The Nuclear Retreat

We coined the term, "Nuclear Retreat" here at Beyond Nuclear to counter the nuclear industry's preposterous "nuclear renaissance" propaganda campaign. You've probably seen "Nuclear Retreat" picked up elsewhere and no wonder - the alleged nuclear revival so far looks more like a lot of running away. On this page we will keep tabs on every latest nuclear retreat as more and more proposed new nuclear programs are canceled.



Trump subverting U.S. competitive electricity market to bailout dirty, dangerous, failing nukes and coal 

While the White House ignores the plight of Puerto Rico Americans still stranded without critical infrastructure--like roofs and electricity--from last year’s Hurricane Maria, the President instead has drafted a Directive to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to order a sweeping financial bailout of America’s bankrupt nuclear power and coal industry under federal emergency authority meant for use in times of natural disaster and war. Trump says his unprecedented federal intervention into U.S. electricity markets is a matter of “national security.” Critics, including State Attorneys General, environmental, consumer protection and free-market conservative groups alike, argue that the proposed Presidential Directive is an intrusion and politically motivated attack that threatens a dangerous upheaval of the nation’s competitive energy market.   

The 41-page White House draft memo leaked to Bloomberg News, if enacted, orders electric grid operators to buy and sell significantly above-market-priced electricity from economically failing nuclear and coal-fired generators like Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, which has filed for bankruptcy. FirstEnergy Solutions includes FirstEnergy Nuclear Corporation (FENOC) which is struggling with the uneconomical Davis-Besse, Perry and Beaver Valley Units 1 and 2 nuclear power stations. All of these nuclear stations have announced permanent closure within the next four years without significant financial relief. As much as 60% of the nation’s remaining 99 nuclear power stations are no longer economically competitive to operate against natural gas and the accelerating deployment of renewable energy for the sun and wind. 

The Energy Department order would guarantee profits to the nuclear and coal industries for at least the next two years by enacting emergency authority under the Federal Power Act Section 202(c) claiming that these power generators provide for an electric grid system “resilient” to disaster---such as the ability to stockpile large amounts of fuel onsite. The Directive also enacts the Cold War-era Defense Production Act that allows the president to nationalize private industry during a national crisis. The move, on acted on, will likely trigger immediate legal action. Ten State Attorneys General have opposed “sudden” action as originally proposed by First Energy because the loss of the failing industries profits does not constitute an emergency.  In fact, the Attorney Generals warn the move will “undermine competitive regional power markets, burden customers with excess costs and undercut state energy laws and policies, and exacerbate pollution and public health harms."

The Pennsylvania-based electric grid operator (PJM) servicing 13 states has also determined that the President’s drastic action is uncalled for. “‘Our analysis of the recently announced planned deactivations of certain nuclear plants has determined that there is no immediate threat to system reliability. Markets have helped to establish a reliable grid with historically low prices,’ the grid operator said. ‘Any federal intervention in the market to order customers to buy electricity from specific power plants would be damaging to the markets and therefore costly to consumers.’” Jon Wellinghoff, a former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is quoted, “‘I can’t tell you precisely how much,’ he said, ‘but if you go from a market system to a non-market system, your rates are going to go up.’” 

Questions remain how the proposed mandate might be implemented or how many electric generators get bailed out. But there is no question that the non-existent resilience argument as the bases for bailing out nukes is bogus. Every nuclear power station in the country automatically shuts down production with a perturbation of the electric grid which supplies 100% of power to vital reactor safety systems at operation.  Nuclear power plants can’t restart themselves to restore the grid but require grid stability to power back up. Nuclear power stations are not reliable in climate change and must power down, even shut down, if rivers supplying cooling water to the reactors become too warm from a heat wave in the weather or too low from drought. 

Trump’s meddling with electricity markets adds to his 30% tariff already imposed on imported photovoltaic solar panels that constricts competitive pricing from renewable electrical power from the sun. 


It’s time GE got out of nuclear business

An article in the investment publication  Seeking Alpha Pro caught our eye advising that it is a good time for General Electric Company (GE) to get out of the nuclear power business. In our view, that would have been a good idea in the 1960’s, but investment insight for the 21st century now demonstrates just how legible “the writing is on the wall." Don Beynon, who covers industrials, value and dividend growth investing, spells it out in “General Electric: Selling the Nuclear Business is Good for Investors.”   There are no new nuclear power plant prospects in the U.S. largely due to costs. More nuclear power plant closures are occurring despite operating license extensions. Market driven energy competition from new solar and wind power generation is outpacing both fossil and fissile generation. And, energy efficiency and conservation technologies are now a constant headwind to reduce electricity demand. There are smarter GE investments in areas like its wind turbine technology. All in all, investors should wise up and direct their company to dump its nuclear power albatross. The question is, as in the Monty Python skit, why would anybody want to buy a dead parrot?  

Beynon points out that GE, long partnered with Japan’s Hitachi Corporation, shares less than 1% of the corporate revenues of the joint GE Hitachi (GEH) business' take, $1 billion in 2017.  Taking a page from another US-Japan nuclear partnership, Westinghouse Electric and Toshiba was admittedly an “unrealistic” venture that ended in bankruptcy for Westinghouse brought on by risky new reactor construction in South Carolina and Georgia. The nuclear industry’s notorious knack for uncontrolled cost of construction and inability to complete projects on schedule resulted in the colossally expensive cancellation of the V.C. Summer nuclear construction project. The Georgia construction project, Vogtle units 3 & 4, continues to struggle with sinking delays and massive cost overruns.

GE has gone from a once upon a time builder of reactors to supplying fuel to its dwindling fleet and providing its closed reactors decommissioning services. New construction projects in Michigan and Virginia with federal construction permits for GEH’s advanced reactor design, the Economical and Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), remain frozen on their starting blocks in projected sticker shock. Virginia-based Dominion Energy’s North Anna Unit 3 project is estimated to cost in excess of $19 billion for a single reactor before the shove isl in the ground.

Given all  the facts, Benyond Nuclear concludes that “the nuclear business disposal would be positive” for its stockholders and employees. We agree. 


More reactor closures for fracturing nuclear industry 

Two of the latest announced casualties from the nuclear power industry's financial meltdown are both dangerous General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors. These reactors are identical to Japan’s three units at Fukushima-Daiichi that exploded into a radioactive catastrophe seven years ago in March 2011. There are now signs that the industry’s organizational structure itself is breaking up as well.

Nuclear energy giant Exelon Generation announced that the Oyster Creek nuclear power station will close in October 2018. Federally licensed until March 2029, Exelon had already cut a deal with the state New Jersey to retire on December 31, 2019 to avoid a state mandated cooling tower retrofit on the reactor's cooling system in order to stop cooking Barnegat Bay. The still earlier October 2018 shutdown is of course welcome but long, long overdue for the world’s first and oldest Fukushima-style reactor   A top Atomic Energy Commission safety inspector had first called for abandoning licensing and construction of all GE reactors in 1972 altogether after identifying a dangerous containment design flaw that ultimately demonstrated a 100% failure rate for the three units that experienced severe accident conditions.

Only days later, NextEra’s Duane Arnold nuclear power plant in Iowa announced it will be closing in 2025 after electricity contract talks found that their largest customer will not be renewing. Still, seven more years of dubiously safe operation is too long given the background story that three senior GE engineers publicly resigned their prestigious positions before Congress in 1975 because the reactor is not “a quality product.”

These recent closure announcements and economic failures are accompanied by an organizational fracturing in the industry itself, namely the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).  Two large nuclear power companies, NextEra and Entergy, have quit the industry’s chief Washington, DC federal lobby and regulatory troubleshooting organization. NextEra is further suing NEI citing that NEI’s use of membership fees for policies that are “bad for the electricity industry as a whole."

The collapse of nucler power reveals its extreme cost and danger are only more real as the industry heads for the exits to abandon liability.


NY nuke bailout to go on trial as Judge whittles down petitioners

A New York Albany County Supreme Court Judge ruled on January 22, 2018 that five of 61 petitioners will go to trial to challenge the legality of the state’s 2016 Clean Energy Standard which mandated that electricity ratepayers will have to shell out a $7.6 billion over the next 12 years to bailout four aging and uneconomical upstate nuclear power plants. The Clean Energy Standard establishes so-called “Zero Emission Credits” (ZEC) for nuclear power plants despite the fact that the front end of the uranium fuel chain process emits significant amounts of carbon. Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough agreed on procedural grounds with the NY Public Service Commission, NY Attorney General and the nuclear industry to dismiss 56 of the petitioners because they did not file properly within the statute of limitations to oppose the Clean Energy Standard. However, over the objections the State of New York and nuclear industry, Judge McDounough’s ruling allows the five remaining Petitioners (Hudson River Sloop Cleanwater, Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, Goshen Green Farms, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Promoting Health and Sustainable Energy) to go to trial on the cause for action on five of six complaints.  

The groups' amended petition sets forth six complaints to go to trial on the legality of the “zero energy credit” bailout of the four upstate nuclear power stations (Ginna, Nine Mile Point 1 & 2 and FitzPatrick). The amended complaint alleges, 1) the NY Public Service Commission (PSC) failed to follow the requirements of the State Administrative Procedures Act (SAPA); 2) the PSC actions were arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion in declaring the nuclear power plants are “publicly necessary”; 3) the PSC Order contained a mistake of fact and violates SAPA code which requires the use of common language; 4)  the PSC actions are a violation of the State Environmental Quality Review Act; 5) the PSC violated the Public Service Law  by setting rates that are unjust, unreasonable, discriminatory and unduly preferential, and; 6) a specific portion of the PSC imposition of “zero energy credits” is an abuse of discretion and rationality  in accordance to law.

Judge McDonough ruled that the five remaining petitioners had adequately supported their cause for action for complaints 1-3, 5 and 6 and dismissed their compliant 4 for lack of petitioners’ standing.  

Beyond Nuclear was among the 56 petitioners dismissed from the proceeding. 


Renewables are leaving nuclear in the dust

The new edition of the World Nuclear Energy Status Report has been released, with some key insights into the dwindling influence of nuclear energy worldwide. You can read and download the full 2017 report here. Here is a summary of findings in the Report about the worldwide status of renewable energy compared to nuclear energy:

Renewables Distance Nuclear

Globally, wind power output grew by 16%, solar by 30%, nuclear by 1.4% in 2016. Wind power increased generation by 132 TWh, solar by 77 TWh, respectively 3.8 times and 2.2 times more than nuclear's 35 TWh. Renewables represented 62% of global power generating capacity additions.

New renewables beat existing nuclear. Renewable energy auctions achieved record low prices at and below US$30/MWh in Chile, Mexico, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Average generating costs of amortized nuclear power plants in the U.S. were US$35.5 in 2015.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017 (WNISR2017) provides a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on operation, production and construction. The WNISR assesses the status of new-build programs in current nuclear countries as well as in potential newcomer countries.

The WNISR2017 edition includes a new assessment from an equity analyst view of the financial crisis of the nuclear sector and some of its biggest industrial players.

The Fukushima Status Report provides not only an update on onsite and offsite issues six years after the beginning of the catastrophe, but also the latest official and new independent cost evaluations of the disaster.

Focus chapters provide in-depth analysis of France, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy chapter provides global comparative data on investment, capacity, and generation from nuclear, wind and solar energy.

Finally, Annex 1 presents a country-by-country overview of all other countries operating nuclear power plants.