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U.S.: planned Levy County reactors: oustanding issues

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mary Olson

Intervention in the proposal by Progress Energy Florida to site two reactors in a rural area of Florida, rich in natural freshwater springs that support many threatened and endangered species, has recently become turbocharged. While only one contention remains from a field of 14, this one is one of the broadest environmental impact issues ever admitted by an Atomic Safety Licensing Board, the body which hears challenges to license action by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Levy County Nuclear Power Plant is a proposed nuclear power plant in Levy County, Florida consisting of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Progress Energy Florida in 2006 estimated that the reactors would cost US$5 billion and would commence operation in 2016. But it has become clear that the new Levy County reactors will not start operating for at least another decade, if ever. The utility now estimates that the reactors will cost between US$17 billion and US$22 billion, not counting financing charges and cost overruns.

An area Fund that prefers to remain unnamed offered US$50,000 to the Ecology Party of Florida and Nuclear In-formation and Resource Service (NIRS) to support legal action against the Levy county proposal. The gift provided for an expert legal team and the retention of three additional technical experts. "We are confident our case will force a wider consideration of the impact of using water to service and cool the splitting atoms than the NRC provides in its very weak Final Environmental Impact Statement," said Mary Olson, Southeast Regional Coordinator for NIRS. The FEIS on the Levy County 1 & 2 plan was published in April and is posted on the NRC website. Selected intervener documents in the Levy challenge are posted on the NIRS website. 

In addition to the immediate environmental concerns is the matter of previous protections that were enacted to preserve the same area. Progress Energy Florida (PEF) and the NRC have ignored restrictions on activities along the Marjorie Harris Carr Greenway - previously, and now again called the Cross Florida Barge Canal by PEF since it wants to reverse the flow of this manmade trough to bring salty water from the Gulf of Mexico to discharge into the fragile Levy terrain via two draft cooling towers. 

The intervener's contention will be heard by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board on paper between now and Oc-tober 31, and then on Halloween, PEF will defend its plan to split atoms atop some of the most fragile and pristine freshwater is North America.

An outstanding issue for PEF is a seismic analysis in order to respond to the NRC's Fukushima Request for Additional Information. The two AP1000 units proposed at Levy are already unique since there is no bedrock that can be used to anchor the units, a 30-foot thick 'mat' of rolled concrete has been added below each nuclear island; the concept is that in the event of liquefaction during a seismic event, the whole reactor pad would float. It is not clear how the interface with other critical safety equipment would be handled. The new seismic study is due out this month, and could impact the hearing schedule if the results warrant a new contention.

Source and contact: Mary Olson, NIRS Southeast Office. PO Box 7586 Ashe-ville, NC  28802 USA.
Email: maryo[at]  

NIRS South East

New York just proved why bailing out nuclear power is a bad idea

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Tim Judson ‒ Executive Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

On August 1, New York became the first state to adopt a policy to subsidize aging, uncompetitive nuclear reactors. The state's Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates utility companies, passed a Clean Energy Standard that combines a 50% renewable energy standard by 2030 with massive subsidies to prop up uneconomical reactors.1

Prepare yourself for loud celebrations from the nuclear industry, heaping praise on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and calling for other states to emulate the Empire State with lucrative incentives to insulate the nuclear industry from competition and to postpone closures of uneconomical reactors.

We hate to throw water on the parade, but the move actually proves what a bad idea it is to throw subsidies at nuclear power. Let's jump to the punch line, then we can fill in the blanks: New York just committed to spending twice as much money propping up old nuclear reactors than on new renewable energy, to get 2‒3 times less energy from nuclear as renewables in the end.

Basically all of the US$7.6 billion2 in nuclear subsidies will leave New Yorkers' bank accounts and go to companies headquartered in Chicago and Paris: Exelon and Electricite de France, which jointly own the company that will own all of the bailed-out reactors. The money will produce not one more job for unemployed New Yorkers, put not one more solar panel on a roof, provide not one more dollar of economic development. And by soaking up so much of New Yorkers' energy dollars, the subsidies could prevent them from investing in energy efficiency and renewables.

A precedent for other states?

Nuclear boosters will argue that New York is setting a precedent for other states to prop up the industry by "valuing" nuclear power's role in combating climate change. But to those close paying attention, it proves just the opposite: bailing out aging, uneconomical reactors is a massive diversion of time and money needed to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other strategies for reducing emissions.

Here's why. Other states won't all be able to replicate the unique circumstances that enabled New York to ram through such a massive bailout in just a few months. In most other states, nuclear subsidy proposals have been proposed legislatively or through an adjudicated process where there has been a full, transparent review. In Ohio, a massive "black box" subsidy3 for FirstEnergy's nuclear and coal plants has been challenged by extensive litigation, resulting in the company closing several coal units4, and still may not survive a federal legal challenge.5

In New York, Governor Cuomo ordered the PSC to create the nuclear subsidies through a fast-tracked proceeding, in which there was no transparency and the public had limited time to participate. The governor has a reputation for overstepping his authority6 to get the commission to do what he wants.7 Both the governor's office and the PSC are under investigation8 by the US Attorney's office9 and the New York Attorney General10 in similar cases, none of which involve anywhere close to the amount of money the nuclear subsidies would direct to a single corporation: Exelon.

The amount of support needed to reverse nuclear energy's fortunes dwarfs what is needed to expand renewables, and actually requires states to prioritize nuclear over clean energy solutions. The New York PSC approved a US$7.6 billion subsidy to nuclear power plants as part of a Clean Energy Standard that also sets a goal of generating 50% of the state's electricity from renewable energy by 2030. The policy will lock in subsidies for 12 years (into 2029), for four reactors in one region of the state ‒ Ginna, FitzPatrick, and Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 ‒ by declaring them a "public necessity."

Subsidies for nuclear would be priced according to a measure the EPA uses to evaluate the social and environmental impacts of carbon emissions ‒ the Social Cost of Carbon. The subsidies will increase over time, from 1.75 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2017 to 2.92 cents per kWh by 2027. The cost of subsidizing nuclear would go up from US$480 million per year in the first two years to around US$800 million per year in the final two years ‒ assuming all of the reactors last that long, which is not a good bet given that no reactor in the world has run for more than 47 years and the PSC wants to push two of them all the way to 60 years.

By the end of the 12-year subsidy period, New York will end up spending twice as much money propping up old nuclear power plants as on developing renewable energy11 ‒ for what will turn out to be half as much energy, at the most. In addition the nuclear subsidy program could expand to include the two reactors at Indian Point under the same "public necessity" designation within the next couple of years, increasing the total cost to more than US$10 billion and reversing the state's longstanding policy of closing those reactors.12

The subsidies are intended to keep the four upstate reactors operating, since Ginna and FitzPatrick are now too expensive to operate without a lot of subsidies. Together, the four reactors can generate at most 27 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity per year. To meet the 50% renewable energy goal, the PSC estimates it will develop at least enough new wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources to generate about 34 million MWh per year. That is 25% more renewable energy than nuclear, at half the cost of the nuclear subsidies.

And here's the kicker: the state will still have to replace almost all of the aging reactors by 2030, anyway. And if 25% more renewables can be built for half the cost of the nuclear subsidies, then the state could reduce emissions even more by implementing lower cost renewable energy. In fact, just by following the examples of other states that are growing renewables and improving efficiency faster than New York, the state could easily exceed its targets for renewables and greenhouse emissions. A study commissioned by environmental groups found that just expanding energy efficiency in New York ‒ which would not require subsidies and would actually save consumers money ‒ could reduce electricity demand by as much as the bailed-out nuclear reactors can generate by 2030.13 So why even bother with a bailout?

Governor Cuomo and the PSC had to ignore all of these facts in order to justify subsidizing the nuclear industry. The PSC didn't do any studies to see if the closure of reactors would actually affect the state's emissions goals, and it considered no alternatives to propping up nuclear reactors ‒ such as investing more in renewables and efficiency ‒ and only considered different methods for delivering enough subsidies to prevent reactors from closing next year.

FitzPatrick, Entergy and Exelon

The policy the PSC adopted lacks any way out of the subsidies: no plan to phase reactors out, no back-up plans in case reactors close anyway. In fact, it's actually an all-or-nothing policy. The whole 12-year commitment is tied to just one reactor: FitzPatrick. The current owner, Entergy, decided last year that it will close FitzPatrick in January 2017 and has been making the necessary preparations: notifying all of the relevant agencies, withdrawing applications for license amendments needed to continue operating, and canceling plans to refuel in September (next month). Entergy's plan to run FitzPatrick until January 2017 was made to "burn up" more of the unused fuel in the reactor before the final shutdown.14

Before announcing the final nuclear subsidy proposal less than a month ago, the governor brokered a negotiation for Entergy to sell FitzPatrick to Exelon. Entergy has stood firm in its plan to close FitzPatrick regardless of what subsidies the state provides, so the only possible option to keep the reactor operating is for another company to take it over, for which Exelon is the only candidate. The decision by the PSC actually requires Exelon to do it or else the 12-year subsidy commitment will be cancelled. So, in fact, it appears that the whole nuclear subsidy plan is really about preventing one reactor from closing ‒ FitzPatrick, which will probably shut down before 2030 anyway, even with the subsidies.

One has to ask, if the money on the table is not enough to convince Entergy to keep operating FitzPatrick, then why on earth would Exelon agree to take it over and run it for 12 more years? One simple answer: it's the price of a precedent. Exelon has become increasingly desperate to get someone, somewhere to provide the bailout necessary to restore increasingly uncompetitive nuclear reactors to profitability, and the other watering holes in the desert have been drying up. Illinois has not come through for going on three years, and even potential compromise legislation is not likely to include the game-changing subsidies Exelon really wants. The massive subsidies approved by New York are large enough to do that, and the price for Exelon appears to be taking on the risk of owning and operating FitzPatrick.

Unfortunately for New Yorkers, a deal good enough to be worth Exelon's while is going to be a terrible deal for the state. US$7.6 billion in subsidies, all to be paid by electricity customers, is going to strain everyone, but especially low-income consumers, businesses, local governments and school districts.

Finally, the PSC's Clean Energy Standard Policy sets an enforceable requirement that New York obtain 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. But the policy is less ambitious than it seems, because the definition of renewables includes old, large-scale hydropower facilities that generate about 15% of the state's electricity. Other leading states15 on renewables, including California16, Oregon17, and Washington18, do not include large hydro as renewable. So New York's Renewable Portfolio Standard is only 35%, by comparison.














