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Archive for the ‘Nuclear’ Category

Rad Waste Transportation RoutesA high-level consolidated radioactive waste storage site has been proposed for Andrews County, Texas, by Waste Control Specialists (WCS). The company expects to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and to have licensing and construction completed by the end of 2020.

“This plan is all risk, not only for the states of Texas and New Mexico, but for the whole country and it should be halted immediately,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Why is our region being targeted to become the nation’s dumping ground for high-risk high-level radioactive waste? Putting this waste on our highways and railways invites disaster. Radioactive waste moving through highly populated cities across the country could be targeted for sabotage by terrorists.” A state report, the Assessment of Texas’ High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Options, says that “spent nuclear fuel is more vulnerable to sabotage or accidents during transport than in storage because there are fewer security guards and engineered barriers, and that the consequences could be higher since the waste could travel through large cities.“

“Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should have a voice in whether there is consent for this plan,” said Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel. “While a single county in West Texas might gain financially from bringing in the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, other counties would have increased risks of accidents and terrorist activity.  Counties need to assess their financial liability and the costs they could incur for expanded emergency preparedness. “

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert echoed Dr. Daniel’s concern. “Shipping this waste though our county is “ all risk and no reward”.   Our county and others along the way would have increased risks of accidents and given the concentration of military facilities in San Antonio we are potentially at higher risk of terrorist activity. Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should be able to either consent to or deny the plan that would lead to waste being shipped though their communities.“

“Exposure to radioactivity can lead to cancers and genetic damage. Accidents could be deadly,” said SEED Coalition Director Karen Hadden. “An unshielded person exposed up close to high-level radioactive waste would die within a week according to the Department of Energy (DOE). There’s no need to risk health and safety across the country just to store radioactive waste in a different place, especially since no permanent repository has been developed. The least risky path is keeping the radioactive waste where it is.”

“We do not consent to the plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste on us,” said Rose Gardner of Eunice, New Mexico, a town of nearly 3000 people that is 40% Hispanic. It lies five miles west of the WCS site. “Andrews County officials say that we want this waste, but no one has ever asked me if I consent. I would definitely say no, and many others here feel the same way. We never got to vote on this issue. The Department of Energy (DOE) is saying that our community consents to having radioactive waste dumped in our backyard, but this isn’t true. The DOE scheduled eight hearings around the country, but not a single one for New Mexico or Texas, the targeted region. Clearly they don’t want to hear our voices.”

“If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves WCS’ application it could unleash the world’s largest and most dangerous campaign of nuclear transport on our roads, rails and waterways,” said Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

We call this plan “Fukushima Freeways,” after the triple nuclear reactor meltdowns that started five years ago in Japan and continue to hemorrhage radioactive water into the oceans, fish and our food webs.”

Transporting radioactive waste for the purpose of consolidated storage isn’t necessary since the waste can remain secured in dry casks at the site where it was generated, or close nearby and most reactor sites are already licensed to do this.

The DOE previously analyzed accident risks for shipping high-level waste to Yucca Mountain and predicted at least one accident for every 10,000 train shipments. With 10,700 shipments, at least one train accident was anticipated.  Consolidated storage would involve thousands of radioactive waste shipments that would occur over 20 or more years across much of the United States. If transport is mainly by truck, 53,000 shipments with 53 accidents were expected.  They found that a radiation release could render 42 square miles uninhabitable and cost 9.5 billion dollars to raze and rebuild a downtown area.

“If this mass movement of radioactive waste begins, there will be accidents and some of those accidents could release enormous amounts of radioactivity,” said D’Arrigo. “This waste is the hottest, longest-lasting, most intensely radioactive, cancer-causing part of the whole nuclear power fuel chain. It is dangerous now and will still be dangerous in thousands to millions of years. The nuclear industry and government want to pretend there is an answer to the radioactive waste problem and move the waste around, at our peril.”

WCS’ application for consolidated “interim” storage is likely to be for 40 years. The site could easily become a de facto permanent disposal site, without the necessary research and rigorous standards needed to keep radioactive waste isolated for thousands of years.

Former State Representative from Fort Worth Lon Burnam is concerned about water contamination. “The WCS site is supposed to be dry, but their own monitoring well data frequently shows that water is present. The site is very close to the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer that provides drinking and irrigation water for eight states in the middle of the U.S. What if the nation’s largest aquifer became contaminated by radioactivity?”

Sources:

Note: The maps above show likely routes developed based on routes previously designated for shipments to Yucca Mountain.  Please note that AFCI’s project for Loving County is no longer under consideration, although the company may still be looking for a site in Culberson County.

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Wednesday, CPS Energy of San Antonio announced that they are writing off the nearly $400 million already spent to develop two new proposed South Texas Project nuclear reactor units.

south-texas1.jpg“The NRC can license these reactors, but they won’t get built,” said Karen Hadden of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “Renewable energy is cheaper these days and much safer. Nuclear power creates radioactive waste that remains deadly for hundreds of thousands of years.”

“CPS’ decision shows that proposed nuclear reactors are worthless. There’s no market for their rate raising, high-cost, high-risk power,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  “The proposed reactor price tag rose from $5.9 billion to $18.2 billion, even before a license was ever issued.  Delays, construction problems and lawsuits are the norm for nuclear reactors. They cost so much that even with all the federal subsidies, no bank will loan money to build them. CPS did the smart thing and wrote off this worthless investment”

You can read about this fiscal decision on their blog by clicking here. You can read the excerpt regarding the financial write-off from the post below:

In FY 2015-16, we also made the decision to financially write-off our investment in the proposed South Texas Project Units 3 & 4. The decision to write-off the investment should be seen solely as an “accounting decision.” CPS Energy will retain a legal interest in the project, which aligns to our perspective that   nuclear is a significant part of our local and the broader national energy portfolio and will continue to be an important, carbon free and economic fuel type, as well as a good alternative to help counter volatile fuel prices.

We continue to argue that, for a variety of reasons – stated briefly above, nuclear energy should not be considered the future of the nation’s broader energy portfolio. CPS’s financial decision is one such indicator, in spite of the caveat in their statement.

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A Texas-scale nuclear boondoggle

south-texas1.jpgSouth Texas Nuclear Reactors Can’t Compete With Renewables and Risk Financial Meltdown
Consumers Will Bear the Costs of New Reactors

Public Citizen, the SEED Coalition and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy are opposing a decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve construction of two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project nuclear plant southwest of Houston. Market conditions, currently dominated by low natural gas prices, make the economics of nuclear power challenging, the groups said.

Reacting to the NRC’s move, even the former CEO of NRG Energy admitted markets have little interest in new nuclear power plants. But the prospect of billions in public subsidies can shelter shareholders from the financial albatross that is nuclear power, while exposing taxpayers to all of the risk.

“At a time when market-fueled wind power in Texas has pushed power prices at times close to nothing, it makes no sense whatsoever to continue to approve permits for another financial disaster-in-waiting,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The proposed nuclear reactors would produce energy that is too costly to consume. The most recent price tag of over $18 billion is three times the original estimate. The power that the reactors would produce would cost three to four times more than wind, solar or natural gas in today’s market, so it can’t compete.”

“We simply cannot build our energy future around an industry plagued by soaring and uncertain costs, project delays and an unmanageable lethal bi-product,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “The Vogtle nuclear facility in Georgia and the Summer nuclear facility in South Carolina are both three years behind schedule, and each is expected to come in billions over its original budget. These poor performances are indicative not only of the current state of the nuclear industry, but of its past. The costs of building 75 of the existing nuclear power plants in the U.S. exceeded industry quoted estimates by more than 300 percent, and there is nothing to suggest these new reactors will be any different.”

Under current plans, Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation (TANE) will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project. But the Atomic Energy Act prohibits the licensing of reactors that are owned, controlled or dominated by a foreign corporation or foreign government. Opponents have contended that because TANE is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc., a Japanese corporation, the company is ineligible for licensing.

“The reactors will be 93 percent owned by a Japanese company,” said Susan Dancer, president of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “If the proposed reactors ever get licensed and built, orders for operation will come from foreign owners. Federal law prohibits foreign companies from owning nuclear plants because today’s friends may be tomorrow’s enemy. And what if they are focused on cost-cutting and not safety? Japanese investors want us to trust them, but little protection was afforded to the Japanese people following the Fukushima disaster.”

“The NRC is pushing the interests of corporations, not citizens or ratepayers in moving toward licensing two proposed nuclear reactors in Bay City, Texas,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, a group that has led intervention in the licensing process. SEED plans to appeal the NRC’s decision.

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Location of the Waste Control Specialists in Andrews Tx for Radioactive Waste Blog post

At Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste disposal pit in Andrews, Tex., space inside goes for $10,000 a cubic foot in some cases. As aging nuclear reactors retire, their most radioactive steel, concrete and other components must be shipped somewhere for burial. Photo by Michael Stravato, The New York Times

Texas is under radioactive waste assault. There is already an existing “low-level” radioactive waste dump owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews County. Weapons waste from Fernald, Ohio is already buried in one of the three pits there. The facility is now taking nuclear reactor waste from around the country and is accepting Department of Energy waste, including nuclear weapons waste. And there is an adjacent hazardous waste pit, which can accept some 2000 chemicals, many of the toxic or corrosive. WCS expects to make some $15 billion off the site, although Texans bear the risks of contamination and financial liability.

All of this is at a site for which Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff originally recommended denial of the license due to concerns about water contamination. There are 2 water bodies are present at the site, the the most significant of which is the southern tip of the massive Ogallala Aquifer.  Although some maps have been drawn to show that the aquifer doesn’t extend as far as the WCS disposal site, water has been present in up to 40% of the monitoring wells on the site, indicating that a hydrological connection could exists.  The site is supposed to be dry for safety reasons, but that hasn’t stopped the TCEQ from granting permits or WCS from burying radioactive waste there.

Now two new threats have emerged, including storage of very hot transuranic waste – which includes plutonium, neptunium, and americium from the failed national repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site.

Carlsbad Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Carlsbad, NM Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Texas is getting the transuranic waste unexpectedly. The Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a disposal site for transuranic waste that is buried half a mile underground. The site had a fire on February 5th and a major radiation leak 9 days later. At least 21 workers were exposed to radiation. The New Mexico facility has been closed since the accident and the WCS radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas is now taking this same highly radioactive waste and storing it above ground in steel sided buildings, raising concerns about what would happen if there were tornadoes, floods or wildfires.

In addition, now Governor Perry is actively campaigning to bring spent nuclear fuel to Texas for storage. This the hottest, most dangerous of radioactive waste, the kind that was to be sent to the failed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

It is so dangerous that  shielding is required to protect humans from a lethal dose as a result of exposure to spent nuclear fuel. Even 10 years after this waste is removed from a spent fuel pool, the radiation field at one meter away is 20,000 rem/hour. It only takes a quarter of that amount to incapacitate a person immediately and cause the person’s death within one week.

The spent fuel is currently cooled and then kept in dry casks at the sites where it was generated. Storing the waste at the power plant sites raises the risks for people living in those areas, but transporting the waste to a central location increases risks for those living along transportation routes and those near the disposal site. There is simply no safe way to deal with the amount of radioactive waste we are producing in the long term.

The Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee will soon address an interim charge on how to bring this high-level waste to Texas and how much economic benefit there could be. Discussion of the risks isn’t on the agenda. It seems that the committee may be blinded by potential profit for their campaign donors.

Stay tuned and learn more at www.NukeFreeTexas.org (more…)

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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced on Wednesday, February 19th, that his agency approved a multibillion dollar taxpayer-backed loan guarantee for the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years.  We view this as a costly act of desperation for a failing project.

An $8.3 billion loan guarantee was conditionally approved four years ago for two new reactors at Southern Company’s Vogtle plant in Waynesboro, Ga.  Since then, negotiations around the terms of the loan guarantee have been extended five times. Secretary Moniz’s announcement – that the government has finalized terms with two of three companies – accounts for just $6.5 billion of the loan. With approval for $1.8 billion of the loan still pending, the agency is clearly attempting to give momentum to the stalled project.

The construction of the two new reactors at the Vogtle plant are 21 months behind schedule and $1.6 billion over budget.  The original two units at Vogtle resulted in 1000% cost overruns from the original $1 billion dollar estimate as well as decades-long set-backs and construction delays.  This not only calls into question the decision to underwrite this risky project with taxpayer dollars, but proves that the same issues that plagued reactor construction more than three decades ago have not been resolved.

Nuclear energy continues to be beset with safety issues and produces toxic wastes that we still don’t have a solution for – hardly a technology the government should be promoting and propping up with taxpayer funds.

We berate wall street for their high-risk investments, yet the Department of Energy seems to have little to no risk aversion for these types of loan guarantees.  This is a bad deal for the American people who have been put on the hook for a project that is both embroiled in delays and cost overruns and to a company that has publicly stated that it does not need federal loans to complete the project.

This is a classic case of throwing good money after bad.

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Less than two weeks ago, we reported on a fire at the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in our blog about a Texas interim charge to “study the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas. Make specific recommendations on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas“. 

WIPP is an underground low-level radioactive waste disposal site that began operations in 1999 and is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons.  On February 5th, WIPP entered emergency status, after a vehicle used to transport salt in the north area of the underground (not an area where radioactive waste was stored) caught fire. Several employees were taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation and WIPP’s underground operations have been suspended since the incident.

This weekend, airborne radiation was detected around 11:30 p.m. on Friday near Panel 7, Room 7, in the south salt mine., according to officials with the Department of Energy. No injuries were reported and no personnel were underground when the facility’s continuous air monitors, or CAMs, detected radiation downstream of where nuclear waste is disposed.  The Department of Energy has told the public that:

  • this incident is the first time in WIPP’s 15-year history that the facility has had a CAM alarm detect this level of radiation underground,
  • they have not detected any above normal radiation levels above ground, and
  • that the radiation leak is not related to last week’s fire.

I hardly feel reassured that there have been two, not insignificant (related or not) incidents at a 15-year-old facility that was designed to contain the waste for 10,000 years.  And I am truly concerned that Texas thinks it can manage a high-level radioactive waste site in West Texas that will need to be designed to contain waste for 100’s of thousands of years.

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Between legislative sessions, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House of Representatives appoint Interim Committees to study important issues that help guide the Texas Legislature’s decisions in the future. These interim committees hold hearings and take public testimony. Their findings will affect actions taken during the next regular session.  Public Citizen will be closely following several interim charges during the coming year.  After each charge, we have included a brief explanation about why we consider these important charges about which you should be concerned.  The interim charges include, but are not limited to:

House Committee on Environmental Regulation Interim Charges
# 1.  Study the environmental permitting processes at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), specifically the contested case hearing process at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and the timelines associated with the process. Study the economic impact that the state’s permitting processes have on Texas manufacturing sectors and how neighboring states’ and the federal permitting processes and timelines compare to those in Texas.
(Why are contested case hearings important for Texas citizens?  This is the only opportunity that neighbors of proposed facilities have to contest an air or water quality permit before a license is approved.  Once approved, any contentions must go through the Texas court system, which can cost a citizen or group of citizens thousands of dollars to litigate and the likelihood of getting a license revoked is extremely minimal.  You will note that the only concerns voice about this process has to do with economic impact and the impact on industry – NOT on how it would impact you and your family if you ended up with a facility next door that had to be permitted because it impacts on air and water quality.) 
# 2.  Study the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas. Make specific recommendations on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas
(Can you say Yucca Mountain?  Yucca Mountain, a ridge of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been the leading candidate site for a high-level radioactive repository since the 1980s, but Nevada has fought the project bitterly in court and in Congress. The spent fuel that emerges from nuclear power plants has been accumulating for decades in steel-lined pools or giant steel-and-concrete casks near the reactors.  A final decision to abandon the repository would leave the nation with no solution to a problem it has struggled with for half a century, but some in Texas seem determined to take on the task of making west Texas the new home for this nuclear waste.  While you may not be concerned about all that radioactivity sitting on land near Big Spring, TX, halfway between Midland and Sweetwater, you may want to consider the impact of all that waste being transported across the state on our highways, possibly through your neighborhood.  We will be following this charge and will post when we know about hearings.)

Consider this story that broke as I was writing this post. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground radioactive waste disposal site that began operations in 1999 and is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons, was evacuated this morning when an underground salt truck used to haul mining debris caught fire.  Two WIPP rescue teams were activated and an unconfirmed number of WIPP employees were transported to a hospital for potential smoke inhalation. Operations at WIPP have been suspended until further notice.  According to WIPP, none of the nuclear waste was disrupted during the incident, but emergency crews were still battling the fire at this writing.

House Committee on State Affairs Interim Charge

# 3. Study the different financial assurance options used by state agencies to ensure compliance with environmental clean-up or remediation costs. Determine whether the methods utilized by state agencies are appropriate to ensure sufficient funds will be available when called upon.
(An example of how this can affect you – Currently, mines associated with a coal-fired plant can disposed of toxic coal ash waste from the burning of that coal in the depleted mines – click here to read more about coal ash waste .  Federal law requires those facility to post a bond for cleanup and remediation of the land where coal ash waste is disposed of.  In Texas, we allow a financially solvent company to pledge existing assets against future reclamation claims related to mine operations and seem to have no recourse to require changes if the company no longer meets financial health benchmarks. This is a practice that leaves Texas tax payers at risk of having to bail failing companies out from this obligation if those companies are unable to meet it.)

Click here to see all the Texas House Interim Charges.  We will keep you updated as hearings for these charges are announced.  Your input can have significant impact on what our legislature does regarding these issues.

