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Harvey Wasserman

From his California beach house at San Clemente, Richard Nixon once watched three reactors rise at nearby San Onofre. As of today all three are permanently shut. It’s a monumental victory for grassroots activism. It marks an epic transition in how we get our energy.

In the thick of the 1970s Arab oil embargo, Nixon said there’d be 1000 such reactors in the U.S. by the year 2000. As of today, there are 100. Four have shut here this year. Citizen activism has put the “nuclear renaissance” into full retreat.

Just two of 54 reactors now operate in Japan, where Fukushima has joined Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in permanently scarring us all. Germany is shutting its entire fleet and switching to renewables. France, once the poster child for the global reactor industry, is following suit. South Korea has just shut three due to fraudulent safety procedures. Massive demonstrations rage against reactors being built in India. Only the Koreans, Chinese and Russians remain at all serious about pushing ahead with this tragic technology.

Cheap gas has undercut the short-term market for expensive electricity generated by obsolete coal and nuke burners. But the vision of Solartopia—a totally green-powered Earth—is now our tangible long-term reality. With falling prices and soaring efficiency, every moving electron our species consumes will be generated by a solar panel, wind turbine, bio-fueled or geothermal generator, wave machine and their green siblings.

As of early this year, Southern California Edison's path to a re-start at San Onofre seemed as clear as any to be expected by a traditional atomic tyrannosaur. But with help from Sen. Boxer (D-CA) and Senator-to-be Markey (D-MA), a powerful citizen uprising stopped it dead.

So did the terrifying incompetence and greed that has defined the nuclear industry from the days of Nixon and before. San Onofre Unit One shut in the 1990s due largely to steam generator problems. In the early 2000s, Units Two & Three needed new steam generators of their own. In the usual grasp for more profits, Edison chose untested, unlicensed new designs. But they failed. And the whole world was watching. In the wake of Fukushima, two more leaky tsunami-zone reactors surrounded by earthquake faults were massively unwelcome.

So a well-organized non-violent core of local, state and national activists and organizations rose up to stop the madness. At Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, Seabrook, Davis-Besse and dozens of other reactors around the U.S. and world, parallel opposition is escalating.

Make no mistake—this double victory at San Onofre is a falling domino. Had the public not fought back, those reactors would have been “fixed” at public expense. Today, they are dead. Worldwide, there are some 400 to go. Each of them—including the 100 remaining in the U.S.—could do apocalyptic damage. We still have our work cut out for us.

But a huge double-step has been taken up the road to Solartopia. There will be no Fukushimas at San Onofre. A green-powered Earth is that much closer. And we have yet another proof that citizen action makes all the difference in our world.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

Today, actresses Amy Smart, Eva Amurri Martino, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Dawn Olivieri joined the Sierra Club in an online video asking Gov. Jerry Brown to make a “clean break” with fossil fuels, and commit to replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station with 100% clean energy. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to begin its decision-making process within the next few days as to how much of the shuttered nuclear plant will be replaced by clean or dirty energy.

The video cuts between the different actresses in the midst of classic break-up scenes—packing up their things, talking over coffee and breaking the bad news as they tell fossil fuels that it’s time to move on: “I just don’t think it’s working out any more—our relationship is toxic. I need something I can commit to for the long term: clean energy.” 

The video ends with a link to a petition, where viewers can send a message to Gov. Brown asking him to only use clean energy to replace the power from the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, instead of building new gas-fired power plants.

"Doubling down on dirty energy is not the right answer,” said Emmanuelle Chriqui. “Fossil fuels have been nothing but trouble for California—causing smog, spills, carbon emissions and health hazards all over the state. The upcoming transition of San Onofre is an opportunity for us to move forward and show that our state is going to be a leader on clean energy."

“Clean energy has become a major industry in California, and it’s ready to step up,” said Eva Amurri Martino. “Clean energy creates jobs, cleans up the environment, and it's how we're going to grow our economy in a sustainable way. That's the commitment we should make.”

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, was California’s largest operating nuclear power plant before it was retired last year. State officials have sent Gov. Brown a multi-billion dollar proposal that includes building new gas-fired power plants - a plan which would upend California’s clean air and climate change goals, and radically change the nature of the state’s energy mix.

“From record wildfires to record droughts, climate change is coming home to California,” said Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “Building new dirty power plants would is an unnecessary and unacceptable retreat from our climate goals. We have a homegrown clean energy industry here in California that is ready to step up and meet the demand, and Gov. Brown should commit replacing the San Onofre plant with energy that is 100% carbon- and pollution-free.”

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLE ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

By Sierra Martinez

California took another major and symbolic step this month with its decision to rely significantly on energy efficiency and other clean energy resources to help replace electricity once generated by the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) serving San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made official its strategy to address the loss of the huge nuclear plant, which had been offline since January 2012 and was officially retired last year. Fortunately, it closely resembles its proposal released last month.

San Onofre nuclear power plant in California was officially retired in 2013. Now, the state has a new plan to replace its output. Photo credit: Jason Hickey/Flickr Creative Commons

The final plan uses efficiency and other “preferred resources”—those resources with lower environmental impacts—like demand response (ways customers can consume less energy at key times during the day) and renewable energy such as wind and solar, as well as some upgrades to the electric system, to replace the vast majority of the lost SONGS generation. Instead of turning directly to dirty gas-fired power to replace SONGS, this decision fills the gap left by SONGS with at least two-thirds of clean energy resources, and up to 100 percent clean energy. That means that dirty gas-fired power is limited to contributing, at most, one-third of the replacement energy and at best, zero.

The groundbreaking step puts California on a better course for the long term, avoiding a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants, and those power plants' emissions that Californians are all too familiar with. As the state gears up for the summer strain on the grid this year, two of California’s largest metropolitan areas—Los Angeles and San Diego—begin to dread their often daily dose of smog and its related quality-of-life and even medical issues.

Positive Steps Forward

We applaud the commission for moving in the right direction and, especially for its significant reliance on the contribution of “preferred resources”—resources that are critical to the health and well-being of Californians.

In addition, it’s notable that the commission authorized no additional mandatory gas-fired power sources (which create emissions) because previously, the commission did enact mandatory gas requirements in its 2013 decision. This frees the utilities to appreciably, if not entirely, rely on clean energy resources to replace SONGS.

California has embraced efficiency—getting the same or more work from less electricity—as the cleanest, simplest and most cost-effective energy resource. Not only does efficiency lead to lower utility bills, it reduces the amount of electricity that must be generated from dirty energy that pollutes our air and harms our health.

The fear had been that the replacement of SONGS, a mammoth 2,200-megawatt (MW) power plant (equivalent to about four regular large-sized power plants) around which much of the California transmission grid was built, and which left an over 2,500 MW hole in the grid (due in part to its electrical location and characteristics), would be met with the least creative response—the excessive use of more fossil-fueled power plants.

In June 2012, for example, a retired 50-year-old gas-fired generator at Huntington Beach was brought online to help address the loss of SONGS, but not so much for energy but rather to maintain voltage levels—a complex demand-and-supply balancing act. Fortunately, with this long term decision, the state is definitively not going to make excessive reliance on gas-fired power plants its long term solution.

The Plan

The decision, which affirms that clean energy is the pillar of replacing California’s retired nuclear plant, the state will:

  • Rely on the supply of energy from what amounts to two medium-sized fossil-fuel power plants (600 MW of power) from “preferred sources”—those that have lower environmental impacts and lower public health costs—like efficiency, reducing energy consumption at peak times, wind, solar, and energy storage.

  • Use 400 to 900 MW of power from new resources, meaning any type of energy resource as needed. This historically has meant gas-fired power generation because many preferred resources were competing on a non-level playing field, but new language requests more fairness in competition for cleaner sources such as efficiency, demand response, solar and wind.

These sources will account for between 1,000 and 1,500 MW of power to replace the more than 2,500-MW hole in the grid left by SONGS. Fortunately, the remainder is made up by additional solutions that are not fossil-fueled power plants, such as reducing the demand through energy efficiency and making improvements to transmission networks. This diverse portfolio of resources will meet the extensive voltage support, energy, and power needs that were originally provided by SONGS.

As a result, this move is good news for Californians and the air we breathe.

Room For Improvement

While the plan is well-balanced, NRDC is concerned that the plan failed to explicitly rely on all reasonably-expected-to-occur energy efficiency. As NRDC demonstrated in the proceeding, the model results that used the best resource estimates available showed there was no clear need to authorize any additional gas-fired generation at this time (beyond the 1,500 MW of gas-fired generation already authorized in 2013) to replace SONGS. These estimates explicitly rely on a conservative 733 MW of savings from building efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, and utility efficiency programs. We know the efficiency estimates should have been even higher – because the 733 MW estimate didn’t account for the recently-adopted federal appliance efficiency standards, like efficiency standards for microwaves and commercial refrigerators.

The plan also underestimated other preferred resources and transmission solutions, discounting those resources by up to 90 percent. We called for improving the accounting of these preferred resources because an assumption that their contributions are only worth 10 percent was not backed by the record.

While it has its shortcomings, the replacement strategy significantly avoids the construction of many fossil-fueled power plants and is a critical step forward for California’s clean energy future. For Californians within the greater Los Angeles region and in San Diego region, their health and environment will be directly affected by this decision. And for the entire state of California, this decision will have a major impact on future long term energy planning because it demonstrates that we can replace an enormous nuclear power plant with largely clean energy and transmission solutions.

This piece was originally published on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

Trending

Harvey Wasserman

A unanimous Los Angeles City Council has demanded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conduct extended investigations before any restart at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The move reflects a deep-rooted public opposition to resumed operations at reactors perched in a tsunami zone near earthquake faults that threaten all of Southern California.

Meanwhile, yet another top-level atomic insider has told ABC News that San Onofre Units 2 and 3 are not safe to operate.

On April 23, Los Angeles' 11 city council members approved a resolution directing the NRC to "make no decision about restarting either San Onofre unit" until it conducts a "prudent, transparent and precautionary" investigation. The city wants "ample opportunity" for public comment and confirmation that "mandated repairs, replacements or other actions" have been completed to guarantee the public safety.

California's largest city thus joins Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Solana Beach, Vista, Berkeley, Fairfax and the San Diego Unified School District board in asking the NRC to take all steps necessary to guarantee the public safety. Some resolutions include the demand that the NRC make utility officials testify under oath in public before San Onofre might be allowed to go back on line.

The sentiment has been echoed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the NRC. Sen. Boxer has been joined by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) in questioning whether Southern California Edison knew steam generators being installed at San Onofre were faulty.

The new Mitsubishi generators cost some $770,000,000. But critical tubes began banging together and sprang leaks after less than a year of operations. As many as 17 percent of the plant's 19,400 tubes may have been involved.

