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Decommissioning

Although it is imperative that we shut down nuclear plants, they remain dangerous, and expensive even when closed. Radioactive inventories remain present on the site and decommissioning costs have been skyrocketing, presenting the real danger that utilities will not be able to afford to properly shut down and clean up non-operating reactor sites.

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Tuesday
May072013

High noon for nuclear power: Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor permanently shuts down!

Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor, on the Lake Michigan shoreline in northern WI near Green BayAs reported by Platt's, at 12 PM Noon Central time today, Dominion's Kewaunee atomic reactor was permanently shutdown. Last October, Dominion announced its intention to permanently close Kewaunee by mid-2013. Dominion had attempted to sell Kewaunee, but found no buyers. Platt's reports "CMS Energy -- which sold Palisades, its only nuclear station, to Entergy in 2007 -- had considered buying the plant, but decided against it because of low gas prices and investor pushback."

Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, Inc points out that Kewaunee still had an operating license for another 20 years, but Dominion is unable to operate the reactor economically. Gundersen also points out that the 60-year SAFESTOR plan prior to decommissioning means Kewaunee will not be dismantled and cleaned up until about a century after it commenced operations, in 1973.

Duke Energy's announcement in recent weeks regarding the fatally cracked containment at its Crystal River, FL reactor, and today's final SCRAM at Kewaunee, are the first permanent shutdowns of commercial atomic reactors in the U.S. in about 15 years. Kewaunee joins Zion 1 & 2 in IL, and Big Rock Point in MI, on the list of reactors on the Lake Michigan shore permanently shutdown. Point Beach 1 & 2 in WI, as well as Cook 1 & 2 and Palisades in MI, are reactors still operating on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Lake Michigan is a headwaters of the Great Lakes, 20% of the world's surface fresh water, and drinking water supply for 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations.

Tuesday
May072013

Entergy Watch: Environmental coalition challenges Entergy's financial qualifications to continue operating reactors

"Burning money" graphic by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsAs reported by E&E's Hannah Northey at Greenwire, an environmental coalition including such groups as Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE), Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), and Pilgrim Watch, has launched an emergency enforcement petition at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, challenging the financial qualifications of Entergy Nuclear to safely operate and decommission such reactors at FitzPatrick in New York, Pilgrim in Massachusetts, and Vermont Yankee. All three reactors happen to be twin designs to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4, that is, General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors. The coalition's petition cited financial analyses by UBS on Entergy's dire economic straits. Representatives from coalition groups, including Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter, testified today before an NRC Petition Review Board at the agency's headquarters in Rockville, MD. 

FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Vermont Yankee have each already recieved 20-year license extension rubber-stamps from NRC. FitzPatrick, even though it never installed a hardened vent in the early 1990s, to deal with its too small, too weak containment -- the only one, of 23 Mark I in the U.S., to not do so. Pilgrim became the longest contested license extension -- a proceeding lasting over 6 years -- thanks to the efforts of Mary Lampert at Pilgrim Watch. And the Vermont Yankee license extension was actually blocked by the State of Vermont -- this court battle between and involving the state, Entergy, and NRC rages on in multiple federal and state venues.

Thursday
Feb072013

"Exelon cuts dividend by 41%," as NRC investigates "deliberate" deception regarding decommissioning funds

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, "Exelon's stock has dropped by nearly two-thirds since its high in 2008." The company partly blames "higher nuclear fuel costs" for its "diminished earnings."

Ironically, the biggest nuclear utility in the U.S. is looking to expanding its renewables portfolio to expand its earnings:

'...It would also seek customers interested in contracting with Exelon for wind and solar power. Such power purchase agreements would guarantee steady and predictable returns.

..."When the balance sheet is tight like it is right now, you would want to make investments that have a short investment period," [Exelon CEO] Crane said. "Wind and other smaller assets really do fit that profile. Within a year, you're getting a return."'

Gouging its ratepayers at the earliest opportunity also seems to be in the Exelon business plan:

'...At Exelon, all eyes are looking forward to 2015 when approximately 19,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity plants will have retired. Coal plant retirements are expected to increase electricity prices Exelon's nuclear power plants take and help to counteract stubbornly low natural gas prices have been driving down the company's earnings.' (emphasis added)

The article also lists "significant headwinds" ahead, and "several legal and regulatory matters that could add to its woes," including "an investigation by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission," and "still unknown costs associated with NRC-mandated upgrades that came out of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan."

NRC appears to have just busted Exelon for "deliberate" deception -- the company appears to have intentionally low-balled the price tag for eventual nuclear power plant decommissioning, in order to mask the woeful inadequacy -- amounting to around a billion dollars -- of its dedicated decommissioning funds. Bloomberg reportedthat "[t]he shortfall totaled $1 billion in 2009." (emphasis added) Crain's Chicago Business has reported on this story.

U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), currently serving as Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee, has long shined a spotlight on the inadequacy of nuclear power plant decommissioning funds, as by requesting Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigations of NRC's oversight, or lack thereof.

The long term "deliberate" deception is reminiscent of Exelon's decade long cover up of massive tritium leaks into ground and surface waters at the Braidwood nuclear power plant. These were brought to light thanks to freedom of information act requests made by Cynthia Sauer, whose daughter Sarah contracted a rare form of childhood brain cancer at age 7. The family lived close to Exelon's Dresden nuclear power plant, not far from Braidwood.

The decommissioning of the twin reactor Zion nuclear power plant, 30 miles north of Chicago, is the biggest decommissioning project in U.S. history, with a projected price tag of around a billion dollars. EnergySolutions of Salt Lake City is in charge, itself embroiled in serious financial troubles.

British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd. (BNFL), absorbed into the EnergySolutions empire several years ago, carried out the decommissioning of the Big Rock Point atomic reactor in Charlevoix, Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shore, from 1997 to 2006. Despite being paid $366 million for the "clean-up," BNFL left radioactive contamination -- including plutonium -- in the soil and groundwater. It didn't even bother to check the contamination level in the sediments of Lake Michigan, not even in the canal into which Big Rock Point had "routinely" discharged radioactivity (with federal and state permission) for 35 years (1962-1997). Remarkably, NRC blessed the Big Rock Point decommissioning with a permit for "unrestricted re-use," meaning the contaminated land can be used for any purpose, ignoring the lingering radiation hazard.

Wednesday
Feb062013

Entergy Watch: UBS predicts "real retirement risk for units such as Vermont Yankee and FitzPatrick in '13"

As soon as Entergy's Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim, and FitzPatrick atomic reactors permanently shutdown, decommissioning costs will become Entergy shareholders' next headache.In a report for shareholders, dated Feb. 4th by UBS Securities LLC, UBS "reiterate[s] expectations for nuclear retirements" in the Entergy Nuclear merchant fleet, due to low to negative free cash flow. UBS highlights that "We see Vermont Yankee as the most tenuously positioned," but adds "Fitzpatrick (sic) in upstate NY increasingly appears at risk as well," and "Pilgrim could be at risk too, depending on market development in New England." The report is based on a Feb. 2nd meeting between UBS analysts and Entergy Nuclear's new CEO, Leo Denault, and the rest of the Entergy management team. 

A large part of the UBS report then goes on to discuss the critical importance of decommissioning costs to Entergy shareholders, if/when Vermont Yankee (VY), FitzPatrick, and/or Pilgrim (near Boston) permanently shutdown.

UBS fails to mention that VY, FitzPatrick, and Pilgrim are General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4. VY (nearly 41 years old), FitzPatrick (almost 39), and Pilgrim (around 41) are also age-degraded reactors, deep into their break-down phase, the same vintage as Fukushima Daiichi.

UBS did mention, however, in its "Statement of Risk," that "As a nuclear operator, Entergy is also subject to headline risk. We believe a nuclear accident (even in a non-Entergy nuclear plant) or a change in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Environment (sic) Protection Agency regulations could have a negative impact on our estimates."

NRC post-Fukushima "lessons learned" safety upgrades, such as the requirement for "hardened vents" at U.S. Mark Is like VY, FitzPatrick, and Pilgrim, could easily cost Entergy tens of millions of dollars per reactor to implement.

UBS does also mention the fact that VY (at 605 Megawatts-electric), FitzPatrick (838 MW-e), and Pilgrim (688 MW-e) are relatively small-sized, single reactor nuclear power plants, which several analysts have pointed out makes them most vulnerable to "early retirement." But this is a misnomer, given the fact that their initial 40-year operating licenses have already expired, and they are now operating thanks only to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) 20-year license extension rubberstamps. Dominion's 556 MW-e Kewaunee atomic reactor in WI serves as the "canary in the coal mine," showing the vulnerability of small, single reactor nuclear power plants to permanent shutdown due to "economic reasons" (such as the inability to make a profit while making hugely expensive, major safety repairs, for example). Dominion Nuclear announced last October that Kewaunee would permanently close in mid-2013.

The UBS report also discusses the future, or lack thereof, for Entergy's Indian Point (IP) Unit 2 (nearly 40 years old) & 3 (almost 38 years old) reactors near New York City. UBS highlights that "Building the case for IP remains centered on economic case," but concludes "we perceive limited ability to do so currently with NY gov't officials." New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has long called for IP's closure. UBS also highlights that "Relicensing remains bottom line on IP future," specifically the NRC Atomic Safety (sic) and Licensing Board 20-year license extension proceeding, and the New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) water permit. The former is being contested not only by NY AG Eric Schneiderman's office, but also by such environmental groups as Riverkeeper and Clearwater (a member group of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC)). The latter could result in Entergy being required to build cooling towers, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, to prevent large-scale, ecologically destructive thermal pollution of the Hudson River (a full two-thirds of the 6,432 Megawatts-thermal heat generated at the Indian Point nuclear power plant has, for decades, simply been dumped into the Hudson River).

UBS also concludes that Entergy's underlying nuclear business is "fundamentally un-financeable on a stand alone basis." UBS highlights that despite it being "the second largest nuclear power generator in the United States," Entergy's "[n]uclear business is sub-scale," and that "eventual spin-merge or JV [joint venture]" is "certainly a possibility." UBS reports "CEO Denault, in his first day on the job, suggested that in 5 years time the EWC [Entergy Wholesale Commodities] business would belong [as] part of a bigger portfolio -- either under Entergy ownership or otherwise." UBS summarizes that Entergy's "[g]oal is to gain greater scale in [nuclear] generation," and "ETR [Entergy] will either acquire or divest the [nuclear] generation subsidiary over Denault's tenure." UBS does not speculate as to which other atomic reactors Entergy might acquire, nor which other nuclear utilities might acquire Entergy in the next several years.

Hopefully, Entergy's VY, FitzPatrick, Pilgrim, and Indian Point atomic reactors will permanently shutdown long before then, along with the rest of its dirty dozen atomic reactors across the U.S.

Friday
Jan182013

Arnie Gundersen: "REPAIRS AT FOUR NUCLEAR REACTORS ARE SO EXPENSIVE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE RESTARTED"

Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie GundersenFour reactors in the U.S. may be on the brink of decommissioning decisions.

In the most recent Fairewinds Energy Education weekly podcast, "REPAIRS AT FOUR NUCLEAR REACTORS ARE SO EXPENSIVE THAT THEY SHOULD NOT BE RESTARTED," Fairewinds' nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen (photo, left) lays out the case as to why the atomic reactors at Fort Calhoun, Nebraska on the Missouri River, Crystal River in Florida, and San Onofre Units 2 & 3 in southern California should all be permanently shutdown.

Of these, Fort Calhoun had already gotten a 20-year license extension rubberstamp by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while Crystal River was deep into the application process for one.

In the second half of the program, Arnie also discusses a recent letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and an accompanying press release, from U.S. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), which expressed strong opposition to U.S. Department of Energy plans to "recycle" radioactive metals and other materials from its nuclear facilities (such as nuclear weapons complex sites, uranium enrichment facilities, national labs, etc.) into consumer products.