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

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
W. T. Whitney
The Fate of Prisoner Simón Trinidad, as Seen by His U. S. Lawyer
Brian Platt
Don’t Just Oppose ICE Raids, Tear Down the Whole Racist Immigration Enforcement Regime
Paul Cantor
Refugee: the Compassionate Mind of Egon Schwartz
Norman Richmond
The Black Radical Tradition in Canada
Barton Kunstler
Rallying Against the Totalitarian Specter
Judith Deutsch
Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir Evoked a Lot More International Attention in the 1950s Than It Does Now
Adam Phillips
There Isn’t Any There There
Louis Proyect
Steinbeck’s Red Devils
Randy Shields
Left Coast Date: the Dating Site for the ORWACA Tribe
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City”
David Yearsley
White Supremacy and Music Theory
February 16, 2017
Peter Gaffney
The Rage of Caliban: Identity Politics, the Travel Ban, and the Shifting Ideological Framework of the Resistance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail