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Nuclear Dead End: It's the Economics, Stupid

From The Nation:

For about a decade now, nuclear boosters have been telling us that a “nuclear renaissance” is underway thanks to the advent of cheaper, safer and faster-built “third-” and “fourth-generation” reactors. Their ranks have been swelled lately by green champions of nuclear power like George Monbiot, who has recently embraced nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels in the quest to mitigate climate change. Anti-nuke activists like Helen Caldicott have responded with dire warnings of nuclear apocalypse and radiation-induced cancer (see their exchange on a recent episode of Democracy Now!).

But for all its moral urgency, this debate usually ignores the economics of nuclear power. It is economic factors like costs, supply chains, financing and profitability that will determine our future energy mix. And so far, the dollars and cents calculations for nuclear power just do not add up.

The argument for nukes gets even weaker when one considers the compressed time frame of climate change: carbon emissions must drop sooner and faster than the long, slow, costly process of building new nuclear plants would allow. The boosters of nuclear power, including greens like Monbiot, seem to forget the reactors don’t build themselves. They are built and operated by specific institutions under concrete economic circumstances like the price of capital, special metals, insurance and the availability of skilled labor. Once the economic arguments get to that level of specificity, the viability of atomic power falls apart.

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Fixing America's Nuclear Waste Storage Problem

From The Nation:

In March 1992 George Galatis, a nuclear engineer at the Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford, Connecticut, became alarmed during a refueling. The reactor had to be shut down and the full radioactive core of the Unit 1 reactor, which held thousands of rods, was removed and then dumped into the spent fuel pool—a blatant violation of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) safety requirements.

The pool was already quite full. It wasn’t designed to suddenly hold those very radioactive and thermally hot fuel rods, which give off so much radiation that an unshielded person nearby would receive a lethal dose in seconds. In a previous incident around that time, a worker’s boots melted during this procedure. Because the pool could overheat, and possibly cause the pumps and cooling equipment to fail, the NRC had required reactor operators to wait for sixty-five hours before performing this task—with good reason. NRC studies over the past thirty years have consistently shown that even partial drainage of a spent fuel pool that exposed highly radioactive rods could release an enormous amount of radioactivity into the environment. Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with many years of experience at US nuclear reactors, describes this kind of accident as “Chernobyl on steroids.”

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Map makes US 10 mile plume exposure pathway look a little silly

From Global Research:

Radiation limits begin to be exceeded at just above 0.1 microsieverts/ hour blue. Red is about fifty times the civilian radiation limit at 5.0 microsieverts/hour. Because children are much more sensitive than adults, these results are a great concern for parents of young children in potentially affected areas.

Congressional Committee With Oversight on Nuke Safety Takes in Big Dollars From Nuclear Power Industry

From MapLight:

March 18, 2011 - Capitol Hill has looked to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to give assurances about the safety of nuclear energy following the continued crisis in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On March 16, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, testified before the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees. has done an analysis of contributions to lawmakers sitting on the above committees based on figures connected to Nuclear plant construction, equipment & svcs and Nuclear energy provided by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Lawmakers currently serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee received on average $9,024 from contributions connected to nuclear energy while their non-committee counterparts received an average of just $3,314, a difference of about 63%.

On the Senate side, the gap is closer but still apparent. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members received an average of $11,229 while their non-committee counterparts took in $9,605, a difference of about 15%.

Based on contributions from Jan. 1, 2001 to Dec. 31, 2010, the industry has given over $4.6 million to lawmakers that have served since the 109th Congress. Current lawmakers have taken in more than $2.7 million in contributions in that same time frame.

Total Contributions from the Nuclear Energy Industry (Jan. 1, 2001 - Dec. 31, 2010)
Total to current and former lawmakers (109th-112th) $4,624,007
Total to current lawmakers $2,747,334
Total to current Senators $989,709
Total to current House members $1,757,625
Average to current Senators $9,897
Average to current House members $4,004
Average to current Senate Environment & Public Works Committee members $11,229
Average to current non-committee members (Senate) $9,605
Average to current House Energy & Commerce Committee members $9,024
Average to current non-committee members (House) $3,314

NRC hearing raises questions about safety at nuclear plants

From the Christian Science Monitor:

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing offered fresh findings in the runup to a final 90-day safety review report on the US nuclear fleet due next month.

A safety task force staff told the five-member commission that America's nuclear plants were safe, but noted that:

• In many cases, older "vintage" plants that undergo relicensing examinations to operate an added 20 years are not required to bring those plants fully up to current safety standards

• NRC regulations have never formally recognized the possibility of an extreme event – like an earthquake or tornado – simultaneously knocking out both on-site and off-site power at a nuclear plant, as happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

• The nation's nuclear plants have "different licensing bases and associated safety margins," with variations among the plants depending upon their age.

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Confessions of a Nuclear Power Safety Expert

From Miller-McCune:

When Italy decided in the mid-’70s to add nuclear power to its power portfolio, young mechanical and nuclear engineer Cesare Silvi was among those attracted to the opportunities it presented. His work centered on nuclear safety issues — in particular, what might happen if something unexpected struck a power plant.

Corners he saw cut there eventually soured Silvi on that endeavor. His next position — at the Italian Commission on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Sources, which included work on nuclear disarmament — eventually soured him on nuclear energy itself.

“[If we] continue with nuclear power, there will definitely be worse accidents,” he argued in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Over the weekend, Italian voters agreed and overwhelming rejected restarting nuclear power in their country.

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Mass. joins Vermont in opposition to Entergy injunction

From the Brattleboro Reformer:

It may be full house later this month when Entergy's request for a preliminary injunction against the state is heard in federal court.

Late on Monday, the state of Massachusetts got involved when Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Vermont.

In her filing, Coakley wrote that the Commonwealth has a significant interest in the case because of its state laws regarding regulation of power generating facilities within its borders, including nuclear power plants and "... preserving its ability to enact, implement and enforce its own laws, to address the numerous concerns inherent in construction and operation of nuclear power plants within its border, now or in the future. The preemption questions presented in this proceeding, while specifically focused on Vermont laws, implicate the same type of constitutional analysis to a preemption challenge."

Coakley wrote that this case could have a tremendous impact on how the Commonwealth is able to regulate its nuclear power plant, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, in Plymouth, Mass.

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Hazards of Storing Spent Fuel

From the New York Times:

Dangerous conditions can occur if water drains from pools storing radioactive fuel rods.

Japan adds four new areas to radiation threats

From CNN:

Four new areas in northern Japan have been added to the list of places affected by radiation originating from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, authorities said Friday.

Three of the four are in the Ryozenmachi area, including about 180 households some 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Fukushima plant, said Takayuki Sato, a Date city official

Government data of the three hot spots showed an estimated radiation level between 20.1 to 20.8 millisieverts per year.

By comparison, the average resident of an industrialized country receives a dose of about 3 millisieverts per year.

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June 10, 2011: Markey Statement on NRC IG Report

WASHINGTON (June 10, 2011) -- Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the Ranking Member on the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released the following statement on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Inspector General report:

“The NRC Inspector General report is a vindication for Chairman Jaczko and confirms that his decision to close out the Yucca Mountain program was consistent with both the law and his authority, contrary to accusations made during a Republican witch-hunt that his actions were 'illegal.'

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