is almost entirely partisan, one side looking for any excuse to shut down a plant, the other side looking for any excuse to ignore a safety issue.