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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

DOE signs $6.5 billion federal nuclear loan guarantee for Vogtle 3 & 4

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.U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) will sign an agreement with Southern Co. and Oglethorpe Power for a $6.5 billion loan guarantee that puts federal taxpayers on the hook if the Vogtle 3 & 4 new reactor project defaults on its loan repayments. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will speak at the proposed new reactor construction site at 2 PM Eastern today, Thursday, Feb. 20th (you can listen to his address by calling 1-800-282-1696).

President Obama gave the Vogtle 3 & 4 federal loan guarantee offer (for a total of $8.3 billion) the highest profile possible, by announcing it himself at a press event in Feb. 2010. Despite this, it has taken over four years for the project proponents to sign on the dotted line, given their reluctance to put any of their own "skin in the game," in the form of credit subsidy fees. The nuclear loan guarantee program was authorized in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, and $22.5 billion was approved by Congress and George W. Bush for new nuclear facilities on Dec. 23, 2007 ($18.5 billion for new reactors, $4 billion for new uranium enrichment).

The $8.3 billion Vogtle 3 & 4 federal loan guarantee is 15 times bigger than the infamous Solyndra solar loan guarantee, which defaulted on its loan repayment, a $585 million loss to the U.S. Treasury. But the Vogtle 3 & 4 loan guarantee is at much higher financial risk of default than was the Solyndra solar project!

Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter blasted the deal in a Common Dreams interview. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) also blasted the deal in a press release. Harvey Wasserman has penned an essay entitled "Obama's Nuke-Powered Drone Strike on America's Energy Future."

Please contact President Obama and Energy Secretary Moniz, registering your disapproval of this $6.5 billion nuclear loan guarantee, and urging them not to grant the remaining $1.8 billion nuclear loan guarantee to project partner MEAG for Vogtle 3 & 4. Also urge them to withdraw any further nuclear loan guarantee offers, with the remaining $10.2 billion authorized for new reactors, and $4 billion authorized for new uranium enrichment.

But the federal nuclear loan guarantees, and even the CWIP charges which are gouging Georgia ratepayers, are not the only subsidies benefitting this proposed new reactor project. If Vogtle 3 & 4 do get built and operated, the George W. Bush DOE also obligated U.S. taxpayers to ultimate liability for the risks and costs of the high-level radioactive waste they would generate. DOE hastily signed the contract in the last days of the Bush administration, despite the fact that federal courts are awarding $500 million per year in damages to nuclear utilities for DOE's breach of contract for failing to begin taking title to irradiated nuclear fuel in 1998 under the contractual agreements signed in the mid-1980s. The hastily signed contacts were exposed by D.C. attorney Diane Curran, IEER President Arjun Makhijani, and Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps in a March 24, 2010 press conference based on a FOIA Request.

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.