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https://www.eenews.net/articles/after-vogtle-whats-next-for-nuclear/

Energywire

After Vogtle, what’s next for nuclear?

By Zach Bright | 04/30/2024 06:53 AM EDT

The Georgia reactors came online Monday — seven years late at a cost of $35 billion, more than double the initial $14 billion estimate.

A turbine that generates electricity using steam heated by nuclear fission sits at Georgia Power Co.'s Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant Jan. 20, 2023, in Waynesboro, Ga.
A turbine that generates electricity using steam heated by nuclear fission sits at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia. John Bazemore/AP


The United States just finished what could be its last big nuclear build.

The second of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle began sending electricity to the Georgia grid Monday, after years of development and billions of dollars in investment. Each reactor will produce about 1,100 megawatts of power, which will help meet surging electricity demand without creating climate-warming emissions.

To some, it’s the fulfillment of nuclear energy’s big promise: carbon-free power that can run just about 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“A generation from now, the people in Georgia are going to be really, really happy that Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have gone online,” said Jeff Merrifield, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) who is now a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Government leaders and the energy industry are looking more and more to nuclear energy as a way to meet ambitious climate goals. In March, the U.S. was among 34 countries to commit “to fully unlock the potential of nuclear energy” by shoring up existing reactors and building new ones. The Biden administration has also signed on to an international pledge to triple the world’s nuclear energy by 2050.

Yet it’s no secret that the Vogtle expansion was behind schedule and over budget. The new reactors came online seven years late at a cost of $35 billion — more than double the initial $14 billion estimate.

Proponents like Merrifield insist such issues are unique to first-of-a-kind projects. And Southern Co., which developed Plant Vogtle, declared the project a success: CEO Chris Womack called Monday’s completed expansion a “hallmark achievement for Southern Company, the state of Georgia and the entire United States.”

But critics say Plant Vogtle’s delays and costs are the norm for the nuclear industry.

“Despite massive subsidies and support … only one reactor has started almost 15 years later at an exorbitant cost,” said former NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko. “The problem isn’t the commitment of governments; it is the performance of the industry.”

Jaczko called the international pledge “a rehash of the global nuclear efforts in the beginning of the century.” But the latest nuclear push has at least one twist: developers are focused on reactors much smaller than those at Vogtle.

Small modular reactors, or SMRs, are designed to be easier and cheaper to build. They’re gaining enough steam for NRC to develop a streamlined licensing process to help such advanced nuclear technologies get off the ground quicker, many of which aim to break the mold of more traditional, large light water reactors like at Vogtle.

“We’re just not seeing the utilities really jump on the opportunity to build large light water reactors again,” said Rob Taylor, NRC’s deputy director for new reactors.

NRC expects to receive more than two dozen applications for new and advanced nuclear reactors over the next five years — which could each deliver electricity in the tens or hundreds of megawatts.

The future looks small

SMRs, however, aren’t yet a commercial reality.

NuScale Power, the only developer with U.S. regulatory approval for an SMR design, canceled its flagship project because not enough utilities were subscribed to the program. The project would have provided power to Utah utilities — and had received $232 million from the Department of Energy.

The company still aims to deploy two dozen of its smallest SMRs for power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“The small modular reactor paradigm shift is something that I think an entire energy industry is looking for,” said Clayton Scott, NuScale’s chief commercial officer.

A host of other developers are also looking to deploy advanced reactors. Kairos Power, for example, hopes to deploy a 35-MW, fluoride salt-cooled reactor before 2030. DOE has pledged up to $303 million to help design and build the test reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee — and NRC has green-lighted a construction permit for the so-called Hermes project.

The aim is to develop a reactor that can be built and installed efficiently, in contrast to traditional nuclear plants.

“The way that new conventional nuclear has been deployed has been less than ideal, both in terms of cost and schedule,” Kairos CEO Mike Laufer said in an interview.

DOE’s $2.5 billion Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program is also backing TerraPower and X-energy, which like Kairos are developing advanced reactors that don’t use water for cooling.

TerraPower, a nuclear developer in Washington state led by billionaire Bill Gates, applied last month for a construction permit for a demonstration build of a 345-MW, sodium-cooled reactor. The company declined to comment for this story.

X energy is developing an 80-MW, gas-cooled reactor that CEO Clay Sell hopes will make nuclear energy a possibility for customers “that would previously have never considered it an option for their portfolios.” The company is already in partnership with Energy Northwest, a major power provider based in the Pacific Northwest.

The country’s largest power provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority, is also banking big on SMRs, with plans for test reactors in Oak Ridge and long-term aspirations to develop a fleet of BWRX-300s, a 300-MW design from GE Hitachi Nuclear.

“There is a need for more energy, more electricity, especially in our region of the country,” said Scott Hunnewell, TVA’s vice president of new nuclear projects, “and if you’re looking for dispatchable or firm baseload capacity, there’s really only two options — natural gas or nuclear.”

Even more traditional nuclear players are thinking smaller.

Westinghouse Electric Co., which developed the AP-1000 design used to build the reactors at the Plant Vogtle expansion, has its own downsized SMR counterpart, the AP-300.

The company also continues to market its large reactors. In an interview, Westinghouse Energy Systems President David Durham said the company is “in discussions with more than one North American utility,” several of which are contemplating adding AP-1000 reactors. He also said there was global interest from countries including Bulgaria, China and Poland.

But, he added, “if a utility is just looking to replace a few coal plants, SMRs make perfect sense.”

Holtec International, which is looking to restart operations at the Palisades nuclear power plant in Michigan, also plans to add two of its own SMR-300 reactors at the facility. DOE has made a conditional loan commitment of $1.5 billion to restart the shuttered plant by the end of 2025.

“Back in the mid-2010s, if you had told me that we’d start to see an uptick and nuclear would be headed back, I would have been surprised,” Holtec spokesperson Pat O’Brien said.

The nuclear plans that dot the country are ambitious, but they hinge on the success of companies and the ability of regulators to oversee nuclear projects from cradle to grave.

What to do with nuclear waste also remains a thorny issue. More than 85,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel already sits in 100 locations across the country, with congressional gridlock stalling plans for permanent storage. Most recently, Republicans and some Democrats in Congress are considering reviving a project to store it at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

NRC in action

As Congress crafts a bipartisan nuclear energy bill designed to streamline regulations, the NRC is working to speed up licensing for several advanced reactors that the Biden administration is counting on to realize a zero-emissions grid by 2035.

The commission’s proposed “Part 53” rule would streamline the complex and lengthy licensing process for smaller reactors that many in the power industry have been trying to get off the ground.

NRC also unveiled guidance to support the near-term deployment of “technology-inclusive” reactors — such as those made by TerraPower and X-energy — that are cooled by gas, liquid metals or molten salts instead of water. And this month, the commission approved a streamlined environmental review process for all advanced reactors.

NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell said he’s “confident” the agency can efficiently and promptly review the 25 licensing applications it’s expecting through 2029.

“People will look at how long it took us to license in the 2000s, in the early 2010s, and think that’s what it’s going to take us going forward,” said Taylor, the NRC deputy director. “We have changed so much in the last five years that we are a completely different agency.”

But some developers are wary of the agency’s ability to respond to the growing industry within its current budget.

“NRC has been grossly understaffed. They don’t have the necessary number of people to review efficiently,” Holtec CEO Kris Singh said in an interview. “I think NRC is an excellent regulatory agency — I have no complaint about their intentions — but they have lost a lot of talent in recent years.”

Judi Greenwald, executive director of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, echoed that sentiment.

“The existing rules are not written for advanced nuclear reactors and require applicants to seek a bunch of regulatory exemptions,” Greenwald said, adding that NRC needs to scale up to facilitate “dozens to hundreds of applications.”

“This is an issue not just for nuclear power, but for all clean energy. Historically, we’ve operated under the implicit assumption that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to build new things… We’ve never really thought about the fact that you actually need to build things to make the environment better,” Greenwald said.

The Nuclear Innovation Alliance, an industry think tank, released a report earlier this year that said many of the NRC’s review processes are needlessly duplicative and mandatory in cases where they don’t provide any additional safety or precautionary benefits.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has pushed back against assertions that NRC’s processes are at fault. Edwin Lyman, the group’s nuclear power safety director, said the problem is not with the NRC, but with nuclear energy developers that are projecting their struggles.

“It’s not the regulator that’s the problem. The industry likes to point fingers to avoid dealing with their own failures,” Lyman said in an interview.

No more Vogtles?

With the fanfare surrounding SMRs, the future of big reactors is unclear.

The U.S. had 93 operating commercial nuclear reactors as of August 2023, down from 104 in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That fleet is among the oldest in the world, with an average age of 42 years old.

Building new plants is timely and expensive; even the Vogtle project was an expansion of an existing plant, not a from-scratch facility. But Steven Biegalski, chair of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s nuclear and radiological engineering program, argued that now is the time to build out a new generation of traditional nuclear power plants.

“What Southern [Co.] did with Vogtle is a great starting point, and we have to leverage that experience and amplify it to meet our country’s needs,” Biegalski said. The Vogtle project created a workforce and supply chain for building nuclear reactors, he said, meaning future projects could be built more quickly and cheaply.

“The only option really on the table right now to build new nuclear in the United States — meaning if we wanted to start today — are the Vogtle-style plants, which are the Westinghouse AP-1000 design,” Biegalski said.

Southern Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

But clean energy advocates aren’t enthusiastic for more Vogtle-like builds.

Bryan Jacob, solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said such projects take too much time and money to be worth it. While the new Vogtle units were under construction, he said, Georgia added 4,500 MW of solar energy at one-fifth the cost of the nuclear project. The Vogtle units will provide more than 2,000 MW of capacity.

Georgia energy regulators also aren’t keen on approving another big reactor without some guarantees.

Tim Echols, the vice chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, supported the expansion at Plant Vogtle and wants to see more nuclear builds in his state. But he said the federal government would need to provide backing for that to happen.

“I need a federal financial backstop that would cover 90 percent of the cost overruns over a contracted price to build another reactor,” he said. “We have not reached a point in the U.S. where these first-of-a-kind projects can be built with any assurance that they will be on time and on budget.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Kairos Power aims to build its test reactor before 2030 as part of the Hermes project.

Five Things the “Nuclear Bros” Don’t Want You to Know About Small Modular Reactors
April 30, 2024 | 2:40 pm

A diagram of Terrapower’s proposed Natrium advanced reactor in Kemmerer, Wyoming.
NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMISSION


Ed Lyman 
Director, Nuclear Power Safety

Even casual followers of energy and climate issues have probably heard about the alleged wonders of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). This is due in no small part to the “nuclear bros”: an active and seemingly tireless group of nuclear power advocates who dominate social media discussions on energy by promoting SMRs and other “advanced” nuclear technologies as the only real solution for the climate crisis. But as I showed in my 2013 and 2021 reports, the hype surrounding SMRs is way overblown, and my conclusions remain valid today.

Unfortunately, much of this SMR happy talk is rooted in misinformation, which always brings me back to the same question: If the nuclear bros have such a great SMR story to tell, why do they have to exaggerate so much?

What are SMRs?

SMRs are nuclear reactors that are “small” (defined as 300 megawatts of electrical power or less), can be largely assembled in a centralized facility, and would be installed in a modular fashion at power generation sites. Some proposed SMRs are so tiny (20 megawatts or less) that they are called “micro” reactors. SMRs are distinct from today’s conventional nuclear plants, which are typically around 1,000 megawatts and were largely custom-built. Some SMR designs, such as NuScale, are modified versions of operating water-cooled reactors, while others are radically different designs that use coolants other than water, such as liquid sodium, helium gas, or even molten salts.

To date, however, theoretical interest in SMRs has not translated into many actual reactor orders. The only SMR currently under construction is in China. And in the United States, only one company—TerraPower, founded by Microsoft’s Bill Gates—has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a permit to build a power reactor (but at 345 megawatts, it technically isn’t even an SMR).

The nuclear industry has pinned its hopes on SMRs primarily because some recent large reactor projects, including Vogtle units 3 and 4 in the state of Georgia, have taken far longer to build and cost far more than originally projected. The failure of these projects to come in on time and under budget undermines arguments that modern nuclear power plants can overcome the problems that have plagued the nuclear industry in the past.

Developers in the industry and the US Department of Energy say that SMRs can be less costly and quicker to build than large reactors and that their modular nature makes it easier to balance power supply and demand. They also argue that reactors in a variety of sizes would be useful for a range of applications beyond grid-scale electrical power, including providing process heat to industrial plants and power to data centers, cryptocurrency mining operations, petrochemical production, and even electrical vehicle charging stations.

Here are five facts about SMRs that the nuclear industry and the “nuclear bros” who push its message don’t want you, the public, to know.

1. SMRs are not more economical than large reactors.

In theory, small reactors should have lower capital costs and construction times than large reactors of similar design so that utilities (or other users) can get financing more cheaply and deploy them more flexibly. But that doesn’t mean small reactors will be more economical than large ones. In fact, the opposite usually will be true. What matters more when comparing the economics of different power sources is the cost to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity, and that depends on the capital cost per kilowatt of generating capacity, as well as the costs of operations, maintenance, fuel, and other factors.

According to the economies of scale principle, smaller reactors will in general produce more expensive electricity than larger ones. For example, the now-cancelled project by NuScale to build a 460-megawatt, 6-unit SMR in Idaho was estimated to cost over $20,000 per kilowatt, which is greater than the actual cost of the Vogtle large reactor project of over $15,000 per kilowatt. This cost penalty can be offset only by radical changes in the way reactors are designed, built, and operated.

For example, SMR developers claim they can slash capital cost per kilowatt by achieving efficiency through the mass production of identical units in factories. However, studies find that such cost reductions typically would not exceed about 30%. In addition, dozens of units would have to be produced before manufacturers could learn how to make their processes more efficient and achieve those capital cost reductions, meaning that the first reactors of a given design will be unavoidably expensive and will require large government or ratepayer subsidies to get built. Getting past this obstacle has proven to be one of the main impediments to SMR deployment.

Another way that SMR developers try to reduce capital cost is by reducing or eliminating many of the safety features required for operating reactors that provide multiple layers of protection, such as a robust, reinforced concrete containment structure, motor-driven emergency pumps, and rigorous quality assurance standards for backup safety equipment such as power supplies. But these changes so far haven’t had much of an impact on the overall cost—just look at NuScale.

In addition to capital cost, operation and maintenance (O&M) costs will also have to be significantly reduced to improve the competitiveness of SMRs. However, some operating expenses, such as the security needed to protect against terrorist attacks, would not normally be sensitive to reactor size. The relative contribution of O&M and fuel costs to the price per megawatt-hour varies a lot among designs and project details, but could be 50% or more, depending on factors such as interest rates that influence the total capital cost.

Economies of scale considerations have already led some SMR vendors, such as NuScale and Holtec, to roughly double module sizes from their original designs. The Oklo, Inc. Aurora microreactor has increased from 1.5 MW to 15 MW and may even go to 50 MW. And the General Electric-Hitachi BWRX-300 and Westinghouse AP300 are both starting out at the upper limit of what is considered an SMR.

Overall, these changes might be sufficient to make some SMRs cost-competitive with large reactors, but they would still have a long way to go to compete with renewable technologies. The levelized cost of electricity for the now-cancelled NuScale project was estimated at around $119 per megawatt-hour (without federal subsidies), whereas land-based wind and utility-scale solar now cost below $40/MWh.

Microreactors, however, are likely to remain expensive under any realistic scenario, with projected levelized electricity costs two to three times that of larger SMRs.

2. SMRs are not generally safer or more secure than large light-water reactors.

Because of their size, you might think that small nuclear reactors pose lower risks to public health and the environment than large reactors. After all, the amount of radioactive material in the core and available to be released in an accident is smaller. And smaller reactors produce heat at lower rates than large reactors, which could make them easier to cool during an accident, perhaps even by passive means—that is, without the need for electrically powered coolant pumps or operator actions.

However, the so-called passive safety features that SMR proponents like to cite may not always work, especially during extreme events such as large earthquakes, major flooding, or wildfires that can degrade the environmental conditions under which they are designed to operate. And in some cases, passive features can actually make accidents worse: for example, the NRC’s review of the NuScale design revealed that that passive emergency systems could deplete cooling water of boron, which is needed to keep the reactor safely shut down after an accident.

In any event, regulators are loosening safety and security requirements for SMRs in ways which could cancel out any safety benefits from passive features. For example, the NRC has approved rules and procedures in recent years that provide regulatory pathways for exempting new reactors, including SMRs, from many of the protective measures that it requires for operating plants, such as a physical containment structure, an offsite emergency evacuation plan, and an exclusion zone that separates the plant from densely populated areas. It is also considering further changes that could allow SMRs to reduce the numbers of armed security personnel to protect them from terrorist attacks and highly trained operators to run them. Reducing security at SMRs is particularly worrisome, because even the safest reactors could effectively become dangerous radiological weapons if they are sabotaged by skilled attackers. Even passive safety mechanisms could be deliberately disabled.

Considering the cumulative impact of all these changes, SMRs could be as—or even more— dangerous than large reactors. For example, if a containment structure at a large reactor reliably prevented 90% of the radioactive material from being released from the core of the reactor during a meltdown, then a reactor 5 times smaller without such a containment structure could conceivably release more radioactive material into the environment, even though the total amount of material in the core would be smaller. And if the SMR were located closer to populated areas with no offsite emergency planning, more people could be exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation.

But even if one could show that the overall safety risk of a small reactor was lower than that of a large reactor, that still wouldn’t automatically imply the overall risk per unit of electricity that it generates is lower, since smaller plants generate less electricity. If an accident caused a 250-megawatt SMR to release only 25% of the radioactive material that a 1,000-megawatt plant would release, the ratio of risk to benefit would be the same. And a site with four such reactors could have four times the annual risk of a single unit, or an even greater risk if an accident at one reactor were to damage the others, as happened during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

3. SMRs will not reduce the problem of what to do with radioactive waste.

The industry makes highly misleading claims that certain SMRs will reduce the intractable problem of long-lived radioactive waste management by generating less waste, or even by “recycling” their own wastes or those generated by other reactors.

First, it’s necessary to define what “less” waste really means. In terms of the quantity of highly radioactive isotopes that result when atomic nuclei are fissioned and release energy, small reactors will produce just as much as large reactors per unit of heat generated. (Non-light-water reactors that more efficiently convert heat to electricity than light-water reactors will produce somewhat smaller quantities of fission products per unit of electricity generated—perhaps 10 to 30%—but this is a relatively small effect in the scheme of things.) And for reactors with denser fuels, the volume and mass of the spent fuel generated may be smaller, but the concentration of fission products in the spent fuel, and the heat generated by the decay products—factors that really matter to safety—will be proportionately greater.

Therefore, entities that hope to acquire SMRs, like data centers that lack the necessary waste infrastructure, will have to safely manage the storage of significant quantities of spent nuclear fuel on site for the long term, just like any other nuclear power plant does. Claims by vendors such as Westinghouse that they will take away the reactors after the fuel is no longer usable are simply not credible, as there are no realistic prospects for licensing centralized sites where the used reactors could be taken for the foreseeable future. Any community with an SMR will have to plan to be a de facto long-term nuclear waste disposal site.

4. SMRs cannot be counted on to provide reliable and resilient off-the-grid power for facilities, such as data centers, bitcoin mining, hydrogen or petrochemical production.

Despite the claims of developers, it is very unlikely that any reasonably foreseeable SMR design would be able to safely operate without reliable access to electricity from the grid to power coolant pumps and other vital safety systems. Just like today’s nuclear plants, SMRs will be vulnerable to extreme weather events or other disasters that could cause a loss of offsite power and force them to shut down. In such situations a user such as a data center operator would have to provide backup power, likely from diesel generators, for both the data center AND the reactor. And since there is virtually no experience with operating SMRs worldwide, it is highly doubtful that the novel designs being pitched now would be highly reliable right out of the box and require little monitoring and maintenance.

It very likely will take decades of operating experience for any new reactor design to achieve the level of reliability characteristic of the operating light-water reactor fleet. Premature deployment based on unrealistic performance expectations could prove extremely costly for any company that wants to experiment with SMRs.

5. SMRs do not use fuel more efficiently than large reactors.

Some advocates misleadingly claim that SMRs are more efficient than large ones because they use less fuel. In terms of the amount of heat generated, the amount of uranium fuel that must undergo nuclear fission is the same whether a reactor is large or small. And although reactors that use coolants other than water typically operate at higher temperatures, which can increase the efficiency of conversion of heat to electricity, this is not a big enough effect to outweigh other factors that decrease efficiency of fuel use.

Some SMRs designs require a type of uranium fuel called “high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU),” which contains higher concentrations of the isotope uranium-235 than conventional light-water reactor fuel. Although this reduces the total mass of fuel the reactor needs, that doesn’t mean it uses less uranium nor results in less waste from “front-end” mining and milling activities: in fact, the opposite is more likely to be true.

One reason for this is that HALEU production requires a relatively large amount of natural uranium to be fed into the enrichment process that increases the uranium-235 concentration. For example, the TerraPower Natrium reactor which would use HALEU enriched to around 19% uranium-235, will require 2.5 to 3 times as much natural uranium to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity than a light-water reactor. Smaller reactors, such as the 15-megawatt Oklo Aurora, are even more inefficient. Improving the efficiency of these reactors can occur only with significant advances in fuel performance, which could take decades of development to achieve.

Reactors that use uranium inefficiently have disproportionate impacts on the environment from polluting uranium mining and processing activities. They also are less effective in mitigating carbon emissions, because uranium mining and milling are relatively carbon-intensive activities compared to other parts of the uranium fuel cycle.

SMRs may have a role to play in our energy future, but only if they are sufficiently safe and secure. For that to happen, it is essential to have a realistic understanding of their costs and risks. By painting an overly rosy picture of these technologies with often misleading information, the nuclear bros are distracting attention from the need to confront the many challenges that must be resolved to make SMRs a reality—and ultimately doing a disservice to their cause.

Subject: Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, Units 1 and 2 - Issuance of Amendment Nos. 287 and 271 Re: Adoption of TSTF-568, Revision 2 and Associated Technical Specification Changes (EPID L-2023-LLA-0167)
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Contact: Glenn Carroll, Nuclear Watch South Coordinator, 404-432-8727, atom.girl@nonukesyall.org
 
ENVIRONMENTALISTS CONDEMN VOGTLE REACTOR START
 
ATLANTA 4/29/24: Nuclear Watch South condemns and criticizes the Vogtle 3 and 4 claims made in Georgia Power's announcement that Vogtle 4 has entered commercial operation, just three days after the 38th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
 
"The fact is," says Nuclear Watch South Coordinator Glenn Carroll, "that this Vogtle monster, this unaccountably mismanaged beast that cost $35 billion and took 15 years to construct, is essentially a radioactive waste factory. 
 
"Nuclear Watch South has shown for 10 years that Georgia Power is not using a large portion of its current energy capacity, to which Vogtle 3 and 4 add a mere 7%. Electricity sales have been in a slump for the last 20 years and that's unlikely to change any time soon, despite self-serving projections made by energy-producers. Now we have the riskiest, unjustifiably complex, and most expensive and dangerous devices ever made to boil water for steam generation spewing out heat and recklessly creating lethal radioactive waste on banks of the Savannah River."
 
Billed by Georgia Power as "clean energy" in a state that has no standards for energy production and with an emission-reduction plan that is "voluntary," Vogtle is far from clean. 
 
Georgia Power has only recently started promoting nuclear power as clean, relying instead on energy forecasts that were never verified and never materialized as the rationale for building Vogtle 3 and 4. The State of Georgia does not even have clean energy goals. It is clear that the Vogtle project was a huge capital-intensive gambit for Georgia Power, securing record-high profits of at least $17 billion, over the years of construction and delay during which the company racked up $18 billion in cost overruns. Those absurdly excessive costs have now been foisted onto the backs of the public by a Public Service Commission (PSC), whose members are either negligent, corrupt, or grossly inept. This powerful body is the only protection the consumer has against the powerful, for-profit Georgia Power monopoly and it has flagrantly betrayed the trust of the public that it is lawfully obligated to serve.
 
While the rest of the world is setting records with installation of solar and wind power, the Georgia PSC stood by and even applauded, as Georgia Power squandered an average of $7 million per day for 15 years to consruct the most expensive electric generating facility on Earth to produce the world's most expensive power.
 
One of Chernobyl's fatal defects is that it lacked a reactor containment building such as every U.S. reactor except Vogtle 3 and 4 have as the final, critical barrier to stop radiation from reaching the environment. The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design used at Vogtle replaced a robust reactor containment building with a shield building which will regrettably double as a chimney in the event of a radiation release. In chimney mode it will channel radiation up and into the atmosphere, endangering millions of citizens, while protecting only the workers on the ground responding to the radiological emergency.
 
"To save money, the first lie on the Vogtle expansion project that ballooned to over $35 billion," Ms. Carroll says, "Westinghouse and Georgia Power actually downgraded reactor standards to do away with the last barrier to radiation release in case of a nuclear meltdown, a much-needed reactor containment building. It is a grievous day, a dangerous day, for the people of Burke County, Georgia, and Planet Earth."
 
###
 
Glenn Carroll
Coordinator
Nuclear Watch South
P.O. Box 8574
Atlanta, GA 31106
atom.girl@nonukesyall.org
404-378-4263
404-432-8727 cell
https://www.nonukesyall.org
Nevada nuclear commission ready to strike back after pro-Yucca hearing in Congress
 
Comments in a House hearing raised fears that Congress may reopen nuclear waste issue after election, and that state needs to be more proactive in fighting it.
 
 
Gabby Birenbaum
April 26th, 2024 at 2:00 AM
 

Earlier this month, a congressional subcommittee met to discuss spent nuclear fuel and where to store it — setting off alarms for opponents of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the federal site in Nye County designated to store the nation’s high-level nuclear waste that has nonetheless sat vacant for decades due to intense regional opposition.

Two weeks later, the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects held its first meeting of the year to discuss the antagonistic tenor of the subcommittee meeting — and strategize for how to beat back a potential new wave of Yucca enthusiasm after the 2024 election.

“[The hearing] is a problem,” said Fred Dilger, the director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. “It suggests to us that the pro-Yucca faction may be back after November.”

Members of the commission — which advises the governor and Legislature on radioactive waste issues — said they and Nevada’s congressional delegation were taken aback by the harsh tenor and lack of knowledge that subcommittee members displayed during the April 10 hearing. Key subcommittee members referred to Yucca as a “technically successful” program that has only been stymied by politics from “states like Nevada.”

While no new legislation or funding has been proposed this Congress, the commission believes the subcommittee members’ frustration is worthy of strategic response, particularly because of existing technical issues with the site that they say members and witnesses did not acknowledge. 

Even if a newly seated Congress in 2025 is interested in allocating funds to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, Nevada has a number of baked-in processes meant to muck up the works.

Though the proposed repository is on federal land, the Department of Energy would still need to pursue a license application to use and build the site, given that the only existing infrastructure is a tunnel within the mountain. Doing so, according to government estimates, would cost $1.66 billion just on licensing — which the state would fight in court through existing challenges over water rights — and could take up to 10 years. Even if the license application is ultimately granted, construction would then cost between $75 billion and $119 billion.

In addition, there are practical challenges that have severely curtailed the ability to transport nuclear waste to Nevada. There are no existing rail lines nor right-of-ways to Yucca Mountain, and existing tribal lands and the Basin and Range National Monument stand in the way of potential shipping routes.

