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

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail