Category Archives: nuclear energy

>A Prediction

>Judging by our recent history — think the BP oil spill — the Japanese nuclear disaster will see Republicans and Democrats double-down on their calls for more nuclear plants, and those folks calling for a moratorium on new plants (Joe Lieberman, Ed Markey) will fold like lawn chairs. Anything reasonable Obama and the Democrats suggest that would enable us to learn from Japan, like some of the things Ed Markey recommended, will be portrayed as the worst sort of hysterical government overreach. Utilities will have a sad and claim all sorts of hardship, the media will misreport the facts, and when the dust settles (so to speak) we’ll carry on as before.

Then when the unthinkable happens, well, nobody could have predicted that! But it will be Obama and the Democrats’ fault!

So yeah, seen this movie before.

So I really do need to stay away from the blog this week, which I promised to do last week. You can’t miss me if I won’t go away, plus I have deadlines piling up and a ton of stuff that needs to be done. So feel free to kick me in the ass if I post again this week and don’t get mad if I’m not approving comments as quickly as you’d like.


Filed under nuclear energy

>The Japan Syndrome

>[UPDATE] 3:

Amazing Video:



Worse still:

(Reuters) – Japanese officials may only have hours to cool reactors that have been disabled by Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami or face a nuclear meltdown.

Yeah maybe not so cheap and reliable after all, eh Lamar?


And it gets worse:

Japanese officials on Saturday issued broad evacuation orders for people living in the vicinity of two separate nuclear power plants that had experienced breakdowns in their cooling systems as a result of the earthquake, and warned that small amounts of radiation were likely to leak from the plants.


A Japanese nuclear safety panel said radiation levels were 1,000 times above normal in a reactor control room at Daiichi facility. Some radiation had also seeped outside that plant, with levels just outside the plant’s main gate measured at eight times normal, Public Broadcaster NHK quoted nuclear safety officials as saying.

Yeah, there are better options.
Just a real-world reminder of why nuclear power will always remain unsafe, unwise and unacceptable, especially when safe alternatives already exist and are indeed in use. If Fukushima No. 1 were a solar plant or wind farm it would be one less thing for the people of Japan to be worried about right now.

And let’s also remember that if a catastrophic accident occurs at a nuke plant in America, we all will pay for it, whether you used one watt of that plant’s energy or not. All part of the grand plan to privatize gains and socialize losses.


Filed under nuclear energy

>Oil Spills Rarely Happen & Other Fairy Tales

>I can no longer remember the name of the first wingnut Republican to claim oil spills are rare, for some reason I’m thinking David Vitter of Louisiana or perhaps Haley Barbour of Mississippi but regardless we’ve heard it from several folks by now. And I have to say, it’s one of the stupidest right wing talking points to come out of the collective Republican gob since Saddam’s mythic WMD’s. I mean yeah, if oil spills are so rare, then why do oil companies make chemical dispersants by the truckload?

Anyway, today we learn of yet another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

A second leak, discovered at the Ocean Saratoga rig, is leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Initial reports claim the the volume of crude oil being released is much less than that of the Deepwater Horizon, but a 10 mile long oil slick has been detected by satellite. The site is visible in satellite images gathered by, which first reported the leak on its website May 15.

The Ocean Saratoga site, owned by Taylor Energy, is located approximately ten miles off the coast of southern Louisiana. Official figures released report only 14 gallons of oil per day being emitted into the Gulf of Mexico to account for the massive oil slick.

Reports admit that small amounts have been leaking daily since Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004 causing an undersea mudslide that destroyed the rig. Taylor Energy says they have been working since that time to stop the leak.

I’m sorry, there’s been a leaking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for six years? WTF?

Meanwhile out West in Utah, Chevron’s weekend oil spill looks to be another environmental disaster:

SALT LAKE CITY — Emergency workers believe they have stopped a 21,000-gallon oil leak from reaching the environmentally sensitive Great Salt Lake, one of the West’s most important inland water bodies for migratory birds that use it as a place to rest, eat and breed.

But the spill has taken a toll on wildlife at area creeks and ponds, coating about 300 birds with oil and possibly threatening an endangered fish.

Lovely. This reminds me of how after the Kingston coal sludge disaster, we started hearing about all those other leaky coal ash ponds.

Another story which hasn’t received much national attention is the Pennsylvania natural gas well which blew last week, courtesy of the former Enron Corp. That spewed 35,000 gallons of toxic chemicals into the air after a blowout preventer failed. Here’s the best part:

Though the industry says blowouts are rare, another natural gas well, in West Virginia, blew up on Monday, burning seven workers.

Well, if “the industry” says it, it must be true! Just don’t pay attention to that other eco-disaster happening in another part of the country. Look, shiny-sparkly Lindsay Lohan thingie over there!

Folks, we’re doing it wrong. We’re fouling our nest. Fossil fuels are a dirty, nasty business. Pipelines and oil rigs leak. Tankers leak. Oil spills happen all the time, and when we aren’t polluting our food supply pulling this stuff out of the ground or transporting it, we’re polluting our air and water when we actually use the stuff.

And speaking of stupidity coming from Republican gobs, the best one yet came from my own Senator Lamar Alexander, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Friday. Lamar has continued to perpetuate the myth that nuclear energy is somehow safe and clean and even affordable. Right after dissing wind energy because “windmills generate electricity—not transportation fuel” he writes:

If we need more green electricity, build nuclear plants. The 100 commercial nuclear plants we already have produce 70% of our pollution-free, carbon-free electricity. Yet the U.S. has just broken ground on our first new reactor in 30 years, while China starts one every three months and France is 80% nuclear. We wouldn’t mothball our nuclear Navy if we were going to war. We shouldn’t mothball our nuclear plants if we want low-cost, reliable green energy.

Without even getting into how environmentally damaging mining uranium fuel is (I talked about it last year), let me remind Lamar Alexander of one very simple fact: what we are dealing with in Kington, TN, the Gulf of Mexico, Utah, Pennsylvania and hundreds of other places I haven’t even mentioned is a failure of our technology. Accidents happen. Blowout preventers fail. Coal sludge ponds fail. Pipelines break. Anything made by human hands can and most assuredly will fail.

Imagine if any of the accidents I mentioned in this post had been radioactive? Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. You can count on it. You can take that piece of wisdom to the bank. You want to do that with radioactive fuel? Spent nuclear waste? A nuclear reactor? You, sir, are an idiot.

But fine, you want your nukes? Sure, as soon as you repeal the Price Anderson Act which places a liability cap on nuclear power accidents. If there’s another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, then by God let the utility responsible pay for it, not the taxpayers. Just as everyone is crying for BP to clean up the oil spill, let’s make sure we don’t socialize the losses of a nuclear accident. I’m sure as a fiscal conservative you would support that, right?

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Filed under Gulf oil spill, nuclear energy, Sen. Lamar Alexander

>Oh Great Diviner Pat Robertson, What Is God Trying To Tell Us Now?

>First we had a coal sludge pond disaster in Tennessee, then we had a coal mining disaster in West Virginia, followed by an oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and now we have a fucking nuclear power plant leak. For reals, y’all:

LACEY TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Radioactive water that leaked from the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state’s environmental chief said Friday.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.

The department launched a new investigation Friday into the April 2009 spill and said the actions of plant owner Exelon Corp. have not been sufficient to contain water contaminated with tritium.

Tritium is found naturally in tiny amounts and is a product of nuclear fission. It has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.

Yeeeearrrgh, as if the real housewives of New Jersey aren’t toxic enough. I’m sure the snooze media will ignore this story because they haven’t thoroughly flogged to death the other two stories they are covering this week. But let me just say: Holy crap.

Plus, there was this accident last year and it’s already contaminated the water table?

Quick, let’s Google “Solar Power Accident” and see what we get.

I’ll wait.

Oh, and Lamar Alexander? You still think 100 of these contamination factories is a good idea? ‘Cause I’m thinking, not just No but HELL NO.


Filed under environment, nuclear energy, Sen. Lamar Alexander

>A Word On The Climate Change Bill

>Despite the astroturf rallies and forged letters from the ACCCE, climate change legislation has taken a big jump forward. Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham are co-sponsoring a Senate bill, and even Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has signaled support, which frankly is a bit of a surprise.

