Nuclear Shutdown News, December 2014

by on December 19, 2014 · 0 comments

in Culture, Energy, Environment, History

Vermont Yankee nuke plant

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

by Michael Steinberg / blackrainpress

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the continuing decline of the US nuclear power industry. As nuclear power reactors approach or surpass their planned operating life of 40 years, they have become less and less reliable and more and more threatening. What to do about this? A complete and immediate shut down of them all! NO NUKES!

Here’s our December report.

On December 3 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that central Missouri’s 30 year old Callaway nuclear reactor had experienced a sudden unplanned shutdown. As the Dispatch-Post stated,“Power in the [nuclear] core went from 100% to 0” right away.

The 1200 megawatt Calloway nuke plant supplies 20% of the electricity produced by its owner and operator, Amergen—when it’s at full power.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission commented, “No safety relief valves opened that would have exposed the [nuclear] core to the outside.” This means the nuclear fuel in the reactor supposedly didn’t release any of its radiation into the environment because of the accident.

The newspaper also reported that Ed Smith, of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, was concerned about the shutdown.

Unexpected shutdowns like today’s,” Smith said, “show how nuclear shutdowns can go from 100% to 0 without warning. Nuclear energy comes with its own set of risks, vulnerabilities that are often minimized by the industry and its supporters.”

Also on December 3, Broomberg.com published “US Nuclear Plants Squeezed by Cheap Gas, Uranium Costs: US Nuclear Plant Shut Downs loom amid rising costs for uranium and low prices caused by cheap natural gas.”
This article details how these economic factors are forcing Chicago-based Excelon, the nation’s largest nuke plant owner, which operates 23 reactors, into considering the shutdown five of its Illinois reactors in the near future.

The Bloomberg article reports that the rising cost of nuclear fuel, including “prices that rose to a two year high of $44 a pound on November 11.” Meanwhile, “US nuclear plants, who consume 20% of the world’s nuclear fuel, are struggling to stay profitable after a 70% drop since 2008” in the price of “natural gas, a competing fuel for power generation.”

Presently, “about 27% of US electricity comes from gas powered plants, with 19% from nuclear.”

Earlier this year, on March 9, the Chicago Tribune reported that six of Excelon’s nuclear reactors in the region “failed to turn a profit over the past five years.” Of these, five are still said to be on the chopping block.

All are in Illinois. The two reactors at the Quad Cities nuke plant are over 40 years old. Two more at the Byron nuke date from the mid 80s, as does the one at the Clinton nuclear plant.

According to the Bloomberg report:

 “Excelon will decide early next year whether to shut down these five plants for economic reasons.”

In a last ditch effort to save its corporate behind, as reported by Nuclear Street on November 26, according to a company official at Quad Cities, the company “is seeking a pricing model that recognizes the societal benefits of nuclear power that reflects nuclear power’s pristine greenhouse gas emissions record and its influence on grid stabilization.”

In addition, the Bloomberg article reported:

“Entergy will permanently shut down Vermont Yankee at the end of the year, 17 years before its operating license expires, because of mounting costs while low gas prices depress electric rates. “

Bloomberg neglected to mention that VY will be going out after nearly 42 years of going on. Nor did it report the history of public protest that has accompanied this nuke plant’s troubled times. Multiple demonstrations have called for its permanent shut down through the years.

And after New Orleans-based Entergy took over Vermont Yankee in 2002, and its fortunes went into steep decline, those public actions grew, as did calls for shutdown from the state legislature and the governor’s office. So mark your calendars now! That shutdown date for VY has been set, and it will be on December 29!

Entergy did not endear itself to Vermonters in more recent years when the company learned that leaks from Vermont Yankee had created a radioactive lake under the plant. The leaks eventually reached the adjacent Connecticut River, which flows south into Massachusetts.

Nor did Entergy improve its credibility with the public when it tried to deny responsibility for the leaks. Subsequently it emerged that Entergy had been lying about the matter the whole time.

When the state tried to express the will of the people by denying VY the right to operate beyond 40 years, as state law allowed, Entergy took it to federal court and got the feds to allow the old nuke to clunk on.

But in the end, Entergy gave up, for the simple reason that it couldn’t make money off VY anymore.

Doubts still remain about Entergy’s willingness to pay for decommissioning: the closure and dismantlement of Vermont Yankee. Or whether it will act responsibly in dealing with all the left over nuclear fuel, which consists of lots of high level radioactive waste.

And what will become of the plant’s workers, formerly more than 600 strong?

One thing is for sure though. Vermont Yankee will be shut down for good before the year is out.

Will the Vermont Yankee story now become the reality that Allison MacFarlane, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, laid out at a press conference last November 17?

The NRC,” MacFarlane, said, “is not geared up for decommissioning nuclear reactors, a task that will occupy much of its time in coming years.

“The industry instead has set itself up about 15 years ago to oversee more reactor construction, a revival that did not occur.

“The agency’s now facing the future that five years ago people envisioned.”

Vermonters have been through so much already. There are not likely to stop now, until they have made their nuclear free future truly real and lasting.

This concludes Nuclear Shutdown News for 2014.

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