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Found 15 results

  1. China has been the world’s largest consumer of energy since 2009 when the country surpassed the US. The majority of the energy which is produced and consumed in China comes from dirty fossil fuels. According to numbers from the International Energy Agency (IEA), about 78 percent of the total electricity generated in China between 2004 and 2010 came from coal. In 2007 China surpassed the US – yet again – and became the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter. It’s worth pointing out though that China’s per capita emission numbers still lags behind those of more developed countries. However, this has obviously caused massive negative effects for the global climate, the local environment and Chinese people’s health. To combat this, China is investing heavily in more sustainable and cleaner energy sources. And they have done so for several years now. The country invested a total of $56.3 billion on wind, solar and other renewable projects in 2013. That year, China invested more on renewables than all of Europe combined and became the world leader in renewable energy investments. Last year China became a powerhouse for solar and wind as the country’s investments in renewable energy increased by 32 percent, to $89.5 billion. Unfortunately not everything is renewable energy as China has plans to triple its nuclear power capacity by 2020. And more than a third of the world’s nuclear reactors currently under construction can be found in China. But nuclear energy can’t seem to catch up with the deployment speed of renewable energy sources. Not even in China. Last year, China’s nuclear capacity reached 20,000 megawatts. But at the same time China added 23,000 megawatts of new wind energy capacity – a world record. Chinese wind power now has an amazing cumulative capacity of 115,000 megawatts. While Beijing plans that nuclear energy will generate 50,000 megawatts by 2020, analysts expects that the country’s wind power capacity will then have already reached 200,000 megawatts. To put things into perspective: wind power alone is now capable of powering more than 110 million homes in China. And if we only look at capacity, Chinese wind power now produce more energy than all of the nuclear power plants in the US. Renewable energy sources are being deployed much faster and on a bigger scale. And for the foreseeable future, nuclear energy is unlikely to match wind power in China. Despite this, coal remains king in China. But the energy landscape is changing ever so rapidly. And according to official data from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, coal dropped nearly 3 percent in 2014. All of this is encouraging. Particularly as new IEA data shows that global CO2 emissions stalled in 2014 while the economy actually grew. This marked the first time in four decades that the world economy grows while carbon emissions don't. Experts say that this change is likely due to an increasing worldwide deployment of renewable energy – and especially, a changing energy landscape in China.
  2. When Francois Hollande was elected President of France in 2012, he pledged that he would reduce the nuclear energy contribution to the country's electricity mix from 75% to 50% by 2025. But this pledge might no longer be a reality. Energy Minister, Ms Segolene Royal, said last month that it was no longer a high priority to do so. She said that she was not in favour of quitting nuclear power and added that France needs to continue investing in it, particularly in fourth-generation reactors which will consume less nuclear fuel and recycle nuclear waste. Last year, the lower house of the French parliament voted on a bill that would cap nuclear production at current levels. But earlier this month the senate, in which the conservative opposition has a majority and which has the power to amend but not block laws, scrapped the cap and removed any reference to 2025. Royal refused to confirm whether the government would stick with the 2025 deadline, one of President Francois Hollande's key election promises, and enter the new amendments to the text. All eyes are on France as it prepares to host the crucial COP 21 summit at the end of this year, a summit which many believe to be the last chance to salvage a global deal on combating climate change. Due to the large share of nuclear energy in France’s electricity mix, its CO2 emissions are among the lowest in Europe. But France is also standing by its goals on renewable energy generation, which by 2030 should account for 40% of its energy mix. Ms Royal says it’s more important to focus on reaching this goal than to reduce nuclear capacity. It is possible that France could expect higher electricity demand in 2030 than today. As a part of its green initiative, and as an attempt to combat the big problem of air pollution, France plans a lucrative electric car scheme. Such a scheme, if successful, could dramatically increase electricity usage. Therefore it does not looks as if France is gearing up to quit nuclear, something Royal herself has been quite clear about. France is also a key player in nuclear research into a new generation of sodium-cooled nuclear reactors. These latest announcements put France on an entirely different nuclear path from neighbouring Germany, which wants to free its entire energy sector from nuclear by 2022.
  3. A nuclear power plant near the town of Brattleboro, Vermont is being shut down thanks to local environmental activism. The Vermont Yankee plant ceased splitting atoms on Dec. 29 after more than 42 years of activity. The victory is one that will surely bring relief to activists and citizens alike, as the plant's reactor was the General Electric Mark I, the same design as that of Fukushima, which infamously melted down and exploded, spewing radiation into the atmosphere. Due to a hefty push-back in 2010 from Citizen's Awareness Network, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 on Feb. 24 that year to phase Vermont Yankee out of operation after 2012. That has now come to pass, but it was largely the result of activists raising awareness of the possible negative health effects of the reactor. At the time of the vote, the plant was leaking radioactive tritium into the air following the collapse of a cooling tower back in 2007. The structural dismantling of the plant, meanwhile, will not be completed until 2040. The plant is owned by Entergy, a corporation that has a history almost as toxic as the fossil fuel it deals with. The company has a number of alleged misdeeds including stealing overtime wages from workers, overcharging customers, and having a general lack of regulatory oversight that likely contributed to the 2007 mishap. A similar fiasco recently occurred at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Athens, Alabama, from which a leak of radioactive water released tritium into the environment sometime during the week of Jan. 5. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant, maintained that the leak was quickly stoppered and no significant public risk was presented. One could be forgiven, however, if he or she still had qualms about the integrity of the reactors, particularly as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined that the plant's three units are at some risk from potential earthquakes. In the midst of climate change, that serves only to exacerbate already existing concerns. The plant has long been in the crosshairs of Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation, a group representing concerned citizens, environmentalists, and workers. Garry Morgan, a retired U.S. Army medical officer who has monitored radiation around Browns Ferry for the group, remarked, "Any leak of radionuclide contaminant into the environment indicates a failure of oversight and/or attention to detail, maybe both, on the part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority." He added that cancer mortality rates have increased by 20 percent above the U.S. average since Browns Ferry began generating power in 1974. The problem of leaking tritium, which is a radioactive form of hydrogen, does not end there. According to the Associated Press, the contaminant has leaked from at least 48 reactors - and perhaps as many as 65 - across the U.S., and often ends up in groundwater. This information was taken by AP from Nuclear Regulatory Commission records as part of their coverage on the matter. Furthermore, tritium from at least three of those sites - two in Illinois and one in Minnesota - has actually seeped into the drinking wells of residential homes, said the report. In conclusion, while one plant with Fukushima-type reactors has been defeated, others remain, and are contributing to environmental toxicity. Greenpeace noted, "The world is still running more than 400 inherently dangerous nuclear reactors. Millions of people are at risk. Nuclear energy is not a necessary evil, because affordable, safer, and cleaner energy solutions exist. They are only a matter of political choice."
  4. According to newly released statistics from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, renewable energy sources produced 32 percent of Scotland's electricity in the first half of 2014 – beating both nuclear power, which used to be Scotland's main source of electricity, and fossil fuels. Scotland produced 10.3 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from renewable energy sources in the first half of 2013. Nuclear energy, which had previously been Scotland’s main source of electricity, only generated 7.8TWh over the same period. Other fossil-fuel sources then followed, with 5.6TWh of electricity generated from coal and another 1.4TWh from gas-fired power stations. The energy policy of the Scottish government is that 100 percent of all electricity consumed in Scotland by 2020 should come from renewable energy sources. The majority of renewable energy in Scotland comes from wind and hydro. Onshore wind generated more than half of all renewable electricity output in Scotland in 2013. Hydro power contributed almost one third of renewable electricity output. Experts say that other renewable energy sources, such as biomass, have a substantial potential for growth in the future. Environmental campaigners and leaders in the green energy sector have hailed this as an historic event and urged increased commitment towards renewables in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Niall Stuart, chief executive of the industry body Scottish Renewables, said that “the renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time” and that there is still “plenty of potential” for more. Besides fighting climate change, Stuart also said that renewables will decrease the country’s reliance on imported energy while supporting communities across Scotland with more jobs and investment. “The announcement that renewables have become Scotland's main source of electricity is historic news for our country and shows the investment made in the sector is helping to deliver more power than ever before to our homes and businesses,” Stuart added. “This important milestone is good news for anyone who cares about Scotland's economy, our energy security and our efforts to tackle climate change.” Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said that this “represents a major step on the way to Scotland becoming a 100 per cent renewable nation” and added that “last month, while nuclear reactors were forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland's renewables were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country.” “Put simply, renewables work and are helping to cut climate change emissions and create jobs in Scotland.”
  5. Higher sea levels is a serious threat to nuclear power plants: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/19/maps-rising-seas-storms-threaten-flood-coastal-nuclear-power-plants_n_5233306.html During Superstorm Sandy, for example, flooding threatened the water intake systems at the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear power plants in New Jersey. As a safety precaution, both plants were powered down. But even when a plant is not operating, the spent fuel stored on-site, typically uranium, will continue to emit heat and must be cooled using equipment that relies on the plant's own power. Flooding can cause a loss of power, and in serious conditions it can damage backup generators. Without a cooling system, reactors can overheat and damage the facility to the point of releasing radioactive material.
  6. Map: Europe's Nuclear Risks

    Today it's 28 years since the horrible nuclear accident in Chernobyl. The area around the reactor remains permanently evacuated, and many people's lives are still ruined.   The only way to stop another dangerous nuclear accident is to shut down Europe's ageing nuclear plants.   If an accident were to happen it would be devastating, especially considering Europe's population density, and potentially affect millions of people and several countries.   You can see the evacuation zones around Europe's plants on this interactive map.  
  7. A dozen of Greenpeace activists sneaked into France's oldest nuclear power plant earlier this morning in an effort to highlight security weaknesses at nuclear facilities in Europe. All in all, about 60 Greenpeace activists from 14 different countries participated in today's protest at the Fessenheim nuclear plant - the oldest in France. The protest started early at dawn this Tuesday when several activists sneaked inside the premises of the nuclear power plant to hang anti-nuclear banners from a building next to one of the plant's reactors. A couple of activists even managed to climb on top of the reactor number 1's roof where they unfurled banners with the message "Stop Risking Europe". The rest of the activists stayed outside the plant, blocking its entrance with barrels and demanding the shutdown of the plant. "The Fessenheim plant is a symbol," Greenpeace activist Cyrille Cormier said. "Its planned closure must be the beginning of a series of plant closures in Europe to limit the accidental and financial risks linked to ageing (plants) and to start the energy transition." The Fessenheim nuclear plant, which is France's oldest and considered vulnerable to seismic activity and flooding, is located in north-eastern Europe, only 1,5 km from Germany in the third most densely populated region in Metropolitan France and in the centre of the so-called European Backbone. The nuclear plant is situated on the banks of the Rhine, one of Europe's largest rivers that runs through three different countries. So if an accident were to happen at the nuclear plant, it wouldn't just be France who would be affected. France's President François Hollande has said that he wants to reduce France’s reliance on nuclear power from 75% to 50% by 2025. Hollande has earlier promised to shut Fessenheim down by 2016. But despite this, there are currently discussions in France about extending the lifetime of several nuclear plants beyond their 40 years. "We’re demanding Mr Hollande keep his promise by limiting maximum reactor lifetimes to 40 years by law and ensuring more nuclear plants are shut down," Greenpeace said in a statement. "With climate change upon us it should really go without saying that Europe needs a real energy transition based on renewable energy. This needs to happen fast." A spokesman from EDF, the plant's operator, said in a statement that further precautionary measures has been taken. "There has been no impact on the security of the plant, which continues to function normally," the EDF spokesman said. Following today's protest, Ecology Minister Philippe Martin said he would "ask operators to reinforce the physical protection of the most sensitive zones in their nuclear facilities."
  8. Around 1.3 billion people lack electricity in their homes or businesses. And nearly 40% of the world’s population have to rely on wood, coal or charcoal to cook their food with – which causes both environmental destruction and toxic gases that kills nearly two million people every year. Electricity could help children study after dark. It would allow medicines and food to be refrigerated. Electricity would also help replace outdated cookstoves and open fires, that are dangerous to people’s health, and many other things that we in the industrialized world take for granted. Access to electricity could make all the difference for the people who are without it today – but it needs to be modern and sustainable energy. Both the UN and World Bank sees the positive benefits of sustainable electricity. For the latter, electricity sparks social and economic development which creates improved lives and economic progress. The UN believes access to clean and modern energy is key to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The two international organizations therefore recently appealed to governments, international agencies and the private sector for money to help finance their universal energy plan. “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a press conference. It has been estimated that around $600-$800 billion a year till 2030 is needed to reach the campaigns target of universal access to electricity. The money will go towards efforts to double energy efficiency, with a special focus in the world’s highest-energy consuming countries, and doubling the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030. “Financing is the key to achieving these objectives,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “To reach our goals for access to energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy, we need to mobilize an additional $600-$800 billion a year from now to 2030. We will now start moving in countries in which demand for action is most urgent. In some of them, only one in ten people has access to electricity. It is time for that to change.” But not all energy sources are welcomed. “We don't do nuclear energy,” said Kim while he and UN Secretary-General unveiled their universal energy plans at a press conference this past November. Instead, the World Bank and UN wants to increase investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. "Nuclear power from country to country is an extremely political issue," Kim told reporters. "The World Bank Group does not engage in providing support for nuclear power. We think that this is an extremely difficult conversation that every country is continuing to have. And because we are really not in that business our focus is on finding ways of working in hydro electric power in geo-thermal, in solar, in wind," he said. "We are really focusing on increasing investment in those modalities and we don't do nuclear energy." This is not surprising. Nuclear is a highly controversial energy source, and the UN and the World Bank are wise to refrain from supporting it. While some environmentalists, such as Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, has called for increased investments in nuclear energy, many others, such as Al Gore, has said that nuclear is not the answer to our energy and climate crisis. It’s also hard to ignore the high costs and dangers involved in nuclear energy. Brazil, Norway, the Bank of America and OPEC has committed to support renewable energy and energy efficiency activities. Energy assessments have been launched in 42 countries with the first reports scheduled to be finished in April.
  9. U.S. Nuclear Power in Decline

    Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s. It then plateaued between 2007 and 2010 - before falling more than 4 percent over the last two years. Projections for 2013 show a further 1 percent drop. With reactors retiring early and proposed projects being abandoned, U.S. nuclear power's days are numbered. The nuclear industry's troubles began well before the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant sowed public mistrust of atomic power. In 1957, the country's first commercial nuclear reactor was completed in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1960s, excitement over an energy source predicted to be too cheap to meter had created a frenzied rush to build reactors. But utilities soon pulled back on the throttle as the realities of construction delays and cost overruns sank in. Annual orders for new reactors, which peaked at more than 40 in 1973, fell sharply over the next several years. The two reactor orders placed in 1978 would be the last for three decades. Of the 253 reactors that were ordered by 1978, 121 were canceled either before or during construction, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' David Lochbaum. Nearly half of these were dropped by 1978. The reactors that were completed - the last of which came online in 1996 - were over budget three-fold on average. By the late 1990s, 28 reactors had permanently closed before their 40-year operating licenses expired. A number of factors played a role in this, including cost escalation, slower electricity demand growth, and a changing regulatory environment. Despite these closures, the United States was still left with 104 reactors totaling some 100 gigawatts (100,000 megawatts) of generating capacity”by far the most of any country. Then, spurred on by new tax credits and loan guarantees promised in the 2005 Energy Policy Act - as well as by high prices for natural gas, a competing fuel - the industry has recently had visions of a nuclear renaissance. By 2009, utilities were planning more than 30 new reactors. But in the years since, the vast majority of these plans have been shelved. Even with huge subsidies, private lenders still see new nuclear projects as too risky to finance. Meanwhile, the U.S. shale gas production boom sent natural gas prices plummeting, further darkening nuclear's prospect. In 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved four new reactors for construction, two each at the Vogtle plant in Georgia and the Summer plant in South Carolina. These reactors are all of the same commercially untested design, purportedly quicker to build than previous plants. Both projects benefit from fairly new state laws that shift the economic risk to ratepayers. These advanced cost recovery laws, also passed in Florida and North Carolina, allow utilities to raise their customers' rates to pay for new nuclear plants during and even before construction - regardless of whether the reactors are ever finished. Construction at both sites began in March 2013. Even as the first concrete was poured at the $14-billion Vogtle project, it was reportedly 19 months behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. The Summer project, a $10 billion endeavor, also quickly ran into problems. In June its owner, Scana Corp., admitted that it was running about a year behind and faced $200 million in additional costs. With these delays, the earliest projected completion date for any of these reactors is some time in late 2017. The only other reactor currently under construction in the United States is Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee. It broke ground in 1972 and, after being on hold for two decades, was finally scheduled for completion in 2012. But that year, the owner - the Tennessee Valley Authority - announced it would be delayed again until 2015 and that the cost of the project would rise by up to 80 percent, to $4.5 billion. Several utilities have recently dropped plans for new reactors or for uprates, where an existing reactor's generating capacity is increased. For example, in May 2013 Duke Energy suspended its application to the NRC for two proposed reactors in North Carolina, citing slow electricity demand