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Decommissioning costs: A blind spot in the nuclear power debate

Decommissioning costs: A blind spot in the nuclear power debate
In nuclear policy, too little thought is given to the considerable costs of storing radioactive waste on site

By Christina Simeone | August 30, 2016 Printprint

The following is a viewpoint article from Christina Simeone, director of policy and external affairs at the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

With over 10 GW of nuclear capacity at risk for premature retirement – defined as retirement before license expiration – many states are considering subsidy policies to keep these economically struggling reactors operating.

Arguments for subsidies focus on protecting local jobs, keeping low-cost baseload power, maintaining reliability, and preserving the zero-carbon resources needed to address climate change. Opponents argue that out-of-market subsidies distort competitive markets and amount to ratepayer bailouts of uneconomic generation.

Absent from the debate, however, is a focus on what happens to nuclear power plants when they retire and decommission. Specifically, how Americans like you and I will continue to pay more and be subjected to greater risks as nuclear power plants are converted to interim waste storage facilities.

This is the focus of a new report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, entitled “Nuclear Decommissioning: Paying More for Greater, Uncompensated Risks.”

Let me explain....


What the Heck Is Up With California's Recycling Program?

What the Heck Is Up With California's Recycling Program?
We're tossing more stuff, and bulk recyclers are dropping by the hundreds.


Few states have a greener rep than California, and for good reason. The state has a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, solar-energy production exceeding that of all other states combined, and, at the behest of Gov. Jerry Brown, it's now mulling new targets that would slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. The state has proved itself a national leader in environmental policy.

On average, each Californian throws nearly five pounds of stuff into landfills daily.
All of which makes California's latest waste and recycling report, issued yearly by state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), so bewildering. It reveals that landfill waste in the state jumped to 33.2 million tons in 2015, a one-year increase of 2 million tons, contributing to last year's release of 200,000 extra metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Per capita, each Californian now tosses 4.7 pounds of stuff into the landfill every day.

The state's rate of recycling also dropped to 47 percent in 2015. That's the lowest rate since 2010, and the first time since the state began measuring that the number has gone below 50 percent—not the greatest news, given California's 2020 goal of recycling 75 percent of all consumer waste.

CalRecycle spokesman Mark Oldfield points to a recovering economy as a primary contributor to the setback...

Puzzling path to new UK nuclear power stations

Puzzling path to new UK nuclear power stations
The UK plans to build several new nuclear reactors - of three different types, oddly, including a Franco-German design that has gone radically over-budget elsewhere. That's a recipe for high costs, critics say.

The world's first two EPRs to be built in Finland (pictured) and France have been under construction for a decade, yet remain unfinished

Over the past several years, a number of companies have put forth applications to build new nuclear reactors in the UK. But none have started construction, and now, there's some doubt whether any of them will go forward.

At the end of July, the new UK government led by Theresa May announced a delay in the approval of Hinkley Point C, the new-build nuclear power reactor project currently closest to going ahead, pending a review.

Mycle Schneider, an anti-nuclear analyst who is convening lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Reports, said he doubts any new UK reactors will actually get built. And if any are built, he doubts they'll ever be put into service: "There have been at least 92 nuclear reactors construction projects around the world that were abandoned at various stages of completion."

Financial rather than environmental concerns are putting the UK's new-build nuclear program in doubt...

Seems pretty obvious to me: Military Industrial Grade P-O-R-K

Al Gore: The Clean Energy Revolution Is ‘A Dramatic New Reality’

Al Gore: The Clean Energy Revolution Is ‘A Dramatic New Reality’
It will be bigger than the industrial and information revolutions combined.

Al Gore believes we are in a turning point in the fight against climate change. The latest version of his “Inconvenient Truth” slideshow, which helped win him a Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy award, is chock-full of charts, factoids, and quotes on the unprecedented revolution in clean energy technologies.

As part of his exclusive interview with me earlier this month, Gore spoke about the stunning advances in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and batteries: “It is now clear that the sustainability revolution is more significant in the global economy than the industrial revolution and information revolution combined,” Gore said with more optimism than I’ve ever heard.

The clean energy revolution has the breadth of impact of the industrial revolution, but it has been occurring at the speed of the information revolution. The breadth and speed together yield an unprecedented transformation, as is clear from this recent Goldman Sachs chart:

“The rapid adoption of LEDs in lighting marks one of the fastest technology shifts in human history,” the company has noted. LEDs are part of a larger energy efficiency revolution that has kept U.S. electricity demand flat for the past decade and probably will for at least the next decade, too.

The hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) revolution depicted...

Amtrak Provides Details On New Acela Express Service & Fleet Slated For 2021

Amtrak Provides Details On New Acela Express Service & Fleet Slated For 2021
August 30th, 2016 by James Ayre

While the US’s rail network — high-speed or otherwise — has been in something of a stagnant period as of late, there is some forward movement occurring. In particular, Amtrak recently provided details on the upgraded Acela Express service that’s expected to begin service in 2021.

The upgraded service will feature a brand new fleet of Alstom-built trainsets that’s around 40% larger than the current fleet. What this means is that the timetable will be expanded so that Acela Express service between Washington (DC) and New York City will be offered every half-hour during peak times; and service between New York City and Boston once an hour, throughout the whole day.

The upgrade is being financed through a $2.45 billion loan from the federal government. Of this loan, around $2 billion will be used on the purchase of the new trainsets and around $450 million will be used on the revitalization of 4 prominent stations (including Penn Station and Union Station) as well as general infrastructure repair and improvement.

