Archive for the ‘New Nuclear Reactors’ Category

Not only is nuclear power a health risk;  it also does not make sense from an environmental or economic perspective. Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum explains why nuclear   energy is a waste of money when he goes head-to-head with Fox Business News.

If you missed this nuclear knock-out live, just click here to view the video and then let us know what YOU think.

Interested in ensuring Americans don’t have to endure the suffering the Japanese are enduring now? Then sign our petition to take action against nuclear power plant loan guarantees.

 

 

The tragic events unfolding in Japan demand a reexamination of U.S. nuclear policy.  While stocks in nuclear plummet and nuclear industry lobbyists scramble on Capitol Hill to shore up support for massive federal subsidies to kick-start the stagnate industry, concerns regarding the existing aging fleet are surfacing and should be heeded.

Case: Vermont Yankee

Last year, due to a series of radioactive tritium leaks, state legislators voted to close the 38-year-old facility when its license expires in 2012. Despite this referendum, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decided one day before the earthquake hit Japan to pursue the license renewal. According to nuclear safety expert Arnie Gundersen, concerns about the reactor design – almost identical to the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan – go back to 1972.

Here’s Gundersen on Democracy Now!: “The NRC in 1972 said we never should have licensed this containment. And in 1985, the NRC said they thought it was about a 90 percent chance that in a severe accident this containment would fail. So, that we’re seeing it at Fukushima is an indication that this is a weak link. It’s this Mark I, General Electric Mark I, containment. And we have – essentially one-quarter of all of the nuclear reactors in the United States, 23 out of 104, are of this identical design.”

Emergency Response in a Nuclear Disaster

The federal government’s nuclear accident response plan – the Nuclear/Radiological Incident Annex to the National Response Plan – says that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “is responsible for coordinating Federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.” Yet the plan also indicates that, depending on the type of nuclear or radiological incident, the coordinating agency may instead be the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or the U.S. Coast Guard.

Documents recently released under a Freedom of Information Act request indicate that the EPA, the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is part of DHS, are not in agreement about which federal agency would lead efforts to respond and clean up a large-scale radiation release caused by an accident at or attack on a nuclear reactor. Remember the confusion after the BP disaster over who was in charge? Imagine that scenario unfolding at a nuclear accident.

Additionally, concerns that potassium iodide, the pill taken after a nuclear disaster that can help prevent the cancer-causing effects of radiation poisoning, have not been distributed to those living within 20 miles of a U.S. nuclear facility. A 2002 law instructs the government to help states build bigger stocks of the pill for those living near a nuclear facility. However, a loophole allows the White House to forgo distribution if officials find a better way to prevent cancer than administering the pill. After years of delays, the Bush administration dropped the plan in 2007, saying evacuations would be a better alternative. So we haven’t been stockpiling iodine. Today, The Wall Street Journal reported that supplies of potassium iodide, are running low at some manufacturers, as Americans seek protection amid fears that radiation from Japan could head to the U.S.

Lack of Industry Accountability

The Price-Anderson Act is a key piece of legislation for the nuclear industry. The consequences of an attack or an accident at a nuclear power plant are so staggering that insurance companies won’t fully insure them. Congress passed a law in 1957, the Price-Anderson Act, that established a taxpayer-backed insurance scheme for nuclear power.

This law limits the amount of insurance nuclear power plant owners must carry and caps their liability in the event of a catastrophic accident or attack at dollar amounts that fall far, far short of the actual financial consequences that could be incurred. Even nuclear power executives acknowledge that their industry is financially dependent on Price-Anderson to shield nuclear power from free market forces. Congress reauthorized the Price-Anderson subsidy for another 20 years as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. That means that taxpayers would be on the hook for billions of dollars if a nuclear catastrophe happened here.

Case: Vogtle

Meanwhile the flagship project of the so-called nuclear renaissance located in Georgia still faces scrutiny over a reactor design that could be vulnerable to an earthquake or the impact of an airplane crash. The site of the new reactors is located at the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant, operated by Southern Company.  In February 2010, it was announced that the corporation would be the first recipient of taxpayer backed loan guarantees, to the tune of $8.3 billion.

Going forward

Amazingly, despite emerging concerns about existing and proposed reactors, the Obama administration has said it will not back off its plans to further prop up the nuclear industry through increased taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and the inclusion of nuclear power technology in the administration’s clean energy standard. The administration has included $36 billion in loan guarantees in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. Instead, it should immediately halt subsidies and instead focus on developing solar and wind power.  Take Action on Nuclear Subsidies

The administration  must take off the blinders, look hard at what is going on in Japan and realize that yes, a catastrophe can happen here.

Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program

The whole world is horrified and saddened at the death and destruction wrought by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

But the horror continues with the escalating fears of nuclear meltdown at three 1970s-era Japanese reactors. Such an event could eclipse the damage and destruction already wrought by Mother Nature.

This is nuclear power’s Achilles’ heel and shows why it is sheer folly to pour resources into building and maintaining nuclear reactors in the U.S.

Despite the assurances of our elected officials and the industry, there is no way to guarantee the public’s safety when a natural disaster or terrorism strikes commercial reactors. The Japanese are arguably the best prepared to deal with earthquakes, yet they failed to adequately plan for the impact of a tsunami. This demonstrates the difficulty in planning for both the “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” that impact nuclear reactors from natural disaster and terrorism. There are alternatives. Had Japan invested in rooftop solar and wind turbines to the degree it spent maintaining and building nuclear reactors, the country wouldn’t be grappling with the potential of a full-scale nuclear meltdown.

U.S. policymakers should watch events in Japan closely and understand the implications to public safety of committing U.S. taxpayer resources to building new nuclear plants. We call on the federal government to do the following:

  • Immediately stop activity relating to relicensing aging U.S. reactors;
  • Halt all activity geared toward building new reactors; and
  • End federal subsidies – such as loan guarantees – for commercial nuclear power, which total $500 billion to date.

Instead, the U.S. should focus on developing wind power and assisting families in the installation of rooftop solar systems.

We went through a similar debate shortly after Sept. 11, but quickly forgot. We can’t afford to forget again.

Tyson Slocum Directs Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Please visit our website to get the facts on nuclear energy.

Elections are about choices. In American politics, imagery and rhetoric often trump factual and substantive analysis of legislative achievements. The historic electoral coup by Republicans in the House is clearly rooted in real unrest by American voters – insecurity fueled by profound economic hardship, and a lack of comprehension by voters of what benefits record government spending and new regulations have for working families. American campaigns rarely reflect the tenor of the Lincoln-Douglas debates but rather are defined by bite-sized rhetorical tricks promoting false choices between too much- or too-little government involvement in society and the economy.

Thanks to Citizens United, a record amount of corporate and special interest money flooded our airwaves, eagerly exploiting voters’ legitimate fears and thereby helping to define the 2010 election on terms that benefit the narrow interests of these corporations – often at the expense of benefits for working families and environmental and climate protection.

As a result, the big winners in last night’s election are the nuclear, coal and oil industries, who will see a far more advantageous financial and regulatory climate for their shareholders and investors in the next Congress. Losers are support for renewables, and those Americans who understand that the science of climate change requires us to aggressively combat global warming. The one outlier is the successful campaign in California to preserve that state’s first-in-the-nation climate change law (61% of Golden Staters voted “no” to repeal the climate law) – because voters were presented with a clear choice: protect the environment vs. support the agenda of a handful of out-of-state oil companies. The California success story of electoral support for climate change, I believe, serves as a model for obtaining national support for clean energy, energy efficiency and action on climate chance: present voters with clear, stark choices (corporate interests vs the people’s interests) and we just might have a chance. Continue on the muddled path of Waxman-Markey/Kerry-Lieberman of energy/climate policy via corporate accommodation, and enviros will continue to lose in the marketplace of ideas and elections (another bright spot for electricity consumers is the election of Richard Blumenthal to the open Connecticut Senate seat. As the state’s Attorney General, Blumenthal regularly sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over that agency’s failure to protect consumers from power company price-gouging. He’s one of the few who understands FERC and will be a welcome consumer advocate in the Senate).

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French Nuclear Developer Runs Afoul of U.S. Federal Law, Undermines U.S. Nonproliferation Goals

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group has walked away from nuclear power, but its former nuclear partner, Electricite de France (EDF) Group, based in France, is refusing to abandon the project intended to open up the U.S. market to risky French reactors.

On Tuesday, Constellation and EDF finalized a deal to give the French-controlled corporation full ownership of the proposed third nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs, Md., by selling Constellation’s 50 percent stake in the Unistar nuclear-development company.

The agreement appears to resuscitate EDF’s nuclear ambitions in the U.S. after the project was jeopardized by Constellation’s withdrawal from negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy for a federally backed loan guarantee. A loan guarantee has been the essential vehicle for financing the proposed $10 billion reactor.

However, with EDF as the sole entity, the loan guarantee is no longer the foremost factor that will determine whether a third reactor is built in Maryland. EDF faces several other obstacles that should keep this project from moving forward, including a federal law that prohibits a foreign entity from “ownership, control or domination” of a U.S. nuclear project.

Public Citizen and its partners – the Nuclear Information Resource Service and Beyond Nuclear – are challenging the application for the proposed third reactor in front of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Even before Constellation sold its stake in Unistar, the group filed a complaint with the NRC, raising the issue of overt foreign influence in the Maryland project.

Other regulatory issues also plague the project. The EPR, the reactor design at the center of the project, is designed by another French-controlled entity, AREVA. Myriad issues with the EPR design have resulted in delays and cost overruns for reactor development in Finland, whose costs have now risen about 80 percent and whose four-year construction schedule is now four years behind schedule, and in France, whose project is two years behind schedule and about 30 percent over budget. And U.S. regulatory bodies have yet to certify the design, citing deficiencies with its digital instrumentation and control systems.

If these problems weren’t enough, collaborating with the French nuclear industry also undermines U.S. nonproliferation goals. EDF is the largest nuclear developer in the world. It offers civilian nuclear assistance to both Saudi Arabia and Jordan, despite both countries’ refusal to engage in U.S. negotiations to keep the countries from making nuclear fuel. Meanwhile, EDF is seeking U.S. taxpayer-funded loan guarantees to pay for its U.S.-based projects. The federal government should not be supporting a foreign entity that is unwilling to adhere to our national security objectives.

In addition to the unique issues associated with the proposal for a third reactor in Maryland, EDF also faces the same problem that has long plagued all nuclear power projects: nuclear power is financially unviable. Maryland has faster, cheaper and more reliable ways to generate power without relying on foreign corporations that seek to hawk a dirty, expensive and outdated technology in the U.S.

Allison Fisher is the  Outreach Director for  Public Citizen’s Energy Program

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