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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
Jan232016

"As hearings conclude, FirstEnergy subsidy proposal remains in doubt"

Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, Inc., has called our attention to this article by Robert Walton at Utility Dive: "As hearings conclude, FirstEnergy subsidy proposal remains in doubt."
Arnie was Beyond Nuclear et al.'s expert witness, in the steam generator replacement intervention at Davis-Besse in May 2013. Sierra Club joined Beyond Nuclear, Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, and Don't Waste Michigan in that intervention. Pat Marida, coordinator of the Ohio Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Committee, and others from Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, and beyond, made generous personal donations to make Arnie Gundersen's expert witness work possible.

Beyond Nuclear is thankful to the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, Earthjustice, and other environmental and public interest allies, who are official parties to the PUCO proceeding, for continuing to fight this particular dirty, dangerous, and expensive energy bailout at ratepayer expense.

Davis-Besse is a catastrophe waiting to happen. It has already dodged more near-misses than any other single atomic reactor in the U.S. -- perhaps the world -- and now FirstEnergy would like ratepayers to pay for another 20-years worth of radioactive Russian roulette on the shore of the Great Lakes (2017-2037).

It would likely otherwise close permanently, without the bailout, due to losing money.

If Davis-Besse doesn't dodge the next radioactive bullet, the concrete containment Shield Building can't be counted on to contain the monstrous amounts of hazardous radioactivity inside the melting down reactor core. It has been severely cracked since at least 1978, FirstEnergy admitted in Feb. 2012.

But the "White Wash" of Aug.-Oct. 2012 (weather-sealing the exterior, 40 years too late) locked water inside the concrete walls, so now, every time it freezes out, the cracks grow by a half-inch or more. This can add up to a whopping nine inches of crack growth in a single year, due to Ice-Wedging Crack Propagation, FirstEnergy admitted in July 2014.

FirstEnerg kept the water in the walls secret from Jan. 2012 till July 2014, 2.5 years, including the whole time we were intervening against the license extension, based on the cracking. FirstEnergy, and NRC staff, swore up and down the cracking was fixed in place, and would not grow over time. The NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) swallowed that one hook, line, and sinker, and blocked our intervention hearing "day in court," because we supposedly could not prove aging-relatedness, a Byzantine NRC requirement.

In Aug.-Sept. 2013, FirstEnergy admitted cracking growth, but the ASLBP continued to deny us a hearing, regardless of aging-relatedness being belatedly admitted by FirstEnergy.

On Sept. 23, 2015 (sub-committee), and again on Nov. 4, 2015 (full committee), before the NRC Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) considering Davis-Besse's license extension, FirstEnergy made some more startling admissions. FirstEnergy spokesmen said they had known since the cracks were first discovered in Oct. 2011, that there was a risk of large chunks of concrete falling off the exterior face of the Shield Building. Numerous safety-significant systems, structures, and components (SSCs) are located below, FirstEnergy now admitted: the Auxiliary Building (containing numerous safety-significant SSCs itself); the borated water storage tank(s), needed for criticality control in the reactor and high-level radioactive waste storage pool; a radiation containment/control portal (air lock) for worker access into the Shield Building; man-hole covers that contain essential electric transmission connections; etc.

FirstEnergy had made no such admissions prior to that, not in nearly four long years (Jan. 2012-present) of public meetings, NRC meetings, and even ASLBP hearings focused on the cracking. To the contrary, when environmental watchdogs made such allegations, FirstEnergy -- with NRC staff collusion -- denied them, at every turn, tooth and nail.

The small additional force that could bring those chunks of concrete raining down include earthquakes (whether natural or artificial -- remember Youngstown's fracking wastewater disposal-caused 4.0 on 12/31/11), tornado-driven "missiles" (such as a telephone pole), or, if the Ice-Wedging Cracking Propagation grows badly enough, this little natural phenomenon known as "gravity." (Unless, of course, the nuclear industry lobbied Ohio legislature, Gov. Kasich, and U.S. Congress decide to repeal the Law of Gravity, Second Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy), etc.?!)

But such last second admissions didn't deter the ACRS from rubber-stamping Davis-Besse's 20-year license extension. As with the NRC staff and NRC Commissioners themselves, the ACRS is a part of the collusion and complicity with FirstEnergy, at the expense of public health, safety, and the environmental risks downwind, downstream, up the food chain, and down the generations.

In short, for safety's sake alone, Davis-Besse should be permanently shut down ASAP. Certainly no later than the expiration of its initial 40-year license, on Earth Day (April 22), 2017.

