Ed Lyman, Michael Schoeppner, Frank Von Hippel – The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident prompted regulators around the world to take a hard look at their requirements for protecting nuclear plants against severe accidents. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ordered a “top-to-bottom” review of its regulations, and ultimately approved a number of safety upgrades. It rejected other risk-reduction measures, however, using a screening process that did not adequately account for impacts of large-scale land contamination events. Among rejected options was a measure to end dense packing of 90 spent fuel pools, which we consider critical for avoiding a potential catastrophe much greater than Fukushima. Unless the NRC improves its approach to assessing risks and benefits of safety improvements—by using more realistic parameters in its quantitative assessments and also taking into account societal impacts—the United States will remain needlessly vulnerable to such disasters.
Science 26th May 2017 read more »
Unsafe Nuclear Waste Management May Put Eight Million Americans at Risk: In March of 2011, the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan experienced one of the largest meltdowns in history following a major earthquake. In the aftermath of this catastrophic event, which displaced some 174,000 locals, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) decided it was time to update the national protocols for storing spent nuclear waste. By July 2011, the NRC released its new recommendations, which resulted in a three-tiered program for updating the US nuclear safety regulations, such as making it easier to add more water to spent fuel pools, where radioactive waste is stored. According to a policy article published in Science , the NRC program underestimated the danger posed by current waste storage standards and, in the process, has put millions of lives at risk. The problem is that most nuclear reactor operators in the US don’t proactively remove spent fuel from the pools because the NRC doesn’t see using pools as semi-permanent storage as a problem. According to the Science paper, nuclear utilities treat the pools as default storage containers, fill them to capacity and and only transfer waste to dry storage when space in the pool is running low. While this might save some cash for the utility, it also significantly increases the risk of a fire at the reactor. According to the authors of the new policy paper, the release of radioactive material resulting from a fire at a spent-fuel pool filled to capacity would result in about $2 trillion in damage and the relocation of some eight million people, on average.
Motherboard 25th May 2017 read more »
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) relied on faulty analysis to justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from the occurrence of a catastrophic nuclear-waste fire at any one of dozens of reactor sites around the country, according to an article in the May 26 issue of Science magazine. Fallout from such a fire could be considerably larger than the radioactive emissions from the 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan. Published by researchers from Princeton University and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the article argues that NRC inaction leaves the public at high risk from fires in spent-nuclear-fuel cooling pools at reactor sites. The pools—water-filled basins that store and cool used radioactive fuel rods—are so densely packed with nuclear waste that a fire could release enough radioactive material to contaminate an area twice the size of New Jersey. On average, radioactivity from such an accident could force approximately 8 million people to relocate and result in $2 trillion in damages. These catastrophic consequences, which could be triggered by a large earthquake or a terrorist attack, could be largely avoided by regulatory measures that the NRC refuses to implement. Using a biased regulatory analysis, the agency excluded the possibility of an act of terrorism as well as the potential for damage from a fire beyond 50 miles of a plant. Failing to account for these and other factors led the NRC to significantly underestimate the destruction such a disaster could cause.
Phys.org 25th May 2017 read more »
The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive that half of U.S. nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. And if existing nukes are uneconomic, it’s no surprise that new nuclear plants are wildly unaffordable. New York and Illinois have already agreed to more than $700 million a year in subsidies, and if all northeast and mid-Atlantic nukes got similar subsidies, it would cost U.S. consumers $3.9 billion a year. Things are so bad for the nuclear industry that, recently, even conservatives have started to publicly oppose the subsidies the industry needs to survive. The nuclear industry has essentially priced itself out of the market for new power plants, at least in market-based economies. Even the nuclear-friendly French — who get more than three fourths their power from nukes — can’t build an affordable, on-schedule next generation nuclear plant in their own country. Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the umpteenth cost overruns in Georgia Power’s effort to build two new reactors, with the headline, “Plant Vogtle: Georgia’s nuclear ‘renaissance’ now a financial quagmire.” The Westinghouse plants, originally priced at a whopping $14 billion are “currently $3.6 billion over budget and almost four years behind the original schedule.” Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March. Some existing nuclear plants are shutting down prematurely because they can’t compete with cheap fracked natural gas. That’s fine with both O’Keefe and Shughart. But it means we are going to end up with more fracked gas and more greenhouse gas pollution (both carbon dioxide and methane) in the short term. The fact is that the rapid advances in renewables, batteries and other storage, demand response, efficiency, and electric vehicles mean that integrating low-cost renewables into the grid will almost certainly be far easier and cheaper and faster than people realize. The bottom line is that existing nuclear plants can make a plausible case for a modest short-term subsidy. But whether or not you agree with those subsidies, the future belongs to renewables and efficiency.
Think Progress 25th May 2017 read more »
Georgia’s nuclear mess is about to get way messier now that the chief contractor on the Plant Vogtle expansion has fled to bankruptcy court. So a new race is underway to see who can nab enough bubble wrap to insulate themselves from a fresh round of costly shocks. So far, Georgia Power has sidestepped virtually all of the financial reckoning on its own project. Billions of dollars in past Vogtle overruns and delays will be borne by Georgia consumers or already have been by the contractor, Westinghouse Electric Company. I suspect leaders of Georgia Power and parent Southern Company would like to keep dodging on this one. A partial federal bailout from taxpayers perhaps? Southern CEO Tom Fanninghas been spending a lot of time in Washington D.C. talking about continuation of nuclear energy development being in “our national security interest.”
Atlanta Journal Constitution 25th May 2017 read more »