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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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Saturday
Nov232013

Nov. 25th Forum on the Decommissioning of Vermont Yankee in Montpelier

A message from Debra Stoleroff of Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance (VYDA):

After more than 40 years, our efforts have paid off and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is closing in 2014 and will be decommissioned.  There are many ways to decommission a nuclear power plant; some more safe than others.

So, what does deliberate, thorough and responsible decommissioning mean?  What does it look like? And how can Vermont (and we) advocate for deliberate, thorough and responsible decommissioning with a greenfield when Vermont does not have a legal say in the process?

Deb Katz of the Citizens' Awareness Network (CAN) and Chris Williams of VCAN and VYDA will address what will happen to Vermont Yankee when it closes in 2014.  They will discuss transition, clean-up, long term waste storage and what role citizens can play In the process.

Join VYDA for a forum on The Decommissioning of Vermont Yankeewith Deb Katz, Executive Director of Citizens' Awareness Network  and Chris Williams, Director of VT Citizen's Action Network and member of VYDA

Monday, November 25,6:30 pm, at the Unitarian Church, 130 Main St., Montpelier
Sponsored by the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance

For more information call: (802) 476-3154

More.

Thursday
Sep052013

Grassroots activism laid the groundwork for Vermont Yankee's announced demise

This infamous photo of Vermont Yankee's 2007 cooling tower collapse was sent to media reporters by whistleblowers

Nuclear utilities, from Dominion at Kewaunee, WI to Entergy at Vermont Yankee (VY), go out of their way to explain their permanent shutdown decisions on pure economic costs. But what is the backstory to these nuclear costs at a reactor like VY?

Bob Bady, a founding member of the Safe and Green Campaign, has penned an op-ed at the Vermont Digger entitled "What Killed the Beast?"

The beast to which he refers is Vermont Yankee, a GE Mark I boiling water reactor, identical in design to the wrecked, leaking Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 in northeastern Japan.

He writes: "...The ultimate goal of a large corporation such as Entergy is to make money. Its growth or demise is about profit. The backstory is actually what prevented Vermont Yankee from making enough profit to continue to operate for decades to come.

Certainly cheaper natural gas was a signficant factor, as was an old plant that would require significant maintenance in the coming years. Pending costly federally mandated safety improvements, precipitated by the Fukushima disaster, also loomed.

The tipping point, however, the thing that might have really sealed Vermont Yankee's fate, was grassroots activism...".

He concludes that "because the anti nuke environmental community in Vermont, southwestern New Hampshire and western Massachusetts worked hard, long and intelligently to rally public opinion, and educate the Vermont Legislature," state laws signed by Vermont's former, pro-nuclear Republican governor became a "big expensive problem" for Entergy.

Bady adds "Entergy's income was first impacted when, by late 2010 and early 2011, its reputation had become so damaged by its own misdeeds, brought to the spotlight by activists, that Vermont electric utilities played hardball in contract negotiations. As a result, no deal emerged between Vermont Yankee and Vermont utilities, and Entergy was left to sell its product on the "spot" market, where prices had dropped because of cheaper natural gas."

Author Richard Watts asked the same question: how could Vermont Yankee go from being seen as a good neighbor and mainstay of the Green Mountain State's economy by some, to being almost universally disdained, even by former supporters, as a pariah, with top elected officials referring to Entergy publicly as a "rogue corporation"? Watts' book, Public Meltdown: The Story of Vermont Yankee, shows that Entergy's cover ups and lies under oath to state officials -- such as the 2007 cooling tower collapse brought to light by whistleblowers (photo, above left), and Entergy executives' perjury regarding radioactivity leaks into groundwater -- combined with widespread grassroots activism, turned the tide.

Saturday
Aug032013

Nuclear revolving door gobbles up billions of dollars of ratepayers' money, threatening to move onto taxpayers next!

Commissioner Geoffrey Merrifield's NRC file photoWhile still a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner, Geoffrey Merrifield did the nuclear power industry a big favor. He spearheaded a seemingly simple, but significant, change in NRC regulations, which paved the way for new reactor construction, unfettered by bothersome environmental safeguards. Merrifield shephered through a change in the definition of the word "construction." Now, nuclear utilities could build any aspect of a nuclear power plant, save for the reactor and its containment building, without having to first complete an environmental impact statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Thus, large aspects of a new reactor construction job -- such as foundation excavations for the reactor complex, or construction of the turbine building -- could proceed apace, building "facts on the ground," and momentum that would be hard to stop.

 

Merrifield capped such corruption by leaving NRC immediately after his dirty work, and going to work for the Shaw Group, which specializes in -- you guessed it -- new reactor construction! This example of the nuclear revolving door between supposed government regulator and industry even made a number of senior managers at NRC uneasy about Merrifield's blatant, self-serving conflict of interest.

 

Now, as reported by the Atlanta Progressive News, to such corruption must be added incompetence, raising not only financial risks, into the billions of dollars, but radiological risks that could impact millions of lives:

 

'...Chicago Bridge and Iron (CB&I), formerly known as Shaw Modular Solutions, makes modules being used to assemble four Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in South Carolina.

“CB&I is unable to provide properly constructed modules... and [have demonstrated a] continued inability to reliably meet the quality and schedule requirements of the project," Barbara Antonoplos, a ratepayer, testified, citing a report from the utility's regulatory staff in South Carolina.

"These problems have existed from the beginning and been raised in every other CB&I hearing and still there is no fix... they [Georgia Power] still do not have a competent outfit making parts and once the new parts get delivered to Vogtle, they are repairing them to make them acceptable.  This alarms me because incompetence of this magnitude breeds disaster especially when it comes to construction of a nuclear device. There is no way these reactors can be considered safe... when ‘patch it together’ is the best construction model they are able to come up with," Antonoplos said.