13. AGREE and NIRS, 22 Oct 2015, 'Replacing FitzPatrick: How the Closure of a Nuclear Reactor can Reduce Greenhouse Gasses and Radioactive Waste, while Creating Jobs and Supporting the Local Community',






Manufacturing dissent: environmentalists and nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a disingenuous piece of agitprop on June 16, claiming that: "Some of the nation's most influential environmental groups are softening their longstanding opposition to nuclear power, marking a significant shift in the antinuclear movement as environmentalists' priority shifts to climate change."1

According to the WSJ:

"The Sierra Club, the country's oldest and largest environmental group, is debating whether to halt its longtime position in support of shuttering all existing nuclear-power plants earlier than required by their federal operating licenses. The environmental group's leaders see existing reactors as a bridge to renewable electricity and an alternative source of energy as the group campaigns to shut down coal and natural gas plants.

"The Environmental Defense Fund is similarly deciding to what extent it should adjust its policy, potentially lending its support to keeping open financially struggling reactors.

"In Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the Sierra Club and EDF, are among the advocacy groups working with Exelon and state lawmakers on a legislative deal that would reverse a decision the company made in early June to close two nuclear reactors in the next two years."

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said in response that the organization "remains in firm opposition to dangerous nuclear power", that the WSJ article "reflects wishful thinking on the part of the nuclear industry", that it is "categorically incorrect to suggest that the Sierra Club considers nuclear power a 'bridge' to clean energy" and that nuclear power "is a bridge to nowhere".2

Likewise, Henry Henderson from the Natural Resources Defense Council said the WSJ was "dead wrong on our goals, focus and motivation" and that the organization's efforts to reform energy policy "do not involve, or signal, a change in NRDC's long-held concerns about the role of nuclear energy in the country's generation mix."3

In a detailed dissection of the WSJ propaganda, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted that "major assertions in the Journal article turn out to be either factually inaccurate, or to omit or spin important details."4

FAIR reports:

"The characterization of Illinois' energy-policy debate, for example, is "over-the-top outrageous," according to Dave Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a 35-year-old safe-energy organization that calls itself 'Illinois' Nuclear Power Watchdog.' NEIS is part of a coalition of environmental groups opposing SB 1585, a piece of legislation dubbed the Next Generation Energy Plan that is still in play. The bill was cobbled together from a proposal developed by Exelon with input from a variety of competing interests, including green groups. Kraft says these activists have been negotiating not "SO THAT the plants would be kept in operation, but WHETHER they will. ... That's a significant difference."

FAIR noted that the WSJ story was framed by the story's two quoted pro-nuclear sources, Joe Dominguez from energy company Exelon, and Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute. The WSJ describes the Breakthrough Institute as a "progressive think tank"; FAIR is closer to the mark describing it as a "quasi-neoliberal, pro-technology environmental think tank." Shellenberger now fronts 'Environmental Progress', a group whose sole focus appears to be promoting nuclear power along with implicit and sometimes explicit attacks on renewable energy.

Shellenberger is quoted in the WSJ saying that a trickle of environmentalists changing their minds about nuclear has become a "stampede", and in response to the FAIR article he claimed5 that environment groups are having an "internal civil war" over their position on nuclear power. Both claims are presented without a shred of evidence. Both reflect a postmodernist approach to truth-telling: tell a lie, tell it often, and hope it comes true.

Moreover, Shellenberger doesn't believe his own rhetoric about environment groups turning in support of nuclear power. On June 22 he led a bizarre pro-nuclear protest in San Francisco targeting the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the NRDC for their anti-nuclear policies.6 Also leading the protest march were 'Mothers for Nuclear' ‒ started by two women who work in the nuclear power industry.4

The dishonesty of the corporate media and the antics of pro-nuclear lobbyists are having precious little effect. Despite Shellenberger's dedicated lobbying, Exelon announced in June that it plans to permanently shut down three reactors in Illinois: Clinton in 2017, and Quad Cities 1 and 2 in 2018. Exelon is also threatening to close two others in New York ‒ Ginna and Nine Mile Point 1 ‒ and the Three Mile Island 1 reactor in Pennsylvania is rumored to be at risk of closure, without subsidies like those that are being proposed in the other states. Also in June, Pacific Gas & Electric announced that the two Diablo Canyon reactors will close in 2024 and 2025, leaving California nuclear free ‒ the pro-nuclear protest targeting environment groups was too little, too late.

And those are just the most recent announcements. In addition: Dominion's Kewaunee plant in Wisconsin and Entergy's Vermont Yankee have been shut down in recent years; Southern California Edison shut down the last two operating reactors at San Onofre in California in 2013; Duke Energy announced in 2013 that the Crystal River plant would never restart following a botched upgrade; Entergy's FitzPatrick plant in New York will be closed in 2017, and Entergy's Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts will be closed in 2019; Exelon's Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey will be shut down by December 2019; and Omaha Public Power District will shut down the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska at the end of 2016.

A long history

FAIR opined: "Instead of a story about a growing fervor for nuclear power among some environmentalists, the story is really one about a growing fervor to resurrect nuclear power among corporate and political elites, aided by a handful of mainly environmentalists-for-hire."7

But actually the above quote from FAIR wasn't in response to the recent WSJ article. It was written in 2007 in response to an earlier media beat-up about environmentalists swinging in support of nuclear power.

The recent WSJ propaganda was just the latest in a long line. In 2014, for example, the BBC falsely claimed that Friends of the Earth UK was turning in support of nuclear power.8 In 2009−10 the World Nuclear Association heavily promoted a dishonest article claiming that Greenpeace UK had changed its stance on nuclear power.9

David Roberts summed up the situation in 2013, when the Pandora's Promise propaganda film was trotting out the familiar lines that former nuclear critics and environmentalists are turning in support of nuclear power:10

"There is no budding environmentalist movement for nukes. Ever since I started paying attention to "nuclear renaissance" stories about a decade ago, there's always been this credulous, excitable bit about how enviros are starting to come around. The roster of enviros in this purportedly burgeoning movement: Stewart Brand, the Breakthrough Boys, and "Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore," who has been a paid shill for industry for decades (it sounds like the Pandora folks were wise enough to leave him out). More recently George Monbiot and Mark Lynas have been added to the list. This handful of converts is always cited with the implication that it's the leading edge of a vast shift, and yet ... it's always the same handful.

"Anyway, if environmentalists are as omni-incompetent as Breakthrough has alleged all these years, why the eagerness to recruit them? I get the media appeal of "even hippies know the hippies are wrong," but to me it smells of flop sweat.

"In the movie, Shellenberger says, "I have a sense that this is a beautiful thing ... the beginning of a movement." I fear he has once again mistaken the contents of his navel for the zeitgeist."

Most likely there are people ambivalent towards or supportive of nuclear power within some environment groups, particularly larger groups with dozens of staff and thousands of members. Big deal. Far from a stampede of pro-nuclear environmentalism, late last year James Hansen was complaining that the Climate Action Network, representing all the major environmental groups, opposes nuclear power.11 Hansen singled out the NRDC, Environmental Defense Fund and World Wide Fund for Nature for their anti-nuclear policies.12


1. Amy Harder, 16 June 2016, 'Environmental Groups Change Tune on Nuclear Power',

2. 23 June 2016, 'The Sierra Club Still Opposes Nuclear Power',

3. Henry Henderson, 20 June 2016, 'Illinois Energy and a Note on Nukes',

4. Miranda C. Spencer, 24 June 2016, 'WSJ Fakes a Green Shift Toward Nuclear Power',


6. Rod Adams, 26 June 2016, 'Hopeful days for environmental progress in California',

7. FAIR, 22 Aug 2007, 'NPR Touts Pro-Nuke 'Environmentalists': Network's own nuclear links undisclosed',

8. 18 Sept 2014, 'Friends of the Earth UK's position on nuclear power', Nuclear Monitor #791,


10. David Roberts, 14 June 2013, 'Some thoughts on "Pandora's Promise" and the nuclear debate',



More doom and gloom for the nuclear power industry in the U.S.

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Senior management at Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) have recommended that the Fort Calhoun single-unit nuclear plant in Nebraska should close at the end of 2016. CEO Tim Burke made the recommendation to the company's board of directors on May 12 and the board is expected to vote on the recommendation on June 16.

"The economic analysis clearly shows that continued operation of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is not financially sustainable," Burke said.1 OPPD board member Tom Barrett said: "You have to say enough is enough and curb the costs. That's the cold, hard facts of this business."2

The reactor has been in commercial operation since September 1973 and is licensed to operate until August 2033.1 If it is shut down later this year, it will be closed 17 years ahead of its licence expiration.

The Fort Calhoun plant has been in the wars in recent years.2 It was taken offline for refuelling in April 2011, then suffered a fire and was flooded later in 2011. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) later found dozens of safety deficiencies and put the plant in an intense oversight program to address "significant performance and/or operational concerns."3 OPPD spent a reported US$180 million (€161m) addressing a list of 450 "restart action items" cited by the NRC.4 Workers spent more than eight million hours completing more than 69,000 tasks, OPPD said, while the NRC spent 23,000 hours on inspections and evaluations.4 The plant restarted in December 2013 and has operated under a normal level of regulatory oversight since April 2015.

Dan Yurman summarizes the dramas:5

"In 2011 the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor postponed its restart to sometime in 2013. It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

"The plant's management had initially resisted demands by the NRC to strengthen its flood barriers, and only installed them a short time before the rising Missouri river came within a few feet of overtopping the inflatable boom that kept water out of the reactor and turbine building and the plant switchyard.

"In the pre-dawn hours of June 27, 2011, a fork lift punctured the eight foot high, 2000 ft. long boom being used to keep the flood waters out of the plant. Plant operators started emergency diesel generators as the flood waters approached the switchyard and the plant was taken off the grid. Emergency repairs prevented significant damage to the facility.

"The plant did not restart once the flood receded. The NRC resident inspectors found numerous deficiencies in plant operations and imposed a stiff set of requirements on it. The agency said the Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfil a long list of safety requirements before the NRC would let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. It took until December 2013 to get a green light from the NRC to re-start the reactor to generate electricity and revenue for the utility.

"In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant."

