mdsolar writes: A collection of energy companies and trade associations have filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse a decision by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to subsidize several struggling upstate nuclear plants, arguing that the state overstepped federal authority to regulate energy prices.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, comes a little more than two months after Mr. Cuomo announced a deal to provide hundreds of millions of dollars per year in subsidies to buttress the bottom lines of four upstate plants. The subsidies were included in an order from the Public Service Commission, whose chairwoman, Audrey Zibelman, is named as the lead defendant.
But the suit argues that such action oversteps the federal government’s policy of allowing market forces to set wholesale energy prices, and benefits a single company: Exelon, based in Chicago, which owns all four plants. The plan also effectively makes New York residents pay billions through higher electrical rates to prop up the plants, several of which would have failed without the governor’s plan, the suit claims.
“Unless enjoined or eliminated, these credits will result in New York’s captive ratepayers paying the owners an estimated $7.6 billion over 12 years,” the suit reads.
mdsolar writes: On Friday, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center announced that they had achieved a key milestone — one that brings us closer than ever before to viable fusion reactors. The MIT team at the Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor set a new world record for plasma pressure at 2.05 atmospheres — 15 percent higher than the previous C-Mod record of 1.77 atmospheres set in 2005.
“This is a remarkable achievement that highlights the highly successful Alcator C-Mod program at MIT,” Dale Meade, former deputy director at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, who was not directly involved in the experiments, said in a statement. “The record plasma pressure validates the high-magnetic-field approach as an attractive path to practical fusion energy.”
mdsolar writes: If the Hinkley plan seems outrageous, that’s because it only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain’s military projects — especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading. Hawks and conservatives, in particular, see the Trident program as vital to preserving Britain’s international clout.
A painstaking study of obscure British military policy documents, released last month by the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, demonstrates that the government and some of its partners in the defense industry, like Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, think a robust civilian nuclear industry is essential to revamping Britain’s nuclear submarine program.
For proponents of Trident, civilian nuclear projects are a way of “masking” the high costs of developing a new fleet of nuclear submarines, according to the report. Merging programs like research and development or skills training across civilian and military sectors helps cut back on military spending. It also helps maintain the talent pool for nuclear specialists. And given the long lead times and life spans of most nuclear projects, connections between civilian and military programs give companies more incentives to make the major investments required.
One might say that with the Hinkley Point project, the British government is using billions of Chinese money to build stealth submarines designed to deter China.
mdsolar writes: A coalition of environmental and consumer activists say New York electricity customers will be jolted by a "huge tax" stemming from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to subsidize aging nuclear power plants.
Customers of National Grid, New York State Electric & Gas and other state-regulated utilities will see bills climb by more than $2 per month beginning next year — and even more in subsequent years — if the plan stays on track, the critics said.
The proposal is part of Cuomo's plan to ensure New York gets at least 50 percent of its power from renewable sources, including solar and wind, by 2030. He contends it makes New York a national leader in the push to curb climate change linked to greenhouse gases.
But representatives of more than 70 groups — consumer, environmental and conservative — announced this week that they are working in unison to derail the "bailout" of reactors near Rochester and Syracuse.
The subsidy's cost is expected to top $7 billion, according to a projection by the Public Utility Law Project, which is fighting the plan. Household customers would shoulder about $2.3 billion of that, it said, with the rest passed to industry, institutions and school systems.
"This is one of the biggest transfers of wealth in New York state history," said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
mdsolar writes: Two new reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) confirm that nuclear power is rapidly losing the race with renewable energy sources.
EIA's latest "Monthly Energy Review" notes that during the first six months of this year, renewable sources—i.e., biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind—accounted for 5.242 quadrillion Btus (quads) of domestic energy production. This includes thermal, liquid and electrical forms of energy. By comparison, nuclear power provided only 4.188 quads. That is, renewables outpaced nuclear by more than 25 percent. Link to Original Source
mdsolar writes: A new review of the safety of France’s nuclear power stations has found that at least 18 of EDF’s units are are ”operating at risk of major accident due to carbon anomalies.”
The review was carried out at the request of Greenpeace France following the discovery of serious metallurgical flaws by French regulators in a reactor vessel at Flamanville, where an EPR plant is under construction. The problem is that parts of the vessel and its cap contain high levels of carbon, making the metal brittle and potentially subject to catastrophic failure. These key components were provided by French nuclear engineering firm Areva, and forged at its Le Creusot. “The nature of the flaw in the steel, an excess of carbon, reduces steel toughness and renders the components vulnerable to fast fracture and catastrophic failure putting the NPP at risk of a major radioactive release to the environment”, says nuclear safety expert John Large, whose consultancy Large Associates (LA) carried out the Review. His report examines how the defects in the Flamanville EPR reactor pressure vessel came about during the manufacturing process, and escaped detection for years after forging. It then goes on to investigate what other safety-critical nuclear components might be suffering from the same defects.
mdsolar writes: The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to remove a key deadline for a nuclear power plant tax credit.
The legislation from Reps. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) would remove the requirement that newly-built nuclear power plants be in service by 2020 in order to receive a tax credit for producing power.
The credit was first enacted in 2005 to spur construction of new nuclear plants, but it has gone completely unused because no new plants have come online since then. The bill passed 23-9, with only Democrats opposed.
It would likely benefit two reactors under construction at Southern Co.’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia and another two at Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina. Both projects are at risk of missing the 2020 deadline.
Rice emphasized that it is not an expansion of the tax credit, because it can still be applied only to a total of 6,000 megawatts of generating capacity, as it was written in 2005.
“This bill ensures that the 6,000-megawatt capacity authorized by Congress in 2005 is fulfilled as intended, and stops there. This is not an expansion of the program,” Rice said at the committee meeting.
“When Congress passed the 2005 act, it could not have contemplated the effort it would take to get a nuclear plant designed and licensed.”
Blumenauer said he supports the legislation because he believes it could make small modular nuclear reactors a reality.
“It’s part of our future to see if we can make nuclear energy work in a way that’s safe and effective and manageable. Making this production credit work with this technology is an important step in that direction,” he said.
But some Democrats and environmentalists opposed the bill due to their overall objections to nuclear power. They pushed the Ways and Means Committee to instead act on renewable power tax incentives, such as credits for geothermal and similar technologies that were left out of a wide-ranging tax bill last year.
“I think the real problem with nuclear power is that it does better in a socialist economy than in a capitalist one, because nuclear energy prefers to have the public do the cleanup, do the insurance, cover all of the losses and it only wants the profits,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas).
mdsolar writes: In the wake of a nuclear emergency, the Environmental Protection Agency thinks it would be acceptable for the public to temporarily drink water containing radioactive contamination at up to thousands of times normal federal safety limits.
The agency is proposing this in new drinking-water guidelines for use in the weeks or months after a radiological event, such as a nuclear-power-plant accident or terrorist “dirty” bomb.
The EPA has been looking for years at issuing drinking-water guidelines as part of a broader set of recommendations about what to do if radioactive material is released into the environment. Agency officials have said the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan, where radiation was released, influenced their thinking on the matter.
Public comments on the proposed drinking-water guidelines are still being evaluated and the EPA expects to release a final document sometime this year, an agency spokeswoman said.
In written filings, the EPA said its normal radiation-safety limits, which are based on presumed exposures over decades, can be relaxed for a relatively brief period in the wake of emergencies without unduly increasing people’s risk of harm. The new guidelines would help officials decide when protective actions, such as bringing in bottled water, are needed.
Opponents of the EPA drinking-water proposal, including the New York attorney general and environmental groups, say the initiative represents a drastic departure from normal protection limits and could endanger people’s health. Internal EPA documents written by agency officials and obtained by environmentalists under the Freedom of Information Act, also raised concerns.
mdsolar writes: After spending more than 40 years and $5 billion on an unfinished nuclear power plant in northeastern Alabama, the nation’s largest federal utility is preparing to sell the property at a fraction of its cost.
The utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, has set a minimum bid of $36.4 million for its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant and 1,600 surrounding acres of waterfront property on the Tennessee River. The deal includes two unfinished nuclear reactors, transmission lines, office and warehouse buildings, eight miles of roads and a 1,000-space parking lot.
Initial bids are due Monday, and at least one company has expressed interest in the site, with plans to use it for alternative energy production. But the utility is not particular about what the buyer does — using the site for power production, industrial manufacturing, recreation or even residences would all be fine, said Scott Fiedler, an agency spokesman.
“It’s all about jobs and investment, and that’s our primary goal for selling this property,” Mr. Fiedler said. The utility hopes to close the deal in October.
The interested buyer, Phoenix Energy, based in Nevada, has said it will offer $38 million for Bellefonte in hopes of using it for a non-nuclear technology to generate power.
mdsolar writes: Britain’s biggest and most toxic nuclear waste site is facing fresh questions over its safety after allegations that staffing levels are frequently too low and that radioactive waste is being stored in degrading plastic bottles.
If a fire were to break out at the Sellafield site in Cumbria, it could “generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe”, one whistleblower claims in a BBC Panorama documentary.
Staffing at Sellafield fell below the “minimum safety manning level” on average once a week in the six months to May this year, according to figures obtained by the BBC. In the year to July 2013, there were 97 incidents with too few workers, it said.
The Cumbrian site is also still storing radioactive plutonium and uranium in plastic bottles originally intended for temporary storage, some of which are now degrading, it claimed.
While Sellafield is working to deal with the bottles, there are still more than 2,000 of them on site, it claimed.
