American Nuclear Power Suffers Series of Setbacks
Once touted as a successor, or at least a competitor, to carbon-based power, the nuclear sector has taken a beating as the momentum behind new projects stalls and enthusiasm for domestic fossil fuel production grows.
Across the country, plans to build nuclear plants have hit roadblocks recently—a sharp turn for a sector that just a few years ago was looking forward to a renaissance.
In recent weeks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled against a proposed partnership between NRC Energy and Toshiba, citing a law that prohibits control of a U.S. plant by a foreign corporation.
Elsewhere, Duke Energy scuttled plans to construct two nuclear reactors in North Carolina, while California officials warned that two damaged reactors could be shut down permanently if the NRC doesn’t take action to get the plants back online.
The change in nuclear’s fortunes is staggering, given that the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power ….
“Starting about four years ago, the industry felt it was in the middle of a renaissance” with applications for many new plants pending with the NRC, said Peter Bradford, a law professor and a former member of the commission. “They’ve gone from that high-water mark to a point at which … we’re actually seeing the closing of a few operating plants,which was unthinkable even a few years ago.”
Bradford, who also served as a utility commissioner in New York and Maine, cited a “cauldron of events” for bringing the nuclear push to a standstill, including … soaring investment costs.
Ene News notes that California’s San Onofre nuclear plant hit a major speed bump:
Reuters: An independent nuclear regulatory panel on Monday called for a full public hearing on the proposed restart of one of the two damaged San Onofre nuclear reactors, a move that will delay Southern California Edison’s plan to run the plant this summer. […] Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth called the ruling “a complete rejection of Edison’s plan to restart its damaged nuclear reactors without public review or input.”
San Diego Union-Tribune: Murray Jennex, a former systems engineer at San Onofre for nearly 20 years who now teaches at San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration, said the order likely pushes back a final decision on restarting the Unit 2 reactor until after summer. “I won’t say this is a death blow to Unit 2, but it does make restart less likely,” Jennex said. “If approved, the additional downtime makes the Unit 2 restart more complex and costly due to corrosion issues from sitting.”
AP: San Onofre nuke plant restart halted […] A federal panel sided Monday with environmentalists who have called for lengthy hearings on a plan to restart the ailing San Onofre nuclear power plant — a decision that further clouds the future of the twin reactors.
An inside sources from within the San Onofre nuclear plant told ABC News:
I was there the day it shut down. I wouldn’t trust them to turn it back on.
[Update: The plant has now shut down permanently.]
The Palisades nuclear reactor is also in trouble. EneNews rounds up the latest:
WWMT: Congressman Fred Upton has just finished a tour of the troubled Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert. Rep. Upton says he’s very concerned about the safety at Palisades, especially after the latest incident. […] Because it wasn’t a planned release, Palisades is under serious scrutiny at this time.
ABC57: Palisades Nuclear Plant shut down until further notice […] Congressman Fred Upton is not sold on the safety at Palisades. […] Congressman Upton did not say the plant will be shutting down. But he did say that all options are on the table. Palisades says they may look at replacing the tank that is cracked.
WOOD TV8: Authorities say they’ve found the crack that led to “slightly radioactive water” spilling from the Palisades nuclear power plant into Lake Michigan. […] The leak was in a 300,000-gallon tank used to hold water that floods and cools the nuclear reactor during refueling and in the event of a problem. The problem was a half-inch crack in the welding around one of nine nozzles in the tank, authorities said Monday. Three of those have been replaced and every weld and every nozzle is now being checked. The entire bottom of the tank is also being checked. That leaky tank sits right above the plant’s main control room. […]
The problem is that America’s nuclear reactors are old … and are falling apart piece by piece.
But – even after the Fukushima meltdown – regulators have reduced safety standards.
The Nuclear Regulator Commission say that the risk of a major meltdown at U.S. nuclear reactors is much higher than it was at Fukushima. And an accident in the U.S. could be a lot larger than in Japan … partly because our nuclear plants hold a lot more radioactive material. nuclear energy can be cheap, or it can be safe … but it can’t be both.
Indeed, nuclear is expensive and bad for the environment. Nuclear is wholly subsidized by the government … and would never survive in a free market…. and it doesn’t really reduce global warming.
And it’s not helping inspire confidence in the our ability to safely handle radioactive materials that the former governor of Washington said that the Hanford Nuclear site is an “underground Chernobyl waiting to happen”, that Washington state legislators said that the failure to address the leaks at Hanford – “a very serious problem”, where 60 of the 177 underground tanks have already leaked and all of the tanks are at risk, and which threatens the Columbia River – “smells like a very deliberate cover up”.
And it’s not helping that a “mass release of floating radioactive particles in metro St. Louis” may be released by the inferno at a landfill containing 8,700 tons of nuclear waste.