The reactors were shut in January 2012. Edison has since billed ratepayers roughly a billion dollars for them, even though they've generated no electricity for more than a year. The utility says it needs the reactors' power for the coming southern California summer, even though the region operated just fine last summer without them.

ABC News has now broadcast warnings from a 25-year insider at San Onofre. "There is something grossly wrong," the whistleblower told a San Diego TV station in a carefully disguised appearance.

Edison wants to operate Unit 2 for five months on an experimental basis. But there are 8 million people living within a 50-mile radius.

"If an accident like this happens, [an] emergency plan is not geared to handle such a public safety devastation," says ABC's inside source. "Those things have never been practiced or demonstrated in a drill scenario."

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA) has recently confirmed the confused state of atomic evacuation planning nationwide, a warning picked up by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

Such warnings echo those of former NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, who has told the public that none of the 104 reactors currently licensed to operate in the U.S. are safe. The industry, he says, is "just rolling the dice" by continuing to operate these commercial reactors, including San Onofre.

Edison has dismissed Jaczko, the GOA and the whistleblower's warnings in demanding a June 1 restart. Sen. Boxer and Rep. Markey want the NRC to refuse approval until public hearings can be held. But the Commission seems to be rushing ahead with the licensing process.

This unanimous resolution from Los Angeles and so many other southern California communities may have a significant impact. The public is being asked to call Sen. Boxer (202-224-3553) and Rep. Markey (202-225-2836) in support of formal hearings to predate any licensing.

Putting Edison, Mitsubishi and the reactors' inside operators under oath, on the stand, in front of the public could help answer some key questions about some very expensive decisions that have put the health, safety and economy of southern California at serious risk.

Despite Edison's fierce opposition, renewables are spreading rapidly throughout the region. With no real need for San Onofre's power, activism has never had a more decisive potential impact.

A radioactive cloud from a restarted San Onofre could completely contaminate San Diego, Los Angeles and the central valley, carrying all the way across the U.S. within four days.

With an NRC decision apparently imminent, Sen. Boxer and the City of Los Angeles are right to demand complete transparency and total public access to everything there is to know about this infernal machine.

This power plant is truly on the brink of being shut forever. Let's make sure that happens. The time is now.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR POWER page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

By Noah Long

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program is needed because California is facing huge challenges—and opportunities—in its electric system: both from the state’s ambitious goals and mandates to reduce the environmental impacts of electricity generation, transmission and consumption and also from the effects of an aging infrastructure. 

The commission approved RD&D investment proposals from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric and the Energy Commission—which will administer the EPIC program. The program funds R&D for the benefit of the customers of the three largest investor-owned utilities in the state, together accounting for two-thirds of the electricity used in California. In addition, the CPUC adopted metrics and potential areas of measurement for evaluating the investment plans.

The decision follows the legislature’s guidance and decades of leadership from California utilities and the commission, itself, on research and development. The $162 million in annual investments in RD&D will be included in the utilities’ electric rates. Although subject to a misguided legal challenge from Southern California Edison, the commission's decision means the EPIC program will go forward while a court weighs the issue.

The state faces numerous challenges and opportunities for which R&D is needed, including reducing carbon emissions from power plants; adding and integrating 33 percent renewable energy and high penetrations of distributed generation; continuing to seek and deploy all cost effective energy efficiency; and replacing aging infrastructure including the San Onofre nuclear power plant and outdated coastal power plants that damage California’s ocean waters.

Meeting these challenges while maintaining affordable, reliable electricity for electric customers will only be possible if California maintains its commitment to innovation. The R&D investments approved represent a modest investment in research and development: lower than the average spending level in most industries. Still, they offer a critical opportunity for ongoing, strategic and leveraged investments in our energy future. 

The R&D proposals approved this month have been through a long and rigorous stakeholder process and the commission’s decision is a big win for innovation in energy, which will benefit California’s residents, businesses and industries.

This piece originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

Michael Leonardi

The Davis Besse nuclear generating station in Oak Harbor, OH, on the western shore of Lake Erie is back in the cross hairs after last weeks announcement that the crippled San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California will remain permanently shut down and be decommissioned. The decision by Southern California Edison came 17 months after major problems with its replacement generators caused a crack in piping and a release of radioactive steam into the environment. A broad based coalition of citizen’s groups, governmental officials and environmental organizations waged an epic battle to keep this threat to the Pacific Ocean and the southwestern U.S. permanently shut down.

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, OH, on the western shore of Lake Erie.

The San Onofre victory has bolstered a coalition of citizen’s groups working to shutter the Davis Besse nuclear plant while the plant’s owner and operator, First Energy, is planning to replace the plant’s steam generators in 2014. Davis Besse has come closer to a catastrophic accident on the shores of the Great Lakes more times than any other reactor in the country. More recently it has been discovered that the shield building that houses the reactor containment structure is riddled with extensive cracking.

The main impetus cited for the closure of San Onofre was the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s decision to hold full public hearings on the license amendment granted for replacement of the generators at plant. The decision to hold these hearings came after national environmental organization Friends of the Earth intervened to call for this important skipped step in public transparency.

"The steam generator disaster at San Onofre, and public attempt to avoid similar bungling at Davis Besse, stem directly from the NRC’s [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] 24 year campaign to deregulate the industry," said Terry Lodge, attorney for the coalition of intervenors calling for a public hearing on the replacement of steam generators at Davis Besse.

"At San Onofre and Davis Besse the NRC relied on the utility’s self-reporting as to whether there is anything significant about this very major feat of building and installing technologically different pieces of equipment. There has been a fiasco in three out of the last three steam generator replacements. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die' regulation is totally unacceptable when it comes to nuclear energy," Lodge concluded.

Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. served as the expert witness for Friends of the Earth in their San Onofre intervention. He is also the expert witness on behalf of Beyond Nuclear, Citizen’s Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club intervening on Davis Besse. In the case of Davis Besse, Gunderson has declared that the “data reviewed shows that First Energy should have applied for a license amendment with the requisite public review six years ago when replacement steam generators were originally designed, ordered and purchased.”

Gundersen’s Davis Besse testimony reported, “The last three steam generator replacement projects orchestrated by licensees sought to avoid the NRC’s license amendment process. By avoiding the license amendment processes for Crystal River 3 in Florida and San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, the owners, Progress Energy (Crystal River) and Edison (San Onofre) caused all three units to experience total mechanical failures.”

A cascading failure of steam generator tubes can lead to a loss of coolant accident and reactor meltdown.

The failure of the steam generator replacements came about because they were largely experimental—newly designed systems did not mesh well with older equipment. Gundersen has detailed nine significant differences between the replacement and original steam generators at Davis Besse concluding that “each and every one of these changes is significant individually, and when taken together prove that the replacement contains many experimental parameters.

The coalition contends that First Energy’s shortcut on safety by its circumvention of an NRC license amendment proceeding, risks repeating the same sort of dangerous mistakes made at San Onofre. It was January 2012 when a steam generator tube rupture at San Onofre released radioactivity and led to the discovery of widespread, unexpected tube degradation in replacement steam generators just over a year old. Thankfully, San Onofre will not operate again.

“Once again, First Energy’s indifference to anything but maximum profit dictates the dance,” said Lodge. “What if this new, experimental design doesn’t work out, just as steam generator replacements in the last three reactors have proven to be failures? For First Energy it’s profits first safety last."

The NRC continues to operate like a used car salesman on behalf of the remaining 100 aging and decrepit lemons that threaten millions of Americans living near dangerous nuclear plants in the U.S. Instead of regulating this industry, NRC officials continue to try and paint a rosy picture of this dangerous technology. Just this week in Oak Harbor the NRC held an open house on Davis Besse’s annual performance review.

NRC representatives spoke glowingly of First Energy’s plans to operate 20 years past its life expectancy after its license expires in 2017. When asked by concerned citizens about the risks posed by replacing the steam generators, an NRC representative just tried to brush the question aside by saying “don’t worry, these are the Cadillacs of steam generators.” This begs the question, did the NRC settle for Kia’s at San Onofre and Crystal River?

“The Japanese parliament has concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was not the earthquake and tsunami, but rather the government-regulator-industry collusion that allowed the atomic reactors to be so vulnerable to a natural disaster,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “Davis Besse has been the poster child for just such collusion from the very beginning, through the 2002 hole in the reactor head fiasco, and right up to the present.”

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Harvey Wasserman

From his California beach house at San Clemente, Richard Nixon once watched three reactors rise at nearby San Onofre. As of today all three are permanently shut. It’s a monumental victory for grassroots activism. It marks an epic transition in how we get our energy.

In the thick of the 1970s Arab oil embargo, Nixon said there’d be 1000 such reactors in the U.S. by the year 2000. As of today, there are 100. Four have shut here this year. Citizen activism has put the “nuclear renaissance” into full retreat.

Just two of 54 reactors now operate in Japan, where Fukushima has joined Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in permanently scarring us all. Germany is shutting its entire fleet and switching to renewables. France, once the poster child for the global reactor industry, is following suit. South Korea has just shut three due to fraudulent safety procedures. Massive demonstrations rage against reactors being built in India. Only the Koreans, Chinese and Russians remain at all serious about pushing ahead with this tragic technology.

Cheap gas has undercut the short-term market for expensive electricity generated by obsolete coal and nuke burners. But the vision of Solartopia—a totally green-powered Earth—is now our tangible long-term reality. With falling prices and soaring efficiency, every moving electron our species consumes will be generated by a solar panel, wind turbine, bio-fueled or geothermal generator, wave machine and their green siblings.

As of early this year, Southern California Edison's path to a re-start at San Onofre seemed as clear as any to be expected by a traditional atomic tyrannosaur. But with help from Sen. Boxer (D-CA) and Senator-to-be Markey (D-MA), a powerful citizen uprising stopped it dead.

So did the terrifying incompetence and greed that has defined the nuclear industry from the days of Nixon and before. San Onofre Unit One shut in the 1990s due largely to steam generator problems. In the early 2000s, Units Two & Three needed new steam generators of their own. In the usual grasp for more profits, Edison chose untested, unlicensed new designs. But they failed. And the whole world was watching. In the wake of Fukushima, two more leaky tsunami-zone reactors surrounded by earthquake faults were massively unwelcome.

So a well-organized non-violent core of local, state and national activists and organizations rose up to stop the madness. At Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, Seabrook, Davis-Besse and dozens of other reactors around the U.S. and world, parallel opposition is escalating.

Make no mistake—this double victory at San Onofre is a falling domino. Had the public not fought back, those reactors would have been “fixed” at public expense. Today, they are dead. Worldwide, there are some 400 to go. Each of them—including the 100 remaining in the U.S.—could do apocalyptic damage. We still have our work cut out for us.

