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ARTICLE ARCHIVE


 

Monday
Jul262010

Safety fears about French Areva EPR raised in Europe and U.S.

The New York Times has reported allegations of safety significant design flaws with nuclear fuel rod cladding, as well as the danger of control rod ejection accidents, at the French Areva "European Pressurized Reactor" targeted at Flammanville on the Normandy Coast. Meanwhile, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has continued to question the safety of interconnections between safety and non-safety "Instrumentation and Control" systems at the Areva "Evolutionary Power Reactor" targeted to be built at Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland, Nine Mile Point on the Lake Ontario shoreline in New York State, and elsewhere. See the NRC press release here. And see the NRC letter to Areva here.

Saturday
Jul242010

"Energy Dept. ignores Obama's openness pledge," by Peter Bradford

Former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Bradford has slammed the U.S. Department of Energy in a recent op-ed in the Madison, Wisconsin Cap Times for its secrecy surrounding federal loan guarantees for new atomic reactors. Bradford argues that such secrecy harms taxpayers, the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, and public service commissions' ability to protect ratepayers. He should know, he used to chair the utility regulatory commissions for the States of New York and Maine. A year ago, a coalition of national environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, wrote the Energy Secretary, urging that the nuclear loan guarantee program be made open and transparent, in accord with President Obama's calls for such on his very fist day in office.

Saturday
Jul242010

U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passes good solar roofs bill, bad nuclear bills

On July 22, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, passed a flurry of bills, including one good renewable energy bill, and two bad nuclear power bills.

The first bad nuclear bill is S. 2052, a "nuclear energy research initiative," which would authorize $50 million annually from fiscal 2011 through 2015 for the Energy Department to conduct research for lowering the cost of nuclear reactor systems. It would include the research of modular reactors, small-scale reactors, balance-of-plant issues, cost-efficient manufacturing and construction, licensing issues and enhanced proliferation controls. In carrying out the research, the department would be required to consult with the departments of Commerce and Treasury, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The bill would require the department, within 180 days of the bill's enactment, to publish on its website a five-year strategy to lower the costs of nuclear reactors and to hold a public workshop for comment. What's not mentioned is the fact that if $50 million per year could significantly lower the cost for new atomic reactors, the nuclear power industry would have already done this. After all, the twin-reactor Indian Point nuclear power plant made $1.2 million in before-tax net profit in 2009, so $50 million isn't that much money for such a filthy rich industry. But than again, if the nuclear industry can get taxpayers to cover such costs, why not just pocket that much more as profit?

The second bad nuclear bill, S. 2812, entitled "Nuclear Power 2021, with an amendment," would require the Energy Department to work with private sector partners in a program to develop a standard design for two small modular nuclear reactors and to get the two designs certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 2018. At least one of the reactors would be required to have a capacity of 50 megawatts or less. Requiring a date certain reactor design certification from NRC increases safety risks, by pressuring NRC to approve an unsafe design before safety flaws are corrected. This bill smacks of the same pitfalls as "Nuclear Power 2010," a Bush administration program launched on Feb. 14, 2002 -- the very same day the dangerously flawed Yucca Mountain dump got the official thumbs up. "Nuclear Power 2010" aimed to not only certify, but even construct and begin operations at two full-scale atomic reactors by 2010. The reactors chosen for the program, the AP1000 and the ESBWR, have been plagued with design defects. The AP1000's shield building is vulnerable to earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes, and is not even structurally sound enough to hold up an emergency cooling water tank on its upper roof. The ESBWR was so flawed, NRC staff had to ask 6,000 Requests for Additional Information on its design -- of the 6 ESBWRs proposed across the U.S., all but one has been cancelled.

The good renewable bill is the "10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act," S. 3460, which, if "fully implemented, this legislation would lead to 30,000 MW of new PV, tripling our total current U.S. solar energy capacity. It would increase by almost 20 times our current energy output from PV panels. The legislation would rapidly increase production of solar panels, driving down the price of PV systems and it would mean the creation of over a million new jobs."

Not only is Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent of Vermont) the sponsor of S. 3460, he was the only Senator on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to oppose the two bad nuclear bills described above. No matter where you live, call Sen. Sanders' office at (202) 224-5141, fax him at (202) 228-0776, or fill out his webform at http://sanders.senate.gov/contact/contact.cfm, to thank him for opposing nuclear power and supporting solar power!

Check the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee member list to see if you're Senator is on there, and contact them to express your disappointment in their support for the bad nuclear power bills.

Saturday
Jul242010

Environmental coalition letter to U.S. Senate Appropriators opposing dirty energy loan guarantees

On July 21st, a coalition of ten national environmental groups, including Beyond Nuclear, wrote the Members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, urging that no additional dirty energy loan guarantees for the fossil fuels and nuclear power industries be included in the Fiscal Year 2011 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. Unfortunately, $10 billion in nuclear loan guarantees and $7 billion in fossil fuels loan guarantees were included in the bill, approved in committee on a party line vote on July 22nd.  By contrast, renewables and efficiency loan guarantees were capped at a maximum of $3.8 billion -- meaning the actual level could be lowered. It seems that not only is the U.S. Dept. of Energy favoring nuclear projects over others, but so are U.S. Senate Appropriators. However, our pressure may have headed off an amendment in committee that would have larded even more radioactive and dirty fossil fuels pork onto these loan guarantee figures.

Last February, the Obama administration requested $34 billion in additional nuclear power loan guarantees, to add to the $20.5 billion already approved in 2007.

Thus far, the full House has approved $9 billion of additional nuclear loan guarantees -- approved on the House floor on July 1st as a rider on the Fiscal Year 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, a bill intended to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as disaster relief. However, on July 22nd, by a 51 to 46 vote, the Senate rejected this House language. $10 billion to keep teachers on the job, rather than nuclear loan guarantees, was the primary issue of difference between the two houses, however. But, this means that the $9 billion in nuclear loan guarantees will likely be dropped, as the House must either agree with already passed Senate language, or else the war funding and disaster relief appropriations bill will not pass at all.

Also, last week, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved $25 billion in new nuclear loan guarantees, matched by $25 billion for renewables/efficiency. The full House Appropriations Committee has yet to act on the bill. This $25 billion nuclear loan guarantee figure from the House would have to be reconciled with the $10 billion nuclear loan guarantee figure from the Senate.

The fight would normally now go to a conference committee between House and Senate Appropriators for the FY2011 Appropriations bill. However, a more likely scenario is that a "continuing resolution" (a CR) will be passed by both houses of Congress, freezing spending levels at FY2010 levels (meaning no additional nuclear loan guarantees, yet). Then, after November's mid-term elections, an Omnibus Appropriations bill would be proposed on both house floors, which would then go to conference committee, if necessary due to any differences, this December for final approval, to set funding levels for the remainder of FY11.

This will be a very dangerous time to guard against additions of large amounts of nuclear loan guarantees. It was on just such an Omnibus Appropriations bill, on Dec. 23, 2007 -- when most Americans were more concerned about holiday celebrations than Capitol Hill shenanigans -- that the current $20.5 billion in nuclear loan guarantees were approved.

Thank you to all who contacted their U.S. Senators and Representative during the latest flurry of attempted nuclear power industry money grabs in the U.S. Congress. We will need to remain vigilant for the foreseeable future.

Friday
Jul232010

Attempt to restore funding for Yucca dump rebuffed by Senate Appropriators

Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) effort to appropriate $200 million to the Yucca Mountain, Nevada repository for high-level radioactive waste -- despite President Obama, Energy Secretary Chu, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s opposition to the dumpsite -- was voted against by every other Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as one Republican.

Her amendment failed by a 16 to 13 vote against on the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday.

Recently, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing board rejected the Dept. of Energy's motion to withdraw its license application for the Yucca dump. The NRC Commissioners will soon review the licensing board's ruling, and vote to uphold or overturn it. Whichever side loses that Commission review will almost certainly appeal the decision to the federal courts.

The Obama administration requested that the Yucca Mountain Project's budget be zeroed out for Fiscal Year 2011, a request that will be carried out, if today's Senate Appropriations Committee FY2011 Energy and Water Appropriations bill is enacted as is.

The Obama administration established a "Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future" to determine a Plan B, now that Yucca has been cancelled. Unfortunately, however -- as the ironic name implies -- many on the Commission, including co-chair Brent Scowcroft, seem more focused on expanding atomic energy than on solving the radioactive waste crisis.