March 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm #2345
Japan crisis renews US debate over nuclear power
March 16, 2011 2:04 PM ET
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – When the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced last week that it would grant the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant a 20-year extension on its operating license, the plant’s supporters won a fresh and strong talking point toward improving the reactor’s political fortunes in Vermont.
Only hours later, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan set off a disaster at reactors of the same design and vintage as Vermont Yankee. Politically, the trouble-plagued plant’s chances appeared doomed.
“I don’t think they had a pulse last week, but we’ve picked out the casket now,” said Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the Vermont House committee that oversees Vermont Yankee, said of the plant’s political prospects in the state.
Nuclear politics is unusually raw in Vermont, the only state with a law calling on its legislature to give the OK before regulators give the state’s approval for the license extension.
But across the country, the nuclear industry is coming under new scrutiny, with questions being raised about whether a big dose of bad news about the technology might cool the ardor for a renaissance in the industry.
“The timing could not be worse,” said Richard Levick, CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington-based firm that advises companies on how to handle public-relations crises. “We saw the American nuclear industry really starting to reposition itself for growth. At best this is a short-term setback.”
The government has already offered $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear plant construction, and President Barack Obama, a strong supporter of building new reactors, has asked in his recently proposed budget for $36 billion more.
Of the money already allocated, $8 billion is earmarked for a new plant in Georgia, due for a groundbreaking later this year. Obama and other supporters say they expect the twin reactors planned near Waynesboro, Ga., will be the first of a new fleet of reactors that will help the nation wean itself from imported oil and other carbon-emitting fossil fuels.
On Monday, four days after announcing his agency’s green light for the 20-year license extension at Vermont Yankee, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told reporters at the White House he did not want to speculate about whether U.S. reactors would be able to withstand a disaster as severe as the one that struck Japan.
For critics of the industry, that’s a big problem.
Just as Japan did not plan for an earthquake as powerful – and a tsunami as large – as what struck the Fukushima reactors, no one can plan for a future unknown disaster that might hit a U.S. nuclear plant, said Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who has advised the Vermont Legislature on nuclear issues.
“What we thought was impossible last week is now commonplace this week,” he said. “The chance of a single meltdown was one in a million and now we’ve having three in five days.”
Gundersen said a report he helped write for a legislative oversight committee in 2009 concluded that Vermont Yankee did not meet current standards for ability to withstand an earthquake.
Vermont Yankee is one of three nuclear plants in New England that have still-unresolved applications seeking permission to run for an additional 20 years beyond their original 40-year licenses. The Vermont reactor’s fate is unresolved only at the state level.
Legislative leaders say they have no plans to reopen an issue they regard as resolved last year when the state Senate voted 26-4 to block the state Public Service Board from issuing Vermont Yankee a state permit to operate after 2012. Senate President John Campbell said he was afraid Vermont Yankee’s owners may try to continue operating even without a state permit, which he said would make it a “rogue nuclear plant.”
House Speaker Shap Smith said there’s no point in bringing the matter up in his chamber given the Senate’s strong opposition. But he said House lawmakers also have strong misgivings, especially about plant owner Entergy Corp.’s failure to fill a projected shortfall in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund and make plant upgrades recommended by a legislative oversight panel.
The NRC also is reviewing renewal applications from the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, Indian Point in New York and Davis-Besse in Ohio. Vermont Yankee’s is the 63rd renewal application it has approved, against no rejections.
Vermont Yankee is a General Electric boiling-water reactor with a GE Mark 1 containment dating from the early 1970s – the same as the Fukushima reactors. Vermont Yankee spokesman Larry Smith said the plant was designed to withstand a magnitude-6.2 earthquake, slightly larger than the strongest recorded earthquake to hit the region, a magnitude-6 temblor centered in East Haddam, Conn., in 1791.
As the crisis in Japan worsened, U.S. nuclear industry officials were scrambling to reassure the public. New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., which owns Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Indian Point among other plants, issued a statement saying “lessons will be learned and translated to even greater safety and effectiveness to meet the challenges of the most adverse and unexpected events, creating stronger public confidence in U.S. nuclear programs.”
It said the NRC has required U.S. plants be built to withstand the worst historical natural disasters in their regions, with extra safety margins added in.
But Richard Brodsky, a former long-time New York legislator and lawyer who has done battle with Indian Point on a range of issues, argued in an interview Tuesday that the NRC has been no tougher a regulator than the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal agencies that allowed the financial meltdown of 2008 to happen.
“We had a meltdown there. That was the phrase that was used – a financial meltdown,” Brodsky said. At the Fukushima reactors in Japan, “We are facing a literal meltdown today.”
March 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm #5200
Here is update on Liberals making an unfounded weapon against US nuke’s from Japan’s Nuke disaster. Ever notice all Liberals/Environmentalist start run with any sort Nuke crisis as excuse to close down the small gains US has made to promote future plants as alternate power source?
Previously it was one very few things in Energy Obama & Chu got right! But it wasn’t strong support more a concession for gains on Solar & Wind – both unreliable incremental power sources. It is likely they will cave to Liberals using cherry picked facts/data as usually to present to “green” Democratic politicians to help stampede uninformed public to put choke back on Nuke development & re-permiting. Until the Pacific Northwest (California) power crisis these same idiots were blocking Hydro power dams from extending their 30-40 year permits to let the “fish go free” on both the East & West coast. The true supply danger and cost impacts to John Q public quickly stopped the damn breaking spree – we can only hope something along same lines stop this stupid rush judgment on Nuclear power.
There is very good journalistic paper trail out there that the plant having meltdown problems has history of bad safety practice & buying off government to keep info out press & keep operating. (Along lines BP & Gulf – one bad company does not mean you need a referendum on whole industry….. unless you’re a liberal NIMBY that wants to kill that industry of course.)
The US has over 103 nuclear plants several like Vermont in article, merely need re-permit’s to start up and supply non-emission power cheaply to US grids. Most were forced down by over-regulated safety cost, fear publicity like they are trying start with Japan or Endless Environmental lawsuits that delayed operation & caused bankruptcy.
All this crap they put out about Nuclear waste is hype – storing the waste is only temporary, most of US type reactors are “Breeder” reactors which can also use the waste as fuel when cost gets high enough. Currently nearly half the worlds Nuclear fuel (~180 MM lb./yr.) comes from existing mines (60-80 MM lb./yr.) but the rest was supplied from decommissioned US & Russian nukes until 2008. The Russians were selling it at $7-50/lb. U308 until 2006 but ramped up to todays $90-180/lb., whereas the cost for getting it from new mine would cost +$250/lb. U308 (like Uranium One – new mine in planning). The Chinese (25 new Rx by 2015) and Russians (30 new Rx by 2015) future demand resulted in them stopping sales (since stockpiles were nearly gone anyway) ~2008. However current Obama talks decommissioning US & Russian missiles may help the supply picture out again.
Some the most rabid environmental countries like France have very successful Nuclear power programs & its obvious China & Russia are moving rapidly towards this end – why does the US continue to let a minority elite liberal group control the direction for all of US on Energy industry they no nothing about??? It goes beyond stupid that we all let this happen just because of linked front they have from their power base in areas of Environmental/Entertainment/Media/University that push unfounded agenda to Liberal democratic politicians who get propaganda level coverage form a predominant liberal Media.
Serria Club/National Resource Defense Council/Argon Laboratories – all the other pseudonyms of green tree hugging Nimbi’s need to be hit with frivolous lawsuits and purgery for their attacks on all Energy industries they allow to proceed anywhere else in world but the US. The Media like CNN, New York Times, ABC/NBC/CBS – need to be exposed as the Liberal Propaganda machines they are and not the objective opposite of FOX as they try to portray. We need to take back standards for US University professors where any student presenting conservative view or stance risk harsh consequence & open minded students are brainwashed to a liberal viewpoint.
You want to know what is wrong with our economy – look at this article & what is going on in rest of world. We have lost jobs because the Liberals don’t really care about GHG or Environment their goal is Wealth Redistribution to poorer countries. They have never opposed the Energy opportunities they block in the US in any of their pet Communistic based Undeveloped Countries and even warp WTO and Kyoto agreements to let them go unchecked.
The Nuke Power Industry isn’t that far from Oil Energy Industry & they are being destroyed by same folks it is just time for us to start throwing the political pawns & their privileged elite organizations out.
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