Archive for the ‘Nuclear Plants’ Category

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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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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drought monitor Feb 7, 2012While only 23 percent of Texas remains under “exceptional” drought, 90% of the state is still under some level of drought in spite of the recent rains many parts of the state have experienced.  But we can’t get cocky, as the U.S. seasonal drought outlook indicates most of Texas can expect the drought to persist or intensify through April of this year.  If we are lucky, the next outlook won’t be so dire as we head toward another Texas summer, hopefully not like our last one.

Drought Outlook thru April, 2012

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According to the Texas Energy Report, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, called the energy industry a bit too “thirsty” during a record one-year drought, and warned the oil and gas companies to ramp up the recycling of water consumed during hydraulic fracturing.

Currently much of the chemical-laced water and sand that Texas companies blast into shale formations to release oil and gas is later pumped back underground for disposal.

“It’s going to be an issue next session. I continue to tell the industry they’ve got to get aggressive about water reuse,” Fraser, a Republican from Horseshoe Bay in the Central Texas Highland Lakes region, said during a joint interim hearing on drought held by the Natural Resources and the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees.

“In a drought situation, it’s starting to be a problem, a big problem in some areas,” Fraser added of the millions of gallons of water used in fracking. “I’ve been projecting for multiple months that this is coming and we’ve got a crisis out there.”

When asked about the water recovery program and how much water is being recovered from fracking, the industry representative responded that he did not have a specific number of how many companies recycle frack water but added that TXOGA has requested data from its members. He noted that while some companies do have significant recovery operations, others do not.

“Significant,”said Fraser. “That implies a lot.”  But the numbers from the industry were not there to back that implication up.

Fraser said he’d like to see more efficient water reclamation by cities, manufacturers and refiners as well, but he also took aim at the electric power industry.

“Long-term the power industry is going to hear me talking about figuring out a way to convert and get that technology,” he said. “We can’t continue to use the amount of water that we’ve used in the past. The way we are treating our water right now is not sustainable.”

John Fainter, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said everyone in the state needs to learn more and do more about conserving and saving and reusing water, but he added a threat of his own.  “There is a cost, and the public needs to be aware of that, just like the environmental requirements we’re facing,” he said.

Click here to watch the hearing.

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The ongoing drought, extended high temperatures, and wildfires have increased the importance of state water studies. In light of the study by the State of Texas and the critical nature of our water issues, the League of Women Voters (LWV) Austin is sponsoring a meeting for its members and the public featuring an outstanding panel of water experts to speak on this topic. The panel will address approaches to managing Texas’ very valuable water resources.

When: Saturday,  November 5th
Coffee and Pastries, 9 a.m.
Panel, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Where: Ascension Lutheran Church Family Life Center
6420 Hart Lane,  Between 2222 and Far West Blvd., west of Balcones Dr.

 The meeting is free and open to the public.

This outstanding panel of speakers, all water professionals, will address water issues inTexas.

  • Carolyn Ahrens, Booth Ahrens Werkenthin Attorney – Water Marketing
  • David Meesey, Texas Water Development Board Water Planning – The Regional Planning Process
  • David Wheelock, LCRA, Manager of Water Supply and Conservation – Surface Water Supply
  • John Dupnik, Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District – Groundwater Management
  • Brian  Hunt, Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District – Groundwater Management and WaterModeling

You are strongly encouraged to read Facts and Issues: Should Water Be a Commodity?  from LWVTX prior to themeeting.  Click here to print out a copy.

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Access news

ACCESS News! A program about being a better citizen (Presidents included).

What happens when the President of the United States runs afoul of the law? What is a grand jury? Is the future of nuclear energy dead? Is our water supply properly managed?

The Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, Tom “SMITTY” Smith, discusses impeachment, grand juries, nuclear energy, water supplies, and more on ACCESS News.

New episode of ACCESS News airs on KLRU-PBS TV in Austin, Texas on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 1:00pm   

Click here if you miss it and want to watch Smitty online.

ACCESS News – If it happens in Austin, it’s happening everywhere . . . or should be

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Despite the fact that NRG/Toshiba (formally know together as NINA) has been unsuccessful in their multi-year efforts to expand by two units, the South Texas “Nuclear” Project (STP) – the process for their Combined License (COL) is proceeding. 

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) panel will hear oral argument and conduct an evidentiary hearing, beginning Aug. 17 in Austin, Texas which will begin at 9:30 a.m. CDT, in Room 2210, Building F of the Campus of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 12100 Park 35 Circle in Austin. The session is open for public observation, but participation will be limited to the parties admitted to the proceeding (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy, Public Citizen, the applicant – Nuclear Innovation North America (NINA) – and NRC staff).

The ASLB is the independent body within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that presides over proceedings involving the licensing of civilian nuclear facilities, such as nuclear power plants.

The South Texas Project COL application was submitted Sept. 20, 2007, the first such application in the United States in nearly 30 years.  STP was seeking permission to construct and operate two new nuclear reactors at the site near Bay City, Texas.  The ASLB granted intervenor status and an opportunity for a hearing to the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy, and Public Citizen. The groups have submitted objections, or contentions, challenging the COL application, most recently regarding the question of whether NINA meets NRC requirements prohibiting foreign ownership, control or domination of a nuclear facility in the U.S.

Over the past four years, this project has experienced:

  • An increase in their estimate to build the new units from 5.6 billion dollars to over 18 billion dollars
  • A major pull back by their local partner, San Antonio’s CPS from a 50% ownership to 7%
  • A struggle to find new partners with the only interest from TEPCO – the operators of the doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and the Bank of Japan,
  • The melt through of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s eastern coast and subsequently caused the meltdown of the nuclear industry throughout the world.

We would encourage any interested to attend.  Early arrival each day is suggested to allow for security screening for members of the public attending. NRC policy prohibits signs, banners, posters or displays in the hearing room at any time during the proceeding.

Individuals or groups not admitted to the proceeding can submit “written limited appearance statements” to the ASLB. Anyone wishing to submit a written statement may do so by email to [email protected], by fax to (301) 415-1101, or by mail to: Office of the Secretary, Attn. Rulemaking and Adjudications Staff, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. In addition, copies of written statements should be sent to the Chairman of the Licensing Board by e-mail to [email protected] and [email protected]; by fax to (301-415-5599), or by mail to: Administrative Judge Michael M. Gibson, Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel, Mail Stop: T-3F23, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001.

Documents related to the South Texas Project COL application are available on the NRC website. Documents pertaining to the ASLB proceeding are available in the agency’s electronic hearing docket. More information about the ASLB can be found at the NRC website.

NOTE: Anyone wishing to take photos or use a camera to record any portion of a NRC meeting should contact the Office of Public Affairs beforehand.

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We’ve blogged numerous times about the persistent heat and drought plaguing the Southern Plains (particularly Texas) this year. Much of Texas is off a June that ranks among the top five hottest in history. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Texas had their hottest June on record and of the six record hottest June cities, 5 were in Texas.

  • Record hottest June in Texas, surpassing June 1953!
  • Record hottest June cities: Lubbock, Midland, San Angelo, Houston, Galveston, Wichita Falls, and Columbus, Ga.

There has been no letup in July so far and the number of days with 100-degree temperatures continues to climb. Since the beginning of June to the beginning of July, Texas has seen the highest levels of drought — rated as “exceptional” — jump from  50.65 percent of the state to 72 percent of the state.

Dallas, Texas

  • 16 100-degree days through July 10 —the annual average is 18 days;
  • Most 100-degree days in a year: 69 in 1980.

Austin, Texas

  • 27 100-degree days through July 10 —more than double the annual average of 12 days;
  • Most 100-degree days in a year: 69 in 1925.

Even if you don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change, the last 10 years have been the hottest in the last 440,000 years, at least if the Vostok and Greenland ice cores are any indication.  And whether or not you think we can mitigate global warming, here in Texas we need to carefully consider one of our state’s most precious resources, WATER!

So when industries, like coal-fired power plants, nuclear plants, natural gas fracking – to name a few that use large amounts of water, are about to sign contracts with the water districts, or river authorities, we should all show up and demand that they show us we indeed will have water available for the people who live in the area.

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