TEPCO to bury Fukushima plant trench with concrete to control radioactive water

By Broc West via mainichi.jp / November 23, 2014 / Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has decided to bury a trench at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant using concrete after an effort to completely stop the flow of radiation contaminated water failed, it has been learned. TEPCO reported its plan to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on Nov. 21, and the NRA approved it, saying that the plan can at … Continue reading

Read more here:: http://fukushimaupdate.com/tepco-to-bury-fukushima-plant-trench-with-concrete-to-control-radioactive-water/

French Nuclear Cycle Crash

By Leslie

World Nuclear Status Report

France has been a world leader in nuclear power, deriving almost 80% of its produced electricity from nuclear reactors. Following the 1974 oil shock, France embraced nuclear power by building 58 nuclear reactors in an effort to be energy self-sufficient. Where do the French see themselves as energy consumers and producers today and what is the future trend for the French after a 40 year investment in production of nuclear power?

From one expert to another, Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education interviews independent international energy and nuclear policy consultant Mycle Schneider to get the scoop on the French nuclear scene. A resident of Paris, Mycle has provided nuclear energy consulting services to countless international institutions, governments and NGOs. In an informative Q and A, Arnie and Mycle debunk the perfected nuclear power fantasy and expose the French réalité.

Video chat technology courtesy of Skype and Call Recorder.

Documents

World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 by Mycle Schneider et. al. available on Amazon and by free download here

The post French Nuclear Cycle Crash appeared first on Fairewinds Energy Education.

Read more here:: http://www.fairewinds.org/french-nuclear-cycle-crash/

Au revoir, Areva?

By Michael Mariotte

EDF is building an Areva EPR reactor at  Flamanville, France. Like all Areva nuclear projects these days, it's not going well.

EDF is building an Areva EPR reactor at Flamanville, France. Like all Areva nuclear projects these days, it’s not going well.

The giant French nuclear reactor manufacturer Areva is in serious trouble. According to several reports published today (here’s one from New York Times, here’s one from Reuters), publicly-traded shares in Areva dropped 15% yesterday. That plunge doesn’t in itself affect Areva as much as it would other companies, since only a small portion of Areva’s shares are publicly-traded–the French government owns 87% of the entity.

But that doesn’t make Areva’s troubles any less real. The company, which recently lost its CEO to health issues, warned yesterday that its outlook is uncertain and suspended its financial projections for both 2015 and 2016. That doesn’t bode well.

Areva’s problems are legion, but two huge missteps over the past decade continue to haunt the company.

The first was agreeing back in the early 2000′s to build its first new design reactor, the EPR, in Finland on a fixed price contract of 3.2 Billion Euros. The cost of that reactor, which was supposed to begin operation in 2009, has nearly tripled and its most recent projected date of operation is 2018–which few expect to be met.

The reverberations from that fiasco have followed Areva to Flamanville, France, where it is supplying (or currently unable to supply, according to EDF) Electricite de France with its only new reactor project in the country. That one is also well over budget and behind schedule (yesterday EDF announced that because of Areva’s problems, the operation date has been pushed back a year to 2017).

Areva’s second big misstep was believing in the nuclear “renaissance” and positioning itself to become a major nuclear reactor exporter. The Finnish reactor project was the first effort and the fixed-price contract was meant to assure utilities elsewhere that Areva had great confidence that its reactors could be built cost-effectively.

So Areva tried to enter the U.S. market, with plans to build four reactors here–in Maryland, New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania. But even before the collapse of the Calvert Cliffs-3 project in Maryland–the pacesetter for the other Areva projects–became official, the estimated cost of the EPR became astonishing. The Bell Bend project in Pennsylvania, for example, posted on its website years ago an estimated cost of $13-15 Billion for a single reactor. Bell Bend, by the way, has not been officially cancelled.

Similarly, an effort to sell the EPR in Canada fell apart when cost estimates there came out to be nearly twice the estimates of other reactor designs.

Areva did manage to sell a couple EPRs to China, which are under construction, but reports from that opaque country indicate that costs there too are far exceeding estimates and the odds that Areva will get to sell any more to perhaps the only remaining significant nuclear market in the world are slim.

