Things continue to not bode well for the nuclear industry, as the economic impacts of construction, decommissioning, and wastes disposal come to light in the US as well as the rest of the world.
In South Carolina, the canceled plants continue to stir controversy as to who is responsible for the $12 billion already spent, with utilities and legislators wanting to stick the entire bill on ratepayers and taxpayers. The same holds true for Georgia, where construction is still in process, with the feds opting another $12 billion subsidy. When this project eventually gets canceled, or comes on line 5-10 years later, the cost of that electricity will be definitely noncompetitive. The same kinds of problems continue in the UK, France, and Finland. Nuclear power plants are obsolete in today’s changing renewable world, and the promise of new, smaller reactors will make no difference.
The issue of spent fuel storage (HLW) is now getting some mention, with a recent push to get on with Yucca Mountain. Again, that will not happen, because of the scientific, geologic, as well as the political/moral constraints. What is now making a re-appearance though, is the privatization of waste management and storage.
The new player is a private company called Holtec, which manufactures dry casks for spent fuel storage. They want to build a facility (basically a large pad) where dry casks would be shipped from all over the US to their site in New Mexico. There, the casks would be monitored and guarded until…??? It would take somewhere between 10-15,000 casks to contain all the spent fuel rods in the US. They would have to be stored above ground because of the heat emitted, and would be vulnerable to erosion, sabotage, accidents, etc. The nearby WIPP project, which is trying to store not-so-hot military wastes in a salt cavern is already leaking and exploding after only five years, and now under review.
At Humboldt Bay, we have 6 Holtec casks. They are smaller than the ones for most plants, and cost about $1 million each. I took about 6 weeks, and $8 million to load and prepare each cask for its placement in our below grade bunker, and that facility requires about $12 million/year for monitoring and security. There are 36 casks on site at the decommissioned Trojan plant on the Columbia River, and San Onofre is in a contentious battle with its desire to place about 250 casks right on the beach in Southern California. The Diablo Canyon plan will require over 300 of these casks. So do the math…10,000 casks at $10 million each, plus transportation to a central site in New Mexico…big bucks for Holtec and the utilities, since the ratepayers and taxpayers are footing the bill. Give those CEO’s a bonus!
Another issue coming up revolves around how each state set up the rules for decommissioning funding. By Federal law, decom funds were to be set aside to ensure the safe and clean dismantlement of nuclear power plants. In California, The utilities collected money from ratepayers over the years, and put that money into an investment fund where it, for a while at least, grew in value. PG&E ratepayers, as well as those in the south, are now continuing to pay into this fund for their nukes. Things are a bit different in other states. Some utilities took that money and invested it in ventures such as building more nuclear power plants! Things got/get complicated when the feds allowed utilities to sell nuclear units to private firms. The decom funds were supposed to go with the plants in the sale, but some of that money has in some cases disappeared. The funds that do exist on the books are most often very low in respect to the actual cost of decommissioning. Add that to the fact that many of these nuclear companies have gone through bankruptcy, buyouts, subsides (as is the case of Vermont Yankee and a few other plants back east beginning the decommissioning dialogue) and the ratepayer/taxpayer---you and I will eventually wind up paying the bills. So much for cheap nuclear power. They argue we can’t afford health care for all Americans , but for probably the same amount of money, we will spend it on the back end of nuclear power.
Seven years into the fiasco at Fukushima, and still there is no sign of anyone having a clue as to what to do with this site that is leaking contamination into our environment. The $322 million ice wall is a failure, and the increasing amount of radioactive contaminated water, soil, and other materials is taking up a lot of room on this small island nation. The true exorbitant cost of decommission continues to elude the media and the public, while, CEOs, lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians continue to make millions of dollars, perpetuating the hoax that we need clean, cheap, and safe nukes if our societies are to survive.
The recent media frenzy that we will soon have fusion power (some say by 2028) continues he hoax and fraud of promises of unlimited clean electricity. Not going to happen, at least in our lifetime. It is so complex…temperatures in the millions of degrees, the structures and technology to contain the self-sustaining fusion reaction, and all the rest of the facilities necessary to convert that heat into electricity is mind-boggling and is not going to be cheap. But again, the gullible public is being misled by the promise of dollars.
On the fossil fuel side, things again do not bode well for the coal industry, in spite of the subsidies, deregulation, and policies offered up by this administration. It just cannot compete in cost, and in creating jobs. The oil industry seems to be doing well…the goal for America to be the biggest producer and exporter of oil is pretty close…with gasoline around $3.50 a gallon today. Subsidies and deregulation continue, and transportation taxes loom in the future.
On the positive side, solar and wind are doing quite well, considering all the obstacles in place to keep businesses and individuals from taking matters into their own hands. There is rapid growth worldwide, with China leading the way. They exported 37,000MW of solar panels in 2017…that’s the equivalent of 37 large nuclear power plants…in just one year. World wide, solar provides an amount equal to total nuclear capacity, at c cheaper cost, with no huge decommissioning and waste storage costs. The potential for growth, in manufacturing, job creation, CO2 mitigation, and a sustainable energy future is becoming apparent, and will blossom within our lifetime. Again, as I’ve said, this is not a black-white situation as so many critics expound. We will always have a mix of energy resources…oil, gas, even nuclear, along with solar, wind, and any other forms that become viable; and hopefully they will be used appropriately, determined by economics, geographic and technological limitations, time, and political will.
Wind is where the huge potential exists in the near future. Moving offshore, where there is an almost constant airflow, and eventually coupled with the power of the movement of the oceans, the technology is rapidly entering the mainstream as the new grid infrastructure improves to accommodate renewables. GE, who is on the verge of bankruptcy because of their emphasis on gas turbines, is developing a 12MW turbine in France (why aren’t they doing it in the US?). Here in Humboldt County, plans are being discussed for a 100MW farm, with 10-15 turbines anchored 24 miles off-shore. Many European countries already have the technology and experience to prove this potential’s viability.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, the next crucial piece of this whole energy puzzle is storage…capturing excess electricity production when it is not needed, for use when it is. Again, giant strides are being made all over the world, with installations in Australia highlighting the potential. Starting from near zero not many years ago, the growth of lithium-ion battery production and implementation is about to exponentially take off. I still believe that hydrogen/fuel cells will eventually become equally important!
All this is happening in spite of all the deliberate obstacles…the misinformation, lies, tax proposals, tariffs, and the basic disregard of science and technology by the current administration and those who prop it up. Climate change is real, and it has been impacting us in so many increasingly different ways. It is a shame that we choosing an economic blind eye, when we could be building our economy, jobs, clean air and water, and more affordable and equitable world. Maybe we really need to join hands, kneel down, and pray.
Just a few recent interesting pieces: