By Les Blough, Editor. Axis of Logic
|Feb. 25, 2010 - Nuclear energy resistance celebrated after Vermont’s Senate blocked a license extension for the Vermont Yankee plant. (Toby Talbot/ Associated Press)
The nuclear power industry is moving like a massive corporate bulldozer against regulatory agencies, governments, even the World Bank and anyone else who objects to the building of new reactors. This nuclear energy battle is a big one with a long history. The nuke-energy profiteers will always be fighting to have their trough refilled. For those of us who understand the threat of nuclear energy to health, the environment and the economy - this is a war we can win.
Coal-fired Plants vs. Nuclear Reactors
The first case to be considered in this report is the industry's attack on the World Bank in an effort to force them to change their policy and grant loans for building new reactors. The decision to build a coal-fired plant in South Africa is a test case in this effort. In Dan Yurman's article, writing for the "Energy Collective", he complains that the World Bank chose to fund a new coal plant over a Nuke Plant in South Africa. Yurman argues that coal is dirty and nuclear energy is clean:
"Nuclear energy equals power without gases - The controversy is a collision between advocates of control of greenhouse gases to slow down global warming and those who do not want the environmental concerns of the major powers to stand in the way of indigenous development. The key to providing the power without the gases is nuclear energy ... A South African new power station providing 4,800 MW of electricity using carbon emission free nuclear energy could be built in four-to-six years once the necessary approvals were in place. That’s not much longer than the construction period for a similar size coal-fired plant."
The statement misleading if not outright deceptive. There is no question: Coal-fired power plants are dirty. But that dirt cannot be compared to the risk and destruction of the radioactive contamination produced by a nuclear plant, not to mention the enormous risks of nuclear plant accidents. In their Nuclear Energy Fact Sheet, Leslie Lai & Kristen Morrison explain:
"A typical reactor will generate 20 to 30 tons of high-level nuclear waste annually. There is no known way to safely dispose of this waste, which remains dangerously radioactive until it naturally decays. The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is called its half-life, the time in which half the initial amount of atoms present takes to decay. The half-life of Plutonium-239, one particularly lethal component of nuclear waste, is 24,000 years. The hazardous life of a radioactive element (the length of time that must elapse before the material is considered safe) is at least 10 half-lives. Therefore, Plutonium-239 will remain hazardous for at least 240,000 years."
Yurman writing for the Energy Collective doesn't get it ... or perhaps "gets it" but tries to make the WB decision to look foolish ... stupid:
"Paradoxically, had the World Bank included nuclear energy in its portfolio of energy technologies for South Africa, it might have encountered other forms of opposition to the loan. Anti-nuclear groups in the U.S., and members of Congress, who come from the same “green” ranks as those who opposed the coal plant, would have lobbied just as hard against a loan to South Africa for nuclear reactors."
Yeah? So what's the problem. Both energy sources are dirty but one of them is far more contaminating and places the earth at risk for catastrophic accidents.
Yerman concludes his pro-nuke, pro-world funding article:
"Nuclear energy is growing as the default choice for new carbon emission free electricity generation worldwide, but you’d never know it reading the missives from the money mandarins at the World Bank."
His view that nukes will become the "default choice" naively ignores the enormous public reaction against new construction. His description of nukes as " new carbon emission free electricity generation" is simply deceptive.
Dangerous, filthy, polluting Nukes
On January 19, 2010, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), a citizens' organization filed a brief in Circuit Court on Jan 19 against mega-corporation Dominion and their plan to build additional cooling towers and 2 more nuclear reactors at North Anna, Virginia. The Dominion-Virginia Appeal is of the February 2009 Virginia Circuit Court's decision that ruled state agencies violated federal law and revoked the water quality permit for the North Anna nuclear station. BREDL describes the inefficiency and pollution generated by nuclear reactors:
"Two-thirds of the energy generated at every nuclear power plant is not converted into usable electricity. Rather, it is wasted and discharged to the environment. This waste heat can be discharged directly to the air via cooling towers, or it can be discharged to a body of water. Heat discharged to waterways poses a special environmental threat and is subject to the Clean Water Act. For decades Virginia’s State Water Control Board has declined to limit thermal discharges from the North Anna nuclear power plant."
Vogtle Nuclear Plant in Waynesboro, Georgia serves as an example of clean air violations and BREDL's action to pressure Georgia's Air Protection Branch of their Department of Natural Resources to deny an Air Quality Operating Permit to the Vogtle Plant. In an April 6, 2010 letter, BREDL's representative provided scientific evidence to the regulating body of Vogtle's violations:
"On behalf of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, our chapter Shell Bluff Concerned Citizens and our members in Georgia, I write to comment on the Environmental Protection Division’s operating permit amendment for Georgia Power Company’s two additional pressurized water reactors at Southern Nuclear Operating Company Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division should not approve the permit modification1 for the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant which would add four new cooling towers, increasing radioactive air pollution."
Table 1: Radioactive Air Emissions from Plant VogtleDuring normal operations, Plant Vogtle emits radioactive pollution into the air. The following table lists annual emissions:
A modified source is “any physical change in…a stationary source which increases the amount of any air pollutant emitted by such source or which results in the emission of any air pollutant not previously emitted.” Clean Air Act Section 111(a)(4)
Tichler J, Doty K, Lucadamo K. Radioactive Materials Releases from Nuclear Power Plants. Upton NY: Brookhaven National Laboratory, prepared for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission annual reports. NUREG/CR-2907, BNL-NUREG-51581 Page 2 April 6, 2010
The emissions included in Table 1 are radioactive isotopes with a half life of more than eight days, including Iodine-131 and particulates, which persist in the environment, therefore making them more likely to be directly inhaled or enter the body by some other route.
Table 2 lists gaseous emissions of nuclear fission and activation products.
Table 2: Gaseous Emissions, Vogtle Electric Generating Plant
Vogtle Unit 1
Vogtle Unit 2
The Vogtle 1 reactor emitted about eight times more radioactivity than did reactor 2 (28.34 to 4.73 curies). The majority of these emissions are often clustered into relatively brief time periods. For example, of the 23.89 curies emitted from Vogtle 1 in 2002, 20.40, or about 85%, occurred during the first quarter. During this quarter, relatively high levels of other radioisotopes occurred as well. For example, Vogtle 1 emitted .0191 of a curie of Iodine-131 into the air; making it the 3rd greatest emissions.
As you know, air pollution sources subject to Part 70 operating permit rule requirements are determined by the Clean Air Act5 and include area sources and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). Section 112(b) of the Act includes radioactive materials on the list of hazardous air pollutants and imposes health-based emission standards. Title III of the Act directs regulatory agencies to assess residual risk after the implementation of the initial standards and impose tighter standards to protect public health.
Radionuclide emissions to the atmosphere are regulated as hazardous air pollutants under Title III of the federal Clean Air Act. National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) are subject to maximum achievable control technology standards (MACT). Specifically, the Vogtle Electric Generating Plants will not meet Clean Air Act standards because: 1) without maximum achievable control technology, routine emissions from the plant would be excessive especially when considered in addition to the existing site-wide radioactive emission levels and 2) the company does not properly account for the higher levels of morbidity and mortality in females and infants caused by low levels of radiation. Enforcement of the Clean Air Act regulations related to nuclear power plants are delegated to the NRC. Radionuclides are listed as hazardous air pollutants in Section 112 of the Clean Air Act.
Protests, pickets, sit-ins and other forms of activism are extremely valuable to raise public awareness and motivate a community to resist construction of new plants. But organizing and fund-raising to employ scientists and professionals as BREDL does is also an essential part of our resistance to nuclear energy.
Axis of Logic columnist, Cathy Garger describes the destruction of the eco system on Chesapeake Bay by Dominion's nuclear plants in her well-documented report, Another DC Area Stand Down - As Radioactive Groundwater Due to Hit Chesapeake Bay:
"Yet whether EPA, environmental groups, or the media ever talk about it or not, the fact still remains that radioactive groundwater has been migrating steadily underground towards the Bay and draining into its tributaries for years. And whether residents living in the area are aware of it or not - increases in radioactive pollution now further threaten the health of nearly 17 million humans - and all other living things within the Bay ecosystem." Read more
The pro-nuclear propagandists have launched a full throttle campaign arguing that nuclear power is cheaper than other energy sources. What's missing from their calculations are the enormous legal costs of overcoming citizens' environmental protection groups like BREDL, the costs of decommissioning their reactors (after 20-40 years), the costs of disposal of nuclear waste, the potential costs of law suits and cleanup that follow accidents like the famous Three Mile Island disaster and the cost overruns in building new reactors which are the norm. Regarding the latter, the costs of Vogtle's construction in Georgia skyrocketed from an estimated $660 million to $8.87 billion. This was typical after the increased regulations that followed the Three Mile Island accident. Nonetheless, the NRC renewed the licenses for both Vogtle units for an additional 20 years, to the 2040s and two additional reactors are currently being built.
Executive Salaries and Labor Costs
McCann, S&P's analyst says of non-nuclear energy sources, "In our view, they are not attractive the way this company is attractive." We ask McCann, "attractive to whom?" - the average people who turn on their lamps - or the profiteering speculators, investors and executives. Here are some examples the people for whom building new nuclear plants is very attractive:
- In Richmond, Virginia, Thomas F. Farrell II, CEO of Dominion Resources, made $10.4 million last year, about 10 percent less than the previous year because of falling profits due to the collapsing U.S. economy. Dominion, produces electricity, natural gas and oil, 2 nuclear energy reactors, planning a third which is in the courts due to citizens' rejection of the plant. They operate the largest natural gas storage system in the U.S. with operations in 14 states.
Ann Harding took a hard look at top CEO salaries in similar positions. In 2008, The Nuclear Energy Institute paid Frank Bowman, its president and CEO, Frank Bowman, more than $3 million in total compensation. He was the seventh-highest-paid executive out of more than 500 organizations in all different policy areas, according to an annual National Journal salary survey.
Ms. Harding identified the top-paid executives in the sector with Bowman heading the list at NEI:
|Nuclear Energy Institute
|American Petroleum Institute
|Edison Electric Institute
|National Rural Electric
|American Coalition for
Clean Coal Electricity
|American Iron and Steel Institute
|American Gas Association
|American Chemistry Council
|Association of American Railroads
|American Forest and Paper Association
At Excelon, a utility company whose parent owns nuclear power plants in Illinois, Chairman and CEO John Rowe’s total compensation was $6.4 million, including the $1.47 million salary, $1.6 million in long-term cash incentives and another $2.7 million in stock awards. That was down from a total of $10.4 million in 2008.
Christopher Crane, president and chief operating officer of Excelon, saw total compensation in 2009 of $3.2 million, including $821,154 in salary. That compared to $5 million in 2008. (ibid)
At ComEd, CEO Frank Clark pulled in total compensation of $2.5 million, down from $3.3 million in 2008. Virtually all his compensation was in cash, since ComEd employees don’t participate in Exelon stock awards. Also at ComEd, President Anne Pramaggiore was paid $1.3 million, down about $50,000 from 2008. (ibid)
In 2008 the Tennessee Valley Authority boosted the salary and compensation package for CEO Tom Kilgore to over $3 million a year. The raise will made Kilgore one of the highest-paid federal employees in the U.S., eligible to earn more than 8 times what is paid the president of the United States. Kilgore reopened the nuclear plant at Browns Ferry in May, 2007 after it had been shut down for 22 years.
Masoud Bajestani, the Vice President of Browns Ferry Nuclear Unit 1, has a total package of more than 709 thousand dollars, but 210 thousand dollars is held back until retirement. A comparable position at a similar nuclear plant pays 664 thousand dollars plus undisclosed stock options.
Ian Urquhart, writing for "The Spec", wrote about salaries in the nuclear energy industry. He reported that Howard Hampton, Leader of the New Democratic Party in Canada complained that Hampton pointed out that 15 executives in Ontario's energy public sector make more than the top person at Hydro Quebec (about $470,000). Jim Harkinson, president of Ontario Power Generation (OPG) topped the list at $1.48 million. William Sheffield, OPG board member defended the salaries: "Our people are well-paid, yes. "Are they paid above market? No. They're paid below private-sector market, but at the top of the utility sector because it (OPG) has the most complex and important assets in the business ... the market for nuclear executives is very thin." No doubt those "complex and important assets" are their Darlington and Pickering nuclear power plants.
But executive pay is not the only money that drives the resurgence of nuclear energy. The highly specialized engineers and workers in the nuclear energy field, including their unions are also putting the pressure on politicians and regulating agencies. Urquhart wrote:
Of the 5,518 OPG staffers on this year's list of public-sector employees making more than $100,000, a staggering 4,525 of them were unionized. Many of those employees work in the nuclear plants, where overtime is common.
The resurgence of nuclear energy and new construction of nuclear reactors are driven by these financial incentives for a relatively small group of people.
Funding for private construction of nuclear reactors comes from Wall Street speculators whose payoffs on investments drive up the cost of nuclear energy. They are also underwritten by taxpayers in the form of loan guarantees and operating costs of public utilities. The burden of nuclear energy on taxpayers is obvious and the nuke advocates even admit it. Autumn Hanna analyzes federal loan guarantees at Taxpayers for Common sense. Regarding the plan (defeated by the citizenry) to extend the license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, Hanna says, “There is a huge potential risk for taxpayers." She said that the risks of federal loan guarantees could be in the tens of billions of dollars and that the public shouldn’t be asked to assume responsibility banks are unwilling to take.
Now the nuke profiteers are chasing World Bank funding. France's President Sarkozy spearheaded the attack on the World Bank's decision not to fund Nuclear Energy for South Africa and argues for the planet-killing carbon credits to be applied to Nukes:
"The World Bank has long resisted offering loans for nuclear energy projects. In response, there is new pressure from one of the world’s leading developers of new reactors. Just last month French President Nicolas Sarkozy (right) said the World Bank and other international lending institutions need to change their policies.
"The mechanism of change, Sarkozy said, is to allow carbon credits to be applied to nuclear power plants. He complained that 'outdated ideology' blocks their use for this purpose despite being available for other forms of “decarbonized energy.” He called on the World Bank to make the change by 2013."
World Bank Funding
However, in March the World Bank says it has no plans to change the policy banning loans for new nuclear reactors according to the Financial Times. But the real reason is not "outdated ideology" as Sarkozy says. It's all about money. The World Bank refusal to fund Nukes has less to do with contamination and risks than it has to do with money. Richard Morier, a spokesman for the World Bank, said the reason is nuclear reactors are “still not the least-cost option.” He noted the bank last financed a nuclear reactor in Italy in 1959. Nonetheless, the industry argues that nuclear energy is cheaper and the opinions on cost differentials are now presented as "controversial".
The World Bank might be softening
The nuke industrialists and speculators' pressure on the World Bank might be working, despite the contamination, risks and enormous costs of new construction. Yurman, cited in the Energy Collective article earlier wrote:
"However, the World Bank is a creature of its member countries which contribute the funds for its loans. Morier also said the bank would 're-examine its policy' if enough of its members demand it. He added that the World Bank is aware of the growth of the global nuclear energy market."
It's doubtful that enough World Bank members will "demand" funding for new nuclear plants but it will not surprise if the money mongers in the nuclear energy industry will get their way. By lobbying governments, threatening and bribing the right people in the regulatory agencies and with the support of corporate media brainwashing, they may end up ramrodding through the doors new reactor construction along with the contamination, risk-taking and economy-busting business for their own profit.
On a different note, ironically, the United States continues it's movement to ramp up sanctions against Iran for developing nuclear technology which has many more and beneficial applications than building nuclear energy plants.
Payoffs to Investors
From Standard & Poor's Equity Research, Business Week published an article (Sept. 2007) praising the profits of the nuke corporation, "Entergy". Note my emphasis on deregulation and investment profits:
"Entergy operates a large and growing fleet of nuclear power plants that sells power in competitive wholesale markets. More than half of their output for 2008-09 has already been sold at what S&P views as attractive prices. Furthermore, the company's financial position is strong enough to support plans to buy back $1.5 billion worth of its own stock during 2007 and 2008, likely increasing its earnings per share and adding to demand for its shares. Entergy also plans to buy back an additional $1.5 billion worth of shares in 2009 and 2010.
"Don't think of it as a utility," says Justin McCann, S&P's equity analyst for the electric utility industry, "because Entergy's ownership of power plants that sell their power in competitive wholesale markets gives it growth prospects that the traditional regulated utility lacks." (my note: read speculation)
"The unregulated, wholesale operations are where its growth is coming from," he says, adding that the company's announced plans to spend $3 billion on stock buybacks over the next few years "should lend support for the shares and help drive earnings-per-share growth even faster."
"While several traditional electric utilities offer higher dividend yields than Entergy's 3%, "In our view, they are not attractive the way this company is attractive," McCann says.
"Possible Spin-Off: With profits for its nuclear operations growing much more quickly than for its regulated utilities, Entergy has floated the idea of spinning off its six unregulated nuclear plants into a different company. If this were to come to pass, the shares of the new company would presumably trade at a higher multiple to earnings than the current shares, which reflect the company's mix of regulated and nonregulated businesses."
The obvious concerns of the corporations and Wall Street speculators is centered around profits and nonregulation.
Clean energy alternatives
Alternative energy sources are far beyond the scope of this article. But returning to the Energy Collective article - Dan Yurman presents the problem as though only 2 energy sources exist: coal and nukes. There's no mention of World Bank funding for development of alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind, ocean tides, hydro, fusion and the gods know what others could be discovered and developed with this level of investment in R&D for clean energy.
While the Obama regime hasn't mentioned the nuke option in the South African debate, it has complained that the coal-fired energy deal has too much "dirty fuel" and not enough "renewable or clean energy development. The World Bank countered that " behind it's $3,75 billion for the coal plant, it's also loaning South Africa $750 million for renewable/clean energy projects. Hmmm, $3.75 billion for coal and $750 million for clean energy. Let's see, that's 500 times as much money invested in nonrenewable/dirty vs. in development of renewable clean. How about turning those numbers around. What could be achieved with an investment of $3.75 billion into R&D for clean, renewable power? I certainly do not have the answer but I know that it would be going in the right direction - a direction to which the capitalist countries were to commit themselves for reasons that should be obvious to all. Better to invest in the bankrupt policies of corporations, banks and Wall Street.
There is reason for optimism. No social movement in U.S. history has been more successful than the people's fight to prevent construction of nuclear plants and to existing plants from their communities. For the few in the pro-nuke industry, the financial incentives overshadow the costs to the consumer, damage to the environment, daily health risks and periodic nuclear disasters. We, the people must return to our very effective battle that shut down nuclear reactors as an energy source in the 1970s and 1980s. We did it before and we can do it again.
|Feb. 25, 2010 - Groups like those who fought the license extension for the Vermont Yankee Plant are winning battle after battle. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to win the war against nuclear energy. (Toby Talbot/ Associated Press)
Bio and more essays by Les Blough