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Nuclear Costs

Estimates for new reactor construction costs continue to sky-rocket. Conservative estimates range between $6 and $12 billion per reactor but Standard & Poor's predicts a continued rise. The nuclear power industry is lobbying for heavy federal subsidization including unlimited loan guarantees but the Congressional Budget Office predicts the risk of default will be well over 50 percent, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. Beyond Nuclear opposes taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies for the nuclear energy industry.

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Thursday
Feb202014

Davis-Besse: from Hole in the Head, to hole in the containment wall

NRC file photo of NRC inspector visually examining severe cracking in Davis-Besse's Shield Building wall in Oct., 2011.FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) ran its Davis-Besse atomic reactor to the breaking point in 2002. The Hole-in-the-Head fiasco -- a nearly complete breach of the reactor vessel closure head, or lid -- was the most infamous near-miss to a major reactor accident in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. The Hole-in-the-Head fiasco added up to a boondoggle totaling more than $600 million.

Now it has been revealed that Davis-Besse has a hole in its Shield Building wall -- an essential component of the radiological containment structures -- that extends up to 12 inches through its 30-inch width, a full 40% way through. Davis-Besse has operated for over two years, at full power, with this potentially fatal flaw in its Shield Building wall.

The gap or air space was discovered last Thursday, and publicly revealed Friday, during the current Davis-Besse steam generator replacement project, which has breached Davis-Besse's Shield Building for an unprecedented fourth time. The previous three breaches include the pre-operational Initial Construction Opening in the 1970s; the 2002-2004 reactor lid replacement project; and the 2011 reactor lid replacement project. Each breach risks further damaging the Shield Building, where severe cracking was discovered in late 2011. In September 2013, FENOC admitted that the severe cracking is growing worse over time.

NRC Region III Staff are holding a Webinar on Davis-Besse's current steam generator replacement project on Thursday, Feb. 20th, from 6 to 7 PM Eastern. The Webinar was scheduled before revelation of the hole in the containment wall. Please pre-register and attend the Webinar. Beyond Nuclear and Don't Waste MI have generated a series of sample questions you can put to NRC during the Webinar.

Beyond Nuclear helps lead environmental coalition efforts challenging both the steam generator replacements, as well as FENOC's application for a 20-year (2017-2037) license extension at Davis-Besse. Terry Lodge, Toledo-based attorney, serves as legal counsel for the environmental coalition in both NRC proceedings.

Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer, Fairewinds Associates, Inc., serves as expert witness for the coalition in the "experimental" steam generator replacement intervention. Gundersen serves as expert witness for Friends of the Earth on the botched San Onofre 2 & 3 steam generator replacements, which has led to the permanent shutdown of those two reactors -- a multi-billion dollar boondoggle. Gundersen was also instrumental in outing the truth on the fatal cracking in Crystal River, FL's concrete containment, also caused by a botched steam generator replacement, another multi-billion dollar boondoggle. Gundersen has alleged that Davis-Besse's steam generator replacement has taken the same shortcuts on safety, made all the worse by its Shield Building's already very questionable, and worsening, structural integrity.

The coalition launched the challenge against the steam generator replacement in May, 2013, and defended its challenge in June and July -- twice in one month! -- 2013. The NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) which heard the intervention quickly dismissed it, without addressing the merits, effectively green-lighting Davis-Besse's shortcuts on safety. Beyond Nuclear has posted the entire docket of the steam generator intervention on its website.

The Toledo Blade and Cleveland Plain Dealer have reported that the Davis-Besse steam generator replacements will cost $600 million.

Beyond Nuclear has filed a Freedom of Information Act Request on the gap in the Davis-Besse Shield Building wall.

The Toledo Blade has reported on this story, on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15.

NRC posted an Event Notification Report on Feb. 18, and a Preliminary Notification of Occurrence (PNO) on Feb. 19.

Friday
Feb072014

Nuclear utilities beg for bailouts to avert reactor shutdowns, Obama administration appears amenable

In a pair of articles, E&E's Hannah Northey reports that nuclear utility giants such as Exelon and Entergy are lobbying hard for changes to electricity marketplace rules that would enable them to keep uncompetitive atomic reactors operating. For its part, the Obama Dept. of Energy appears poised to do all it can to prop up its favorite dirty, dangerous, and expensive energy industry.

Northey quotes an Exelon spokesman as admitting not just Quad Cities (two reactors) and Clinton (one reactor) in IL are at risk of near-term shutdown, but a total of five reactors altogether, although he would not specify the other two.

