Despite protests around the world, the Cassini space probe—containing more deadly plutonium than had ever been used on a space device—was launched 20 years ago. And this past weekend—on Earth Day—the probe and its plutonium were sent crashing into Saturn.
The $3.27 billion mission constituted a huge risk. Cassini with its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel was launched on a Titan IV rocket on October 17, 1997 despite several Titan IV rockets having earlier blown up on launch.
At a demonstration two weeks before in front of the fence surrounding the pad at Cape Canaveral from which Cassini was to be launched, Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, warned of widespread regional damage if this Titan IV lofting Cassini exploded on launch. Winds could carry the plutonium “into Disney World, University City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of central Florida,” he declared.
Four months before, at an earlier demonstration at the same site, Allan Kohn, a NASA career official from 1964 to 1994 who had been the emergency preparedness officer at the Kennedy Space Center, noted that “we were told by NASA that the odds against the Cassini blowing up and releasing radiation [are] 1,500 to one. These are pretty poor odds. You bet the lottery and the odds against you are one in 14 million.” As to NASA’s claim that the plutonium system was “indestructible,” he said it is “indestructible just like the Titanic was unsinkable….It’s time to put a stop to their freedom to threaten the lives of people here on Earth.”
And, indeed, on an Earth “flyby” by Cassini , done on August 18, 1999, it wouldn’t have been a regional disaster but a global catastrophe if an accident happened.
Cassini didn’t have the propulsion power to get directly from Earth to its final destination of Saturn, so NASA figured on having it hurtle back to Earth in a “sling shot maneuver” or “flyby”—to use Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity so it could reach Saturn. The plutonium was only used to generate electricity—745 watts—to run the probe’s instruments. It had nothing to do with propulsion.
So NASA had Cassini come hurtling back at Earth at 42,300 miles per hour and skim over the Earth’s atmosphere at 727 miles high. If there were a rocket misfire or miscalculation and the probe made what NASA in its “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission” called an “inadvertent reentry,” it could have fallen into Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating, and releasing plutonium. Then, said NASA in its statement, “Approximately 7 to 8 billion world population at a time … could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”
The worst accident involving space nuclear power occurred in 1964 when a satellite powered by a SNAP-9A plutonium system failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, breaking apart and releasing its 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel, which dispersed all over the planet. According to the late Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, that accident contributed substantially to global lung cancer rates.
In her book, Nuclear Madness, Dr. Helen Caldicott, president emeritus of Physicians for Social Responsibility, writes about plutonium: “Named after the god of the underworld, it is so toxic that less than one-millionth of a gram, an invisible particle, is a carcinogenic dose. One pound, if uniformly distributed, could hypothetically induce lung cancer in every person on Earth.”
Moreover, the Plutonium-238 used in space devices is 280 times more radioactive than the Plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons.
Cassini finally reached Saturn and took excellent pictures and provided scientific information about Saturn, its rings, and moons including Enceladus and Titan.
NASA sent it crashing into Saturn on April 22, 2017 “to make sure Cassini is incinerated at the end of its journey to ensure that any of its earthborn microbes do not contaminate the biotic or prebiotic worlds out there,” wrote Dennis Overbye in his front-page story in The New York Times on April 22. (The article didn’t mention plutonium at all.)
“When I heard that NASA would be dive-bombing Cassini into Saturn with 72 pounds of deadly plutonium-238 on-board, I thought of the Army handing out smallpox laden blankets to Indians on the reservations,” comments Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, which has been in the lead in protesting NASA nuclear space missions. “NASA readily admits that ‘biotic or prebiotic’ life very possibly exists on Saturn—are they trying to kill it?”
Said Gagnon: “We are told that NASA is out searching for the origins of life in the universe but they seem to have forgotten the prime directive from Captain Kirk on Star Trek to ‘do no harm.’”
Felton Davis, an activist with the Catholic Worker movement in New York City, who participated in anti-Cassini protests through the years, said NASA “should face the environmental reality that other celestial bodies are not garbage dumps.”
After the 1964 accident involving the SNAP-9A plutonium system, NASA moved to develop solar photovoltaic panels to energize satellites, and now all are powered by solar panels—as is the International Space Station.
But NASA has insisted that it needs nuclear power for missions into space—claiming for years that it could not use anything but atomic energy beyond the orbit of Mars. However, that has been proven incorrect by NASA itself. On July 4th, Independence Day, 2016, NASA’s solar-energized space probe Juno arrived at Jupiter. Launched from Cape Canaveral on August 5, 2011, it flew nearly two billion miles to reach Jupiter, and although sunlight at Jupiter is just four percent of what it is on Earth, Juno’s solar panels were able to harvest energy.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Energy working with NASA has started up a new production facility at its Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. Other DOE labs are also to participate.
Says Gagnon of the Maine-based Global Network: “Various DOE labs are rushing back into the plutonium processing business likely to make it possible for the nuclear industry to move their deadly product off-planet in order to ensure that the mining operations envisioned on asteroids, Mars, and the Moon will be fully nuclear-powered. Not only do the DOE labs have a long history of contaminating us on Earth but imagine a series of rocket launches with toxic plutonium on board that blow up from time to time at the Kennedy Space Center. They are playing with fire and the lives of us Earthlings. The space and the nuke guys are in bed together and that is a bad combination—surely terrible news for all of us.”
“The Global Network,” said Gagnon, “remains adamantly opposed to the use of nuclear power in space.”]]>
A judge in Oklahoma has issued a temporary restraining order halts Sequoyah Fuels plans to bury radioactive waste at its plant in Gore, Oklahoma. The ruling is a victory for the Cherokee Nation and the State of Oklahoma who have argued that the waste should be removed off-site.
The Sequoyah Fuels processing facility was one of two privately-owned factories that converted yellowcake into nuclear fuel rods which were used in commercial nuclear power plants but shut down operations in 1993. The facility was constructed by Kerr-McGee in 1968 and started operations in 1970. The facility was repeatedly cited for violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission while it was operating, including an accident that killed a worker and contaminated the Arkansas River and groundwater in 1986.
In 2004 Sequoyah Fuels agreed to spend up to $3.5 million dollars to remove the wastes and dispose of them elsewhere, but Sequoyah Fuels notified the Cherokee Nation in January that instead it was planning to bury the uranium-contaminated waste that had collected in various basins, lagoons and ditches on-site instead of transporting them off-site as had previously been agreed upon. According to Sara Hill, the Cherokee Nation Secretary for Natural Resources, the 11,000 tons of material that Sequoyah Fuels wanted to bury on-site was “the most heavily contaminated material on the site.”]]>
There is a climate crisis upon us. Polar ice is melting. Sea level rise is happening. Time is running out. Emergency solutions are the only option — energy supplies that can come on fast and sustainably.
Sadly, some in the U.S. Congress would rather bury their heads in radioactive quicksand, sinking our money into nuclear energy research at national laboratories that have sought but failed to find illusory atomic answers for decades.
The House and Senate are re-introducing near identical versions of the “Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017,” which promises to throw our money down the nuclear rabbit hole rather than direct major funding to renewable energy solutions that are already addressing climate change quickly and effectively but should be supported and accelerated before it’s too late.
The Act states as its purpose “To enable civilian research and development of advanced nuclear energy technologies by private and public institutions, to expand theoretical and practical knowledge of nuclear physics, chemistry, and materials science, and for other purposes.” It passed the House last year but stalled in the Senate.
