Historians will look back at 2015 as the turning point for producing electricity during the 21st century. The data is in: building new nuclear power plants is too expensive and takes too long. Global climate change can be prevented with a renewable electric grid that will become the new normal. The forecast is simple: dirty forms of energy like coal, nuclear, oil, and fracked gas are no longer cheaper and certainly not cleaner or safer then renewable alternative power like solar, wind, wave, and geothermal. As Victor Hugo once said, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
Demystifying Nuclear Power:
There is an atmosphere of bitter irony attached to the decision by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to rush restart of the country’s dormant nuclear reactors despite distrust of nuclear energy and fervent disapproval by more than 70% of Japan’s citizens.
Last week, Sendai I became the first reactor to return to service after four years of inactivity following the triple meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors.
While the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown radiation releases are ongoing and its owner TEPCO is spewing millions of gallons of highly toxic radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese government and Kyushu Electric Power Company, operator of the Sendai reactors, barely allowed the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to pass, before pushing Sendai I into service.
“The NRA [Nuclear Regulatory Agency] has failed to apply robust safety measures to the Sendai reactor… the NRA approved an assessment by Kyushu Electric Power, which excluded major seismic risks at the Sendai plant and violated the NRA’s own post-Fukushima safety guidelines; an analysis commissioned by Greenpeace Japan in February showed that the NRA also accepted a flawed volcano risk analysis from Kyushu Electric Power for the active volcano Mt. Sakurajima, located only 50km from the reactor site.”
As if to validate citizen and environmental concerns, Sakurajima, an active volcano only twenty-five miles from the Sendai reactor site appears poised for an imminent and possibly major eruption.
The inherent tragedy in Japan’s official push to restart its reactors lies in the false premise used to justify its re-commitment to nuclear energy. Continuing to carve out a place for nuclear power in the country’s energy profile will satisfy the banks, who funded the idled nuclear reactors, and will undermine the growth of wind, wave, and solar power which have the real potential to move Japan away from costly and polluting fossil and nuclear fuels. Follow the nuclear banking debacle with Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen.
More disturbing, the new generation of so-called more efficient reactor technology long imagined by the nuclear industry never materialized in operation, so once the aging and seismically unqualified reactors go online again, the volume of radioactive waste will continue to grow without important seismic qualifications and a safe and secure long-term disposal location or plan for such extensive highly toxic radioactive waste.
In an island nation where every square foot of property must be thoughtfully conserved and where land is subjected to devastating tsunamis and destructive earthquakes, what to do with nuclear waste that must be protected and sequestered for millennia represents an even larger problem for Japan than for any other country currently facing the challenge of storing waste for 250,000 years.
Japanese culture reflects a keen appreciation that nature has two distinct aspects, one which is beautiful and serene; and a second, fraught with terrible potential for destruction. It is a part of an ancient Pacific heritage to accept that nature will periodically sweep away the artifacts of human ambition. So profound is this paradox that it has found unrivaled expression in the greatest creations of traditional Japanese arts.
Setting aside the critical lessons of the flawed nuclear paradigm that created the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown in order to preserve corporate profitability flies in the face of Japan’s traditional wisdom and invites intercession by the scolding hand of nature.
After all the Japanese people endured as a result of human folly during the past seventy years, it is no wonder that the long-suffering people of Japan are overwhelmingly opposed to a nuclear future.
Why have they been so callously overruled?
Fairewinds in the News:
California’s Public Utilities Commission San Onofre nuclear plant settlement has been nixed by the state’s ratepayer consumer advocate due to a judge’s August 5th ruling about settlement backroom deals, according to LA Times journalist Ivan Penn.
“Joe Como, director of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, said Monday,” according to the LA Times, “that he was ‘very disappointed’ by a judge's ruling Aug. 5 that Edison failed to report communication with regulators about a settlement. Como added that the judge did not go far enough and wrote an opinion that still gives too much latitude for utilities to communicate with regulators outside public view.”
“We will pull out of the settlement,” Como announced. “We will file papers to that effect as quickly as possible. This cannot stand.”
The LA Times reported that San Onofre owner Southern California Edison (Edison) engaged in 10 unreported backroom deals with the California Public Utilities Commission while crafting the settlement in question. The original agreement divided the $4.7 billion San Onofre shutdown costs among Edison and plant co-owner San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and their ratepayer customers. Edison and SDG&E absorbed $1.4 billion of the costs while ratepayers got stuck with the bulk of the charges of $3.3 billion.
Pulling out of the settlement, not only could lower the cost to customers, but also lead to a renewed investigation into who is really at fault for the failure of the recently installed steam generators that were built to a new design without adequate review according to Friends of the Earth in its petition to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Friends of the Earth petitioned the NRC using information and expertise provided by Fairewinds Energy Education. Originally the NRC deemed this request “moot” as the plant had already halted operation, so Edison avoided a NRC investigation and public hearing regarding the company’s unregulated replacement of its old steam generators that resulted in radiation leaks and the subsequent shutdown of San Onofre.
“Edison had a perfectly good, well-running power plant and they drove it into a wall,” Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen, who served as an expert witness regarding the handling of San Onofre's generators, told the LA Times.
With pictures of mutant daisies and Fairewinds’ latest video update on the nuclear disaster at Fukushima entitled “Follow the Money” circulating the web like rapid-fire, reporter Thomas Marsh of VICE International reached out to Fairewinds for an interview with Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen to discuss why the Japanese government is rushing the impossible cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi. Mr. Gundersen points to pressure on the Diet (Japanese Parliament) from electrical companies for the hasty decommissioning of the Fukushima meltdown site. Nuclear power operations in Japan have been totally shutdown since 2012 and as reactors all over the country sit idle, so do their employees. To keep their workers employed and to keep nuclear power on life support, utility companies relied on 2-3 billion dollar loans every year the reactors were shutdown from banks to keep afloat. “Now, it's payback time for the bankers, “ Mr. Gundersen explains. “And between the banks who want their two or three billion back, and the utilities that want their investment – which is probably in the order of ten or twenty billion – back, then the pressure on the Diet is astronomical.” The rush to decommission and dismantle the triple meltdown site at Fukushima is an effort to reassure the Japanese public that nuclear power “isn’t so bad”. However, as Mr. Gundersen points out, this isn’t a clean nuclear site ready for a slated 10-year decommissioning, and radiation levels put workers, largely young men, at enormous risk. “My point is,” says Mr. Gundersen, “walk away for a hundred years, then come back in a hundred. By waiting a hundred years you're reducing the radiation exposure to a significant, young virile gene pool that in my opinion doesn't deserve to be exposed right now.”
Inspired by the report entitled “Vermont Yankee’s Decommissioning As An Example of Nationwide Failures of Decommissioning Regulation” researched and submitted by Fairewinds to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Vermont State Senators Committee, the state of Vermont is suing the NRC for abuse of power and breaking three federal laws when it decided in June to give the owner of Vermont Yankee legal exemptions to use a $665 million trust fund created from ratepayer money for purposes the law never intended.
“Decisions that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission makes for Vermont Yankee could be precedents for all kinds of other plants going through decommissioning in the future,” Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Monday after filing suit in D.C. on behalf of Vermont, Green Mountain Power, and a subsidiary company against the NRC and the United States of America. “This is obviously an important issue here in Vermont, but it’s also a matter that’s of national significance.”
The NRC decided on June 17th to allow utility owner Entergy to take $225 million of its trust fund created by ratepayer money, an act federal law prohibits. Decommissioning costs are expected to reach $1.2 billion, which the trust fund should be able to provide for as it continues to grow. However, the likelihood for that growth is destroyed when Entergy is allowed to dip into it whenever, for whatever as the NRC has permitted for them to do.
The state of Vermont wants decommissioning to begin and be completed as quickly as possible. Fairewinds’ conducted research that shows VY could be decommissioned in approximately 15-years, rather than leaving its carcass on the banks of the Connecticut River for the 60-years sanctioned by the NRC.
Should decommissioning not be complete, due to insufficient funds, by the end of that 60-year time frame, Entergy claims it would not be liable. “Every time the Commission allows an improper withdrawal from the Decommissioning Fund, it harms Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation, Green Mountain Power Corporation, and their Vermont ratepayers,” the lawsuit says.
The Sendai nuclear reactor in Kyushu, Japan is the first to go back online since the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 amidst protests led by Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kahn. The Sendai plant is already facing intense security scrutiny as utility owner Kyushu Electric Power has failed to take any special precautions after authorities warned of the risk of a larger-than-usual eruption from neighboring volcano Sakurajima, located about 50 km (30 miles) away.
While Sakurajima is one of Japan's most active volcanoes and erupts almost constantly, the Japan Meteorological Agency said on Saturday that there is a risk of a larger than usual eruption from the volcano and raised warning levels on the peak from 3 to an unprecedented 4, meaning prepare to evacuate. Seventy-seven residents, who live within a 3 km radius of the craters, have already been evacuated, an official said on Monday.
"We are not currently taking any particular response,” said Kyushu Electric spokesman Tomomitsu Sakata, when questioned about extra safety measures taken to protect the Sendai reactor from a potential emergency.
John Large, chief executive of nuclear engineering consultancy Large & Associates, has indicated that precautions by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority for volcanic eruptions were "wanting in a number of important respects" and did not meet international standards.
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on Cape Cod Bay was forced to shut down due to warmer than usual seawater unable to cool the nuclear fuel. Pilgrim operators blamed a rare tide and wind combination for the warmer temperatures, but some scientists saw a potential sign of the impact of climate change in the temperature spike.
This is only the fourth time in the plant’s 43-year history that seawater flowing through its intake pipes exceeded the 75-degree limit set by the NRC however, the previous three times this occurred all took place in the summer of 2013.
Cape Cod Bay has shown “a remarkably steady increase” and that latest incident should serve as a warning to the plant operators. “If the plants were designed to expect temperatures at a certain level, they’re going to see warmer temperatures,” said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. “They’re going to have to move their intake pipes into deeper water or shut down,” he added.
Dave Noyes, director of regulatory and performance improvement at Pilgrim, continues to blame it on atypical tides and winds and does not expect this to be an ongoing problem.
Meanwhile, officials at Pilgrim consider asking the NRC to allow the plant to raise the maximum allowable temperature of its sea water which begs the question: Can you raise a maximum cooling temperature for a 43-year old nuclear plant without adjustments to the reactor’s design?
When Walter Tamosaitis was leading the team of 100 scientists and engineers in designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of highly toxic nuclear sludge at the former Hanford nuclear weapons complex in Richland, Washington, he found a significant safety flaw that could lead to a spontaneous nuclear reaction. Mr. Tamosaitis warned the Energy Department that its plans for nuclear waste treatment were unsafe, and he was immediately demoted to an isolated basement office and subsequently fired. Knowing that he had been blackballed from the industry he had served for 44-years, Mr. Tamosaitis, took his concerns to independent federal investigators and filed a wrongful termination suit.
After further investigation based on Tamosaitis’ findings, department officials said the plant’s design and construction failed to meet federal safety standards and in 2013, so then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu ordered a halt to the construction of two massive processing facilities at Hanford.
“It was something I lived with every minute of every day over the last five years,” Tamosaitis, 68, said in an interview for the LA Times. “Hopefully, I have sent a message to young engineers to keep their honesty, integrity and courage intact.”
At the risk of their own livelihood, Fairewinds’ founders Arnie and Maggie Gundersen continue to stand up to the nuclear industry and demand that business and financial gain not trump the safety of the public and basic human right to a safe, clean, radiation free environment. Watch whistleblowers Arnie and Maggie Gundersen speak truth to power in this video.
How do you mix renewable energy with recycling? Well, it looks like Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD) of Brattleboro, VT and Pristine Sun LLC figured it out. These two unlikely business partners have finalized a 25-year agreement for the solar development firm to lease land over the waste district capped landfill to finance a 5-megawatt solar project. Integrated Solar of Brattleboro will build the solar array paid for by Pristine Sun who will own it when it is done, which could be as soon as October 2016. WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said that initial estimates find that towns will be able to reduce their energy costs by up to 33 percent. Governments and school districts within the 19 southern Vermont towns that make up WSWMD will have the first rights to purchase this community cecentered solar energy from Green Mountain Power.