Northey also quotes an Entergy official, who compares the risk of numerous additional near-term atomic reactor meltdowns to driving off a cliff.

Friday
Feb072014

Exelon considers closing two GE BWR Mark Is in IL

As reported by Crain's Chicago Business, Exelon -- the largest nuclear utility in the U.S. -- is considering shuttering its Quad Cities nuclear power plant, because it cannot compete on the wholesale electricity market. Quad Cities consists of two General Electric Mark I Boiling Water Reactors, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4.

At the same time, Exelon is considering permanently closing its single unit Clinton nuclear power plant -- a GE BWR Mark III. A decade ago, Exelon was riding high at Clinton -- recipient of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rubber-stamp support for an "Early Site Permit" for a proposed new reactor at the site.

Wednesday
Jan012014

Vogtle nuclear loan guarantee drags into fifth round of delays

Aerial image of Plant Vogtle Nuclear Generating Station - photo credit to High Flyer. The photo shows the operating Units 1 and 2, as well as the construction site for proposed new Units 3 and 4.As reported by Platts, and conveyed in a Friends of the Earth press release, the December 31, 2013 U.S. Department of Energy deadline for finalization of the $8.3 billion federal taxpayer backed nuclear loan guarantee for Vogtle 3 & 4 has been extended yet again, for a fifth time, until the end of January, 2014.

As reported by FOE: "Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation revealed that the credit subsidy fee offered to Southern Company ranged from 0.8 to 1.5 percent. The credit subsidy fee is supposed to insulate against default, but the fee offered to Southern Company is woefully inadequate to cover the risks involved in major nuclear construction. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 32 percent of reactor construction is cancelled before any electricity is produced."

Watchdog groups have long called for a credit subsidy fee commensurate with the risk of the nuclear new build proposals. Congressional auditors reported several years ago that new reactors, historically, have had a 50% risk of cancellation and potential default. The Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear loan guarantee puts 15 times more taxpayer money at risk than did the Solyndra loan guarantee scandal, which had a significantly lower risk of default than does Vogtle 3 & 4.

Given the Obama administration offered the $8.3 billion nuclear loan guarantee nearly four years ago, and now this latest delay, concerns continue to mount that the project is a financial house of cards, and will ultimately leave taxpayers holding the bag. Nuclear Watch South has called for taxpayers to express their concerns to decision makers, as has Beyond Nuclear.

Friday
Dec272013

Environmental coalition meets NRC's "Nuclear Waste Confidence" DGEIS public comment deadline

Environmental coalition attorney Diane Curran

(Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School, expert witness on behalf of this environmental coalition, has estimated that storage and disposal of irradiated nuclear fuel could add $210 to $350 billion onto the costs of nuclear-generated electricity in the U.S. In addition, the once-per-century replacement of dry cask storage across the U.S., assumed by NRC in its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" DGEIS, would add another $100 billion per replacement, Cooper estimates. Cooper asserts that NRC cannot ignore such "staggering" costs in its EIS on the costs and risks of generating irradiated nuclear fuel in the first place -- that is, approving new reactor construction and operating licenses, and old reactor license extensions.)

An environmental coalition of nearly three dozen groups, including Beyond Nuclear, has submitted comments on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) "Nuclear Waste Confidence" Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). The coalition is represented by a team of attorneys, including Diane Curran (photo, left) of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, and Eisenberg, LLP, Washington, D.C.; Mindy Goldstein, Director, and Jillian Kysor, Fellow, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; and Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director, and Deborah Brancato, Staff Attorney, Riverkeeper, Ossining, NY.

The coalition is also represented by a team of expert witnesses, including Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, MD; David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists, Chattanooga, TN; Dr. Gordon Thompson, Executive Director, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, MA; and Dr. Mark Cooper, Senior Research Fellow for Economic Analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, South Royalton, VT.

The environmental coalition's comments, as well as its expert witnesses' declarations, have been posted on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) website, as well as at the bottom of a press release featuring the work of Dr. Cooper on the economic costs of irradiated nuclear fuel management. The coalition's comment and expert witness declarations are also posted at the NIRS website.

Curran, on behalf of three environmental groups (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Riverkeeper, and SACE), in alliance with Natural Resource Defense Council, as well as four state attorneys general (CT, NJ, NY, and VT) won a landmark legal victory on June 8, 2012. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that NRC had to carry out an environmental impact statement on its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy and rule, including the on-site storage risks of irradiated nuclear fuel in pools and dry casks. The Dec. 20th public comment deadline on the DGEIS is a part of that court-ordered process.