FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Trouble With Rust-Bucket Reactors

by HARVEY WASSERMAN

The US fleet of 104 deteriorating atomic reactors is starting to fall.  The much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” is now definitively headed in reverse.

The announcement that Wisconsin’s Kewaunee will shut next year will be remembered as a critical dam break.  Opened in 1974, Kewaunee has fallen victim to low gas prices, declining performance, unsolved technical problems and escalating public resistance.

Many old US reactors are still profitable only because their capital costs were forced down the public throat during deregulation, through other manipulations of the public treasury, and because lax regulation lets them operate cheaply while threatening the public health.

But even that’s no longer enough.  Dominion Energy wanted a whole fleet of reactors, then backed down and couldn’t even find a buyer for Kewaunee.  As the company put it:  “the decision” to shut Kewaunee “was based purely on economics. Dominion was not able to move forward with our plan to grow our nuclear fleet in the Midwest to take advantage of economies of scale”. Ironically, Kewaunee was recently given a license extension by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Though Kewaunee may become the first US reactor to shut in more than a decade, it won’t be the last:

*  Two reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego, are down with  massive steam generator problems.  The potential cost of restarting them could easily run into the hundreds of millions.  A new leak of hydrogen gas has just complicated the situation as public hearings have drawn large, angry crowds demanding the reactors not reopen.

*  Repairs to Florida’s Crystal River have been so thoroughly botched by Progress Energy that holes in the containment may cost $2 billion or more to fix.  Odds are strong this reactor will never operate again.

*  Official reports now confirm that Nebraska’s Cooper and Ft. Calhoun reactors are at considerable risk from flooding.  One or both may soon face decommissioning.

*  A fierce public confrontation over Entergy’s leaky, accident-prone Vermont Yankee may soon bring it down.  Vermont’s governor and legislature have voted to deny permits necessary under state law, but Entergy has gone to the courts to prolong its operation.

*   A parallel confrontation at Entergy’s Indian Point may turn on whether the state’s denial of water permits could force shut a reactor just 35 miles north of Manhattan.  That the first plane to hit the World Trade Center flew directly over Indian Point has been a source of serious public tension since 9/11/2001.

*  New Jersey’s Oyster Creek is slated to shut by 2019 as a compromise forced by the state’s demand that it add cooling towers to avoid further thermal damage to local marine eco-systems.  But this dangerously decrepit reactor could go down early due to technical, economic and political pressures.

*  Ohio’s infamous “hole-in-the-head” reactor at Davis-Besse continues to operate with a compromised containment and a long list of unresolved technical problems.  Like Kewaunee, its economic future has been darkened by cheap natural gas.

The list of other reactors with immediate technical, economic and political challenges is long and lethal.  The world still has no place for high-level radioactive waste.  Renewable energy prices continue to drop while projected cost estimates for new reactors soar out of control—here, in Finland, France and elsewhere.  The two reactors under construction in Georgia, along with two in South Carolina, are all threatened by severe delays, massive cost overruns and faulty construction scandals, including the use of substandard rebar steel and inferior concrete, both of which will be extremely costly to correct.

A high-priced PR campaign has long hyped a “nuclear renaissance.”  But in the wake of Fukushima, a dicey electricity market, cheap gas and the failure of secure federal loan guarantees in the face of intensifying public opposition, the bottom may soon drop out of both projects.  A proposed French-financed reactor for Maryland has been cancelled thanks to a powerful grassroots campaign.  Any other new reactor projects will face public opposition and economic pitfalls at least as powerful.

The announcement that Kewaunee will shut could send the US fleet into free fall.  Richard Nixon promised the US a thousand reactors by the year 2000.  But in fact there were 104.  And with the needle now dropping, it’s clear the “Peaceful Atom” is on its way out.

The decline is worldwide.  China may still be weighing more reactor construction, as are Russia and South Korea.  But public resistance has vastly escalated in India.  Virtually all of Europe, is abandoning the technology, with Germany leading the way to a green-powered future.  A fuel pool laden with radioactive rods still hangs precariously in the air at Fukushima, casting an even harsher light on the two dozen GE reactors of similar design still operating here.  All but two of Japan’s reactors remain shut while an angry debate rages over whether any of the rest will ever reopen.

Should the very pro-nuclear Mitt Romney win here in November, another surge may come aimed at reviving this industry.  But the mountains of money, litany of technical fixes and heavy political costs that would be required are staggering to say the least.

In the long run, the real worry is that one or more of these old reactors might just blow before we can get it decommissioned.  In that light, the shut-down of Kewaunee and the rest of its aging siblings can’t come soon enough.

Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA!  OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is atwww.harveywasserman.ning.com, along with WILL THE GOP STEAL AMERICA’S 2012 ELECTION?, co-authored with Bob Fitrakis. 

Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth. His Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail