Archive for the ‘New Nuclear Reactors’ Category

Obama’s State of Union will likely hit on a number of energy policy themes: climate change, promotion of offshore drilling, clean energy. The President’s statements on climate change were previewed in his January 21 inaugural address, when he declared “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it.”

The 2007 Supreme Court ruled the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses under its existing Clean Air Act authority if it finds a scientific basis that such emissions pose a danger to public health. This summer, a Republican-led federal appeals court ruled that the EPAs compilation of the science of climate change was overwhelming and compelling, thereby requiring the Agency to act.

Obama has already used this authority to implement ground-breaking greenhouse gas emission rules for cars and trucks, and has proposed rules for new power plants that rule out the construction of conventional coal power plants. Tonight’s State of the Union will likely propose new rules over existing power plants.

And this is where Southern’s $100,000 contribution to Obama’s 2013 Inaguaration may become a factor. Southern Co was the only utility to make a contribution.  Obama’s climate change rules for cars were developed with auto industry support - previewing a framework for how rules over existing power plants may play out. In 2009 Obama was content to let the House take the lead in putting together climate rules to ensure there’d be shared responsibility among the legislative & executive branches on economy-wide legislation that was sure to be controversial in some circles. While Obama quickly abandoned succeeding Senate efforts to draft a companion bill after concluding that the cap ‘n trade approach was too politically risky, Obama pivoted in his 2011 SOTU around a clean energy standard that promoted nuclear and natural gas that had very similar emissions reduction targets as the Waxman Markey bill.

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The following is a repost of my National Journal Energy Experts blog

Electricity policy faces enormous challenges—three different federal agencies (EPA, DOE, FERC) and 10 Congressional committees wrestle with oversight over electricity markets, new generation sources, air and water emissions issues, and energy efficiency initiatives. Resolving the current political stalemate requires an acknowledgement that maximizing investment in a decentralized electricity structure has to be a significant part of policy going forward. And we must recognize that while constitutional rights within our Democratic Republic often clash with companies’ need for efficiency, preserving those rights must be our priority.

Not only are capital cost barriers of proposed new nuclear and coal-fired units significant, but so are the associated transmission infrastructure upgrades needed to move the power from new sources to population centers. Trying to build any new type of large infrastructure system designed to accommodate our centralized power system has traditionally run into NIMBY opposition, which lately has been characterized as Not on Planet Earth (NOPE). Population density in the US has increased 105% from 1950 to 2010—from 42.6 people per square mile in 1950 to 87.4 people per square mile in 2010. With more people living per square mile than ever before, Americans’ Fifth Amendment Constitutional right to due process guarantees that large projects will continue to be delayed. Congress’ unwillingness to grant the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimate authority over transmission siting leaves permitting at the state level, where property owners will continue to hold sway over project developers. Meanwhile, the plummeting cost of solar photovoltaics, advances in micro-wind turbines, and continued permitting successes of geothermal are providing more opportunities for distributed renewable energy generation. It’s more efficient to site millions of rooftop solar systems than permit just a handful of new coal/nuclear stations with hundreds of miles of needed transmission.

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With Japanese Nuclear Crisis Still Unfolding, New Nuclear Reactor Approval Is Move in Wrong Direction

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) approval today of a proposal for the construction and operation of two new reactors in Georgia is a move in the wrong direction. The license granted to Southern Company is the first in 30 years and comes nearly one year after an earthquake initiated a still-uncontained nuclear crisis in Japan.

Nuclear development in the U.S. has been dormant for decades for a variety of good reasons, so it is inexplicable that we’ve chosen this moment in history to expand the use of a failed and dangerous technology.

While countries like Germany, Italy and Switzerland responded to the catastrophe in Japan by announcing plans to eliminate nuclear power from their energy sector, U.S. nuclear regulators are doing the exact opposite. The U.S. is approving new reactors before the full suite of lessons from Japan has been learned and before new safety regulations that were recommended by a task force established after the meltdown crisis at Fukushima have been implemented.

Even before nuclear reactor vulnerability was exposed in Japan, Southern Company’s proposal to expand its Vogtle nuclear power plant had been delayed by problems with financing and design.

To alleviate the tremendous risk associated with nuclear construction, Southern Company sought a federal loan guarantee, which it received in February 2010 for $8 billion to back the $14 billion project. This incentive, combined with a law passed by Georgia lawmakers in 2009 to allow the company to charge ratepayers up front for costs associated with the project, shields Southern Company from financial risk. In short, if the project fails, both taxpayers and ratepayers will bear the financial losses.

In December, after 18 design revisions, the NRC approved the Westinghouse Electric AP 1000, the reactor design slated for the Vogtle expansion. The new design is untested, and despite its multiple revisions to address safety vulnerabilities, the approval comes before all the lessons learned from Japan have been realized. Incorporating new safety features during the construction would delay the project and increase the cost – the exact circumstances that led to more than 30 mid-construction reactor cancellations in the 1970s.

The Vogtle nuclear expansion project – initiated by an early site permit application filed six years ago – was supposed to be the poster child for the industry’s much-heralded nuclear renaissance that never materialized. Instead, it has served as a reminder of the reasons reactor construction stopped for 30 years: Nuclear plants are so expensive that corporations cannot afford to build them without a massive infusion of government money, and they raise serious safety questions that remain unaddressed.

 

 

On June 7th, the same day that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was in D.C. meeting with President Obama on various matters, the Energy and Natural Resources Senate Committee was holding a hearing regarding three bills, two of which propose new steps in the United States’ nuclear energy future. "Germany Nuclear Power"

In a striking parallel to the failed Nuclear Power 2010 Program, initiated in February of 2002 under the Bush Administration, the Nuclear Power 2021 Act, proposed by Senators Udall, Bingaman, and Murkowski, aims to revitalize a technology that has once again been proven to be outrageously dangerous, this time in Japan.  Unlike our German counterparts’ rational decision to completely abandon nuclear energy by 2022 in response to the still developing catastrophe in Japan, the Senate has proposed the Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S.512) and the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2011 (S.1067), which would give new energy and funding to the United States’ so-called “nuclear renaissance.”

Smaller Doesn’t Mean Safer

These bills fail to address the age-old economic and safety concerns regarding nuclear power; they simply propose a new form of the same problem, namely Small Modular Reactor (SMR).  SMR’s, according to S.1067, are reactors with rated capacity less than 300 electrical megawatts which can be constructed and operated in combination with similar reactors at a single site.  Proponents of SMR’s argue, although many of the designs are still being worked on and none have yet been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), that SMR’s could potentially be safer than traditional reactors because they will require less cooling due to their reduced power level, they will be able to be sited underground, and they will likely be equipped with many passive cooling and safety features.  In the Senate hearing on June 7th, 2011 regarding these matters, it was widely discussed that the United States could be a world leader in SMR technology and manufacturing and even export SMR’s in the future.

Another Nuclear Industry Boondoggle

There are many troubling issues with these bills and the corresponding Senate hearing.  First, in the wake of the worst nuclear disaster in history, these bills aim to dedicate money and resources to an industry that we should be moving away from.  More specifically, S.1067 appropriates $50 million for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016 for research regarding SMR’s as well as for other measures to reduce the cost of nuclear energy.  Why spend money to make nuclear energy, a proven failure and a public health ticking time bomb, cheaper when we could spend money

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"Tyson Slocum" "Public Citizen" "Energy Director"A $10 million line of credit provided to the Democratic National Committee by nuclear power company Duke Energy should be rejected by President Barack Obama. As the administration formulates its response to the Japanese nuclear crisis, it should not be accepting support from nuclear power interests, particularly since this significant corporate loan to the president’s re-election convention committee undermines the president’s recent convention financing cleanup efforts.

Take Action: Tell Obama to Reject the Duke Energy Loan

During the 2008 election campaign, then-Sen. Obama qualified his response to nuclear power expansion with a long list of issues that would need to be resolved – including safety and waste storage – before he would fully endorse the technology. But while the Japanese continue to contend with the threat of significant releases of radioactivity from its damaged reactors, and U.S. reactor and spent fuel storage vulnerabilities come in to question, the Obama administration continues to profess its commitment to use taxpayer money to build new reactors.

On March 12, the media reported that Duke Energy was providing the Democratic convention host committee with a $10 million line of credit for the party’s 2012 national convention to re-elect Obama. The money will be paid back, but the president’s re-election campaign should not be relying on loan guarantees from the nuclear industry at a time when the industry’s future is contingent on obtaining loan guarantees from the U.S. government.

Obama and the Democratic National Committee have proposed some dramatic and important new steps in reforming how the national nominating conventions are funded. For the first time ever, direct contributions from corporations are banned, though the Democratic convention will accept in-kind contributions from corporations, and a $100,000 contribution limit has been imposed on individuals. Given that the 2008 conventions received about 80 percent of their funding from direct corporate contributions and only about 5 percent of total convention funding came in amounts of $100,000 or less, these are some big changes in how we finance party conventions. The new convention funding policy is an important rebuke to the corporate dominance of politics that has soared since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

Accepting a loan guarantee from Duke Energy, just when that the nation is re-thinking its policy on nuclear energy, creates a loophole in the Obama-DNC reforms – and illustrates precisely why robust reforms are needed. Duke Energy operates three nuclear complexes and is negotiating with federal officials on subsidies to build a fourth in South Carolina. In addition, Duke Energy announced a merger with Progress Energy, which also has three nuclear power facilities and is negotiating with the Obama administration to build a fourth.

In all, nuclear power utilities also have made campaign contributions of

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