Tim Burke has recommended to the board that some of Fort Calhoun's 478-megawatt capacity should be replaced with wind energy and gas. He said that not all of the plant's capacity must be replaced because energy efficiency measures are constraining demand. If the board adopts the recommendations, OPPD's renewable generation will make up 49% of its energy portfolio by 2020. In 2014, OPPD approved a long-term generation plan that included the phase-out some of its coal-burning plants, conversion of others to natural gas and the addition of 400 megawatts of wind power.2

In its 2015 annual report, OPPD estimated that the costs to decommission Fort Calhoun would be about US$884 million (€793m), but the utility only has about US$373 million (€335m) set aside for decommissioning.2,5


Two other vulnerable nuclear plants are Exelon's Clinton and Quad Cities plants in Illinois. Exelon said in early May that it will close Clinton and Quad Cities in 2017 and 2018 respectively if Illinois legislators fail to legislate to shore up its profits. The two plants have lost US$800 million (€718m) in cash flow from 2009 to 2015, CEO Christopher Crane said. "Without adequate legislation, we no longer see a path to profitability and can no longer sustain ongoing losses. In order to reverse course, we would need Illinois to cover our cash costs and operating risk," he said.6

David Kolata, executive director of the consumer advocacy nonprofit Citizens Utility Board, warned that a with a proposed price floor for nuclear power "you socialize risk and privatize profit." He suggested that if a price floor is established, a price ceiling should also be established.7

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was blunt in her criticisms of Exelon and its subsidiary ComEd: "It's outrageous that Exelon and ComEd are again requesting a bailout when they are both profitable companies. This proposal would force consumers to pay more only to boost the companies' profits further. The legislature has more important matters to address than padding ComEd and Exelon's profits."8

Abraham Scarr with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group said: "ComEd and Exelon want you to believe their 'Next Generation Energy Plan' will put Illinois on the path to a clean energy future. Don't believe the hype. They claim their bill will jump start solar, but the solar industry opposes it. They claim their new rate structure helps consumers, but consumer advocates oppose it. They ask for 'equal footing' with wind and solar, without counting the $5.58 billion (€5b) Illinois ratepayers have already poured into their nuclear fleet. ... It is time to transition to a clean, renewable energy economy and do so in a way that is fair to consumers and to the communities most impacted by our energy system. But instead of rising to these challenges, the ComEd-Exelon bill seeks to forestall this transition and wring as much profit from ratepayers as possible while delivering little in return."8

Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), said: "There is just no way to justify the scale of economic intervention the industry says it needs to make uncompetitive reactors viable. In state after state where nuclear plant owners are seeking subsidies to stave off reactor closures, the cost of operating aging reactors is greater than the cost of replacing them with renewables and energy efficiency. Operating aging, uneconomical reactors can only increase the risk of nuclear accidents. States will be better off letting uneconomical reactors close, and ramping up their clean energy plans. It will be cheaper for consumers, create more jobs, limit radioactive waste, and accelerate greenhouse gas reductions."

Exelon warns of a "dramatic increase in carbon emissions" if Quad Cities and Clinton are closed9, but it ain't necessarily so. Both coal and nuclear are on the chopping-block in Illinois. Bloomberg reported on May 2016: "Following a four-year drop in electricity demand, power companies there announced the closing of coal and nuclear plants that account for more than 10 percent of generating capacity. The shutdowns come amid a fourfold increase in cheap wind from neighboring states and growing competition from generators burning low-cost natural gas. Exelon Corp., the operator of 11 nuclear reactors in Illinois, and Dynegy Inc., which has 10 coal-fired plants in the state, are asking lawmakers to bail out their money-losing assets to prevent further job-cutting, closures and, in Exelon's case, preserve carbon-free electricity production."10

Dynegy said on May 3 that it would shut coal units with a capacity of 1,835 megawatts over the next year, with an additional 500 megawatts under review.10

"You've got free wind power coming from the west and cheap gas coming from the east and that's not a good place to be for coal and nuclear power plants," said Travis Miller, an analyst with investment research firm Morningstar Inc.10

Growing list of reactor closures and looming closures

The average age of the U.S. nuclear fleet is 35 years.11 That's the equivalent of about 70 human years so it's no surprise that a growing number of reactors are falling off the perch:

  • Dominion's Kewaunee in Wisconsin and Entergy's Vermont Yankee have closed for economic reasons since 2013. Both plants were licensed to keep operating into the 2030s.
  • Southern California Edison permanently shut down the last two operating reactors at the San Onofre plant in California in 2013, after steam generators replaced in a US$700 (€628m) million upgrade failed, only a couple of years after their installation.
  • In February 2013 Duke Energy announced that the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida would be permanently shut down, following a botched attempt to repair the concrete containment dome.
  • Entergy's FitzPatrick plant in New York will be closed in 2017, and Entergy's Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts is slated to be closed in 2019, but could close sooner.
  • Exelon's Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey is scheduled to be permanently shut down by December 2019.

Responding to the Fort Calhoun news, Matt Crozat from the Nuclear Energy Institute said: "This announcement reflects the fact that several nuclear power plants around the country are vulnerable to weak market conditions, particularly smaller facilities in competitive markets."5 Marvin Fertel from the same organization said on May 19 that 15‒20 reactors in the U.S. are at risk of being shut over the next 5‒10 years due to economic challenges such as low power prices, and competition from gas and renewables.12 He said that small, single-unit plants (such as Fort Calhoun) are the most vulnerable.

It can now be said with certainty that new build (five reactors are under construction) will be outpaced by closures this decade in the U.S., and it's highly likely that the pattern will repeat itself in the 2020s. BP's recently-released 'Energy Outlook: 2016 Edition' projects a 13% decline in nuclear power generation in North America from 2014‒2035 (and a 29% fall in the EU).13


On May 19, the Department of Energy (DoE) hosted an invitation-only summit to discuss nuclear power's precarious situation.14 It was promoted as an action-oriented forum, the live webcast was popular and the hashtag (#ActforNuclear) trended.15

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told the summit that "the importance of incentivizing continued operation is very clear, but the solutions are less clear." He said that the DoE's Quadrennial Energy Review is assessing the future of the existing nuclear fleet and how nuclear plant operators might be supported. But Marvin Fertel from the Nuclear Energy Institute seemed underwhelmed with the prospect of another report: "A report on it doesn't do anything unless the RTOs [regional transmission organizations] and FERC [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] do something with it."12

Tim Judson from NIRS characterizes the challenges facing the industry differently: "The energy markets are not the problem facing the nuclear industry – it's that the costs of operating aging reactors are rising so dramatically, while the costs of clean energy are falling. There is no doubt that the US needs a comprehensive and sensible energy policy to mitigate the climate crisis. It's just that nuclear is part of the problem, not the solution."

As Judson wrote in Nuclear Monitor #808, the Clean Power Plan released by President Obama last August gave the nuclear industry only a small fraction of the incentives it was seeking.16

A May 11‒12 conference was hosted by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris to address nuclear power's economic problems.17 As with the U.S. DoE conference, the NEA conference seems to have been heavy on gloom and short on solutions. NEA director general William Magwood said: "In the flux of great change, it can be difficult to finance even modest projects. Nuclear power plants are not modest projects; with total costs ranging from about €6 billion to €12 billion and total project times reaching up to a decade, building a nuclear power plant is one of the most complex of all industrial sector undertakings. Therefore, as one might expect, financing nuclear power plants can often present significant challenges."

Magwood added: "I am ready to stand here today and declare that the markets are broken; they don't work and don't do what they are supposed to do. The time has come to recognise that we have a situation where large utilities are losing money and are almost on the verge of bankruptcy.17

Magwood also questioned the economics of small modular reactors, noting that vendors will need to sell "dozens, scores if not hundreds to make it work". He added: "And if you're selling them to more than one country, are you going to have to go through the entire regulatory process every time you go to a country. If you do that, you may end up making them uneconomic just by the fact that you have to spend huge amounts of money to get the licence."17


1. World Nuclear News, 13 May 2016, 'Closure recommended for Nebraska nuclear plant',

2. Cole Epley, 13 May 2016, 'OPPD's Fort Calhoun nuclear plant has become too expensive to run, company says',


4. Algis Laukaitis, 17 Dec 2013, 'NRC gives OPPD the go ahead to restart Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station',

5. Dan Yurman, 21 May 2016, 'Surrender at Ft. Calhoun',

6. Suzanne Herel, 6 May 2016, 'Absent Legislation, Exelon to Close Clinton, Quad Cities Nukes',

7. Julian Spector, 27 May 2016, 'Nuclear Power Fights for a Spot in Illinois' Clean Energy Future',

8. 24 May 2016, 'Illinoisans Sound Off On Exelon/ComEd Bill As Report Unveils Dangers At Their Local Nuclear Sites',

9. Exelon, Media Release, 25 May 2016, 'Exelon Announces Outcome of 2019-2020 PJM Capacity Auction',

10. Bloomberg, 26 May 2016, 'Where Free Wind Meets Cheap Gas in U.S., Power Dynamics Changing',

11. Richard Martin, 20 May 2016, 'Nuclear Shutdowns Could Ramp Up U.S. Carbon Emissions',

12. Steven Dolley / Platts, 19 May 2016, 'Fifteen to 20 nuclear units in US 'at risk' of shutdown: industry official',

13. BP Energy Outlook: 2016 Edition,


15. Rod Adams, 20 May 2016, 'Addressing Economic Challenges Facing Nuclear Power Plants',

16. Tim Judson, 18 Aug 2015, 'US EPA takes nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan', Nuclear Monitor #808,

17. World Nuclear News, 11 May 2016, 'NEA head highlights challenges facing nuclear power',

How low can they go? Hansen, Shellenberger shilling for Exelon

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

While some potential legal challenges remain, the approval of the Exelon-Pepco merger by the Washington, D.C. Public Service Commission means that Exelon is now not only the largest nuclear powered utility in the U.S., it is the largest electric utility period. And with that steady stream of regulated, and non-nuclear, Pepco money filling its coffers, you'd think that Exelon's continuing "threats" to close up to three of its Illinois reactor sites unless it obtains more bailouts from beleaguered Illinois taxpayers and ratepayers would fall on deaf ears. Or maybe Exelon is now trying to achieve "too big to fail" status?

That Exelon's "threats" to close these reactors are considered by the utility – and its backers – threats at all is an indication of how perverse the discussion in Illinois is (and really, wherever Exelon operates, where such threats to close reactors without bailouts are commonplace). After all, these reactors (the single reactor at Clinton and the two-unit Quad Cities) are demonstrably uneconomic – they just can't compete with gas or wind, or solar for that matter. They also are aging and increasingly unsafe; the two Fukushima-clones at Quad Cities especially so, although Clinton too has a weak GE pressure suppression containment system.