Sellafield is home to the majority of the UK’s nuclear waste, much of it housed in ponds and silos constructed in the 1940s and 50s. The eventual clean-up is expected to take more than 100 years and cost tens of billions of pounds.
The BBC allegations are the latest in a series of safety concerns to be raised about the site, which in 2013 was fined £700,000 after sending bags of radioactive waste to a regular landfill rubbish dump.
mdsolar writes: Rainfall from recent typhoons caused partial melting of the “ice wall” at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, allowing highly radioactive water to leak from around the damaged reactor buildings, the plant’s operator said Sept. 1. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said melting occurred at two sections of the ice wall, which is designed to divert groundwater away from the reactor buildings. TEPCO officials believe that during the latest typhoon, contaminated water from around the reactor buildings flowed through openings of the ice wall created by the deluge and reached downstream toward the sea. Link to Original Source
mdsolar writes: The Omaha Public Power District will permanently shut down its nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun on Oct. 24, according to a recent letter from the utility’s top executive to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Correspondence obtained by The World-Herald and dated Aug. 25 was sent to officials at the NRC and the State of Nebraska.
“OPPD has completed analysis of the factors influencing the date for shutdown of (Fort Calhoun),” OPPD President and Chief Executive Tim Burke said in the letter.
Thus will kick into gear the plant’s decommissioning, which includes the removal and transfer of nuclear fuel from the reactor into the spent fuel pool. That’s where the fuel rods will be placed for about 18 months while they burn off energy to the point they can cool to a level that permits transfer into a more permanent storage facility.
In all, the decommissioning process could take up to 60 years and will cost OPPD as much as $1.5 billion. Link to Original Source
mdsolar writes: The Canadian Medical Association’s General Council, held last week in Vancouver, may well be remembered as the moment that Canadian MDs made climate change — dubbed “the biggest health threat of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization — a priority.
First, the diagnosis of climate change as a health emergency was laid out in detail by one of Canada’s most well-respected doctors, Dr. James Orbinski, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) in 1999. The Canadian Medical Association then confirmed it had in fact completed the divestment of its organizational funds from fossil fuels.
The meeting kicked off with a keynote address by Dr. Orbinski, one of Canada’s most noted humanitarians. “There is no question that climate change is the biggest health threat of our time,” he said, adding that "we cannot possibly live, we cannot possibly survive, we cannot possibly thrive” without a functioning biosphere. He spoke of the disproportionate impacts on Canada’s North, where temperature increases are already in the range of three degrees Celsius, and about the risks of extreme weather, wildfires, flooding and changing patterns of infectious disease.
One of the most passionate moments of Dr. Orbinski’s speech came when he was discussing the malnutrition and food-security risks of climate change.
“In 2011, climate-change driven drought affected 13 million people and 500,000 people died, in the Horn of Africa. This is utterly unacceptable," he said. "That we simply know this and we allow it to continue. It requires that we see ourselves differently in relation to others in the world. This is the consequence of climate change. It is profound and it is utterly unacceptable.“ Link to Original Source
mdsolar writes: Nuclear fusion has been powering our sun for the past 4.5 billion years. Unlike fission — the process that powers our current nuclear facilities — fusion generates energy by fusing the nuclei of lighter atoms into heavier ones, and produces no long-term radioactive waste.
Imagine if we manage to replicate and miniaturize the process taking place in the core of stars. This would not only provide us a low-cost, clean and virtually limitless source of energy, it would also end our unsustainable reliance on polluting fossil fuels.
In a recent paper published in the journal Nuclear Fusion, a team of physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has detailed the design of a viable and efficient fusion device — one that already exists in an experimental form.
The spherical device, known as a “tokamak,” can contain high-energy, superheated plasma produced through nuclear fusion using relatively low and inexpensive magnetic fields. This, the researchers believe, makes it a leading candidate to complement the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor — a doughnut-shaped tokamak that 35 nations are building in France to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power.
The PPPL tokamaks spherical, “cored apple” design also allows tritium — a rare hydrogen isotope — to be created, Link to Original Source
mdsolar writes: Five years after the second-worst nuclear accident in history, contaminated water is still hampering efforts to gain control of the site. Local residents are reluctant to return to their homes. Julian Ryall reports.
It has been five years and five months since three of the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant were crippled by the biggest earthquake and tsunami to strike Japan in living memory. Work continues at the site to clean up the radioactivity that escaped into the atmosphere and to regain control of the reactors.
In its press releases, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) insists that steps taken since the accident are slowly but surely having an effect. But not everyone accepts their assurances — or those of the wider nuclear industry as it seeks public support to restart reactors across the country that have been mothballed since March 2011.
"There are numerous problems that are all interconnected, but one of the biggest that we are facing at the moment is the highly contaminated water that is being stored in huge steel tanks at the site," Aileen Mioko-Smith, an anti-nuclear activist with Kyoto-based Green Action Japan, told DW. Link to Original Source