Posts Tagged ‘japan’

Back in January, Texans For A Sound Energy Policy (TSEP) filed formal legal contentions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) urging denial of Exelon’s application for an Early Site Permit (ESP) for a proposed nuclear power plant site south of Victoria, Texas.

Yesterday, TSEP appeared at a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board (ASLB) to press its legal and scientific arguments.  This is the first NRC proceeding since onset of the ongoing Japanese nuclear disaster. 

TSEP argued that nuclear power is a high risk, high stakes business, and that the events in Japan must be paramount in the board’s determination of the suitability of the site for the construction of one or more nuclear power reactors – a determination that includes both safety concerns and environmental impact concerns.  TSEP believes that this site is neither safe nor environmentally acceptable and that the key to preventing nuclear and environmental disasters is to address site selection honestly, openly and comprehensively.

From a safety perspective, TSEP has raised four proposed contentions and noted, from the outset, their concerns with the cavalier attitude of Exelon, and a process that appears designed to deliberately obscure key safety issues regarding the site from the public.

TSEP said that their perception is that Exelon believes that it does not matter if there is faulting, hundreds of oil and gas wells, toxic gas and methane and inadequate water supply as long as the power block itself is not directly affected.  Additionally, there is a total disdain for any instability and uncertainty of the geologic platform for the proposed facility which is silt and clay riddled by fractures and oil and gas penetrations.  That coupled with the fact that there is co-location with toxic and explosive gas  poses potential dangers to the safe operation of a nuclear

TSEP believes good engineering can address many potential safety issues, but that we cannot engineer around issues that are not recognized, studied and evaluated.

In light of what the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is dealing with, water – which has been a major environmental concern – now shows itself to be a major safety issue.  According to Jim Blackburn, the attorney representing TSEP,

Exelon’s proposed plan includes a cooling pond that is clearly crossed by two and potentially four subsurface faults.  These faults clearly threaten the stability of the cooling pond.  Exelon does not deny this but instead argues that it does not matter if the cooling pond fails because it is not a safety feature.  It seems that the Japanese situation suggests that a reserve supply of water may in fact be a major safety issue.  Without the salt water to pour on the core as a last resort, the situation in Japan would already have been worse.  There is no such fall-back plan here.  The cooling pond would function as a last resort facility, but it may in fact be breached and drained, assuming sufficient water to fill the pond at all.

Click here to watch a segment of the Rachel Maddow Show for information on spent fuel pools.

We hope the NRC will slow some of these license approvals and re-licensing applications down until they have had time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t work when backup systems fail. 

The ASLB will be reviewing and deciding which contentions put forth by TSEP will be heard in a licensing hearing later this year.

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The tragic events unfolding in Japan demand a re-examination of U.S. nuclear policy.  While stocks in nuclear plummet and nuclear industry lobbyists scramble on Capitol Hill to shore up support for massive federal subsidies to kick-start the stagnate industry, concerns regarding the existing aging fleet are surfacing and should be heeded.  Click here to read more about specific concerns about some of the aging US nuclear fleet.

Amazingly, despite emerging concerns about existing and proposed reactors, the Obama administration has said it will not back off its plans to further prop up the nuclear industry through increased taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and the inclusion of nuclear power technology in the administration’s clean energy standard. The administration has included $36 billion in loan guarantees in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. Instead, it should immediately halt subsidies and instead focus on developing solar and wind power.  Take Action on Nuclear Subsidies

The administration  must take off the blinders, look hard at what is going on in Japan and realize that yes, a catastrophe can happen here.

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Investors dumped Japanese shares Monday, sending the Nikkei down 6.2% amid concerns about a nuclear emergency in the country following Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, with stocks of exporters and plant operators hardest hit.

Analysts say stocks were being largely driven by the quake-related news flow; while news of the devastating tsunami effects in northeastern Japan waned.  Fears spread amid the scramble to contain meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as investor attention remained riveted on the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors at the facility, which were damaged by the effects of the quake and tsunami. Selling accelerated in the afternoon following a new explosion at the No. 3 reactor, similar to the one that hit the No. 1 reactor on Saturday.