growth. Then in August, Duke pulled plans for a two-reactor, $24.7-billion project in Florida, on which it had already spent - and mostly recovered from its ratepayers - $1 billion. The company worried that mid-2013 amendments to the state's advanced cost recovery law would make it more difficult to fund ongoing projects with higher customer bills. In June, the nation's largest nuclear utility, Exelon, canceled uprate projects at plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois. (These are two of at least six uprates dropped by utilities in 2013 as of early September.) Just over a month later, the French utility EDF announced it was bowing out of a partnership with Exelon that operates nuclear plants in New York and Maryland. In fact, EDF will no longer pursue U.S. nuclear projects at all, instead focusing its U.S. efforts on renewables. This year has also already witnessed the permanent shutdown of four reactors totaling 3.6 gigawatts of capacity. The first to fall was Duke's Crystal River reactor in Florida. Although the plant was licensed to run until 2016, Duke decided to close it rather than pay for needed repairs. Then Dominion Energy's 39-year-old Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin closed, citing competition from low gas prices. It had recently been approved to operate through 2033. And in June, Southern California Edison shuttered its two San Onofre reactors after 18 months of being offline due to a leak in a brand new steam generator. These retirements leave the United States with 100 reactors, averaging 32 years in operation. (France is second, with 58 reactors.) More closures will soon follow, particularly among the roughly half of U.S. reactors in so-called merchant areas where nuclear competes with other technologies and prices are set by the market. A 2013 report by Mark Cooper at the Vermont Law School indicates that there are nine merchant reactors that, like Kewaunee, were granted 20-year life extensions but are especially at risk of closure. Epitaphs are already being written for two of them: Vermont's lone nuclear power plant will close in 2014, and the country's oldest reactor, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, will retire by 2019. Regulated areas, where state authorities set electricity prices such that nuclear operators are guaranteed a profit, contain the rest of the U.S. reactors. Even for many of these plants, the economics may not allow for survival much longer. According to Credit Suisse, the cost of operating and maintaining the aging reactor fleet is rising at 5 percent a year and the nuclear fuel cost is growing even faster, at 9 percent annually. Wind and solar power costs, on the other hand, continue to drop as their electric output grows rapidly. Dealing with nuclear waste is another expensive proposition. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. government has spent some $15 billion trying to approve a central repository for nuclear waste, and for most of that time the only site under consideration has been Nevada's Yucca Mountain. Amid concerns about the site's safety and its extreme unpopularity in Nevada, the Obama administration has moved to abandon the project entirely and explore other options. A federal appeals court ruled in August 2013 that the NRC must resume reviewing the site's suitability. In the meantime, the waste keeps accumulating. The 75,000 tons of waste now stored at 80 temporary sites in 35 states is projected to double by 2055. All this has implications for nuclear power's prospects for expansion: nine states, including California, Connecticut, and Illinois, have prohibited new nuclear plants until a solution to the waste issue is found. The low level of liability for nuclear operators in case of an accident also puts taxpayers on the hook. Plant owners pay into an insurance pool of just $12 billion; the public would cover any further damages. For comparison, cleanup and compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is projected to cost at least $60 billion. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a catastrophic accident at New York's Indian Point plant could cost 10 to 100 times that amount. This risk will be underscored on September 29, 2013, when one of Indian Point's two reactors becomes the first ever to operate with an expired license. If the reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina actually come online, they are projected to generate electricity that is much more expensive than nearly any other source, including wind and solar power. New nuclear plants are simply too expensive to replace the aging fleet. And with uprate proposals for existing reactors being pulled, it appears the industry cannot depend on this option to increase capacity much either. The NRC has approved 20-year operating life extensions for more than two thirds of existing U.S. reactors; most of the rest will probably be granted extensions as well. Even if these units reach the end of their licensed life”which past experience says is unlikely”if no new plants come online to replace them, the last U.S. reactor will be shut down by the late 2050s. Any industry hopes ride heavily on the success of the Vogtle and Summer projects. As U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a recent interview, if these plants now under construction keep racking up huge cost overruns and delays, it is very hard to see a future for nuclear power plants in the United States. By J. Matthew Roney. Data and additional resources available at www.earthpolicy.org. Photo credit: Jim Muckian (cc). The photo shows a reflection of the abandoned nuclear power plant in Elma, WA.
  10. As US Nuclear Reactors decay

    I came across an article in the NY times a few days ago that makes for an interesting read. It relates to the slow gradual decline of the US nuclear power sector. I've never been in a US nuclear plant, but people whom I know who have (pro-nuclear mind) paint a bleak picture. We're talking scenes that would resemble the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. Old antiquated machinery in dusty old buildings. Control rooms with clunky, ridiculously ancient control systems. Here and there they will see company name plates on machinery from a manufacturing company that they know had ceased to exist decades ago, kind of like the head stones in an industrial graveyard. And many of the staff in these plants, who work in offices and lunch rooms decorated in styles last popular back in the 60's, are ageing as rapidly as the plant they work in. Many are not far from the day they collect their bus pass and retire. Now my (again pro-nuclear) colleagues are keen to stress that they see no safety issue here as despite the age of machinery in such plants, though old (like those in the UK) these plants are maintained in implacable condition, floors often swept spotless sort of thing. Kind of like how the UK army still maintains a fleet of 1950's era "Green Goddess" fire engines in perfect working order, to be brought in if the firemen go on strike or in case there's a war. That said, other sources, such as the Associated Press point to situations where, for example a pump is leaking more than it should, so the safety standards are rewritten to put the pump (and thus the plant) back within spec. Suffice to say, many of America's nuclear plants are as it were "getting on a bit". Half are 30 years or more into a 40 original design life. As anyone who works in engineering will know there tends to be a critical point with any system as it ages, beyond which the maintenance costs and failure probabilities rapidly spikes, as many individual parts start hitting their natural service limit. Which given the fact they may have been made by a manufacturer who no longer has them in stock (or no longer exists!), makes replacing parts and keeping the plant going increasingly expensive. Sooner or later it becomes no longer economic to operate it. Many US nuclear plants may not be far off from this date. And the problem with that is that because the US essentially stopped building reactors for 30 years post TMI and Chernobyl, there is something of a "baby boom" time bomb ticking away, in which we could see many US nuclear plants closing down in the next decade or two, far quicker than replacement plants could ever be built. I've discussed for some time the problems faced by the UK nuclear sector and the near certainty that there will be a substantial "nuclear gap" during the next decade, given that all but a handful of UK nuclear reactors will be shutdown (potentially as low as a single LWR in Sizewell before any replacements are built (if indeed any new reactors are ever built in the UK). This is inevitable given the long lead times involved in the construction of nuclear reactors. Consider that the world's most modern in Olkiluoto in Finland has been under construction for 8 years and counting. Even if the US began building multiple plants now, it would be many decades before they could replace the present 100 odd US nuclear reactors, during the time before this existing nuclear fleet closes down. Currently there are just 5 nuclear construction projects active in the US, and one of those is a project mothballed a number of decades ago. Even if we could increase the build rate of nuclear reactors significantly, which would be difficult given the various bottlenecks in the nuclear supply chain and regulatory hurdles, who is going to operate these reactors? Like I said many of the US/UK's nuclear energy workers are as aging as rapidly as the plants they operate. We're talking about a need to train up a couple of tens of thousand people in the space of a decade or two both sides of the Atlantic. Consider that as far as I'm aware only a handful of UK universities actually offer a degree in nuclear engineering, and in many cases this is a sort of "top up" course to an existing physics or engineering course, which only a handful of students take. Who too is going to finance these reactors? The massive capital costs now associated with nuclear power, along with the fact that the nuclear industry has been "found out" by investment firms, means financial institutions have very little (if any) interest in funding such projects, unless the government is willing to advance a substantial subsidy (exceeding anything paid out to renewables, as current discussions surrounding Hinkley Point C in the UK make clear) to cover any potential losses. And in this "government sponsored" scenario, there's only so much cash a government can advance in these austere times. Nevermind the fact that many members of the public are opposed to nuclear power and certainly won't be happy with their taxes going to pay for it. Of course I'd counter by pointing to the £100 billion bill to clean up the UK's existing nuclear legacy, so you're sort of paying for it already! Mind the Gap Of course one has to query, given that "something else" will have to be build to fill the likely "nuclear gap" how economically sensible it would be to do that, operate said replacement (e.g. a IGCC unit) for a few years or decades and then decommission it (after only a fraction of its service life), while simultaneously paying the enormous costs that new nuclear build comes with on top of all of that. Inevitably one's suspicion is that while some new nuclear reactor construction is perhaps inevitable in the US (or UK) given the ideologically commitments to nuclear from those on the right (I'm convinced many on the right are merely in favour because many on the left are against it... maybe we should try reverse psychology!). But the chances are that only a small fraction of these reactors will actually be replaced (my guess? 2-4 reactors in the UK, probably a one to two dozen reactors in the US). Consequently there will be a substantial downsizing of the US and UK nuclear sector over the next few decades, to the point where it will become a minor contributor to both nation's grids. In short, to advocate even a like for like replacement of the world's existing nuclear capacity, nevermind the sort of megalomaniac scale expansion in global nuclear energy use its cheerleaders call for, is to advocate the logistically impossible. The fact is the vast bulk of the nuclear reactors in many countries will be shut down long before any replacement could conceivably be built. Assuming public opposition doesn't kill the industry like it has in Germany and Japan. Of course the fear for environmentalists is that this "something else" will be more coal or gas fired power stations. A very serious risk given the dangerous uncertainty and renewables bashing policies advanced by pro-nuclear advocates within the Republican or the Tory party. This is despite the fact that these days wind power is increasingly seen as an economically viable alternative. Worldwide there's now about 282 GW's of wind power installed and 100 GW's of solar power, which combined exceeds the scale of the global nuclear fleet (at 366 GW's and falling) nevermind the much larger contribution from hydroelectric and biomass (REN Status reports are always a good source of stat's in this regard). And before anyone starts giving out about "subsidies to renewables", the IEA recently reported that all subsidies to renewables are but a sixth of what we pay subsidizing the fossil fuel industry! The only sensible course of action for pro-nuclear types (such as Monbiot) but supposed environmentalists to do is accept this reality and advocate policies that ensure as much as possible of this looming "nuclear gap" is met by low carbon energy sources and not fossil fuels and quit flogging the already dead nuclear horse.
  11. Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment

    Some environmentalists champion nuclear power as an answer to global warming. But a new book by anti-nuclear campaigner Joseph Mangano argues that the dangers far outweigh any benefits. Elaine Graham-Leigh has reviewed Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment by Joseph Mangano. The review was first published on Counterfire. The thesis of Mangano's book is that the era of nuclear power, in the US at least, is nearly over. The US nuclear power programme, he argues, "˜has been a failure, and will fade into obscurity with time "¦ Building a single new reactor will either take years to complete or never occur' (pp.280-1). For Mangano, this is a victory for the anti-nuclear campaigners like him who have fought for decades against official denials that nuclear power plants were dangerous or could cause health problems. It is, he says, "˜a triumph for truth over non-truth'. This might be the expected position from any environmentalist - on the side of campaigners against government and big business - but recently this has changed. For some prominent environmentalists now, an end to nuclear power would be a catastrophe. Both Mark Lynas and George Monbiot, for example, argue that the only attainable way to phase out fossil fuels is to replace them with a combination of renewable and nuclear power. Mangano does not address what sort of power generation would take nuclear power's place, and this is an omission, considering how the question is implicit in any consideration of this most controversial way of generating power. Nonetheless, Mad Science adds important research and argument to the case against nuclear power. Mangano's conclusion about nuclear power's continued viability seems applicable not just to the US but around the world. While the UK government has recently granted EDF permission to build two new reactors at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, according to the World Nuclear Report 2012, major nuclear projects were abandoned in six countries last year, while four (Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan) announced that they would phase out nuclear power altogether. This does not include Japan, where after more than a year in which no nuclear power stations were running following the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Ohi reactor was restarted, but the future of Japanese nuclear power is surely doubtful. The most obvious cause of this grim picture for nuclear power enthusiasts is of course the reminder provided by Fukushima of the potential for nuclear accidents. Mangano does not address the legacy of Fukushima specifically but, in the US context, argues that economic factors are more important in the decline of nuclear power than is often allowed. The US nuclear industry is supposed to have been damaged because the public panicked about safety issues following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. Mangano points out however that the last nuclear reactor which actually managed to open was approved six years before Three Mile Island, in 1973. A major nuclear disaster is unlikely ever to endear the industry to the public, but the problems in US industry were evident long before. Nuclear power stations were supposed to produce electricity which was "˜too cheap to meter', as Lewis Strauss, chair of the Atomic Energy Commission pronounced in 1954, as part of a vision of a futuristic "˜age of peace', in which people would also "˜travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and with great speeds' (p.15). The reality however did not live up to the science fiction: building and operating nuclear reactors turned out to take much longer, cost much more, and be more risky than had originally been anticipated. This was a problem because in the US, power generation was a matter for the private sector. In 1954, this also applied to nuclear, as the Atomic Energy Act allowed private companies access to technical information about nuclear power generation and enabled them to get licences from the government to start nuclear reactors. The first hurdle these companies faced was insuring themselves against the financial consequences of a nuclear accident, which a 1957 estimate put at potentially $7 billion. No insurance company would take this on, so the government was compelled to pass the Price-Anderson Act, limiting the liability of nuclear plant owners to $60m. Other countries followed suit, so for example energy companies in the UK now have maximum liability of £140 million if they allow their reactor to meltdown. This may seem like a significant sum and it would make a dent in any company's balance sheet, but for comparison, the cost of Fukushima on the latest estimate could be as high as $70 billion. Even with this limitation of liability, nuclear power generation turned out to be a difficult activity to make profitable. Reactor construction tended to take a long time; sometimes as long as fifteen years between permission to start building and actually generating electricity. Problems once up and running meant that the plants ran at lower capacities than would have been estimated. By the late 1980s, US nuclear power plants were still running at an average of only 57% of capacity and some experimental reactor types never got off the ground. It is often claimed than modern nuclear reactors are much less problematic than the early designs: defenders of nuclear power argue that the reactors at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were old technology and more risky than newer types. This may be so, but nuclear power generation is still seen as a dangerously unprofitable enterprise. In 2012, ratings agencies downgraded seven energy companies and approved RWE and E.ON pulling out of UK nuclear reactor plans because this meant that they could "˜focus on investment in less risky projects' (World Nuclear Report 2012). As with any privatised industry, the fortunes of nuclear power in the US have depended on its short-term profitability for the private companies concerned. The government assumed the lion's share of the risk, but as Mangano shows, was prevented from making nuclear power happen in the way it wanted by that fact that the industry was run according to the needs of the market. It is a useful demonstration of how privatisation promotes profits at the expense of everything else, regardless of whether we celebrate or deplore the end of nuclear power. Whether a world free from nuclear power would be a good or a bad thing is of course the fundamental question, setting the safety of nuclear power generation against the idea that it is a green option. Mangano describes how the attempt to resurrect nuclear power from the late 1990s used the argument that nuclear power was green power, since the nuclear reaction does not emit any greenhouse gases. He points out that for the nuclear industry this was more a useful ploy than an argument emerging from a deeply-held belief in the necessity of combating climate change, and that the green credentials of nuclear power can be overstated. The reaction itself may be carbon-free, but every other step in generating nuclear power, from making the concrete to build the plants, to mining the uranium, to disposing of the waste, is not. For defenders of nuclear power however, the point is that whatever the greenhouse gas emissions associated with nuclear power, they are less than those made from using fossil fuels. Lynas, for example, cites the calculation that Chinese nuclear power generation would displace six million tonnes of CO2 per year per plant. In this view, nuclear is the only realistic replacement for fossil fuel power generation: our choices are not between renewables (solar, wind, wave power etc.) and nuclear or fossil fuels, but between nuclear and renewables or fossil fuels and renewables. To argue this however, green nuclear power enthusiasts have not only to convince us that nuclear power is green, but also that it can be safe. The most fervent environmental argument about nuclear power is not about its carbon footprint, but how many people it has killed. The sixty-year history of nuclear power generation is littered with major accidents: Windscale in 1957, Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The nuclear industry in the West and its supporters cannot pretend that these did not happen, although the USSR was able to keep what appears to have been a serious accident at their nuclear plant at Chelyabinsk in 1957 secret until the late 1980s. Nuclear accidents differ from other industrial accidents in that potential casualties may not fall ill until much later, so the final death toll is not immediately apparent. This opens the door for the argument that they are not as serious as a scaremongering media and panicking public might think. Thus there are extreme differences between the maximum and minimum numbers said to have been killed as a result of Chernobyl. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that about fifty people who worked at the plant or in the emergency services responding to the accident died shortly afterwards and about 4,000 other "˜excess deaths' are expected. On the other hand, in 2009, three Russian scientists published "˜The Difficult Truth about Chernobyl', in which they presented evidence for 985,000 excess deaths between 1986 and 2004 and a collapse in childhood health in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (p.228). Nuclear supporters dismiss this as paranoid: a familiar argument about nuclear accidents, deployed about both Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, is that depression caused by the fear of nuclear exposure is worse for those who were living near the plants than the risk of cancer as a result of the accident. No doubt people are also now saying this about Fukushima. Mark Lynas argued in 2011 that no one had died as a result of Fukushima, although it was surely then, and still is now, too early to tell. The pro-nuclear position that Fukushima can be regarded as nothing more than a moderate industrial accident requires exposure to even large doses of radiation to be safe. It may be difficult to trace beyond doubt the effects of Chernobyl on the large populations exposed to it, and too soon to be definitive about the effect of Fukushima, but as Mangano makes clear, this does not mean that we have no evidence about the advisability or otherwise of exposing people to radiation leaks. The normal operation of nuclear power plants in the US has given us ample evidence of how likely the major accidents are to have caused harm. This is Mangano's particular area of interest, as he is director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and one of the strengths of the book is its detailed examination of the evidence for the health risks of the normal operation of nuclear plants. It is first of all noteworthy that normal operation can include a number of accidents: Three Mile Island is the well-known US nuclear accident, but there are others, including a meltdown at an experimental reactor at Santa Susana, California in 1959, which may have released more radioactivity than Three Mile Island, and a less serious incident at Browns Ferry, Alabama in 1975. The operation of any nuclear plant also involved some routine releases of radiation outside of major incidents. As a result of popular pressure the federal government was forced to fund a report into the effect of nuclear plants on the populations living around them. Issued in 1990, the report was greeted as a clean bill of health for the nuclear industry, as it proclaimed that there was "˜no evidence that an excess occurrence of cancer has resulted from living near nuclear facilities' (p.161). However, this was more a whitewash than the final word on nuclear safety. Mangano points out a number of serious flaws in the study which undermine its optimistic conclusions. The study was based on a comparison of cancer rates in counties near to nuclear facilities with counties having similar demographics elsewhere. The selection of areas for study was rather arbitrary from the start, as it excluded all nuclear plants which were not operating by 1981 and some others, like the Santa Susana reactor. This meant that some of the control counties were themselves close to nuclear plants not included in the study, so they were hardly providing a baseline of cancer rates which could not possibly be affected by nuclear power generation. The analysis of death rates by county also ignored wind direction: it would not be particularly surprising if areas upwind (according to prevailing wind direction) of a nuclear plant did not show a marked increase in cancer deaths, but this could not be taken, as the study did, as evidence that there is no risk to health in living downwind from one. Finally, the study only looked at cancer deaths, rather than at cancer cases, so ignored cases of cancers like thyroid cancer which is often curable. Of course, the study was also limiting itself by only looking at cancer rather than other potential health effects like infant mortality. As Mangano shows, even with this selective use of data, the federal study did provide some indications of health problems caused by nuclear power plants, at odds with its executive summary. The analysis of counties near Three Mile Island, for example, showed that incidence of ten types of cancer had increased since the plant was started up, and childhood cancer deaths rose by 10%. In addition, studies carried out by his Radiation and Public Health Project have suggested that there is a clear effect on the health of nearby populations from nuclear power plants, including a striking decline in infant deaths, birth defects and childhood cancers within two years of the closure of a plant. Also suggestive is work by Ernest Sternglass, who pointed out that US infant mortality rates had been falling steadily from 1935-1950, in line with improvements in health care and living standards, but then levelled off for 1951-1964, before then starting to decline again. No one has come up with an explanation for what amounts to 375,000 excess infant deaths, except that the US began to test large scale nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert in 1951 and stopped doing so in 1963. Since there are therefore distinct suggestions that nuclear power plants may not be good for the health of the people living downwind of them, it seems likely that a meltdown, which releases far more radiation in one go than during normal operation, would have marked deleterious effects. The studies of the health effects of the US nuclear programme make the larger rather than the smaller estimate of the death toll from Chernobyl seem more likely. Chillingly, Mangano points out that there is reason to think that as far as nuclear accidents are concerned, we have so far got off lightly. Many US reactors are located close to major cities, and in 1966, for example, the Fermi 1 reactor came perilously close to a major explosion which would have irradiated most of Detroit. Older reactors are also more dangerous than newer ones because they have amassed more spent fuel. One of the features of the Fukushima disaster was that some of the cooling pools, used to cool spent fuel rods safely, ran dry and caught fire. The reactors at Fukushima were relatively young and had not built up a large amount of spent fuel. If the same type of accident were to happen at one of the many older US plants, with cooling pools already filled to more than capacity with spent fuel rods, the release of radioactivity would be very much greater. The response to all this from pro-nuclear greens would be that industrial accidents happen in any industry. This is clearly true: recently fifteen people were killed and buildings flattened in West, Texas after a fertilizer plant exploded. The evidence Mangano presents does suggest that there is a difference in scale. Nuclear power is the only type of power generation to be able to kill nearly a million people from a single accident. However, this is not really the point. Pro-nuclear environmentalists are effectively arguing that we have to choose between a number of murderous power generation options, and since they all kill people, we may as well go for the one which is least bad for the climate. This is indeed the unpalatable choice if we only look at what would be attainable within the current framework of power generation run by private companies for their profit. If we were able to plan our power generation with the needs of people at the forefront, there is nothing to say that we could not have electricity which managed both not to cook the planet and to kill hundreds of thousands of people. There are after all renewable options out there. Footage of a wind turbine on fire has been seized on with delight by climate change deniers and anti-wind farm campaigners, but as far as I am aware, the death toll remains at zero. Industrial production under capitalism has always been about making profit while killing and maiming workers and anyone else who could not afford to live far enough away from industry. Just because that has been the norm however is no reason why it must continue in a new century of power generation. What it takes is an understanding that we have to fight to change the system and not simply rely on EDF to decide to build a nuclear reactor rather than a coal-fired power station. The nuclear argument is one of the most contentious and difficult in the environmental movement, and it is far from settled. Mangano's book provides important ammunition for anyone who sees that nuclear is the answer only if we give up believing in our collective power to change the question.
