Posts Tagged ‘nukes’

*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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Join us next Thursday, December 10th to help stop Texas from becoming the nation’s radioactive waste dump!

Please Come:

Texas Compact Commission Stakeholder Meeting
Thursday, December 10th at 9am
Texas Capitol, Extension Auditorium, E1.004

You are invited to attend the press conference as well, held by the SEED Coalition, Public Citizen, and Sierra Club, on stopping Texas from becoming the nation’s radioactive waste dump, the inadequacies of the west Texas dump site and the corruption surrounding the permitting process.

Thursday, Dec. 10th at 12:30 pm – Texas Capitol, Speaker’s Committee Room, 2W.6.

* Show your presence and that the public interest matters.

* Tell the Compact Commission not to allow import of radioactive waste into Texas from the rest of the country!

All of the State TCEQ scientists who worked on the permit for the West Texas dump site, owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS), determined the site to be inadequate because of the possible radioactive contamination of our aquifers and groundwater. Corruption and politics led to the permitting of the site anyways, ignoring the entire TCEQ technical team’s recommendation against issuing the permit. 3 TCEQ employees quit over the decision.

Now the Compact Commission is putting rules in place, to let nuclear power waste from across the country into Texas, making this site the nation’s radioactive waste dumping ground. The Texas Compact Commission, appointed by Governor Perry, and responsible for managing so-called “low-level” radioactive waste generated within its boundaries, is developing rules for importation of radioactive waste from outside the compact (TX and Vermont), AGAINST the original intent of the law, which was for only the 3 states of the compact to be able to dump there.

The Commission is taking comments from stakeholders on the development of the import rule. We want to let them know that the generators of nuclear waste and the dump company that is profiting from taking the waste are not the only stakeholders in this process. Please come help make the voices of the public, Texas taxpayers, and water drinkers heard LOUD and CLEAR.

Learn more at:


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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Thursday, October 8th the Esperanza Peace & Justice center continues the Other and Out & Beyond film series with a day on nuclear energy and the devastating effects of uranium mining, nuclear waste and contamination. This event is Free and open to the public, though donations are appreciated.

All films will be held at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center at 922 San Pedro, San Antonio, TX 78212.  The center can be reached at 210-228-0201 or at www.esperanzacenter.org.

Must see movies from the 70’s and 80’s:

2pm The China Syndrome

A modern nightmare nearly becomes reality in this tension-filled movie starring Jane Fonda as an ambitious TV reporter covering a story on energy sources who is present at a nuclear plant when a startling accident occurs that nearly causes the  meltdown of the reactor. 122 mins/US/1979

4:15 pm Silkwood

This dramatic film is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, a ran and file worker at a plutonium factory, who becomes an activist after being accidentally exposed to a lethal dose of radiation.  Starring Meryl Streep. 131 mins/US/1983

Life & Land: The Hidden Costs of Nuclear

7:00 pm Climate of Hope

While the threat of climate change is now widely accepted in the community, the potential for neuclear power stations in Australia has raised questions about the best strategy to move to a low-carbon economy.  This animated doucmentary takes us on a tour through the science of climate change, the nuclear fuel chain and the remarkable energy revolution that is under wya.  30 mins/Australia/2007

7:40 pm Woven Ways

Told in their own words with no narration, Woven Ways is a lyrical testimony to Navajo beauty and hope in the face of grave environmental injustice.  For decades, uranium miing has contaminated the people, land and livestock that sustain their culuture and economy.  The film chronicles each family’s steady resolve to hold on to the land, air and water, not for themselves, but for generations that will come.

8:30 pm Platica — The evening program will be followed by a community platica on nuclear energy including local activists and experts who will share their knowledge on issues of waste, water, mining, renewable energy alternatives and local organizing.

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If you’re interested in the San Antonio South Texas Project nuclear issue and haven’t been reading Greg Harman’s work for the San Antonio Current, you are seriously missing out.

His latest story is a cover feature titled “Nukes Mean Mines” and part of a life cycle analysis of the South Nuclear Texas Project.  First things first: where does that fuel (uranium) come from, and what is the impact of uranium mining? That answer can be found right here in Texas, and Harman’s investigative reporting brings the story of those mines to life.

Keep “cued” in to the QueQue blog as well, where you’ll find even more background and reporting on nuclear power in Texas and its toxic legacy.

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An abandoned WPPS cooling Tower

An abandoned WPPSS cooling Tower

Whoops is a word with a negative connotation. It is also a word commonly associated, for better or worse, with Northwest Energy. It is an association they been trying to shake since the 1980s. They even went as far as to pay $260,000 in a 1998 lawsuit to avoid being associated with the stigma of Whoops.

It all began in late 1950’s, when the coalition of utilities now known as Northwest Energy originally came together under the name Washington Public Power Supply (WPPSS, pronounced whoops). During the seventies they developed an ambitious plan to build 5 nuclear power plants, funded by municipal bonds. For a decade the project was plagued with delays, surprise expenses and plan revisions. WPPSS had to contend with inflation, high interest rates, constantly changing safety requirements, shifting public opinion and a management team that had no experience in building nuclear power plants.

By the early eighties the estimated cost of completing the project had jumped from $4.1 billion to $23.8 billion. The WPPSS managers decided that completing the project was too expensive to be feasible and chose to default on the $2.25 billion in borrowed money they had already spent. This became the  largest municipal bonds default in U.S history, and it created a decades worth of law suits from angry investors and did considerable damage to the regional economy. Responsibility for paying this money eventually fell on the member utilities, or more specifically, their customers. When in 1988 WPPSS reach a $753 million dollar settlement with many of its investors, most of them received just 10 to 40 cents per each dollar they invested.

The disaster dubbed “Whoops” has haunted WPPSS for years. By 1998, the entity decided to change its name to Northwest Energy and paid another company with the same name $260,000 for the rights to that name. This was done primarily because the WPPSS name and the reputation that went with it was hurting business. For years the remains of the abandoned power plants have stood, as well as the debt owed by the rate payers of the utilities to remind us of the Whoops debacle.

This is a really unfortunate story, but there are many important lessons to be learned from it. First of all, it shows that nuclear power plants are and have always been very expensive to build, and even more expensive to build if the appropriate safety precautions are made. This is especially true if the bill is paid by investors and the government is not pitching in. Nuclear power is literally the most expensive known way of boiling water and we should not trust claims that it is cheap. Secondly, it teaches us that we should not lock  ourselves into using energy plans that are unable to adapt to changes in the economy, safety standards and consumer preferences.  The story of the “Whoops” debacle should serve as a warning, as well, to entities planning on building new nuclear plants here in Texas.

Northwest Energy has expanded its game into many other energy sources over the past 3 decades. These include wind, solar and biomass. Unfortunately they have recently expressed interest in not only expanding their coal burning facilities, but are also talking about building a new nuclear plant, possibly at the location of one of the sites abandoned during the eighties.

I would urge anyone who is not satisfied with the cost effectiveness or the safety of nuclear power to voice their concern and openly question the reasoning used to justify the building of a new WPPSS plant.

The Disappointed Environmentalist

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Impressive nuclear headlines in the papers these days, largely as a result of a new report released by our office entitled: “Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas: A Consumer Perspective.  The report finds that the proposed expansions of nuclear power plants in Bay City (South Texas Project) and Glen Rose (Comanche Peak) could cost $22 billion, boost the cost of electricity for consumers and curtail investment in energy-efficiency programs and solar power.

The headline in the San Antonio Express News yesterday morning, just below the banner no less, read: Nuke Plan May Cost $22 Billion

This morning the Fort Worth Star Telegram also ran an article titled Anti-nuclear group: Comanche Peak expansion could cost $27.6 billion

The San Antonio Current’s Queblog also reports: Projected nuke power’s price tag inflating.  

In addition to a real cost estimate for nuclear power plant expansions in Texas, the report also compares the cost of nuclear power to the cost of alternatives such as wind, solar, and energy efficiency.  I’d encourage anyone who complains about the expense of renewable energy but claims that nuclear power is “cheap” to take a gander at the following graph: 


Wow.  Even on the low estimate end, energy efficiency costs just a fifth of what we would spend to get that kind of power from a nuclear plant, and wind and solar both come in well under that cost of nukes.  Take that, naysayers!

A major concern brought up in this report is that the massive capitol outlays for nuclear power options may drain available financial resources for making advancements in deploying more cost effective alternative resources.  In San Antonio, this could mean that CPS Energy chooses to partner with the South Texas Project Nuclear Expansion at the expense of Mission Verde, Mayor Phil Hardberger’s aggressive plan to green the city’s infrastructure, businesses, energy sources and technology.

“This new report indicates that we’re going to have to decide now which energy future we want for San Antonio,” said Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson. “If CPS becomes a partner in the South Texas Project expansion, we are simply not going to have the financial resources to front Mission Verde. We can either choose the most expensive option possible and send our jobs to Bay City and overseas contractors, or pay a fraction of the cost to create thousands of jobs here at home and power the city with clean, green energy.”

For more information on how consumers could get stuck with the check if the nuclear plant goes over-budget or can’t meet its construction schedule (as they are notoriously wont to do), check out our press release.

The San Antonio Current’s Queblog reports,

Prior to deregulation in 2001, ratepayers were drained of $5 billion in capital costs for the nukes in North Texas and Bay City, according to Johnson’s “Costs of Current and Planned Nuclear Power Plants in Texas.”

Also, much of the overruns associated with Comanche Peak and STP have been borne by electric consumers in Texas’ deregulated market since, who “continue to pay off at least $3.4 billion for nuclear assets through transition charges, as well as $45 million in annual payments for nuclear decommissioning,” Johnson writes. 

Additional associated STP costs have also been passed along by AEP and CenterPoint to their customers.

Those interested in the report may also download either the full report or a short fact-sheet detailing the report’s major findings.

Along these same lines, turns out today is the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)’s national call-in day to end coal and nuclear subsidies. (more…)

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