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Decommissioning Costs

Decommissioning costs - the funds needed when a reactor is shut down and the site needs to be dismantled, removed and cleaned up - are sky-rocketing. Worse, many utilities have invested these funds in the now troubled stockmarket, meaning decommissioning funds may not be available when needed.

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Monday
Nov122012

"Reading Radioactive Tea Leaves": Kewaunee reactor to shut down

John LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WIJohn LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WI (pictured left) has penned an op-ed, "Reading Radioactive Tea Leaves: Without a Buyer for Old Kewaunee Reactor, Owner Chooses Shut Down." In it, he details the many radioactive bullets Wisconsin has dodged, and has not dodged, at Kewaunee, just in recent years, including: "...a 2009 emergency shutdown caused by improper steam pressure instrument settings; a 2007 loss of main turbine oil pressure; an emergency cooling water system design flaw found in 2006; [the August 2006 discovery of radioactive tritium leaking into groundwater, for an unknown period, from unidentified pipes somewhere beneath the reactor complex]; a possible leak in November 2005 of highly radioactive primary coolant into secondary coolant which is discharged to Lake Michigan; a simultaneous failure of all three emergency cooling water pumps in February 2005, etc.".

Regarding Kewaunee's decommissioning, John also wrote:

"...The industry’s early advertising dream of electricity “too cheap to meter” has become a radiation nightmare too costly to quantify. Initial shutdown expenses for the creaking, leaking 39-year-old monster — waste management and reactor dismantling, containerizing and transporting to dump sites — are roughly predictable. According to the Associated Press, Dominion, which bought Kewaunee in 2005 for $220 million, will “record a $281 million charge in [2013’s] third quarter related to the closing and decommissioning.” But that’s just the earnest money. Literally endless expenditures will be required to keep Kewaunee’s radioactive wastes contained, monitored and out of drinking water for the length of time the federal appeals courts have declared is the required minimum— 300,000 years. 

The Green Bay Press-Gazette reported that Dominion has 60 years to see that Kewaunee’s giant footprint is “returned to a greenfield condition.” Just don’t dig under that “greenfield,” Virginia. In August 2006 radioactive tritium was found to have been leaking for an unknown period, from unidentified pipes somewhere beneath the reactor complex. With a radioactive half-life of 12.5 years, those unnumbered tankers of tritium will be part of the groundwater for at least 125 years..."

Nukewatch has watchdogged Kewaunee for decades. On April 23, 2011, Nukewatch organized a "Walk for a Nuclear-Free Future" from Kewaunee to Point Beach's two reactors -- a distance of seven miles, the same as the distance between Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants -- to commemorate the 25th year since the Chernobyl atomic reactor exploded and burned beginning on April 26, 1986. The event took place just six weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe had begun. Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps took part in the walk, and as a keynote speaker along with Natasha Akulenko, a native of Kiev, Ukraine and surivor of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

Wednesday
Oct242012

Dominion Nuclear's claim that $392 million in decommissioning funds is sufficient are dubious

Reporting on Dominion Nuclear's decision to shut down and decommission the Kewaunee atomic reactor on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Wisconsin (photo, left), World Nuclear News has reported:

"Some $392 million in decommissioning funds for Kewaunee were transferred to Dominion at the time it bought the plant. The company said that Kewaunee's decommissioning trust is currently fully funded, and it believes that the amounts available in the trust plus expected earnings will be sufficient to cover all decommissioning costs expected to be incurred after the plant shut down."

This claim is quite dubious. The Big Rock Point atomic reactor, nearly due east of Kewaunee on Michigan's Lake Michigan shoreline, itself cost $366 million to decommission. But Big Rock Point, at 70 Megawatts-electric, was an order of magnitude smaller than Kewaunee (574 MWe). In addition, although Big Rock Point's owner Consumers Energy has declared its decommissioning completed, and even the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved "un-restricted re-use" for the supposedly "greenfield site," plutonium and other radioactive poisons remain in the soil, groundwater, and very likely flora and fauna. The sediments of the discharge canal, used to dump Big Rock Point's radioactivity into Lake Michigan for 35 years, have not even been checked for radioactive contamination levels, let alone cleaned up. (See the top six entries at NIRS' decommissioning website section for more information about Big Rock Point's inadequate decommissioning).

Thus, Dominion's assurances that $392 million will be sufficient to truly clean up Kewaunee's contaminated site may very well prove false.

Wednesday
Oct242012

Dominion Nuclear announces that Kewaunee will be closed, decommissioned

NRC file photo of Kewaunee atomic reactor on Lake Michigan in WIFrom The Washington Post: "Dominion Resources Inc. said Monday that it plans to close and decommission its Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin after it was unable to find a buyer for the nuclear power plant".

As nuclear power continues to crumble under the weight of its own disastrous economics, Dominion CEO, Thomas F. Farrell II,  becomes the latest industry CEO to lose confidence in the nuclear business. "This decision was based purely on economics," Farrell said. Dominion also operates the two North Anna, VA reactors, where a proposed third reactor plan looks fragile at best. It also operates Millstone, CT and Surry, VA.

A buyer could not be found, even though the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had already rubberstamped a 20 year license extension at Kewaunee.

Reuters also reported on this story, stating that more atomic reactors could follow suit, their bad economics forcing their closure:

"Especially vulnerable under this scenario would be small, old single reactor sites.

Other units that could be on the hit list because they fit the profile include Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Xcel Energy Inc's Monticello in Minnesota, and Entergy Corp's Palisades in Michigan, Vermont Yankee in Vermont and Pilgrim in Massachusetts."

In the past 15 years, nearly half of the atomic reactors operating on Lake Michigan's shores have closed. In 1997, Big Rock Point in Michigan was permanently closed, as were Zion 1 & 2 in Illinois in 1998. Kewaunee's closure in 2013 will be the fifth reactor shut down on Lake Michigan's shores in 15 years. This will leave Point Beach 1 & 2 in WI, Palisades in MI, and Cook 1 & 2 in MI still operating on Lake Michigan's shores. Lake Michigan is a headwaters for the Great Lakes, 20% of the world's surface fresh water, providing drinking water for 40 million people in 8 U.S. states, 2 Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Americans.

Several years ago, Kewaunee had more NRC "yellow findings" (the second highest category of safety violation) than the other (at the time) 102 operating reactors in the entire country. The very same year, Point Beach had more "red findings" (NRC's worst category of safety violation) than the rest of the industry combined. Kewaunee and Point Beach are a mere seven miles apart, the same distance as between Fukushima Daiichi and Daini in Japan. Daiichi and Daini's proximity, as well as their proximity to Tokai nearer Tokyo, led the Japanese federal government to prepare worst case scenario plans to evacuate 30 million people from Tokyo in the event of a "demonic chain reaction" of reactor melt downs and radioactive waste storage pool fires.

An NRC daily event report revealed that Dominion's announcement to decommission Kewaunee caused a security incident, as reporters descended on the reactor to cover the story.

The New York Times and Greenwire have also reported on this story.

Wednesday
Oct172012

"Regulators should begin decommissioning the Palisades Nuclear Plant"

NRC file photo of Palisades atomic reactorMark Muhich, a Jackson County resident and chairman of the Central Michigan Group of the Sierra Club, has published a column by the title above at the Jackson Citizen Patriot/MLive. Muhich concluded his column:

"It is time to decommission the crumbling Palisades nuclear facility. Decommissioning will take a decade, and employ thousands of workers. It will also cost $1 billion. The electricity it generates can be made up with efficiencies. Entergy operates six of the oldest most poorly maintained nuclear plants in the county. The NRC should hold Entergy to a stricter standard of safety, not a more relaxed standard. The NRC should begin the decommissioning of Palisades."

Monday
Apr162012

"Stop the Nuclear Industry Welfare Program"

"Burning money" image by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsJust a couple days after rocking an anti-nuke rally in Brattleboro, Vermont, calling for the immediate shutdown of Entergy Nuclear's Vermont Yankee atomic reactor, Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has joined forces with Taxpayers for Common Sense Executive Director Ryan Alexander to pen an article on theHuffington Post entitled "Stop the Nuclear Industry Welfare Program." Sanders and Alexander list the many, large-scale taxpayer subsidies the nuclear power industry has enjoyed for over half a century. They point out the irony of filthy rich nuclear utility companies, like Exelon and Entergy, receiving such public support in the first place: they take in annual revenues of $33 billion and $11 billion, respectively. Tax breaks for decommissioning nuclear power plants is one of the many forms of subsidy Sanders and Alexander protest.

On March 11, 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists unveiled two major studies, one by David Lochbaum about the near misses at U.S. reactors in 2010, the second by Doug Koplow, a comprehensive analysis of half a century of taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies to the nuclear industry. The long scheduled press conference was eclipsed by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe which began just hours earlier. In this year's annual review report, "Living on Borrowed Time," Lochbaum documented that 5 of 15 near misses at U.S. reactors in 2011 took place at Entergy owned (Palisades, MI X 2; Pilgrim, MA X 2) or operated (Cooper, NE) plants. Sanders and Alexander point out that, for any catastrophic radioactivity release at a U.S. reactor causing more than $12 billion, U.S. taxpayers would be looked to for picking up the tab, under the Price-Anderson Act.