The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Establishment support, secrecy and corruption, in the promotion of dangerous nuclear power.

For all the hopeful talk about new technology, however, the industry’s principal concern is to keep aging reactors running long after their original life spans, even where this poses serious safety risks. In a process known as embrittlement, for example, vital components such as containment vessels crack following decades of neutron bombardment, leading to the release of lethal radiation. Nonetheless, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears happy to grant extensions: plants originally designed to last forty years are being authorized to run for sixty or eighty in total.

Spent FuelHarpers, by Andrew Cockburn, 20 Dec 21, The risky resurgence of nuclear power  ”………………………………………….Even groups long noted for opposing nuclear power, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club, seem quietly ready to temporize on practical matters, such as allowing existing plants to continue as transitional energy sources………..

The nuclear-power industry has long enjoyed establishment support. Navin was acting chief of staff at the Department of Energy under Barack Obama. The current energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, says that the Biden Administration plans to launch more nuclear energy projects across the country, and touts in particular Natrium’s promise of “345 megawatts of clean and affordable and reliable baseload power.” The White House climate czar, Gina McCarthy, stresses the need to keep existing plants in operation, as well as the prospects for “these small nuclear reactors, these modular reactors,” in which “people are really investing significant resources.” ……..

The State Department has launched an effort to foster similar small reactor programs abroad. Most significantly, even amid bitter fights over the administration’s infrastructure and social-reform bills, the inclusion of $41 billion of industry subsidies in the legislation has received unquestioning bipartisan backing. “………..

Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, unveiled in 1953, set the optimistic tone for nuclear power:……………..

No such lyrical announcement marked the day in July 1959 when the Santa Susana Field Laboratory plant’s coolant system failed and its uranium oxide fuel rods began melting down. With the reactor running out of control and set to explode, desperate operators deliberately released huge amounts of radioactive material into the air for nearly two weeks, making it almost certainly the most dangerous nuclear accident in U.S. history. The amount of iodine-131 alone spewed into the southern California atmosphere was two hundred and sixty times that released at Three Mile Island, which is generally regarded as the worst ever U.S. nuclear disaster.

None of this was revealed to the public, who were told merely that a “technical” fault had occurred, one that was “not an indication of unsafe reactor conditions.” As greater Los Angeles boomed in the following years, the area around the reactor site—originally chosen for its distance from population centers—was flooded with new residents. No one informed them of the astronomical levels of radioactive contaminants seeded deep in the soil.

Meanwhile, utilities were commissioning scores of nuclear plants across the country and promising electricity “too cheap to meter,” incentivized by the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which shifted financial liability in the event of a serious accident onto taxpayers. Rapid development throughout the Sixties engendered hopeful predictions from the AEC that more than a thousand reactors would be operating in the United States by the turn of the century. But it was not to be. As the environmental movement gathered strength in the Seventies, the dangers associated with nuclear power—from the routine disposal of radioactive waste to the risk of catastrophic meltdowns—galvanized a determined, informed, and organized opposition. Then, in 1979, one of two reactors at Three Mile Island had a partial meltdown. Officials from the president on down issued soothing reassurances, downplaying the health risks. Negative assessments were discouraged; when the Pennsylvania state health secretary, Gordon MacLeod, criticized the state’s response, he was promptly fired by the governor. MacLeod later revealed that child-mortality rates had doubled within a ten-mile radius of the plant. Cost overruns in plant construction, sometimes two times above industry estimates, were a further deterrent to expansion. Ultimately, more than 120 projects were canceled, and construction ground to a halt. “The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale,” Forbes magazine commented in 1985, a year before Chernobyl. “Only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”……….

In 1988, Hans Blix, the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the United Nations that “the public should be aware that nuclear energy emits . . . no carbon dioxide whatever.” Given this assumption (which discounts the enormous quantities of carbon dioxide generated during plant construction), nuclear power’s high cost could be offset by rewarding its low emissions. 

Other partisans of nuclear power also recognized the relevance of climate alarms. This included Alex Flint,…….. In 2000, following a traditional trajectory for well-connected congressional staffers, he moved over to the private sector as a lobbyist and quickly recruited an impressive list of nuclear-industry clients, including Exelon Corporation………………..

Exelon was not alone in securing presidential favor. In February 2010, Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for two new reactors known as Vogtle 3 and 4, to be built in Burke County, Georgia. “We will not achieve a big boost in nuclear capacity,” declared the president, “unless we also create a system of incentives to make clean energy profitable.” As is traditional with the placement of such industrial facilities, the new reactors were to be constructed adjacent to a poor black community. The neighborhood, Shell Bluff, was already racked by cancers that residents ascribed to existing nuclear facilities. Not surprisingly, they vehemently opposed the project. “We voiced our opinion,” one local resident told CNN. “We didn’t want them, but we’re just the little peons.” The president, they said, “doesn’t know we’re down here.”

Eleven years later, the Vogtle plants are still under construction……………..

Passing off additional costs to utility customers would appear to be a standard business model. It tends to require the complaisance of state legislators, who can demand and receive a high price for their favors—unseemly transactions that call into question the notion of “clean” nuclear energy. In November 2016, senior executives at Ohio’s FirstEnergy hatched plans to shunt more of the operating costs of their two nuclear plants onto individual customers.

As later detailed by an FBI criminal complaint, the scheme involved lubricating the election of a cooperative Republican legislator named Larry Householder as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. To this end, $61 million moved via a series of dark money cutouts to Householder, who used the funds both for personal needs and for financing his campaign and those of allies who could supply the necessary votes for the rate increase.

It proved a sound investment. Householder was duly elected speaker and proceeded to pass a bill in 2019, with bipartisan support, that authorized $1 billion in rate supplements to bail out the company’s two Ohio plants. (One of these, Davis-Besse, outside Toledo, has a hair-raising safety record, including a hole in the reactor vessel and cracks in its concrete containment shell.) Although the bill canceled existing mandates for renewable energy, proponents were eloquent in their concern for the climate. Representative Jamie Callender, for example, who got just under $25,000 from FirstEnergy and served as a primary sponsor of the bill, spoke piously of the need to encourage “zero carbon emissions.” A FirstEnergy spokesman applauded Callender and other sponsors “for their efforts in recognizing the important and vital role nuclear energy, along with many other clean energy sources, plays in providing clean, safe, and reliable carbon-free energy to Ohioans.”

Unfortunately for the plotters, the FBI had monitored their deliberations. Following disclosure of the bribery scheme, public outrage led to a repeal of the bailout. Householder, indicted along with four associates, denies the charges and has yet to go to trial. FirstEnergy, none of whose employees faced criminal charges, agreed to a $230 million fine, and its generating unit was spun off under the name Energy Harbor. (“We call it Pirates’ Cove,” joked the Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, who has been litigating cases related to Davis-Besse since 1979.)

While Energy Harbor saw its scheme collapse, Exelon has suffered no such setback in pursuit of bailouts through similar means. A federal investigation revealed that an Exelon subsidiary lavished favors in the form of jobs and contracts on associates of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, long the most powerful politician in the state, and was rewarded with beneficial legislation, most notably a $2.35 billion subsidy enacted in 2016, for two money-losing reactors that the company had discussed closing. The subsidiary agreed to pay a $200 million fine, which was more than balanced by the $694 million subsidy signed into law by J. B. Pritzker in September 2021, a response to Exelon’s threats to close two other aging plants—one of which appears to have generated a significant cancer cluster in its neighborhood. Though the Sierra Club opposes nuclear energy, the Illinois chapter supported that legislation because of the measures it included to phase out coal and gas sources. The Illinois bailout is far eclipsed, however, by the federal largesse promised by the Biden Administration’s infrastructure and climate legislation. An analysis by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service suggests that 54 percent of the $41 billion will be split between just three companies, with Exelon set to receive $15 billion. (Energy Harbor is the runner-up, with $5 billion.)

For all the hopeful talk about new technology, however, the industry’s principal concern is to keep aging reactors running long after their original life spans, even where this poses serious safety risks. In a process known as embrittlement, for example, vital components such as containment vessels crack following decades of neutron bombardment, leading to the release of lethal radiation. Nonetheless, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission appears happy to grant extensions: plants originally designed to last forty years are being authorized to run for sixty or eighty in total. Point Beach 2, a reactor on Lake Michigan that the NRC itself listed in 2013 among the most embrittled plants in the country, is applying to be relicensed to operate for eighty years. The reactor and its twin, Point Beach 1, have been cited for safety violations and equipment malfunctions more than 130 times. At the NRC, there is even discussion of allowing plants to run for a century, long after their designers and builders are dead. “None of these extreme extensions have addressed critical ‘knowledge gaps’ for the reliability of major irreplaceable and inaccessible systems,” said Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear, a tireless watchdog group working to challenge the extensions. In his view, the industry is being allowed to head blindly into the unknown, with no idea how or when age-related cracking and embrittlement will lead to component failure and potential meltdown……………….


December 21, 2021 - Posted by | politics, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA

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