And, given the large amount of wind power available to the region, and the potential for large amounts of solar power if Exelon didn't keep trying to shoot it down, they aren't needed for power supply reasons, nor to ensure low carbon emissions. Whatever of their power actually needs to be replaced, and it's not like Illinois is facing imminent power shortages, can be done so economically and quickly with renewables, efficiency and storage.

Enter the pro-nuke "environmentalists"

Enter the pro-nuke "environmentalists". Specifically, renowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and industry-oriented Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute came to Illinois in early April to weigh in on the Exelon bailout debate.1 And no, they didn't support renewables or other clean energy technologies. They didn't question whether the nation's largest electric utility really needs to gouge Illinoisans for another $300 million to keep aging, money-losing reactors open. Their message was pretty simple: in an open letter to Illinois legislators they, and several dozen others (most of whom are long-standing nuclear advocates) urged them to "do everything in your power to keep all of Illinois's nuclear power plants running for their full lifetimes."

Sometimes Dr. Hansen just makes you wonder if he isn't undertaking some bizarre experiment to see how far he can undermine his own credibility before it all blows up in his face. Back in November 2013 he and three colleagues wrote an open letter to us nuclear opponents urging us to reconsider nuclear power.2 It's worth going back and reading some of that letter:

"As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems," the letter began. It added, "We call on your organization to support the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems as a practical means of addressing the climate change problem."

And this: "We understand that today's nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer."

Note the emphasis: Hansen is clearly talking about "safer" nuclear reactors. To be precise, he was seeking environmentalist support for development and deployment of Generation IV reactors. Which, to date, do not exist.

NIRS and Civil Society Institute organized a response, signed by 300+ organizations, to Hansen's letter explaining our continued opposition to nuclear power as a climate response and calling for a public debate on the issue.3 We never received a reply.

Now jump ahead to December 2015, just four months ago. Shortly before the Paris COP-21 climate talks, Hansen et. al. issued a new missive:

"Nuclear power, particularly next-generation nuclear power with a closed fuel cycle (where spent fuel is reprocessed), is uniquely scalable, and environmentally advantageous. Over the past 50 years, nuclear power stations – by offsetting fossil fuel combustion – have avoided the emission of an estimated 60bn tonnes of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy can power whole civilizations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion. There are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely. However, nuclear does pose unique safety and proliferation concerns that must be addressed with strong and binding international standards and safeguards. Most importantly for climate, nuclear produces no CO2 during power generation."

While there is much to dispute in this paragraph, again note the emphasis on safety and "next-generation nuclear power" and continued acknowledgement of nuclear's "unique safety and proliferation concerns."

Fukushima-clone Quad Cities, which began operation in 1972, and Clinton, which began operation in 1987, clearly do not fall under the "safer" or "next-generation" nuclear memes. By endorsing not only their continued operation, but their continued operation enabled by forcing the people of Illinois to further line Exelon's pockets, Hansen has made a mockery of his earlier safety concerns and exposed himself as no different than any other Exelon-paid-for Nuclear Matters spokesperson.

Over the credibility cliff

But it gets worse, because by allying himself with the Breakthrough Institute's Shellenberger, Hansen has gone a step even further, a step right over the credibility cliff. Because as Midwest Energy News reported: "Shellenberger described next-generation technology as farther away from viability than he had previously hoped, and urged more focus on the nation's existing reactors. "How much safer could they be?" he said. "If you have nuclear plants that don't hurt anyone, keep running them."4

In other words, Shellenberger dismisses Hansen's support of Generation IV reactors in one phrase and argues in essence that because Fukushima hasn't happened yet at Quad Cities, well, hell, it never will; keep them running. But Fukushima did, in fact, happen. And there were supposed to have been lessons learned from that disaster. One of those is to be highly skeptical of GE Mark I nuclear reactor designs that are essentially identical to Fukushima, and that have been highly controversial even since their inception in the 1960s.

Thus, Hansen and Shellenberger (and the rest of the letter's signers, most of whom probably know little about the actual situation in Illinois) are now dismissing any pretense of caring about nuclear safety. For what? To enable Exelon, the largest electric utility in the nation, to gouge Illinoisans for another $300 million to keep open three aging, uneconomic and unsafe nuclear reactors, because of their low carbon emissions.

Arguing for environmentalists to consider Generation IV reactor technology was one thing. For many reasons, we rejected that approach and explained in detail why we did so, but at least it was a fair challenge. But actively working to prevent the shutdown of three reactors of 1960s nuclear technology under the pretense that it would matter for the climate is a leap too far. I hate to say it, but it is a leap so far that it brings into question Hansen's credibility on the far more important issues of his climate science generally. I have long trusted Hansen on climate issues; now, I am nervous about that. If he can be so wrong in Illinois, and so far removed from his own previous statements on nuclear safety, and seems willing to sell himself to the nation's largest, and quite possibly greediest, electric utility, well, how can I trust his other work?

I have been telling myself – and others – as Hansen's pro-nuclear statements have become more and more strident and outlandish over the past few years that, well, Hansen is a climate expert, not an energy expert, and there is a big difference between the two. That's still true, of course. But I'm having my doubts. Could some of his climate statements – that I'm not expert enough to evaluate the way I am expert enough to evaluate his nuclear statements – be as far removed from reality as his Illinois positions? Fortunately, there are a lot of other climate experts out there. I'll start listening more closely to them. And there are lots of real energy experts out there, but I already know them and I'll continue to listen to them. As for Hansen, I probably won't listen to him anymore on either subject.

As for Illinois, closing Clinton and Quad Cities would not only save its citizens' money and reduce the daily risk these dangerous reactors pose, it would help usher in substantial new clean energy investment, something the state desperately could use. That would be the kind of win-win situation – for the state and the climate, if not for Exelon – that the legislature hopefully will recognize.

Michael Mariotte regularly writes at the GreenWorld blog,






Wishful thinking: the basis of new nuclear economics

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

That nuclear power's miserable economics are pretty much killing the industry, especially in the western world, is a reality acknowledged by virtually everyone at this point. After the first burst of reactor construction from the late 1960s until the early 1980s collapsed under the weight of multi-billion dollar cost overruns and lengthy schedule delays, a decade ago the industry argued it had learned and incorporated its lessons and the result would be a nuclear renaissance.

But before even a single reactor launched by this renaissance has begun operating (for a renaissance that began more than a decade ago, this in itself is a telling point), bloated, untenable costs and delays from Georgia to Finland have again put the kibosh on the notion of any meaningful nuclear expansion in the west. And even in China, where transparency in economic data is literally a foreign concept, there are indications that costs and schedules for new reactors are not exactly meeting expectations.

Meanwhile, nuclear utilities from Illinois to Sweden argue that new subsidies ‒ whether in the form of higher rates or tax relief or direct deposits of taxpayer money to their bank accounts are required to keep long-ago paid-for but aging and obsolete reactors simply operating. Some of this is pure greed, of course, with the utilities just wanting more money and they see an opportunity granted by concern about climate change to get some, but some of it is real. Some of these older reactors, which supposedly benefit from all of nuclear's purported cost advantages in terms of low fuel costs, operating experience and so on, just can't compete with newer, cheaper and cleaner technologies.

While it seems that far too many legislators don't yet understand all this, the nuclear industry itself certainly does, and the number one topic in industry-oriented publications these days is how to turn around its economic miseries.

I wrote about what the industry, at least in the U.S., wants for its uneconomic operating reactors–and its sometimes delusional approaches to achieve those goals, a couple of weeks ago.1 But even if it attains the levels of ratepayer/taxpayer subsidies it wants – and it likely won't – it's not enough for the industry to simply rescue some dinosaurs from their inevitable extinction. Without new reactors, without expansion, the industry will simply wither away by mid-century. While that would be better for society, better for ratepayers, better even for the climate, that, of course is not an industry perspective.

The industry's typical prescription for its revival revolves around a few key tenets: Build safer reactors – i.e. Generation IV designs; and/or build smaller reactors, which may or may not be Generation IV designs; have more standardization of reactor designs; use modern modular construction techniques; and so forth. And many industry pundits, at least, have derived hope from a recent Breakthrough Institute paper2 which argues that the industry's experience in South Korea and elsewhere, including the UK, Germany and Japan, demonstrates that the pattern of ever-escalating reactor construction costs is not inevitable.

It's all just wishful thinking. So explains, if not in those words, Steve Kidd, a veteran nuclear industry consultant, in a piece in Nuclear Engineering International that serves as a warning to his industry.3 Explains Kidd about the Breakthrough Institute paper, "With the exception of South Korea, these apply only in particular time periods." In other words, the authors were essentially cherry-picking data to make their case, and it doesn't hold up when the total picture is examined.

Kidd goes on to explain: "Full data from the UK was conveniently unavailable ‒ the cost escalation record of the 14 AGRs was even worse than the US experience in the 1980s – while the escalating costs of the two EPRs under construction in Europe and the four AP1000s in the US are also ignored. Had Chinese data been available, it would almost certainly back up the South Korean record with little or no cost escalation. This has, however, been reversed in the latest imported foreign designs in China, and it will be interesting if the latest larger Korean 1,400 MW units can maintain the favourable cost record of the previous generation of local 1,000MW units."

At best, the Korean experience shows cost escalation is not inevitable everywhere all the time. That's a small thread on which to hang a mega-billion dollar industry.

Kidd also argues that new, safer reactor designs are essential if there is to be any chance of winning over the public, which he acknowledges is fearful of nuclear power. But, Kidd points out, "innovation is expensive."

Kidd concludes with his recommendations, written from a UK perspective but applicable everywhere, but doesn't sound too optimistic about their implementation:

"Ultimately, as I have said before, the world must move to a small number of reactor designs that can be built cheaply in large numbers, using a fully internationalised supply chain. In normal industries this would come about by natural wastage of unsuccessful companies being taken over by those who are thriving and profitable, but this currently seems a forlorn hope in nuclear. National governments see nuclear as a strategic industry and will not let jobs wither away to competitors. Selling nuclear reactors to other countries becomes an arm of foreign policy. This will merely lead to a continuation of the current situation, where there are too many reactor designs offered by lots of different companies, all with a small number of orders and all of which are too expensive. It is doubtful if some of today's designs can be built anywhere economically."

In other words, the notion that new nuclear power could potentially be economically competitive is not entirely absurd, at least in a fantasy world where everything went exactly as the industry needs. But in the real world, the idea that nuclear power will become economically competitive with the safer, cleaner and cheaper energy sources and technologies of the 21st century is simply wishful thinking.

Michael Mariotte regularly writes at


1. Michael Mariotte, 17 March 2016, 'The nuclear industry's game plan to take your money and keep reactors operating',

2. Jessica R. Lovering, Arthur Yip, and Ted Nordhaus, April 2016, 'Historical construction costs of global nuclear power reactors',

3. Steve Kidd, 27 March 2016, 'Achieving better nuclear economics – new designs and industry structure?',


Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Nuclear Information & Resource Service in the U.S. has launched a new campaign called #NuclearIsDirty. NIRS is rolling out a series of online events, publications, and social media forums to inform the public of the real environmental impacts of nuclear power, from the mining of uranium and production of reactor fuel, all the way through to the long-term storage and management of radioactive waste.

The series combines technical information with testimony from people whose communities are affected; it combines a series of events with actions people can take and resources to supplement the campaign.

#NuclearIsDirty began with a telebriefing on one of the U.S.'s worst nuclear disasters: the Church Rock uranium waste spill in 1979. It featured presentations by experts and activists working with the largely Native American communities still affected by the spill of 1,000 tons of uranium mill tailings waste. The audio is posted at:

#NuclearIsDirty has also hosted a webinar with activists from the Clean Up the Mines campaign. There are over 15,000 abandoned uranium mines throughout the U.S., leaking radioactive and toxic waste. And just like Church Rock, Native American communities are disproportionately affected. The webinar is posted at

And #NuclearIsDirty has hosted a telebriefing with Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds Energy and Education and Mary Olson from NIRS reporting on their month-long visit to Japan.

Next week, #NuclearIsDirty is focusing on the health impacts of ionizing radiation. Visit the website for details:


Facebook: Nuclear Information and Resource Service:

Nuclear waste nightmares: USA, Germany, France

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On Valentine's Day 2014, a drum of packaged waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) ruptured 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in New Mexico's nuclear waste repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) which is carved from ancient salt beds. The incident was described as a heat-generating chemical reaction – the US Department of Energy (DOE) called it a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Explosion or not, the chemical reaction compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to air monitoring equipment approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. The accident resulted in 21 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

It later transpired that LANL had improperly packaged hundreds of waste drums with a combustible mix of nitrate salts – a byproduct of nuclear weapons production – and organic cat litter, causing a hot reaction in one drum that cracked the lid. The rupture released americium and plutonium into the deep salt mine and, in small amounts, into the environment.1 The repository is still closed two years later, and a March 2016 date for re-opening has been pushed back to later this year.

"These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years," said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The Stanford experts also suggest more attention should be paid to how the buried materials may interact with each other, particularly with salty brine, over centuries. A single storage drum may contain a variety of materials, such as lab coats, gloves and laboratory instruments; thus, the chemistry is complex. Ewing said that the complacency that led to the accidents at WIPP can also occur in the safety analysis. Therefore, he advises, it is important to carefully review the safety analysis as new proposals for more plutonium disposal are considered.2

Asse, Germany

Now, 500 metres beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, another nightmare is playing out, according to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist. Enough plutonium bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm's way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface. It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.3

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste, including the waste dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. But Germany still has no plan for dealing with high-level waste and spent fuel. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. "We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I'm not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done," he says. Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the Commission. The problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The problems at Asse became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. In 2011, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) ruled that the waste had to be removed. But this is likely to take decades.

Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don't know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity. And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in, and flooding of the mine can't be ruled out.

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033. Meanwhile the bill keeps rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions. Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

Tunnel collapse and fatality at French repository site

Meanwhile one worker has been killed and another injured in a tunnel collapse at France's planned nuclear waste repository at Bure, in north-eastern France. According to French waste management agency Andra, geophysical surveys were being carried out at the time of the collapse and the rockfall is believed to have happened as drilling was taking place. Scheduled for an authorization decree in 2018 and industrial commissioning in 2025, the facility – if approved – is expected to bury France's highly-radioactive nuclear waste.4

Repository cost escalation in France

Reuters reported on January 12 that shares in French utility EDF sank to an all-time low after Andra said that the cost of a national nuclear waste repository for intermediate- and high-level waste could be higher than EDF's estimates. Andra says that costs for the deep geological storage project could range from €20 billion to €30 billion.5

French energy minister Ségolène Royal signed a decree setting the 'reference cost' for the repository at €25 billion. In 2005, Andra estimated the cost of the facility at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion. In 2009 Andra re-estimated the cost at around €36 billion. In a confidential 2014 file, which was recently leaked, Andra gave a cost estimate of €34.4 billion, based on 2012 prices, with construction accounting for 58% of the costs and operational costs over 100 years accounting for 26% of the total.6

EDF said that the new €25 billion reference cost will "substitute the estimated benchmark cost of €20.8 billion on which EDF Group relied in its consolidated financial statements at the end of December 2014 and at the end of June 2015". EDF said the increase in provisions will have a negative impact of around €500 million post-tax on net income group share in 2015.6

Reprinted from nuClear news with additions from Nuclear Monitor.

nuClear news, No.82, February 2016,

1. Albuquerque Journal, 19 October 2015,
2. Stanford News, 15 Jan 2016,
011516.html and Nature 13 Jan 2016,
3. New Scientist, 29 Jan 2016,
4. Cumbria Trust, 27 Jan 2016,
WNN, 26 Jan 2016, 'Fatal rockfall at planned French repository site',

5. Geert De Clercq, 12 Jan 2016, 'EDF sinks to all-time low as nuclear waste cost estimate soars',

6. World Nuclear News, 18 Jan 2016, 'Minister sets benchmark cost for French repository',

New York's nuclear fork in the road: subsidizing old reactors is a dead end

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Tim Judson and Michael Mariotte – Nuclear Information & Resource Service

Thirty years ago, New York Governor Mario Cuomo was asked about the future of nuclear power. The future of nuclear power, he replied, "is Chernobyl." He prevented the Shoreham reactor on Long Island, for which construction was basically completed and it had even been tested at very low power, from ever operating.

But while Cuomo stopped Shoreham, he didn't go after the Indian Point nuclear plant – close to New York City – in the same way. And he said virtually nothing about New York's upstate nuclear reactors, even though, if the future of nuclear power was Chernobyl, that would seem to apply everywhere, not just on Long Island.

A generation later, Mario Cuomo's son Andrew is now Governor Cuomo. Andrew wants to end the use of coal in the state, and he is insisting on a clean energy plan that New York attain 30% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, less than five years from now, and 50% renewables by 2030. For a large, industrial state, that is by any measure an aggressive plan.

And the current Gov. Cuomo has made clear he wants Indian Point closed and he is doing just about everything a Governor can do to close those reactors.

So far so good, but where Gov. Mario Cuomo essentially ignored New York's upstate reactors, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has embarked on a new crusade – not to close them, but to ensure they continue operating at any cost. And that cost, which is part of a new "Clean Energy Standard" proposal released by the staff of New York's Public Service Commission, could become very high.

The state's utility regulators propose that New York will establish a renewable energy standard to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030, but it's packaged with a massive subsidy to nuclear power plants to try to prevent four of the state's six reactors from closing during that time.

Two upstate reactors, Ginna and Fitzpatrick, announced last year that they will be closing within the next year or two because they are no longer economically competitive in New York's marketplace. Gov. Cuomo seems determined to try to reverse those decisions, and to provide extra protection – in the form of subsidies from already burdened New York ratepayers – to nuclear power. Even though he still wants to close Indian Point.

If the proposal ends up being implemented as the state's Public Service Department is proposing, the nuclear subsidies could end up costing New Yorkers US$2–6 billion (€1.8– 5.4b) by 2030. And that is just the extra cost of subsidies, above and beyond the market price of electricity. Between buying the reactors' electricity and paying subsidies, New Yorkers would spend a total of at least $18 billion (€16.1b) on the four reactors, rather than on renewables and efficiency. And that is assuming the reactors' operating costs don't rise, and that the state wouldn't need to guarantee them a profit margin to continue operating.

The wide range of our estimate is because the cost of the subsidies would depend on two factors:

  • The cost of operating the reactors, which is rising. That is the main reason the industry is pushing so hard for subsidies.
  • The market price of electricity.

The gap between nuclear costs and energy prices could very well get wider by 2030. On the one hand, reactors are getting more expensive to run as they get older, and New York has some of the oldest and most uneconomical reactors in the world. Nuclear operating costs have been going up by about 5% per year on average, for over a decade now. On the other hand, energy prices have been trending lower in New York and around the country for nearly a decade, even with occasional spikes. If nuclear costs and energy prices continue going in opposite directions, $6 billion could be an underestimate.

Here's how the regulators are proposing it would work:

  • Each year the reactors' owners would tell the Public Service Commission what each reactor's "going forward costs" are projected to be, and how much money they could expect to make selling the power each reactor generates.
  • The reactors' owners would be paid the difference between the "going forward costs" and the projected sales revenue, by selling "zero emissions credits," or ZECs, to utilities and electricity retailers in the state.
  • The utilities and other retailers would be required to buy credits according to their proportion of the state's total electricity consumption. That is, if a utility's customers represent 10% of total electricity consumption in New York, then the utility would have to buy 10% of the total number of ZECs.

Keep in mind, New York still wants to close the two reactors Indian Point. The subsidy would, ostensibly, only apply to the four reactors in Central and Western New York, on the shore of Lake Ontario: FitzPatrick, owned by Entergy, the same company as Indian Point; and Ginna, Nine Mile Point 1 and Nine Mile Point 2, owned 50-50 by Exelon and Électricité de France (EdF), the American and French nuclear giants. (Well, technically, Nine Mile 2 is still 18%-owned by the Long Island Power Authority, but Exelon and EdF control the other 82%.)

Entergy says the subsidy is too little too late to keep FitzPatrick from closing at the end of the year, and is promising to fight to have Indian Point included in the subsidy scheme. If the company wins, it could be a lose-lose-lose for the state: New Yorkers get socked with higher electric bills to subsidize old, dangerous, and dirty reactors; the state loses its fight to close Indian Point by subsidizing all of the equipment upgrades the reactors need to maintain their water permits; and there would be less money and market share to invest in long-term emissions reductions by expanding renewable energy and efficiency.

The New York subsidy would be essentially a blank check: the only cost control would be the Public Service Commission's review of the reactors' projected operating costs each year. Even if Exelon and Entergy didn't fudge the numbers, if the costs of the reactors continue to go up more than energy prices do, so would the subsidies.