But a huge double-step has been taken up the road to Solartopia. There will be no Fukushimas at San Onofre. A green-powered Earth is that much closer. And we have yet another proof that citizen action makes all the difference in our world.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

Today, actresses Amy Smart, Eva Amurri Martino, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Dawn Olivieri joined the Sierra Club in an online video asking Gov. Jerry Brown to make a “clean break” with fossil fuels, and commit to replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station with 100% clean energy. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to begin its decision-making process within the next few days as to how much of the shuttered nuclear plant will be replaced by clean or dirty energy.

The video cuts between the different actresses in the midst of classic break-up scenes—packing up their things, talking over coffee and breaking the bad news as they tell fossil fuels that it’s time to move on: “I just don’t think it’s working out any more—our relationship is toxic. I need something I can commit to for the long term: clean energy.” 

The video ends with a link to a petition, where viewers can send a message to Gov. Brown asking him to only use clean energy to replace the power from the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, instead of building new gas-fired power plants.

"Doubling down on dirty energy is not the right answer,” said Emmanuelle Chriqui. “Fossil fuels have been nothing but trouble for California—causing smog, spills, carbon emissions and health hazards all over the state. The upcoming transition of San Onofre is an opportunity for us to move forward and show that our state is going to be a leader on clean energy."

“Clean energy has become a major industry in California, and it’s ready to step up,” said Eva Amurri Martino. “Clean energy creates jobs, cleans up the environment, and it's how we're going to grow our economy in a sustainable way. That's the commitment we should make.”

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, was California’s largest operating nuclear power plant before it was retired last year. State officials have sent Gov. Brown a multi-billion dollar proposal that includes building new gas-fired power plants - a plan which would upend California’s clean air and climate change goals, and radically change the nature of the state’s energy mix.

“From record wildfires to record droughts, climate change is coming home to California,” said Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s My Generation Campaign. “Building new dirty power plants would is an unnecessary and unacceptable retreat from our climate goals. We have a homegrown clean energy industry here in California that is ready to step up and meet the demand, and Gov. Brown should commit replacing the San Onofre plant with energy that is 100% carbon- and pollution-free.”

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLE ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

By Sierra Martinez

California took another major and symbolic step this month with its decision to rely significantly on energy efficiency and other clean energy resources to help replace electricity once generated by the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) serving San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) made official its strategy to address the loss of the huge nuclear plant, which had been offline since January 2012 and was officially retired last year. Fortunately, it closely resembles its proposal released last month.

San Onofre nuclear power plant in California was officially retired in 2013. Now, the state has a new plan to replace its output. Photo credit: Jason Hickey/Flickr Creative Commons

The final plan uses efficiency and other “preferred resources”—those resources with lower environmental impacts—like demand response (ways customers can consume less energy at key times during the day) and renewable energy such as wind and solar, as well as some upgrades to the electric system, to replace the vast majority of the lost SONGS generation. Instead of turning directly to dirty gas-fired power to replace SONGS, this decision fills the gap left by SONGS with at least two-thirds of clean energy resources, and up to 100 percent clean energy. That means that dirty gas-fired power is limited to contributing, at most, one-third of the replacement energy and at best, zero.

The groundbreaking step puts California on a better course for the long term, avoiding a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants, and those power plants' emissions that Californians are all too familiar with. As the state gears up for the summer strain on the grid this year, two of California’s largest metropolitan areas—Los Angeles and San Diego—begin to dread their often daily dose of smog and its related quality-of-life and even medical issues.

Positive Steps Forward

We applaud the commission for moving in the right direction and, especially for its significant reliance on the contribution of “preferred resources”—resources that are critical to the health and well-being of Californians.

In addition, it’s notable that the commission authorized no additional mandatory gas-fired power sources (which create emissions) because previously, the commission did enact mandatory gas requirements in its 2013 decision. This frees the utilities to appreciably, if not entirely, rely on clean energy resources to replace SONGS.

California has embraced efficiency—getting the same or more work from less electricity—as the cleanest, simplest and most cost-effective energy resource. Not only does efficiency lead to lower utility bills, it reduces the amount of electricity that must be generated from dirty energy that pollutes our air and harms our health.

The fear had been that the replacement of SONGS, a mammoth 2,200-megawatt (MW) power plant (equivalent to about four regular large-sized power plants) around which much of the California transmission grid was built, and which left an over 2,500 MW hole in the grid (due in part to its electrical location and characteristics), would be met with the least creative response—the excessive use of more fossil-fueled power plants.

In June 2012, for example, a retired 50-year-old gas-fired generator at Huntington Beach was brought online to help address the loss of SONGS, but not so much for energy but rather to maintain voltage levels—a complex demand-and-supply balancing act. Fortunately, with this long term decision, the state is definitively not going to make excessive reliance on gas-fired power plants its long term solution.

The Plan

The decision, which affirms that clean energy is the pillar of replacing California’s retired nuclear plant, the state will:

  • Rely on the supply of energy from what amounts to two medium-sized fossil-fuel power plants (600 MW of power) from “preferred sources”—those that have lower environmental impacts and lower public health costs—like efficiency, reducing energy consumption at peak times, wind, solar, and energy storage.

  • Use 400 to 900 MW of power from new resources, meaning any type of energy resource as needed. This historically has meant gas-fired power generation because many preferred resources were competing on a non-level playing field, but new language requests more fairness in competition for cleaner sources such as efficiency, demand response, solar and wind.

These sources will account for between 1,000 and 1,500 MW of power to replace the more than 2,500-MW hole in the grid left by SONGS. Fortunately, the remainder is made up by additional solutions that are not fossil-fueled power plants, such as reducing the demand through energy efficiency and making improvements to transmission networks. This diverse portfolio of resources will meet the extensive voltage support, energy, and power needs that were originally provided by SONGS.

As a result, this move is good news for Californians and the air we breathe.

Room For Improvement

While the plan is well-balanced, NRDC is concerned that the plan failed to explicitly rely on all reasonably-expected-to-occur energy efficiency. As NRDC demonstrated in the proceeding, the model results that used the best resource estimates available showed there was no clear need to authorize any additional gas-fired generation at this time (beyond the 1,500 MW of gas-fired generation already authorized in 2013) to replace SONGS. These estimates explicitly rely on a conservative 733 MW of savings from building efficiency standards, appliance efficiency standards, and utility efficiency programs. We know the efficiency estimates should have been even higher – because the 733 MW estimate didn’t account for the recently-adopted federal appliance efficiency standards, like efficiency standards for microwaves and commercial refrigerators.

The plan also underestimated other preferred resources and transmission solutions, discounting those resources by up to 90 percent. We called for improving the accounting of these preferred resources because an assumption that their contributions are only worth 10 percent was not backed by the record.

While it has its shortcomings, the replacement strategy significantly avoids the construction of many fossil-fueled power plants and is a critical step forward for California’s clean energy future. For Californians within the greater Los Angeles region and in San Diego region, their health and environment will be directly affected by this decision. And for the entire state of California, this decision will have a major impact on future long term energy planning because it demonstrates that we can replace an enormous nuclear power plant with largely clean energy and transmission solutions.

This piece was originally published on NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

Trending

Harvey Wasserman

A unanimous Los Angeles City Council has demanded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conduct extended investigations before any restart at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The move reflects a deep-rooted public opposition to resumed operations at reactors perched in a tsunami zone near earthquake faults that threaten all of Southern California.

Meanwhile, yet another top-level atomic insider has told ABC News that San Onofre Units 2 and 3 are not safe to operate.

On April 23, Los Angeles' 11 city council members approved a resolution directing the NRC to "make no decision about restarting either San Onofre unit" until it conducts a "prudent, transparent and precautionary" investigation. The city wants "ample opportunity" for public comment and confirmation that "mandated repairs, replacements or other actions" have been completed to guarantee the public safety.

California's largest city thus joins Del Mar, Encinitas, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, San Clemente, Santa Monica, Solana Beach, Vista, Berkeley, Fairfax and the San Diego Unified School District board in asking the NRC to take all steps necessary to guarantee the public safety. Some resolutions include the demand that the NRC make utility officials testify under oath in public before San Onofre might be allowed to go back on line.

The sentiment has been echoed by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the NRC. Sen. Boxer has been joined by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) in questioning whether Southern California Edison knew steam generators being installed at San Onofre were faulty.

The new Mitsubishi generators cost some $770,000,000. But critical tubes began banging together and sprang leaks after less than a year of operations. As many as 17 percent of the plant's 19,400 tubes may have been involved.

The reactors were shut in January 2012. Edison has since billed ratepayers roughly a billion dollars for them, even though they've generated no electricity for more than a year. The utility says it needs the reactors' power for the coming southern California summer, even though the region operated just fine last summer without them.

ABC News has now broadcast warnings from a 25-year insider at San Onofre. "There is something grossly wrong," the whistleblower told a San Diego TV station in a carefully disguised appearance.

Edison wants to operate Unit 2 for five months on an experimental basis. But there are 8 million people living within a 50-mile radius.

"If an accident like this happens, [an] emergency plan is not geared to handle such a public safety devastation," says ABC's inside source. "Those things have never been practiced or demonstrated in a drill scenario."

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GOA) has recently confirmed the confused state of atomic evacuation planning nationwide, a warning picked up by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

Such warnings echo those of former NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko, who has told the public that none of the 104 reactors currently licensed to operate in the U.S. are safe. The industry, he says, is "just rolling the dice" by continuing to operate these commercial reactors, including San Onofre.

Edison has dismissed Jaczko, the GOA and the whistleblower's warnings in demanding a June 1 restart. Sen. Boxer and Rep. Markey want the NRC to refuse approval until public hearings can be held. But the Commission seems to be rushing ahead with the licensing process.

This unanimous resolution from Los Angeles and so many other southern California communities may have a significant impact. The public is being asked to call Sen. Boxer (202-224-3553) and Rep. Markey (202-225-2836) in support of formal hearings to predate any licensing.

Putting Edison, Mitsubishi and the reactors' inside operators under oath, on the stand, in front of the public could help answer some key questions about some very expensive decisions that have put the health, safety and economy of southern California at serious risk.

Despite Edison's fierce opposition, renewables are spreading rapidly throughout the region. With no real need for San Onofre's power, activism has never had a more decisive potential impact.

A radioactive cloud from a restarted San Onofre could completely contaminate San Diego, Los Angeles and the central valley, carrying all the way across the U.S. within four days.

With an NRC decision apparently imminent, Sen. Boxer and the City of Los Angeles are right to demand complete transparency and total public access to everything there is to know about this infernal machine.

This power plant is truly on the brink of being shut forever. Let's make sure that happens. The time is now.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR POWER page for more related news on this topic.

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By Noah Long

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program is needed because California is facing huge challenges—and opportunities—in its electric system: both from the state’s ambitious goals and mandates to reduce the environmental impacts of electricity generation, transmission and consumption and also from the effects of an aging infrastructure. 

The commission approved RD&D investment proposals from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric and the Energy Commission—which will administer the EPIC program. The program funds R&D for the benefit of the customers of the three largest investor-owned utilities in the state, together accounting for two-thirds of the electricity used in California. In addition, the CPUC adopted metrics and potential areas of measurement for evaluating the investment plans.

The decision follows the legislature’s guidance and decades of leadership from California utilities and the commission, itself, on research and development. The $162 million in annual investments in RD&D will be included in the utilities’ electric rates. Although subject to a misguided legal challenge from Southern California Edison, the commission's decision means the EPIC program will go forward while a court weighs the issue.

The state faces numerous challenges and opportunities for which R&D is needed, including reducing carbon emissions from power plants; adding and integrating 33 percent renewable energy and high penetrations of distributed generation; continuing to seek and deploy all cost effective energy efficiency; and replacing aging infrastructure including the San Onofre nuclear power plant and outdated coastal power plants that damage California’s ocean waters.

Meeting these challenges while maintaining affordable, reliable electricity for electric customers will only be possible if California maintains its commitment to innovation. The R&D investments approved represent a modest investment in research and development: lower than the average spending level in most industries. Still, they offer a critical opportunity for ongoing, strategic and leveraged investments in our energy future. 

The R&D proposals approved this month have been through a long and rigorous stakeholder process and the commission’s decision is a big win for innovation in energy, which will benefit California’s residents, businesses and industries.

This piece originally appeared on NRDC Switchboard.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

Michael Leonardi

The Davis Besse nuclear generating station in Oak Harbor, OH, on the western shore of Lake Erie is back in the cross hairs after last weeks announcement that the crippled San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California will remain permanently shut down and be decommissioned. The decision by Southern California Edison came 17 months after major problems with its replacement generators caused a crack in piping and a release of radioactive steam into the environment. A broad based coalition of citizen’s groups, governmental officials and environmental organizations waged an epic battle to keep this threat to the Pacific Ocean and the southwestern U.S. permanently shut down.

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, OH, on the western shore of Lake Erie.

The San Onofre victory has bolstered a coalition of citizen’s groups working to shutter the Davis Besse nuclear plant while the plant’s owner and operator, First Energy, is planning to replace the plant’s steam generators in 2014. Davis Besse has come closer to a catastrophic accident on the shores of the Great Lakes more times than any other reactor in the country. More recently it has been discovered that the shield building that houses the reactor containment structure is riddled with extensive cracking.

The main impetus cited for the closure of San Onofre was the Atomic Safety Licensing Board’s decision to hold full public hearings on the license amendment granted for replacement of the generators at plant. The decision to hold these hearings came after national environmental organization Friends of the Earth intervened to call for this important skipped step in public transparency.

"The steam generator disaster at San Onofre, and public attempt to avoid similar bungling at Davis Besse, stem directly from the NRC’s [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] 24 year campaign to deregulate the industry," said Terry Lodge, attorney for the coalition of intervenors calling for a public hearing on the replacement of steam generators at Davis Besse.

"At San Onofre and Davis Besse the NRC relied on the utility’s self-reporting as to whether there is anything significant about this very major feat of building and installing technologically different pieces of equipment. There has been a fiasco in three out of the last three steam generator replacements. ‘Cross my heart and hope to die' regulation is totally unacceptable when it comes to nuclear energy," Lodge concluded.

Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. served as the expert witness for Friends of the Earth in their San Onofre intervention. He is also the expert witness on behalf of Beyond Nuclear, Citizen’s Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Don’t Waste Michigan and the Sierra Club intervening on Davis Besse. In the case of Davis Besse, Gunderson has declared that the “data reviewed shows that First Energy should have applied for a license amendment with the requisite public review six years ago when replacement steam generators were originally designed, ordered and purchased.”

Gundersen’s Davis Besse testimony reported, “The last three steam generator replacement projects orchestrated by licensees sought to avoid the NRC’s license amendment process. By avoiding the license amendment processes for Crystal River 3 in Florida and San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, the owners, Progress Energy (Crystal River) and Edison (San Onofre) caused all three units to experience total mechanical failures.”

A cascading failure of steam generator tubes can lead to a loss of coolant accident and reactor meltdown.

The failure of the steam generator replacements came about because they were largely experimental—newly designed systems did not mesh well with older equipment. Gundersen has detailed nine significant differences between the replacement and original steam generators at Davis Besse concluding that “each and every one of these changes is significant individually, and when taken together prove that the replacement contains many experimental parameters.

The coalition contends that First Energy’s shortcut on safety by its circumvention of an NRC license amendment proceeding, risks repeating the same sort of dangerous mistakes made at San Onofre. It was January 2012 when a steam generator tube rupture at San Onofre released radioactivity and led to the discovery of widespread, unexpected tube degradation in replacement steam generators just over a year old. Thankfully, San Onofre will not operate again.

“Once again, First Energy’s indifference to anything but maximum profit dictates the dance,” said Lodge. “What if this new, experimental design doesn’t work out, just as steam generator replacements in the last three reactors have proven to be failures? For First Energy it’s profits first safety last."

The NRC continues to operate like a used car salesman on behalf of the remaining 100 aging and decrepit lemons that threaten millions of Americans living near dangerous nuclear plants in the U.S. Instead of regulating this industry, NRC officials continue to try and paint a rosy picture of this dangerous technology. Just this week in Oak Harbor the NRC held an open house on Davis Besse’s annual performance review.

NRC representatives spoke glowingly of First Energy’s plans to operate 20 years past its life expectancy after its license expires in 2017. When asked by concerned citizens about the risks posed by replacing the steam generators, an NRC representative just tried to brush the question aside by saying “don’t worry, these are the Cadillacs of steam generators.” This begs the question, did the NRC settle for Kia’s at San Onofre and Crystal River?

“The Japanese parliament has concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was not the earthquake and tsunami, but rather the government-regulator-industry collusion that allowed the atomic reactors to be so vulnerable to a natural disaster,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “Davis Besse has been the poster child for just such collusion from the very beginning, through the 2002 hole in the reactor head fiasco, and right up to the present.”

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

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By Laura Beans

In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, the nuclear energy sector has seen a downturn, enduring bad press and changing financial trends as well as racking up a running list of safety issues in plants around the world. 

Nuclear energy opponents have seen a series of successes recently, from the closing of San Onofre in California to the Paducah plant in Kentucky in May. Yesterday, Entergy Corp. announced it would decommission Vermont Yankee in 2014, the state's only nuclear power plant. 

The Vermont Yankee Power Plant is a boiling water nuclear reactor located in Vernon.

The decision to close and dismantle the plant ends a nasty legal battle between Entergy and the state of Vermont, and is another win for the growing anti-nuclear energy movement. Global electricity generation from nuclear power dropped by seven percent in 2012, after a four percent decline in 2011, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Vermont Yankee opened in 1972 in Vernon, on the banks of the Connecticut River. According to the Associated Press, the plant currently employs about 630 people, and while in the past it provided almost one-third of the state’s electrical supply, it now ships nearly all of its power to electric companies in neighboring states. In 2010, citing safety issues and the age of the plant's reactors, the Vermont Senate voted against a measure that would have authorized a permit to Vermont Yankee allowing it to operate for an additional 20 years.

Reactions from state leaders have been positive, as the closure is seen as long overdue. ‘‘This is the right decision for Vermont and it’s the right decision for Vermont’s clean energy future,’’ said Gov. Shumlin (D-VT) in the Associated Press article.

According to Entergy, the plant is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and move to safe shutdown in the fourth quarter of 2014. The station will remain under the oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission throughout the decommissioning process.

“We applaud Entergy’s decision to shut down an aging nuclear power plant, rather than to push it past its limits," said Deb Katz of Vermont's Citizens Awareness Network. "Today, we celebrate this milestone in our work to end nuclear power generation in the Northeast and to foster a renewable energy future."

"This is a win for the people," Katz continued. "Their relentless work has made the closure of Vermont Yankee possible. We thank all who have worked to make this day happen, especially the state of Vermont for its perseverance on this issue.”

While Vermonters are hopeful for a clean energy future, Entergy points to a more sinister factor in the decision to close the plant: sustained low prices for natural gas extracted through the controversial process of fracking. According to the company's press release, the recent "natural gas boom" in the U.S. has caused the nuclear energy market to undergo a "transformational shift in supply due to the impacts of shale gas."

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

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Neighbors for an Ohio Valley Alternative

By Geoffrey Sea

[Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V of this series]

In a triple-whammy to uranium supplier USEC Inc., the last operating nuclear reactor in Japan was switched off for maintenance, Russia completed its final delivery of uranium to USEC under the 20-year Megatons to Megawatts program and USEC’s market capitalization fell below the minimum required for listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Meanwhile, fission products of the fuel that USEC supplied for the Fukushima reactors continue to pour into the Pacific Ocean, a hot metaphor for the global dissolution of the dream of atomic power.

If the radioactive currents awaken Godzilla from his undersea lair, it would be the only scripted outcome.

The news does get worse for USEC. In contrast to Iran, which announced its centrifuge venture at the same time as USEC and has now opened a second cascade of over 3,000 third-generation machines, no USEC centrifuge has produced a gram of commercial uranium. Its untested AC-100 centrifuge machines, which are the be-all and end-all of the company, have just passed the 35th anniversary of their unfortunate invention under the Carter Administration. Meanwhile, General Electric’s state-of the-art SILEX enrichment technology is running rings around USEC’s antiquated nondeployed centrifuges by every measure.

And here’s the kicker: USEC’s eight-year overdue test array of showpiece centrifuges in Ohio, for which the federal government has had to pay 80 percent of costs, are not being tested with uranium, so they are producing no useful data. USEC cannot be trusted to run uranium after an embarrassing crash of six centrifuges at Piketon in June 2011. (USEC advertised that catastrophe as maintaining public safety with no release of radiation, failing to clarify that the machines had not been running uranium during the crash.)

The Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program—fantasy material on which USEC relies at night like a castaway clutching pornography (USEC has already been turned down twice.)—is under renewed attack by even the most pronuclear conservatives. That means that the company has no imaginable way to fund construction of a new centrifuge plant, which USEC needs to remain in the enrichment industry since its old production plant in Paducah, KY, has permanently closed.

USEC should ditch the uranium enrichment business entirely and play to its demonstrated competence in fields like Internet gambling or telemarketing to members of Congress. That would be the company’s preference, too, if not for infernal federal laws and regulations that bind it to the pretense of uranium enrichment as justification for billions of federal dollars down the drain.

Gone Fission

USEC’s stated financial plan is to supplement hypothetical DOE loan guarantee funding with a one or two billion-dollar loan from Japanese international banks, about as feasible as a fine arts grant from Bashar Al-Assad. With the Japanese defending themselves against cartoons of three-armed sumo wrestlers at the 2020 Olympics, they are not exactly hot to trot on funding a uranium enrichment plant in Ohio, the product of which has caused them only grief. Perhaps USEC will entice the Japanese by becoming an Olympic sponsor of the Hot Potato Throw or the Strontium-90 Meter Sprint?

Meanwhile, three competitors including Russian TENEX, French AREVA and Euro-American URENCO are spinning out uranium on centrifuges for old USEC customers, and even Iran may work a deal under new leadership to give up its A-Bomb aspirations in exchange for a slice of USEC’s old commercial market. Call it Atoms for Peace with a vengeance.

And it gets worse for USEC. Closure of the San Onofre and Vermont Yankee reactors, with more closures expected, means that the domestic market for enriched uranium on which USEC relies is shrinking, not expanding. That comes just as USEC’s old supply monopoly in that market has given way to a free-for-all, with the lifting of bans on the direct-marketing of Russian uranium and new domestic enrichment projects by competitors in New Mexico, Idaho and North Carolina. Since uranium supply contracts cover periods as long as a decade, USEC’s long delays in deploying new production will mean that even a hypothetical new USEC plant would come online with no market for its product. In addition, the shrinking domestic market undercuts the government’s rationale to support a new plant and invalidates the market forecasts that USEC used to obtain licenses and argue for denied federal loan guarantees. That opens up any renewed USEC commercial venture to serious legal challenges.

Nuclear-awakened monster destroys Power Line City

But it gets worse for USEC. USEC has had no quarter of net profit in years, accruing over a billion dollars in debt all told. The company’s only pockets of profit have depended on DOE-subsidized or Russian-supplied programs that now have ended.

USEC’s long intentional delay in completing a technical demonstration of its AC-100 machines—a delay necessary to forestall conclusions that the ludicrous technology is not commercially viable—have run the company up against hard deadlines. This month, USEC must renew its credit facility with a consortium of banks led by J.P. Morgan, at a time when that institution is facing major allegations of failure to conduct proper risk-analysis of applicants in jeopardy of bankruptcy just like USEC.

On Oct. 1, USEC will have just twelve months to make good on $530 million of bond debt, incurred in 2007 on the promise that the funds would be used to complete a commercial centrifuge plant with time to generate enough income from the plant to pay off the bonds. Here we are at the twelve-month marker, however, and USEC has spent the cash it received from the bonds without financing the plant. With no other means to pay off the bonds, some kind of bankruptcy shield for USEC is a necessity, though the company uses the euphemism of “restructuring” to describe that coming process.

If USEC cannot renew its credit facility, it will lose the ability to pay bills and salaries, creating an interesting nuclear safety dilemma at Paducah, where USEC has continuing cleanup responsibilities. Likewise, if USEC’s general condition keeps its share price from rising, then the company will be delisted from the stock exchange, at which point the $530 million of bond debt becomes immediately due by terms of the issuance. That would necessitate an immediate bankruptcy filing. USEC has been using the threat of potential nuclear consequences to stave off the wolves at the door, but that kind of blackmail threat grows tiresome with age and with the realization that USEC’s radioactive messes are going to wind up on the public’s hands in any case.

Needless to say, the prospect of sudden unplanned insolvency did not occur to the congressional authors of the USEC Privatization Act, the regulators at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), or the bureaucrats at the DOE, none of whom has a plan for what to do about the nuclear materials and facilities entrusted to USEC’s care given the company’s financial meltdown. Or perhaps the prospect did occur to them and they just didn’t care. “Financial capacity” requirements of NRC and DOE were paperwork hilarities, specifically waived to accommodate USEC as soon as the company headed into trouble.

USEC had intended to cure its crushing bond debt over the summer, but then something truly terrible happened to the company: Its stock shot up.

It started as a modest pump’n’dump operation, after the share price hit an all-time low of $2.60 on July 8 (down from $641 per share in 2007). USEC needed to edge its market capitalization above the $50 million NYSE minimum to avert immediate delisting. It accomplished that by tailoring the news to fool investors, with a robust report of cash on hand while neglecting to mention  in news releases that USEC had not yet paid for the latest big shipment of Russian uranium. By such chicanery, USEC managed to triple its share price in mid-July.

“FukUSECshima”

But then over the weekend of July 27, the USEC-TEPCO partnership at Fukushima hit a wall, or failed to hit a wall, as the case may be. Massive uncontrolled radioactive seepage into the ocean raised fears that the worst may be ahead of us, at least in terms of nuclear public relations, and that was before a typhoon hit the Japanese site on Sept. 16, making matters even worse.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped in to announce that the government was taking control of the cleanup operation, and that was misinterpreted by delusional nuclear industry investors as meaning that a nuclear revival in Japan might be imminent and that TEPCO and USEC might escape some potential liabilities for the catastrophe. 

By Monday, July 29, Asian investors unfamiliar with USEC’s scamming history were hot on the stock as it looked to be rising from rock-bottom prices. They started a buying stampede, which tripped a circuit breaker at NYSE, briefly halting trading in the security on Monday afternoon. That blockade only fed the frenzy as automated trades kept upping the virtual price of the stock in a frustrated machine attempt to out-buy other machines. It was a real-life nuclear escalation as depicted in the movie War Games, where stupendous competitive human error is magnified by computer programs.

USEC stock closed on July 29 at $29.02, up 1,016 percent over its recent all-time low. USEC ‘s “phenomenal surge” made it the rising star of Internet investment pseudo-journalism  as traders assumed there was some there there, when all was naught but air.

A third of the share-price rise was rapidly corrected, creating the first of three meaningless spikes on USEC’s stock chart, each with a surge-plummet profile resembling the Empire State Building. That extreme volatility (a bad bad word in the normal investment community) attracted day-traders to the otherwise worthless company, on the premise that many bucks could be made by micro-forecasting when USEC stock would entertain its bombastic highs and lows. All of this vapid financial gaming was invited and subsidized by the Obama Administration with support of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

As a tug of war between day-traders inflating the share price and short-sellers betting on the stock’s decline, USEC’s stock, which is supposed to be a market indicator of the company’s performance and worth, became totally detached from fundamentals. USEC itself is transforming into a company that sells only flimflam, producing and marketing no real product. Correspondingly, its stock has become a pure speculative instrument—like investing in modern art or pet rocks—a profit-making device for technologically-enabled traders, different from other financial scams only by its government endorsement and apparent immunity from securities laws. It’s Uncle Sam’s atomic unregulated cyber-casino. The theory of USEC’s 1998 privatization—that the “free market” would do a better job of guiding the enterprise than government planning—has been stood on its head, as USEC’s actual owners, its shareholders, have lost any real-world connection to the property they own.

The sentiment of investors was captured best by a one-word comment on the leading USEC shareholder message board in August: “FukUSECshima.”

USEC’s only test-array of 120 centrifuges. Photo courtesy of USEC

 

A small section of Iran’s two commercially-operating cascades that include a total of approximately 17,000 centrifuges, some third generation.

Day-traders and short-sellers are the bottom-feeders of the stock market. They undermine the logic of capitalist markets since they profit off material dysfunction, and measures to restrict or ban both practices have occasionally been implemented. But USEC has become a target tool of these parasites, with short-sellers accounting for between 15 and 30 percent of all USEC shareholders in past years.

Day-traders make money not by long-term investment but by repeat trading to exploit micro-trends on a minute-by-minute basis. The extent to which they now dominate the trade in USEC stock is indicated by five days in late July when over three million shares were traded each day, although there are only 4.95 million shares of USEC stock outstanding. Were a majority of USEC shares changing hands? Of course not. Only a tiny percentage of shares were being bought and sold, over and over again, each day. The bizarreness of this pattern has become just one of USEC’s unique peculiarities, a sign that usual securities laws and rules are being violated flagrantly, with no sign of enforcement. Where are the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigations, the NYSE delisting crackdowns or the penalties imposed by USEC’s credit lenders?

Many are under the false impression that higher stock price necessarily helps a company. That is true for enterprises operating in some real marketplace with tangible assets, positive net worth and effective shareholder control. It is not true for USEC, which has crushing debts, no business plan and only paper assets, all of which remain controlled by the government despite titular privatization. USEC needed a small rise in share price to cure its NYSE listing deficiency, but the huge spike generated by forces internal to the trading world created an enormous problem for USEC on the ground.

USEC’s biggest hurdle staying in business is its bond debt. To eliminate that debt, USEC needed to buy out the bond holders with common shares in what is known as a debt-equity swap. But the July 29 share-price spike made it ten times as expensive to buy back those bonds with common shares, a price that USEC simply cannot afford. Ironically, by killing a debt-equity swap, the share-price rise may have killed the company. $530 million in bond debt that cannot be paid remains on the books, and the clock is ticking.

In this topsy-turvy environment, USEC managers probably have sat back hoping against fiduciary obligation that share price would fall, and they haven’t been disappointed. Other than two false-rumor day-trader spikes, the stock has lost all of its July 29 gains in perfect linear decline, zipping through the $16, $15, $14, $13, $12, $11 and $10 ranges to close at $9.55 per share on Tuesday, Sept. 17. That puts USEC in the worst of all possible worlds. Market capitalization is back below the $50 million minimum required for listing on NYSE, but the stock is still too expensive for USEC to afford a debt-equity swap, meaning that the bond debt along with coupon payments are coming due, imminently if the stock is delisted.

Federal Crapshoot

On a family trip to Puerto Rico when I was young, my father had booked discount rooms at a posh resort, as described in the advertisements, only for us to discover on arrival that the place was in dire financial distress and had been placed in foreclosure for tax non-payment, with a union picket-line in front. Its glitzy neon-mirror-ball casino, known as a hangout for local Mafiosi, was then technically owned by the U.S, government, a federally-sponsored crapshoot on the skids—perfect preparation for my current understanding of USEC.

Despite what was called privatization, the enrichment plants in Ohio and Kentucky always remained under government ownership. USEC’s centrifuges—built with a government technology license for which USEC owes an outstanding royalty of $100 million that will never be paid—were repossessed by the government in the summer of 2012, in preparation for the end of the USEC world. Even USEC’s depleted uranium waste cylinders have reverted to government ownership in a scheme that permitted USEC to cash in its waste disposal surety bonds so bills could be paid.

