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kristopher

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Member since: Fri Dec 19, 2003, 02:20 AM
Number of posts: 29,798

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Mainstreaming the nuclear exit

Extended excerpt used with permission

Mainstreaming the nuclear exit
Michael Mariotte
September 28, 2015
http://safeenergy.org/2015/09/28/mainstreaming-the-nuclear-exit/

It’s no great revelation to say that the mainstream media, fractured though it may be these days, holds great power. It’s not direct power; the media can’t make actual decisions. Rather, the media grabs a theme–a meme if you want–and holds on to it, and repeats it, and provides slight twists to it so it can be repeated again, until it becomes accepted wisdom. While the media, especially the mainstream media, is often behind the curve, behind reality, once it catches up and snares and spreads that meme, it doesn’t take long for it to establish itself. And once a concept becomes accepted wisdom, then the actual decisions tend to follow in unison. As a group, politicians rarely stray far from accepted wisdom.

For many years, from the 1950s through the 70s, the accepted wisdom was that nuclear power was safe, advanced, and a great asset to society. Then reality crashed the party with Three Mile Island and the nation’s most trusted person Walter Cronkite’s terrifying (although incorrect) statement that radiation was coming through the walls of the containment building, and the accepted wisdom began to turn away from nuclear power; Chernobyl was too distant in both distance and political structure to end the industry entirely, but it was icing on the cake. And thus nuclear power began a period of decline that reached a nadir in 2000 when there was not a single reactor under construction anywhere in the western world.

But then, the media–which loves a man bites dog story–glommed onto the idea pitched by nuclear PR flacks and backed by a couple dozen (in retrospect, mostly bogus) construction application licenses, that a nuclear “renaissance” was in full swing. Once again, nuclear was not only acceptable, it was a preferred energy source, free of carbon emissions. That notion–and forced payment from ratepayers by Public Service Commissions more supportive of industry than those same ratepayers–was enough to get the construction cranes set up at Vogtle and Summer at least. Limited reactor construction also resumed in Europe, and China joined the pack too.

Reality showed its cruel face again, however, as costs for those reactors spiraled upward and construction schedules indicated that for each month of construction, the utilities gained nothing–they were still the same amount of months away from completion. Adding to the crush of the “renaissance” was Fukushima, which brought the legitimate fears of the nuclear age to a new generation.

While the “renaissance” fizzled, at least the industry could take comfort in the fact that it could continue to rely on, and make money from, its large number of paid-off reactors. Except as those reactors aged and as they confronted new costs from required Fukushima-related upgrades (although those have been extremely modest, especially in the U.S.), their operating and maintenance costs increased. Even more importantly, the costs of competing electricity generation sources plummeted at the same time. The result was an ever-increasing number of existing reactors are either now losing money or on the verge of doing so.

And the mainstream media has finally picked up on that reality: that it’s not just that nuclear reactors have safety issues and radioactive waste problems and the like but that nuclear power can no longer compete with the alternatives. Moreover, the changes in energy costs that cause that reality are not only making nuclear power obsolete, they are making the entire utility system and its reliance on baseload power obsolete. And the more that reality is repeated and becomes accepted wisdom, the more real decisions reflect that.

Thus, you get the EPA’s Clean Power Plan dropping its intent to prop up existing reactors. The EPA’s Gina McCarthy may still be giving lip service to the nuclear industry, but where it counted the EPA did what clean energy advocates wanted, not the nuclear industry.

That’s one example of a real decision.

So was the Washington DC Public Service Commission’s scuttling of the proposed Exelon takeover of Pepco. Behind that decision was sincere concern both about Exelon’s reliance on a failing fleet of nuclear reactors and its hostility to renewables. Exelon is now trying to sweeten the deal but what it doesn’t seem to understand is that its roadblock is Exelon itself–perhaps the epitome of the utility of the past.

Over the past week, there have been a plethora of articles picking up the same theme: alternatives to nuclear are cheaper than existing reactors, and that means big changes ahead for the entire utility industry....



This article, along with the supporting linked articles, are well worth your time. - k
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