As our coalition's expert witness, Dr. Al Compaan (emeritus prof. and chairman of the University of Toledo Physics Dept., and a solar PV materials scientist/inventer), testified in 2010-2011, onshore wind power alone (never mind offshore wind power potential in Lake Erie), solar PV alone, and certainly the two in combination, combined with energy storage (such as the Norton Compressed Air Energy Storage facility that FirstEnergy owns near Akron), could readily, affordably, and dependably replace Davis-Besse's 908 Megawatts-electric. Of course, they would do so much more cleanly, safely, and securely as well.

The ASLBP actually granted us a hearing on that renewables alternatives contention, not long after the still ongoing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began in 2011. But FirstEnergy appealed that ruling, and some months later, the shameless NRC Commissioners voted unanimously FirstEnergy's way, overruling their own licensing board, and blocking our hearing. Thus was gutted the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a "hard look" (not the right decision in the end, just a comprehensive investigation and comparison) at alternatives to NRC's "preferred" one -- in this case, 20 more years of operations at the problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor. So much for rule of law. "Nobody Really Cares" about that (that's what NRC actually stands for!)

And speaking of rule of law...Ohio law would appear to make this $3.9 billion bailout to FirstEnergy, at ratepayer expense over 8 years, illegal. That didn't stop the PUCO staff from endorsing the proposal. We'll see how the Republican and Independent PUCO Commissioners now vote (there is not one Democrat on the PUCO). FirstEnergy competitors, such as Dynegy, who stand to gain no such illegal bailout advantage from the PUCO, have threatened to file a lawsuit to block the bailout on that point alone.

Thursday
Jan072016

"Former [Idaho] nuclear power company executive sentenced"

As reported by KIDK Eyewitness News:

BOISE, Idaho - A Meridian, Idaho woman was sentenced to 30 months in prison Thursday for securities fraud.  Jennifer R. Ransom, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud on April 21, 2015.

Ransom appeared before Judge Edward J. Lodge in U.S. District Court in Boise. She will spend the first six months of her sentence under home confinement.  Ransom was also ordered to forfeit $580,780 and pay $116,138 in restitution to victim-investors.

According to a plea agreement, Ransom was Senior Vice President of Administration of Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc.  Headquarter[ed] in Eagle, Idaho, the development stage company was planning to construct and operate a nuclear power plant in Payette County...

Ransom's co-defendant, Donald Gillespie, failed to appear for two scheduled arraignment hearings in May of 2015.  He is a fugitive and is being pursued by the U.S. Marshal's Service.

The prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF), which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

Monday
Dec072015

Beyond Nuclear's comments to DC PSC opposing Exelon Nuclear's takeover of Mid-Atlantic's Pepco

Participants in the PowerDC rally on Sept. 17, 2015, against Exelon's takeover of Pepco took a group photo before marching to DC Mayor Muriel Bowwer's officeBeyond Nuclear has joined efforts for many months with the PowerDC coalition, and many others, in opposing Exelon Nuclear's takeover of the Mid-Atlantic utility Pepco. Exelon regards Pepco's D.C., MD, and Mid-Atlantic ratepayers as a cash cow, for funneling a steady revenue stream back to IL, to prop up five uncompetitive (not to mention dirty, dangerous, and age-degraded) atomic reactors there.

The Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia had rejected the takeover in August 2015 because it was not in the public interest. But Washington, D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowswer, reached a secretive, back room deal with Exelon's lobbyists, sending the matter back to the D.C. PSC. Public comments are due by Dec. 18, 2015.

Beyond Nuclear testified at oral hearings before the D.C. PSC in mid-November. It has also submitted the following written comments, in an attempt to shine a light on Exelon Nuclear's rogue corporate behavior, and toxic track record:

Dec. 7, 2015: Beyond Nuclear's comments regarding Exelon's abuse of its own workers, which is documented in Dreux Richard's March 11, 2013 article in the Japan Times, "Toxic management erodes safety at 'world's safest' nuclear plant: Echoes of Fukushima at Exelon's flagship Byron Station in Illinois." This should serve as a cautionary tale for the health, safety, and wellbeing of Pepco workers in and around Washington, D.C., that of their families, and of the community at large, and is reason enough to block Exelon's takeover of Pepco.

Dec. 7, 2015: Beyond Nuclear's comments opposing Exelon takeover of Pepco, due to Exelon's abuse of health, safety, and environmental whistleblowers. The comments tell the story of Commonwealth Edison/Exelon whistleblower Oscar Shirani, who made public major quality assurance and safety regulation violations involving Exelon's containers for ultra-hazardous high-level radioactive waste. The comments also reference U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) whistleblower, Dr. Ross Landsman's, support for Shirani's allegations. Ultimately, Exelon made Shirani pay a high personal price for his whistleblowing. This should serve as a cautionary tale for Pepco employees, who have the courage and integrity to do the right thing, to protect public health, safety, and the environment, when their employer prioritizes profits over these principles. Such whistleblower abuse is a significant reason for the D.C. PSC to block Exelon's takeover of Pepco, for the public's health, safety, and environment is at stake.

Dec. 9, 2015: Beyond Nuclear comments opposing Exelon takeover of Pepco, due to Exelon's demonstrated willingness to harm the health, safety, and environment of its neighbors, including children, in its pursuit of profits. (See the Word version of the comments, for live URL links to relevant documents.) The comments tell the story of the Sauer family of Morris, IL, whose 7-year-old daughter Sarah was diagnosed with a rare form of childhood brain cancer. Morris is the location of Exelon's three reactor Dresden nuclear power plant, as well as the GE-Morris high-level radioactive waste storage facility. The Sauer's research revealed that Exelon's Braidwood nuclear power plant, not far from Morris, had repeatedly leaked massive amounts of hazardous radioactive water (contaminated with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen), measuring millions of gallons at a time, into the local drinking water supply. Exelon, with the complicity of the State of IL Environmental Protection Agency, had concealed the leaks from the public for a decade. Sarah's father, Joe Sauer, a medical doctor, documented alarmingly high cancer rates in and around Morris and Braidwood, significantly higher than elsewhere in IL as a whole. The concern is that a toxic, rogue corporation like Exelon, willing to harm its neighbors in IL, may very likely be wiliing to put its new neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic at risk, if allowed to takeover Pepco. This should not be allowed.

Dec. 10, 2015: Beyond Nuclear's comments opposing Exelon's takeover of Pepco, due to Exelon's demonstrated "nuclear war against renewables," in an attempt to "kill the competition," both in IL and nationally -- for which behavior, it has earned the dubious distinction of being the only company ever kicked out of the American Wind Energy Association! Exelon's behavior is averse to D.C.'s cutting edge vision for green, clean, sustainable energy, so it should not be allowed to takeover Pepco and undermine D.C.'s hard won progressive energy policies. (See the Word version of the comments, for live URLs linking to relevant documents.)

For more information on Exelon's nefarious behavior, see Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago's exposés on Exelon's attempts to rob ratepayers and taxpayers in IL of more than $1.5 billion. NEIS has been watchdogging Exelon, and its predecessor Commonwealth Edison, for 35 years.

You can take action to stop the Exelon takeover of Pepco. PowerDC has a webform you can personalize, to urge the DC Public Service Commission to stand strong, and once again reject the Exelon takeover of Pepco as not in the public interest!

Monday
Dec072015

"Dynegy, Talen: We’ll Sue" to stop FirstEnergy bailout

As reported by Ted Caddell in RTO Insider's article "Merchant Generators Lead Opposition to FirstEnergy-Ohio Settlement," when it comes to "picking winners and losers," Beyond Nuclear has some diverse allies in opposing a risky 20-year license extension at the problem-plagued Davis-Besse atomic reactor, when it comes compliments of an outrageous, multi-billion dollar ratepayer bailout:

Talen joined Dynegy in promising to contest the deal in court if it is approved by the commission.

“As you are aware [PPL, one of Talen’s predecessors] led successful legal challenges in the federal courts against generation subsidy initiatives in New Jersey and Maryland,” Talen spokesman Todd Martin said Thursday. Before PPL’s generation assets were spun off to form Talen, the company won court rulings voiding PPAs obtained by Competitive Power Ventures for two merchant plants. (See CPV Md. Plant Goes Forward Despite FERC Ruling.)

“We believe states with competitive electricity markets must let those markets operate without interference or subsidies, and should not in effect be picking winners and losers,” Martin said.

P3 President Glen Thomas said PUCO staff’s “about face” represents “corporate welfare at its worst.”

“Forcing customers to buy overpriced electricity from uncompetitive plants to deliver windfall profits to FirstEnergy is a holiday offering that only the Grinch could support,” said Trey Addison of AARP Ohio.

“This bailout would leave Ohio locked into outdated and costly coal and nuclear plants, when we should instead be working to transition to a cleaner and more competitive energy system,” said Shannon Fisk, managing attorney with Earthjustice. Fisk was involved in settlement negotiations on behalf of the Sierra Club but withdrew in protest just before Thanksgiving.

Also weighing in was anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear, which blasted any deal that would result in the continued operations of FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant. “The ratepayers of Ohio would be gouged additional billions of dollars on their electricity bills to prop up the uncompetitive Davis-Besse atomic reactor, effectively being forced to fund 20 more years of radioactive Russian roulette at the problem-plagued atomic reactor,” Beyond Nuclear spokesman Kevin Kamps.

As revealed on a radio interview hosted by Harvey Wasserman of Solartopia fame, Shannon Fisk of Earthjustice indicated that Sierra Club will continue to challenge the PUCO staff-FirstEnergy sweetheart deal, as by urging the PUCO Commissioners to not approve it. As with Dynegy and Talen, further legal action is also under consideration.

Friday
Dec042015

Decreasing economies of scale put pressure on remaining Entergy Nuclear merchant reactors

Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plant, on the Hudson River near New York City.As reported by Syracuse.com, Entergy Nuclear's top executive in charge of its fleet of merchant nuclear power plants, William Mohl, has admitted that its remaining atomic reactors are under increasing pressure, due to loss of economies of scale:

"We don't have any immediate plans (to change direction) on Indian Point, but you start to have to think about what will you do down the road if you have a single asset in the Northeast,'' he said. "You just have less economies of scale. We're looking at that and what we need to do in that regard.''

Although his context was Entergy's two unit Indian Point nuclear power plant near New York City, in light of Entergy's recent rapid-fire decisions to close FitzPatrick in upstate NY (as early as a year from now, but hopefully sooner), and Pilgrim in MA (in mid-2019, but hopefully sooner), the same logic applies at Entergy's age-degraded, problem-plagued Palisades atomic reactor in MI as well:

Entergy is preparing to decommission three of its so-called "merchant" nuclear reactors, each of which sells power in unregulated wholesale markets in the Northeast. After the closures of Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and FitzPatrick, Entergy Wholesale Commodities will have just three merchant reactors left – two at Indian Point and one in Michigan.

(Note that Entergy also operates the Cooper atomic reactor in Nebraska, although it is owned by Nebraska Public Power District.)

Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc., in Burlington, VT, and Beyond Nuclear's expert witness in its Palisades legal intervention of the past year, pointed out at the time of the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick closure announcements, several weeks ago, that in addition to Vermont Yankee's actual closure about a year ago, the Pilgrim and FitzPatrick closure announcements hold deep significance for the loss of economies of scale for Entergy, across its dwindling reactor fleet.

This adds to the pressure for closure of Palisades, as well as Indian Point.

So too does the fact that, despite his absurd acrobatic back flips attempting to keep FitzPatrick open (as described in the article above; he is joined in that, unfortunately, by US Senator Schumer (D-NY)), NY Gov. Cuomo is, at least, strongly opposed to the 20-year license extension at Entergy's Indian Point Unit 2 & 3 nuclear power plant, precariously close to New York City. The State of New York recently denied Indian Point permission to keep dumping two-thirds of the heat it generates from splitting atoms (a massive amount of thermal pollution, something like the heat generated by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, per hour!) into the Hudson River.

What this means is, if Entergy wants to keep operating Indian Point, it would have to build cooling towers, at a cost of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. Or take other mitigative action, such as shutting down the two reactors during fish spawning season, for several long months per year (with a consequent loss of revenues during that downtime). It would probably close Indian Point before doing any such things.

And if Indian Point, under growing pressure in New York to close, does close, that would leave Palisades standing alone, as Entergy's sole merchant reactor, after FitzPatrick and Pilgrim also retire. Which means economies of scale are completely lost. One can only hope, THAT would convince Entergy to -- at long last -- close Palisades, for economic reasons alone (never mind the ever mounting public health, safety, and environmental risks!). These include the Palisades reactor pressure vessel's age-related degradation, such as neutron radiation embrittlement risks. Ironically enough, whereas Palisades has the worst embrittlement risks in the country, Indian Point Unit 3 is not far behind (see page 5 of 15 on the PDF counter in this NRC document)!

Please note that, 2.5 years ago, Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School predicted that Entergy's entire merchant fleet was at risk of near-term permanent shutdown, for a variety of reasons. He's been proven correct about Vermont Yankee, and now Pilgrim and FitzPatrick. But he also predicted that Indian Point and Palisades were at risk of near-term permanent shutdown. Let's hope, for the sake of New York and Michigan, the Hudson River and the Great Lakes, that he is correct about them, as well. And let's keep working hard to help make this happen, sooner rather than later! As the campaign slogan of Michigan Safe Energy Future puts it, "Shutdown Before Meltdown!"