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Trending

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.

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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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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.

Trending

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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Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

EcoWatch

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 and Part IV of this series]

Southern California Edison (SCE) has abandoned plans to restart its two nuclear reactors at San Onofre. The announcement this morning comes exactly one week after termination of operations at the Paducah, Kentucky, uranium enrichment plant, which for decades had provided the fuel for San Onofre. It drops the number of operating nuclear reactors in the U.S. below one hundred for the first time since the early 1980s.

The San Onofre decision ends 18 months of wrangling between the utility and environmental opponents, after serious leaks were detected in a steam generator that had been newly installed. The news release by SCE has a detectable tone of relief that the company will no longer have to defend the indefensible. Similar tones have emanated from the Washington headquarters of the Department of Energy (DOE) around the Paducah decision, sending a message that the era of illegalities involving USEC privatization may be nearing an end.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the Pacific coast of California, in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, south of San Clemente.

The Paducah and San Onofre shutdowns have a number of important connections beyond that the former facility provided the latter with fuel, and that the two sites are located in earthquake red zones. In both cases, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proved itself incompetent and incapable, unable to take the most basic actions to insure nuclear safety. NRC should have flatly denied the San Onofre reactors permission to restart, and NRC should have revoked USEC’s operating license at Paducah after the company clearly could not meet financial capacity requirements. But the NRC failed in both cases, locked up in a kind of containment cell of quantum indeterminacy. Schrodinger’s cat, dead or alive, could do a better job of regulating the nuclear industry than the NRC as now constituted.

The news in both the California and Kentucky cases also goes to show that the Attorney Age has banished the Atomic Age. The most important line in the SCE news release is the last one: “SCE intends to pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the replacement steam generators … ” Likewise, USEC filed suit against the Department of Energy on May 30. Nuclear energy, once billed as providing unlimited power, is fulfilling its promise—the power of lawyers. “Don’t radiate: Litigate!” may be coming soon to a button or bumper-sticker near you.

And then there is the future marketing linkage. USEC has long been in financial decline, but its fortunes took a precipitous plunge after its star customer, TEPCO—the utility that had headlined demand for new nuclear fuel services—had that little mishap in Japan, a mishap that might have been worsened, by the way, by contaminants in the USEC-supplied uranium fuel. With Japanese customers gone down the uranium drain, USEC fell back on the booming American market. Booming in a virtual-reality gaming way, that is. The San Onofre decision lowers the boom on demand for future sources of enriched uranium, just when USEC says it will apply for a new $2 billion federal loan guarantee to build a new enrichment plant.

Good luck with that.

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

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Omigo

Not only can bidets help you enhance your personal hygiene, but they also provide a great way to reduce your environmental footprint. Omigo offers a number of high-end bidet seats and attachments. In this review, we'll take a look at the company as a whole, then highlight some of the individual products they offer.

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Trending

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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."

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Neighbors for an Ohio Valley Alternative

By Geoffrey Sea

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

Southern California Edison (SCE) has abandoned plans to restart its two nuclear reactors at San Onofre. The announcement this morning comes exactly one week after termination of operations at the Paducah, Kentucky, uranium enrichment plant, which for decades had provided the fuel for San Onofre. It drops the number of operating nuclear reactors in the U.S. below one hundred for the first time since the early 1980s.

The San Onofre decision ends 18 months of wrangling between the utility and environmental opponents, after serious leaks were detected in a steam generator that had been newly installed. The news release by SCE has a detectable tone of relief that the company will no longer have to defend the indefensible. Similar tones have emanated from the Washington headquarters of the Department of Energy (DOE) around the Paducah decision, sending a message that the era of illegalities involving USEC privatization may be nearing an end.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the Pacific coast of California, in the northwestern corner of San Diego County, south of San Clemente.

The Paducah and San Onofre shutdowns have a number of important connections beyond that the former facility provided the latter with fuel, and that the two sites are located in earthquake red zones. In both cases, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proved itself incompetent and incapable, unable to take the most basic actions to insure nuclear safety. NRC should have flatly denied the San Onofre reactors permission to restart, and NRC should have revoked USEC’s operating license at Paducah after the company clearly could not meet financial capacity requirements. But the NRC failed in both cases, locked up in a kind of containment cell of quantum indeterminacy. Schrodinger’s cat, dead or alive, could do a better job of regulating the nuclear industry than the NRC as now constituted.

The news in both the California and Kentucky cases also goes to show that the Attorney Age has banished the Atomic Age. The most important line in the SCE news release is the last one: “SCE intends to pursue recovery of damages from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the supplier of the replacement steam generators … ” Likewise, USEC filed suit against the Department of Energy on May 30. Nuclear energy, once billed as providing unlimited power, is fulfilling its promise—the power of lawyers. “Don’t radiate: Litigate!” may be coming soon to a button or bumper-sticker near you.

And then there is the future marketing linkage. USEC has long been in financial decline, but its fortunes took a precipitous plunge after its star customer, TEPCO—the utility that had headlined demand for new nuclear fuel services—had that little mishap in Japan, a mishap that might have been worsened, by the way, by contaminants in the USEC-supplied uranium fuel. With Japanese customers gone down the uranium drain, USEC fell back on the booming American market. Booming in a virtual-reality gaming way, that is. The San Onofre decision lowers the boom on demand for future sources of enriched uranium, just when USEC says it will apply for a new $2 billion federal loan guarantee to build a new enrichment plant.

Good luck with that.

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Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Harvey Wasserman

In January, it seemed the restart of San Onofre Unit 2 would be a corporate cake walk.

With its massive money and clout, Southern California Edison was ready to ram through a license exception for a reactor whose botched $770 million steam generator fix had kept it shut for a year.

But a funny thing has happened on the way to the restart: a no nukes groundswell has turned this routine rubber stamping into an epic battle the grassroots just might win.

Indeed, if ever there was a time when individual activism could have a magnified impact, this is it.

This comes as the nuclear industry is in nearly full retreat. Two U.S. reactors are already down this year. Yet another proposed project has just been cancelled in North Carolina. And powerful grassroots campaigns have pushed numerous operating reactors to the brink of extinction throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, where all but two reactors remain shut since Fukushima.

In California, it's San Onofre that's perched at the brink.

By all accounts Southern California Edison should have the clout to restart it with ease. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been a notorious rubber stamp for decades. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which decides how much the utilities can gouge from the ratepayers, has long been in Edison's pocket. State water quality regulations could force Edison to build cooling towers, a very expensive proposition that would likely lead to a quick retirement. But Gov. Brown has been deafeningly silent on the issue.

San Onofre sits in an earthquake/tsunami zone halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. At least 8 million people live within a 50 mile radius, many millions more within 100 miles. The reactors are a stone's throw from both a major interstate and the high tide line, with a 14-foot flood wall a bare fraction of the height of the tsunami that overwhelmed at Fukushima.

San Onofre Unit 1 was shut in 1992 by steam generator issues. Edison recently spent some three-quarters of a billion dollars upgrading the steam generators for Units 2 and 3. But the pipes have leaked and failed. Units 2 and 3 have been shut since January 2012. Edison has now asked the NRC for permission to run Unit 2 at 70 percent power for five months to see how the reactor might do. An NRC panel has termed the idea "experimental."

Edison is desperate to get the reactor running before summer. But in the wake of Fukushima, and in the midst of a major boom in solar energy, southern California is rising up to stop that from happening.

• A dozen cities, towns and public organizations—including a unanimous Los Angeles city council and the public school district of San Diego—have asked that public hearings and/or further in-depth, transparent investigations be held before the reactors reopen.  

• U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to thoroughly investigate all relevant issues—and to make them public—before restart can occur. The Boxer/Markey inquiry has included some heated dialogue with regulatory staff. It's raised critical questions about whether Edison knew it was installing faulty equipment in the first place, a potentially explosive revelation given the dangers and costs involved.

• Newly revealed correspondence between Edison and Mitsubishi over additional steam generator issues reveal persistent unresolved disagreements about the technology involved and what needs to be done about it, casting further doubt on what might constitute safe operating procedures.

• In response to a suit by Friends of the Earth (FOE), the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board has ruled that Edison's restart application in fact constitutes a license amendment, which should require a full public hearing. The NRC could overrule its licensing board. But this was a unanimous decision and the public and congressional outcry would be substantial. It's a huge setback for Edison, damaging what's left of its credibility and likely pushing the restart far into the future. There's also much Edison is likely to want hidden from the public record.

• NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane now says San Onofre cannot be licensed to restart at least until late June, which probably pushes any actual restart date until after the summer.

• So this could become the region's second straight peak season with no power from San Onofre. Despite utility rhetoric, its absence last summer caused no blackouts or significant shortages, and none are expected this summer either. Edison's argument that the reactors are needed to keep the region cool and lit will thus disappear.

• Edison CEO Theodore Craver now says San Onofre could be permanently shut before the end of the year. "Edison is hemorrhaging cash at San Onofre," says FOE's Damon Moglen. Craver is "a financial guy" who is now just "looking for the right numbers to get to shut-down."

It's common in the nuke blackmail business for a utility to threaten to shut a reactor where jobs and power are desperately needed. But Edison now has a more desperate theme. The spread of solar throughout southern California will bring far more jobs than San Onofre can begin to promise. A new feed-in tariff in Los Angeles has helped spread solar panels throughout the region.

Edison billed southern California ratepayers roughly $1 billion for San Onofre in 2012 even though it generated no juice. The CPUC would probably let them do it again, but public awareness and anger levels have soared. Major media throughout the region have been pummeling Edison, largely over economic issues.

Should San Onofre stay dead, its power void will fast be filled by cheaper, cleaner, safer green technologies destined to make southern California a major focal point in the global march to Solartopia.

This shutdown would take the number of licensed U.S. reactors down to 100. With others on the brink at Indian Point, Vermont Yankee, Oyster Creek and elsewhere, the race to shut the world's nukes before the next Fukushima is turning the so-called nuclear renaissance into an all-out reactor retreat.

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Harvey Wasserman

Washington Governor Jay Inslee reported Friday a tank storing radioactive waste at Hanford is leaking between 150 to 300 gallons per year. Photo Department of Energy

Two more atomic dominoes have hit the deck.

At least a half-dozen more teeter on the brink, which would take the U.S. reactor count under 100.

But can we bury them before the next Fukushima erupts, and the leaks at Hanford destroy the Northwest?

And will we still laugh when Fox "News" says there's more sun in Germany than California?    

Wisconsin's fully licensed Kewaunee reactor will now shut because it can't compete in the marketplace.

Florida's Crystal River will die because its owners poked holes in the containment during a botched repair job.

UBS and other financial experts say Entergy is bleeding cash at Vermont Yankee. After blacking out the SuperBowl, Entergy has no problem stiffing a state that has sued to shut its only reactor.

But in the face being crushed by renewables and gas, the money men may finally pull the plug.

The same could happen to New York's Fitzpatrick and Ginna reactors, as well as the two at Indian Point, which need water permits and more from an increasingly hostile state. New Jersey's Oyster Creek, slammed by Hurricane Sandy, and Nebraska's Ft. Calhoun, recently flooded, are also on the brink.

The list of crippled, non-competitive and near-dead reactors lengthens daily. Few are more critical than California's San Onofre Units Two and Three, perched on an ocean cliff in the earthquake-tsunami zone between Los Angeles and San Diego.   

More than eight million people live within a 50-mile radius of where San Onofre's owners botched a $600 million steam generator replacement. As radiation leaked, they may have lied to federal regulators, prompting U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) to demand an investigation.   

After being down more than a year, Unit Three will almost certainly never reopen. Unit Two may well stay shut at least through the summer.   

If a rising grassroots movement can bury them both, it will mark a huge turning point in a state where renewables are booming with new revenue and jobs.   

Which gets us to the Murdochian weather report. A recent "Fox & Friends" was mystified by Germany's popular (and very profitable) decision to phase out nukes while turning to solar, wind, increased efficiency and other Solartopian technologies.

Finally, Shibani Joshi figured it out:  "They're a small country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do."

The staggering laugh line that cold, dark Germany has more sunlight than a nation stretching from Hawaii to California to Florida could come only from an industry at dangerous odds with the planet on which it malfunctions.

This latest stretch of shut downs does not mean the death of the industry. Both Georgia and Florida are being assaulted with legislation that would allow utilities to build new reactors while ratepayers foot the bill.   

And some activists concerned about global warming still dream of carbon-free reactors they hope might someday alleviate the situation.

But they miss the reality that such plants will likely never exist. Every promise this industry has made—from "too cheap to meter" to "reactors don't explode" to "radiation is good for you"—has turned toxic.   

They also forget that a fragile pool laden with enough fuel rods to poison countless millions still sways 100 feet in the air at Fukushima. It remains horrifically vulnerable to seismic activity that could send it crashing down to a permanently contaminated earth.   

All this happens as a horrific brew of radioactive sludge makes its way toward the Columbia