  12. In an interview with the Guardian last week Al Gore talked about the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year, the European carbon market, climate change deniers, smart grids and nuclear energy. The most surprising comment from Gore was about nuclear energy and its role in fighting climate change. According to Gore nuclear energy is not the answer to our problems because it’s dirty, too expensive, unsafe and that it poses a threat to world peace. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now sceptical about it. There's a few reasons. Let's assume for the moment that we will solve the problem of long-term storage of radioactive waste. Let's assume also that we'll figure out how to standardise their design as [each plant] is currently unique and that enhances the risk of operator accidents. Let's assume we can solve the terrorism threat to nuclear reactors. That still leaves a couple of very difficult problems. First and foremost, economics. The nuclear industry cannot give any reliable cost estimate for how much it will take to build a nuclear plant. When a utility is confronted with the absence of any advances for how much the construction cost is going to be, then that's a problem. Because the economics of nuclear only work at scale. You've got to have a 1,000 megawatt plant for it to be efficient and competitive. In the current environment, if you run a large utility that sells electricity you've got a certain amount of money to allocate in your budget. If you're looking at the trends towards more conservation and the rapid introduction of renewables, it's hard for you to project what your demand is going to be with as much precision as when the world was more predictable. As a result, you are less inclined to take all of your money and place one big bet on something that matures 12-15 years from now at an uncertain cost. That what's called a "lumpy investment" and they want smaller increments that give them smaller flexibility. In the US, there hasn't been a new order for a new reactor in 36 years. Yes, there is [more appetite for nuclear power now]. And because of the carbon crisis there will be more nuclear plants built and some of those being retired will be replaced by others. I think it will play a somewhat larger role, but it will not be the main option chosen. Whatever countries such as the US and the UK do, it will have a demonstration effect for the rest of the world. As the world comes to grips with how to solve the climate crisis, we in the US and the UK have a leadership role. If we told the rest of the world that nuclear is the answer [they would follow]. For the eight years that I spent in the White House every nuclear weapons proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a reactor programme. People have said for years that there are now completely different [nuclear] technologies. OK, but if you have a team of scientists that can build a reactor, and you're a dictator, you can make them work at night to build a nuclear weapon. That's what's happened in North Korea and Iran. And in Libya before they gave it up. So the idea of, say, Chad, Burma, and Sudan having lots of nuclear reactors is insane and it's not going to happen." Greenpeace was of course happy by Gore's comment. Martin Lloyd, from the Greenpeace blog Making Waves, said that: "It's always nice when people agree with you. We've maintained that nuclear power is a dangerous distraction to the real solutions to the climate crisis for a long time now. It's dirty, it's unsafe, it's a threat to world peace and it is terribly, terribly expensive." "Now, Al Gore, who's sometimes been on the other side of this argument has come round to our position. Because, as he notes, even if you assume problems with safety and waste can be overcome, it just doesn't make sense economically." Photo credit: Severin Nowacki (cc)
  13. Today Greenpeace activists protested against recent political plans to introduce new nuclear reactors in Sweden. Dressed as different renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and water, and with the help from a old fire truck the activists managed to cross the security fences surrounding the Swedish nuclear plant. Once inside some of the activists managed to get up on the roof of the reactors, casting new light on the lack of security at the Swedish nuclear power plants. Ludvig Tillman, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Nordic said that: "The Swedish parliament is risking the country's reputation and position as a progressive leader in clean and safe energy development. All the evidence shows that nuclear power is a dangerous, expensive and dead-end distraction from the real solutions to climate protection and energy security. Reactors are standing in the way of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs." "The reality in many countries is that reactors are hugely expensive, construction is often delayed massively due to safety concerns and technical complications, and there is still no solution to deadly nuclear waste," added Jan Beránek, nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace International. It was in 2009 that the current right-wing government announced their plans to scrap the Settlement Act and the ban on new nuclear power in Sweden. The new pro-nuclear agreement will get voted on in the parliament on the 17th of June. Sweden is already far behind other European countries such as Spain, Germany and Denmark in the renewable energy sector. And if the agreement gets a yes from the parliament, sane progress towards a sustainable energy system based on energy efficiency and renewable technologies will likely be blocked and pushed back even further. "The world is watching. Swedish parliamentarians must let reason guide their choice rather than propaganda from the nuclear industry and vote NO to nuclear power on June 17", Tillman said.
  14. According to a new report released by Amory Lovins and Imran Sheikh nuclear energy is still dangerous, not cost-effective, and too expensive and will even worsen climate change. "A widely heralded view holds that nuclear power is experiencing a dramatic worldwide revival and vibrant growth, because it’s competitive, necessary, reliable, secure, and vital for fuel security and climate protection. That's all false. In fact, nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete—so hopelessly uneconomic that one needn't debate whether it's clean and safe; it weakens electric reliability and national security; and it worsens climate change compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options." Nuclear energy is a waste of money because it creates a pollution problem that lasts for thousands of years, money that would be better and more productively spent on renewable energy, the report says. The report will also depress the free market supporters as it says that "nuclear power plants are unfinanceable in the private capital market because of their excessive costs and financial risks and the high uncertainty of both." "During the nuclear revival now allegedly underway, no new nuclear project on earth has been financed by private risk capital, chosen by an open decision process, nor bid into the world’s innumerable power markets and auctions. No old nuclear plant has been resold at a value consistent with a market case for building a new one." Via DeSmogBlog.
  15. A recently published report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace shows that nuclear power cannot solve climate change due to time and safety limits. "After several decades of disappointing growth, nuclear energy seems poised for a comeback. Talk of a "nuclear renaissance" includes perhaps a doubling or tripling of nuclear capacity by 2050, spreading nuclear power to new markets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and developing new kinds of reactors and fuel-reprocessing techniques. But the reality of nuclear energy's future is more complicated. Without major changes in government policies and aggressive financial support, nuclear power is actually likely to account for a declining percentage of global electricity generation." According to the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2008 nuclear power's share of worldwide electricity generation is expected to drop from 15% in 2006 to 10% in 2030. The report, titled "Nuclear Energy: Rebirth or Resuscitation?", comes to the conclusion that states interested in nuclear energy should be aware of the costs and risks involved in nuclear energy, as well as the time it takes to construct a nuclear plant. "The earliest the first new U.S. reactor could be finished is 2015, but the report notes that it takes about 10 years to put a new plant in service, from licensing to connection to the grid. In two dozen countries that are interested in obtaining civil nuclear energy but have not previously built a reactor, it will take even longer, the report says." The report also comes to the conclusion that nuclear energy will not help countries to reach energy security or independence and that it could risk world security. "In addition, uranium and nuclear fuel come from only a few countries – Canada, Australia, Russia, the United States and France – making nations without resources or technologies as dependent on foreign sources of energy as before, the report notes. Worse still, it says, the need for fuel may drive more nations to develop their own uranium enrichment facilities, raising the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons."