Friday, October 12, 2012

Maintaining the Nuclear Fleet

Some news last week shook up the global nuclear industry and is finally beginning to call attention to the under-reported and un-addressed issue of nuclear re-licensing.  A plant is normally designed for a 30 year operating life, and with nukes, they are given a 40 year license, since they spend several years of time off-line for refueling and maintenance.  Lately, it has been the policy of the NRC to grant 20 year license extensions to several older reactors, which the industry proclaims is necessary for our energy security.  This may come back to haunt us sometime in the future.  It is like having a car with 200,000 miles on it, and saying you can get another 100,000 miles out of it…without something major going wrong.  And a major accident here in the US or Europe would have devastating effects on the health of populations as well as the health of the fragile economies.  The real impact of Fukushima is just now beginning to be felt in Japan.
The whole issue boils down to COST.  It is very expensive to build a new nuclear power plant, and very few will be ever be built to replace the aging fleet of 105 current reactors, most of which will reach the end of their useful lives within the next 20 years.  Extending their lives saves the utilities, and the ratepayers money.  However, the cost of upgrading, replacing, modernizing, etc. these old plants, which may be cheaper than new construction, is staggering; and only prolongs the day of reckoning when those units will have to be replaced. 
The cost to upgrade reactors in Europe is a estimated to be $30 billion!
The cost to upgrade the Crystal River plant in Florida is close to $3 billion. (Remember, this is an industry that has ALWAYS underestimated what real costs are!) 
The cost to bring San Onofre in California back on line is over $3 billion. 
Repairs and replacements are showing up all over the global reactor world.
Add to this the future decommissioning costs (over $150 billion in the US alone), and the unknown cost of storing the high level spent fuel (another $150 billion+?) and we see a very expensive electricity future.  And the same issues are just now beginning to be addressed in Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world.  The glory days of cheap nuclear electricity is over, and it is time to move on to expensive (???) renewable energy.
Residents in Pittsburgh can buy electricity today that is cheaper than what the utilities would charge them.  And the price is coming down!
Those hoping for a magic high tech bullet, which can be controlled and manipulated by the big energy corporations, such as nuclear fusion, are again being deluded by greed and ignorance.
No one can own the sun or the wind, and right now it can’t be bottled and sold off the shelf.  That’s what big energy fears about renewables.
But the bottom line always winds up about money, control, and power, but at this time we are beginning to realize and understand the TRUE cost of the energy we need and use.  Making energy more expensive and valuable will force us to use it more wisely.  You get what you pay for!

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