In effect, USEC privatization has been undone by the DOE without congressional authorization, in explicit violation of the USEC Privatization Act, raising profound constitutional questions. Even though the federal government now owns the entire USEC operation, the company remains almost wholly unregulated as to its payment  of lavish executive salaries and proprietary decisions about the disposition of government property, such as its unilateral decision to close the Paducah plant. No “government stake” in the company’s management has been granted, as in the automaker bailouts, because no politician on any level wants any part of USEC’s coming collapse.

The government will be left, however, with future use decisions about the Piketon and Paducah sites. What does the Obama administration or the Congress have planned for the big empty “American Centrifuge” buildings on expensive federal real estate in Ohio’s highest-unemployment county?

Not a thing. It’s too politically sensitive. Piketon is the epicenter of the most critical swing region in Ohio, with a history of tipping presidential and gubernatorial elections. Any move by any agency of the government to apply standing federal law to USEC would bring the roof down on the fraudulent enterprise, risking a backlash against the responsible political party, amounting to acknowledgement that the many billions of taxpayer dollars lavished on USEC have been a scandal and a waste. Or so goes the “off the record” fear.

Just the energy bill for maintaining USEC on artificial respiration has been enormous—the dirtiest energy from Ohio Valley coal plants to keep  the smokestacks puffing at USEC’s Paducah and Piketon operations—while the amount of total atomic power produced by USEC’s fifteen-year “advanced technology”  rigmarole will in the end be zero.

On the other hand, a lame-duck administration is the time to get this done, and Ohioans would welcome some political candor, since it’s not a state secret any longer that the thousands of  centrifuge jobs promised a decade ago will not be coming ever.

USEC acknowledged as much in its last bombshell 10Q filing with the SEC, submitted appropriately on the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6. There, USEC finally admitted that various problems  may (read “will”) necessitate  that the “American Centrifuge” project  be “demobilized “ (read “canceled”) at the end of its government-funded demonstration project (read “delay mechanism”) which is scheduled to terminate in December of this year.

Assuming it remains in business, USEC will not give up its cost-free lease of the Piketon site, however. It will retain that statutory lease-hold indefinitely in hopes that “market conditions” will someday improve. (Why not?  The government foots the bills.) That would be at least a decade according to widely-available data, at which time the age of USEC’s technology will be approaching half a century.

Unless the company is killed-off by creditors or regulators who find their spines, alteration of that community-killing schedule would depend on repeal of the USEC Privatization Act by Congress. And with Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), a major USEC donee whose congressional district neighbors that of Piketon, as Speaker of the House, any move by Congress to pull the plug on “the American Centrifuge” will be thwarted, no matter how condemning of the whole American system that project has become.

All that remains of USEC’s centrifuge business is runaround.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

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Adam Chimienti

Participants gathered to protest the expansion of Florida Power & Light's two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station in Homestead, FL.

The Wall Street Journal trumpeted the news late last week that the “nuclear renaissance” is alive and well, explaining how the Florida legislature has been instrumental in bringing this point home to its citizens. The problem is, the citizens of the Sunshine State didn’t really have much of a say in the matter.

Actually, it is doubtful that most even knew about the nuclear cost recovery legislation that has been hidden in the energy bills of customers of Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Progress Energy (now a Duke subsidiary) since 2006. The legislation is a way to get new nuclear power plants up and running on the backs of taxpayers. No one denies this. What has been denied is the rights of the people to know the costs that have been hoisted on their backs and what this means in terms of actual benefits. This is what the nuclear renaissance looks like.

Alex Flint of the Nuclear Energy Institute, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, was quick with his praise for this encouraging example from the ethically-challenged Florida politicians, for his preferred brand of “democracy”:

Florida's legislators did the right thing in allowing utilities to preserve the most effective option to finance new nuclear energy facilities if warranted by the state's utility regulators. Doing so gives the state the means to supply reliable, affordable, clean energy for future generations of Floridians.

Reliable? Affordable? Clean energy for future Floridians? Perhaps, the people over at the Nuclear Energy Institute don’t read the frightening reports coming daily from Fukushima, or perhaps they do and don’t give a damn. They can afford excellent health coverage and certainly don’t need to be concerned about their state legislators telling the federal government there is no need to extend Medicaid to its impoverished and uninsured citizens (another low-light from the Florida legislature’s most recent session).

If the average Floridian wanted to tune into the mildly-heated debates in the Florida House, they might have learned that one of the amendments added by opponents would have required a clear reference to the "recovery costs" on the utility customer’s bills. The majority of representatives in the House and Senate would not hear of it. They instead opted for the "idea" of functional representative democracy, as opposed to the practice. By claiming that the legislation was all about saving ratepayers money, many in Tallahassee were patting themselves on their backs for their achievements when the session ended last Friday.

Instead, the truth about their leadership and the notion of a nuclear renaissance is rather obvious. Genuine democratic institutions and the marketplace would never go ahead and accede to a nuclear renaissance in the age of Fukushima and the recent news reports about the Hanford site in Washington, San Onofre, and a host of other problematic plants around that should be shut down immediately. The cleanup costs for nuclear plants are astronomically excessive, especially in a time of austerity budgets. There is still no remotely responsible method of dealing with nuclear waste; the recent Federal court decision against the Department of Energy (DOE) that ultimately punishes the U.S. taxpayers for a political deadlock surrounding the dangerous issue of extremely toxic materials. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the DOE is primarily responsible for figuring out a solution to this mess. The environmental and economic legacies (inextricably linked) that we are leaving for future generations should be regarded as criminal, in a just world.

Returning to Tallahassee, since no insurers are willing to back these projects and the costs always spiral out of control, Florida had to go about it another way. The lawmakers there were told by their real constituents in the energy industry that the public simply had to pay for plants that shouldn’t and probably won’t ever get built. The bill SB 1472 was sent to Gov. Rick Scott for signing and the utility companies had to pretend that they were on the “losing side” of this “struggle.” After all, now they will have to march all the way over to the Public Service Commission every year to prove that they actually intend to finish the tax-payer funded utility projects. Poor fellows. However, because of loopholes in the law, these utility companies are able to make huge profits if the projects fail and permanently cease. In other words, they win no matter what.

How much are Florida utility customers paying exactly? It is estimated that around $1.5 billion has been raised since the law first came into play over six years ago. Yet, costs are projected to be around $50 a month per household by 2020 and, if you talk to the average Floridian, they probably couldn’t tell you what this money is for and certainly couldn’t tell you where is it going. Yet, these figures obscure some more obscene realities about nuclear power in this state.

For example, the plant at Crystal River, some 80 miles north of Tampa, closed earlier this year after a long and dangerous history. The plant was plagued by a host of problems making the “watch list” and considered one of the worst-run reactors in 1996. The original operators, Florida Progress Corporation, were cutting corners way back in the early days and this led to a history of problems with reinforcement in the containment building. Eventually, the plant would close multiple times and for long stretches. Duke Energy, a major U.S. nuclear company, had no choice but to close it down for good after it reviewed some very questionable repair estimates upon completing its merger with Progress, thereby forming the largest U.S. utility, in 2012.

On a recent trip to the Crystal River area of western Florida, replete with several national and state parks and a lot more beauty to discover aside from the famous manatees, a few locals told me all these expenses were unnecessary. The Crystal River nuclear plant’s closure was actually due to an absurd plan to replace steam generators, a routine upgrade that was done in dozens of other U.S. reactors by either one of two contractors. Progress wanted to cut costs and in an attempt to save $15 million dollars decided it would do the replacements itself. The ill-fated upgrades in 2009, and maintenance since then, now add up to devastating $1.3 billion, according to Tampa Bay Times. This reckless decision-making surely factored in the taxpayers unwitting support in case a bailout was required.

Meanwhile, the company has plans to build another nuclear power plant nearby in Levy County but costs keep skyrocketing. From original estimates of $5 billion in 2006, current estimates are roughly five times that amount. Worse yet, the date for going online was pushed back from 2016 to 2024. Citizens are outraged and the many seniors in the area are backed by the American Association of Retired Persons, which is opposed to the nuclear costs recovery scheme. Does that affect the overall outcome of the debate around this bilking of taxpayers? Predictably, no.

Florida Power & Light is also planning two new reactors in the Everglades as an addition to their Turkey Point nuclear plant. They are fresh off a public relations victory based on an expansion and upgrades to their existing reactors at Turkey Point and up further north near Port St. Lucie, FL. These plants are in some of the least seismically active places in the country so don’t fret about earthquakes. What is worrisome though are the hurricanes that come sweeping through, with increasing intensity predicted. Hurricane Andrew gave the Turkey Point nuclear plant a thrashing in 1992 when the main water tank and smokestack that were destroyed, in addition to a loss of off-site power. As Alan Farago has pointed out on Counterpunch, there is also the issue of rising seas to contend with and he offers us a glimpse of the nightmarish future in the beautiful and unique swamplands of southern Florida:

Long after seas rise to flood everything around Turkey Point but the 300 acre fill pad to be elevated 20 feet above sea level, [it will look] to future generations like a gargantuan, radioactive flat-topped Mayan temple.

This is what the nuclear industry in a dramatically changing climate looks like.

To circumvent the criticism about this that may come from the camps of Monbiot-bots out there, clearly if nuclear power plants continue to get shut down (Kewaunee in Wisconsin has just been officially closed and California’s San Onofre’s inevitable closure seems likely to follow) the power source must get replaced. It will more than likely get replaced with natural gas and that means more fracking. Of course, this is a terrible choice and I am not about to argue the lesser of two evils. It appears that U.S. citizens need to seriously evaluate the power of their utility companies and challenge them every step of the way forward. They are uniquely influential when it comes to mapping out our energy futures. If left unchallenged, they will make terrible choices that are in their very narrow interests, to hell with their own and everyone else’s grandchildren.

Florida’s energy sector is a classic example of this ridiculous dance the legislators and power company executives do around the citizenry, proclaiming all that hard work of legislating and developing, operating and maintaining power plants is for us. Meanwhile, they grow ever richer and less accountable and average people pay costs that are well beyond the financial realms of existence. Fossil fuels and nuclear are both incredibly dangerous to the health of our planet and species, especially when exploited at the magnitude they are in the 21st century. They threaten our children and our children’s children’s children, unborn and unnamed. They need to be stopped. There is a need for a renaissance but it is of a popular grassroots nature that will roar with intensity and be shaped by the strength and beauty of the affected, who bare their scars and redefine the nature of power.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and NUCLEAR pages for more related news on this topic.

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Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

Harvey Wasserman

In the wake of this fall's election, the disintegration of America's rust bucket reactor fleet is fast approaching critical mass. Unless our No Nukes movement can get the worst of them shut soon, Barack Obama may be very lucky to get through his second term without a major reactor disaster. 

All 104 licensed U.S. reactors were designed before 1975—a third of a century ago. All but one went on line in the 1980s or earlier.   

Plunging natural gas prices (due largely to ecologically disastrous fracking) are dumping even fully-amortized U.S. reactors into deep red ink. Wisconsin's Kewaunee will close next year because nobody wants to buy it. A reactor in Clinton, Illinois, may join it. Should gas prices stay low, the trickle of shut-downs will turn into a flood. 

But more disturbing are the structural problems, made ever-more dangerous by slashed maintenance budgets.  

  • San Onofre Units One and Two, near major earthquake faults on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, California, have been shut for more than nine months by core breakdowns in their newly refurbished steam generators. A fix could exceed a half-billion dollars. A bitter public battle now rages over shutting them both.  
  • The containment dome at North Florida's Crystal River was seriously damaged during "repair" efforts that could take $2 billion to correct. It will probably never reopen.
  • NRC inspections of Nebraska's Fort Calhoun, damaged during recent flooding, have unearthed a wide range of structural problems that could shut it down forever, and that may have been illegally covered-up. As many as three dozen U.S. reactors may be vulnerable to flooding from upstream dams.  
  • Ohio's Davis-Besse has structural containment cracks that should have forced it to shut down years ago and others have been found at South Carolina's V.C. Summer reactor pressure vessel.  
  • Intense public pressure at Vermont Yankee, at two reactors at New York's Indian Point, and at New Jersey's Oyster Creek (damaged in Hurricane Sandy) could bring them all down.

Projected completion of a second unit at Watts Bar, Tennessee, where construction began in the 1960s, has been pushed back to April, 2015. If finished at all, building this reactor may span a half-century. 

Two new reactors under preliminary construction in South Carolina have been plagued by delays and cost overruns. Faulty components and concrete have marred two more under construction at Vogtle, Georgia, where builders may soon ask for a new delay on consideration of proposed federal loan guarantees

This fall's defeat of the very pro-nuclear Mitt Romney is an industry set-back. The return of Harry Reid (D-NV) as Senate Majority Leader means the failed Yucca Mountain waste dump will stay dead. A number of new Congressionals are notably pro-green, in line with Obama's strong rhetorical support. 

The move toward renewables has been boosted by Germany's shut-down of eight reactors and huge investments in wind, solar and other renewables, which are exceeding financial and ecological expectations. Despite pro-nuke nay-sayers, Germany's energy supply of energy has risen while prices have fallen. 

The Department of Energy has confirmed that U.S. solar power continues to drop in price. U.S. employment in the solar industry has surged past 118,000, a rise of more than 13 percent over last year. 

Despite a wide range of financial problems, including uncertainty over renewal of the wind Production Tax Credit, the green energy industry continues to expand. Along with marijuana, Colorado has now legalized industrial hemp, opening the door for a major bio-fuel that will have strong agricultural support.   

At some near-term tipping point, the financial and political clout of the green energy industry will fly past that of atomic power. 

But at Fukushima, a spent fuel pool crammed with some 1,500 hugely radioactive rods still sits atop a deteriorating shell that could collapse with the inevitable upcoming earthquake. As the Earth hangs in the balance, the pool may or may not be emptied this coming year, depending on the dubious technical and financial capabilities of its owners, who are in a deep fiscal crater. Meanwhile, fish irradiated by the huge quantities of Fukushima emissions are being consumed here in the U.S. 

Overall, the "nuclear renaissance" is in shambles. So is an industry now defined by a rust-bucket fleet of decayed reactors in serious decline.   

Solartopians everywhere can celebrate an election that seemed to show some progress toward saving our beleaguered planet, but our survival still depends on shutting all these old reactors before the next Fukushima contaminates us with far more than just radioactive fish.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

Harvey Wasserman

The future of nuclear power now hangs on a single decision by President Obama—and us.

His Office of Management and Budget could cave to the unsustainable demands of reactor builders who cannot handle the standard terms of a loan agreement.

Or he could defend basic financial procedures and stand up for the future of the American economy.

You can help make this decision, which will come soon.

It's about a proposed $8.33 billion nuke power loan guarantee package for two reactors being built at Georgia's Vogtle. Obama anointed it last year for the Southern Company, parent to Georgia Power. Two other reactors sporadically operate there. Southern just ravaged the new construction side of the site, stripping virtually all vegetation.

It's also stripped Georgia ratepayers of ever-more millions of dollars, soon to become billions. This project is in the Peach State for its law forcing the public to pay for reactor construction in advance. When the project fails, or the reactors melt, the public still must pay. A taste of what's coming has emerged in shocking defects in poured concrete at the site which will cost millions to correct and months of delay on a project whose construction has barely begun.

Nonetheless, Southern runs virtually no financial risk. It actually has an interest in never finishing. Florida is now in turmoil, trying to rid itself of a similar Construction Work in Progress law.

Worldwide estimated reactor costs have jumped from $3-5 billion each a few short years ago to $10 billion or more, and rising.

Uranium prices are set to soar as the supply of Russian weapons-based fuel is about done. And renewables have long since outstripped atomic energy as being cheaper, faster to build, cleaner, safer, more reliable and open to community ownership.

There are virtually no private investors willing to back new reactor construction. There are no private insurers willing to take the risk on operating reactors.  There is no place to store the radioactive wastes they generate.

Operating reactors in Vermont, New York, California and elsewhere now face ferocious public uprisings to get them shut.

They are being joined by governors, U.S. senators and entire legislatures. Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont, has appeared at a major public rally to shut Yankee. The legislature long ago voted (26-4) the same way. Shumlin was joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has issued a stunning denunciation of the loan guarantees. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Orgeon has published a serious warning about the on-going dangers of Fukushima, which he recently visited.

Once the public kills one of these elderly reactors, a tsunami of shutdowns among the 104 currently licensed in the U.S. will follow.

Germany and much of the rest of Europe have abandoned the technology. Bulgaria has just scrapped plans for two proposed generators. Major banking institutions have warned potential investors in Britain's planned reactors that if they proceed, they will lose their financial standing. Mexico has also said it won't build new nukes.

In Asia, only one of Japan's 54 licensed reactors now operates, and it may soon shut. Huge demonstrations and hunger strikes are raging against a proposed project at Koodankulam, India. The Philippines says it won't build any reactors at all. China, the last bastion of any apparent large-scale interest in multiple nukes, seems to be wavering, in part because of the rise of a No Nukes movement there.

Here, two reactors barely beginning construction in South Carolina are also in deep trouble. Their builders need massive rate hikes in North Carolina to proceed, and the opposition there is fierce.

But the lynchpin is Vogtle. The construction loan guarantee program got $18.5 billion from George W. Bush in 2005. With the industry in deepening chaos, it took until last year for a president to designate less than half that money. For the first time in years, there is no executive or congressional request to put more money into the fund.

The French National Utility EDF did step forward to get funding for Maryland's proposed Calvert Cliffs project. But haggling over terms contributed to its demise.

Now Southern faces the same abyss. It refuses what the mortgage community would consider a normal 20 percent down payment on its taxpayer-funded loan.  Southern wants to put virtually none of its own money into the project, leaving the radioactive gamble totally to the public.

But the Office of Management and Budget is apparently demanding something more reasonable. Because the OMB is a White House agency, Obama holds the key. It's our job to make him turn it in a green direction.

A short while ago, this package was considered a done deal. But the GOP uproar over the failed $535 million loan to the solar company Solyndra changed to context. Initiated by Bush, Republicans have made Solyndra the poster child for bad federal loans.

Vogtle involves some 15 times Solyndra's liability. And it's all Obama's. At least three petitions are circulating against the package.

There are many ways to finally shut down what has been the most expensive technological failure in human history. Fukushima and the killing power of radiation, the unsolved problem of radioactive waste, the campaigns against failing reactors such as Vermont Yankee, Indian Point, San Onofre and Davis-Besse—all are key. The first weekend in May, a conference convened by the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., will weigh the various strategies.

But killing this loan guarantee package could finally kill the prospect of new reactors in the U.S. The astonishing rise of Solartopian green technologies has far outstripped atomic energy in the marketplace. Every delay deeply diminishes the possibility of building more of these profoundly uneconomic anachronisms.

In the long run, Vogtle, Summer and any other new nukes that seem to slip through in the short term will almost certainly be stopped by what has become one of the most powerful non-violent social movements in human history.

But right now, it's up to Obama—and us. Does he really want an atomic Solyndra on his hands? Will we really let this happen?

Let's relieve the President of this radioactive burden. Let's kill these reactors before they kill us, and take the most significant leap of all toward a green-powered Earth.

Whitewashing Fukushima

Coalition Against Nukes

Thousands of anti-nuclear activists from across the U.S. will converge on Washington, D.C. this Sept. 20 - 22 for a Rally for a Nuclear-Free Future.

The three-day event, brought together by the grassroots network Coalition Against Nukes (CAN), will feature a Congressional briefing on nuclear dangers attended by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), a peaceful demonstration at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a presentation of petitions at the embassies of Japan and India, and a demonstration at the Capitol to increase awareness of the dangers of nuclear power plants and spread of global radiation.

Speakers over the three days (confirmed) will include: nationally recognized experts Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; Arnie Gundersen of www.Fairewinds.com; Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; Michael Mariotte of Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter; Harvey Wasserman of www.nukefree.org; Congressman Dennis Kucinich; Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein; and Japanese activist Yuko Tonohira.

"In the wake of the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plants, we are witnessing a mass uprising against nuclear power in Japan," said Gene Stone of Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, a watchdog group working to keep the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shut down permanently in Southern California. "Let's hope that it doesn't take a major nuclear catastrophe in the United States for the American people to awaken to the dangers posed by the production of nuclear energy."

A vocal and visible grassroots anti-nuclear movement has re-emerged across the U.S. since the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi began on March 11, 2011. Citizen watchdog groups from across the country have expressed outrage over the U.S. government's reckless pro-nuclear agenda and the dangers posed by the deteriorating condition of the 104 aging nuclear reactors in the U.S.—23 of them GE Mark I reactors, which are the same design as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants in Japan.

Organizers have scheduled a range of peaceful actions:

  • Thursday, Sept. 20: Parents and Children Against Nukes rally on the Capitol grounds (11:30—1 p.m.); Congressional briefing (2—4 p.m.); and a gathering of musicians, speakers and some surprise guests at Busboys and Poets.
  • Friday, Sept. 21: International Nuclear-Free Solidarity, with petitions to the Japanese and Indian embassies (9:30—11:30 a.m.); A No Nukes/No War/Occupy peaceful protest outside the NRC (2-5 p.m.); film screenings and a candlelight vigil.
  • Saturday, Sept. 22: "What's Next" strategy session for national and regional groups to set agenda and establish ongoing dialog with our elected officials at the local, state and federal levels.