That leaves Areva with the hotly controversial Hinkley Point project in the United Kingdom, which, if actually built, would be the most expensive power plant project in history. Even before any work has been done on the project, the cost for its two reactors is estimated at 24.5 Billion pounds–or $38.5 Billion dollars.

To make the deal work–since it would never work on normal economic terms–the British government is guaranteeing that EDF, which will operate the reactors, will receive a price for its electricity more than double the current going rate for electricity in the country. The government threw in a $10 Billion pound loan guarantee for good measure.

Still, there is no such guarantee that the reactors will actually be completed. EDF needs more investors and is relying heavily on some Chinese companies, who apparently want more say in who will provide parts for the reactor than EDF and Areva are comfortable with. That recently has led to negotiations with some Saudi investors to take on a portion of the project. But none of those potential investments are yet signed on paper, much less stone.

And the concept of a guaranteed price for electricity–especially one twice as high as current prices–smacks to some other European nations as akin to a subsidy, which is expressly forbidden by European Union rules. While the project has received initial approval from the EU, Austria plans to challenge that ruling in court, and may be joined by other countries and entities.

For an excellent recap of the Hinkley Point project, go to Europe’s Energy Post here.

Even a return to the French marketplace will no longer be a last resort for Areva, as the government moves ahead in its plan to reduce nuclear power and increase renewables–a plan as ambitious–at least in terms of megawatts–as Germany’s plan to get out of nuclear entirely.

Areva remains a huge entity of course, and it seems unlikely the French government will let it fail entirely. But its future is difficult to discern. The government apparently wants to install the current head of the French automaker Peugeot as the new CEO of Areva. He may well be a good businessman; it’s unlikely he’s a nuclear reactor expert. And when it comes to exports? Well, let’s just ask how many Peugeots do you see clogging U.S. streets?

Given France’s new energy intentions, and Areva’s inability to compete in the dwindling nuclear business, could we see Areva drop its nuclear division entirely and re-fashion itself as a renewable energy giant? Don’t laugh: Areva’s original partner in designing the EPR was the German energy giant Siemens, which is now in the process of doing just that.

Michael Mariotte

November 19, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/19/au-revoir-areva/

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Filed under: International, Nuclear Economics Tagged: Areva, Finland, Flamanville, France, Hinkley Point, UK

Read more here:: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/19/au-revoir-areva/

Recent issues demonstrate risks of nuclear power in space

By Karl Grossman

galactic_spaceshiptwo_september_2013-thumbnail

The recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and explosion on launch three days earlier of an Antares rocket further underline the dangers of inserting nuclear material in the always perilous space flight equation—as the U.S. and Russia still plan.

“SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly,” Virgin Galactic tweeted after the spacecraft, on which $500 million has been spent for development, exploded on October 31 after being released by its mother ship. One pilot was killed, another seriously injured. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder, hoped to begin flying passengers on SpaceShipTwo this spring. Some 800 people, including actor Leonard DiCaprio and physicist Steven Hawking, have signed up for $250,000-a person tickets to take a suborbital ride. SpaceShipTwo debris was spread over the Mojave Desert in California.

Three days before, on Wallops Island, Virginia, an Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. blew up seconds after launch. It was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. The cost of the rocket alone was put at $200 million. NASA, in a statement, said that the rocket “suffered a catastrophic anomaly.” The word anomaly, defined as something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected, has for years been a space program euphemism for a disastrous accident.

“These two recent space ‘anomalies’ remind us that technology frequently

goes wrong,” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. “When you consider adding nuclear power into the mix it becomes an explosive combination. We’ve long been sounding the alarm that nuclear power in space is not something the public nor the planet can afford to take a chance on.”

But “adding nuclear power into the mix” is exactly what the U.S. and Russia are planning. Both countries have been using nuclear power on space missions for decades—and accidents involving their nuclear-powered space devices have happened with substantial amounts of radioactive particles released on Earth.

Now, a major expansion in space nuclear power activity is planned with the development by both nations of nuclear-powered rockets for trips to Mars.

One big U.S. site for this is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “NASA Researchers Studying Advanced Nuclear Rocket Technologies,” announced NASA last year. At the center, it said, “The Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion team is tackling a three-year project to demonstrate the viability of nuclear propulsion technologies.” In them, a “nuclear rocket uses a nuclear reactor to heat hydrogen to very high temperatures, which expands through a nozzle to generate thrust. Nuclear rocket engines generate higher thrust and are more than twice as efficient as conventional chemical engines.”

“A first-generation nuclear cryogenic propulsion system could propel human explorers to Mars more efficiently than conventional spacecraft, reducing crew’s exposure to harmful space radiation and other effects of long-term space missions,” NASA went on. “It could also transport heavy cargo and science payloads.”

And out at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the DUFF project—for Demonstrating Using Flattop Fissions—is moving ahead to develop a “robust fission reactor prototype that could be used as a power system for space travel,” according to Technews World. The laboratory’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Division is running the joint Department of Energy-NASA project. “Nuclear Power Could Blast Humans Into Deep Space,” was the headline of Technewsworld’s 2012 article about it. It quoted Dr. Michael Gruntman, professor of aerospace engineering and systems architecture at the University of Southern California, saying,“If we want solar system exploration, we must utilize nuclear technology.” The article declared: “Without the risk, there will be no reward.”

And in Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Ad Astra Rocket Company of former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz is busy working on what it calls the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR. Chang-Diaz began Ad Astra after retiring from NASA in 2005. He’s its president and CEO. The VASMIR system could utilize solar power, related Space News last year, but “using a VASMIR engine to make a superfast Mars run would require incorporating a nuclear reactor that cranks out megawatts of power, Chang-Diaz said, adding that developing this type of powerful reactor should be high on the nation’s to-do list.” Chang-Diaz told Voice of America that by using a nuclear reactor for power “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one-way.” NASA Director Charles Bolden, also a former astronaut as well as a Marine Corps major general, has been a booster of Ad Asra’s project.

Ad Astra and the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion project have said their designs would include nuclear systems only starting up when “out of the atmosphere” to prevent, in the event of an accident, “spreading radiation back to Earth.”

However, this isn’t a fail-safe plan. The Soviet Union followed this practice on the satellites powered by nuclear reactors that it launched between the 1960s and 1980s. This included the Cosmos 954. Its on board reactor was only allowed to go critical after it was in orbit, but it subsequently came crashing back to Earth in 1978, breaking up and spreading radioactive debris on the Northwest Territories of Canada.

As to Russia now, “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race,” the Russian news agency RT reported in 2012. “Nuclear power has generally been considered a valid alternative to fossil fuels to power space craft, as it is the only energy source capable of producing the enormous thrust needed for interplanetary travel….The revolutionary propulsion system falls in line with recently announced plans for Russia to conquer space…Entitled Space Development Strategies up to 2030, Russia aims to send probes to Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, as well as establish a series of bases on the moon.”

This year OSnet Daily, in an article headlined “Russia advances development of nuclear powered Spacecraft,” reported that in 2013 work on the Russian nuclear rocket moved “to the design stage.”

As for space probes, many U.S. and Russian probes have until recently gotten their on board electrical power from systems fueled with plutonium— hotly radioactive from the start.

Also, the U.S. has begun to power Mars rovers with plutonium. After using solar power on Mars rovers, in 2012 NASA launched a Mars rover it named Curiosity fueled with 10.6 pounds of plutonium. NASA plans to launch a Mars rover nearly identical to Curiosity, which it is calling Mars 2020, in 2020.

As devastating in terms of financial damage were last week’s explosions of the Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo and Antares rocket, an accident involving a nuclear-powered vehicle or device could be far more costly

The NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Curiosity (then called Mars Science Laboratory) mission states, for example, that the cost of decontamination of areas affected by dispersed plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.”

Odds of an accident were acknowledged as being low. The EIS said a launch accident discharging plutonium had a 1-in-420 chance of happening and could “release material into the regional area defined…within…62 miles of the launch pad” on Cape Canaveral, Florida. The EIS said that “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released was 1-in-220. If there were an accident resulting in plutonium fallout that occurred before the rocket carrying Curiosity broke through Earth’s gravitational field, people could be affected in a broad swath of Earth “anywhere between 28-degrees north and 28-degrees south latitude” on Earth, said the EIS.

Gagnon said at the time: “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry…The taxpayers are being asked once again to pay for nuclear missions that could endanger the lives of all the people on the planet. Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”

Curiosity made it up, and to Mars.

But in NASA’s history of nuclear power shots, happening since the 1950s, there have been accidents. The worst among the 26 U.S. space nuclear missions listed in the Curiosity EIS occurred in 1964 and involved the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. Its plutonium fuel dispersed widely That accident spurred NASA to develop solar energy for satellites and now all satellites are solar-powered as is the International Space Station.

And in recent times, solar power has been increasingly shown to be practical even to generate on board electricity for missions far out in space. On its way to Jupiter now is NASA’s Juno space probe, chemically-propelled and with solar photovoltaic panels generating all its on board electricity. When Juno reaches Jupiter in 2016 it will be nearly 500 million miles from the Sun, but the high-efficiency solar cells will still be generating power.

In August, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe, similarly solar-powered, rendezvoused with a comet in deep space, 400 million miles from Earth. http://news.discovery.com/space/asteroids-meteors-meteorites/rosetta-probe-makes-historic-comet-rendezvous-140806.htmb

Advances, too, have been made in propelling spacecraft in the vacuum of space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010 launched what it termed a “space yacht” it called Ikaros which successfully got its propulsion power from the pressure on its large sails of ionizing particles emitted by the Sun.

Among other ways of propelling spacecraft, discussed at a Starship Congress last year in Texas was a system using orbiting lasers to direct beams on to a spacecraft. The magazine New Scientist said “beam sails are regarded as the most promising tech for a starship.”

A scientist long-involved in laser space power research is Geoff Landis of the Photovoltaics and Space Environment Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland who, in a 2002 NASA publication, “The Edge of Sunshine,” wrote: “In the long term, solar arrays will not have to rely on the Sun. We’re investigating the concept of using lasers to beam photons to solar arrays. If you make a powerful enough laser and can aim the beam, there’s really isn’t any edge to sunshine—with a big enough lens, we could beam light to a space-probe halfway to alpha-Centauri!”

The post Recent issues demonstrate risks of nuclear power in space appeared first on Enformable.

Read more here:: http://enformable.com/2014/11/recent-issues-demonstrate-risks-nuclear-power-space/

Nuclear Matters moves further from reality

By Michael Mariotte

A Greenpeace blimp hovers near the Vermont Yankee reactor, now coasting toward its permanent shutdown--much to Nuclear Matters' chagrin.

A Greenpeace blimp hovers near the Vermont Yankee reactor, now coasting toward its permanent shutdown–much to Nuclear Matters’ chagrin.

The very creation by Exelon of Nuclear Matters, an astroturf group devoted to keeping existing nuclear reactors operating at any cost, was a sign of the desperation that characterizes much of the nuclear power industry today, especially those utilities that bet the most on nuclear power several years back and are now faced with the reality that their bets were a fool’s hand. These utilities got played–by an environment in which competing energy sources, especially cleaner renewable energy sources–have become cheaper than the nuclear electricity provided by obsolete 20th century atomic reactors. And that environment is only going to become less hospitable to the nuclear utilities.

So their desperation mounts, as evidenced by Nuclear Matters’ most recent op-ed (published on Fox News, perhaps another sign of desperation if the least credible news entity was the best outlet they could find….) in which co-chairs Evan Bayh and Judd Gregg move from merely misleading statements of past writings to outright deception and falsehood.

Former Indiana Senator and now Fox News contributor/Nuclear Matters Co-Chair Evan Bayh.

Speaking of Fox News, Bayh, a former Democratic senator from Indiana and son of liberal stalwart Birch Bayh, is now an official “contributor” to Fox. Should we expect him to switch parties soon? Or is this simply a sign that he has lost so much credibility as he has moved ever rightward over the years–and being co-chair of a desperate nuclear industry organization surely hasn’t helped with that credibility–that the mainstream media no longer takes him seriously?

Bayh and Gregg’s op-ed focuses on Vermont Yankee, which is currently coasting to permanent shutdown before the end of the year. To them, its shutdown and others to come, is “devastating.”

They warn that Vermont Yankee “produced 26 percent of New England’s power during the peak of last year’s frigid weather,” implying that its shutdown will leave New Englanders shivering in the dark this coming winter. Really? More than a quarter of the region’s power supply came from this one 620 MW nuclear reactor? That would mean that the region’s total power needs were right around 2500 MW. They’re only off by a factor of ten. In fact, New England used about 25,000 MW of power last winter. Summer peak, by the way, is actually a little higher, at about 28,000 MW. That might have been a better argument for the pair to make in terms of need for Vermont Yankee, except keeping A/C’s running just doesn’t sound as frightening as a polar vortex.

In either case, Vermont Yankee’s power contribution to the region is negligible. Perhaps Fox News could use a few more fact-checkers.

The pair go on to predict that because of the reactor’s closure, “some customers can expect rate increases of up to a staggering 50 percent.” That would be a staggering amount if it happened. But it won’t. In fact, the very reason Vermont Yankee is closing is because its electricity is too expensive compared to the available alternatives. So it makes no sense whatsoever to argue that its closure would increase rates. Electricity rates without Vermont Yankee are as likely to fall as they are to increase. But even if they go up, they’re not going to increase enough to make anyone want to buy its power.

Former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg.

Former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg.

Later, Bayh and Gregg argue that “nuclear energy plants…emit no carbon.” They go on to say “In fact, nuclear energy facilities prevent four times as much carbon dioxide per megawatt as wind; six times as much as solar arrays.”

This falls under “deliberate deception.” While reactors themselves emit almost no carbon (just a small amount of radioactive carbon), the nuclear fuel chain is hardly carbon-free. But Bayh and Gregg don’t want to acknowledge that. And thus their numbers are upside down. When fuel chains are included, according to the 2008 meta-analysis by Dr. Benjamin Sovacool, nuclear emits six times more carbon per megawatt as wind and 2-3 times as much as solar. And as renewables’ efficiency increases, as it has greatly since 2008, the gap grows even larger.

Bayh and Gregg do get more specific in this op-ed than Nuclear Matters has been in the past about what it wants (meaning mostly what Exelon wants). It wants FERC and other regulators to tell the marketplace that it “should appropriately value existing nuclear energy plants for their reliability.” Of course, a major rationale for the current deregulated marketplace that utilities like Exelon and Entergy insisted upon a decade or so ago was exactly to let the market–not regulators–make these kinds of decisions. And the marketplace apparently doesn’t see nuclear’s supposed reliability the same way Nuclear Matters does. Indeed, Bayh and Gregg actually mourn the closing of the San Onofre reactors, which had been shut down because of a radioactive steam generator leak and ensuing problems for nearly two years before Southern California Edison announced their permanent closure. That’s reliability only in the sense that the marketplace for years reliably knew not to expect any electricity from San Onofre.

And counting on reactors like Vermont Yankee (or Pilgrim, Quad Cities, Fitzpatrick, Ginna and other aging, uneconomic reactors) to not shut down for repairs, accidents and the like a year or more ahead of time–the time frame the marketplace makes such decisions–and thus provide “reliable” electricity is a dubious projection the marketplace doesn’t seem to want to accept. Forcing the marketplace to do so, as Nuclear Matters and its backers want, would make a mockery of the entire concept of electricity deregulation and would itself potentially force power shortages if the marketplace were then forced not to purchase more reliable renewable energy, which at least is not vulnerable to radioactive incidents. Since renewable energy sources tend to be more dispersed and smaller, they are much less vulnerable to reliability problems. After all, if a 50 MW wind farm somehow, as improbable as it seems, were to fall to the ground, the loss of power to the region would be far easier to make up than would be the case when a 620 MW reactor like Vermont Yankee (or the long list of other, most even larger, uneconomic reactors) had to shut down for repairs, NRC-mandated safety upgrades, and even refueling, which typically takes weeks, and can take months.

Nuclear Matters also wants better transmission lines, but that’s pretty much a universal wish in the electric industry; it’s hard to see how that would help nuclear reactors in particular unless, as they seem to want, the lines go only between reactors and the rest of the grid. But transmission lines from designated reactors to the grid is a utility responsibility (for example, part of the huge cost estimates for the proposed Calvert Cliffs-3 and Levy County reactors was building such lines).

As we have been warning for months, Nuclear Matters now explicitly wants nuclear–existing nuclear reactors, most built decades ago–to be included in new “clean energy” standards that it would have supplant the Renewable Energy Standards in most states that exist to encourage construction of new renewables. Adding existing reactors to such standards would make them meaningless because their inclusion, in just about every state with RES laws, would mean the standards are already met and there is thus no need for new clean energy deployment of any kind.

And, of course, as an extractive industry nuclear power is not renewable nor, because of its well-known litany of environmental destruction other than low carbon emissions relative to the worst of fossil fuels, can nuclear power in any way be considered “clean energy.”

Finally, as we also have been warning for months, Nuclear Matters makes clear that state implementation of the EPA’s upcoming final carbon rule will be a key venue for resolution of the debate on the future of uneconomic reactors. That may be the most truthful paragraph in the entire op-ed.

A desperate industry takes desperate measures. Deliberate deception and outright falsehood are indeed desperate measures. Rather than discouragement over op-eds like this one, nor even the creation of the well-funded Nuclear Matters, clean energy advocates should take heart. When a desperate industry has to stoop this low, when its lies are so easily exposed, you know it’s on the ropes, with its very existence in peril and its future increasingly bleak.

Michael Mariotte

November 18, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/18/nuclear-matters-moves-further-from-reality/

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Filed under: energy future, nuclear industry, nukes and climate, Uncategorized Tagged: Entergy, Evan Bayh, Exelon, Judd Gregg, Nuclear Matters, Vermont Yankee

Read more here:: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/18/nuclear-matters-moves-further-from-reality/

Fukushima £11bn cleanup progresses, but there is no cause for optimism

By Broc West via The Guardian / November 14, 2014 / The man in charge of cleaning up the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has admitted there is little cause for optimism while thousands of workers continue their battle to contain huge quantities of radioactive water. The water problem is so severe that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], and its myriad partner firms have enlisted almost all of their 6,000 … Continue reading

Read more here:: http://fukushimaupdate.com/fukushima-11bn-cleanup-progresses-but-there-is-no-cause-for-optimism/

Exelon wins a round

By Michael Mariotte

Exelon's Ginna reactor, on Lake Ontario. Photo from IAEA.

Exelon’s Ginna reactor, on Lake Ontario. Photo from IAEA.

Yesterday, the New York Public Service Commission voted unanimously to require the upstate utility Rochester Gas and Electric (RGE) to enter into negotiations with Exelon to keep the company’s uneconomic Ginna reactor from shutting down this year.

Exelon subsidiary Constellation Energy, which runs the Ginna reactor, says the reactor has lost $100 million over the past three years and that while it is currently selling power on the open market, it is losing money there.

Constellation previously had a ten-year agreement with RGE for the utility to buy Ginna’s power, but that expired on June 30.

The PSC said it is concerned about electricity reliability in the Rochester area, and that a shutdown of Ginna in the near future might threaten that reliability. A study by New York’s grid operator said the reactor’s power will be needed through 2018. Of course, as we noted on July 14 when Exelon first proposed a new power purchase contract, counting on a 44-year old reactor to provide reliable electricity is not exactly a safe bet.

In making its decision, the PSC ignored the dozen or so groups that had petitioned to intervene in the process and urged the dismissal of Exelon’s request.

The big losers here are RGE customers. If Ginna has been losing tens of millions per year under the previous contract as its owner claims, then to make Ginna profitable–which is Exelon’s goal–will require substantial rate increases.

Still, Exelon didn’t get all it might want either. The PSC still has to approve any final deal between RGE and Exelon, and a deal that would raise rates too much might be frowned upon. And it’s unclear at this point whether rate increases sufficient to return Ginna to profitability would in fact be too high for PSC approval.

And Exelon isn’t going to get a long-term power purchase agreement–just one that will cover the current reliability issue–presumably until 2018. PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman said that it’s not about keeping Ginna operating for its own sake: “The issue for us is how do we have an orderly exit” when Ginna does shut down.

She also wouldn’t commit to approving any final deal, saying that while the negotiations between RGE and Exelon go on, that would give the PSC “ample time to take a look and see if there are viable alternatives in lieu of the power plant.”

In Illinois, where Exelon is running a half-dozen or so uneconomic reactors, Crain’s Chicago Business described the NY PSC’s action as a “precursor to the debate expected next year in Illinois.”

But the conditions are quite different in the two states: there are no purchase power agreements available in Illinois to bail out Exelon there, since Exelon is pretty much the only game in the state–and it won’t help for Exelon to make such an agreement with itself. Nor is reliability a big issue in Illinois–Exelon’s reactors just can’t compete with the huge amounts of wind power and natural gas available in the state. It’s not like there is a potential power shortage there.

A short-term bailout wouldn’t do much for Exelon in Illinois either–most of its reactors in the state are much younger than Ginna, which is near its retirement in any event. In the sense that people in Illinois will be asked to pay higher electricity rates to keep uneconomic reactors open, yes, that will certainly be part of Exelon’s game plan there. But Exelon’s arguments for those higher rates are much weaker in Illinois.

The big banks may have received consumer bailouts because they were famously “too big to fail.” But Exelon’s argument essentially boils down to the fact that its reactors are “too big to compete” with the smaller (as well as safer and cleaner), distributed generation provided by renewables. And that’s going to be a much tougher sell.

What Exelon has going for it in Illinois is that it is far more politically powerful there than in New York. And that means clean energy advocates in Illinois are going to need help from all of us in the coming months as Exelon’s strategy there becomes clearer.

Meanwhile, clean energy advocates in New York are examining the PSC’s action to determine whether there may be legal recourse available. Exelon won this round there, but the issue isn’t done in New York, or anywhere else.

Michael Mariotte

November 14, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/14/exelon-wins-a-round/

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Filed under: Nuclear Economics Tagged: Exelon, Ginna, New York Public Service Commission

Read more here:: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/14/exelon-wins-a-round/

The Inconvenient Truth in the US-China Climate Pact?

By Michael Mariotte

Rooftop solar in Qingnan village of Lianyungang, China.

Rooftop solar in Qingnan village of Lianyungang, China.

China’s government tends to be ruled by a high degree of economic realism. The national economy comes first and has largely trumped other considerations, such as the environment, human rights, democracy, global public opinion, etc. The decision to enter into the climate pact with the U.S., to the extent that China intends to honor it (and there is no indication at this stage that it does not), suggests that it has to give serious consideration to how it will meet the lofty objective implied by the commitment to provide 20% of its total energy supply through low-carbon generation sources by 2030. It is being reported widely that this objective equates to China installing as much low-carbon generation as the entire current U.S. electricity production from all sources.

It’s completely reasonable to wonder, with such an ambitious goal, how much China will rely on nuclear as opposed to renewables to get there. In fact, there is no reason to expect that China will abandon nuclear, given all the rest of the reasons the country has been pursuing it: building of international prestige, demonstration of geopolitical might, illustration of engineering prowess, development of manufacturing capacity, etc.

But in reality there is no way that nuclear is going to be even close to a majority share of how China will get to the goal. China will soon have 22 reactors in operation and has the largest pipeline of reactors in construction in the world at a whopping total of 27. There are reportedly another 59 reactors in the planning stage, and 150 reactors proposed. These numbers are very similar to the historical U.S. reactor pipeline, which once approached a high of about 250 reactors proposed, planned, or developed. The U.S. fell short by more than half that number. capping out at 114 commercial reactors completed (15 of which are closing or closed), plus the five currently in construction.

If every one of these were actually built and put into operation, China’s ambitious nuclear development plans would cap out at about 250,000 MW of nuclear generation–more than 10 times the reactors and 12 times its current nuclear power capacity. And China would do this in about the same amount of time it has taken to develop just the 22 reactors currently in operation–an incredibly ambitious expansion under the huge constraints facing nuclear energy development. Essentially, China would have to build and put into operation 15 reactors/year for 15 years, more than one per month.

Currently, China only has firm(-ish) project completion dates for 36 reactors through 2020. On average, it seems to be taking China at least five years to complete construction of reactors once started. In order to meet the necessary development rate to keep pace, China would need to have about 75 reactors under construction now to be completed by 2020. So, thus far, it looks like China is only preparing to move at half the pace necessary to build all these reactors by 2030. This means that perhaps only 130 reactors would be in operation by then–surpassing the US handily, yes, but still falling well short of what would be necessary to make a dent in the goals China just committed to.

The U.S. electricity industry had a total of 1,167,995 MW of generation capacity in 2012. China’s total nuclear development pipeline does not even get the country 25% of the way there. With an average reactor size of 1,100 MW, China would have to build over 1,000 reactors in 15 years to meet all of its goal with nuclear–more than double the total number of reactors built worldwide in the last 60 years, and nearly 30 times more than the country’s current development pipeline. To get to even 50% of the goal with nuclear would not be much less daunting–over 500 reactors. China’s most ambitious plans so far only get them to 25% of the goal, and a sober assessment of where the country is in developing the pipeline puts them at only about 12.5%. That would make nuclear about 2.5% of the country’s energy mix in 2030, all but inconsequential.

Lightly-populated central and northern China has tremendous utility-scale solar power potential, while the large cities in the Southeast have adequate rooftop solar potential.

The upshot of all this arcane number-crunching is that China must be assuming it will rely heavily on renewables to do the job. It can’t expect to build that many more reactors that much more quickly than it has been. And in the course of undertaking this plan, it will have to contend with the higher cost of nuclear–even at China’s inevitably lower cost levels than the West, due to wage rates, government subsidies, and other issues. nuclear is still an expensive source of power. There is just no way China is going to be able to meet this goal by relying on nuclear as a major component of it, and the government must reconcile itself with that fact.

Wind capacity already has surpassed nuclear capacity in China, and the gap is expected to widen.

Wind-generated electricity already has surpassed nuclear generation in China, and the gap is expected to widen.

And while there is no doubt that China will continue with its nuclear program, the natural question is: why? China has to be looking at its capacity to develop solar and wind, at immensely lower cost than nuclear, much more rapidly, and with much greater economic potential for exports and global market share. Why waste all the economic resources on such a small part of its energy strategy, when it could direct it more efficiently and reliably and productively into renewables? The country has been bringing more wind and solar online than nuclear in recent years–surpassing 100,000 MW of wind already and nearing 35,000 MW of solar–even though it has longer experience with nuclear than it does with renewables. China will likely continue its nuclear development program, but for other, less admirable reasons. But nuclear won’t be a major portion of meeting its commitments under this climate agreement.

And here’s the trick. If China can build as much renewable electricity generation in 15 years as it takes to power the entire U.S.–then why can’t the U.S. do it? The U.S. has more land area, more coastline, no less sun, and all of the other natural resources that power renewable energy systems. It’s not clear whether the Obama administration asked that question during the last year of negotiations with China, but if so, the administration’s own commitment and EPA’s carbon rule don’t show it.

As climate change deniers, skeptics, and cynics downplay or even attempt to scuttle the agreement, it’s essential not to lose sight of this basic point. China just pulled the curtain on the fact that the U.S., and the rest of the world, can get to a low-carbon economy within the 2050 timeframe AND that we can do it without nuclear. It’s yet to be seen whether China can get there, since its growth in total energy use is so rapacious and the commitment is just to cap emissions growth by 2030. And similar concerns can be raised about India, which has been starting on a similar economic trajectory as China. But the U.S. is still the second-largest carbon emitter (and by far the largest per capita), accounting for 15% of global CO2 emissions. And even if everyone but China and India could get to zero emissions–and those two countries got to some meaningful reductions–that would probably still get the world to better than 80% reductions by 2050. That may be the most hopeful sign we’ve seen on climate action since, well, the People’s Climate March.

Tim Judson

Tim Judson is executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service

November 13, 2014

Permalink: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/13/the-inconvenient-truth-in-us-china-climate-pact/

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Filed under: energy future, nukes and climate Tagged: China and solar power, China’s nuclear program, nuclear power and climate, wind power in China

Read more here:: http://safeenergy.org/2014/11/13/the-inconvenient-truth-in-us-china-climate-pact/