CEC Nuclear Workshops reveals strategic flaws in Nuclear Power Industry plans

CEC Nuclear Workshops reveals strategic flaws in Nuclear Power Industry

June 28th 2007

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has just completed a two day
workshop on the potential future of nuclear power in Californa.  The
CEC Nuclear Power workshop was part of the Integrated Energy Policy
Report Committee (IEPR) ongoing energy review
for the state. During the workshop the state’s major utilities stated
that they are now interested in developing nuclear power.

The hearings are in addition to the CEC’s report: Nuclear
Power in California: Status Report 2007

The workshops which were webcast by the CEC included extensive power
point Presentations.

For anyone wanting to review an extensive array of arguments both for
and against nuclear power in California and the U.S. here’s one of the
most authoritative resources you will find!

One of the most enlightening presentations was made by Joe Turnage of
Constellation Energy, the parent of Unistar Nuclear. Constellation
Energy is currently talking with the Fresno Chamber of Commerce and a
Fresno a business group with plans to construct a nuclear power
facility in California. Constellation is a $15 billion business
operation that has recently partnered with the French company Areva as
well as Bechtel. The partnership with Areva was initiated after passage
of the republican led 2005 Energy Act.  That act gave the U.S. industry
the financial resources and incentive to launch a nationwide campaign
to finance and build a new generation of nuclear reactors. 

In Mr. Turnage’s presentation before the CEC, he laid out the six
primary issues that were needed for the nuclear industry to proceed:

1. New Rulemakings that would streamline the costs and time it takes to
license new reactors;

2. Federal and State financing beyond the blanket loan guarantees that
the 2005 Energy gave utilities;

3. Continued promotion of nuclear power with the public. Current
numbers show opinion is nearly split nationwide; Claims were made that
nuclear support was strongest in communities where reactors currently
reside and make up huge tax benefits;

4. New labor training and education programs would need to be put in
place in creating the qualified work force to design and construct the
new reactors;

5. Infrastructure problems include a lack of the necessary
manufacturing base in the U.S. to produce some of the critical parts
that would be required in the new “standardized” reactor designs;

6. Fuel Cycle solutions, primarily the Yucca Mt. repository in Nevada,
but certainly not limited to Yucca alone.

It was acknowledged that the recent CFR
report in April as well as a study published in the Congressional
in mid June indicated that the new push for nuclear has
serious problems.

This new “nuclear pushers” will eventually have to admit that nuclear
isn’t “The Solution” for global warming being trumpeted by the
industry. It is very clear that the public must become far better
informed than it currently is so that it understands that much of the
global warming problem isn’t an electricity problem, but is also
related to industrial and transportation issues that also have sweeping
implications for the way the U.S. and the rest of the world is
conducting itself.

If the Bush led nuclear push is successful, it would be just barely
keep the industry from becoming even less of the current energy mix
than it currently is. 

The serious concerns over a new nuclear cold war, which is directly
linked to such political actions against Iran and other perceived
enemies like Russia has made the world highly distrustful of U.S.
foreign policy and particular the Bush Administration. Proliferation
issues in the proposed new generation of reactors have already made the
Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership a less than
positive option, with congress cutting funding Bush wanted by nearly
80% for next year. The Bush administration has been sending DOE
secretary Bodman around the world to promote the GNEP, offering
financial incentives as well as technology partnerships with all of the
major nuclear construction firms in the world.

In a dramatic claim, industry proponents made the claim that dry cask
storage options being implemented at reactors sites in California have
become the de facto solution for high level waste, and thus open the
current 1976 moratorium on more construction of reactors.  The Fresno
group, after failing to garner support in April to get a bill passed by
the state to overturn the 1976 moratorium is clearly looking at both
legal and possibly a statewide initiative drive to reverse the current
block.  Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made a similar attempt in 1983
before the U.S. Supreme Court but failed. There are clear concerns
that  the now conservative court may be willing to rehear the issue.

The attempts to build new reactors in California is clearly unpopular
at this time and will remain so across the state due to the seismic
issues that led to the 25 year long battle over construction, licensing
and financing of the Diablo Canyon facility near San Luis Obispo.
Recent attempts to relicense the reactor has run into a new campaign by
opponents, including a Supreme Court victory earlier this year, forcing
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include concerns over terrorist
attacks, which has been purposely ignored by the NRC. California’s
operating reactors are currently situated along the coast to take
advantage of the Pacific Ocean, for the billion gallons a day required
to cool each reactor. The state’s major nuclear utilities have been hit
with severe legal claims over lies and contamination to pelagic life
near the reactors in the past.

In 2003, there was an intense heat wave and drought in France that led
to the death of over 14,800 people.  During the crisis the French
government was forced to shutdown or reduce power to 17 of the
country’s nuclear power facilities, dramatically increasing the crisis,
in terms of keeping the public properly supplied with electricity and
the necessary cooling that could have come from fans or air

The city of Fresno’s attempt to place a reactor along the state’s Peripheral Canal, claiming that it could find and utilize
one million gallons of wastewater to cool the reactors does not take
into account the impacts of future drought conditions. Situating a
billion gallon a day water vampire along the most important north-south
water supply could be a recipe for disaster as water supplies continue
to become a growing development issue.

Industry spokes people had to acknowledge that the billions of dollars
the republican congress handed out in 2005 in tax breaks, loan
guarantees, insurance caps, and direct subsidies was not enough. They
were also forced into what, for most veterans of the nuclear debate, 
is the classic upward trend of costs. The construction costs of a
Finnish EPR reactor which is the preferred Areva reactor design has
jumped nearly 25% since 2005. With the costs of steel and concrete
going up, the costs of such large base load facilities could very well
become overwhelming once one of the these huge projects starts as was
seen when California embarked on building a new bridge in San Francisco
or with Bechtel’s underground construction project in Boston.

Several states who have already committed to constructing new reactors
have already passed legislation known as Construction Work in Progress,
which guarantees that ratepayers cover a substantial portion of the
construction costs of the new facility, whatever those costs may be.
The utility industry has already been given a streamlined legal process
by the 1992 Energy Policy Act. This is clearly not enough, as they are
demanding even further concessions from the government over restricting
any kind of public concerns. 

With most of the corporate media behind the current push, there will be
no “Big Picture” of what these new economic realities that face
ratepayers nationwide. No debate, long winded discussion taking more
than a few minutes of prime time debate.  Even the stars of the
corporate media that have been setup as the “antinuclear” side, NRDC
have come out with concerns about the unfairness of how federal monies
are being skewed towards the nuclear option, not to mention the above
mentioned proliferation issue with Bush’s GNEP push.

In conclusion, there will be new attempts to extract even larger
economic resources from both federal and state lawmakers to make
nuclear power palatable to the giant banking and construction companies
that are now seeing the potential to make billions in profits from the
nuclear agenda.  The CEC workshop laid out the battles that will come. 
It will be up to activists and the environmental community to educate
the public and the coming federal and state lawmakers about what is
coming and why we shouldn’t let an industry who wants to take another
crack at the publics’ pocketbook should be allowed to create an even
bigger disaster than they did last time. Let us not forget that Forbes
Magazine called the nuclear industry the largest financial disaster in
U.S. history in February 1984.

Lastly, it is critical that the public be told of the utility
industry’s own plans to dramatically increase the amount of energy
efficiency that can come from new technology and education.  In
January many utility executives initiated a plan to promote energy
Let’s hear more about this!

Below is the list of participants in the workshop.

Panel 1: “Current Status of Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage and
Disposal Programs and Implications for California”

Moderator: Robert B. Weisenmiller (MRW)
Ward Sproat (U.S. DOE), Allison Macfarlane (George Mason University and
MIT), Bob Loux (State of
Nevada), Alan Hanson (AREVA), and Bob Halstead (State of Nevada)

Panel 2: “Current Status of Federal Reprocessing Program and
Implications for California”
Moderator: Steve McClary (MRW)
Invited Speakers: Tim Frazier (U.S. Department of Energy), Richard
Garwin (IBM Fellow Emeritus), Per Peterson (University of California),
Frank von Hippel (Princeton University), and Charles Ferguson (Council
on Foreign Relations)

Panel 3: “Operational Issues for California’s Operating Nuclear Power
Moderator: Steve McClary (MRW)
Invited Speakers: Kevin Crowley (The National Academies), To Be
Determined (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), Steve Olea (Arizona
Corporation Commission), Jack Keenan (Pacific Gas & Electric), Gary
Schooyan (Southern California Edison), David Lochbaum (Union of
Concerned Scientists), and Rochelle Becker (Alliance for Nuclear

Panel 4: “Environmental, Safety, and economic Implications of Nuclear
Moderator: Robert B. Weisenmiller (MRW)
Invited Speakers: Richard Cheston (U.S. General Accountability Office),
Vasilis Fthenakis (Brookhaven National Lab), Mary Quillian (Nuclear
Energy Institute), Jim Harding (Harding Consulting), Joe
Turnage (Constellation Energy), and Thomas Cochran (Natural Resources
Defense Council)

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