Amtrak provides more, revealing that, “the new trainsets are among the safest, most reliable and energy efficient in the world. They have a 35-year track record of transporting billions of customers to their destinations safely. In reliability, we anticipate the new trainsets will be at least eight times more reliable than the equipment it replaces, ensuring that we will get you where you need to go on time, every time. Finally, the new trainsets will reduce operating energy consumption by at least 20%, through a combination of minimal aerodynamic drag and lightweight design.”

They will also...

Controversial new Hinkley nuclear power station 'not vital' for Britain's energy future

Controversial new Hinkley nuclear power station 'not vital' for Britain's energy future

The UK does not need the controversial new Hinkley Point power station in order to meet its energy needs, a new report has found.

Building more wind farms and gas-fired power stations could be enough for “keeping the lights on” – as long as demand is managed correctly, the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) said.

The UK could save £1 billion a year if the Point C power station, planned to replace the current Point B station in Somerset, is not built.

ECIU director Richard Black said: "We wanted to know how essential Hinkley is for the 'energy trilemma' - keeping the lights on whilst cutting greenhouse gas emissions and keeping costs down.

"Our conclusion is that it's not essential; using tried and tested technologies, with nothing unproven or futuristic, Britain can meet all its targets and do so at lower cost."...


And before the usual voices start in with their spurious, ill informed drivel about the natural gas component of this scenario, it should be noted that Hinkley will require about 280MW of new additional natural gas generation for "spinning reserve" that will be running constantly to back up Hinkley should it SCRAM.

With the renewable scenario, the more renewables are brought online, the less the natural gas backstop will be needed until it is eventually phased out completely. With the nuclear scenario, as long as the nuclear plant is running, so is the natgas.

US accuses China General Nuclear Power Corp of pushing American experts for nuclear secrets

US accuses China General Nuclear Power Corp of pushing American experts for nuclear secrets
Chinese firm under indictment in the US for conspiring to steal nuclear technology; company rejects accusations

A state-owned Chinese power company under indictment in the US pressed American nuclear consultants for years to hand over secret technologies and documents they weren’t supposed to disclose -- and in some cases it got them, several of the consultants have told the FBI.

Summaries of the consultants’ interviews with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were filed this month in a federal court where the company, China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN), has been charged with conspiring to steal nuclear technology.

The FBI documents surfaced shortly after the same company became a focus of concerns across the Atlantic: The UK last month delayed approval of the country’s biggest nuclear power station in a generation as questions swirled about whether China General Nuclear’s investment in the plant poses a security risk.

The filings provide a window into the tactics of CGN, China’s biggest nuclear power operator. One of the consultants said CGN employees asked for off-limits operational manuals to nuclear equipment and software, according to the interview summaries.

Another said he was asked to provide proprietary temperature settings for material used to contain nuclear fuel...


Drug companies spend millions to keep charging high prices

Pharmaceutical heavyweight Mylan, the latest poster child for drug-industry greed, finally stuck up for itself Thursday. It argued that “the system,” not avarice, was to blame for the company jacking up the price of EpiPens, a common (and life-saving) allergy remedy, by over 400%.


Despite Mylan’s offer Thursday of discount coupons for some EpiPen users, the only system at work here is a cash-fat industry routinely preying on sick people. It’s a system that the drug industry will do whatever’s necessary to protect.

Of roughly $250 million raised for and against 17 ballot measures coming before California voters in November, more than a quarter of that amount — about $70 million — has been contributed by deep-pocketed drug companies to defeat the state’s Drug Price Relief Act.

Contributions aimed at killing the initiative are on track to be the most raised involving a single ballot measure since 2001, the earliest year for which online data are available, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money in politics.

The Drug Price Relief Act would make prescription drugs more affordable for people in Medi-Cal and other state programs by requiring that California pay no more than what’s paid for the same drugs by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It would, in other words, protect state taxpayers from being ripped off.

Industry donations to crush the Drug Price Relief Act “will top $100 million by the election, I’m quite certain of it,”...


Traditional utility companies are blocking renewable energy every step of the way

Holding Clean Energy Hostage
Traditional utility companies are blocking renewable energy every step of the way.

by Cathy Kunkel & M.V. Ramona

Nuclear power is getting a lifeline. On August 1, in a controversial decision, New York State’s Public Service Commission voted to approve subsidies to all nuclear power plants in the state. The estimated eventual cost to electricity customers in the state is over $7 billion. Most of the bailout money will be channeled toward Exelon and Entergy — two large electric utility companies that have threatened to close down some of the reactors they were operating in the state.


... is the United States creating a new electricity supply system that will provide affordable energy and mitigate climate change?

Unfortunately, no — at least at the moment. The electric utility companies that control electricity generation in the United States are standing squarely in the way of such an energy future....


The excerpt doesn't do this article justice. But if you're interested in the transition away from carbon, this article will probably be something you don't want to skip.

Cathy Kunkel is an energy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and is active in the community organization Advocates for a Safe Water System. M. V. Ramana is with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University and the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.

2014 nuclear accident in N.M. ranks among costliest in U.S. history

2014 nuclear accident in N.M. ranks among costliest in U.S. history
August 23, 2016 12:00 AM
By Ralph Vartabedian / Los Angeles Times

When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.

The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.

But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. The long-term cost of the accident could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

The Feb. 14, 2014, incident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.

Washington state officials were recently ...

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