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Welcome Mat Still Out for New U.S. Nuclear Plants

Even environmental activists, who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions, do not anticipate opposition to new reactors in the Southeast

By Matthew Bigg,

Mar 20, 2011
Vogtle Plant Construction

ATLANTA—For much of the world, Japan's nuclear crisis has heightened concerns about nuclear power. But in the U.S. Southeast, where the next set of reactors are planned, the concerns are not so great.

Even environmental activists — those with deep-seated reservations about nuclear safety who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions — do not anticipate a radical shift.

No reactors have been commissioned in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in which a reactor suffered a partial meltdown.

The next four are due to come online in Georgia and South Carolina between 2016 and 2019, pending regulatory approval, in a region that is one of the country's most conservative.

As a result, powerful utility companies play an outsized role in shaping public debate and defusing potential opposition from lawmakers, activists said.

"The industry has done an excellent job of convincing people that serious accidents like this could not happen and the American public has developed amnesia about the real safety concerns," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the .

"There is a lot of really true believers [in nuclear energy] here that are going to resist internalizing and contemplating the full implications of what's happening in Japan," he said in an interview.

The complexity and the slowness of the regulatory process also served to mute public concerns, some environmentalists said.

President Barack Obama said nuclear energy remains part of the U.S. energy strategy and that studies show U.S. nuclear power plants, which provide about 20 percent of the nation's power, are safe. The U.S. nuclear industry has said it is taking steps to protect plants from a catastrophe like the one in Japan.

Nuclear power is a significant part of the energy mix in Georgia, where it represents about 11 percent of total electric capacity, and South Carolina, where it contributes 50 percent, according to the .

"This is an opportunity for those who find anything nuclear problematic," said Susan Shaer, executive director of , a group that seeks to direct federal spending away from the military and toward issues such as education.

She said it was up to government to take a closer look at safety of what she called a "very dangerous commodity."

Moving Forward

Public utilities in the South have responded in different ways to the challenge presented by Japan, where authorities are battling to avert disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, crippled in an earthquake and tsunami last week.

"We are still committed to moving forward at the same pace," said Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for , adding that Southern supports a review of its existing nuclear units to incorporate lessons from Japan.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the company, hopes for approval from the to build two reactors at its Vogtle plant in Georgia using Westinghouse's AP1000 design to come online in 2016 and 2017.

SCANA Corp also hopes to use the same design for two reactors at its VC Summer nuclear station northwest of South Carolina's capital to be running by 2016 and 2019.

"Our intent is to remain on schedule," SCANA President Kevin Marsh told reporters this week.

Tom Clements, a nuclear expert with , South Carolina, described Marsh's comments as "stunning" and said the companies should put its license applications on hold while they absorb the lessons of Japan.

But there was no guarantee that any rise in public concern because of Japan would result in opposition to the new plants in part because the approval and finance process was complicated, Clements and other activists said.

Conservative Southern states

Conservative Southern states love to milk the taxpayer for more federal subsidies. The none nuclear renaissance has been stumbling, mumbling and bumbling for decades while taking in billions of profits and sticking rate payers with cradle-to-grave public subsidies for nuclear capital costs, much like the NFL and NBA stick cities with the capital costs for new stadiums.


The Real Cost of Nuclear Power



Utilities that build nuclear power plants pay profits to stockholders. The nuclear industry has over 50 years of profits to draw upon for new reactors and waste disposal and should be kicked off of government and public cradle-to-grave subsidies. Stockholders should bear the responsibility for the Capital Costs, Liability and Risks (CCLR) instead of the general public. Utilities are more careful when they are fully responsible for the risk. That is Capitalism.


The first detailed cost estimate, filed by Florida Power & Light (FPL) for a large plant off the Keys, came in at $12 billion to $18 billion. Progress Energy announced a $17 billion plan for a similar Florida plant. Georgia’s Vogtle’ 1 & 2 reactor construction costs were $19 Billion, not counting fuel and nuclear waste or for plant decommissioning which is estimated at $5 billion. Current Old reactors are having their permits constantly renewed as the waste is stored onsite and backup systems are no better than the failed diesel generators in Japan.


Instead of the public taking all the capital costs, risk and liability in case of an accident how about Utilities be required to build closed loop waste reprocessing systems paid for by their profits, and get private financing and private insurance for the full risk amount? I do not want my tax dollars going towards nuclear utility investor’s profits while I have to pay the capital costs as well as take the risk and liability.


 

There's a good article over

There's a good article over at Peak Energy - on biased commentary  by Barry Brook's  at "Brave New Climate"  on the Japanese nuclear event.


 Talk about denial.


What concerns me about nuclear is human error, which includes siting issues, and underestimating what can go wrong.   Storage of used fuel rods in those water pools is a sign of underestimating what can go wrong.  Same goes for preparedness for natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis.


In order for nuclear to be safe, worst case scenario natural disasters have to be included in the planning.  It may be comforting to think that events like the 9.0 magnitude quake in Japan are rare.
  But, we've had four earthquakes of 9 magnitude or higher, in 51 years.


Alaska 1964,


Indonesian quake and tsunami that killed a quarter million people,


Chilean earthquake in 1960 at 9.5 magnitude,


and now Japan.


 And earthquakes of 8-8.9 magnitude occur once a year on average.



 


The Fukishima nuclear plant had 8 hours of battery backup for the cooling pumps after the diesel was knocked out.
We are now a week into the disaster in Japan.


 In the U.S., there are 93 nuclear power plants with only 4 hours battery backup. The NRC only requires nuclear plants to have enough battery backup for a 4-8 hour situation. 
Station blackout is one of the most likely causes of a nuclear accidents, according to the NRC


 

Nukelectricity is still the best option, by far.

We lack political will, and the progressives need to stop being all Limbaugh about science.

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