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UPDATE:  Last night’s film screening and panel discussion was well attended with between 200 and 250 filling the auditorium.  Technical difficulties meant the last 10 minutes of the film, “Pandora’s Promise”, could not be seen, but the panel discussion was balanced, informative and lively yet respectful (more than can be said of SXSW Eco’s panel and screening of this same film).  Our thanks to the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the UT Energy Institute for providing this opportunity to discuss issues around nuclear power.

Pandora’s Promise” film screening / panel discussion tonight, but before coming you might want to read this peer reviewed response to the myths and propaganda in Pandora’s Promise produced by Beyond Nuclear –

Reception: 5:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Screening / panel discussion and Q&A: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

The Energy Institute will host a screening of “Pandora’s Promise,” a controversial new film that is a high-dollar pro-nuclear propaganda piece. The Breakthrough Institute has been promoting the film, and Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger are involved – authors of Death of Environmentalism.

The screening, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the AT&T Center on the UT Austin campus Tuesday evening, February 4, 2014.  The event is part of the Austin Forum, a monthly speaker series organized by UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center.

The screening will be preceded by a networking reception and followed by a Q&A session and panel discussion moderated by Energy Institute Assistant Director Dr. Fred Beach. Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Dr. Dale Klein, an associate director at the Energy Institute, and Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, will participate in the discussion and answer questions from the audience.

Lessons should be learned following the disaster in Fukushima.  This multiple reactor meltdown in a technologically advanced nation continues to poison our planet.

Austin still has 16% of South Texas Project (STP) 1 & 2 Nuclear Reactors, which are currently being considered for relicensing, which would give them another 20 years past their retirement dates of 2027 and 2028!  These existing units were shut down for 8.5 months over the last several years, costing Austin $27 million in replacement power costs. (We get 200 MW from each reactor.) Repair costs of about $98 million will mostly be covered by insurance.

The latest?  On January 18, 2014 there was a fire in the control room of STP Reactor 1, causing an emergency to be declared.

There are increased risks as reactors age due to metal fatigue and pipes being worn down. When you consider the risks and expense of disposing of radioactive waste, the lack of a solution for high level waste (fuel rods) and the immense amount of water nuclear reactors use – it’s hard to see how anyone can still support this outdated and dangerous technology.

We encourage you to attend and add your voice to those who are concerned about the push to increase nuclear power in the United States.

And keep in mind the film’s name hardly evokes a tale with a happy ending.  In the Hesiodic myth of Pandora, who is also known as “she who sends up gifts”, Pandora is not a bearer of bountiful gifts.  Rather, Pandora opened a jar, known today as “Pandora’s box”, releasing all the evils of humanity—leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.

 

 

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STP US vs Foreign OwnershipU.S. Nuclear power plants and foreign control

In September 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied an operating license to Unistar Nuclear Energy for its planned third reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland because it is fully owned by France’s Électricité de France (EDF)-a foreign entity. Federal law prohibits a foreign entity from completely owning or controlling a U.S. nuclear plant. The company was given 60 days to find a U.S. partner, which it has been unable to do in the past two years, and if it fails to do so the license application will be fully terminated.

Federal law is clear that foreign controlled corporations are not eligible to apply for a license to build and operate nuclear power plants. The evidence is that Toshiba is in control of the project and this precludes obtaining an NRC license for South Texas Project 3 & 4.

While foreign investment in U.S nuclear projects is not prohibited; Toshiba is paying all the bills for the proposed STP 3 & 4 project. This makes it difficult to accept that Toshiba doesn’t control the project.

Toshiba North America Engineering, or TANE, has assumed exclusive, principal funding authority for the project, but they are a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc, a Japanese corporation. Public Citizen contends that this makes them ineligible for licensing.

How did foreign ownership become a problem? New Jersey based NRG announced on April 19, 2011 that it would write down its investment in the development of South Texas Project units 3 & 4. Engineering work and pre-construction activities were halted, and NRG stated that Toshiba North America Engineering – TANE – would be responsible for funding ongoing costs to continue the licensing process.

The upcoming hearing will deal, in part with the issue of STP’s foreign control.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) has rescheduled to Jan. 6, 2014, a hearing in Houston involving an application to build two new reactors at the South Texas Project site near Bay City, Texas. The ASLB is the independent body within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that conducts adjudicatory hearings and renders decisions on legal challenges to licensing actions.

The hearing will start at 9:00 a.m. CST on Monday, January 6, in Room 425 of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, 301 Fannin St. in Houston. The hearing will continue on January 7 until noon, if necessary. Members of the public and media are welcome to observe the evidentiary hearing, but participation in the hearing will be limited to the parties and their lawyers and witnesses. Those planning to attend the evidentiary hearing should arrive at least 15 minutes early to allow time for security screening, including searches of hand-carried items such as briefcases or backpacks. No signs will be permitted in the courtroom.

The hearing involves Nuclear Innovation North America’s application to build two Advanced Boiling-Water Reactors at the South Texas Project site. The hearing will examine whether the applicant’s planned corporate governing structure and financing comply with the NRC’s rules prohibiting foreign ownership, control and domination.

The board continues to accept written comments from interested members of the public, known as limited appearance statements. These statements are not testimony or evidence, but they may aid the board and/or the parties in considering the issues in the hearing. Statements may be submitted via mail to:, Office of the Secretary Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001; via fax to (301) 415-1101 or via e-mail to [email protected] Copies of the statements should also be submitted to: Administrative Judge Michael M. Gibson, Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, Mail Stop T-3F23, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001; via fax to (301) 415-5599, or via email to [email protected] and [email protected]

Documents related to the South Texas Project application are available on the NRC website. Documents regarding this board’s proceeding are available on the NRC’s Electronic Hearing Docket by clicking on the folder entitled “South_Texas_52-012&013-COL” on the left side of the page. More information about the role of the ASLB in the licensing process is available on the NRC website.

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Update:

Salem Nuclear Reactor Unit 1 resumed operations Saturday after crews repaired a leak in the containment building that was discovered two days earlier.  The plant operator says about 4,800 gallons of radioactive water leaked out, and the water went through the plant’s drain system as designed. The entire system holds 90,000 gallons.

This was a quick fix compared to STP’s recent outages.  One from November 29, 2011 to April 24, 2012 and one from January 8, 2013 to April 22, 2013.  When outages last this long, it can have an affect on consumers pocketbooks.  These two outages cost just the City of Austin, TX, which owns a 16% portion of the nuclear plant, $27 million in replacement power costs, which the utility just passed along to consumers in the fuel charges.  That averaged out to $64 per customer since November 2011.

Could the cost to consumers of replacing old and deteriorating parts that have the plants down for long periods have been the deciding factor in retiring the San Onofre plant in California permanently.  What will be the fate of the aging nuclear plants across the country.
(more…)

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Earlier today, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that they will retire Units 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), essentially closing the troubled nuclear power plant which is located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

SONGS, which has been in operation for 45 years, may be a harbinger for the future of our aging nuclear fleet, many of which are near the end their original license period and are applying for extensions.

  • Unit 1 began commercial operation on January 1, 1968 and ceased operation on November 30, 1992.  Since then it has been dismantled and is used as a storage site for spent fuel for Units 2 and 3,
  • Units 2 and 3 were both licensed in 1982 and by license amendments in March, 2000 are currently licensed until 2022. However, unit 3 has been shut down since the detection of a leak in one of the steam generator tubes on January 31 and Unit 2 is off line, for routine inspections which found that design flaws appeared to be the cause of excessive wear in tubing that carries radioactive water at San Onofre.

SCE cited continuing questions about when or if the remaining SONGS units might return to service as the cause for their decision, concluding that the uncertainty was not good for customers or investors.

In a statement Friday, California Public Utility Commission’s President Michael R. Peevey called the decision “understandable,” and that the closure of the nuclear power generating station “will require even greater emphasis on energy efficiency and demand response programs.” Utility companies will also need to add transmission upgrade and find new generation resources.

Concerns in Texas

In Texas, both nuclear plants (Comanche Peak outside of Fort Worth, and South Texas Nuclear Generating Station (STP), between Houston and Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast) are nearing the end of their life expectancies as reflected in their original licenses which are due to expire in 2027 and 2028, and have filed for a license extension.  STNP’s unit two has experienced nine months of outage during 2 prolonged shutdowns in 2 years. The second outage was triggered by a fire that occurred only days before the public hearing on the license extension application.

Environmentalists expressed concerns about the plant’s ability to operate safely beyond the original life expectancy of the plant.

“Relicensing should be halted while a serious, in-depth examination occurs,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Austin-based SEED coalition, which advocates for sustainable energy, and member of the Austin Electric Utility Commission (Austin Energy owns 16% of STP Units 1 and 2). “I think it’s becoming increasingly unreliable, and it’s costing us money to fix it.” She noted that it was difficult to get information about the plant’s problems and she expressed concern that these aging plants will experience problems more often and of greater threat to the safety of the plant and the surrounding communities.

 

 

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NRC Says NINA Doesn’t Meet Their Requirements

STP US vs Foreign OwnershipOn Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told judges overseeing the licensing case for two proposed South Texas Project reactors that the applicant (NINA) is subject to foreign ownership control or domination requirements and does not meet the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act in this regard. This will help licensing opponents in the hearing that is anticipated this fall.

“This NRC notice is great for us as opponents of two proposed reactors at the South Texas Project,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition, a group that has intervened in the licensing process, along with the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy and Public Citizen. “We hope that we’ll soon see clean, safe energy developed in Texas instead of dangerous nuclear power. We must prevent Fukushima style disasters from happening here.”

“Federal law is clear that foreign controlled corporations are not eligible to apply for a license to build and operate nuclear power plants. The evidence is that Toshiba is in control of the project and this precludes obtaining an NRC license for South Texas Project 3 & 4,” said Brett Jarmer, an attorney also representing the intervenors.

“Foreign investment in U.S nuclear projects is not per se prohibited; but Toshiba is paying all the bills for the STP 3 & 4 project. This makes it difficult to accept that Toshiba doesn’t control the project,” said Robert Eye.

Toshiba North America Engineering, or TANE, will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project, but they are a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc, a Japanese corporation. Opponents contend that this makes them ineligible for licensing.

“National security and safety concerns justify NRC’s limits on foreign ownership and control of nuclear reactors,” said Karen Hadden, Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “What if a foreign company was careless in running a U.S. reactor? International allegiances are known to shift. Our own reactors could become a weapon to be turned against us in the future and be used to threaten civilians in a war against the U.S. The NRC is right to protect against this possibility.”

“Even if the reactors are operated by the South Texas Nuclear Operating Company, they will get their orders from foreign owners. What if their concerns are more about cost-cutting and less about safety?” asked Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “Japanese investors would have us believe that they can come to America and safely build, own and operate nuclear plants, and that we should not concern ourselves with passé laws and regulations, but the recent Fukushima disaster has demonstrated the flawed Japanese model of nuclear safety and the lack of protection afforded the Japanese people. In such an inherently dangerous industry, the American people deserve protection through federal law, including that our nuclear reactors are controlled by the people most concerned about our country: fellow Americans.”

“Foreign Ownership, Control or Domination policy is spelled out in the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.  “In Section 103d it says that no license may be issued to an alien or any corporation or other entity if the Commission knows or has reason to believe it is owned, controlled, or dominated by an alien, a foreign corporation, or a foreign government.”

The NRC interprets this to mean that these entities are not eligible to apply for and obtain a license. According to Commission guidance, an entity is under foreign ownership, control, or domination “whenever a foreign interest has the ‘power,’ direct or indirect, whether or not exercised, to direct or decide matters affecting the management or operations of the applicant.” There is no set percentage point cut-off point used to determine foreign ownership. The factors that are considered include:

  • The extent of foreign ownership
  • Whether the foreign entity operates the reactors
  • Whether there are interlocking directors and officers
  • Whether there is access to restricted data
  • Details of ownership of the foreign parent company.

For further information please visit www.NukeFreeTexas.org

To read the staff FODC determination letter, click here.

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Two years after the earthquake and accompanying tsunami that resulted in three of the reactors melting down at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, nuclear engineers are still grappling with how to bring the facility under control.  This plant was heavily damaged and to date, no one has been able to repair it.  So it’s still badly broken and it is no wonder that power outages and water leaks continue to hamper the clean-up.

The United Nations atomic monitors, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), arrived at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant to review how contaminated water is being stored at the disaster site and assess decommissioning risks.  Their arrival was met with reports that a large amount of radioactive water had leaked from the plant.  The IAEA has made irregular visits to the Fukushima site since the March 11, 2011, disaster occurred. Their last visit was in December, 2012.

Currently, about 280,000 tons of highly radioactive water are stored at the Fukushima plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the company that owns the plant. That’s enough to fill about 112 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

So here is how we got to that much radioactive water.  The reactor cores still have fuel inside that needs to be kept cool.  To cool the cores, Tepco has had to continuously bring in water from outside and pour it in.  That water flows down into the basement of the plant. From there, they pump it out, do an initial decontamination (they are able to remove some radioactive elements like cesium from the waste water, but other elements, like tritium, require more time to scrub) and store it.  Initially, they were storing the radioactive water in metal tanks on site, but these tanks have been filling up because groundwater has also been coming into the basements so they recently switched to reservoirs – really just earthen pits that have been lined with sheets of plastic. It is somewhere in this complex process that these leaks have occurred and right now they believe the reservoirs are leaking.  Here is a cleanup strategy as jaw-droppingly “maybe should have gone with something a bit less duct-tape home repair” short-sighted as the cleanup of the Pegasus Tar Sands spill in Arkansas with what appears to be paper towels that was ridiculed on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Colbert Report.

There are monitors around all the reservoirs, so they have pin pointed which ones are leaking, but they don’t know how much has leaked.  What we do know is that fish and mollusks within 12.4 miles of the Fukushima plant have surpassed baseline measures of radioactivity, according to Tepco’s  most recent environmental monitoring report published April 12. One specimen tested near the port entrance to Fukushima Dai-Ichi was 4,300-times more radioactive than what Japanese officials consider standard and may pose health risks.

Some say clean up is decades away, I say that is a nice fairy tale. Fukashima still has fuel inside, the spent fuel that was being stored above the reactors is still there, and no one can get to any of it right now. The area is just too radioactive. So they will have to wait for all the fuel to cool down and then figure out how to go in there and get it out.  It will be years before they can even open up the reactors. But the reality is that nuclear power plant disasters of this magnitude will take generations to clean up.

In six days we will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.  Only 2 miles away from the reactor, the company town of Pripyat, remains deserted and unfit for human habitation for hundreds of years to come.

Chernobyl sits inside a fenced area known as the Exclusion Zone. Radioactive remnants of the failed reactor continue to smolder inside a modern day sarcophagus, a concrete and steel encasement hastily erected after the accident. Leaky and structurally unsound, it now threatens to collapse, shaking loose enough radiation to cause a second disaster of similar magnitude. Work has already started on a new encasement, which will slide over the existing sarcophagus to seal in the remaining nuclear fuel. In the mean time desperate efforts are underway to shore up the sarcophagus to protect it from collapsing.

While our nation has avoided a disaster equal to these, our nuclear fleet of 104 reactors is an aging one, many of which are close to heavily populated areas of the country, and there is no absolute guarantee that the U.S. is invulnerable to a disaster of this magnitude.  We should all keep this in mind as nuclear plant after nuclear plant applies for a license extension that will go well beyond the expected life planned for these plants.

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Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd. (NEIL), the company that insures all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants has just around $3.6 billion on hand to pay for claims from broken nuclear plants in California (San Onofre nuclear power station), Texas (South Texas Nuclear Project), Michigan (Cook nuclear power station) and Florida (Crystal River).  Crystal River alone represents such a financial threat that the insurance company may have to demand that its member utilities shell out more money.

As a mutual insurance company, NEIL’s members agree to cover each other in the event of a catastrophe. NEIL was formed in 1980 in response to the Three Mile Island disaster and is allowed to raise as much as $2 billion from its members in a 20 day period drawing from the owners of all 104 nuclear plants in the United States.

NEIL’s policies allows for a payment up to $2.25 billion for damage to a plant, plus up to an extra $490 million for replacement power while the plant is idled.

Damage to Crystal River nuclear plant's containment wall

Damage to Crystal River nuclear plant’s containment wall

Repairing the Crystal River plant could cost as much as $3.5 billion for construction work and $300 million a year for related costs such as purchasing alternative electricity while the plant remains off line. That could push the total cost above $5 billion, but there are questions about whether the damage was an accident or whether the 2009 replacement of old steam generators inside the nuclear plant’s 42-inch thick concrete containment wall was mishandled when the managing company chose a do-it-yourself approach in order to save about $15 million by using one of the two companies that handled all similar projects in the nation. An attempt to repair the resulting crack in the containment wall and bring the plant back online resulted in more cracks.

Most of the 104 reactors in the United States were built in the 1970s and early 1980s. A few date back to the 1960s and they are starting to show their age, putting additional pressure on the insurer as is evident in the additional claims in the works.

Turbine loss at the Cook nuclear power station in Bridgman, MI. resulted in a claim for which NEIL had already paid out $400 million by the end of 2011.

The insurer also faces “the meaningful” claim for the South Texas Nuclear Project, which suffered damage to a turbine generator in its number two unit and is not expected to be back online until as late as July this year. It is unclear how much that will cost the insurance company.

And now NEIL must ready itself for the troubles at California’s San Onofre nuclear power station, where two generators have been offline since January 2012.  The replacement power alone for San Onofre’s out-of-service units reached $221 million through September of this year and it is unclear what the repair costs would add to that bill.

In the past, NEIL has paid out annual distributions to all its members after the insurer reaches a comfortable reserve — generally about $3.5 billion. The money is distributed to the members based on the premiums they pay each year. Between the loss of the annual distributions and charges to these power companies to cover shortfalls from these claims, nuclear plants around the country could be looking some unexpected financial hits in the coming year or two.

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