Scores of Nevada politicians and geologists alike have argued against the repository on the basis of science and national security. On the latter point, Dilger said new developments at Creech Air Force Base — less than 50 miles from Yucca — to build out satellite launch capacity and the proximity between aerial combat training at Southern Nevada’s various military installations and the proposed nuclear waste repository bolster the national security argument, and make the Air Force a likely ally in the fight to kill the program. 

“They're very jealous of their ability to do the things they want to do in that operating area,” Dilger said. “And Yucca Mountain would compromise that. There's no disagreement between ourselves and the Department of Energy about that.”

And he added that recent high-profile transportation incidents — from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio to the recent collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore — could bolster safety arguments in the existing accident-prone mountain passes around Nevada, where nuclear waste would need to be transported. 

Despite all of the practicalities on their side, commission members agreed that when it comes to Yucca, they can never be too careful — and wondered aloud whether they should have been more aggressive in the run-up to the hearing.

In 2022, the state filed a legal motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking it to dismiss the Yucca licensing project, coinciding with a targeted social media campaign for policymakers and nuclear energy wonks. But that motion took place under Gov. Steve Sisolak (D); once Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) took office, Dilger said the governor’s office was “reluctant” to engage in media efforts this past fall.

Lombardo’s spokesperson Elizabeth Ray said the governor’s office supports the agency’s work and “looks forward to the appropriate implementation of their community outreach strategy.”

Board members noted that the agency is still actively educating policymakers on the issue, and suggested better coordinating those efforts with Clark County and the City of Las Vegas.

Forecasting the future

Dilger said that he does not expect the upcoming presidential election to have an impact on whether the federal government takes another swing at licensing Yucca. The Biden administration has been consistent in opposing any new funding for Yucca and following the Nevada delegation’s preferred approach of consent-based siting. While former president Donald Trump initially included Yucca funding in his budgets — though it never passed the Senate — he reversed course in 2020. 

Politically, given Nevada’s status as a pivotal swing state, presidential candidates have little incentive to pick a fight with Nevada voters during an election year. 

Dilger said that unlike in the first few decades of the Yucca fight, both the nuclear industry and the Department of Energy would prefer a new approach and recognize that the project is functionally dead, between scientific, practical and financial challenges. However, he fears a new pro-nuclear group in Congress reviving the issue.

“It's a very odd situation,” he said. “But until we get legislation to kill Yucca Mountain, and start a search for a new repository, we're on the hook.”

However, a future Trump administration could pose a threat to anti-Yucca advocates given recommendations from Project 2025, a constellation of policy plans for the executive branch created by numerous former Trump officials and allied conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation.

On nuclear energy, the Project 2025 authors are explicit, calling for the restart of the Yucca Mountain licensing process. They also want to reconstitute the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), the agency that first selected Yucca Mountain as the high-level nuclear waste storage site and which was dismantled by the Obama administration.

The reestablished OCRWM would be responsible for “developing the next steps” with respect to Yucca, including reforming the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to encourage privatization of nuclear waste storage.

While Project 2025 also urges the next administration to use consent-based siting to identify and build new repositories, and says that finishing the Yucca application process does not represent a commitment to completing the facility, authors made it clear that Yucca is not off the table.

“Consent-based siting for a civilian waste nuclear repository has been a way to delay any politically painful decisions about siting a permanent civilian nuclear waste facility,” they write.

Former Sen. Richard Bryan (D-NV), the chair of the commission, reiterated that the onus is on Nevada to respond to any threat — including from the subcommittee.

Bryan said the congressional delegation was working on a united further action to educate members on the risks Yucca poses, led by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV). Titus sent a letter to the subcommittee on the day of the hearing; a spokesperson for her office confirmed discussions are ongoing for next steps.

“If we're not able to communicate these concerns to subcommittee members [and] to others, then we're in effect unilaterally disarming ourselves,” Bryan said. 

The Nevada Independent is a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization. We are committed to transparency and disclose all our donors. The following people or entities mentioned in this article are financial supporters of our work:

  • Steve Sisolak - $3,700
  • Richard Bryan - $2,723
  • Joe Lombardo - $1,800
  • Richard Bryan - $103

From CounterPunch:

For the first time since 1954, no large new atomic reactors are under construction or on order in the United States.

On March 1, 2024, Vogtle Unit 4 connected to the Georgia grid …years behind schedule and billions over budget.   Once hyped as “too cheap to meter,” America’s last large light-water reactor thus forever froze the “Peaceful Atom” in financial failure.

Despite enormous public hype and subsidies, ZERO new US atomic reactors—large or small— are likely to become significantly available here for at least a decade.

The first will likely be an unproven “Small Modular Reactor” prototype already leaning toward a trillion-dollar failure.

Read more

Type: 

NRC proposes streamlined environmental reviews for new reactor license applications

If finalized, the proposed rule would apply to any future fission reactor application and could reduce environmental review costs by up to 45%, Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff found.

Published April 25, 2024
By Brian Martucci
Inside Detail of Nuclear Reactor

Inside Detail of Nuclear Reactor E+ via Getty Images

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will seek public comment on a proposed rule governing environmental reviews for future nuclear reactors, according to an NRC staff memo dated April 17.
  • The rule would codify the findings of the draft Advanced Nuclear Reactor Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or ANR GEIS, produced by NRC staff. The technology-agnostic rule would “streamline the environmental reviews for future new nuclear reactors by presenting generic environmental impacts for those designs that fit within certain site and plant parameters,” the NRC said in an April 23 announcement.
  • “The Commission’s vote to codify ANR GEIS builds on agency best practices for environmental reviews and will enable the more effective, efficient and predictable licensing of advanced reactors,” Nuclear Innovation Alliance Executive Director Judi Greenwald said in a statement.

Dive Insight:

The proposed rule would apply not only to future advanced fission reactor applications but any future fission reactor applications submitted to NRC, “provided the application meets the values and the assumptions of the plant parameter envelopes and the site parameter envelopes used to develop the GEIS,” the commission said. 

The proposed rule distinguishes between environmental issues with negligible impact, which can be resolved through generic guidance governing all reactor applications, and issues with potentially greater impact, which require detailed, site-specific analysis. 

The vast majority of environmental issues have negligible impact, the NRC found. That means the proposed rule would “enable applicants and staff to use generic staff findings on 100 of 121 environmental issues in the ANR GEIS [that are] generally applicable to advanced reactors as the basis for their project specific environmental reviews,” Greenwald said.

That should free up applicants, NRC staff and public stakeholders to “focus on project-specific environmental issues for future environmental reviews for advanced reactors,” she added. NRC staff estimate that the proposed rule could reduce environmental review costs by up to 45%, E&E News reported.

In the staff memo, NRC Secretary Carrie Safford said the proposed rule must require review of the ANR GEIS every 10 years. The requirement’s language “should be identical to that used in the license renewal GEIS” for existing reactors, Safford said.

Because the proposed rule would govern any future fission reactor applications, Safford said NRC staff should “consider whether to change the title of the GEIS, with associated edits to the rulemaking package and draft guidance documents, to better reflect applicability.”

The proposed rule should also clarify that each application’s environmental review must incorporate site-specific issues raised by the review in a separate decommissioning GEIS, Safford’s memo said.

The ANR GEIS would not apply to “near-term fusion systems,” which will be regulated under a different framework, the memo said

 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission - News Release
No: II-24-012 April 25, 2024
Contact: Dave Gasperson, 404-997-4417
 
NRC Schedules Regulatory Conference with TVA To Discuss Proposed Violation at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant
 
Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will hold a regulatory conference May 2 with the Tennessee Valley Authority to discuss a proposed violation at the Sequoyah nuclear plant, in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.
 
The proposed violation, detailed in a March 2024 inspection report, involves TVA’s failure to establish, implement, and maintain adequate maintenance procedures for one of the plant’s emergency diesel generator’s exhaust valves.
 
The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern time at the NRC’s Region II office, Marquis One Tower, 245 Peachtree Center Ave. NE, Atlanta, Georgia. Members of the public interested in listening to the meeting can call 301-576-2978 and enter conference ID 488908054#.
 
Members of the public will have an opportunity to ask questions of the NRC staff or make comments about the issues discussed after the business portion of the meeting.
 
During the enforcement conference, TVA representatives will have the opportunity to provide their perspectives and additional information concerning this event before the agency makes its final enforcement decision.
 
No decisions on the final safety significance or any potential NRC actions regarding the proposed violation will be made at the meeting.
 

  

 

You're Invited! Join us May 4th

 
 

Hi Eric,

Miami Waterkeeper invites you to join us and our collaborators at Diver's Paradise on May 4th for our first-ever Scuba Clean-up. Enjoy a two-tank reef dive while removing marine debris from our underwater ecosystems!

The event runs from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. $70 per person for a 2-tank dive clean-up (does not include any dive gear) or $95 per person for 2 tank dives, including tank and weights.

Please arrive at Diver's Paradise dive shop (4000 Crandon Blvd. Key Biscayne, FL 33149)  at 8:30 am for registration. For further details on gear rentals and what to bring, Click Here.

 
Click to Register!
 

Can't make it? We have more events hereQuestions? Please reach out to Erin Cover at erin@miamiwaterkeeper.org  

With gratitude,

Erin Cover, M.P.S. 
Education and Outreach Manager


 
 

This Earth Month, don't underestimate your impact: when our actions sync with millions of people, globally, we are driving change, and advancing resilience through climate action. We hope you can join us!


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