"Ongoing failures of this sort result in escalating cost and I don't believe you should force ratepayers to foot the bill for such gross incompetence," Antonoplos said.

Southern Company’s projections do not include the cost of the lawsuit they’re engaged in with their contractor, The Shaw Group/Chicago Bridge and Iron, nor the full cost of not getting Federal Loan Guarantees, for which the negotiation deadline has been extended three times according to Georgia WAND's website...'

Alex Flint, NEI's Senior Vice President for Governmental AffairsSpeaking of nuclear revolving doors and federal loan guarantees, the top lobbyist for the nuclear power industry, Alex Flint at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI, photo left), has passed through multiple times. For one, he "served" as the staff director on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, under Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), on whose personal staff Flint had previously "served." The ENR Committee hatched the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition to the $13 billion of direct taxpayer subsidies in that bill aimed at promoting new atomic reactor development, Flint wrote the federal nuclear loan guarantee language. After the bill was enacted into law, Flint left "public service" and went to work at NEI, where he remains to this day.

In a very real sense, Flint wrote his own (likely high six-figure, if not more) paycheck, while "serving the public" -- up for dinner to the nuclear industry, that is!

In late 2007, $18.5 billion for new reactor loan guarantees, and another $4 billion in new uranium enrichment loan guarantees, were approved by Congress and George W. Bush. However, even though President Obama, in Feb. 2010, awarded $8.3 billion in new reactor loan guarantees for the proposed new Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors -- giving it the highest profile possible, by making the announcement himself -- Southern Co. has never agreed to the terms. Too much of its own "skin in the game" is being asked of it, for such a financially risky scheme. Thus, no nuclear loan guarantees have yet been finalized.

Saturday
Aug032013

"Advocates, Ratepayers Oppose Paying for Vogtle’s Cost Overruns"

Southern Co. photo of the proposed new reactors construction site at Plant Vogtle -- a giant rat hole down which billions of dollars of ratepayer money are being pouredAs reported by the Atlanta Progressive News, Georgia ratepayers, as well as groups such as Georgia Women's Action for New Directions and Nuclear Watch South, have testified before the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) against billion dollar cost overruns at Southern Company's construction site for proposed new reactors from being foisted onto customers' electricity bills:

'..."Many of the cost overruns are the result of mismanagement.  The company has said less than one percent of the increases in costs are from engineering procurement and construction.  These costs are results from mismanagement in paperwork and scheduling delays," Courtney Hanson, Director of Public Outreach at Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND), testified.

"Southern Company jumped the gun in seeking license for the whole project and the cost accrued because of design changes and license amendment requests.  They were not prepared when the process started and the cost reflects that.  This is a problem that happens over and over," John Michael, a ratepayer, testified.

"The cost overrun is not a new story and it is unfair for these cost overruns to be continually passed on to the ratepayers.  Last time [with Vogtle units one and two] we were promised four reactors for six hundred million dollars and we got two for over eight billion.  A company will never reduce costs if they continually have a blank check written to them," Amanda Hill-Attkisson, Managing Director of Georgia WAND, testified...

[Steve] Prenovitz, an expert in economics with Nuclear Watch South, challenged continuing the Vogtle project.  He raised the question over whether the public would be better served by cutting their losses on Vogtle before massive cost overruns in the future reach stratospheric numbers.'

Saturday
Aug032013

"Thank you, Tallahassee, for making us pay so much for nothing"

Tampa Bay Times Business Columnist, Robert Trigaux, has let Florida state legislators and the Public Service Commission have it "for passing a law forcing Duke Energy customers to pay up to $1.5 billion in higher rates for a long proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County that will not be built...And no, Florida customers, you're not getting any of that money back."

Trigaux continues "The real reason the witless sheep in Tally let this happen is that power companies wanted to shift both the cost and the risk of building a nuclear plant on to its customers and off of its shareholders...Nowhere in the country do you see big Wall Street firms or banks lending billions of dollars to electric utilities for nuclear plants. The risk is too high. The recent history of building nuclear plants is plagued with fantastic delays and enormous cost overruns."

His column is an excellent exposé on "advance fee recovery" or CWIP -- Construction Work in Progress -- which is illegal in most states. In Indiana in the 1980s, for example, Citizen Action Coalition successfully sued the Hoosier State's would-be nuclear utilities for making illegal CWIP charges on ratepayers' electricity bills. The court ruled the utilities had to return hundreds of millions of dollars to ratepayers. Two nuclear power plants, at Bailey and Marble Hill, were stopped dead in their tracks.

In 1976, Kay Drey -- now a Beyond Nuclear board member -- helped lead a statewide referendum making CWIP illegal in Missouri, a law, enacted through grassroots democracy at its best, that still stands. In Iowa, Mike Carberry, of Green State Solutions and Friends of the Earth, has helped lead an environmental/ratepayer coalition which has successfully fended off nuclear lobbyists at the state capital for several years, blocking legalization of nuclear CWIP.

But CWIP has been made legal in several southeastern states, thanks to nuclear industry lobbyists' sway over state legislators and governors' mansions there. Floridians have now learned the hard way why nuclear CWIP is a really bad idea. But Georgians and South Carolinians are beginning to learn the same hard lesson. Even Georgia's Republican governor has suggested that Southern Co. shareholders should eat some of the major, all-too-predictible cost escalations at Vogtle 3 & 4; South Carolinians have seen a half-dozen rate increases in just the past few years, all going towards keeping up with Summer 2 & 3's skyrocketing pricetag.