FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

No Nuclear Nirvana

by ROBERT ALVAREZ

Is the nuclear drought over?

When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently approved two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia, the first such decision in 32 years, there was plenty of hoopla.

It marked a “clarion call to the world,” declared Marvin S. Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Nuclear energy is a critical part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” declared Energy Secretary Chu, who traveled in February to the Vogtle site where Westinghouse plans to build two new reactors.

But it’s too soon for nuclear boosters to pop their champagne corks. Japan’s Fukushima disaster continues to unfold nearly a year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami unleashed what’s shaping up to be the worst nuclear disaster ever. Meanwhile, a raft of worldwide reactor closures, cancellations, and postponements is still playing out. The global investment bank UBS estimates that some 30 reactors in several countries are at risk of closure, including at least two in highly pro-nuclear France.

And Siemens AG, one of the world’s largest builders of nuclear power plants, has already dumped its nuclear business.

Recently, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) credit rating agency announced that without blanket financing from consumers and taxpayers, the prospects of an American nuclear renaissance are “faint.” It doesn’t help that the nuclear price tag has nearly doubled in the past five years. Currently reactors are estimated to cost about $6 to $10 billion to build. The glut of cheap natural gas makes it even less attractive for us to nuke out.

How expensive is the bill that S&P thinks private lenders will shun?

Replacing the nation’s existing fleet of 104 reactors, which are all slated for closure by 2056, could cost about $1.4 trillion. Oh, and add another $500 billion to boost the generating capacity by 50 percent to make a meaningful impact on reducing carbon emissions. (Nuclear power advocates are touting it as a means of slowing climate change.) We’d need to fire up at least one new reactor every month, or even more often, for the next several decades.

Dream on.

Meanwhile, Japan — which has the world’s third-largest nuclear reactor fleet — has cancelled all new nuclear reactor projects. All but two of its 54 plants are shut down. Plus the risk of yet another highly destructive earthquake occurring even closer to the Fukushima reactors has increased, according to the European Geosciences Union.

This is particularly worrisome for Daiichi’s structurally damaged spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4, which sits 100 feet above ground, exposed to the elements. Drainage of water from this pool resulting from another quake could trigger a catastrophic radiological fire involving about eight times more radioactive cesium than was released at Chernobyl.

Ironically, the NRC’s decision to license those two reactors has thrown a lifeline to Japan’s flagging nuclear power industry (along with an $8.3-billion U.S. taxpayer loan guarantee). Toshiba Corp. owns 87 percent of Westinghouse, which is slated to build the new reactors. Since U.S.-based nuclear power vendors disappeared years ago, all of the proposed reactors in this country are to be made by Japanese firms — Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi — or Areva, which is mostly owned by the French government. According to the Energy Department, “major equipment would not be manufactured by U.S. facilities.”

For Southern Co., which would operate the Vogtle reactors, the NRC’s approval is just the beginning of a financial and political gauntlet it must run through. Over the strenuous objections of consumers and businesses, energy customers will shoulder the costs of financing and constructing this $17-billion project, even if the reactors are abandoned before completion. If things don’t turn out, U.S. taxpayers will also be on the hook for an $8.3-billion loan guarantee that the Energy Department has approved.

The Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office estimate that nuclear loan guarantees have a 50/50 chance of default.

Nearly four decades after the Three Mile Island accident, nuclear power remains expensive, dangerous, and too radioactive for Wall Street. The industry won’t grow unless the U.S. government props it up and the public bears the risks.

ROBERT ALVAREZ, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary from 1993 to 1999. www.ips-dc.org

This column is distributed by Other Words.

May 04, 2016
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail