nuclear utah News
Feb 11, 2009
The battle over nuclear power in Utah is heating up. A company has purchased land near Green River where it hopes to build the state's first nuclear plant, but opponents are taking their fight against it to Capitol Hill.
There have been fights over nuclear waste for years, but a nuclear power plant has never been built in Utah. Transition Power Development aims to change that.
Anti-nuclear advocates who fought the storage of radioactive waste in Utah are turning their energies to the company's proposed plant. They're pushing legislation to make sure, even before a plant is built, that nuclear power is affordable and that there's a disposal option for the waste.
"We think it's reasonable to ask for electricity that's cost-effective and for a place to put the waste from that nuclear reactor. You don't build a house without planning out a septic system. We shouldn't do this for high-level nuclear waste," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of HEAL Utah.
A representative of Transition Power Development, Aaron Tilton, fired back today, saying, "They're just trying to grandstand." He says the bills will go nowhere and, because there currently is nowhere in the United States to store spent fuel, the legislation "would effectively ban nuclear power" in Utah.
Meanwhile, the Democrat sponsoring the legislation expressed frustration, saying the GOP majority is keeping his bill bottled up with no hearing.
"Let's get this bill out now. Let's get it set for a hearing, and let's really get these issues out into the open where we can discuss them and have the public weigh in and have a full and frank discussion," said Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City.
The bill is currently stuck in the rules committee. That committee's chair says she supports nuclear power as "clean and safe." She says though she supports "nuclear-friendly legislation," she's "willing to look at it."
One big question is cost. Opponents say it's prohibitively expensive -- billions of dollars -- to build a new nuclear plant. Proponents say those estimates are greatly exaggerated.
Video Courtesy of KSL.com
Feb 11, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune
Nuclear power's skeptics and supporters are advancing measures in the Utah Legislature.
Rep. Jay Seegmiller, D-Sandy, introduced his "nuclear responsibility" bill. HB440 is aimed at ensuring reactors built in Utah have disposal available for high-level nuclear waste and that the Public Service Commission sees to it that Utahns don't end up footing the liabilities for energy that benefits only out-of-staters.
"I don't know if generating power for another state is a perfect way for us to use our water," Seegmiller said.
A similar bill, SB42 by Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, has been sidelined in the Senate Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, has offered a joint resolution, SJR16, urging support of nuclear power. He says nuclear power would mean jobs for southeastern Utah, especially as Congress looks at climate-change bills that threaten the coal industry.
Hinkins' measure emerges days after proponents of a uranium mill and Utah's first nuclear-power plant signed up to occupy a new industrial park near Green River.
Feb 03, 2009
Energy Provision May Test Priorities
Nuclear power plants, like the Susquehanna facility in Pennsylvania, rely on loan guarantees from a program that would be expanded by an amendment to the Senate's stimulus package. (By Mark Moran -- Associated Press)
By Steven Mufson
Environmental groups are protesting a proposed $50 billion increase to an existing federal loan guarantee program for "innovative" energy technologies that could expand funding beyond renewable energy to include nuclear power and certain kinds of coal plants.
The proposal is part of the Senate's $884 billion version of the government's stimulus package. It is just one example of the number and size of items buried in the proposal and an illustration of the battles that loom as the House and Senate try to reconcile their proposals.
During its consideration of the stimulus package, the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) that was supported by some leading Democrats including Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
Bennett's amendment took $500 million away from $10 billion initially allotted to a new loan guarantee program for renewable energy and electric transmission projects and moved it to an existing loan guarantee program established under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The existing program covers a much wider variety of energy projects, including "advanced nuclear" power plants, plants that "gasify" coal or turn it into liquid form, and plants that capture and bury carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by coal power plants.
Moving the money allows the government to stretch its loan guarantees further. Because of different accounting methods used in the two programs, a $500 million appropriation would permit approximately $5 billion in loan guarantees under the renewable program but $50 billion under the broader, existing program.
The Energy Department has the ability to give out $42.5 billion in loan guarantees under the existing program. But Congress limited the amount that could go to nuclear power plants to $18.5 billion, while setting aside smaller amounts for renewable energy, coal and uranium enrichment. Utilities and power companies have already filed applications for about $122 billion worth of loan guarantees for 21 new nuclear power plants.
The additional loan guarantee authority provided by Bennett's amendment has no restrictions or quotas; more than half a dozen types of projects would qualify. The guarantees are especially important for the nuclear power industry. Without them, it is almost impossible to obtain financing for new nuclear power plants, which have huge capital costs and long construction periods.
Daniel J. Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said "this could be a real contentious issue in conference" when House and Senate negotiators try to reconcile the different versions of the stimulus package.
"This is the exact kind of spending President Obama said he didn't want in the recovery package. It will take a lot of time to spend this money and, once you do, it won't create many jobs," he said.
Nuclear power proponents maintain that that the nation needs to expand its nuclear power capacity to keep pace with electricity demands and do so in a way that does not add greenhouse gases.
Environmental groups yesterday were working on a letter to senators, arguing that the risk of default on the loans for nuclear and coal projects -- and thus the potential cost to taxpayers -- was much higher than that.
"The credit risk to the taxpayer is very significant," said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.
Jan 12, 2009
Critic » Senator's bill "a backhanded slap"
By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
Sen. Scott McCoy says his nuclear-power bill makes sense, making sure that ratepayers don't wind up paying for a reactor boondoggle and that residents don't get stuck with storing containers of nuclear waste.
But Aaron Tilton, promoter of the state's first nuclear power plant, called the measure "a backhanded slap" at nuclear power and "a grandstanding bill" that will be dead on arrival in the upcoming 2009 Legislature.
"The bill is basically going to go nowhere," said Tilton, a Republican who lost his own House seat last year, in part, over his involvement with the power plant, a 1,500-megawatt nuclear station.
McCoy, a Salt Lake City Democrat, said the bill is timely because there are no reactors in the state -- yet.
"Now is the perfect time," he said. "We haven't developed nuclear, but there are plans out there."
McCoy noted that the Legislature is already on record in favor of nuclear plants. And Utahns of all stripes have spoken out that they don't want high-level waste in the state.
His bill "basically says nuclear is part of the mix," said McCoy, "but we develop it responsibly and put some planning conditions in place before we go down that road."
The senator said he wasn't aware of any opposition, but Tilton questioned the seriousness of McCoy's effort in light of the fact that his company Transition Power Development LLC wasn't included in discussions about the bill.
He doubted whether the Senate Rules Committee would allow it to have a public hearing. "They wouldn't pass along anything to discourage development," Tilton said.
Utah has never had a commercial nuclear facility of its own, but the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a waste storage site on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation before the Interior Department derailed the proposal more than two years ago.
Tilton said the public objected to storing nuclear waste from outside the state, not waste generated within the state and stored safely on the site of a Utah reactor. His Transition Power has promised federal regulators to submit an application for Utah's first reactors by April 2010.
Dec 31, 2008
By Michael Grunwald
Nuclear power is on the verge of a remarkable comeback. It's been three decades since an American utility ordered a nuclear plant, but 35 new reactors are now in the planning stage. The byzantine regulatory process that helped paralyze the industry for a generation has been streamlined. There hasn't been a serious nuclear accident in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. And no-nukes politics has become a distant memory. It was a sign of the times when John McCain ridiculed Barack Obama for opposing nuclear energy--and the allegation wasn't even true. "There's only a very small minority in Congress that still opposes nuclear power," says Alex Flint, the top lobbyist at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). "That's quite a change."
The most powerful change agents have been the surge in U.S. electricity demand--forecast to grow another 30% by 2030--and the threat of global warming. Atomic reactors produce no carbon emissions, so energy analysts, politicians and even some environmentalists have embraced them as a clean power source for a wired world, an alternative to fossil fuels that can generate electricity when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. The specter of a carbon-pricing scheme to address climate change has transformed nuclear economics. Originally touted as "too cheap to meter," nuclear energy turned out to be extremely expensive, but advocates say it will look much cheaper once coal and gas plants have to pay for their emissions. And unlike clean coal and other speculative technologies, nuclear energy already provides 20% of our power. "We're sitting on a ham sandwich, starving to death," says Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson.
But some little-noticed rain has fallen on the nuclear parade. It turns out that new plants would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive. The first detailed cost estimate, filed by Florida Power & Light (FPL) for a large plant off the Keys, came in at a shocking $12 billion to $18 billion. Progress Energy announced a $17 billion plan for a similar Florida plant, tripling its estimate in just a year. "Completely mind-boggling," says Charlie Beck, who represents ratepayers for Florida's Office of Public Counsel. "A real wake-up call," says Dale Klein, President Bush's chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). "I'll admit, the costs are daunting," says Richard Myers, NEI's vice president for policy development.
The math gets ugly in a hurry. McCain called for 45 new plants by 2030; given the nuclear industry's history of 250% cost overruns, that could rise to well over $1 trillion. Ratepayers would take the main hit, but taxpayers could be on the hook for billions in loan guarantees, tax breaks, insurance benefits and direct subsidies--not to mention the problem of storing radioactive waste, if Congress can ever figure out where to put it. And those 45 new plants would barely replace the existing plants scheduled for decommissioning before 2030.
This sticker shock has unnerved Wall Street. A Warren Buffett--owned company has scrapped plans for an Idaho nuclear plant; banks and bond-rating agencies are skeptical as well. In fact, renewables attracted $71 billion globally in private capital during 2007 while nukes got zero. The reactors under construction around the world are all government-financed. "I have to keep explaining: France and China are not capitalist countries!" says Congressman Ed Markey, an antinuclear Massachusetts Democrat. "Nobody wants to put their own money into this so-called renaissance--just ours."
A nuclear renaissance still might make sense if it could save the planet. America's existing nuclear plants already prevent the release of nearly as much carbon as America's passenger cars actually release every year. But more plants simply can't reduce emissions quickly enough to address our climate crisis. We need serious cuts within a decade, and the first new plant won't come on line before 2016.
The nuclear renaissance, in truth, has yet to be born. No one has broken ground or made any irrevocable investment decisions. "There's been some excessive exuberance," the NRC's Klein says. Still, license applications are cascading into the commission. Bush's full-throated support for the industry has been echoed by Democrats as well as greener Republicans like Governors Charlie Crist of Florida and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. "Nuclear is expensive, no doubt about it," says former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, now a paid spokeswoman for the industry. "But we can't keep saying no to everything."
The nuclear industry has learned from the mistakes it made in its first go-round, when timelines doubled, costs exploded, and half its orders for new reactors were canceled. It ran at a record 92% capacity last year, virtually trouble-free. The not-in-my-backyard fear that was a factor in shuttering so many plants has faded; one industry poll found that new reactors are supported by most Americans, including four-fifths of those who live near one. And regulators have worked with the industry to standardize reactor designs, which should enhance safety margins--Klein jokes that France has 104 varieties of cheese but only one standard reactor, while the U.S. has one cheese but 104 different reactors. The NRC is fast-tracking applications, combining construction and operating licenses into a single permit and taking other steps to, as Myers puts it, "strip the risk out of the regulatory process." Congress has even approved "risk insurance" to reimburse the industry for regulatory delays; that's in addition to the government-issued liability insurance it already enjoys. And the industry often has more clout at the state level; Florida has guaranteed utilities collect-as-you-go cost recovery for nuclear investments even if they never complete any reactors. "We have a very positive political and regulatory environment," says FPL president Armando Olivera, whose company spent $2.3 million on six Washington lobbying firms in 2007. "We wouldn't be comfortable building new reactors if we didn't."
The rest of the case for nukes relies on the unattractive alternatives. Coal is filthy. Natural gas isn't exactly clean, and its price is volatile. Solar and wind are intermittent. Crist, who has blocked several coal plants for environmental reasons, explains his support for nukes in three words: "We need juice!" Industry officials argue that if you disregard capital costs, nuclear plants are the cheapest source of power.
But you can't disregard capital costs--they're out of control. The world's only steelworks capable of forging containment vessels is in Japan, and it has a three-year waiting list. The specialized workforce required for manufacturing reactors has atrophied in the U.S., along with the industrial base. Steel, cement and other commodity prices have stabilized, but the credit crunch has jacked up the cost of borrowing. FPL's application concedes that new reactors present "unique risks and uncertainties," with every six-month delay adding as much as $500 million in interest costs. Meanwhile, radioactive waste languishes in temporary storage pools and casks at plants around the country. Energy maven Amory Lovins has calculated that, overall, new nuclear wattage would cost more than twice as much as coal or gas and nearly three times as much as wind--and that calculation was made before nuclear-construction costs exploded.
So how should we produce our juice? The answer may sound a bit unsatisfying: more wind, less coal but mostly the same electricity sources we're using, until something better comes along. The key will be reducing demand through energy efficiency and conservation. Most efficiency improvements have been priced at 1¢ to 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, while new nuclear energy is on track to cost 15¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt-hour. And no nuclear plant has ever been completed on budget.
Now that's an unsatisfying answer--especially since we'll be paying the bills.
© HEAL Utah | 824 South 400 West, Suite B-111 | Salt Lake City, UT 84101 | (801) 355-5055 | email@example.com