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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.  As Dominion Energy 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 two decades, it won’t be the last:

X  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.    

X  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.

X  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.

X  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.

X   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.

X  New Jersey’s Oyster Creek is slated to shut by 2020 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.

X  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 with the needle now dropping from 104, 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.  Nearly all of Europe, led by Germany, is abandoning the technology.  A fuel pool laden with radioactive rods still hangs precariously in the air at Fukushima.  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 this fall, 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.  

Originally posted to harveywasserman on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  All you say is true, but..... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, ChuckInReno, KroneckerD

    Yes, the aging nuclear reactors are on their way out. Many of them have outlived their expected useful lives already.

    However, it's way too premature to rule out nuclear power as a viable future power source. The "nuclear renaissance" you've mentioned referred to a new generation of reactors -- different designs, and possibly even different fuels. What's happening to the old reactors sounds really damning but ultimately is irrelevant to whether there will be another generation of reactors or not.

    Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

    by FischFry on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 08:43:44 PM PDT

    •  As harvey points out, though, the new ones (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Siri, ichibon, peace voter, jeanette0605

      coming on line are plagued with both financial and physical problems. Not surprising. More of the past!

      202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

      by cany on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 09:28:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's a good argument to build a new (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrypinder

    generation of reactors.

    Really, what else from the 60's is still functional?

    IMHO, that era of nuclear reactors has aged remarkably well.

    •  Let's see, freeways, sky scrapers, airports, (5+ / 0-)

      family homes, schools, hydro dams, etc. What else isn't?

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 09:50:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  New Generation of Reactors (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, peace voter, jeanette0605

      Went to MIT Energy Night last week and there were a number of new designs for reactors, including one fusion reactor.  None of them will be ready for general use for 20 to 30 years.  

      There may be newer designs that are being built but the news I see from Finland, for instance, is of the usual huge cost overruns.  One of the students said that some of the designs could be used with thorium but the price of uranium is so cheap that thorium was not particularly attractive economically.  

      Natural gas is driving the energy market in the USA, at least, and that's depressing prices for everybody.  We've got to come to terms with that in a variety of ways, not only because of its cost and availability but also because we have to come to grips with methane management as part of a greenhouse gas strategy.  Even if we run out of fossil gas, we still have agricultural and waste methane that we will have to deal with.  It ain't going away.

      PS:  Harvey, thanks for all you're doing on voting integrity and open elections.  It is much appreciated.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at solarray.

      by gmoke on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 10:04:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  you're welcome....let's hope it makes a diff!!! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peace voter
      •  Yeah, fusion reactors won't be ready for a while (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SpeedyGonzales

        but the AP1000 is now available - and being built by the Chinese right now.    And people wonder why they're kicking our ass economically - turns out there is plenty of blame to go around - the RW nutcases ship our jobs over there and the LW nutcases make sure we can't build stuff like this over here (so we're going with frackin' natural gas instead, yay!!).

        •  Left Wing nutcases are not the reason that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          peace voter

          new nuclear plants are DOA in the U.S.  

          New projects have been declared "not economically feasible" by Wall Street, Utilities, Private Equity, etc.  Exelon, the owner of the largest nuclear fleet in the U.S., no longer believes there is a future with new nuclear generation.

          Nuclear died under its own inertia and poor record of performance.  You give "left wing nutcases" way too much credit.

          •  Hmm, so Wall Street is the problem here . . .. (0+ / 0-)

            who'd ever thunk that that particular entity would be responsible for blocking progress in this country - shocking, shocking stuff!!

            In any event, in (most of) the rest of the world of modicum of sanity prevails:

            Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with over 60 reactors under construction in 13 countries.

            link

    •  Not True (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, peace voter

      It isn't true that our generation of nuclear reactors has aged "remarkably well"

      Numerous pressurized water reactors have had serious problems with very pre-mature failures of steam generators.   These failures involve leaks between the primary and secondary cooling systems through the steam generators.  

      The nuclear industry has not reliably addressed methods to address this process reliability problem, which is important since leaking steam generators are a means by which such plants can potentially increase radionuclide effluents.

      The fundamental problem involves the corrosive effect of dissolved metals and other elements in primary cooling systems.

  •  In WA State we have a term, it's called 'Whoops' (6+ / 0-)
    In 1983, [The Washington Public Power Supply System] became infamous for defaulting on $2.25 billion USD worth of bonds after construction on two of its nuclear power plants, WNP-4 and 5, was halted.[2] The default remains the largest municipal bond default in the history of the United States.[3] The WPPSS acquired the nickname "Whoops" in the media.[1]  http://en.wikipedia.org/...
    A big example of why we're unlikely to ever see new nuclear reactors.
  •  The 3 Oconee reactors in SC are subject to (7+ / 0-)

    catastrophic flooding in case of an upstream dam failure.

    ...several nuclear experts who remain particularly concerned about the Oconee plant in South Carolina, which sits on Lake Keowee, 11 miles downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir.

    ... the Oconee facility, which is operated by Duke Energy, would suffer almost certain core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail. And the odds of it failing sometime over the next 20 years, the engineer said, are far greater than the odds of a freak tsunami taking out the defenses of a nuclear plant in Japan.

    "The probability of Jocassee Dam catastrophically failing is hundreds of times greater than a 51 foot wall of water hitting Fukushima Daiichi," the engineer said. "And, like the tsunami in Japan, the man‐made 'tsunami' resulting from the failure of the Jocassee Dam will –- with absolute certainty –- result in the failure of three reactor plants along with their containment structures.

    "Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years," the engineer added, "it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

    1.4 million people live within 50 miles of the plant, and prevailing winds would carry contamination across much of North Carolina.

    NC-4 (soon to be NC-6) Obama/Biden 2012

    by bear83 on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 09:45:56 PM PDT

  •  Please (0+ / 0-)

    cite the sources stating that the under-construction reactors in GA and SC have problems.

  •  NRC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peace voter

    NRC must stand for the Not Regulating Commission to have a bunch of broken down, on the ragged edge reactors running. What about the ones we don't know about?

  •  "In the wake of Fukushima" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChuckInReno, Roadbed Guy

    That would be in the wake of a worst-case scenario where a natural disaster combined with bad administration combined with old designs resulted in zero deaths, zero cases of acute radiation exposure, and things gradually returning to normal, demonstrating that despite everything going wrong, part of Japan was not, in fact, turned into a radioactive wasteland as some people here were predicting a year ago?

    That the wake you mean?

    And you know why the economics are in favour of gas right now? It's called "fracking". I believe there are some issues with it.

    •  Sigh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy

      Well, we still need electricity. And we seem to like it a lot.

      I guess there's always coal. And "natural" gas.

      Sigh... I wonder what 500 ppm CO2 will look like.

      -5.38, -2.97
      It's too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. - Sherman T. Potter

      by ChuckInReno on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 10:42:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  we all know cancer takes a while... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peace voter

      to develop & kill.  one year out is far too early to say there's been no health impact....the truly horrific is yet to come...

      and, btw, fukushima was at least as well run as us reactors.  it was the earthquake, not the tsunami, that did the real damage, and we have plenty of vulnerability here....not to mention diablo canyon & san onofre, both vulnerable to tsunamis...

      •  But wrt Fukushima - virtually no one (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        terrypinder

        received a dose of radioisotopes remotely high enough to increase the risk of cancer measurably.

        So, based on actual science, there is not expected to be any increased incidence of cancer because of the Fukushima meltdown.

        •  whose science? it's an absurd idea... (0+ / 0-)

          nearly 30X as much cesium escaped as at hiroshima

          •  If you go to Pubmed, all of the peer reviewed (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            terrypinder

            literature is available in searchable form upon entering the appropriate keywords.

            For example, here is a recent study that is relevant:  
            Radiation epidemiology: a perspective on Fukushima

            A few highlights:

            Much is known about radiation and its risks. The major unanswered question in radiation epidemiology, however, is not whether radiation causes cancer, but what the level of risk is following low dose (<100 mSv) or low dose rate exposures. Paracelsus is credited with first articulating that the 'poison is in the dose', which for radiation epidemiology translates as 'the lower the dose, the lower the risk' and, an important corollary, the lower the dose, the greater the difficulty in detecting any increase in the number of cancers possibly attributable to radiation.

            In contrast to the Chernobyl reactor accident, the Fukushima reactor accident has to date resulted in no deterministic effects and no worker deaths.

            Estimates to date of population doses suggest very low uptakes of radioactive iodine which was a major determinant of the epidemic of thyroid cancer following childhood exposures around Chernobyl.

            The estimates to date of population doses are also much lower (and the distribution much narrower) than the doses for which cancer excesses have been detected among atomic bomb survivors after 60 years of follow-up.

  •  decommissioning them (0+ / 0-)

    would be great for the natural gas industry, which is booming.

    so, yes, that means more fracking.

    pseudoscience can kill

    by terrypinder on Thu Oct 25, 2012 at 01:03:56 PM PDT

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