Month: March 2017

4 Dying Nuke Plants vs. Fleet of Gigafactories: Which Will Gov. Cuomo Choose?

By Harvey Wasserman and Tim Judson

Originally published at EcoWatch

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Elon Musk’s SolarCity is completing the construction of its “Buffalo Billion” Gigafactory for photovoltaic (PV) cells near the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York. It will soon put 500 New Yorkers to work inside the 1.2 million-square-foot facility with another 700 nearby, ramping up to nearly 3,000 over the next few years.

The production of some 10,000 solar panels per day will put thousands of New Yorkers to work doing the installations. The panels will produce electricity cheaper, cleaner, more safely and more reliably than any fossil or nuclear source of power, including fracked gas, thus fueling a bright industrial future for the state.

With a little common sense from the governor, upstate New York could have many more of these massive factories, create many thousands of good, stable, high-paying jobs and solve its energy problems along the way.

All he has to do is shift over the absurd, wrong-headed $7.6 billion hand-out he now wants to give the Illinois-based Exelon Corporation for continuing to run four extremely old and dangerous nuclear reactors.

Those four reactors employ a total of about 2,100 people. They came online in 1969, 1970, 1975 and 1988 respectively. Aside from being dangerously decrepit, they run the risk of early shutdown because of general mechanical deterioration, rising maintenance costs, a shortage of replacement parts and the likelihood of major component failures.

At some point all operating reactors will also face escalated safety standards certain to result from the next Fukushima-like disaster, an ever-more likely reality as the global nuke fleet ages and deteriorates. Because the nuclear industry is failing throughout the U.S. and Europe, there is an ever-narrowing pool of workers qualified to keep the plants going. Because the electricity they produce is so expensive, they will drain a huge pool of resources from a state-wide economy in desperate need of industrial rebirth.

By contrast, SolarCity’s solar panel plant will be productive for decades. It’s called the Gigafactory because it will produce a gigawatt’s (1 million kilowatts) worth of solar panels every year, about the same as a nuclear reactor. (Depending on climate and sunlight, PV capacity produces electricity equivalent from about a half to a third of the capacity from an atomic reactor, assuming the reactor doesn’t blow up, melt down or shut for other reasons).

The cells produced at “Buffalo Billion” will spread throughout New York and the nation, revolutionizing our energy system. The energy those cells will produce will create far more jobs than subsidized nukes and would emit no greenhouse gases. The nukes they’d replace currently emit billions of gallons of hot wastewater annually, a major contributor to climate chaos.

Should the money Gov. Cuomo has earmarked for those old Exelon nukes be shifted to solar, New York’s economy would be revolutionized.

The template for such a plan has already been established by Pacific Gas & Electric at California’s last two reactors. Surrounded by earthquake faults at an oceanfront site nine miles west of San Luis Obispo, the Diablo Canyon nukes are being phased out in an agreement between the state, the utility, environmental, labor and local government groups.

Pacific Gas & Electric has admitted that the power Diablo produces can be replaced with 100 percent renewables. The company has also agreed to retain the plant’s 1,200 workers through the phase-out and retrain them for jobs in the renewables industry at when the plant shuts down. Surrounding communities will also be compensated for lost tax revenues.

Gov. Cuomo should take heed. The $7.6 billion he’s earmarked for these four upstate nukes comes with a price tag of $3.64 million per retained job. But in the solar/efficiency field, the state is producing jobs manufacturing clean energy technology with far better long-term prospects for just $148,000 per job.

Rather than having all the jobs in the nuclear basket, that $7.6 billion could also help fund a diversity of facilities that have an actual future in a global economy experiencing a revolutionary green transformation.

SolarCity’s Gigafactory in Buffalo will cost the state about $750 million to build. SolarCity is investing another $900 million for manufacturing equipment and build-out.

At full capacity, the PV Gigafactory and its local suppliers will employ 2,900 workers, almost 40 percent more than all four old nukes combined. It will support about 2,000 more jobs statewide. Thus the SolarCity facility will account for about 5,000 jobs—close to three times as many as at the four old reactors. Its cheaper, more reliable energy will fuel a far healthier economy, free of the worry of catastrophic melt-downs and explosions.

Right now some 8,000 New Yorkers work in the solar installation business. They are too often installing imported panels because China has made a huge investment in its PV export business. Panels made in Buffalo will keep that money in New York.

Meanwhile a plant making solar panel wafers in Rochester, built for about $700 million, employs about a 1,000 workers. The Soraa LED lightbulb plant in Syracuse has created 420 permanent local jobs.

Tesla is now pouring thousands of high-efficiency batteries out of its $3.5 billion state-of-the-art facility in Nevada. By mid-2017, it will employ 1,700 workers and about 6,500 when the plant is running at full capacity in 2020. Such a factory could easily be built in New York, again at a fraction the cost of Cuomo’s nuke bailouts.

Worldwide, nuke power is in an advanced state of collapse. Westinghouse, the proud purveyor of the first electricity to come from Niagara Falls, has been bankrupted by its failed nuke construction projects and may take Toshiba down with it.

Those uninsurable old upstate nukes, three of them nearly a half-century old, could do the same to New York. The choice being made here is between a failed technology in the process of collapse or a 21st Century industry in the process of remaking the world.

If Gov. Cuomo wants to take New York forward, instead of locking it into a failed radioactive past, he’ll follow California’s lead. A small fraction of that $7.6 billion could retain and retrain the workers at those four upstate nukes and compensate the local communities and help them rebuild their economies and tax bases. As the results from a 2015 report by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Alliance for Green Economy show, supporting reactor communities and workers should cost far less than any bailouts.

The rest of those billions can then create tens of thousands of solid, state-of-the-art jobs producing cheap, clean, safe green energy components in factories and installation sites sure to guarantee New York state a modern, competitive industrial future.

It’s an easy choice, Gov. Cuomo. Fund four dying nukes with 1,100 jobs or a prosperous Solartopian future for New York state with tens of thousands of permanent positions in a a booming sustainable economy.

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Trump’s Budget Assault on the Environment Packs a Wallop

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by

Originally published at The Progressive on March 17, 2017

Donald Trump’s first budget makes his antipathy to the environment clear—and his love for fossil fuels and nuclear power even clearer.

In addition to slashing funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, he also announced this week that he wants massive rollbacks in automotive fuel efficiency standards and billions in new investments in nuclear weapons and storage for commercial nuclear waste.

The administration’s budget cuts $2.4 billion from the EPA’s operating funds—roughly 31 percent—taking the agency’s annual budget from $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion, the smallest since it was formed in 1970. These cuts will cripple regulation of air and water quality, strip oversight of a wide range of land management programs, and loosen restrictions on chemical emissions from industrial facilities.

Much of this money would be shifted directly over to the military, which the Trump Administration wants to bolster with an additional $54 billion over the final Obama allocations.

As Wenona Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, the cuts would lower staff to about 11,800, in an agency that employed 17,000 in 2010 and, according to the Washington Post, about 15,000 today.“We should be clear that 90 percent of EPA programs are run by state agencies,” Hauter says.“Half that staff is located in regional offices.

The cuts, says Hauter, would cripple the states’ ability to protect clean air and water across the country.

Following through on his campaign promise to reduce the EPA to “little tidbits,” Trump’s budget defunds more than 50 programs. These include infrastructure improvement on Indian reservations, major projects to clean up Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, a wide range of renewable energy development and energy efficiency programs, numerous climate change research programs, national heritage sites, environmental justice programs, oceanographic research and preservation, and much more. Gina McCarthy, a former EPA official under Obama,described it as “a scorched earth budget that represents an all-out assault on clean air, water and land.”

Some of the immediate opposition has crossed party lines. Ohio’s recently re-elected Republican Senator Rob Portman, a close associate of former President George W. Bush, strongly opposed cuts to the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies warned, “if such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution.”

Among the programs affected will be popular Energy Star campaigns that set efficiency standards for household and other appliances. The program is well-established and popular among large manufacturers seeking marketing tools in a highly competitive global business. “It’s alarming and bewildering to see the Trump Administration propose cuts to critical government programs that support clean energy innovation, helped create thousands of new jobs, and saved Americans millions on their utility bills,” says Amit Ronen, Director of George Washington University’s Solar Institute.

Scott Sklar, head of the Stella Group, a D.C.-based environmental consulting firm, and chair of the steering committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition adds that the EPA cuts come in tandem with assaults on programs at the Department of Energy critical to advances in LED light bulbs, advanced batteries, electric trucks, biofuels and other cutting-edge green power projects. Overall, says Sklar, the cuts could cripple some seventeen national laboratories whose innovative technical work spans the horizon from windmills and solar panels to advanced batteries and accelerated efficiency.

In addition, says Ronen, “Trump and his cronies can fundamentally change how EPA does its job by rolling back carbon and air regulations and not enforcing current law.”

A deadly dose of that medicine is now being  administered in Detroit, where Trump has moved to slash motor vehicle efficiency requirements and emissions standards.

At the behest of auto company executives, Trump is exploiting a legal loophole in Obama-era requirements to gut fleet fuel-economy capabilities. Complaining about technical challenges, the industry may soon slouch back to lower emissions standards feeding higher short-term profits. Detroit will once again race to the bottom in a global transportation industry increasingly dominated by Germany, China, and Japan.

The trends are being further exploited with shifts at the state as well as federal levels to slash tax breaks and incentives for electric cars and solar panels. Guided by handouts from the Koch brothers’ fossil fuel empire, “free market” legislators in states like Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona have partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council to impose debilitating taxes and regulatory barriers against electric cars, green power production, advanced efficiency, mass transit and more. The trend has been underscored by Trump’s quick approval of the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, and relaxed rules governing fracking on public lands.

Meanwhile, Illinois and New York are moving toward massive subsidies for uncompetitive, dangerously dilapidated old nuclear reactors in a marketplace where renewables are coming in far cheaper and creating thousands more jobs. In Ohio and other states, owners of money-losing reactors are advocating for massive handouts to block cheaper, job-creating renewables and efficiency from getting into the marketplace.

Adding insult to injury, Trump wants to add $120 million to the long-dead Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Despite fierce local opposition, the Department of Energy has blown some $13.5 billion since 2002 digging a giant tunnel through the dormant volcano eighty miles outside Las Vegas to store radioactive waste. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, got President Obama to cancel Yucca in 2011. Yucca could ultimately cost more than $90 billion by some estimates, and take decades.  A $2 billion 2014 explosion shut America’s sole state-of-the-art radioactive-waste repository, at Carlsbad, New Mexico, casting a long shadow over underground burial.

Ohio’s Crumbling Nukes Face Judgement Day

by Harvey Wasserman

This article originally appeared at www.freepress.org.

And was subsequently  published on Reader Supported news on March 2, 2017

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he likely explosion of an American nuclear power plant is the ultimate terror in the age of Trump.

Across the United States, 99 dangerous, decrepit, and disastrous commercial nukes are literally falling to pieces. With no private insurance and no meaningful regulation, the industry is poised to wreak apocalyptic havoc on our planet. While the industry bribes and strong-arms governors and state legislatures into massive bailouts, the next meltdown/blowup could very well cost you both your money and your life.

None of these nukes are nearer to the breaking point than Ohio’s infamous Davis-Besse reactor, near Toledo. It is poised to lose hundreds of millions of dollars for its owners and Ohio ratepayers. So, of course, the “free enterprise” Republican legislature is poised to give those nuke operators a massive bailout. To the tune of more than $4 billion (that’s not a typo).

Natural gas is cheaper. New gas plants are under construction throughout the state. Ohio has tremendous wind resources, far in excess of anything we will ever need and far more than it would take to replace DB. Thanks to spectacular technological advances in recent years, that wind power – along with new solar panels – is cheaper, safer, cleaner and more reliable than the nuke, and would create thousands of jobs beyond the few hundred at Davis-Besse.

But FirstEnergy, which owns both Davis-Besse and the legislature, does not own the gas or the wind. Davis-Besse is also poised to melt down and/or blow up. Six other reactors (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima 1-4) have already done one or both.

One of the world’s oldest reactors, Davis-Besse is literally crumbling. As Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear has shown, DB’s shield building has been pulverized by storms, internalized moisture that alternatively freezes and thaws, faulty maintenance, and corrupt decision making.

DB is infamous worldwide for its “hole-in-the-head” fiasco. That happened when boric acid ate nearly all the way through the reactor pressure vessel. It came within a fraction of an inch of another Chernobyl. Says Kamps: “FirstEnergy has admitted that it has known since 2011 that large chunks of Shield Building exterior face concrete could fall off – as due to an earthquake, or meltdown pressures – and fall down onto safety significant systems, structures, or components below, exacerbating the disaster, perhaps even leading to a meltdown, that the breached containment could no longer contain.”

But if the all-too-likely disaster comes, FirstEnergy will not be liable for the damages. You will pay, with your money, your property, and maybe your life.

The 1957 Price-Anderson Act was passed to encourage utility companies to build atomic reactors, which were essentially a happy face for the atomic bomb. The Atomic Energy Commission that both regulated and promoted nuclear power also produced America’s nuclear weapons. The power companies resisted the reactors because they feared meltdowns, which government reports at the time presciently warned could wipe out an area the size of Pennsylvania. The industry at the time promised electricity “too cheap to meter” and denied a commercial reactor could ever explode. Both statements proved to be epic lies.

Meanwhile a captive Congress let the industry proceed without liability insurance. A tiny ($540 million) fund was set up, essentially for show. That’s now up to about $13 billion. But considering Chernobyl did at least a half-trillion in damage and Fukushima more than anybody can yet calculate, the kitty is essentially an absurdity. A radioactive cloud pouring out of Davis-Besse would do $13 billion in damage to life and property within the first few miles.

The rest would be paid for by the public – you and me. After 60 years, American reactors still have no private liability insurance.

Protected by the government, FirstEnergy has no corporate stake in protecting the people or property downwind. Some workers might care. Some executives might be perpetually poised to flee the inevitable apocalyptic cloud as it hurtles toward their lakefront mansions.

But as an inanimate entity, the company itself is immune to radiation. Should the corporate shield crumble, bankruptcy is the easy and obvious option.

Which is what FirstEnergy may face at Davis-Besse. Among the world’s very oldest reactors, its operating and maintenance costs have soared. Even with the fake regulation provided by the rubber stamp Nuclear Regulatory Commission, DB faces massive repairs just to keep its turbines twirling. The building has already been slashed into four times to replace core components. It’s the equivalent of having four open-heart surgeries (if a reactor can be said to have a heart) through a rib cage that cannot heal, with each invasion accelerating general deterioration.

As Sierra Club energy expert Ned Ford explains, the economic crisis FirstEnergy now faces is of its own making. Many years ago, when it was known as Cleveland Electric Illuminating (and then Centerior, also encompassing Ohio Edison) the utility’s financial geniuses gouged out of the legislature a massive bailout for Davis-Besse and its compadre Perry reactor east of Cleveland. Together they took what energy expert Ned Ford estimates to be up to $20 billion from Ohio ratepayers.

At the time they argued (with straight faces) we’d all save millions in an open “free market” competition. But to get there, they insisted we underwrite the two lakefront nukes, which could not compete without gargantuan handouts that made a mockery of that old “too cheap to meter” pitch.

The legislature, of course, gave them all they wanted. We who testified against this outrageous stick-up warned that the “free market” reactor operators would be begging for re-regulation.

Why?

Because nukes can’t function without huge subsidies. Regulation guarantees a return on investment at ratepayer expense (which has never bothered a “free market” utility).

As Ned Ford has extensively shown, Ohio has huge excess capacity in coal-burners, though many are as decrepit and dysfunctional as Davis-Besse. It’s also over-built in gas burners, many of which sat unused when methane prices were high, but which now churn out juice far cheaper than any nukes anywhere.

Most importantly, northern Ohio has spectacular wind resources. The breezes in the middle of Lake Erie are as strong and steady as anywhere on Earth. The lake is relatively shallow and fresh, meaning there’s no salt to corrode the moving parts. The likely sites are also relatively close to Toronto, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and other major consuming centers.

On-shore is even better. The winds aren’t as strong, but installation is cheaper and there’s plenty of transmission, many willing farm hosts, and good proximity to the cities. Alongside solar cells, wind is humankind’s fastest-growing new energy source, creating millions of jobs worldwide – tens of thousands of which are poised to pour into Ohio whenever the nukes finally shut. Advanced reliability has driven capacity factors constantly higher, with downtime increasingly covered by a revolution in battery technologies.

In 2010 a broad coalition of activists, working with Governor Ted Strickland, put a far-seeing energy plan in place to take Ohio deep into a green energy future. The pioneer package of goals and incentives was set to bring the Buckeye State an energy mix that was clean, cheap, cutting-edge, and poised to create thousands of jobs in an advanced economy that could have pulled Ohio far ahead of the rest of the rust belt and into a truly sustainable post-recessional future. Several billion dollars in investment capital – much of it focused on wind farms in northern Ohio – was ready to go.

But with the coming of John Kasich and a Koch-controlled legislature, all that disappeared. Kasich has since softened his anti-green tone. But the legislature is still run by far-right corporate Republicans who hate anything that’s not fossil/nuke, even if there are jobs and money to be made and a sustainable future to be had. They also hate anything that smacks of government interference or handouts – until a big corporate donor like FirstEnergy demands billions in ratepayer subsidies for uninsurable privately-owned reactors that put the public at risk.

Indeed, FirstEnergy is now unabashedly asking this “anti-government” legislature to guarantee its return on nuclear investments whose real dollar values are a huge negative. Massive quantities of radioactive trash have piled up at the reactor sites with nowhere to go. The pioneer American radioactive waste facility – New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project –blew up three years ago at an estimated cost of $2 billion and counting. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, decades from being completed if at all, will be even more unstable, with an ultimate price tag approaching $100 billion.

Both Ohio reactors are gargantuan liabilities demanding inestimable resources to decommission. Funds have been accumulated to allegedly pay for that, but nobody seriously believes there’s enough to do the job.

The nuclear industry has also adopted the astonishing lie that these reactors are somehow “zero emission” and therefore help fight global warming. It’s an amusing argument, coming from Republicans who adamantly denounce the idea that climate change might be real.

It’s also blatantly false. Davis-Besse, Perry, and all other reactors dump billions of gallons of heated water directly into the air and water. They thus “fight climate change” by directly heating the climate. They also emit Carbon 14 in their fission process, and many tons of carbon dioxide in the process of mining, milling, and enriching their uranium fuel.

Nukes also constantly emit radioactive gases and particulates that kill living things, both in their “normal” operating process and when they explode, as at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Above all, they have been blown away economically by the revolution in solar and wind. More than 260,000 Americans now work in the solar industry and more than 100,000 in wind, far more than in coal, oil, and nukes combined. Every time a reactor shuts, opportunity arises to create thousands of stable, long-term, well-paying jobs in renewables and efficiency. The faster the reactors shut, the more jobs are created and the safer, cleaner, and cooler the planet becomes.

If Ohio’s legislature does re-regulate and hand FirstEnergy its radioactive ransom, lawsuits will erupt (as they already have in Illinois) from independent “market” utilities seeking to compete. The type of monopoly status the “free market” Republicans are poised to give FirstEnergy will be challenged in the courts and regulatory agencies in hugely expensive litigations. The only certain outcome is years of delay and a yet another massive price tag – which FirstEnergy would stick to the rest of us.

Also certain would be the devastating impact on Ohio’s economic future. As shown by the Sierra’s Ford, the billions sucked up by these ancient, obsolete nukes have poisoned the Buckeye economy and helped hollow out what was once an industrial powerhouse. The only jobs created will be among the attorneys adding their exorbitant fees onto the ratepayers’ tab.

The revolution in wind and solar that’s sweeping the planet should long ago have brought Ohio’s economy into the new millennium.

Instead, these massively subsidized, crumbling, obsolete radioactive jalopies keep on rumbling toward the inevitable atomic cliff. What melted TMI, Chernobyl, and the Fukushimas draws closer every day.

Likewise the shameless, self-serving, and unconscionable campaign FirstEnergy has launched to force us all to yet again fund our own economic, employment, ecological and biological demise.

FirstEnergy now says it will sell Davis-Besse and get out of the generating business. But the deal will be meaningless if DB continues to operate.

Somewhere along the line, Ohioans must find those two off-switches at Perry and Davis-Besse while turning on the revolution in wind and solar power that is bringing jobs and prosperity to so much of the rest of the world.


Harvey Wasserman is author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, available viawww.solartopia.org. He edits www.nukefree.org. This article originally appeared at www.freepress.org.

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