Tepco’s shares went largely untraded, closing down 24 percent. Goldman Sachs also lowered its rating on the stock to Neutral from Buy and cut its target price 13 percent.

Between Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power, some 15 nuclear power units are in questionable status.

Hitachi and Toshiba, which make nuclear power technology, both sank 16 percent.

Why is the economic news of these Japanese companies of interest to Texas?

Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA), the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba Corporation, are the major financial partners in the two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project (STP).  Last year they announced they had reached an agreement with Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), that owns the Fukushima Daiichi, to also partner in the STP expansion.

NINA was also counting on the Japanese government to provide loan guarantees to the project.  So, of the major financial investments in this Texas nuclear expansion, three are Japanese.  One can easily predict that both the Japanese government and Japan’s nuclear industry’s economic future are going to be tied up for the foreseeable future.  Given this, it would be mind-boggling if the U.S. Department of Energy approved a loan guarantee for STP’s expansion.

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This morning’s quake on the other side of the world has implications for nuclear plants here in the U.S.   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), through its regional office in Arlington, TX, announced they are closely monitoring this situation – the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami – as it unfolds with respect to nuclear facilities within the United States.

Earlier today the NRC issued a “notice of unusual event” (NOUE) at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, located near San Luis Obispo, CA.  In addition to the Diablo Canyon plant, the NRC is also monitoring the San Onofre nuclear power plant, the Humboldt Bay spent fuel storage site and NRC-regulated nuclear materials sites in Hawaii and Alaska to name a few.

A push to build new nuclear facililties in the U.S. has catapulted the nation’s aging nuclear industry into the limelight and the NRC is being quick to assure the public that nuclear power plants are engineered to withstand environmental hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

The NRC claims plants are designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area.  Still, while the emergency situation at two Japanese plants is seemingly contained at this point, with one Texas plant situated on the hurricane prone Texas Gulf coast and the other in the middle of tornado alley, one has to wonder . . . what if we haven’t yet seen the most severe natural phenomena for those areas?

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In the wake of the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier today, the government has issued an evacuation order to thousands of residents near Fukushima No. 1 power plant in Onahama city, about 170 miles northeast of Tokyo, after its primary and emergency cooling systems failed (there are six nuclear units located at this facility run by Tohoku Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) which is the Japanese power company that has expressed interest in investing in NRG’s expansion at South Texas (nuclear) Project). 

Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said workers are currently scrambling to restore cooling water supply at the facility, but that there was no prospect for an immediate success.  So far there have been no reports of any radiation leaks.

UPDATE:  At 4:30 CT on Friday, March 11th all the U.S. news outlets were breaking news about radiation levels in the control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima nuclear power plant reaching around 1,000 times the normal level and that some radiation has also seeped outside the plant, prompting calls for further evacuations of the area.

Japan's nuclear plants near the earthquake epicenter from MSNBC (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42025882/ns/world_news-asiapacific/)

The quake struck just under 250 miles northeast of Tokyo, the U.S. Geological Survey said.  It was followed by more than a dozen aftershocks, one as strong as 7.1, and eleven nuclear reactors were automatically shut down in the affected area, according to the Japanese government, but they haven’t confirmed any effects induced by radioactive materials outside the facilities.

In addition to the situation at the Fukushima plant, at the TEPCO’s nearby Onagawa facility, which is in the worst-hit Miyagi prefecture north of the Fukushima facility, a fire broke out at the plant following the quake. The blaze occurred in a turbine building, which is separate from the plant’s reactor, and was reported as being quickly extinguished.  However, there seems to be some concerns about the cooling system at this plant too and the the Japanese government has also declared a state of emergency at this facility.  Another unit at Onagawa is reported as experiencing a water leak, though it is unclear whether the incident is significant.

Obviously, we don’t know if any of these reports will lead to a serious nuclear event or not, but the isolated reports so far are worrisome.  

In this region, earthquakes are a design basis accident which nuclear plants are supposed to survive, but engineering, while it can take many factors into consideration and build in multiple backups, can only be  tested by an actual natural disaster.  The problem is, under such circumstances, if there is a failure, one can only assume that other systems (transportation, power availability, access to experts and technicians – all the ancillary things ones needs to deal with a containing a serious event) will also be disrupted.  So when a nuclear “expert” tell you that a plant is designed to withstand a massive hurricane, storm surge, tornado, or earthquake, keep that in mind.

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Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) are asking folks to sign on to a petition to the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet in opposition to proposed loans from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in south Texas.

NIRS is also sending a letter signed by a large list of organizations from the U.S., Japan and other international NGOs.  We don’t believe JBIC has ever received this kind of international attention on a nuclear issue before—indeed, this loan is being considered before JBIC has even drawn up guidelines for funding nuclear projects! And it would be a bad deal for JBIC and Japanese taxpayers, as well as people in Texas.

If you want to sign on to the petition to the Prime Minister, click here.

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*Update: Greg Harman at the San Antonio Current just published a fantastic and very thorough recap of the twisted nuclear saga. Check it out!

Here’s part 2 in this year’s first annual Year in Review: Top Texas Vox Stories of 2009 series. Part 1 is just a hop, skip and scroll down.

3. San Antonio Nuclear Debacle/Amores Nucleares Telenovela

This year has been a doozy for nuclear power, with the highlight of course being the San Antonio situation.  Over the last 12 months San Antonio has ridden a wild wave of cost estimates, community meetings, protests, scandals, and misinformation.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. Remember when…

Last January, CPS Energy committed to spend $60 million more on the proposed expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project, a decision which at that point brings the city utility’s total expenditures on units 3 & 4 to $267 million. Not long after that, Austin City Council took a look at participating in the expansion project but said “No way, that’s much too risky of an investment for us.” San Antonio decided that something magical (but mysterious) was different for them, despite our prediction in late April that the proposed reactors could actually cost as much as $22 Billion.  Mum was CPS’ word on a cost estimate at that time, but by June they announced that $13 Billion was a good, round number. We worried at this point that CPS was being overly optimistic, ignoring the history of the South Texas Project and other nukes around the nation and independent reports, but those concerns largely fell on deaf ears.

Then over the summer, CPS Energy launched a massive public outreach campaign, with meetings in every district — but kind of botched it.  Despite activists’ protests that CPS’ cost numbers were innacurate, the utiltiy refused to release their information or back up numbers, and many San Antonio citizens left the community meetings feeling disenchanted with the process and suspicious of CPS.

As a rising tide of activists and concerned citizens grew, eventually they formed the coalition group Energía Mía and worked together to halt CPS’ spending for more nuclear reactors. The group launched a string of protests and press conferences highlighting the many flaws of nuclear power and the San Antonio deal in particular.  Everyone was all geared up for a big showdown the last week in October, but then the cowpie really hit the rotating bladed device (let’s call it a windmill). For the next part, I’m going to pull from a previous post where I likened the whole situation to a geeky, policy version of a telenovela.

Previously, on Amores Nucleares:

With just days before San Antonio City Council was to vote to approve $400 million in bonds for new nuclear reactors, it was leaked that the project could actually cost $4 Billion more than CPS had been saying all summer (according to Toshiba, who would actually be building the plant). The vote was postponed, there was an impromptu press conference, and it came out that CPS staff had actually known about the cost increase for more than a week — Oops! Oh, and the “leak” wasn’t that CPS came out with the truth, an aide from the mayor’s office only found out after confronting CPS about a rumor he’d heard. But how did the mayor’s office find out? NRG, CPS’ partner in the project was the “Deepthroat”, because they were going to announce Toshiba’s $17 Billion cost estimate at a shareholder’s meeting soon after the city council vote and thought, geez, that could look really bad for CPS! Meanwhile, CPS reps flew to Japan in a hurry to figure things out. Steve Bartley, interim GM for CPS, resigned. Furious that CPS had hidden the ugly truth from City Council, the mayor demanded the resignation of two key CPS board members, and got City Council to vote unanimously that they get the boot. Chairwoman Aurora Geis agreed to go, but Steve Hennigan said “No Way, Jose.” THEN CPS completed an internal audit of the whole shebang to figure out what-the-hell-happened, which found that Steve Bartley was to blame, and everyone else was only guilty of failure in their “responsibility of prompt disclosure”. Then it came out the project could be even more way way expensive than anyone thought (except of course Energia Mia, Public Citizen, SEED Coalition, the Center for American Progress, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and analysts Arjun Makhijani, Clarence Johnson, Craig Severance, and Mark Cooper to name a few). And then those crazy cats all started suing each other.

So in the end, they told folks all summer long that the plant would cost $13 Billion, even though insiders knew since late June that it could very well be $4 Billion more. Latest update is that the plant could really cost $18.2 Billion! On December 31st, Toshiba provided CPS with another new estimate, which the utility will use to come up with their own new cost estimate mid-January. City council is slated to vote sometime after that, once and for all, on $400 million in bonds to continue the project.

But clearly, enough is enough. So if you live in San Antonio, tell City Council to stop throwing good money after bad, and to cut their losses before its too late. Tell them to vote “no” to nuclear bonds and start the year off fresh and free from the “ghost of nuclear projects past.”


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone has a Happy Labor Day, and notes that it won’t be any work at all to read this week’s roundup of blog highlights.

ExxonMobil! Free Mrs. Burns!

Like TXsharon, Elizabeth Burns is a reluctant activist forced into action by the horrendous environmental abuses she witnesses on her own ranch. Her videos have exposed reckless drilling practices by XOM that endanger human health and safety, harm wildlife and spoil air, soil and water. XOM has gagged Mrs. Burns claiming that she is revealing “trade secrets.”

Neil at Texas Liberal made note of elections in Japan. These elections have moved Japan to the left and possibly changed politics in Japan for years to come.

Off the Kuff discusses the latest entrants into the Texas Governor’s race.

Mayor McSleaze at McBlogger takes a look at the BARACKNOPHOBIA gripping a small minority of the people in some parts of Texas.

The Texas Cloverleaf announces its intention to not run for Governor.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wonders why SMU is still supporting a Bush policy institute. Isn’t that like the Larry, Moe and Curly institute of higher learning?

Felix Alvarado’s problems managing his checking account are a precursor of bigger troubles ahead for Texas Democrats in 2010, reports PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Dembones at Eye On Williamson posts about the latest craziness from the crackpots in our country, More fake outrage from right wing astroturf.

Over at TexasKaos, Libby Shaw helps out understand the latest right wing melt down in his posting The Right Wing Goes Ballastic Again . If their unhinged outrage leaves you scratching your head, check it out!

WhosPlayin readers divided their time between rallying for health insurance reform and standing up to the Lewisville ISD’s silly decision to BLOCK the President’s speech from its classrooms.

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Throughout the global warming debate, I have often heard an argument I like to call “the China cop-out.”

It goes somewhere along the lines of, “Developing nations like China and India are growing so quickly, adding so many new coal-fired power plants, and emitting so much carbon dioxide that it isn’t worth it for the US to take action on climate change until they are on board as well.”

To which my response has always been, “Since when does America look to China to lead?”leadership

Recent news shows that if America is willing to rise to the challenge of mitigating climate change impacts and become a leader once again, other nations will follow. To prove my point, this just in: Japan jumps on the green stimulus bandwagon.

Just as President Obama has been shepherding the stimulus package, loaded up with green goodies, through the House and Senate, Prime Minister Taro Aso of Japan has announced his intention to draft a “Green New Deal” to counter both climate change and the global economic downturn.

Grist reports that Aso will “order a stimulus package focusing on slashing greenhouse gases at a meeting of his global warming advisory panel Wednesday.” At this meeting his government will also ” present various plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020.”

If America commits to lead by example, who knows how many other leaders we may be able to influence?

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