Fairewinds’ report Vermont Yankee’s Decommissioning As An Example of Nationwide Failures of Decommissioning Regulation was presented to the Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Energy Wednesday April 22, 2015. The report evaluating Entergy’s plan to use the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sanctioned SAFSTOR process to decommission Vermont Yankee was funded by a grant from the Lintilhac Foundation. The report, which was submitted to the NRC March 23rd, takes a comprehensive look at SAFSTOR, an NRC developed subsidy that benefits nuclear power plant owners like Entergy by providing them with a 60-year window to complete decommissioning of nuclear plants. In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen emphasized the lack of a basis in physics for the 60-year timeline and the potential dangers and burden to Vermonters should Entergy, a limited liability company (LLC), be allowed to take 60-years to decommission Vermont Yankee.
Starting with the financial issues that are present in the SAFSTOR model, Arnie pointed out how Entergy has already been allowed to raid Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning fund before decommissioning even has begun. Entergy has made it clear that it will not begin decommissioning Vermont Yankee until the decommissioning fund has grown enough to fully cover all decommissioning costs plus funding spent fuel storage costs, a growth process extended by Entergy’s premature extraction of funds. Furthermore, Entergy has announced that as a LLC, the federal government may not be able to hold Entergy financially responsible should the decommissioning process take longer than 60-years, leaving the VY carcass and financial burden to Vermonters.
Arnie walked the panel through data that shows that the money exists for Entergy to protect workers and to completely clean up its toxic mess by 2032. By allowing nuclear energy corporations to raid nuclear plant decommissioning funds, the NRC is granting an un-reviewed and unregulated subsidy to the nuclear industry Gundersen said. Johnson State College geology professor Dr. Leslie Kanat worked with Fairewinds to create the spreadsheet analysis.
Fairewinds analysis also addresses serious safety concerns that Gundersen outlined for the Senate Committee, one of the most pressing being that Entergy wants to take as many short cuts as the NRC will allow including ending the emergency planning process at Vermont Yankee (see report, pg. 29). Entergy has asked for a special exemption simply to avoid spending money on the current evacuation plan even though the equivalent of radiation from 700 atomic bombs sits in the spent fuel pool. The NRC has approved of Entergy’s exemption, which means that when it comes time to remove the highly radioactive spent fuel from the fuel pool into dry cask storage, an Emergency Planning Zone will no longer be in existence. In fact, during the next 8-9 months, Entergy will be allowed to greatly reduce all emergency planning and full removal of the Emergency Planning Zone will take place April 2016.
Due to the cost of safety modifications as well as deteriorating equipment conditions that negatively impact safe plant operation, between 8 and 10 additional nuclear plants are also under consideration for decommissioning, making nuclear power decommissioning one of the most serious issues facing all areas of the country. In his presentation to the Vermont Senate Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, Gundersen noted that the NRC is more likely to listen if states facing pull out by LLCs ban together in order to change nuclear law. The state of Vermont has the opportunity to press the NRC to be accountable for the safety of the people, not the protection of industry profits.
Technology may be on the verge of solving two of the world’s biggest issues related to solar energy: storage and space.
The remaining challenges, bringing infrastructure upgrades online to efficiently handle solar contributions, is primarily a matter of marshaling the political will to make solar power a priority over other energy sources that have received years of public indulgences and subsidies.
If the question asked is simply: “Can solar replace nuclear energy in the marketplace right now?” The answer is: “Almost.”
But if the question is rephrased slightly: “Can solar be part of a renewables system replacing nuclear in our energy portfolio?” The answer is “Absolutely!”
It can and it must.
For all its other environmental baggage, even according to FORBES Magazine, nuclear has failed to fulfill its promise as an economically viable energy source.
While the nuclear industry continues to complain of “unfair” treatment by the marketplace, these complaints carry less and less credibility as people awaken to the enormous taxpayer supported advantages radioactive energy has received for decades vis-à-vis any support for truly clean energy options.
The significant subsidy advantages created for nuclear power were intended to smooth the way to commercial acceptance, so that the public might be preempted from drawing a conscious connection between nuclear energy and weapons of mass destruction.
The “clean and reliable” conceit has been used throughout the years to mask a truly sinister truth: since its inception, nuclear power generation has served as an essential adjunct to Defense Department. interests.
It was worth a try, I suppose, during the Eisenhower era; but the charade is nearing its end, as we have come no closer to solving the long-term waste abandonment problem or rendering the system “fool-proof.”
Despite every effort to prevent other alternatives to fossil fuels from advancing in viability, nuclear energy providers have found themselves unable to deliver on the promises of “cheap, clean and reliable” energy, even as the first generation of reactors approaches the end of their design life.
When that first tier of defense fails, nuclear power advocates claim that solar only works when the sun is shining, so the energy provided is only intermittently available.
Let’s put nuclear power in perspective by looking dispassionately at the data: 20% of the electricity in the US and 10% of the worldwide electricity are currently generated by nuclear power, and those percentages are declining rapidly. Worldwide the shift is very evident, as wind and solar are now growing much faster than nuclear power and equal nuclear power’s contribution, up from nearly zero % only fifteen years ago.
Setting aside the enormous burden of nuclear waste abandonment, and decommissioning nuclear reactors when they ultimately must be pensioned-off, replacing them is cost-prohibitive for our energy economy, leading to elaborate schemes that have shifted the cost to consumers through direct billing, even before a new nuke is built.
Some solar opponents claim that cloudy days remain and therefore make solar worthless, but new industrial battery storage created by Elon Musk, the Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Solar City, and the Tesla car company, will produce industrial scale storage batteries that cost about two cents per kilowatt-hr.
Including storage, wind and solar are still almost half the price a new nuclear plant is estimated to cost.
But even before we create the ideal storage and transport system for solar energy, the short-term solution is almost too obvious. When the sun doesn’t shine, the wind usually blows, thus enabling wind power to take up the slack.
Some thought has even been given to making those rooftop solar installations productive through variations in available sunlight. A Dutch company has recently developed a small wind energy generator, “Liam 1,” whose compact blade configuration draws from the natural design of a nautilus shell, and has a noise- dampening effect to address one of wind powers chief drawbacks. It is intended to be roof-mounted in conjunction with solar arrays, and its developers expect it to produce up to 50% of a household’s energy needs.
Changing the way we consume energy is the second area that can be implemented immediately. Conserving one kilowatt-hour costs less than 4 cents.
- Most experts acknowledge that between 20 to 40% of overall energy needs would be eliminated by conservation and efficiency improvements costing 4 cents per KWH, compared to 16 cents per KWH for nuclear power that will take at least 15 years to produce.
- For example, recent retrofits of the Empire State building reduced overall energy consumption by 40% and yielded a payback time of less than three years.
Thus, conservation can be implemented immediately at a significant savings compared to nuclear power that would cost 4 times more and 15+ years to produce.
There are thousands of other ways to reduce our energy consumption. Fairewinds simply refers you to two books: Reinventing Fire by energy economist Amory Lovins and Carbon Free Nuclear Free by 2050 by nuclear physicist Dr. Arjun Makajani.
Which would you choose?
- Build thousands of new nukes that won’t make a dent in climate change for at least 10 years or more, or
- Spend less money to cut our consumption of energy by at least 20% in 10 years,
- And increase production of renewable wind and solar by 20 % in ten years?
These solutions would make a 40% dent in CO2 gases before that first nuke ever goes on line!
The 21st-century energy production will be created by thousands of distributed small power sources throughout the towns and cities that make up our country. Dozens of cities, including our office location of Burlington Vermont, are already completely powered by renewable electricity from distributed sources.
The 20th Century paradigm for the large power station is like a tree with several very large leaves generating all its power. The 21st century is a much more natural and holistic paradigm resembling a tree with thousands of small leaves generating the same amount of power more in harmony with nature.
Americans are less than 4% of the world’s population yet they create more than 20% of world’s CO2. The solution to global climate change begins with changes by each of us. Federal subsidies should not be invested in coal, or oil, or gas or in small modular nuclear reactors, but instead those funds should be invested in energy efficiency and small modular renewables!
Award winning author, Peter Eichstaedt uncovers the devastating impact that the US nuclear age has had on the health, land, and culture of the Navajo people who reside on some of the richest uranium deposits in North America.
Working as a senior reporter for Santa Fe’s daily paper the New Mexican, Eichstaedt exposed problems with the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) to bury nuclear waste in salt mines around Carlsbad, New Mexico. When Eichstaedt conducted his research and published in 1994, WIPP had not yet opened as an operational waste site. Eichstadt continued his investigation of the nuclear industry as a professor of English at the Institute of American Indian Arts culminating in the production of this book.
Based in Santa Fe, Eichstadt spent years collecting interviews, and data that reveals the forced sacrifice of a people. Native Americans of the Four Corners, where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet, comprised about one-quarter of the miners and millers working in the atomic mills located on the Navajo Reservation between 1950 and 1980. Despite growing evidence that uranium mining was dangerous, unhealthy, and destructive to the environment, state and federal agencies did nothing to protect their workers. Forty years later, after having given up their land under the impression that it was their patriotic duty, the Navajo people have suffered physical, psychological, and cultural devastation with little to no compensation.
“They’re saying you have to die first before you get a [compensation] check,” says Cecil Parrish in an interview translated by his son, Wayne, outside of Cecil’s traditional Navajo Hogan.
Voices From Chernobyl : The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster
By Svetlana Alexievich
On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history occurred in Chernobyl. Although this was one of the most devastating tragedies ever, until now, no book has appeared in English giving the inside story of what happened to the people living in Belarus, and the fear, anger, and uncertainty that they lived through. A journalist by trade, Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people in Belarus affected by the meltdown. From residents of Chernobyl to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster, Voices from Chernobyl is a crucial document of what happened and how people reacted to it. Alexievich presents these interviews in monologue form, giving readers a harrowing inside view into the minds of those affected untempered by government spin, detailing the tragedy and devastation.
(Review provided by IndieBound.org)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was created to protect the public by regulating the nuclear industry. With Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel pool at capacity and storing the equivalent of 700 nuclear bombs worth of unshielded radioactive cesium, the NRC’s announcement that it will allow Entergy to eliminate Vermont Yankee’s Emergency Planning Zone by April 2016 is a complete disregard for the safety of Vermonters.
The permission granted by the NRC to Entergy means that as Entergy transfers the highly radioactive spent fuel from the fuel pool into dry cask storage, the Emergency Planning Zone would no longer exist. The NRC argues that the risk of a severe accident is reduced after 15.4 months of fuel cooling due to the closure of the reactor.
Reduced risk is not zero risk. The 2008 Vermont Yankee crane brake failure while Entergy was moving a cask full of spent fuel is a constant reminder that such failures do happen. Furthermore, leaks and radiation exposure is already known to occur during decommissioning, remember the Dresden Unit 1 in Illinois that suffered a spent fuel pool leak? Fairewinds’ report submitted to the NRC in March cites all of these failures as probable cause to follow federal statute by keeping the Emergency Planning Zone in place until all the spent fuel is completely secured in dry cask storage. Submitted March 23, 2015 the NRC has yet to make Fairewinds’ report public, another example of the NRC’s disregard for public safety.
As states around the US struggle with nuclear waste abandonment issues as aging nuclear plants are being decommissioned, Former businessman and controversial Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage seeks to disenfranchise Maine voters from any voice in the use of nuclear power in Maine.
“Back in 1987, when the now-defunct Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset was still a lightning rod for the state’s highly charged anti-nuclear movement, the Legislature passed a law mandating that future construction of “any nuclear power plant” in Maine “must be submitted to the voters of the State” before any ground is broken,” according to Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz.
Nemitz column warned the citizens of Maine that Gov. Paul LePage is working with his Director of Energy Patrick Woodcock to pass the bill, L.D.1313, which would eliminate a longstanding requirement that any and all proposed nuclear power projects in the state of Maine would be put to a state referendum.
In other words, the proposed bill being pushed by LaPage would take away voters’ rights to have a say in the creation of nuclear power plants with generating capacities of 500 megawatts or less.
Nemitz draws attention to the fact that Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1, one of the three nuclear power plants the suffered catastrophic meltdowns in 2011, had a generating capacity of only 460 megawatts. According to Nemitz, LePage’s efforts are a not so subtle attempt to introduce “small modular reactors”, what the nuclear industry hails as the next generation of nuclear energy.
Neimitz interviewed Raymond Shadis of Edgecomb, Maine, “who currently represents the lone remaining intervenor in the proposed relicensing of New Hampshire’s Seabrook nuclear plant, sees this week’s hearing as “the kind of rudeness we’ve come to expect from Gov. LePage.””
Shadis “also thinks the governor is dreaming if he thinks small modular reactors – the brainchildren of a new generation of nuclear engineers working mostly out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – can attract the investment capital needed to put them on the energy radar here in Maine or anywhere else, for that matter.
“It seems smart. It seems 21st century. But it is not,” Shadis said, noting that for all the design work that’s been done on small modular reactors over the past decade or so, they’ve generated virtually no interest on Wall Street.
“The most rabid anti-nuclear crowd are the investors in the market,” Shadis noted. “It takes a long time to realize any return at all. And the entirety of what you invest can turn from an asset to a liability overnight. Why bother risking your money? So they don’t.””
To follow up on last week’s drone landing incident at Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s office, the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo has taken into custody Yasuo Yamamoto, who states that his drone carrying a bottle of trace amounts of radioactive substances went undetected on the prime minister’s roof for two weeks. Yasuo Yamamoto is unaffiliated with any radical political groups and according to his blog has been upset by the fact that widespread anti-nuclear demonstrations within Japan have done very little to halt the Japanese government and nuclear industry’s efforts to restart the country’s nuclear reactors. A police source stated that they are viewing Yamamoto’s drone activity as “equivalent to an elaborately planned act of terrorism.” The Japan Times has cited concerns over this type of “lone-wolf incident”, which poses the threat of terrorist activity during upcoming major events in Japan such as the Group of Seven summit of major industrialized nations in 2016 and the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Fairewinds in the News:
More than 300 delegates from 20 countries that produce uranium for nuclear power, weapons, and medical uses and are calling on governments throughout the world to end all uranium mining. The declaration launched on Earth Day was crafted during the World Uranium Symposium in Quebec City and attended by Fairewinds’ Crew. The World Uranium Symposium was comprised of medical doctors, scientific experts, and Indigenous groups from around the world whose lands have been compromised by uranium mining and waste abandonment.
Several days of workshops and discussions created the basis for this declaration concluding that the damage caused by both existing and shut down uranium mining as well as the financial cost, far exceeds any possible gains. The declaration is open and available online for organizations and individuals to sign and states that “nuclear power is not a cost-effective, timely, practical or safe response to climate change”.
Symposium co-president Dr. Eric Notebaert, University of Montreal associate professor of medicine and a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said, “The risks to health, safety and the environment represented by the entire nuclear fuel chain—from uranium mines, to power reactors, to nuclear weapons, to radioactive wastes—greatly exceed the potential benefits for society.”
During the next few weeks, Fairewinds will be releasing workshop videos, power points, and keynotes from this extraordinary gathering of physicians, scientists, indigenous peoples, and scholars as well as our Crew’s personal take on what we learned and took away from this exciting, unprecedented event.