August 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
In Nuclear Romance, a debut novel by New York journalist and writer Abby Luby, the tragic death of a 7-year old girl – after swimming at a beach across from a nuclear power plant – sets off a chain of events that involve a sports journalist, an anti-nuclear activist, a grieving mother and her son.A young woman reporter falls prey to a callous plant executive whose job depends on keeping the multi-billion dollar nuclear corporation viable. Set in the US Northeast, the terrifying story that unravels the cause of the girl’s death coincides with growing local anti-nuclear sentiment. The tension escalates after highly radioactive steam escapes from the plant, forcing a mass evacuation.
This novel grips readers’ imaginations with the tension and fear that surround many of today’s nuclear power plants, especially powerful in the aftermath ofJapan’s recent and still unfolding nuclear disaster.
Nuclear Romance will be published in eBook format in September, 2011 by Armory New Media, a digital book publisher based inConnecticut.
(cover art by Ben Sears)
June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Given that two-thousand tons of spent nuclear fuel is produced every year at nuclear reactors in the United States, and over 75,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is being temporarily stored in 39 states, it is surprising that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has emphatically said this amount of waste is safe, and even more surprising that no one has disputed them.
Last week, in what New York State is calling a landmark victory, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled that the NRC violated a federal act by neglecting to run in-depth studies on how storing radioactive waste at nuclear power plants impacts health and the environment. The lawsuit was spearheaded and won by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was joined by state attorneys general from Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey, and the Prairie Island Indian Community.
Schneiderman and his boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, in their aggressive pursuit to shutter the aging Indian Point Nuclear Power plant in Westchester, have chased after many pro-nuclear policies that seem to drive the NRC. In 2007, Entergy, Indian Point’s owner, applied to re-license the plant’s twin reactors to run for 20 more years. Three years later the NRC amended their “Waste Confidence Decision,” allowing plants to store more waste on site without site-specific environmental or safety reviews. The NRC held that waste storage was safe for at least 60 years after a plant shuts down; they then proposed a rule to allow spent fuel storage at reactor sites for 200-300 years. http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1203/ML12038A166.pdf
Of the record breaking number of contentions opposing Entergy’s license renewal application, many focus on the dangers of storing spent fuel. The NRC has discounted those contentions, claiming waste safety issues part of the agency’s regular oversight routine.
But the court has ruled otherwise, siding with Schneiderman who charged the NRC violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a law requiring agencies to study environmental impacts of new actions and decisions that involve the re-licensing of power plants. How the ruling affects Indian Point’s license renewal application remains to be seen.
Currently at Indian Point, 1500 tons of high-level irradiated waste is stored in heavy steel and concrete casks on a tarmac a few hundred feet from the Hudson River.
The Westchester based plant produces about 30 tons of radioactive waste every 18 months which is then crammed into two overcrowded, 40-foot deep spent fuel pools. Each pool holds about 1000 tons of radioactive waste and has been leaking for years into the ground and river. However, the NRC has maintained that whatever leaches into the river is negligible, reiterating their catch phrase: “Dilution is the solution to pollution.”
A national repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was chosen by Congress in 1987. But the decision was overturned and eventually the Obama Administration cut off funds, giving utility owners no choice but to store the waste on-site at their plants.
Last year, the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima power plants caused by a huge earthquake and tsunami, saw massive amounts of radiation released into the environment from fires and uncontained radioactive waste pouring from spent fuel pools, forcing a widespread evacuation. In a study by the Institute for Policy Studies, “Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage,” author and senior scholar for nuclear policy, Robert Alvarez, said that Indian Point has three times the radioactivity of Fukushima’s spent fuel pools. http://www.ips-dc.org/pressroom/expert_cautions_that_30_million_spent_nuclear_fuel_rods_are_unsafely_stored_in_united_states_could_cause_fukushima-like_disaster
Indian Point is about 30 miles from Manhattan. A 1997 analysis, the Brookhaven National Laboratory http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0230/ML023040470.pdf (page 4) estimated a severe fire in a spent-fuel pool would release enough radioactive material to cause as many as 28,000 cancer deaths in a densely populated area and render 188 square miles uninhabitable.
In light of the Fukushima disaster and the potential for future leakage and catastrophic fires, the court ruled that the NRC’s analysis of the impacts of spent fuel storage was insufficient and is requiring the agency to re-assess the environmental impacts of the waste storage. Now it’s up to the NRC to heed the court and truly “protect the health and safety of the public.”
May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Tarrytown, NY – - Last Friday’sIndian Point Annual Assessment (May 11, 2012) was hosted by theNuclear Regulatory Commissionwho seemed considerably toned down. Unlike last year, when the public hearing was held just after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the NRC found it was unprepared for a volatile and angry crowd who ceaselessly shouted down the NRC’s safety evaluation presentation.
And the public was heard. Over 300 people crowded into the main room after passing through a security / search checkpoint, a new enforcement never before used at NRC annual assessment hearings. Safety issues were secondary to the impending license renewal application by Indian Point’s owner Entergy, an application with an unprecedented number of contentions against the 40 year old plant. Entergy would have to cease operating by 2013 and 2015 if the two reactors’ licenses were not renewed. To date, the NRC has never turned down a license renewal application by a commercial nuclear power plant. A day before Friday’s hearing, a headline from another local news source erroneous cited that the green ratings would allow Indian Point to operate past 2013, clearly a misunderstanding of the difference between safety ratings and license renewal.
Facing many vehement arguments on both sides of this hotly contested issue were NRC’s regional administrator, Bill Dean, John P. Boska, Senior Resident Inspector and Mel Gray, Regional Director.
State Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) >>> pointed out the proposed new Tappan Zee Bridge. “It is feared that the bridge can’t withstand seismic activity, and yet, this power plant, which is not built to spec for the predicted seismic activity in the area, is allowed to run while endangering millions in the area.” Abinanti also reminded the NRC that the state was opposed to the continued operation of Indian Point.
Dr. Marsha Gordon, Business Council of Westchester president, advocated for Indian Point. “Indian Point is responsible for generating 11,000 jobs in the Lower Hudson Valley… and has reliable, affordable power, jobs, economic development, and continued prosperity.”
Anti nuclear groups carefully orchestrated several chants between speakers, often interrupting with shouts of “Lies!”, and “Close it down. Now!”.
Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster, who supports the continued operation of Indian Point, focused on safety. “We are several hundred yards from the plant and even if it were to close tomorrow, we will be dealing forever with the spent fuel. My request is for FEMA, the NRC and elected officials to look more carefully at [the role of] our first responders.”
About 50 Entergy workers and union members were present. “The operators at Indian Point are well trained and I know that the plant is safe,” said Dominic Marzullo, of the Utility Workers of America Local 1-2, and who has worked at the plant since 1972.
Holding a small Geiger Counter in her hand, Susan Hito-Shapiro, a Goshen based lawyer and Clearwater board member, criticized the NRC for not holding Entergy accountable. “The fire departments rely on Entergy to tell them if there is a release in their town. The NRC needs to require Entergy to pay service workers for their Geiger Counters.”
In a fiery attack on the NRC, Marilyn Elie, co-founder of the Westchester Citizens Awareness Network (WestCAN) charged the federal agency with granting excessive exemptions to Entergy since they purchased Indian Point in 2001.
“Those exemptions need to be looked at because they are keeping Indian Point from operating at a design basis. Why can’t we get a list of those exemptions?”
Last year Entergy sought NRC approval for more than 100 exemptions from regulations. In 2007, the NRC exempted Indian Point from the required insulation protecting electrical cables against fire for at least one hour. Today Entergy uses insulation lasting only 24 minutes for cables that could prevent a catastrophic meltdown if there was a fire. Entergy is also exempt from rusty reactor dome inspection for design basis and from inspecting 60 percent of the radioactive spent fuel pool.
Elie lambasted the panel over a new evacuation ruling. “This is a watered down plan with fewer evacuation drills. What does that make you but whores to the industry.”
Westchester Legislator Michael Smith, who favors relicensing, said he was representing himself supporting the “long term viability of Westchester County.” “I toured the Indian Point facility and I saw the control they had in place. I got the sense they’re looking to do the right thing.”
An impassioned Mark Jacobs criticized the NRC for holding back important information. “You no longer tell us about the back log [of repairs at Indian Point]. Who is overlooking the owner’s paper work? Are you monitoring the radiated lakes under the plant that are the size of the Central Park reservoir?”
Lack of information was a reoccurring theme. WhenThe Westchester Guardian / Yonkers Tribune requested a hard copy of the slide projection information, an NRC representative failed to produce one. NRC Emergency Preparedness Inspector Steve Barr was asked for the new evacuation ruling change but his only copy was one he couldn’t relinquish.
May 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Diana was exasperated. A nuclear power plant was complicated, and it seemed as if a myriad of problems could quickly become a dangerous situation—if she understood him right. Maybe she didn’t quite get what Isling was talking about. Maybe she should let it go for a spell.
The plant and its problems stewed around in her head for weeks, like a dull headache. It ran a parallel course with her everyday existence, a course that eventually collided, unexpectedly, with the innocent faces of her young students. What was in store for them? Why should tons of lethal radioactive waste that lasted several hundreds of years be their problem?
She plunged in again and decided to have social gatherings at her house specifically to talk about the plant. Whether it was an evening coffee klatch or a lawn party, Diana found herself pressing for some kind of action. Sipping wine by the lake with Lin sitting in her lap seemed to soften the grim conversation. She gave out copies of a list she compiled enumerating accidents that happened at the plant over the last decade.
“We can organize, pressure politicians,” she suggested to her friends. Some were wary. Battling a huge corporation? A David and Goliath scenario for sure. What could they do and how would they do it? Diana knew it was a challenge, but it was imperative they get their voices heard.
She was systematic in reaching out. It was her style to be persistent and to proceed logically. Many found her convincing, and after months of “entertaining,” Diana had the help of a handful of friends who would, in turn, talk to other people, get petitions signed, call local politicians. As the circle grew, she saw the beginning of a grassroots movement to close the plant. The goal was to warn about the dangers of the plant not only to the immediate community but also to get the word down to New York City, just twenty-four miles away. If a Chernobyl-type accident happened at ALLPower and radiation spread south, the city could easily be wiped out. Tapping into the press was imperative.
Diana appealed to other environmental groups, some with the backing of famous movie stars, others aligned with rich foundations pushing for conservation. People became concerned, even angry, but Diana’s campaign never quite reached the critical mass that would loosen the utility’s grip on local government and taxpayers.
The more she learned about how nuclear power worked, the more her own inner fears deepened and crept up on her. She felt an imaginary line connecting her gut to the hulking mass of concrete, the impenetrable buildings harboring dangerous radioactive fuel that was stored precariously in the pools and in the open on the plant grounds. It played in her psyche as a formidable foe—omnipresent, a shadow that hovered over her as she moved about her community. She held fast to this connection; relinquishing its presence even for a moment would lessen her drive to close the plant down.
A fire drill at school prompted another fear. Would an accident at the plant require a special evacuation? Was there a workable plan? Diana did the legwork and found that a plan had been drawn up over thirty years ago, when the population was less than half what it was now. But what was the plan exactly, and did it explain what kids in school were supposed to do? Where to go? Not surprisingly, copies of the evacuation plan were neither at the school nor at the superintendent’s office. For the first time, she called ALLPower to see if they had a copy and ended up talking to their PR guy, Bob Stalinsky.
“Geez, Ms. Chase. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plan,” Bob cooed into the phone. Who was this gal and why on earth was she asking about evacuation?
“Have you even heard about the plan, Mr. Stalinsky?”
“Can’t say I have. You know ALLPower has its own evacuation plan for our workers. We’re not required to have a local plan. Why don’t you try the NRC. They might have it.”
“What’s your plan like? Do workers have to get a certain distance away from the plant?”
“To tell you the truth—can I call you ‘Diana’? Well, I never really looked at ALLPower’s evacuation plan. Never had to. Never worried about it. What’s this all about—if you don’t mind my asking?”
The guy made her feel itchy. “I’m an assistant principal at a grade school, and I’m concerned about what could happen to the kids, that’s all. Listen, thanks for the information, Mr. Stalinsky. I’ll check with the NRC.”
It would be her second call to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and she hoped for yes or no answers from Dick Isling.
“Evacuation isn’t under our jurisdiction,” he told her. “Our oversight covers only plant components. Have you tried FEMA, the fed’s emergency management agency?” She called FEMA and waded through several staff people before getting to the right person. Yes, there was a plan, but it was probably outdated. They might be able to find a copy; it was probably archived on microfiche. Meanwhile, why doesn’t she try her state emergency office to see if they had it? She called the state and got more of the same.
Maybe she could get a straight answer from her local county legislator, who would value her as a voting constituent. But when she got him on the phone, the man had only a vague idea of what she was talking about.
It was the kind of frustration that drove Diana to obsession. Every response reeked of apathy and irresponsible government, which was so ingrained in the system, and even worse, that was accepted as if nothing was wrong. It was routine; it was just the way things were.
Finally, after months of dogged pursuit, a copy of the evacuation plan arrived in the mail from SEMO, New York State’s emergency office. Diana took the sixty-five-page manuscript typed on plain white paper and, with a cup of strong black tea, sat in her overstuffed armchair and started reading. Halfway through the report the hairs on her neck started to bristle.
April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
For a limited time, “Nuclear Romance” is just $.99 at Amazon.
March 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
White Plains, NY – - Peaceful demonstrators at Entergy Nuclear corporate headquarters in White Plains were arrested last Thursday, March 22, 2012, for criminal trespassing. Five members of SAGE (Safe and Green Energy), a group from Vermont, came to meet with Entergy officials to discuss shutting down the company’s Vermont Yankee plant.
The Vermont contingent, which calls themselves the Green Mountain Delegation, were kept waiting for about 15 minutes in the Entergy’s lobby at 440 Hamilton Avenue in White Plains while the front security guard attempted to call several Entergy executives, all of whom were apparently out of the office. When the guard was called away, GMD members made their way up to Entergy’s 12th floor offices via the stairway where they were met by one Entergy employee.
“We want to speak Richard Smith,” said GMD member Erik Gillard, who was joined by Madeline Sharrow, Kate Damascus, Barry Wyman and Matthew Manning. Richard Smith, is the president ofEntergy’s Wholesale Commodities.
from left to right: Matthew Manning, Erik Gillard, Kate Damascus, Madeline Sharrow and Barry Wyman of SAGE inside Entergy Corporate Headquarters in White Plains.
“You are trespassing and you have to leave,” said a young woman employee. “If you go downstairs now, we will send a proper escort to accompany you back up here.”
Gillard said he wanted assurances the group wouldn’t be kept waiting again, but was again told to leave. At that point Gillard started to read from a list of demands, explaining that the group merely wanted to talk to Smith about decommissioning the Vermont Yankee plant.
Anti-nuclear protesters, including IPSEC members, outside Entergy HQ in White Plains.
Two building guards appeared and each member of the GMD began to read a set of demands. The guards tried to convince them to leave, but the Vermont group was steadfast in holding their ground while continuing to read their demands.
Ten minutes later four White Plains police arrived and arrested all five, handcuffing them and escorting them to a paddy wagon. They were taken to the White Plains police station at 77 South Lexington Avenue.
Gillard and Wyman being arrested outside Entergy headquarters in White Plain
Attorneys Joel Kupferman and Peter Madison of the National Lawyer’s Guild were on hand as legal observers to make sure the police were treating the arrestees fairly. Nicole Sasaki of Pace College was also present.
After the arrest, the White Plains court fined Gillard and Manning $250 and dropped the charges from a misdemeanor to a violation, and stipulated that they must not re-visit Entergy’s 12th floor headquarters for one year. Sharrow, Damascus and Wyman each posted $250 bail and have a court date May 2, 2012 where they hope to get the case dismissed.
Sharrow and Damascus being taken to the White Plains jail
Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, a group seeking to shutter Indian Point, was demonstrating outside the Hamilton Avenue Entergy headquarters. Indian Point, also owned by Entergy, applied to renew their operating license in 2007. The current licenses expire next year, 2013, and in 2015.
Among the demands GMD asked for were for Entergy to “cease its attack on Vermont’s democratic process and honor agreements it signed with the state of Vermont (including that it decommission immediately 3/22)…..begin the decommissioning of the Fukushima style Mark I BW reactor immediately. pay reparations to all communities whose land and lives have been made toxic by the uranium fuel chain, pay the full costs of all legal proceedings past and present involving the state of Vermont and revoke all statements claiming nuclear power to be clean, carbon-free or renewable.
The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is in Brattleboro 3½ miles from the Massachusetts border and right across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire. Although the nuclear plant is under the jurisdiction of Vermont, dangerous radioactive leaks and other accidents have troubled residents in nearby Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
The non violent action was one many, similar actions that were directed at Entergy in different locations. Groups appeared at Entergy offices in Brattleboro, Vermont while other activists attempted to occupy Entergy’s corporate offices in New Orleans, Louisiana. Vermont Yankee has been plagued with as many problems as Indian Point; both plants, which were built to last only 40 years are now 40 years old. Both plants have had numerous leaks of radioactive isotopes into the Hudson River (Indian Point) and the Connecticut River (Vermont Yankee) and has had to contend with storing thousands of gallons of radioactive spent fuel on site. Indian Point 1, which has been closed since 1974, has been leaking radioactive materials into the soil and the river. The Buchanan based plant is also running out of space to store spent fuel with some 1500 tons of spent fuel stored in canisters at the plant on an outdoor tarmac.
Both have applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue their operating license for another 20 years. But in Vermont, state officials voted overwhelmingly for Vermont Yankee’s shut down, forcing Entergy to sue the state. Entergy basically said the state has no voice in the matter and that it is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Wednesday, March 21stwould have been the last day of Vermont Yankee’s license, but the NRC granted an extension of their license, overriding the state of Vermont. Since Vermont Yankee has to operate with a current “Certificate of Public Good” from their Public Service Board, state officials have argued with a federal court judge not to renew the certificate. Entergy is fighting the case which is expected to be resolved. Vermont Yankee CPG certificate expired Wednesday, March 21, 2012.
Vermont has said if Entergy defies the PSB if the ruling is against the company, “Entergy could face the prospect of a diminished credit rating, a loss of crucial employees, and a demerit in the PSB’s consideration of (Entergy’s) petition for a new CPG.”
Closing both the Vermont Yankee and Indian Point in Westchester is problematic for Entergy because they lack necessary funds needed to decommission and shut down the both plants, a process that usually takes 20 years. Entergy is short $90 million to close Vermont Yankee which is estimated to cost a total of about $560 million. If the billion dollar utility company wants to close Indian Point 2 and 3, they are currently $500 million short of the $1.5 billion price tag.
March 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Westchester Guardian March 29, 2012
Buchanan, NY – - Last week hundreds of people gathered in front of the gates of the Indian Point nuclear power plant to commemorate the one year anniversary of the nuclear catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plants, one of the worst nuclear accidents since Chernobyl in 1986. Events marking the Fukushima disaster took place across the globe to honor those whose lives were lost and to reaffirm the dangers of nuclear power.
The ceremony at Indian Point opened with a moment of silence at exactly 3:36 pm, the time when the Japanese plants and thousands of residents living near the plant succumbed to a level 9.0 earthquake, followed by a towering tsunami that tore through the Fukushima reactors, eventually causing meltdowns and widespread radioactive contamination.
In a disturbing testimonial by Noriyuki Kitajima, a Japanese Laborer and Union Organizer who helped workers clean up the contaminated Fukushima plants, people had the rare opportunity to hear first hand exactly what it was like trying to survive. Kitajima, speaking through translator Professor Akiva Murakami of Akito University, told a stunned crowd that when he started working at Fukushima Dai-ichi last September, he measured radioactivity from workers returning from highly contaminated areas and he helped them take off their contaminated clothing at the end of their shift.
Noriyuki Kitajima from Fukushima at the Fukushima Commenmoration at Indian Point
“The highest level I found were 2 mSV after working two hours. This is very high. The maximum for the year is 20 mSV. The government has raised the maximum to 100 because of the emergency. Once workers have reached this level of exposure, they can no longer work at the plant for the next four years. What happens to these people? They are disposable. They are cast out without any benefits ― without any thought to their welfare. No medical care, no job, no future. The government overlooks them. I am not. I am working for benefits for them after they leave the plant. It is only fair. I want to change this inhuman condition for my colleagues.”
Mark Jacobs, one of the founding members of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), the key group who organized the event, addressed the crowd. “Today we join with people in New York City and people around the world who mourn thousands of lives lost in a radiological catastrophe that goes on to this day.”
Veteran anti nuke protester Connie Hogarth of the Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action recalled how she started the anti Indian Point movement in 1972. “Back then we had a shopping list of problems with Indian Point. Then Three Mile Island happened.” Hogarth told of demonstrations called “Die-Ins” held at the former gates of Indian Point to represent those killed at TMI. “That [anti Indian Point] energy has sustained for 40 years,” she said.
Connie Hogarth at the Fukushima Commenmoration at Indian Point
Jacobs thanked his colleagues Marilyn Elie and Gary Shaw also of the IPSEC who were key in organizing “Fukushima Week,” a week long series of events leading up to the commemoration. IPSEC and other anti nuclear organizations brought together Japanese experts and Fukushima residents with First Responders at Manhattanville College and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Elie urged residents to speak out locally against Indian Point. “Closing down Indian point means speaking out locally and getting a resolution in your town and to let governor Cuomo know about the wide based sentiment to close Indian Point.”
Radio host Gary Null warned of main stream media outlets who were perpetrating wrong information about nuclear power.
“Official media represents the ideology of the networks – if the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) says nuclear power is safe, then the media says it’s safe. It’s a well known fact that the 50,000 infant deaths caused by Three Mile Island was covered up. The truth will never come out.”
Other speakers included Manna Jo Greene of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper. “Fukushima Week” was able to bring from Japan experts and people from Fukushima and connect them with first responders at a special conference. The week also saw the Japanese guests holding several press conferences, one with the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Testimonies throughout the week were as alarming as Kitajima’s; the public was told of a spike in suicides among residents living in the Fukushima area, for a week after the earthquake and tsunami, Tokyo didn’t sell food or water for a week. Many animals were abandoned animals and many ancient landmarks were wiped out. Thousands are still not allowed to go back to their homes and the refugee center set up cardboard walls to separate some 2500 people living there.
Fukushima Week also included a Silent vigil - one that has been ongoing for the past year in Yorktown on Route 202 across from BJ’s. Before last week’s commemoration, a group of Peace Walkers started out at Zucotti Park near Wall Street and walked to George Washington bridge and before the March 11 commemoration “No More Fukushima’s Peace Walkers” were led by Buddhist nun Jun-san Yasuda from Croton. Jun-san is from the Grafton Peace Pavilion and is well known for her walks for peace around the world. A post commemoration event was a Pot Luck that featured music, poetry and speakers including singer songwriter Dar Williams, Dan Einbender and the Rivertown Kids, James Durst, Hope Machine, Lydia Adams Davis, Sarah Underhill, Roland Moussa, Taeko Fukao, Raging Grannies.
To date, all but two of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The two remaining reactors are expected to be taken off line in the next few months. Kitajima said the country may use more gas or fossil fuel.
“In the long run we will use renewables and have a clean and green grid and sustain our living standards,” he said. “If we can do it in Japan you can do it here. Say good bye to nuclear power and Close Indian Point!”
March 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
The initial bungling of misinformation by the Japanese government to the world and to its citizens about the extent of the danger was a prime example of how national leaders alter the truth to avoid panic, adding to the growing distrust of governments chummy with the nuclear industry. That the Japanese no longer trust their leaders was reported in a recent New York Times article by Martin Fackler, ” Japan’s Nuclear Energy Industry Nears Shutdown, at Least for Now,” ( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/world/asia/japan-shutting-down-its-nuclear-power-indU.S.try.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y ). Fackler reports that “all but two of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year ago,” primarily due to the nationwide loss of faith in a “Japan ‘s once-vaunted nuclear technology but also in the government, which many blame for allowing the accident to happen.”
In the post Fukushima era here in the U.S., the thunderous drone of 104 U.S. nuclear generators roars on. Not only are the feds in denial about Japan ‘s disaster with claims that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami can’t happen here, but if anything, the Japanese catastrophe has re-energized the U.S. nuclear renaissance.
And, as usual, the industry has time on their side.
The pro-nuclear support by the U.S. government and its untouchable hand maiden, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, have dodged post Fukushima bullets aimed at giving nuclear power a bad rep. Even though the NRC quickly threw together a special Fukushimatask force it took them an entire year – almost on the eve of the first anniversary ofFukushima – to issue safety rules to nuclear plant owners who have until 2016 to comply. According to a Reuter’s report on March 9, 2012 (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/09/U.S.-utilites-nrc-fukU.S.hima-idU.S.BRE8281AC20120309, “U.S. implements new Fukushima nuclear safety policy by Scott DiSavino) the few safety rules the NRC labeled “urgent” requires plants to beef up protection of their safety equipment installed after the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks, and for plants to install enhanced equipment for monitoring water levels in each reactor’s spent fuel pool. Compliance with these orders is expected to cost utilities each about $100 million, a fraction of what nuclear utilities rake in yearly.
The industry also has another year before they get on the defensive about deleterious affects from Fukushima contamination. The United Nations Scientific Committee says their formal report, due out in mid 2013, hopes to reveal the extent of food contamination from the Fukushima accident.http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-03-05/children-of-fukU.S.hima-wait-for-un-radiation-study.
In the Fukushima aftermath the feds never skipped a beat in their lock-step with the industry. Over a month before issuing a new set of safety rules, the NRC gave a nod to Southern Company in Georgia to fast track two new nuclear plants at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro,Georgia. The two new reactors will cost $14 billion a piece and the rushed construction plan is unprecedented with completion expected by 2016 and 2017.
Southern Company is using $14 billion of U.S. backed loan guarantees — an outward muscle flexing of this country’s love affair with nuclear power. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which guaranteed $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for companies building new nuclear plants, not only remained unchallenged after Fukushima but President Obama attempted to gift-wrap an additional $36 billion in loans to jump-start the renaissance — a request that Congress denied and one that didn’t surface in the 2013 budget.
The global galvanization of the anti-nuclear movement since Fukushima has become skeptical of an industry in collusion with it’s government – a disaster-prone dynamic duo. For those seeking to shutter nukes permanently, it’s like swimming upstream against a doomsday trend that, not for the first time, has screamed prophetic warnings: Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and now Fukushima (let’s not forget 9-11 when the Indian Point nuclear power plant outside New York City was among the targets considered by Al Qaeda terrorists. http://www.energybulletin.net/node/1243 9/11 Report Reveals Al Qaeda Ringleader Contemplated a NY-area Nuclear Power Plant as Potential Target).
There are countries who have heeded the warnings of Fukushima: Germany, who is boldly phasing out all their nuclear fleets by 2022, Switzerland, where nuclear power produces 40 percent of electricity, plans to shut down its reactors by 2034, Belgium is expected to phase out their two remaining nuclear power plants and stations, and, Kuwait just announced they are terminating a plan to build four reactors by 2022. Italy abandoned nuclear power after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
In the U.S. however, the priority for this billion dollar industry is the profitable bottom line. In this powerful energy driven market, spending on programs that would lessen risks and increase safety are budget items that trail far behind advertising campaigns and powerful lobbyist strategies.
Nuclear energy lobbyists cozy with both state and federal governments went into overdrive after Fukushima, rushing to assure Capitol Hill that U.S. plants could withstand similar earthquakes and tsunamis like those that happened in Japan. Fukushima aside, the national ticket to pay lobbyists by nuclear reactor owners has doubled from $27 million in 2004 to $54 million in 2010.
Entergy, one of the biggest nuclear utility companies in the U.S. and owner of the aging Indian Point outside of New York City, paid over $1 million to lobbyists Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, the Vidal Group and Featherstonhaugh Wiley & Cline to work their magic in Albany, New York ‘s state capital. On the federal level, Entergy paid over $8.2 million to lobbyists such as Breaux Lott Leadership Group and Peck, Madigan, Jones and Stewart in 2010 and 2011.
Lobbyists are looking over their shoulder at Fukushima especially in the case of Indian Point, where the NRC is considering renewing Entergy’s operating license for 20 more years. Just 24 miles from densely populated New York City and built on two seismic fault lines, Indian Point spent fuel pools currently hold three times the radioactivity as the spent fuel pools in the four Fukushima reactors . http://www.ips-dc.org/pressroom/expert_cautions_that_30_million_spent_nuclear_fuel_rods_are_unsafely_stored_in_united_states_could_cause_fukushima-like_disaster
Lobbyists, who are the glue that solidifies the incestuous bond between government and nuclear power utilities, can laugh in the face of potential risk with the no-fault backing by the Price Andersen Indemnity Act. Passed in 1957, Price Andersen places a cap on the total amount of liability that each nuclear power plant licensee could potentially face in the event of an accident. The public pays the rest. The Act has been extended several times and is up for renewal in 2025. Price Andersen is what Toledo Blade reporter Tom Henry calls the “mother of all bailouts” and “lets utilities — and their investors — off the hook for all but $12.6 billion of any catastrophe while taxpayers assume all other liability, a figure that could potentially reach hundreds of billions of dollars.” http://www.toledoblade.com/TomHenry/2012/03/01/Nuclear-power-indU.S.try-waits-for-Wall-Street-to-flip-the-switch.html . $12 billion is a drop in the bucket when it comes to costs related to nuclear accidents. According to UPI, FukU.S.hima Daiichi owner Tepco needs at least twice that amount. The Japanese government wants a bigger part in running Tepco before bailing the company out with $13 billion in public funds and Tepco financial backers want assurances that the plants can be restarted before lending the utility $12.4 billion.http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2011/09/17/Damaged-nuke-plant-may-lose-insurance/UPI-59231316292856/
Can we ever undo a liaison that is on automatic, propelled by stock dividends and campaign coffers? The priority for this billion dollar industry is more profit and less spending on risk management and safety measures. But other budget lines for the industry have spiked, especially for companies like Entergy who is battling an organized opposition to re-licensing, a movement that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has robustly supported. Since 2007 when Entergy first applied for a new license, and because the application garnered more contentions in the history of NRC re-licensing, Entergy has had to pump more into legal defense, ad campaigns and lobbyists. While expenditures rose, stock prices fell. In January, 2012, the company reported a drop in net income to $160 million (87 cents per share) vs. $233.3 million ($1.28 per share) a year earlier — a decline of 31.4% – a dip that most energy investors see as a financial blip, a mere rhythmic slowing of the industry’s forward moving gait. But slowing is tantamount to stopping and with enough political will and more doubt cast on re-licensing, it just may be enough to close down Indian Point. Certainly Governor Cuomo’s leadership tilts the scales in favor of trusting government.
Escalating costs for Entergy and the forecast that the New York metropolitan area may not need Indian Point at all may be the equation that shutters this plant.
Hope has surfaced in new technologies that can replace nuclear generated electricity with renewables – a move that could phase out nuclear power for good. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, in their 2012 Annual Energy Outlook http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4950 predicts that over the next 25 years, natural gas and renewable fuels will gain a larger share of the United States generating mix of electricity. Renewable energy generation is expected to grow 33% by 2035 using mostly wind, solar, biomass, geothermal and non-hydro renewables.
If our government truly wants to regain our trust, the next move is up to them. Getting behind safe energy policies and unhinging from the practice of corporate welfare for the nuclear industry is one way. Realigning themselves with utilities that invest in renewables is another. Let’s hope they do it before another nuclear plant catastrophe.