Tag Archives: nuclear energy subsidies

$2 Trillion Gamble: congested nuclear pools

This image captures the spread of radioactivity from a hypothetical fire in a high-density spent-fuel pool at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. Based on the guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the experience from the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, populations in the red and orange areas would have to be relocated for many years, and many in the yellow area would relocate voluntarily. In this scenario, which is based on real weather patterns that occurred in July 2015, four major cities would be contaminated (New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.), resulting in the displacement of millions of people. (Photo from http://wws.princeton.edu/news-and-events/news/item/us-nuclear-regulators-greatly-underestimate-potential-nuclear-disaster).

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relied on faulty analysis to justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from the occurrence of a catastrophic nuclear-waste fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country, according to an article in the May 26,  2017 issue of Science magazine. Fallout from such a fire could be considerably larger than the radioactive emissions from the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan. Published by researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the article argues that NRC inaction leaves the public at high risk from fires in spent-nuclear-fuel cooling pools at reactor sites. The pools—water-filled basins that store and cool used radioactive fuel rods—are so densely packed with nuclear waste that a fire could release enough radioactive material to contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey. On average, radioactivity from such an accident could force approximately 8 million people to relocate and result in $2 trillion in damages….”The NRC has been pressured by the nuclear industry, directly and through Congress, to low-ball the potential consequences of a fire because of concerns that increased costs could result in shutting down more nuclear power plants,” said paper co-author Frank von Hippel, a senior research physicist at Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security (SGS), based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “Unfortunately, if there is no public outcry about this dangerous situation, the NRC will continue to bend to the industry’s wishes.”

Spent-fuel pools were brought into the spotlight following the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan…..”The Fukushima accident could have been a hundred times worse had there been a loss of the water covering the spent fuel in pools associated with each reactor,” von Hippel said. “That almost happened at Fukushima in Unit 4.”

In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, the NRC considered proposals for new safety requirements at U.S. plants. One was a measure prohibiting plant owners from densely packing spent-fuel pools, requiring them to expedite transfer of all spent fuel that has cooled in pools for at least five years to dry storage casks, which are inherently safer. Densely packed pools are highly vulnerable to catching fire and releasing huge amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere.

The NRC analysis found that a fire in a spent-fuel pool at an average nuclear reactor site would cause $125 billion in damages, while expedited transfer of spent fuel to dry casks could reduce radioactive releases from pool fires by 99 percent. However, the agency decided the possibility of such a fire is so unlikely that it could not justify requiring plant owners to pay the estimated cost of $50 million per pool.

The NRC cost-benefit analysis assumed there would be no consequences from radioactive contamination beyond 50 miles from a fire. It also assumed that all contaminated areas could be effectively cleaned up within a year. Both of these assumptions are inconsistent with experience after the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents.

In two previous articles, von Hippel and Schoeppner released figures that correct for these and other errors and omissions. They found that millions of residents in surrounding communities would have to relocate for years, resulting in total damages of $2 trillion—nearly 20 times the NRC’s result. Considering the nuclear industry is only legally liable for $13.6 billion, thanks to the Price Anderson Act of 1957, U.S. taxpayers would have to cover the remaining costs.

The authors point out that if the NRC does not take action to reduce this danger, Congress has the authority to fix the problem. Moreover, the authors suggest that states that provide subsidies to uneconomical nuclear reactors within their borders could also play a constructive role by making those subsidies available only for plants that agreed to carry out expedited transfer of spent fuel…

The paper, “Nuclear safety regulation in the post-Fukushima era,” was published May 26 in Science. For more information, see von Hippel and Schoeppner’s previous papers, “Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools” and “Economic Losses From a Fire in a Dense-Packed U.S. Spent Fuel Pool,” which were published in Science & Global Security in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The Science article builds upon the findings of a Congressionally-mandated review by the National Academy of Sciences, on which von Hippel served.

Excerpts from US nuclear regulators greatly underestimate potential for nuclear disaster, researchers say, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson  News, May 25,, 2017

United States Subsidies for Nuclear Energy

core of crocus, a small nuclear reactor used for research

The Department of Energy has issued a draft solicitation that would provide up to $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects, supporting the Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and bringing the nation closer to its low-carbon future. Once finalized, these loan guarantees will provide critical financing to help commercialize advanced nuclear energy technologies, supporting projects that are often unable to secure full commercial financing due to their scale and use of innovative technology. This draft solicitation represents another step in the Department’s commitment to help overcome the financial barriers to the deployment of next generation technologies that will diversify America’s clean energy portfolio.

“For the first time in more than 30 years, new nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States,” said Secretary Ernest Moniz. “This solicitation would build on that investment and help support the construction of the next generation of safe and secure nuclear energy projects. Expanding on the Administration’s commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy, these projects will provide clean energy to American families and businesses.”

Authorized by Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects Solicitation would provide loan guarantees to support construction of innovative nuclear energy and front-end nuclear projects in the United States that reduce, avoid, or sequester greenhouse gas emissions. While any project that meets the eligibility requirements may apply, the Department has identified four key technology areas of interest in the draft solicitation: advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, upgrades and uprates at existing facilities, and front-end nuclear projects.

Department of Energy Issues Draft Loan Guarantee Solicitation for Advanced Nuclear Energy Projects, US Department of Energy, Sept. 30, 2014

How the US Subsidizes Nuclear Energy: the billion dollars guarantees

Construction at Vogtl eNuclear Plant 2011

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz today announced at the National Press Club that he will be traveling to Waynesboro, Georgia tomorrow, February 20, to mark the issuance of approximately $6.5 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. The project represents the first new nuclear facilities in the U.S. to begin construction and receive NRC license in nearly three decades. In addition, the deployment of two new 1,100 megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors is a first-mover for a new generation of advanced nuclear reactors.

“The construction of new nuclear power facilities like this one – which will provide carbon-free electricity to well over a million American energy consumers – is not only a major milestone in the Administration’s commitment to jumpstart the U.S. nuclear power industry, it is also an important part of our all-of-the-above approach to American energy as we move toward a low-carbon energy future,” said Secretary Moniz. “The innovative technology used in this project represents a new generation of nuclear power with advanced safety features and demonstrates renewed leadership from the U.S. nuclear energy industry.”

The two new 1,100 megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant will supplement the two existing reactor units at the facility. According to industry projections, the project will create approximately 3,500 onsite construction jobs and approximately 800 permanent jobs once the units begin operation. When the new nuclear reactors come on line, they will provide enough reliable electricity to power nearly 1.5 million American homes.  Project partners include Georgia Power Company (GPC), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (OPC), the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG), and the City of Dalton, Georgia (Dalton)….

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized the Department to issue loan guarantees for projects that avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse gases and employ new or significantly-improved technologies as compared to technologies in service in the United States at the time the guarantee is issued.  The nuclear facility is eligible for loan guarantees since it is expected to avoid nearly 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is the equivalent of removing more than two million vehicles from the roads. In addition, the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor has incorporated numerous innovations resulting in significant operational and safety improvements.

Currently, the Department’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) supports a large, diverse portfolio of more than $30 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and commitments, supporting more than 30 closed and committed projects. The projects that LPO has supported include one of the world’s largest wind farms; several of the world’s largest solar generation and thermal energy storage systems; and more than a dozen new or retooled auto manufacturing plants across the country.

Sec. Moniz to Georgia, Energy Department Scheduled to Close on Loan Guarantees to Construct New Nuclear Power Plant Reactors, Press Release, US Energy Department, Feb. 19, 2014.