It’s actually starting to look like climate change legislation might be an easier sell than the healthcare bill, thanks to a new bipartisan support for nuclear energy. I’m personally not a fan of nuclear energy because, among other things, we have yet to figure out what to do with the waste. At its essence, the climate change issue is a waste issue. There’s no changing the laws of physics and when it comes to producing power–excuse the pun–shit happens. You can spew stuff in the air or hold it in leaky detention ponds or try to store it underground in a salt mine but you will have to deal with it eventually. And the stuff left over from nuke plants is more dangerous than anything else.

Mostly I’m worried folks seem to think we can keep storing spent nuclear fuel for a few more decades until we figure out some magic bullet to deal with it. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the pollution issue which has led to our whole climate change problem?

While I personally have my doubts about the practicality and affordability of nuclear energy, if we’re going to forge ahead into a new future of electric cars and smart grids and personal jet-packs, we’re going to need more power production. So before we hand a big bailout to the utilities in the interest of arresting climate change can we at least write something into the bill that addresses the waste issue? Because I really don’t want to be having this same discussion in 40 years about what to do with all of those leaky radioactive nuclear fuel rods.

Just a thought.

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Filed under climate change bill, nuclear energy

>Pfooey To Pfrance

>Every time the subject of nuclear energy comes up, someone has to mention France.

France, if you listen to the hoopla, is a kind of holy grail of nuclear energy, a country that has “figured it all out” and does everything right where nuclear power is concerned. And no wonder: France sells electricity all around Europe, so of course they have marketed their energy as clean, green and cheap.

Except, it’s not. And they haven’t. First we have this December 2008 report, commissioned by the Green Party for the EU, which raised several issues, including some cooked books by the French government and contamination from the uranium processing plant at La Hague.

But if you don’t want to believe the Greens, please believe the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Last June they looked at the French nuclear hype and determined it was a lot of hot air:

In 2007, nuclear energy provided 78 percent of France’s electricity, which corresponded to 39 percent of its commercial primary energy but only 18 percent of its final energy. Primary energy is the energy contained in the fuel when it enters the system, while final energy is what is left over for the consumer after processing, transformation, and distribution. In the case of large nuclear or coal-fired power plants, only about one-quarter of the primary energy reaches the consumer’s home, office, or factory. In France, more than 70 percent of final energy is provided by oil, gas, and coal, of which one-half is oil alone, just as in many other countries. This year, the country will face an all-time record energy bill of more than $80 billion.

So much for the energy independence myth, as well as the climate change myth. France depends on foreign energy sources just like the rest of us.

Furthermore, France closed its last uranium mine in 2001. With 100% of its uranium imported, “energy independence” isn’t just far fetched, it’s flat-out wrong.

The mythic “low cost” of French nuclear production is also debunked:

For decades, the civilian program has profited from direct and indirect subsidies, in particular through cross-financing with the nuclear weapons program. Current estimates don’t appropriately take into account eventual decommissioning and waste-management costs, which remain a concern and quite uncertain. (In addition to post-fission waste, 46 years of uranium mining has left 50 million tons of waste for eventual cleanup and remediation, the cost of which is unknown.) Official final disposal cost estimates for long-lived high- and intermediate-level fission wastes vary between $21 billion and $90 billion.

Heh. Just like here.

And then we have the fancy footwork, the hype and hoopla of the French nuclear miracle, which appears to be smoke and mirrors:

Last year, France exported 83 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and imported 27.5 billion kilowatt hours–obviously, a large net export. But the ambassador neglects to mention that France cheaply exports base-load power and imports expensive, essentially fossil fuel-based, peak-load power to use in its citizens’ wasteful winter heating systems. Net power imports from Germany, which is phasing out nuclear power, averaged about 8 billion kilowatt hours over the last few years, and the emissions linked to these imports are attributed to the exporting country, not France. But the radioactive waste stemming from its exported nuclear-generated power–equivalent to the output of a dozen reactors–remains in the country.

France’s new nuclear projects are behind schedule and overbudget: for example, the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, built by France’s Areva, is three years behind schedule and $2.4 billion over budget. That’s billion, with a B, folks.

On July 4, while Americans were grilling hot dogs and trying to figure out Sarah Palin’s latest meltdown, the Kruemmel nuclear reactor in Germany unexpectedly shut down for the second time in a week. It had just been fired up in June, after being shut down for two years after a fire. Swedish utility Vattenfal, which operates the plant, says it is is losing about $750,000 a day from the shutdown.

This isn’t cheap energy, folks. It’s not independence, either. As for “clean,” well, consider that leaks and other incidents happen with regularity. You don’t hear about them because they aren’t all of Chernobyl-level scope. But they happen and they pollute water and air and soil and cause problems.

And speaking of Chernobyl, today’s irony award goes to Irish firm Greenfield, which is using the poisoned Chernobyl land to make biofuels.

Anyway, I have an idea why some folks want a resurgence in nuclear power. It’s highly centralized, and allows corporate or nationalized government interests to retain control.

The idea of something decentralized, like people putting solar panels on their roof or windmills in their backyard, threatens the centralized status quo. If people produced their own energy, maybe there wouldn’t be support for resource wars like Iraq.

I dunno, but I don’t see how nuclear power is any better than coal power. It’s got all of the same problems and a few others too.

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Filed under France, nuclear energy

>A Message For Senator Alexander

>Hey Lamar! Your call for 100 new nuclear power plants is stupid.

Says Lamar:

Why are we ignoring the cheap energy solution to global warming which is nuclear power?” Alexander asked a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), of which he is a member.

He said, “Over the next 20 years, if we really want to deal with global warming, we really only have one option and that is to double the number of nuclear power plants. There is no technological way to obtain a large amount of cheap, reliable, clean electricity other than nuclear power.”

One keeps hearing how “cheap” nuclear energy is, which I find incredibly dishonest. If it were so cheap, there would be nuclear power plants all over the place. There are not. Lamar is doing some funny math.

There are a slew of government subsidies to the nuclear power industry, stuff that green energy producers (or any industry, for that matter) would give their eye-teeth to have. For example, we have the Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act , in which the government indemnifies the nuclear industry in the event of an accident. Boy, Big Pharma would kill for one of those. And we have the Dept. of Energy’s Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, in which the government pays for building and securing long term storage of nuclear waste. Man, the chemical industry is pea-green with envy over that one!

And by the way: what about all of that nuclear waste, Lamar? That stuff which is lethal for hundreds of years? That doesn’t sound so clean or cheap to me. Where are we going to put it all? At taxpayer expense, no less?

What about the pollution caused by uranium mines, Lamar? What, you never heard of the polluted well water in New Mexico and poisoned waters of Lake Ontario? Who pays for that?

What about the fact that so much nuclear fuel comes from Central Asia and Africa? So we’d be trading a Middle Eastern energy source for an African one? Trading being nice to Saudi Arabia to sucking up to Uzbekistan? Not sure that helps our energy security, buddy. They boil people alive there.

This is just so typical of our politicians today: spit out some bumper sticker nonsense they’ve dreamed up (“cheap, reliable, clean electricity!”) and don’t even bother to see if it’s true. Do you think uranium pellets grow on trees?


The Sierra Club’s Carl Pope has more about Lamar’s boneheaded idea:

It appears that what is envisaged is that the taxpayers actually pay for building these plants — but not that the taxpayers would ever be repaid from the sales of electricity. No, the profits from this investment would flow to shareholders in big utility and nuclear companies. This is not even a bailout — I guess you could call it a bail-forward. And it would be very expensive.

This is your typical wingnut welfare program. Get the government (that’s you and me, folks) to pay for the infrastructure, and make sure we keep on paying while wealthy investors reap the profits. While you’re at it, by all means make sure there are tax cuts for the wealthy to ensure that the true beneficiaries never repay the government (you and me) for our initial investment.

It’s a classic example of nationalize the costs, privatize the profits. Furthermore:

Even the Business Round Table, in its recent study calling for major policy initiatives in the climate arena, conceded that in the absence of much larger subsidies than are currently available to nuclear, the most we can realistically expect is to replace the existing fleet of nuclear power plants as they are retired — nuclear simply is not going to be a bigger part of our energy future unless we just keep throwing more money at it.

So, even 100 new nuclear plants won’t be enough to replace the dirty coal plants as Lamar envisions.

Don’t want.

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Filed under nuclear energy, Sen. Lamar Alexander

>What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

>Is this supposed to make us feel better?

The Tennessee Valley Authority is reshuffling its executive staff, in part to help respond to the challenges of cleaning up the ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant, the utility announced today.

Preston Swafford, formerly head of TVA’s coal operations, will become TVA’s nuclear chief, the utility said. Mr. Swafford replaces Bill Campbell, who is being named to a new position over engineering operations.


So the executive who was over TVA’s coal operations during this whole toxic ash spill mess has been moved to the nuclear power division?

Is this a joke?

Look, I have no idea what Preston Swafford’s involvement in the Kingston coal ash spill was, but I’ve always suspected that repairs to the leaky coal sludge pond were done on the cheap at the behest of TVA bureaucrats, not Kingston plant management (and yes, I blogged about it last month).

If that was Swafford’s call, he should be fired, not promoted. And he definitely shouldn’t be put in charge of a power generating division that poses even higher risks to public safety than a coal plant.

(h/t, R. Neal)

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Filed under ash spill, environment, nuclear energy, TVA

>No More Nukes!


Glenn at Pax Americana informs that he’s just begun a series of stories on nuclear waste. Check it out.

Thank you, Bart Gordon:

Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon is urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission not to allow foreign radioactive waste into the United States.

An American company called Energy Solutions wants to import 20-thousand tons of waste from decommissioned nuclear power plants in Italy. The material would be processed in Tennessee at Oak Ridge, then hauled to the company’s dump in Utah.

Gordon says that would set a precedent the nation can’t afford.

“It reduces our capacity to maintain the waste stream here in the United States, and quite frankly, we don’t have an adequate amount of storage here. Makes no sense to me that we would waste our limited storage capacity on foreign waste when virtually every country in the world does not allow foreign waste to come into their countries.”

And Gordon warns, if the existing American facilities fill up, there will again be pressure to create a dump in Oak Ridge.

You know what I love about this story? That there’s a company calling itself Energy “Soutions” claiming it’s

“solving the problems of global warming and energy dependence in addition to cleaning up the environmental consequences of the cold war.”

No, you’re not! You aren’t “solving” anything. You’re moving nuclear waste around the globe. That’s not a solution, that’s a huge problem! How’s this stuff supposed to get here, anyway–container ship? And since when has America The Beautiful been Europe’s radiocative dumping ground, anyway? It’s bad enough we have China dumping their toxic waste here in the form of pet food and children’s toys.

Calling nuclear energy a solution to global warming is laughable. At its most basic, global warming is a waste problem: greenhouse gases are the waste produced by burning fossil fuels. What’s the big problem with nuclear energy? Dealing with radioactive waste. Europe hasn’t figured out how to do it–that’s why they want to send their junk here. There is no “solution,” not yet, and until there is one, we shouldn’t be trading one global energy waste problem for another.

Nuclear energy is also one of the most heavily subsidized industries we have. Free market advocates take note: Without the intervention of the U.S. government nuclear energy wouldn’t exist. The reason is the Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, passed into law in 1957 and renewed ever since (most recently in 2005). The act basically acknowledges the potential for widespread, catostrophic damages from a serious nuclear accident, the cost of which would be far beyond the reach of any energy company to pay for. Price-Anderson provides a pool of money, primarily from the government although industry contributes, to cover the costs of insuring nuclear reactors.

When this legislation was first conceived back in the 1950s, nuclear energy was a scary new technology that no private insurance company would touch. Everyone expected that to change once the nuclear industry proved itself with a strong safety record, so the bill was set to expire in 1967. Except, of course, nuclear energy never did prove itself not to be the scary technology we all have every right to fear; the bill has been renewed repeatedly, because private insurance companies won’t go near it.

Have I mentioned I hate insurance companies? Here’s one case where I think they’re right on. Say what you will, but the insurance industry knows about risk.

Back when I was a young pup, working toward a degree in environmental science, nuclear energy was a hot button issue. Industry types and politicians tried to tell us it was our only path to energy independence. I call bullshit. It is a path, but not the right one. It has all the same problems that we have with fossil fuels, save the fact that “our” uranium isn’t under “their” sand. Instead, it’s in Australia, Niger and Namibia. And the open-pit uranium mines are an environmental disaster:

Lovely, yes?

(h/t, Volunteer Voters)

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Filed under Energy Solutions, nuclear energy, Price Anderson Act, Rep. Bart Gordon