Tag Archives: nuclear energy United States

Resurgent Not: nuclear power

Relic of the past.

Westinghouse founded in 1886 is the company that brought electricity to the masses.  Its AP1000 pressurised water reactor was supposed to make nuclear plants simpler and cheaper to build, helping to jump-start projects in America and around the world.  But those nuclear ambitions have gone awry. On March 29th the firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in New York. Its troubles have been a running sore at Toshiba, its Japanese parent, a headache for its creditors, and the latest bad tidings for a nuclear industry beset with problems.

Toshiba was triumphant in 2006 when it paid $5.4bn for Westinghouse after a bidding war, beating out General Electric. Around the same time, Southern and SCANA, two big utilities based in Georgia and South Carolina, respectively, chose the AP1000 design for new nuclear plants.But these American projects soon faced the problems that have long plagued nuclear construction. In Westinghouse’s bankruptcy filing, the company explains a dismal chain reaction. Unexpected new safety and other requirements from American regulators caused delays and additional costs. That sparked a fight between the utilities, Westinghouse and its construction contractor, a subsidiary of Chicago Bridge & Iron (CB&I), about who should bear them. The brawl exacerbated delays…

There have been rumours that Korea Electric Power, a state-controlled utility, might take over, but Westinghouse’s steep losses may keep it away. “This has bankrupted Westinghouse,” says Mr Byrd. “Why would another firm step into that situation?”

The future for other AP1000 reactors looks bleak. A plant in China is years behind schedule. In America, the troubles in Georgia and South Carolina may bolster support for more modest nuclear projects, says Tyson Smith, a nuclear-energy expert at Winston & Strawn, a law firm. On March 15th, 2017 the country’s nuclear regulator said it would review an application for America’s first small modular nuclear reactor (SMR), from a company called NuScale, in Oregon. The SMR technology has been touted as a cheaper, easier way to build nuclear capacity. But it will have to compete with inexpensive natural gas, wind farms and solar plants. Those hoping for an American nuclear resurgence may have to wait a long time yet.

Excerpts FalloutWestinghouse files for bankruptcy, Economist, Apr. 1, 2017

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New Nuclear Plant in the US since 1996

Watts Bar nuclear reactors 1 and 2. image from wikipedia

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has the green light to operate a new East Tennessee nuclear reactor, the first operator license issued since 1996.  The TVA has finally completed the Watts Bar 2 reactor, which has been in the works for more than 40 years. Construction on the site near Spring City was suspended in 1985 but then restarted in 2007. The U.S. revised its nuclear reactor safety standards after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, and the Watts Bar 2 reactor is the first reactor to meet the new safety standards

Excerpt from Ed Arnold, Tennessee goes nuclear,Memphis Business Journal, Oct. 26, 2015

Closing Down Nuclear Plants in the United States

pilgrim nuclear plant image from US NRC

In Massachusetts, residents who live near Entergy Corporation’s Pilgrim Generating Station, worry about health and environmental threats from the spent radioactive fuel that remains at the plant once the power plant closes. And they’re not being quiet about it.  “My house is six miles across open water from the reactor,” says Mary Lampert, the director of the citizen group Pilgrim Watch. “I can see it from my house, which is real motivation to get to work on the very serious issues that threaten our communities.”  Lampert says she and her fellow activists celebrated when they heard that Entergy had decided to close the plant, but their joy was short-lived when they learned about the continued presence of radioactive waste….because no state wants to be a permanent repository,” Lampert says.

Nonetheless, Makhijani says, while decommissioning is risky, because parts of the reactors are highly radioactive, it is less risky for the surrounding public in compared to operating an aging nuclear plant.  “There are mainly two different kinds of big risks associated with nuclear power,” Makhijani explains. “One of them we have seen dramatically in Fukushima: the operating nuclear reactor fails, has a meltdown and [there is] a massive release of radioactivity. That is the risk that goes away when you shut down the nuclear reactor and remove the fuel.”There are risks associated with removing the fuel because some of it is still very hot and needs to be cooled. A loss of coolant, for example, could lead to fires. But as the fuel gets older, it cools down significantly and these risks decline, Makhijani says. “If you thin out these pools and have dry storage, the risks to the surrounding population become quite low,” he explains.

Entergy Corporation says it has set aside nearly a billion dollars to decommission the plant and to protect public health and safety.

Excerpt, Adam Wernick, Even plans to close nuclear power plants stir controversy, PRI,  Nov. 21, 201

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.

Nuclear Waste in the United States; the harm that leaks portend

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission acted hastily in concluding that spent fuel can be stored safely at nuclear plants for the next century or so in the absence of a permanent repository, and it must consider what will happen if none are ever established, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday. (June 8, 2012, pdf)  In a unanimous opinion, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that in deciding that the fuel would be safe for many decades, the commission did not carry out an analysis of individual storage pools at reactors across the country, treating them generically instead. The commission also did not adequately analyze the risk that cooling water will leak from the pools or that the fuel will ignite, the court wrote.   The commission has relied on its conclusion that spent fuel rods can be safely stored at plants to extend the operating licenses of dozens of power reactors in recent years and to license four new ones.

The plaintiffs — four states, including New York, environmental groups and an American Indian organization — declared victory, although the precise implications were not clear. Still, it appeared that the commission would have to prepare and publicly defend an assessment that storage for many decades or even indefinitely did not entail large risks.

In the 1980s, Congress directed the Department of Energy to prepare a plan for creating a national repository at Yucca Mountain, a volcanic structure in the Nevada desert about 100 miles from Las Vegas. But that plan, decades behind schedule, was shelved in 2010 by President Obama, who had promised in his 2008 campaign to kill it if elected.  Some Republican lawmakers are now hoping to revive the idea of storage at Yucca but would face determined opposition, above all from the leader of the Senate’s Democratic majority, Harry Reid of Nevada.

“The commission apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository,” the appeals court wrote.  If the federal government “continues to fail in its quest” to find a place for spent nuclear fuel, then the material “will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis,” the court said, and the commission will have to size up the environmental risks of this.  Failing to establish a repository is “a possibility that cannot be ignored,” the judges said……

Opponents of nuclear power have long cited the lack of a firm plan for a waste burial place in opposing license extensions for reactors. In the meantime, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan last year have sharpened a debate about how the fuel is stored now.  Most of it is kept in deep pools made of steel-reinforced concrete and lined with stainless steel, in water that is monitored and filtered. At most plants those pools have been packed full, and some older fuel has been moved into dry casks.Such casks have survived floods and earthquakes without apparent damage, and some experts have called for thinning out the pools and filling up more casks. The commission has said that either method is acceptable.  The fear is that if a pool leaked or if cooling failed and the pool boiled dry, the fuel could catch fire, although many experts doubt this is possible.

In its ruling on Friday, the court said the commission had reached its conclusions by examining past leaks. But that history “tells us very little about the potential for future leaks or the harm such leaks might portend,” it wrote.

Excerpts, MATTHEW L. WALD, Court Forces a Rethinking of Nuclear Fuel Storage,New York Times, June 8, 2012

Litigating the Future of Nuclear Energy: United States

Until this past February 2012, the last time new nuclear power construction was approved in the United States was in 1978. But when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved two proposed nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Georgia, on February 9 in a four to one vote, it took less than a week for the legal action to begin.  Nine environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on February 16. The concerns at the heart of their challenge – safety issues and the Fukushima disaster – were similar to those of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, the sole dissenter in the commission’s vote.  Jaczko argued that Southern Company, whose company Southern Nuclear operates the Vogtle plant, had not proved it would take steps necessary to ensure the reactors could withstand an earthquake like the one that occurred in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011.  “I simply cannot authorise issuance of these licenses without any binding obligation that these plants will have implemented the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before they operate,” he wrote.

The groups are “working to challenge the NRC’s approval of the reactors because they fail to take into account public comments received by the agency concerning the proposed reactors’ security risks, following the Fukushima disaster”, Sara Barczak, a program director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the groups who filed the lawsuit, told IPS.  The other groups include the Blue Ridge Environmental Defence League, Centre for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South and North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network.  The Turner Environmental Clinic at Emory University Law School has been assisting with much of the legal work on the case.

A related legal challenge regarding the AP1000 reactor design by Westinghouse Electric Company, which would be used in the new Vogtle reactors, argued that the approval of the reactor design also failed to take into account the Fukushima disaster.  Those two challenges have been consolidated into one, and the groups recently filed a motion to stay further construction of the new reactors at Vogtle, which they hope will be heard within a month or so.  “We still have concerns about the ability of that reactor design to deal with seismic issues such as earthquakes….The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that any agency has to recalibrate and reissue an Environmental Impact Statement considering the information,” Barczak said.  “They would have had to do reassessments of doses to the public, reevaluating doses to site workers and the community, the evacuation plan, how the operator would handle a multi-unit meltdown,” she explained. “It would be a fairly substantial review.”…

Excerpt, Matthew Cardinale, Legal Challenges Counter Plans for New Nuclear Reactors, IPS, April 14