Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Talley followup: The many financial-failure tsunamis of nuclear power

October 7th, 2009

Dear Readers,

Last week, practically the entire Pacific Rim was under several earthquake-generated tsunami warnings and watches. Thousands are confirmed dead in Indonesia, Samoa, and American Samoa; thousands more are still missing. In some places, waters roared a mile or more inland. These events have demonstrated: "that the early-warning systems are not fail-safe and education is as important as technology, seismologists and disaster management experts say." (Kathy Marks, Sydney, ABCNews.go.com, October 3, 2009)

Seismologists, geologists, and other experts say our coastal nuclear reactors are NOT properly protected (and can't be) against reasonably foreseeable -- even expected -- tsunamis. The "sea wall" at San Onofre, for example, is only about 30 to 35 feet tall; waves at high tide already lap the bottom. Some of the waves from the Banda Ache tsunami in 2004 were 50 to 60 feet high! Only dumb luck protects us. Two weeks after the event, an eyewitness to the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami wrote:

"The best way to describe this ­- because we grew up with the images and we all know what it looked like -­ is that Banda Ache looks like Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. It's totally destroyed. The buildings have been flattened for miles and entire communities -- probably something like a hundred thousand people -- have been swept out to sea." (Chris Rainier, National Geographic, January 11, 2005.)

Real tsunamis aside, a financial crisis is often called a tsunami as well. The nuclear industry is in the midst of a financial crisis, as are we all. In a brief email exchange with Wall Street Journal journalist Ian Talley (whose article was discussed in my previous report (September 29, 2009)), Talley clarified how the Department of Energy's nuclear loan guarantees could be used:

>"$18.5 billion in loan guarantees can leverage loans far in excess of that value."

He added that the maximum amount of "LG" is 80% of the cost of a nuke.

The basic concept is that someone other than the federal government will loan the extra billion (if the lowest of the two ridiculously low industry estimates Talley gave of $5 billion is correct) or the extra $4 billion (if my estimate of $20 billion for a new nuke started today is correct).

Either way, it isn't easy to get loans for a billion dollars these days, even if someone knows a gung-ho pro-nuclear government has provided an additional $4 billion to throw away on the risky venture.

So one question is: By proposing doubling the amount of money available for loan guarantees, is Secretary of Energy Chu expecting to start more than the 4-5 nukes the original $18.5 billion was for? Or is he just upping the ante for those first few, because he realizes they'll actually cost a lot more than he thought? Talley didn't know. Chu didn't say.

From the utilities' standpoint, the biggest stumbling block for new nuclear construction at the moment appears to be spent-fuel-related. With Yucca Mountain not technically on the horizon (though not "killed" altogether, by any means), the government isn't willing to make the dumb deal it made back in the 1980s, when it promised to take all the used reactor cores away and magically make them disappear.

Needless to say, it wasn't a dumb deal for the utilities and they ALL -- every one that is operating today -- signed on. The government would take the highly radioactive -- and pyrophoric -- used nuclear reactor cores and manage their long-term care. That's "long-term" as in: Longer than the United States has existed as a country, times a thousand.

It hasn't worked out that way. The government hasn't taken the waste, and you can blame politics all you want, but the real reason it hasn't worked out is the physics make it impossible for a "safe" repository to exist. Someone will ALWAYS have a legitimate gripe against ANY plan. It's the nature of ionizing radiation that it will break down any container made of any material, as it irradiates the container. Microbes won't "eat" radiation away for us. Each little atomic breakdown has all the strength, per alpha particle, beta particle, or gamma ray, of the alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays of a nuclear bomb. A nuclear decay is an unstoppable force. Its direction cannot be predicted or controlled. It has an average energy level within a statistically-definable range of probable values, according to various laws of sub-atomic particle physics. The precise moment of any particular decay is also unpredictable.

No place on earth is safe to hold the waste. No place can be guaranteed not to have ANY of the following, to start a long list: Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, jet crashes, terrorists, sloppy construction, or poor design. If all else goes well, any location could still be hit by an asteroid. Why doom the whole earth for one small asteroid?

And then there are the transportation problems. The last DOE solution I saw had about 98 wheels and was just a drawing. It looked like a lumbering terrorist's target to me. They don't really know what they are going to do.

No country has ever "solved" its nuclear waste problem. France grinds stuff up, releases much of it directly into the North Sea, and stores the rest with no idea of what to do with it. (A tiny fraction is reused, so they call the whole thing "recycling".) Here in American we just let it sit in scores of deadly sites all over the country.

And the dry storage casks are deteriorating as we speak. Shoddy welds, shoddy alloys, unrealistic expectations...

Meanwhile, the government is already being sued by about a dozen nuclear power companies, asking for permission to stop putting money into the used-reactor-core-storage fund, and to get back some of what they've already put in! The rest are watching closely, like a pack of vultures.

New nuclear power plant loan guarantees don't come with promises to take the spent fuel. And THAT's the real financial hang-up for new nuclear construction in America.

But the nuclear industry is working HARD to get around that with help from -- seriously! -- French espionage, infiltration, subversiveness, and other covert and overt actions. That's right: The French intend to get American suckers (that's you and me, folks, the American taxpayer) to pay French-government owned and/or managed firms (EdF and/or AREVA) to build and operate expensive NEW reprocessing plants here in America! And open new (and old) uranium mines, new milling operations, and so on. They use agent-provocateurs, subliminal messages in their advertisements, covert lobbying and funding of politicians... and in other countries where these two "corporations" do business, they behave even more illegally!

Reprocessing would theoretically "solve" the fuel problem for the utilities, including slowly eating into their current backlog of millions of pounds of commercial nuclear power-plant high-level radioactive waste. but "theoretically" is one thing, and realistically is another.

What reprocessing really would do is cost another hundred (or two hundred) billion dollars and pollute the entire planet, killing people and causing health effects as if we are all expendable, as long as no one can prove for certain where any particular cancer, leukemia, heart disease, birth defect, etc. came from. And burn enormous quantities of fossil fuels in the process, causing thousands more deaths.

Reprocessing of nuclear waste is chemical-intensive, too. But it's the only thing that could possibly allow a dying industry to keep going. The current fleet of operating plants is running out of options for waste storage. None of the plant's owners want to have to shut down for lack of storage space, but it might happen. As long as someone will take the waste from you later, operating a nuclear power plant is a "great" way to make money -- like stealing candy from a baby (and giving them cyanide to play with in return).

Aside from the waste problem, new nuclear construction almost suffered from an insurance problem. Instead, the Price-Anderson Act was extended a few years ago in one of the most notorious pieces of midnight legislation to come out of the Bush years (and that's saying a lot). If Price-Anderson had not been extended, that too would have stopped new nuclear construction because the Act prevents citizens from seeking damages against the utility in the event of an accident. No Price-Anderson would have meant no new nukes. And the old ones would have shut down, too. But now, although both Price and Anderson are long gone, the Price-Anderson Act has been renewed and you still can't get insurance for your home against a nuclear accident anywhere in the world. (Some form of Price-Anderson has been copied in every country which has operating nuclear programs.)

In addition to the waste problem and the insurance problem -- the former unsolvable and the latter solved by government fraud -- there are still the costs and delays of construction.

Offshore wind power, solar power, energy conservation and other solutions can be brought online virtually immediately -- by the time a permit for a new nuclear power plant is granted, especially a new design, you could have thousands of megawatts of renewable energy up and running.

And the new nuclear power plant, which may well cost close to -- or more than -- $20 billion dollars if construction started today -- will have faulty parts, faulty welds, faulty pipes, faulty concrete, faulty wiring, faulty instructions, workers sleeping on the job, fire crews not knowing what to do when there's a fire, exploding transformers, leaky steam generators, and thousands of other problems. These are the day-to-day facts of life at ANY large facility (but these examples are taken strictly from Nuclear Regulatory Commission records). Most large industrial facilities won't kill millions of people if and when they fail. Most industries are not running on the edge of a mega-catastrophe 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as nuclear power does.

Every nuclear construction project now involves hundreds of companies in dozens of countries, each with their own level of oversight for worker safety and for quality of their output. Each has different ethics about what "quality" means, and what the punishments are for shipping shoddy work half-way around the world where its shoddiness won't be discovered for decades, until the part fails at a critical moment, causing a meltdown, and all the evidence is destroyed.

Fraud has always been rampant in nuclear construction and operation, and continues with the new international trade agreements, where even so-called "American" companies such as GE and Westinghouse are really just fronts for, in those cases, Japanese corporations, and where both EdF and AREVA claim in America that they are as American as apple pie, just because the heads of the American divisions are American.

Sincerely,

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA
www.acehoffman.org

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Cancer and nuclear power:
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(In the superb article linked to below, the reporter outlines many of the enormously complicated cost issues related to new nuclear construction. The article also quotes the notorious Victor Dricks of the NRC making the outlandish claim that airplanes simply cannot destroy nuclear power plants, calling it "impossible." The entire nuclear community should demand Dricks' permanent ouster from the NRC! He is unqualified, pretentious, arrogant, irrational, and on a personal basis, attempts to intimidate the activists both physically and through enforcing arbitrary rules on who can place documents where, or at all. Arbitrary, except the utility can always place anything they want on the NRC's table, and the NRC will ensure that material is handed out. That's Victor Dricks, and the NRC's, idea of free speech. -- Ace)

A clip from:
http://www.sacurrent.com/news/story.asp?id=70567

Risky Business
Part Two In a Series: What CPS won't tell you about nuclear power
San Antonio Currant September 30th, 2009

by Greg Harman

..."For more than a year, the city has been drifting, in multi-million-dollar installments, into a second helping of nuclear power from the South Texas Project nuclear facility outside Bay City.

"On one level, the city's obsession with the bottom line ­ $5.2-billion for our share of two new nuclear-power reactors ­ makes sense. It was, after all, runaway costs and construction failures that undermined Wall Street's willingness to invest in the hugely expensive projects, resulting in a decades-long freeze on domestic nuclear power plants. Today, with 17 proposed nuclear projects jockeying for crucial federal loans through the U.S. Department of Energy, Moody's Investors Service is warning that utilities that pursue new plants face heightened financial risks and may expose their customers to 'future rate shocks.'

"For the last hour, the talk has idled at intersecting concerns over whether Toshiba can deliver two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors to STP on time and on budget; whether renewable energy sources could become cost competitive with nuclear by 2020, when San Antonio will really need the extra electricity; if CPS Energy's price estimates for alternative energy sources, such as natural gas and efficiency, are even close to accurate.

"'Nuclear has risks,' confesses CPS Energy's Co-CEO Steve Bartley, 'cost risks, waste risks, health-and-safety possible risks. … Our goal is to evaluate the risks as best we can, understand what they are, and plan a mitigation strategy.'

"While the Congressional Budget Office wrote in 2003 that 'well above 50 percent' of federal nuclear-power loan recipients will default because of 'technical risks' and high construction costs, Bartley tells the audience that CPS had its proposal screened by Fitch Ratings and were told the utility should be able to maintain a Double-A credit rating through the life of the reactors. "

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"Preventing Future Deaths" - a Coroner acts:
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From: "Richard Bramhall" <bramhall@llrc.org>
To: "info llrc" <info@llrc.org>
Subject: "Preventing Future Deaths" - a Coroner acts
Date: Mon, 5 Oct 2009 13:23:20 +0100

"Preventing Future Deaths" - a Coroner acts

Following the 10th September '09 verdict on the death of Stuart Dyson, Robin Balmain, a Coroner in the Black Country Coroner's District in Smethwick, UK, has written to the Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth MP.

The Jury in the inquest into Mr. Dyson's death found that he had been exposed to Uranium during his service in Iraq during 1991, and that the Uranium caused or contributed to the colon cancer which finally killed him in 2007 at the age of 39.

The expert witness at the inquest was Professor Chris Busby, Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who presented evidence of the inadequacy of the radiation risk model advised by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The Ministry of Defence failed to send either legal or scientific representatives.

Mr. Balmain writes that "action should be taken" since the use of Uranium weapons creates "an obvious risk to service personnel" which "equally applies to civilians in areas of conflict."

For over a decade the Low Level Radiation Campaign has stated that use of Uranium weapons is contrary to international law because of their indiscriminate effects.

Rule 43 of the Coroners Rules 2008 states:

"Where the evidence gives rise to a concern that circumstances creating a risk [that] other deaths will occur, or will continue to exist, in the future and in the coroner's opinion action should be taken to … eliminate or reduce the risk of death … the Coroner may report … to a person who the Coroner believes may have the power to take such action."

Rule 43A requires Bob Ainsworth to reply to Mr Balmain within 56 days.

Mr Balmain's letter is at http://www.nonuclear.se/dyson_coronor_rule43_20090918

Report on verdict at www.llrc.org/du/subtopic/dysonverdict.htm including full copies of written submissions from Professor Busby and MoD.

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Newsletter author contact information:
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Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download: www.acehoffman.org
phone: (800) 551-2726; (760) 720-7261
address: PO Box 1936, Carlsbad, CA 92018
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email: ace@acehoffman.org
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