Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nuclear Update

Nuclear power has again been making the headlines on the international front.  Britain has supposedly approved building two reactors at the Hinckley site for $26 billion (US).  What’s interesting is that this is being financed by Chinese and French money, and the reactor technology and construction will be handled by the French company Areva.  This reactor design is currently being built at two projects in Finland and France, and both are behind schedule and way over cost; and the design is untested technology.  Quite a gamble for Britain!  The “selling” points are that it will create a lot of jobs until its projected completion date of 2023; and that the British government will guarantee buying the electrical output at about $0.15/kwh.  This is pretty expensive, but their rationale is that all energy will be expensive 10 years from now.  And again, this “cost” does not realistically include decommissioning and waste disposal costs in the future.  We’ll see if this deal really goes through, or if it turns into another boondoggle down the road.  As with other countries, the Brits are just beginning to deal with the closure of current nuclear plants, and getting a glimpse of what the huge back-end decommissioning and wastes costs will be.  Maybe that’s why they can’t finance this themselves.

The other much bigger news comes from Fukushima in Japan.  Two and a half years after the meltdowns and loss of cooling at the four reactors, the government and the utility in charge are throwing up their hands and admitting they don’t have a clue of what to do.  The fuel is extremely hot and radioactive, so water has to be continually pumped in to cool and shield it from the environment.  However, the buildings and most of the equipment was severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, so that much of the water that is pumped in (which now contains radioactive particles) is leaking out into the groundwater and making its way to the Pacific Ocean.   There have been all kinds of suggested solutions: a two mile ice dam around the facility, a major pipeline to pump the contaminated water to a distant storage site where rapidly constructed leaky tanks won’t threaten the ocean, etc, etc.  They are asking for international help.  You’d think that after two and a half years, the British, French, Americans, even the Chinese would have offered some advice.  No clue!

The significance of this is mind-boggling.  This is an accident that is now not limited to a local geographic or national site; the contamination of the Pacific Ocean goes against all the treaties signed in the past to protect the Ocean commons.  Aside from the ecological damage, the impact of fisheries and seafood production, the source of livelihood for millions of people, is at risk.  Enjoy your sushi!  Don’t worry; as Fox News once reported, “a little radiation is good for you!”

On the home front, “decommissioning” now appears to be a daily concern.  Hearings and public meetings for San Onofre and Vermont Yankee lead the charge in identifying what is involved with both time and money.  Concerns with New York’s Indian Point, Comanche Peak, Monticello…the list goes on and is growing, are now being addressed, and the public is finally appearing to realize the Faustian Bargain they were sold years ago, as the true costs are beginning to be revealed.

As for the new Hinckley reactors, British Energy Secretary Ed Davey states "It is going to be really good value for money, because by the time you get to 2023 when it starts generating, in 10 years' time, we are going to live in a very different world for electricity and energy generally."  I hope his kids enjoy their inheritance.

Just a few readings:
1.      Britain’s new nukes.

2.      Fukushima

3.      US decommissioning and reactor problems

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