In reality, it is another futile tilt at the so-called “advanced reactor” windmill, when real windmills would actually do the job far faster, more safely and cheaply and without all the attendant risks of tinkering with radioactive materials and perpetuating a deadly waste problem into eternity.
The bill states it would authorize research, modeling and simulation of “advanced nuclear reactor concepts” that are “inherently safe.” This chimera has been chased for decades and inherent safety won’t be found in the designs the national laboratories are pushing, such as the sodium-cooled reactor, proven to be literally explosive.
So-called new generation “fast reactors” are another old idea from an old research establishment, the Argonne National Laboratory, which would be delighted to be on the receiving end of this latest transfusion. Argonne’s first attempt at a fast neutron reactor was canceled by the U.S. Congress in 1994.
A new documentary, The New Fire, (a singularly odd choice of title given the subject), celebrates the excitement of eager young scientists determined to invent the better nuclear mousetrap. But back in 1996 the National Academy of Sciences already acknowledged that the development of a reactor that could recycle its own waste would have very high costs and marginal benefits and would take hundreds of years — time we definitely do not have.
The thrill of theoretical experimentation in the laboratory may be exciting for young engineers. But they shouldn’t get our money. Nor should we hand these aspiring atomic alchemists the mandate to cure climate change. That race is already being won by renewable energy research and implementation. It is in this field where the real “innovation” lies and where Congress should be directing their mandate and funding dollars.]]>
The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.
They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.
This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents—the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.
Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.
This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90—a far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.
But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg news reported last month.
As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years—with his view of the situation.
The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.
Here is some of the information he passed on—a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.
THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM
Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that “would share information” on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.
If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, through an INPO report it is communicated to other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could “cross-reference” happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.
The reports are “coded by color,” explained the engineer. Those which are “green” involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A “yellow” report is on an occurrence “that could cause significant problems down the road.” A “red” report is the most serious and represents “a problem that could have led to a core meltdown”—and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.
The engineer said he has read more than 100 “Code Red” reports. What they reflect, he said, is that “we’ve been very, very lucky so far!”
If the general public would see these “red” reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.
But this is prevented by INPO, “created and solely funded by the nuclear industry,” thus its reports “are not covered by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and are regarded as highly secretive.” The reports should be required to be made public, said the engineer. “It’s high time the country wakes up to the dangers we undergo with nuclear power plants.”
THE NRC INSPECTION FARCE
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is supposed to be the federal agency that is the watchdog over nuclear power plants and it frequently boasts of how it has “two resident inspectors” at each nuclear power plant in the nation, he noted.
However, explained the engineer, “the NRC inspectors are not allowed to go into the plant on their own. They have to be escorted. There can be no surprise inspections. Indeed, the only inspections that can be made are those that come after the NRC inspectors “get permission from upper management at the plant.”
The inspectors “have to contact upper management and say they want to inspect an area. The word is then passed down from management that inspectors are coming—so ‘clean up’ whatever is the situation is.”
“The inspectors hands are tied,” said the engineer.
THE 60- AND NOW 80-YEAR OPERATING DELUSION
When nuclear power plants were first designed decades ago, explained the engineer, the extent of their mechanical life was established at 40 years. The engineer is highly familiar with these calculations having worked for a leading manufacturer of nuclear plants, General Electric.
The components in nuclear plants, particularly their steel parts, “have an inherent working shelf life,” said the engineer.
In determining the 40-year total operating time, the engineer said that calculated were elements that included the wear and tear of refueling cycles, emergency shutdowns and the “nuclear embrittlement from radioactivity that impacts on the nuclear reactor vessel itself including the head bolts and other related piping, and what the entire system can handle. Further, the reactor vessel is the one component in a nuclear plant that can never be replaced because it becomes so hot with radioactivity. If a reactor vessel cracks, there is no way of repairing it and any certainty of containment of radioactivity is not guaranteed.”
Thus the U.S. government limited the operating licenses it issued for all nuclear power plants to 40 years. However, in recent times the NRC has “rubber-stamped license extensions” of an additional 20 years now to more than 85 of the nuclear plants in the country—permitting them to run for 60 years. Moreover, a push is now on, led by nuclear plant owners Exelon and Dominion, to have the NRC grant license extensions of 20 additional years—to let nuclear plants run for 80 years.
Exelon, the owner of the largest number of nuclear plants in the U.S., last year announced it would ask the NRC to extend the operating licenses of its two Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania to 80 years. Dominion declared earlier that it would seek NRC approval to run its two Surry nuclear power plants in Virginia for 80 years.
“That a nuclear plant can run for 60 years or 80 years is wishful thinking,” said the engineer. “The industry has thrown out the window all the data developed about the lifetime of a nuclear plant. It would ignore the standards to benefit their wallets, for greed, with total disregard for the country’s safety.”
The engineer went on that since “Day One” of nuclear power, because of the danger of the technology, “they’ve been playing Russian roulette—putting one bullet in the chamber and hoping that it would not fire. By going to 60 years and now possibly to 80 years, “they’re putting all the bullets in every chamber—and taking out only one and pulling the trigger.”
Further, what the NRC has also been doing is not only letting nuclear plants operate longer but “uprating” them—allowing them to run “hotter and harder” to generate more electricity and ostensibly more profit. “Catastrophe is being invited,” said the engineer.
THE CARBON-FREE MYTH
A big argument of nuclear promoters in a period of global warming and climate change is that “reactors aren’t putting greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere,” noted the engineer.
But this “completely ignores” the “nuclear chain”—the cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel “and all of this is carbon intensive.” There are the greenhouse gasses discharged during the construction of the steel and formation of the concrete used in nuclear plants, transportation that is required, and in the construction of the plants themselves.
“It comes back to a net gain of zero,” said the engineer.
Meanwhile, “we have so many ways of generating electric power that are far more truly carbon-free.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The bottom line,” said the engineer, “is that radioactivity is the deadliest material which exists on the face of this planet—and we have no way of controlling it once it is out. With radioactivity, you can’t see it, smell it, touch it or hear it—and you can’t clean it up. There is nothing with which we can suck up radiation.”
Once in the atmosphere—once having been emitted from a nuclear plant through routine operation or in an accident—“that radiation is out there killing living tissue whether it be plant, animal or human life and causing illness and death.”
What about the claim by the nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power within the federal government of a “new generation” of nuclear power plants that would be safer? The only difference, said the engineer, is that it might be a “different kind of gun—but it will have the same bullets: radioactivity that kills.”
The engineer said “I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down—yesterday.”
In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point, Governor Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” There are more of them. Nuclear power overall remains, as the experienced engineer from the nuclear industry said, a “ticking time bomb.”
And every nuclear power plant needs to be shut down.]]>
I am focusing this brief article on our visit to the central hall of the Unit 2 reactor and would like to share this video that I captured during our visit that has been narrated by my friend Carl Willis, a nuclear engineer from New Mexico.
The video begins as we are walking through the deaerator corridor, also known as the golden corridor, which is used by workers to access the control rooms, dosimetry, etc, and includes an interesting experience we had riding an old elevator.
The Unit 2 reactor is an RBMK reactor, very similar to the Unit 4 reactor that was destroyed in 1986. The Unit 2 reactor continued operating until a fire in the turbine building damaged critical safety equipment in 1991.
The reactor hall looms above the operating floor and contains a massive fuel handling machine that is used to transport fuel assemblies.
The RBMK reactor was designed to allow operators to swap out three to five fuel assemblies per day, while the reactor was operating, unlike US reactor designs which requires the reactor to be shut down for refueling. This also means that the Central Hall is a sort of radioactive hot cell during these refueling operations.
The RBMK reactor design incorporates over 1,700 fuel channels, each is individually pressurized, meaning each channel is its own kind of reactor.
In the spent fuel pools the power plant is storing stringers which were used to raise and lower components in and out of the reactor. Some of the stringers had localized surface contamination on them from being in the reactor during operation. The exposure rates near the surface of one of the stringers was around 2 roentgen per hour, but were barely detectable from more than a few feet away.
To put the measurements in perspective, normal background radiation rates in most of Ukraine are between 6-12 uR/hr (microroentgen). There are 1,000,000 microroentgen in a roentgen, but this is a localized surface contamination, not ambient exposure levels in the general area.
One of my favorite photos from Unit 2 is through the portal where operators could view fuel handling operations.
All of the reactor fuel has been removed from the reactor and the spent fuel pools and placed in the ISF-1 common storage facility until the ISF-2 facility is constructed and the assemblies can be placed in dry casks for storage.
The hot word in the uranium mining market is “staying power”, as in who will have the staying power to survive the collapse of the uranium mining industry.
The uranium mining industry is in an awful state while trying to recover from the effect that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan had on the global nuclear industry. The simple fact is that there is a glut of uranium available and no real need to explore new deposits or mine existing ones.
The shutdown of nuclear power plants in the wake of the disaster generated a large surplus of uranium – combined with the rise of fracking and natural gas, drove uranium prices to record lows, and forced most of the few mining companies to shut down mines, lay off workers and reduce debt in a struggle just to survive. This could have long-term implications because it is expensive to shut down a uranium mining operation, and difficult to reverse.
Uranium prices before the 2008 global financial meltdown had peaked around $140 a pound in the summer of 2007. Before 2011, market prices had dropped to $70 a pound. Uranium prices continued to fall after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and in September market prices plummeted to $23.50 a pound, the lowest in over a decade (or earlier if you adjust for inflation). One of the factors in uranium price is the pace of development of the nuclear industry, namely the construction of new nuclear power plants, which has slowed dramatically. The impacts of the rise of natural gas have forced utilities operating nuclear power plants to tighten belts and cut budgets to keep reactors online. When these efforts fail, the plant either shuts down or the state steps in and provides a bailout.
Fuel for nuclear reactors generally takes 18-24 months to process from the time it is mined before it is ready to use to generate power. Nuclear power plants usually purchase enough fuel to provide an inventory capable of supplying a reactor for 5-7 years. When reactors around the world shut down as the disaster in Japan unfurled, utilities saw the market was being flooded with excess fuel, that these surplus reserves would persist for years, and reduced their purchasing arrangements accordingly. This was a critical blow to the uranium mining industry, because it reduced the demand for uranium mining while utilities lived off of accumulating stockpiles.
In April, 2016, the Canadian uranium mining company Cameco shut down mining operations at the Rabbit Lake Mine, the longest-operating uranium mine in North America, after acknowledging that they couldn’t cover operating and capital costs required to keep the mine open. At an industry conference, head of Cameco marketing Tim Gabruch pointed out “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Molyneuz, chief executive of an Australian uranium mining company named Paladin Energy, said, “It has never been a worse time for uranium miners…At the moment, nobody feels the need to buy and the price is lower every day”.
Uranium mining companies are hoping that the demand for uranium and the uranium market recovers in the next 5 to 10 years. Many market traders are looking towards new nuclear construction in China to promote uranium stocks, but China has made its own plans to supply its own uranium from mines in Africa.
Larry Cantwell, the supervisor of East Hampton on Long Island, N.Y., sat back the other day with satisfaction about the town’s plan to have 100% of its electricity come from renewable energy—safe, clean, green power—by 2020.
That’s just four years away!
In 2014, East Hampton became the first municipality on the East Coast to adopt a 100% renewable energy goal. Other governments in the U.S.—among them cities such as San Francisco—have done the same, as have nations around the globe. And, it’s something that can be done all over the world.
On Long Island, going to green energy is especially meaningful because seven to eleven nuclear power plants were planned for it in the 1960s and 70s. In the parlance of nuclear promoters at the time, Long Island was to become a “nuclear park.”
One nuclear plant was completed, Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1, but it was stopped from going into commercial operation and subsequently abandoned in the face of grassroots public opposition and actions by local and New York State governments.
When his town board in 2014 adopted—unanimously—a resolution to have all the town’s electricity come from renewable sources, Mr. Cantwell said: “Making the switch to clean energy is just the right thing to do, both for the environment and for keeping more money in the local economy and creating jobs here.”
At East Hampton Town Hall recently he commented: “We’re doing it!”
East Hampton is to meet its 100% renewable energy goal through solar energy, from panels on town-owned land and rooftops, and from wind energy from off-shore wind turbines like those Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind is now completing east of the town in the ocean near Block Island.
In areas around the nation and world, there would be different mixes for implementing 100% renewable energy. The mix depends on energy resources, although solar power runs through all green-energy menus.
An energy revolution is underway.
“The World Can Transition to 100% Clean, Renewable Energy,” declares the website of The Solutions Project headquartered California. “Together ,” it continues, “we can build a stronger economy, healthier families, and a more secure future. 100% clean is 100% possible. Join us.” The website is full of information on 100% renewable energy programs happening. Among the articles: “139 Countries Could Be 100% Renewable by 2050.” The Solutions Project, supported by leading U.S. foundations including the Park Foundation, last month launched “The Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program for community-based groups on the front lines of the fight for clean energy and climate justice.”
And a fight is occurring. “Holding Clean Energy Hostage,” was the title of an article last month by Cathy Kunkel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and M.V. Ramana of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University in the journal Reason in Revolt. Companies tied to “traditional” energy—coal, oil, gas and nuclear—seek to block “renewable energy every step of the way.”
The sun does not send a bill. Neither does the wind. Once the infrastructure for renewable energy is built, energy flows—freely. And this threatens the old power order.
But there are new companies—like Deepwater Wind—making huge advances in renewable energy technologies that the old order can’t put a lid on.
For example, a new firm, Insolight, has just announced development of solar photovoltaic panels with 36% efficiency. The most advanced solar panels for use in space have 25% efficiency. Several years ago the efficiency of solar panels was measured in single digits. Now most are 18% to 20%, and the SunPower company last year began producing panels with 24% “world record” efficiency. With 36% efficiency, less space for panels is needed. Meanwhile, the price of solar panels has gone down dramatically.
Regarding wind, the United Kingdom recently gave the go-ahead for what’s to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm. This August 7, Scottish wind turbines generated “the total amount of electricity used by every home and business” in Scotland, reported the U.K. newspaper The Independent.
There are big advances in energy storage—to end criticism of renewable energy being intermittent. “Holy Grail of Energy Policy in Sight as Battery Technology Smashes the Old Order,” was the headline last month in another U.K. newspaper The Telegraph.
“There’s enough wind and solar to power the world,” said Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” on CNN last month. And there are other renewable sources including those involving water—tidal power and wave power as we see daily on Long Island, both now being tapped around the world.
East Hampton by “setting these bold renewable energy goals,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, is “a visionary leader in the fight against climate change and an example of how we can all become part of the solution.”
The round-the-world flight of the solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse, completed in July, and, back to Long Island, the boat Novela skippered by Long Island solar power pioneer Gary Minnick, arriving in Riverhead a week earlier, powered by the sun in a journey from Florida, are symbols of a the potentially bright new energy future.]]>
Panorama, the BBC investigative journalism program, released a new documentary this week on the Sellafield nuclear power plant (formerly called Windscale) in England warning that areas of the complex are dangerously rundown. The film titled “Sellafield’s Nuclear Safety Failings” was first broadcast on BBC One on September 5th.
The Sellafield facility is one of the world’s most dangerous radioactive wastes sites and is widely known as being home to some of the first nuclear reactors of the atomic age, enormous pools of mysterious radioactive sludge, leaking silos storing nuclear waste, and the potential risk of fire and explosions from gases generated by corrosion, but it also has a long secret history of safety failures, accidents, leaks, spills, scandals and cover-ups dating back to the 1950s.
Sellafield is home to four decommissioned nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, and vast amounts of nuclear waste. The Sellafield site is also the location of “the most hazardous industrial building in western Europe” (Building B30) and the second-most hazardous building (Building B38), which hold a variety of leftovers from the first Magnox plants in ageing ponds. Many of the facilities were constructed with sole consideration given to the technical challenges faced by designers, with no thought given to how they would ultimately be decommissioned.
The BBC investigation highlights safety problem after safety problem, but largely centers around claims of dangerous handling of radioactive materials, the aging and degradation of critical safety equipment, and inadequate staffing levels.
While Sellafield no longer generates electricity or reprocesses nuclear waste, it still stores nearly all of Great Britain’s nuclear waste. The facility has been described as the “most hazardous” site in all of Britain by the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office, and poses significant risks to people or the environment.
The BBC documentary investigation was initiated after testimony of a whistleblower who used to be a senior manager of the Sellafield facility. One of the greatest concerns listed by the whistleblower is that if a critical fire were to break out and reach the silos of nuclear waste stored on-site that it could generate a plume of radioactive materials that would be spread across Western Europe. Some of these silos contain pyrophoric (will ignite if exposed to air) and highly radioactive nuclear wastes including cladding and fuel elements.
The whistleblower featured in the BBC documentary says that many of the problems it identified over the course of its investigation were indeed simple and not very complex, like staffing issues. In the one year span between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 97 recorded incidents where some facilities at the side did not have adequate minimum staffing levels on shift. Staffing levels are one of the key performance indicators for Sellafield and any deviation from safe minimum staffing levels is not acceptable according to Sellafield documents.
BBC was able to acquire a report from 2013 which documents in photographs how physically rundown and degraded certain areas of the plant have become. Documents clearly illustrated how years of neglect ultimately lead to intolerable conditions in some areas of the site.
The documentary also exposed how radioactive materials were not handled or stored appropriately, because of a lack of investment of Sellafield managers in equipment that would more safely store the hazardous radioactive materials at the site. The film uncovered how thousands of plastic bottles, designed for temporary storage use, are being used for the storage of liquids containing plutonium and uranium, and the storage containers are now degrading.
Rex Strong, head of nuclear safety at Sellafield, was interviewed for the documentary. Strong commented on the storage of uranium and plutonium in plastic bottles, “The organization is now focusing on putting right some underinvestment of the past in order to support the hazard and waste reduction mission that the site has.”
David Pethick, Director of Nuclear Management Partners – a company formerly contracted to own and operate the Sellafield facility, says that the infrastructure that was in place at Sellafield when they arrived to manage the facility was “very poor”.
In the film, Jack Devine, former Chief Decommissioning Officer at Sellafield cautions the viewer that at Sellafield we are in a race against a ticking clock, and at some time that clock will run out and be a problem.
The documentary has been criticized by current operators of the Sellafield complex who claim they have made investments over recent years to make the facility safer in response to pressure applied on them by nuclear safety regulators.
According to recent estimates, it will take over $216.4 billion USD and at least a 100 years to decontaminate and decommission the Sellafield complex.]]>
The PWR reactor at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska will shut down for good on October 24th, 2016. The reactor first went online in September, 1973 and was the smallest nuclear reactor in the United States in terms of power generation (476 MW). The Nuclear Regulatory Commission received a letter from Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) that notified them of the utilities decision to decommission the lone reactor at the power plant.
In June, the OPPD announced that it had reached a decision to shut down the plant, but an exact date had not been announced. The utility estimated that it would save $1 billion over the next 20 years if it decommissioned the power plant.
The plant was the focus of international concern after the Missouri River flooded and surrounded the facility with rising water. The reactor was forced to remain offline for nearly three years while OPPD responded to a wide range of deficiencies identified in inspections by the NRC after the flooding event.]]>
The New York State Public Service Commission—in the face of strong opposition—this week approved a $7.6 billion bail-out of aging nuclear power plants in upstate New York which their owners have said are uneconomic to run without government support.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—who appoints the members of the PSC—has called for the continued operation of the nuclear plants in order to, he says, save jobs at them. The bail-out would be part of a “Clean Energy Standard” advanced by Cuomo. Under it, 50 percent of electricity used in New York by 2030 would come from “clean and renewable energy sources”—with nuclear power considered clean and renewable.
“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk County, Long Island at a recent hearing on the plan.
“Without these subsidies, nuclear plants cannot compete with renewable energy and will close. But under the guise of ‘clean energy,’ the nuclear industry is about to get its hands on our money in order to save its own profits, at the expense of public health and safety,” declared a statement by Jessica Azulay, program director of Alliance for a Green Economy, based in upstate Syracuse with a chapter in New York City. Moreover, she emphasized, “Every dollar spent on nuclear subsidies is a dollar out of the pocket of New York’s electricity consumers—residents, businesses and municipalities” that should “instead” go towards backing “energy efficiency, renewable energy and a transition to a clean energy economy.”
The “Clean Energy Standard” earmarks twice as much money for the nuclear power subsidy than it does for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
Its claim is that nuclear power is comparable because nuclear plants don’t emit carbon or greenhouse gasses—the key nuclear industry argument for nuclear plants nationally and worldwide these days because of climate change. What the industry does not mention, however, is that the “nuclear cycle” or “nuclear chain”—the full nuclear system—is a major contributor to carbon emissions. Numerous statements sent to the New York PSC on the plan pointed to this.
“Nuclear is NOT emission-free!” Manna Jo Greene, environmental director of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, wrote the PSC. The claim of nuclear power having ‘zero-emission attributes’ ignores emissions generated in mining, milling, enriching, transporting and storing nuclear fuel.” Further, “New York no longer needs nuclear power in its energy portfolio, now or in the future. Ten years ago the transition to a renewable energy economy was still a future possibility. Today it is well underway.”
“Nuclear power is not carbon-free,” wrote Michel Lee, head of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy based in Scarsdale. “If one stage,” reactors operation itself, “produces minimal carbon…every other stage produces prodigious amounts.” Thus the nuclear “industry is a big climate change polluter…Nuclear power is actually a chain of highly energy-intensive industrial processes which—combined—consume large amounts of fossil fuels and generate potent warming gasses. These include: uranium mining, milling enrichment, fuel fabrication, transport” and her list went on. “The State of New York and its energy officials have a genuine opportunity to alter the course of history. You have the chance to help direct America and the world towards a more secure and prosperous future…With vision and resolve, our state can be at the vanguard of a new global energy era.”
In opposing the New York nuclear subsidy, Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, wrote in an op-ed in Albany Times Union, the newspaper in the state’s capitol, he was “shocked” by the PSC’s “proposal that the lion’s share of the Clean Energy Standard funding would be a nuclear bail-out.” He said “allowing the upstate nuclear plants to close now and replace them with equal energy output” from offshore wind and solar power “would be cheaper and would create more jobs.” The closure of the upstate plants “would jeopardize fewer than 2,000 jobs” while a “peer-reviewed study” he has done “about converting New York State to 100 percent clean, renewable energy –which is entirely possible now—would create a net of approximately 82,000 good, long-term jobs.”
The upstate nuclear power plants to be bailed-out under the plan would be FitzPatrick, Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 and Ginna. The money would come over a 12-year period through a surcharge on electric bills paid by residential and industrial customers in New York State.
Reported Tim Knauss of the Post-Standard of Syracuse: “Industry watchers say New York would be the first state to establish nuclear subsidies based on environmental attributes, a benefit typically reserved for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The ‘zero emission credits’ would be paid to nuclear plants based on a calculation of the economic value of avoiding greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.” Cuomo “directed the PSC to create subsides for upstate reactors,” he wrote.
Reuters has reported that the nuclear “industry hopes that if New York succeeds, it could pressure other states to adopt similar subsides” for nuclear plants. The headline of the Reuters story: “New York could show the way to rescue U.S. nuclear plants.”
The two Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City are not now included in the plan but it “leaves the door open to subsidies” for them, says Azulay of Alliance for a Green Economy. This would mean “the costs [of the bail-out] will rise to over $10 billion.”
Cuomo has called for a shutdown of the Indian Point plants in the densely populated southern portion of the state, although boosting the continued operation of the nuclear plants in less populated upstate. “Nuclear has a role,” he declared at a press conference last month. “Unless we’re willing to go back to candles, which would be uncomfortable and inconvenient, we need energy generation.”
Still, the consequences of a Fukushima or Chernobyl-level accidents at the upstate plants could have major impacts. In a 1982 report, “CRAC-2,” done at Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the consequences of a meltdown with breach of containment at every nuclear power plant in the United States were estimated. These included these in upstate New York. The analysis projected “early fatalities,” “early injuries,” “cancer deaths” and “scaled costs” covering “lost wages, relocation expenses, decontamination costs, lost property, and interdiction costs for property and farmland” (in 1980 dollars). The projections for the upstate plants: for FitzPatrick (located in Scriba): 1,000 “early fatalities,” 16,000 “early injuries,” 17,000 “cancer deaths” and $103 billion in “scaled costs.” For Nine Mile Point 1 (also in Scriba) the figures were:1,400; 26,000, 20,000 and $66 billion. For Nine Mile Point 2: 1,400, 26,000, 20,000 and $134 billion. For Ginna (in Ontario, N.Y): 2,000, 28,000, 14,000 and $63 billion.]]>
This week, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will start to reconsider the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station settlement that was reached in March 2013 and left consumers on the hook instead of utility shareholders for $3.3 billion of a $4.7 billion negotiated settlement for a broken nuclear power plant that was forced to shut down after a radiation leak in January 2012. The commission itself has been under investigation since 2014 for its seemingly inappropriate relationships with the very utilities it is supposed to regulate.
Reopening the settlement allows ratepayers the opportunity to get a more fair and balanced position at the negotiating table while parties divide the costs of the failed steam generator replacement project that lead to the premature shut-down of the San Onofre reactors.
It has been discovered that the settlement that assigned ratepayers (not the utilities that owned and operated the plant) the majority of the costs for the premature shutdown, was negotiated and defined almost entirely in private communications and backroom meetings between the regulators and company officials, and not through the appropriately designed public process – which would have ensured that the public interest was being upheld.
The settlement process is designed to guarantee representatives from all stakeholder parties; regulatory agencies, the ownership organizations, and appointed representatives for the ratepayers, a seat at the negotiating table. Instead, Edison, the company that owned and operated the San Onofre nuclear power plant cooperated closely with regulators behind the scenes to subvert the public process and negotiate the terms of the settlement and strategy for dealing with the backlash from the public when the settlement would be presented.
In March 2014, Edison revealed the settlement to the public, portraying it as a $1.4 billion “rebate” for ratepayers – referencing the amount of costs that the utilities would cover for the premature closure of the plant. Consumer groups started criticizing the deal after it was learned that the ratepayers would be funding the other $3.3 billion of the $4.7 billion settlement.
Ultimately, it was the news media that uncovered the truth and laid it bare before the public. Reporters uncovered a wealth of e-mails and corporate correspondence which exposed the backchannel communications and how terms of the settlement were established.
Simply stated, Edison, a company that was supposed to be under investigation by the CPUC, was instead working covertly with the regulators that were supposed to be investigating them, to discretely negotiate a critical settlement that ultimately transferred billions of dollars of costs from the utility to the public.
One of the reasons that this corruptive behavior may have occurred was because both Edison and the CPUC shared an interest in obtaining documents from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – the company that manufactured the faulty steam generators that ultimately forced the plant to shut-down. Edison is in court with Mitsubishi, seeking $7.6 billion for the failed steam generators.
For several months, commission lawyers worked directly with Edison attorneys to draft and issue subpoenas used in the case against Mitsubishi. The more costs that could be recovered from Mitsubishi would lower the amount of costs that would ultimately have to be split between the utility and the ratepayers.
This action by the commission of working alongside the utility in the court case against Mitsubishi might have made it very difficult for the CPUC to be objective in its own investigation into Edison.
When asked, CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said that the subpoenas were sought by the commission because they contained information about who knew what and when about the project during design and manufacturing stages. Mitsubishi has claimed that the CPUC had no authority to issue subpoenas for the requested information, which may indicate why the commission was willing to work so closely with Edison to try to get the information through different legal channels.
The partnership between Edison and the CPUC was further resolved in March 2013, when Stephen Pickett, an executive from Edison, met privately in Warsaw, Poland with the then-head of CPUC, Michael Peevey, where they outlined the majority terms of the agreement in private. After this undisclosed meeting, Peevey continued to advise multiple Edison executives on legal strategies and public relations as they shut down the crippled nuclear power plant and began negotiating the settlement. None of these communications were disclosed to the public, and Edison has repeatedly claimed that they did not have to be.
After the meeting in Warsaw, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a nonprofit consumer group, was selected to represent ratepayers and negotiate the settlement. On April 10th, 2014, TURN learned of the secret meeting during interviews between Peevey and settlement negotiators, as Peevey fought for (and ultimately received), a $25 million contribution to the University of California for research on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – a term of the settlement that was agreed upon during the private negotiations in Poland.
Instead of alerting the public of the private meeting and corruption of the settlement process, the group which was supposed to be representing ratepayer’s interests never spoke out about the backdoor communications and instead agreed to the pre-designed settlement and passed the bulk of the costs on to the ratepayers. TURN would later claim that since they didn’t have any documented evidence about the misconduct they decided not to say anything in the event that Peevey denied their claims and they had no evidence to defend their claims other than his testimony in negotiations. However, just because they didn’t have all of the evidence, doesn’t excuse the fact that they didn’t even try to sound the alarm of potential corruption of the settlement process.
After the agreement was approved by TURN, the CPUC approved the settlement on November 20th, 2014, while dismissing allegations brought to the Commission of collusion and corruption as being unsubstantiated misstatements which lacked foundation.
During the settlement process, the public was repeatedly reassured that there was no collusion or backdoor agreements being hammered out between the utility and the CPUC. When the settlement was reached, and nearly three-quarters of the bill was passed on to consumers, the public was told that it was a fair and balanced deal. It was only after the San Diego Union-Tribune published notes referencing the Poland meeting in 2015 that Edison acknowledged that the meeting had in fact taken place. The discovery outraged politicians, regulators, and the public.
The State of California launched a state criminal investigation into the settlement between CPUC claiming that improper meetings were held and outlining a conspiracy to keep those meetings secret and not report them.
Investigators from the Attorney General’s Office served a search warrant to California Public Utilities Commission headquarters and left with loads of computers, files and other records.
Two months later, investigators went to CPUC President Peevey’s home and discovered the notes outlining the framework for the settlement that was established by the private meeting in Warsaw.
“The facts indicate that Peevey conspired to obstruct justice by illegally engaging in ex parte communications, concealed ex parte communications, and inappropriately interfered with the settlement process on behalf of California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA,” a court document filed by the State says. “Peevey executed this plan through back channel communications and exertion of pressure, in violation of CPUC ex parte rules, and in obstruction of the due administration of laws.”
Peevey would ultimately step down from his position in 2015, but this decision was influenced because he was facing other allegations of improper conduct – this time related to dealings with Pacific Gas & electric after a gas line explosion in 2010.
The CPUC would hire a crack legal defense team to attempt to stave off the State investigation, a very rare thing for a regulatory agency to do.
Meanwhile, Edison still stands by the original 2014 deal that was designed during the secret meeting in Warsaw. “SCE continues to believe the SONGS settlement remains in the public interest,” the statement released by the utility said.
In 2015, TURN repudiated the very settlement it negotiated and called on the CPUC to reopen the agreement for review. Apparently ignoring their own role in approving the original settlement, TURN attorney Matthew Freedman said “TURN looks forward to the opportunity to fight for better results for consumers and to force the shareholders of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to assume a greater share of the costs of the debacle at San Onofre”.
The Attorney General’s criminal investigation into the settlement continues, and now CPUC will conduct its own investigation, but there are no easy answers how to restore lost credibility and public confidence in the ability of utility regulators to uphold the public interest.
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
Source: Utility Dive
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]]>
NASA had maintained that to provide on-board power and heat on spacecraft in deep space, plutonium-powered systems were requireddespite the disaster if there were an accident on launch or in a fall back to Earth and the plutonium was released. I broke the story 30 years ago about how the next mission of NASA’s ill-fated Challenger shuttle was to involve lofting a plutonium-powered space probe and I have been reporting in articles, books and on television on the nuclear-in-space issue ever since.
If the Challenger accident did not happen in January 1986 but the shuttle exploded on its next scheduled mission, in May 1986, with the plutonium-powered space probe in its cargo bay, the impacts could have been enormous. Plutonium is the most lethal of all radioactive substances.
Still, when NASA re-scheduled the two plutonium-powered missions it had planned for 1986one the Galileo mission to Jupiterit not only publicly declared that plutonium systems to provide on-board power for space probes in deep space were necessary but swore to that in court.
Opponents of the Galileo mission brought suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. in 1989 seeking to stop the nuclear-energized Galileo shot because of its public health danger in the event of an accident, and they pressed NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the availability of a safe energy alternative. NASA and DOE officials swore that only nuclear power would do that far out in space, that solar energy could not be harvested beyond the orbit of Mars.
And now comes NASA’s own Juno spacecraft energized by solar energy functioning in deep space. Indeed, NASA acknowledges, “This is the first time in history a spacecraft is using solar power so far out in space.”
Says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space: “All during out campaigns to oppose NASA plutonium launches during 1989, 1990 and 1997”when NASA launched its Cassini space probe with the most plutonium NASA ever used in a power system on a spacecraft“the space agency maintained in court and in the media that solar would not work as an on-board power source in deep space. Then, in part because of grassroots pressure from around the planet, NASA decided to use solar on the deep space Juno mission.”
“To this day,” Gagnon went on last week, “NASA still maintains that it must use deadly nuclear devices on some of its space missionsfurther evidence that the nuclear industry maintains a stranglehold on the space agency. The nuclear industry mistakenly views space as a new market for its toxic product that so many have rejected back here on Earth.”
Gagnon added: “We will continue to organize to stop the nuclearization of spaceand we will use NASA’s own Juno mission as evidence that the bad seed of nuclear power is not essential for space exploration.”
The Global Network — established in 1992, is based in Maine.
Juno is not a minor space mission. As NASA states on its Juno mission web page— “The primary scientific goal of the Juno mission is to significantly improve our understanding of the formation, evolution and structure of Jupiter. Concealed beneath a dense cover of clouds, Jupiter, the archetypical ‘Giant Planet,’ safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes underlying the early formation of our solar system. Present theories of the origin and early evolution of our solar system are currently at an impasse. Juno will provide answers to critical science questions about Jupiter, as well as key information that will dramatically enhance present theories about the early formation of our own solar system.”
Juno will, as of Monday, have flown nearly 2 billion miles to reach Jupiter. It was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 5, 2011. It did a “slingshot maneuver” or “flyby” of Earth in October 2013 to increase its velocity. It has been flying at 60,000 miles per hour. It will orbit Jupiter more than 30 times doing scientific observations.
And although sunlight at Jupiter is just four percent of what it is on Earth, Juno’s solar panels, manufactured by Spectrolab, a division of Boeing, will be able to continue to harvest solar energy. Its passes will include bringing it closer to Jupiter than any mission before.
On its current “Where is Juno?” page, NASA reports: “The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health and is operating nominally.”
The solar energy on 66-foot wide Juno is being generated by three large solar panels. They convert sunlight to electricity at a 28 percent efficiency rate. That’s a little over the 25 percent efficiency rate of the better photovoltaic rooftop panels now being widely used for electric power on Earth. The cost of the mission is $1.1 billion.
Says NASA on its website: “To answer our fundamental questions about origins we especially need to know Jupiter’s internal structure and global water abundance. Juno will map the internal structure by studying its influence on the planet’s gravitational field with unprecedented accuracy. The water abundance will be determined by microwave radiometers that will detect thermal radiation from deep atmospheric layers, a completely new approach. Water ice brought most of the heavy elements to Jupiter. Knowing the water abundance will tell us the original form of that ice and hence help define the conditions and processes in the original cloud of dust and gas that led to the origin of Jupiter. Those same conditions and processes were forming other planets too. Because this enormous planet contains most of the water in the solar system we can expect this investigation to help us understand the origin of the life-giving water on Earth.”
At the end of its mission NASA will send Juno diving into Jupiter and it will burn up.
“NASA going green with solar-powered Jupiter probe,” was the headline of an Associated Press article in USA Today in 2011. “NASA’s upcoming mission to Jupiter can’t get much greener than this: a solar-powered, windmill-shaped spacecraft,” the story began.
But it wasn’t as if solar on Juno was NASA’s first choice. The Associated Press piece described Scott Bolton, the principal investigator for the mission for the Southwest Research Institute, a NASA contractor, as maintaining “the choice of solar was a practical one…No plutonium-powered generators were available to him and his San Antonio-based team…so they opted for solar panels rather than develop a new nuclear source.” The article quoted Bolton as saying: “It’s nice to be green, but it wasn’t because we were afraid of plutonium.”
As bullish as NASA has been in using nuclear power on space probes, once it was as insistent in utilizing atomic energy to power space satellites, too. Then, in 1964, a satellite with a SNAP-9A plutonium system on board failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell, its plutonium fuel dispersing all over the Earth.
Long linking the SNAP-9A accident to an increase in lung cancer on Earth was the late Dr. John Gofman, an M.D. and Ph.D., discover of several radioactive isotopes who did extensive experiments with plutonium for the Manhattan Project, and was associate director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
With the SNAP-9A accident, NASA switched to using solar energy on satellites. Now all satellitesand the International Space Stationare solar powered.
“A Juno success would be a good sign for future solar-powered missions of all types,” stated the Associated Press “NASA going green with solar-powered Jupiter probe” article.
Unfortunately, if NASA and the DOE have their way, rational energy decision-making won’t necessarily follow a Juno success. “The United States has begun manufacturing nuclear spacecraft fuel for the first time in a generation,” reported SpaceNews last month. SpaceNews said the Department of Energy is having its Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory join together to produce plutonium for NASA space missions. Some plutonium has been produced although “full production of the stuff is still seven years or so away,” it said.
In space as on Earth, solar power works.
But, says Gagnon, “Just like here on Earth there is a tug-of-war going on between those who wish to promote life-giving solar power and those who want nukes. That same battle for nuclear domination is being taken into the heavens by an industry that wants more profitno matter the consequences. The Global Network will continue to organize around the space nuclear power issue by building a global constituency opposed to the risky and unnecessary nukes in space program.”
With solar-energized Juno’s arrival at Jupiter, this Independence Day should mark a blow for independence from dangerous nuclear power above our heads in space.]]>
This week, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the operators of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, agreed to a breakthrough deal which established the terms necessary to shut down the last two operating commercial nuclear reactors in the state by 2024 and 2025 and replace their power generation with renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. The deal, included an agreement from PG&E to not seek a license renewal which would allow the reactors to operate for an additional 20 years.
The nuclear power plant was constructed on a seaside cliff 85 feet above the Pacific Ocean in an active seismic zone on the coast of California; near the San Andreas fault, the San Luis Bay Fault, less than a mile from the Shoreline fault line, and less than three miles from the Hosgri fault. After the earthquake in tsunami in Japan, more critical attention was paid to the ability of the facility to withstand damage from earthquakes in the area, and the utility was forced to conduct additional seismic studies. The plant was also being forced to reassess its use of ocean water for cooling, many residents and officials in the state wanted the utility to construct cooling towers instead of using ocean water.
Despite the fact that nuclear energy has always been touted as “too cheap to meter”, economic hurdles have been plaguing the nuclear industry since its conception, forcing it by necessity to be reliant on enormous subsidies by the federal government. As the fleet of nuclear reactors in the United States continues to age, the cost of upkeep and operation continues to grow – in contrast the prices of renewable energies have been falling with no signs of changing in the future. By accepting this agreement, PG&E has admitted that nuclear energy cannot compete against the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency in modern markets.
The safer and more reliable energy grid America needs in the future will not rely on centralized power stations – it will feature and benefit from community-based distributed power generation that will make it not only more robust and cost-effective for the consumer. Such a grid will be able to better handle the demands of supplying power to hundreds of millions of residents, will be able to better mitigate the effects of damage and power loads, and the innovations being made in the field of energy storage will revolutionize the way that people view and use energy. The State of California has already realized this, and established goals to obtain over 50% of its energy from renewables and non-fossil fuel sources (including energy efficiency and energy storage) within the next 15 years. In California, the people who will benefit the most from the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plants and the increased focus on energy efficiency and distributed power generation are the very residents who purchase their power from PG&E.]]>
PSEG, a Newark, New Jersey-based utility—long deeply involved in nuclear power—was foisted on Long Island, New York to be THE utility on the island by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In 1985, a Long Island Power Authority or LIPA was created and was key to stopping plans by the island’s utility at the time, the Long Island Lighting Company, to open its Shoreham nuclear power plant and go on and build 7 to 11 nuclear plants on Long Island. The notion, in the parlance of nuclear promoters then, was to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park.”
At the start of the push for nuclear power in the U.S., the federal government, manipulated by these promoters, preempted states and localities on most issues involving atomic energy. But on Long Island it was realized that New York State could create a public power entity and use the power of eminent domain to threaten LILCO’s corporate existence if it persisted with Shoreham and its other nuclear projects. Eminent domain is the centuries-old right governments have to expropriate private property as long as they pay compensation.
The Long Island Power Act of 1985 established LIPA with the power to acquire LILCO’s assets or its then undervalued stock.
Moreover, LIPA would be modeled after the Sacramento Municipal Utility District or SMUD, a public power entity with elected trustees that for decades has democratically determined the energy future of its 900-square mile service area in northern California.
With the strong support of Andrew Cuomo’s father and predecessor as governor, Mario Cuomo, LIPA was able to stop Shoreham and LILCO’s other proposed nuclear plants. LILCO turned over the completed Shoreham plant to LIPA for $1 for decommissioning as a nuclear facility. The plant had undergone trouble-riddled bouts of low-power testing. Long Island became nuclear power plant-free. And LIPA became Long Island’s utility. LILCO faded from the scene.
But Mario Cuomo promptly undermined Long Island having a democratically-run public power entity like SMUD. He suspended, soon after LIPA’s establishment, having its trustees elected—although that was central to the LIPA vision. Instead, he arranged for them to be appointed by the governor, State Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader.
Andrew Cuomo has been highly critical of LIPA in his years as governor and in 2013 he decimated LIPA in favor of having PSEG come to Long Island and take over most of LIPA’s functions.
Cuomo was able to get a majority of state lawmakers from Long Island to vote for what he claimed would be LIPA “reform” by permitting video slot casinos being set up on the island. The selling point was that they would provide revenue for financially-troubled Nassau and Suffolk County governments and their bankrupt Off-Track Betting operations, both political patronage troughs. This ploy turned out to be a big misstep in itself with now years of public opposition on Long Island to the proposed casinos.
Meanwhile, PSEG has had a very sorry record as THE Long Island utility.
This bad record is continuing with intensity.
Last month, for example, PSEG took a blow at solar energy on the island asking the state Public Service Commission to “minimize” and “later eliminate” benefits received by homeowners and business owners utilizing solar energy. PSEG wants to hike the charge to solar customers for being connected to the grid and reduce what they get for sending electricity into it.
“We should encourage homeowners and business owners to invest in rooftop solar systems—but PSEG wants to penalize them,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. ‘This runs counter to the idea of getting more renewable energy into the grid and of the New York State energy plan which seeks to get half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”
Meanwhile, PSEG is pushing ahead with its plan to install taller and wider utility poles throughout Long Island with their bottoms coated with pentachlorophenol or penta—a cancer-causing substance banned by nations around the world.
A battle has been underway against this PSEG program in the island’s Town of East Hampton which has included public protests and a lawsuit brought by Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy and individual citizens. New York State Supreme Court Justice Andrew G. Tarantino, Jr. recently refused PSEG’s motion to dismiss the case. Irving Like, a noted environmental lawyer from Babylon, Long Island—author of the Conservation Bill of Rights in the New York State Constitution—represents the plaintiffs. The want to get PSEG to bury the electric lines—something that should be done all over the island rather than stick poles with a cancer-causing substance on them into the ground, just above the island’s sole-source water table, to hold lines that are vulnerable in hurricanes and other big storms.
PSEG, a private utility, is at the same time insisting that it’s not subject to local zoning and other laws. That’s been challenged by East Hampton in connection with PSEG’s activities at its substation in the town’s hamlet of Amagansett. New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan recently ruled in favor of PSEG, a decision the town is appealing.
“Outrageous!” says East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell about PSEG’s position. “PSEG demands a blank check to do what it wishes without local approval.” PSEG in his town “took a substation, did construction, put up barbed wire fences without screening—it resembles a nuclear plant site.”
And regarding nuclear power, a fundamental focus of LIPA was to lead in bringing safe, clean, renewable—and not nuclear—energy to Long Island. This was in keeping with its formation being instrumental in stopping LILCO’s plan to build many nuclear power plants on the island with Shoreham the first.
Another U.S. utility that’s been as bullish on nuclear power—and still is: PSEG.
In the 1970s, PSEG embarked on a plan to build a line of “floating” nuclear power plants in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey with the last just south of Long Island. Millions were spent before this scheme was jettisoned.
But PSEG recently received an “early permit” from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add a third nuclear power plant to its two-nuclear plant Salem nuclear power complex—along the New Jersey coast some 125 miles southwest of Long Island.
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, Long Island, who fought the Cuomo LIPA/PSEG deal, has vowed to continue to work on “true reform” of LIPA by returning it to the vision of being a democratically-run public utility. He says: “I have grave concerns about PSEG.”
Last week, Thiele and New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson on Long Island introduced the LIPA Ratepayer Protection Act. Under it, LIPA trustees would be elected “by the people of Long Island from eight districts of equal population,” says the measure.
Also last week, there was a public hearing on Long Island—one of a series being held through New York State—on the state plan to have 50 percent of the electricity used in New York in 2030 come from renewable power.
Praising the state for making “renewable energy a priority,” Janet Van Sickle of Montauk declared before a panel from the New York State Department of Public Service, “We owe our children and our grandchildren a sustainable future.”
Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island testified that the state plan is a “huge step forward and a right step forward.” He, like other speakers, emphasized, too, the importance of off-shore wind energy in enabling Long Island to reach the goal of half of its electricity coming from renewable sources. Raacke said “we have a tremendous and abundant resource” in offshore wind. “We need to tap into that resource.”
“I love the ocean,” said Julie Burmeister of Bridgehampton of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and Southampton Town Sustainability Committee. And winds blowing out in the ocean are, she said, “the solution” to energy needs on Long Island, a 120-mile island east of New York City sitting in the sea. Its Nassau and Suffolk Counties have a combined population of 3 million.
Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, noted that his company, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, is now “completing” off Block Island, Rhode Island, east of Long Island, the first U.S. offshore wind farm. And, he continued, it is readying a project for an even larger wind farm southeast of Long Island. He said offshore wind “holds a very unique potential” for Long Island In the face of “population density” on shore. He also said offshore wind “solves” the island’s energy issue. Moreover, Deepwater Wind’s turbines are “over the horizon and out of sight.”
What the state is calling a “50 by 30” plan, advanced by Andrew Cuomo, is formally titled a “Clean Energy Standard.” As the Department of Public Service explained in a statement: “Governor Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission to design and enact a new Clean Energy Standard mandating that 50 percent of all electricity consumed in New York by 2030 come from clean and renewable energy sources.” However, the next line in the statement is: “The proposed Clean Energy mandate also includes a proposal to support emissions-free upstate nuclear power.” That component of the state plan drew strong criticism at the public hearing.
“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk County. “No way should it be considered renewable.”
Raacke said New York should not seek to “prop up nuclear power” and spoke of the Shoreham “nuclear folly” that went on “for years” on Long Island and the successful struggle against it. He objected to a “revisit to that past in the plan.”
Otherwise, there was general support by those speaking in the hearing room. Jeff Kagan of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization said “we’re all breathing bad air now” and that this is having a health impact. By utilizing renewable energy, there would be “cost-savings” by the avoidance of “medical impacts” of fossil fuel energy. However, said Kagan, the “devil is in the details” in the state plan.
The boosting of “upstate nuclear power” in the state plan follows Andrew Cuomo’s support for the continued operation of nuclear power plants in upstate New York despite his opposition to the Indian Point nuclear power plants downstate, 26 miles north of New York City, which he’s been demanding be shut down. He maintains the upstate nuclear plants are important for the economies in the communities where they are located.
The Syracuse Post Standard, in an article by Tim Knauss headlined “Cuomo’s Renewable Energy Plan Includes Boost for Upstate Nuclear Plants,” quotes Syracuse attorney Joe Heath, counsel to the Onondaga Nation, as opposing this. Said Heath: “We should…not think that nukes are the answer.”
The upstate nuclear plants that Cuomo is backing—and that his plan claims produce renewable energy—include the long-troubled Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick nuclear plants in Scriba, although the current owner of FitzPatrick want to close it this year because, says Entergy, it is not financially viable to operate.
Cuomo has taken an emphatic stand against the closing of FitzPatrick saying that the state would “pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal work force.” He has been joined on this by New York Senator Chuck Schumer whose spokesperson, Angelo Roefaro, was quoted in the New York Times as saying this “would be awful for the local economy and to hundreds of loyal and effective workers” at the nuclear plant.
Meanwhile, the Long Island newspaper Newsday in an editorial last week charged the LaValle-Thiele bill was “election-year fodder” even though both have been overwhelming re-elected time and again. Newsday scoffed at the provision in the measure to “let voters elect” LIPA trustees. It claimed the measure was “utterly unworkable.” Newsday had crusaded incessantly in its editorials for the Shoreham nuclear power plant—stopped by a democratic process and groundswell.
The inclusion of nuclear power in the New York State renewable energy plan is drawing national attention. “Cuomo is mistaken to squander his political clout on beating the dead horse that nuclear power has become in the State of New York,” says Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project for the organization Beyond Nuclear.
“Hitting on state taxpayers to pay for steadily rising nuclear costs while wind and solar energy are less and less expensive makes no sense in a 21st Century economy,” declares Gunter. “It’s time to offer retraining to the nuclear work force to install renewable energy, expand state-of-the-art energy storage systems like Tesla’s PowerWall and make energy efficiency and conservation part of every home, business and industry in the state.” Moreover, says Gunter, the inclusion of nuclear power in the state plan would take resources away from true clean, green energy.]]>
Exelon has announced that it is considering closing two nuclear power stations in Illinois because they are no longer profitable.
The utility claims that the impact of natural gas on the electricity market has driven down the price of electricity so much that the nuclear power plants are no longer able to keep operating without financial losses.
In a last-ditch effort to keep the two nuclear facilities open, Exelon and ComEd are lobbying legislators to pass “the Exelon Bill” (SB-1585) which would subsidize the two plants by granting them a rate increase.
According to Exelon, in the last 6 years the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants have cost the utility over $800 million.
If the rate increase is not approved by May 31st – when Illinois legislature adjourns, and Exelon is unable to find any additional income, they may close the plants.
Illinois is a net exporter of electricity, even if the two nuclear power plants close it will not affect grid capacity or stability.]]>