Friday, October 05, 2012

What Is Said About Nuclear Energy–and What It Means


Storing Used Nuclear Fuel at WIPP

From Konrad Szymanski, a European Parliament MP:
“Commissioner [Gunther] Oettinger is responsible for energy policy across all 27 EU countries. It would be extremely disappointing if this became an exercise in forcing Germany’s position on nuclear energy down the throats of other countries.”
I’ve never cared for that phrase, popular during the health care debate, and would be surprised if Szymanski actually used it in whichever language he was speaking when he said it.

What he’s talking about is a European Union report about the stress tests performed on nuclear energy facilities there. The report does not recommend closing any plants; it does recommend spending up to 25 billion Euro (about $32 billion) to make them “safer.” This hasn’t gone over well.
The report is misleading because it conveys the impression that plants are unsafe and a lot of work is needed to make them safer, while in reality the situation is not that dramatic. Moreover, the methodology by which the commission reached this result isn’t clear and the commission is making recommendations in a domain where it really has no powers.
When you start talking about 25 billion anythings, you might as well say 50 or 75 billion – it’s all more than can be reasonably estimated in a fairly tight timeframe. The report might better have left out cost estimates; including them just makes the German Oettinger, who chaired the committee that oversaw the stress tests, vulnerable to charges like those from Szymanski.

The report will be up for discussion in parliament in about two weeks, but so far, the reaction has been very poor.
From Ron Litzinger, Southern California Edison President :
"We have concluded that Unit 2 at San Onofre can be operated safely. This plan will get San Onofre Unit 2 back to providing reliable and clean energy to Southern Californians."
This is unalloyed good news, though not one without caveats. San Onofre has been offline with generator problems for eight months, but tests show that one of the two reactors can run at 70 percent power without issue. That’s what Litzinger is announcing.

The caveats:
"The agency will not permit a restart unless and until we can conclude the reactor can be operated safely," NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane said. "Our inspections and review will be painstaking, thorough and will not be rushed."
Which is what you want to happen.
The plan "is a reckless gamble that flies in the face of the utility's claim that it puts safety ahead of profits," the advocacy group Friends of the Earth, which is critical of the nuclear power industry, said in a statement.
To FOE, this would be true of an issue-free facility that’s been turning out electricity for many years. It’s the group’s default position. Just on the level of common sense, putting profits ahead of safety will only lead to tears – not to mention corporate ruin.

Notably, an attempt earlier this year to gather enough signatures (not by FOE) to put an initiative on the ballot to close San Onofre (and Diablo Canyon, another California facility) failed utterly.

Always shouting upwind on a rainy, cold night, our FOE.

So – let’s see how the NRC inspections go.
From Jack Volpato, Eddy-Lea Alliance board member:
"The Department of Energy wants this to happen. There are nuclear rods around the country just sitting on a pad, costing $5 to 10 million a year to keep an eye on."
Well, all right, they’re not just sitting on a pad decaying away, they are in used fuel casks, but we get what Volpato is saying. Eddy and Lea are counties in New Mexico that have seen a boomlet in nuclear energy activity. None of it has anything to do with making electricity for New Mexicans, but with byproducts and used fuel.

There is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, that has been a big local success story, even inspiring the Blue Ribbon Commission investigating the back end of the fuel cycle to recommend using the WIPP-derived community consent-based approach to siting consolidated used fuel storage sites (and a permanent repository, too.) That’s what AREVA is helping with.

So who’s better than Lea and Eddy counties to attract a consolidated used fuel storage site? It worked out exceedingly well once with WIPP, why not again?
The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance has selected French firm AREVA to help create an above-ground interim storage facility to store nuclear fuel on 1,000 acres between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The facility is being billed as a safe way to temporarily house used fuel from nuclear power plants.
Early days of course, but involving AREVA at this point shows real seriousness to make it work. What we can say is: good. Go for it, New Mexico.

I got sidetracked but that corner in southeast New Mexico also hosts or will host the International Isotopes uranium deconversion facility and Urenco’s uranium enrichment plant. That’s not a coincidence, either, but a subject for a future post.

1 comment:

jim said...

Re: "To FOE, this would be true of an issue-free facility that’s been turning out electricity for many years. It’s the group’s default position. Just on the level of common sense, putting profits ahead of safety will only lead to tears – not to mention corporate ruin."

Makes so much common sense that this quote begs to be part of a nuclear PSA to wisen-up the many clueless.

James Greenidge
Queens NY