At the same time, there is nothing to prevent reactors from closing if their owners decide they just aren't making enough money. And in that case, the subsidies would have been a huge waste of ratepayer dollars: a corporate giveaway for however long Exelon and Entergy were willing to take it, while generating more nuclear waste, risking nuclear accidents, and diverting ratepayer dollars from efficiency, renewables and long-term investments in emissions reductions. In addition, Exelon has already indicated it believes the state will have to provide an additional incentive to continue running uneconomical reactors: a guaranteed profit margin, over and above the operating costs. Read, even greater subsidies.

Whether now or later, New York is going to need to ramp up efficiency and renewables enough to take nuclear's place. Since Ginna and FitzPatrick are already poised to close because they are no longer economical or competitive, why not just let them shut down and invest the resources in cheaper renewables and efficiency that will be needed to reduce emissions in the long run, anyway?

As we showed in a report we published last fall (see Nuclear Monitor #813), renewables and efficiency are so much cheaper than nuclear that New Yorkers could do more than replace FitzPatrick and Ginna: for the same cost as the reactors, New York could develop even more renewables and efficiency, close additional fossil fuel power plants, reduce total carbon emissions, keep nuclear workers employed, and provide a just transition for the reactor communities. That's the path Gov. Cuomo should choose. To pave the way to a real clean energy future, one in which we have good jobs, live in healthy communities, and our children are safe.

Indian Point 1

Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

USA: Fukushima Freeways

Thousands of intensely radioactive nuclear waste shipments would cross U.S. roads, rails and waterways if plans for the country's first, and scientifically indefensible, nuclear waste repository in Nevada move forward. On October 27 the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS) released maps of the likely routes radioactive shipments would use, joining dozens of environmental and clean energy groups across the country. The groups want residents to weigh in with Congress and decision-makers about the dangers.

Department of Energy studies completed in the 1990s confirmed that accidents in transporting the waste to Yucca Mountain would be a near certainty, due to the large number of shipments that would be required. The shipments would also be vulnerable to attack or sabotage along the hundreds or thousands of miles that each cask would travel.

Some in Congress want to force a nuclear waste dump to open in Nevada, over President Obama's and the state's objections as well as that of the Western Shoshone Nation. The president has defunded the proposed Yucca Mountain repository since 2010, effectively abandoning the controversial project, while Nevada is certain that the site is not suitable for storing nuclear waste and opposes the project. Nevada controls land and water rights the federal government would need to complete the project. To overcome that obstacle, Congress would need to enact a law overriding the state's rights. Doing so would then open the door for the nuclear waste shipments to begin.

"Congress should stop wasting time and money on Yucca Mountain which should have been disqualified long ago for its technical inability to isolate nuclear waste," said Tim Judson, NIRS Executive Director.

Large-scale nuclear waste transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a "centralized interim storage" site for high-level radioactive waste were created. In that case, the waste would either have to move twice (once to the interim site, and then to a permanent site), thus doubling the risks or the "interim" site would become a de facto permanent waste dump--without going through the necessary scientific characterization.

The Stop Fukushima Freeways website has a wealth of information about the issues and risks associated with nuclear waste transportation:

Ukraine court rules against nuclear safety activists in defamation case

On October 29 a court in Kiev ruled against activists from the National Centre of Ukraine (NECU) in a defamation case. The lawsuit by the state's nuclear company Energoatom suppresses public debate about the risks of Ukraine's outdated reactors − a debate that must also be held in neighbouring countries affected by the risks of the plants continuing operation.

The lawsuit referred to a press release from 15 May 2015 in which NECU reported on the state nuclear regulator's decision to shut down the nuclear unit once it reached its design lifetime because the insufficient safety standards at the time did not allow prolonged operation.

"Nuclear safety is one of the pressing issues facing Ukraine. But today's court ruling makes clear that the state can guarantee neither nuclear safety nor public debate," said Iryna Holovko, Bankwatch's national campaigner in Ukraine.

Despite the case attracting international attention, the Ukrainian government appears keen to block the public debate, not only at home but also abroad. International treaties oblige Ukraine to launch environmental impact assessment and public consultations in neighbouring countries before extending the lifetime of the Soviet-era reactors. The European Commission has acknowledged this requirement, and the authorities in at least three neighbouring EU countries have already approached their Ukrainian counterparts on the matter, but Kiev so far refuses to cooperate. Neighbouring governments and the European Union have already expressed their wish to be involved in decisions about Ukraine's zombie reactors (

The court ruling will not stop NECU from campaigning for an open discussion and a proper assessments of the risks. Please help us by telling others what is happening right now on Europe's doorstep and share the message on Facebook ( and signing up for email campaign updates ( or

− Sven Haertig-Tokarz, Bankwatch

More information:

USA: Two more reactor shut downs

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

An analysis released on October 22 shows that if the FitzPatrick nuclear reactor in New York is shut down, the plant's entire output could be replaced with energy efficiency retrofits and wind power for less money, leaving extra funds free to lower electricity rates or develop even more renewables to replace fossil fuels.1

The analysis is timely: Entergy announced on November 2 that the loss-making reactor will be shut down in late 2016 or early 2017.2

The key findings of the White Paper, co-authored by Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE) and the Nuclear Information & Resources Service (NIRS), include:

  • FitzPatrick's electricity generation could be replaced with energy efficiency and wind at less than the current cost of electricity from the nuclear plant.
  • Diverting all of FitzPatrick's revenue to clean energy could result in additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to a 264 MW coal plant or 330 MW combined cycle natural gas plant.
  • Replacing FitzPatrick with efficiency and wind could create more than twice the number of jobs (1400) currently provided by Entergy at FitzPatrick (600).
  • Municipalities and workers affected by FitzPatrick's closure could be supported through the economic transition for a lower cost than subsidizing FitzPatrick, if the state proactively negotiates with Entergy for a responsible and immediate decommissioning.

NIRS Executive Director Tim Judson said: "Aging reactors like FitzPatrick are becoming uneconomical and uncompetitive, even as they are becoming less safe and reliable. Raising costs on electricity customers to keep FitzPatrick from closing would be enormously expensive, and could cause negative economic impacts throughout the region. Our analysis shows FitzPatrick can be replaced with renewable energy and efficiency, at a lower cost than current electricity prices, without subsidies. And it doesn't need to stop there. More fossil fuel and nuclear power plants could be replaced the same way. New York has an enormous opportunity to become a leader in the clean energy economy, build new industries, and create employment both in Oswego and throughout the upstate region."

Local elected officials and supporters of FitzPatrick have been rallying to try to save FitzPatrick. In letters to the Governor and to the Public Service Commission, they are calling for a subsidy like the one proposed for the Ginna reactor in neighboring Wayne County (which is currently estimated at about US$70 million a year), or a change to market rules to favor nuclear power over other energy sources. Either way, consumers would likely foot the bill if the state were to decide to subsidize the reactor. AGREE and NIRS conservatively predict that subsidy could cost National Grid customers at least US$40 million a year, totaling at least US$760 million if FitzPatrick operated that way until 2034, when its operating license expires.

A petition to shut FitzPatrick, pursue renewables, and provide for a just transition for workers and local communities has been launched by AGREE and can be found at

Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts

On October 13, Entergy announced that the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts − which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had downgraded to one of the worst performing reactors in the country − will close in or before 2019.

Michael Mariotte from NIRS wrote on the blog:3

"A generation or so ago, New England was one of the most nuclear-dependent regions in the nation. If one defines New England as including New York, then that relatively small corner of the U.S. map was home to 15 commercial nuclear reactors 25 years ago − only the state of Illinois had a more concentrated nuclear presence; regionally, no other area is even close to that concentration on a square-mile basis.

"Today, New England is leading the nation away from nuclear power, and toward the energy efficient, renewables-powered system of the 21st century. The news from Entergy that it will close its Pilgrim reactor by mid-2019 – and probably a whole lot sooner – is just the latest manifestation of that process, and it's a process that is accelerating.

"It is probably not a coincidence that for the past 25 years, New England has been home to the most active anti-nuclear movement in the U.S. The shutdowns started with Yankee Rowe in 1992, which wanted to become the first reactor in the U.S. to receive a 20-year license extension and instead closed for good when Citizens Awareness Network proved it was too unsafe to operate. Then came Millstone-1, followed by Connecticut Yankee and Maine Yankee in 1996. Last year, it was Vermont Yankee that ended operations.

"In Pilgrim's case, Entergy admits it is losing US$10−40 million (and think the higher figure) per year just trying to run that obsolete Fukushima-clone reactor. And actually trying to bring Pilgrim up to basic Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety standards, which it does not meet − the NRC has rated Pilgrim and two other Entergy reactors in Arkansas as the worst in the nation − would cost many millions more. So for Entergy, the decision was easy: cut its losses now, and avoid spending money to make the safety improvements."


1. AGREE and NIRS, 22 Oct 2015, 'Replacing FitzPatrick: How the Closure of a Nuclear Reactor can Reduce Greenhouse Gasses and Radioactive Waste, while Creating Jobs and Supporting the Local Community',


3. Michael Mariotte, 13 Oct 2015,

Fires and radioactive waste

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green

In the last issue of the Nuclear Monitor we reported on the smoldering underground fire that has come within 350−400 metres of a radioactive waste dump, the West Lake Landfill, in the U.S. state of Missouri. The site has been in the news again with an above-ground brush fire on October 24, started by a faulty switch inside the landfill's perimeter. The fire was doused before it reached the area containing radioactive waste. The EPA sent a letter reprimanding site operator Republic Services for the incident.1

On October 26, about 300 local residents attended a 'Community Advisory Group' meeting to discuss the West Lake Landfill smoldering fire (which has been burning since 2010) and the October 24 fire. Many are sceptical about the reassurances provided by government and company representatives. "I'm scared," said Darlene Hartman, a life-long resident. "You try to eat healthy, you try to be good citizens. And you don't know who to trust."2

Nevada fire

On October 18, a fire broke out at a radioactive waste dump in southern Nevada. The fire followed flash flooding that shut down the town's escape routes: U.S. 95 and Highway 373. County officials and law enforcement agencies declared an emergency. The site, operated by U.S. Ecology, is home to 22 low-level radioactive waste storage trenches that range in size from shallow holes to chasms hundreds of feet deep and wide as football fields.3

Associated Press reported on October 25:4

"The operator of a closed radioactive waste dump that caught fire in southern Nevada last weekend was troubled over the years by leaky shipments and oversight so lax that employees took contaminated tools and building materials home, according to state and federal records.

"A soundless 40-second video turned over by the firm, U.S. Ecology, to state officials showed bursts of white smoke and dirt flying from several explosions on 18 October from the dump in the brown desert, about 110 miles north-west of Las Vegas.

"In the 1970s, the company had its license suspended for mishandling shipments – about the same time state officials say the material that exploded and burned last weekend was accepted and buried.

"Nevada now has ownership and oversight of the property, which opened in 1962 near Beatty as the nation's first federally licensed low-level radioactive waste dump. It closed in 1992. State officials said this week they did not immediately know what blew up.

"A state fire inspector, Martin Azevedo, surveyed the site on Wednesday. His report, obtained on Friday by the Associated Press, described moisture in the pit and "heavily corroded" 55-gallon drums in and around the 20ft-by-30ft crater. Debris from the blast spread 190ft. Two drums were found outside the fence line. ...

"In 1979, the then Nevada governor Robert List ordered the Beatty low-level waste facility shut down and launched an investigation after a radioactive cargo fire on a truck parked on U.S. Highway 95, at the facility gate.

"The fire came three years after employees were dismissed for stealing radioactive building materials, tools and even a portable cement mixer, according to a 1994 report prepared by the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

"Operations at Beatty resumed "only after assurance was given by the federal government that the rules governing shipments … would be enforced," according to the Idaho lab report.

"List expressed doubt that anyone will ever know what is really underground at the site. 'Good luck with that," he said. "What we found when we did our investigation was they had very, very skimpy records about what was there.'"

The Nevada Department of Public Safety said in an October 19 statement that high altitude and intermediate altitude testing resulted in negative readings for radiation.
The Department said it would initiate an investigation to determine the cause of the fire.5

WIPP fire

The underground chemical explosion at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Nevada on 14 February 2014 has generated huge public and media interest ... so much so that a fire that occurred nine days earlier has been all but forgotten.6 A truck hauling salt caught fire on 5 February 2014. The fire consumed the driver's compartment and the truck's large front tires. Six workers were treated at the Carlsbad hospital for smoke inhalation, another seven were treated at the site, and 86 workers were evacuated.

A March 2014 report by the Department of Energy's Accident Investigation Board blamed Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the contractor that operates the WIPP site. The Accident Investigation Board said the root cause of the fire was NWP's "failure to adequately recognize and mitigate the hazard regarding a fire in the underground. This includes recognition and removal of the buildup of combustibles through inspections, and periodic preventative maintenance, e.g., cleaning and the decision to deactivate the automatic onboard fire suppression system."7

In 2011, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent advisory board, reported that WIPP "does not adequately address the fire hazards and risks associated with underground operations."8

Spent fuel pools and reactors

Fire could result in a catastrophic accident if it compromised spent nuclear fuel pools. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff calculated that if even a small fraction of the inventory of a Peach Bottom reactor pool were released to the environment, an average area of 9,400 square miles (24,300 square kilometers) would be rendered uninhabitable, and that 4.1 million people would be displaced over the long-term.9

Reactors are also at risk. The Union of Concerned Scientists noted in a 2013 paper: "Fire poses significant risk to nuclear power plant safety. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimates that the risk of reactor meltdown from fire hazards is roughly equal to the meltdown risk from all other hazards combined − even assuming that plants comply with fire protection regulations, which many do not. Because of this risk, the NRC established a set of fire safety regulations for nuclear plants in 1980 and an alternate set in 2004. However, today − more than 30 years after those regulations went into effect − nearly half of U.S. operating nuclear reactors do not comply with either set of regulations.10

A report found that there were around 100 fire incidents at nuclear sites in France in 2011 − reactors, reprocessing plants and other nuclear sites. The dangers must be "taken very seriously", said Jean-Christophe Niel, managing director of national nuclear safety regulator ASN. About 10 of the 100 fires were considered significant in terms of nuclear safety, Niel said.11

A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Energy details many of the interconnections between climate change and energy. It noted that power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from wildfires that are growing more frequent and intense.12

Peaceful nuclear explosions

The nexus between fire and nukes is an altogether unhappy one. If there is an exception, it is this unlikely yarn about 'peaceful nuclear explosions' from the science and culture blog io9:13

"All in all, nuclear civil projects were a massive mistake. There was one use, though, that seemed to work. The Soviet Union tried it several times, and actually had some success: it turns out nuclear bombs are great ways to put out fires. That's not as unimpressive as it sounds! Underground fuel reserves are vast stores of combustible material that cannot be reached by human firefighters, but can quite merrily burn. Coal, peat, and gas fires can burn for decades. Centralia, Pennsylvania had a coal seam that caught fire in 1962 and is still burning. The Urtabulak gas field caught fire in 1963. It burned steadily for three years. In 1966, the Soviet Union decided to do something about that.

"The gas fire was ventilated by the holes that had been drilled to harvest the gas; if the holes could all be sealed shut, the fire would go out. Naturally, no one could go into a vast gas fire to shovel earth into a deep hole. Geologists and physicists calculated that a nuclear explosion equal to about 30 kilotons of TNT could seal shut every hole within about 50 meters. The rock would basically melt over the fire. In the fall of 1966, a special nuclear bomb was detonated in one of the holes, and fire was out in 23 seconds.

"But if it's not one thing, it's another. Within a few months of that fire going out, a new fire, in another gas field, erupted. In 1968, the Soviets dropped a bomb into that one. This took longer. For a few days, rock and other earth flowed into the holes, but eventually it worked. The fire went out. In 1972, another well was sealed off after it caught fire. The last known attempt at sealing a gas fire with a nuclear weapon was done in 1981, and it did not work out. The scientists couldn't get accurate data on the location of the vents in the well. The bomb went off, but the well never entirely sealed shut."

Finally, if there is a nukes-and-fire story more bizarre than the use of 'peaceful nuclear explosions' to put out underground gas fires, it involves U.S. shipyard worker Casey James Fury, who in May 2012 was having problems with his ex-girlfriend and wanted to leave work early. So, naturally, he set fire to a nuclear submarine. The USS Miami sustained US$450 million damage in the blaze, and Fury was given a 17-year jail sentence.14




3. Kyle Roerink, 20 Oct 2015, 'Beatty residents call for transparency after nuclear fire',

4. Associated Press, 25 Oct 2015, 'Radioactive waste dump fire reveals Nevada site's troubled past',

5. Nevada Department of Public Safety, 19 Oct 2015, 'Media Release: Update on the U.S. Ecology Industrial Fire in Nye County',

6 June 2014, 'Fire and leaks at the world's only deep geological waste repository', Nuclear Monitor #787,




10. Union of Concerned Scientists, June 2013, 'NRC's Failure to Enforce

Reactor Fire Regulations',

11. Platts, 28 Aug 2013, 'French nuclear power plants must improve fire safety measures: regulator',

12. U.S. Department of Energy, July 2013, 'U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather',

13. Esther Inglis-Arkell, 27 March 2015, 'How To Fight Fire With Nuclear Bombs',

14. Daily Mail, 8 Aug 2013, 'Nuclear submarine set alight by worker who wanted to go home early will be scrapped because of military budget cuts',

Fire threatens radioactive dump in Missouri, USA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

A radioactive waste dump in Missouri, USA, is under threat from an underground fire. The fire at Bridgeton Landfill, near St. Louis, is as close as 350−400 metres from the West Lake Landfill. The West Lake facility was contaminated with radioactive waste from uranium processing. The waste was illegally dumped in 1973 and includes material that dates back to the Manhattan Project.1,2

The cause of the fire is unknown. It has been burning since 2010. The issue has received media attention recently because of the release of a St Louis County emergency plan.3

The emergency plan states that if the underground fire reaches the waste, "there is a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region." The plan calls for evacuations and the development of emergency shelters, both in St. Louis County and neighbouring St. Charles County.

Last month, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he was troubled by new reports about the site. One found radiological contamination in trees outside the landfill's perimeter. Another showed evidence that the fire has moved past two rows of interceptor wells and closer to the radioactive waste. Koster said the reports were evidence that Republic Services, operator of both the Bridgeton Landfill and the West Lake Landfill, "does not have this site under control."4

Four school districts near the radioactive West Lake Landfill recently sent letters to parents explaining their plans for a potential emergency at the site. "We remain frustrated by the situation at the landfill," wrote Mike Fulton, superintendent of the Pattonville School District. Rhonda Marsala, a local who has two children at nearby schools, said: "We prepare our kids for tornadoes, fire drills, intruder alerts, but how do you prepare them for something like this? The fact that these young children know about it, and they have anxiety over it, it's very unfair to them."5

The state of Missouri is taking legal action against Republic Services, initiated in 2013, alleging negligent management and violation of state environmental laws. The suit is set for trial in March 2016.4

Missouri Coalition for the Environment wants the radioactive waste removed, saying that the EPA's 2008 decision to "cap and leave" means the wastes will remain a constant threat to drinking water, public health, and the environment.6

The 'Just Moms St Louis' group wants responsibility for the site passed from the EPA to the US Army Corps of Engineers and for it to be managed under its 'Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program'.7 That call has also been made by St. Louis-area members of Congress and both of Missouri's U.S. senators.2

Underground smouldering is common, especially in abandoned coal mines. At least 98 underground mine fires in nine states were burning in 2013, according to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Perhaps the most notorious was the fire that began in 1962 and burned near and beneath the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, for more than 50 years. Only a few people remain in a town that once had 1,000 residents.1


1. 10 Oct 2015, 'Underground fire outside St. Louis has burned since 2010, nears nuclear waste dump',

2. Editorial Board, 10 Oct 2015, 'Editorial: Help residents near West Lake and Bridgeton landfills breathe easy',

3. St Louis County, Oct 2014, West Lake Landfill Shelter in Place / Evacuation Plan,

See also Kevin Killeen, 5 Oct 2015, 'St. Louis County Releases Disaster Plan for West Lake Landfill',

4. Attorney General's Office, 3 Sept 2015, 'AG Koster releases new expert reports concluding radiation and other pollutants have migrated off-site at Bridgeton Landfill',

5. Blythe Bernhard, Oct 2015, 'School districts prepare for West Lake Landfill emergency',



More information:

Missouri Coalition for the Environment:

Just Moms St Louis:


Mainstreaming the nuclear exit

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

It's no great revelation to say that the mainstream media, fractured though it may be these days, holds great power. It's not direct power; the media can't make actual decisions. Rather, the media grabs a theme − a meme if you want − and holds on to it, and repeats it, and provides slight twists to it so it can be repeated again, until it becomes accepted wisdom. While the media, especially the mainstream media, is often behind the curve, behind reality, once it catches up and snares and spreads that meme, it doesn't take long for it to establish itself. And once a concept becomes accepted wisdom, then the actual decisions tend to follow in unison. As a group, politicians rarely stray far from accepted wisdom.

For many years, from the 1950s through the '70s, the accepted wisdom was that nuclear power was safe, advanced, and a great asset to society. Then reality crashed the party with Three Mile Island and the nation's most trusted person Walter Cronkite's terrifying (although incorrect) statement that radiation was coming through the walls of the containment building, and the accepted wisdom began to turn away from nuclear power; Chernobyl was too distant in both distance and political structure to end the industry entirely, but it was icing on the cake. And thus nuclear power began a period of decline that reached a nadir in 2000 when there was not a single reactor under construction anywhere in the western world.

But then, the media − which loves a man bites dog story − latched onto the idea pitched by nuclear PR flacks and backed by a couple dozen (in retrospect, mostly bogus) construction application licenses, that a nuclear "renaissance" was in full swing. Once again, nuclear was not only acceptable, it was a preferred energy source, free of carbon emissions. That notion − and forced payment from ratepayers by Public Service Commissions more supportive of industry than those same ratepayers − was enough to get the construction cranes set up at Vogtle and Summer at least. Limited reactor construction also resumed in Europe, and China joined the pack too.

Reality showed its cruel face again, however, as costs for those reactors spiraled upward and construction schedules indicated that for each month of construction, the utilities gained nothing − they were still the same amount of months away from completion. Adding to the crush of the "renaissance" was Fukushima, which brought the legitimate fears of the nuclear age to a new generation.

While the "renaissance" fizzled, at least the industry could take comfort in the fact that it could continue to rely on, and make money from, its large number of paid-off reactors. Except as those reactors aged and as they confronted new costs from required Fukushima-related upgrades (although those have been extremely modest, especially in the U.S.), their operating and maintenance costs increased. Even more importantly, the costs of competing electricity generation sources plummeted at the same time. The result was an ever-increasing number of existing reactors are either now losing money or on the verge of doing so.

And the mainstream media has finally picked up on that reality: that it's not just that nuclear reactors have safety issues and radioactive waste problems and the like but that nuclear power can no longer compete with the alternatives. Moreover, the changes in energy costs that cause that reality are not only making nuclear power obsolete, they are making the entire utility system and its reliance on baseload power obsolete. And the more that reality is repeated and becomes accepted wisdom, the more real decisions reflect that.

Thus, you get the EPA's Clean Power Plan dropping its intent to prop up existing reactors. The EPA's Gina McCarthy may still be giving lip service to the nuclear industry1, but where it counted the EPA did what clean energy advocates wanted, not the nuclear industry.

That's one example of a real decision.

So was the Washington DC Public Service Commission's scuttling of the proposed Exelon takeover of Pepco. Behind that decision was sincere concern both about Exelon's reliance on a failing fleet of nuclear reactors and its hostility to renewables. Exelon is now trying to sweeten the deal2 but what it doesn't seem to understand is that its roadblock is Exelon itself − perhaps the epitome of the utility of the past.

Recently there have been a plethora of articles picking up the same theme: alternatives to nuclear are cheaper than existing reactors, and that means big changes ahead for the entire utility industry.

Consider this passage from an article in U.S. News, once the most staid and Republican of the three big weekly news-magazines: "Cheap natural gas, together with plummeting prices for wind and solar, has upended the energy sector – not only making nuclear plants' huge upfront costs, endless regulatory approvals and years-long construction especially prohibitive, but undercutting the very idea of a centralized power system."3

That's exactly the kind of sentence that sparks nightmares in utility suites, especially those most dependent on nuclear and coal power.

The previous accepted wisdom, that if nothing else nuclear reactors are "carbon-free" or nearly so, and that closing them would mean giving up on fighting climate change, is also beginning to bow to reality. Because while cheap and dirty gas is indeed a competitor today, in the longer run (and not much longer), the real competition is clean renewables.

A piece from Politico − about as mainstream as it gets − focused on the perspective of a UBS analyst on Entergy's troubled Fitzpatrick and Ginna reactors. Consider how this article ended:

"The loss of the Ginna plant alone could drive the state's air emissions up 7 percent, that earlier analysis found. Losing another plant, or possibly two, will make it harder to meet tough new federal pollution standards. However, to offset the loss of New York's nuclear facilities, the state could place increasing emphasis on growing the renewable industry. 'If retirements move forward as contemplated, we see a real corresponding uplift to the renewable industry as this becomes the growing source of 'plugging' for any further holes in meeting prospective carbon targets,' he wrote."4

In other words, we don't need to worry that carbon reduction goals can't be met if reactors like Ginna close. Renewables will take their place, and will do so quickly. Indeed, the shutdown of reactors actually opens up the market for a deluge of new renewables.

There were other articles with a similar bent − one from Motley Fool, for example. The mainstream media have finally caught on. It's not just GreenWorld and a few other clean energy blogs anymore. Nuclear power can't compete. Moreover, there is no downside to that. In fact, it's all upside. Closing reactors will hasten the clean energy future and the transformation of electric utilities generally.

The long-sought phase-out of nuclear power began in 2013. It's taken a short break since then, but it's about to resume (indeed it has resumed with Entergy's October 13 announcement that the single-reactor Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts will close by mid-2019). Over the next 18 months or so, state legislatures and regulatory bodies will be making decisions about bailing out a host of troubled reactors. But for the nuclear industry, those decisions are coming too late. Their timing couldn't be much worse. It's not just that bailing out big baseload reactors (and old coal plants for that matter) no longer makes economic sense, it's that the very existence of those obsolete reactors stands in the way of clean energy expansion. Understanding that, and for politicians knowing that it is accepted wisdom, makes the decisions very easy.






US NRC drops cancer study. Does it matter?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has abruptly ended a study1 that it had commissioned from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that was purportedly being set up to determine whether cancer rates near nuclear reactors are higher than elsewhere and thus, supposedly, whether there is reason to be concerned about routine reactor operation.

Well, we actually already know the answer to that question. Studies from Europe show that cancer rates, especially among children, are definitely higher near nuclear power facilities.2 The biggest culprit appears to be refueling of reactors − an operation necessary every 12-18 months depending on the particular reactor's cycle. When the top is taken off the reactor vessel to allow access to the core, and extraordinarily radioactive fuel rods are taken out of the core and moved to fuel pools, extremely high levels of radiation are freed from the reactor vessel. And some of that radiation does manage to get out into the environment.

Reactor containments are robust buildings, but they're not as solid as perhaps they look. There are large numbers of penetrations − places where pipes and electrical wires come in and out of the building − that provide a much easier escape route for radiation than through several feet of concrete. That radiation is, of course, toxic. And the European studies show that it kills.

Reaction to the NRC's announcement, even among clean energy groups, has been widely varied. Beyond Nuclear was outraged. The Radiation and Public Health Project said it was a good thing, since any study by the NRC would be set up to show nothing.

And indeed, the NRC certainly prefers studies designed to show nothing. With the cancellation of the NAS study, the NRC says it is back to relying on a 1990 study that was deliberately designed to show nothing. For instance, that study looked only at cancer fatalities, not incidence, thus potentially downplaying real health effects.

That study also looked at county-wide data, rather than focusing on areas closest to the reactor and areas where the predominant winds blow. And it counted the cancers based on where they were treated, rather than where they occurred. All of which was, deliberately I'd argue, intended to bury actual effects under many layers of statistical white noise and static.

The question is whether the new study would have been any better. And the involvement of NAS does lead to some skepticism in that regard. While NAS' BEIR-VII study on radiation did confirm, as radiation researchers had long averred, that there is no "safe" level of radiation exposure, the nuclear industry has been able to stack other NAS panels on nuclear issues with its own cherry-picked apologists. And there was little evidence, despite the efforts of Beyond Nuclear and others to help choose participants and define study parameters, that this study was going to be set up − as the European studies were to a larger degree − to get past statistical noise and find anything if it's there.

And, if it were, it seemed likely to us that the NRC would either a) disavow it or b) end it before completion. Seriously, did anyone really think the NRC would pay for and release a study showing health effects from nuclear power?

Since b) is exactly what happened, however, it's hard not to suspect that even the preliminary results (the study had completed Phase I of three phases) were so explosive that the NRC felt it had to end the study before it really even got off the ground.

That suspicion is only amplified by the NRC's pathetic rationale for ending the study: that it was too expensive and would take too long.

Too expensive? It would have cost only US$8 million to complete Phase 2 of the study3, which was to entail a detailed examination of the areas around seven reactor sites. Phase 3, involving all of the remaining 50 or so sites, would have cost about US$60 million and taken 8-10 years. So, that's US$6 million/year for an agency with a budget of about US$1 billion.

Too expensive? That excuse is simply laughable. And too long? Well, yes, 8-10 years for full completion is a long time. On the other hand, it's been 25 years since the last, hysterically-deficient study; another few years doesn't seem like such a terrible burden, especially since it could have been conducted faster with more money spent per year. Even US$12 million/year doesn't seem far-fetched considering the NRC's budget. Moreover, the seven-site Phase 2 of the study might have done the job on its own. Especially to answer a question that is rather fundamental: are the facilities the NRC is spending that US$1 billion/year regulating killing Americans?

Even though we already know the answer to the question; which, again, is yes, these facilities are killing Americans. We know that because of European studies that were properly conducted. The problem, and the real reason the NRC killed the study, is that most Americans − including their elected officials − don't know that the question already has been answered affirmatively. European studies of cancer around nuclear power plants don't get much media attention in the U.S. But a U.S. study, paid for by a U.S. government agency and conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences? A study like that, that found anything at all, would be big news.

That would be news too big for the NRC to handle. So the agency once again chose the interests of its real constituents − nuclear power utilities − above the interests of the public it is supposed to serve. The NRC felt that this time it couldn't take the chance that it could ensure the study would be designed intentionally to find nothing, and thus − afraid the study might find something − the NRC decided some bad publicity now (as in an excellent editorial4 from the Asbury Park Press) over killing the study beat a lot of potentially worse publicity later if the public learned that yes, they and their children are in danger of dying because they live near nuclear facilities.

After all, the public outcry from that kind of publicity might lead to the NRC quickly having nothing left to regulate.

Still, it has to be said that no study at all would be preferable to the kind of study the NRC wanted. Another deliberately-designed whitewash would be even worse than the status quo. The danger is that if the backlash now causes the NRC to reconsider, but demand its own changes to the parameters, whitewash is exactly what we'd get. Caveat emptor: be careful what you ask for. Especially from an agency, like the NRC, that has powerful reasons not to uncover the truth.