"It is time to raise our voices more urgently about the dangers of nuclear energy production and place it at the forefront of the national agenda," said Priscilla Star, who founded the Coalition Against Nukes after the catastrophic accident at Fukushima. "In an effort to mobilize an election year policy shift, we hope to break through the apathy and silence on nuclear issues condoned by our elected officials and the two major party presidential candidates," Star said.

According to CAN organizer Michael Leonardi, "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows nuclear reactors to operate by weakening safety standards and ignoring safety issues. This puts millions of Americans, trillions of dollars of real estate, and water and food supplies at risk of a major nuclear accident. Nuclear watchdog groups from Vermont to Virginia, from Florida to the Great Lakes, and from Portland to Southern California are outraged at the government’s reckless pro nuclear agenda and the omnipresent danger posed by this country's 104 aging nuclear reactors."

"On Friday, we will take our movement directly to the headquarters of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," said Peter Rugh of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City.

Endorsing Organizations:

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League; Cape Downwinders; Environmental Solidarity Occupy Wall Street; Fukushima Diary; Green Party—Jill Stein For President; Helen Caldicott Foundation; Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition; Manhattan Project; Mothers for Peace; NIRS; No Nukes NW; Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; Nuclear Hotseat; Nuke Professional; Ohio Sierra Club Nuclear Committee; OWS Environmental Solidarity Working Group; Orange country Green Party of CA; Peace Nick (Detroit); The Peace Resource Center of San Diego; Physicians For Social Responsibility; Pilgrim Anti-Nuclear Action group; Cecile Pineda, author of Devil’s Tango; S.A.F.E. Carolinas; San Clemente Green; Radiation and Public Health Project; Radiation Truth; Residents Organized for a Safe Environment; Rock The Reactors—Shut Down Indian Point Now; Shut Down San Onofre; Solartopia; Todos Somos Japan; Fissures in the Planetary Apparatus; Toledo Coalition For Safe Energy; Tri-Valley CARES; Veterans For Peace; and War Is A Crime.org.

Visit EcoWatch's NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

Harvey Wasserman

Our lives still hang by a Devil’s thread at Fukushima.

The molten cores at Units 1, 2 and 3 have threatened all life on Earth. The flood of liquid radiation has poisoned the Pacific. Fukushima’s cesium and other airborne emissions have already dwarfed Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and all nuclear explosions including Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Children throughout Japan carry radioactive burdens in their thyroids and throughout their bodies. Hot spots in Tokyo demand evacuation. Radioactive tuna has been caught off San Diego. Fallout carried across the Pacific may have caused spikes in cancer and infant mortality rates here in the U.S.

And yet, 16 months later, the worst may be yet to come. No matter where we are on this planet, our lives are still threatened every day by a Unit 4 fuel pool left hanging 100 feet in the air. At any moment, an earthquake we all know is coming could send that pool crashing to the ground.

If that happens—and it could as you read this—the radiation spewed into the atmosphere could impact every living being on Earth. And that certainly includes you.

Cecile Pineda lays it all out in her brilliant new Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step. (Wings Press: San Antonio)

With poetic fury, Cecile rages in satanic detail about how Fukushima was built despite volumes of whistleblower testimony underscoring its fatal flaws. But after agreeing with proof that the GE designs were patently insane, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Joseph Hendrie approved them anyway because doing otherwise would have killed the nuclear industry.

There are 23 of these Mark I monsters in the U.S. alone, far more worldwide. Pineda’s passionate prose runs the gamut from detailed technical critiques to heart-wrenching dirges about the birth defects and malformations imposed on countless downwind victims.

One reads with horror Cecile’s descriptions of hundreds of horribly deformed children of Chernobyl. In three towns near Fukushima, nearly half the youngsters already suffer from low-level thyroid exposure.

In Iraq and Bosnia, Pineda writes, vaporized depleted uranium shells have carpeted the countryside with radioactive powder. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, children born at Falluja were eleven times as likely to suffer from "neural tube defects affecting the brain or lower extremities, with cardiac or skeletal abnormalities, or with cancers." As elsewhere in Iraq, and in Bosnia, premature births, spontaneous abortions and birth defects have become a plague.

Cecile Pineda lays it all out in her brilliant new book Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step.

Some uranium by-products can kill for 4.5 billion years—a common estimate for the lifespan of the Earth itself. Pineda takes us on a tragic tour of other facilities with radioactive burdens, including nuclear waste dumps, weapons factories and power reactors.

But nothing quite matches Fukushima and how it threatens us today. Astonishing as it may seem, the GE Mark I design includes waste storage pools perched 100 feet in the air. Around the world, thousands of tons of the most radioactive substances ever created are swung out of reactor cores and into these "swimming pools" to sit for months or years, suspended in air.

The presumption has been that they would somehow be removed and shipped to a central repository. But nowhere has one been approved. Nor has anyone devised a safe way to get the rods there if one is.

Experts like Robert Alvarez are begging that Fukushima’s rods be removed to dry casks where they might be out of immediate harm’s way.

But at Unit 4, more than 1,500 rods remain suspended in air. Called "a bathtub on the roof" by CNN anchor Jon King, the damaged pool teeters atop a building decimated by seismic shocks and at least one hydrogen explosion. The question is not if, but when it will come crashing down.

Thus far, TEPCO has removed just two rods, and says it won’t get the rest until late next year.

Meanwhile, we are all hostage. Devil's Tango provides ample evidence that the Fukushima disaster was caused primarily by the earthquake of March 11, 2011. The tsunami that followed made things worse. But the atomic reactors there and around the world remain far more vulnerable to seismic shocks than their builders want us to know. This means Indian Point, New York; Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, California; in Virginia, Ohio, South Carolina and virtually everywhere else these reactors sit.

All these reactors—including virtually every one in Japan—could be destroyed by shock waves like those that took down Fukushima.

Cecile Pineda makes it passionately clear that our species has no more pressing priority than to get those fuel rods out of the Fukushima 4 pool and onto the ground before another earthquake does it for us.

The only way out is a switch to Solartopia, to a world based on technologies that will end forever this death dance that is atomic energy.

Meanwhile, as those rods still sway above Fukushima, the Devil’s Tango has us right at the brink of a hellish world of radioactive hurt.

Visit EcoWatch's NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

Harvey Wasserman

The projected price for Georgia's Vogtle Double Reactor Project has jumped at least $900 million in just three months—and that's just for starters.

Will you pay for it? The future of new atomic power in the U.S. hangs in the balance.

A national grassroots campaign is now working to stop tax/ratepayer handouts and kill the project.

Construction there is defined by faulty concrete and non-spec rebar steel that threaten public safety and could delay completion dates beyond those projected even before construction began.

South Carolina's V.C. Summer, the only other new U.S. reactor project now under construction, is meeting fierce ratepayer resistance in two states. From Iowa to Brazil, Japan to France, the global reactor industry is collapsing in tandem. But what other nations will it bankrupt and irradiate before it's finished?

President Obama has tagged $8.33 billion in loan guarantees for Vogtle's construction. And Georgia ratepayers are being forced to pay for it in advance.

But the Office of Management and Budget is still dickering over terms with the Southern Company. Vogtle's prime builders want to put up little or no money. They want interest rates lower than what you would pay to buy a new house. They expect you to take primary liability for future disasters. They can't say what will happen to the radioactive waste.

The real price tags for both Vogtle and Summer are suspect. Original estimates have been as low as $2 to $4 billion per reactor. But Florida's Progress Energy has just admitted its proposed reactors for Levy County, near Tampa, would go as high as $9.5 to $12 billion each.

Given their delays and structural defects, there's no reason to believe Vogtle or Summer could come in cheaper. At those prices, they cannot begin to compete with new renewables or efficiency.

So where does that leave Vogtle's federal loan guarantees? George W. Bush set aside $18.5 billion at the Department of Energy for new reactor funding, but made no grants. Despite fierce lobbying, industry attempts to add to the fund have been defeated by national grassroots campaigns.

Obama designated the first $8.33 for Vogtle in 2010. But closed-door negotiations between his OMB, the DOE and Southern have been inconclusive.

The $535 million failure of Solyndra Solar loans has cast a shadow over the entire federal guarantee system. The proposed Vogtle guarantee is 15 times bigger. At least three national petitions are circulating to kill it.

Southern has hinted it might seek better terms from private lenders. But Wall Street has long scorned atomic investments. And Georgia ratepayers are already being soaked for hundreds of millions to pay in advance for reactors sinking in debt and increasingly unlikely to ever operate. In both South and North Carolina, ratepayers are revolting against skyrocketing rate hikes to build Summer.

In a major defeat for the nuclear industry, the Iowa legislature adjourned without voting advance rate hikes to build nukes there. Similar legislation is stalled in Missouri and under attack in Florida. Brazil has announced it will build no more reactors. Despite fierce federal attempts to reopen them, all Japan's commercial reactors remain shut.

New President Francois Hollande has pledged to phase down France's dependency on atomic power. A construction project at Flamanville (like one in Finland) is sinking in devastating overruns and delays. Whether Hollande will proceed there or at any other remains to be seen.

But France's new nuclear hesitancy may kill new reactor projects in Great Britain. They have been posited on support from Electricite de France, now under attack from Hollande and a skeptical banking system being hammered by Europe's financial crisis.

In India, many of the 350-plus women committed to a fast-unto-death against the Koodankulam reactors have entered critical life-threatening stages. Police-state tactics have escalated the mass confrontation at the site.

Only China still seems a hold out for large-scale new construction. As grassroots anti-nuclear campaigns there begin, the central government has not yet announced its post-Fukushima decision on whether to proceed with some 30-plus proposed new reactors.

But at Fukushima itself, we still face a potentially catastrophic situation at Unit Four's spent fuel pool, still perched 100 feet in the air. Tons of horrifically radioactive rods remain at the mercy of an earthquake that could send them crashing to the ground, spewing releases that can only be termed "apocalyptic."

In California, a failed $960 million "upgrade" at California's San Onofre has led to steam generator tube failures shutting two reactors with no firm reopening date. More than a $1 billion spent by Progress Energy at Florida's Crystal River may also doom it to long overdue burial.

In Vermont, New York, Texas, Ohio and elsewhere else there are operating reactors, escalating leaks, flaws, errors and advanced aging define a supremely dangerous industry falling apart at its faulty welds.

So far there have been no balanced national hearings on the future of Votle's loan guarantees, or continued construction at Summer. But this latest $900 million price jump casts yet another deadly shadow over America's nuclear future.

It's time to kill this loan—and this industry—and put our money into green-powering our planet.

Our economic and ecological survival depend on it.