Taking a respite from shale drilling and protection of public lands, the Spring issue of the Sierra Club’s PA Chapter newsletter contains a Special Report on the status of nuclear power. You may download a copy of the Sylvanian newsletter at Sylvanian Spring 2012
A recent decision regarding uranium mining perhaps inadvertently highlights an environmental issue regarding any expansion of nuclear power. On October 26 the Obama Administration decided to keep free from mineral exploration and new mining more than a million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park.
“The Sierra Club applauds the decision to protect these precious public lands. The Grand Canyon is a crown jewel of our national park system, and an important piece of American history, culture and economy,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “These public lands are no place for destructive energy and mineral development.” (more…)
In a surprise decision that could affect the worldwide demand for Marcellus Shale gas, on May 30 the German government announced its intention to permanently shut down all its seventeen nuclear power plants by 2022. The decision needs to be approved by parliament.
Before Germany closed down seven of its seventeen reactors following the Fukushima disaster in March, 26 percent of the country’s electric power was nuclear. That compares with 20 pct in the US, 18 pct in the UK, and 75 pct in France.
How the Germans will fill the energy gap left by closing the nuclear plants is a question that will be watched very closely by other countries. The German government has announced it will increase energy generation from renewable sources (primarily wind and solar) from 17 pct to 35 pct over the next decade. In the meantime, there is the possibility that Germany will replace more of its coal-fired power plants with natural gas. This is an idea supported by Germany’s Green Partyhttp://www.energybiz.com/article/11/05/german-greens-urge-building-gas-power-plants-replace-nuclear at the end of May! More gas from the Russians, or from the shale gas in Saxony, or perhaps from Pennsylvania?
The gathering concern about our dependence on fossil fuels for electric power generation causes legislators to re-examine the use of nuclear power. At present there are 104 commercial reactors at 65 nuclear plants in the US. With no new plants for thirty years, in February President Obama announced $8.33 billion government loan guarantees for the construction and operation of two new nuclear reactors at a power plant in Georgia. In the negotiations for a federal energy bill there have been proposals for twenty new nuclear plants.
Locally, the push for new nuclear plants is of interest to the Pittsburgh region because of the presence of Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company headquarters in Cranberry.
The following is an explanation of the Sierra Club’s position on nuclear energy: (more…)
In a move that may be designed to court Republican support for climate change/energy legislation, President Obama announced the awarding of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. The two new 1,100 megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors will supplement the two reactor units at an existing Southern Company facility. For comparison, the dirty coal-fired Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingort, Beaver County, has a rated capacity of 2,640 MW.
From George H. Schnakenberg, Jr., PhD, retired Bureau of Mines/NIOSH
February 14, 2009.
I finally got around to reading some of the recent newsletter emails and noticed one on nuclear power which requested a response.
Countries around the world are facing the question of whether to go to nuclear power as a way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
In Sweden the government has now abandoned its 1980 moratorium on new nuclear power plants in order to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.
As the current ten operational reactors are taken out of service, they will be replaced by new reactors at the existing sites. This will keep Sweden’s portion of energy supplied by nuclear reactors at an estimated 44%.
At the same time as returning to nuclear power, the government wants renewable energy to account for 50% of the energy supply by 2020, up from roughly 40% today. But then Sweden has the advantage of all that hydropower!
(There is more about returning to nuclear power elsewhere on this website. Why not let us know how you feel about this issue by dropping a line to pjwray at verizon dot net?)
A fair number of environmentalists, especially those in coal mining states, are beginning to question whether nuclear power plants are a better choice than coal-fired plants. At present dirty coal is certainly causing more damage to communities, our water, our air, and the plant’s future than are those quietly humming nuclear plants.
In the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of the Washington Monthly, Mariah Blake describes how Finland tackled this fossil fuel vs nuclear dilemma in 2002. In that year the Finnish parliament decided to build a single nuclear plant. The decision was greeted by much fanfare in the European press and by the French builder, Areva.
Today the plant is three years behind schedule. This means that to meet its Kyoto agreement target by 2012, Finland will have to buy millions of dollars worth of credit through the EU’s credit trading scheme. Due in part to sub-contractor inexperience the project is 50% over budget with a final estimate of $6.2 billion. Finally, as Blake discovered, the Finnish nuclear authority, STUK, has detected 2,200 “quality deficiencies”. Blake indicates that the Finnish experience has broad implications for the world’s resurgent nuclear power industry.
With support across the political spectrum, more than 100 nuclear plants are on the world’s drawing boards, with thirty-five in the US. Blake chronicles this resurgence from the nadir of Three Mile Island in 1979 through the patronage of then Senator Domenici of New Mexico and the Bush administration’s push for the Energy policy Act of 2005. In the past four years alone the nuclear industry has enjoyed federal funding of $25 billion.
Despite the support of Congress, including that of then Senator Obama, Wall Street has remained skeptical of the “nuclear power panacea”. That is where Blake gets to the central thrust of her article: the exorbitant cost of building safer nuclear plants, and how the industry and utilities are lobbying ferociously for federal funding to pay the bill.
The fear is that disproportionate federal funding of nuclear power will harm the development of green energy sources. While Finland put so much into nuclear power, countries such as Germany have invested heavily in solar and wind power.
As people become more aware of the harmful effects of using coal to produce electricity, attention is shifting to nuclear energy. But not so fast– even if we put aside concerns about nuclear waste disposal and nuclear proliferation, what about the cost? (more…)
When discussing the need to curb global warming by cutting back on the use of fossil fuels, nuclear power is quickly put forth as an alternative. Supporters often point to the dominant use of nuclear power in France, Russia, and the UK. This argument is especially strong in our own region, where an expanding Westinghouse is involved in the planned construction of four new Chinese nuclear power plants. So the question that arises is how have these countries solved the problem of storing the radioactive waste? The answer is simple– they haven’t.
In the US, the disposal of waste that will remain radioactive for generations is symbolized by the name of a site in Nevada: Yucca Mountain. While the Bush administration is moving ahead with feasibility tests at great cost to the taxpayer, there are real concerns about the seismic stability of the area, and the danger of seepage into the ground water. These concerns are sufficient to render Yucca Mountain a political third-rail for presidential candidates. (more…)
In mid December more than 500 organizations from the U.S. and abroad, including some of the world’s largest and most influential environmental organizations, signed a joint statement explicitly rejecting “the construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis.”
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, and Rainforest Action Network are a few of the many environmental groups that have signed on. Along with them were major peace groups like Code Pink, Peace Action, and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. In addition were hundreds of grassroots environmental, sustainable energy, religious, peace and other groups, and businesses large and small. All the groups were from 46 states and 38 countries on six continents. 5,900 individuals also have signed the statement, and more are signing every day.
Watch this Allegheny Group website for more reasons to reject nuclear power.
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C02 PPM from co2now.org