Monday, August 3, 2009

San Antonio's Consumer Energy Coalition makes a case against CPS nuclear power expansion.

San Antonio's Consumer Energy Coalition is a genuine grassroots organization. They describe themselves as "A citizens’ lobbying group looking for better ways to produce energy" and as "a volunteer group of citizens including pharmacists, lawyers, teachers, computer analysts, small business owners, doctors, environmental planners,and more who believe: To supply our future energy needs we can either generate much more, or use what we have more productively."

They believe that "San Antonio should spend rate-payer money on energy efficiency, renewable energy and co-generation.These are clean, inexpensive, distributed, fuel-free and available now. San Antonio should not spend tax-payer money on nuclear power plants or coal power plants."

They are an active participant in the anti-nuclear coalition Local Power / Energia Mia which is operating in high gear to oppose the expansion of the South Texas Nuclear Project.

At the 2009 Green Camp San Antonio, the Consumer Energy Coalition resented a thoroughly researched and footnoted powerpoint presentation. The presenter / author gave SASL permission to adapt that presentation to the blog format. (The views expressed are strictly theirs. The SASL as a group does not take a position on any issue. Some of the authors academically correct footnotes may have become garbled by the transfer and use of hyperlinks.)

The Myths of Nuclear Power

San Antonio should not spend tax-payer money on nuclear power plants or coal power plants.
Nuclear and coal power plants are polluting, expensive, centralized megaprojects and have a long build time.

People have forgotten why nuclear power has languished for thirty years. It is not just an energy technology. "Nuclear power is a unique complex of technical, economical, [environmental, medical,] political, and military interests" Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, Ceedata Consultancy, Netherlands

Why We Are Concerned About Nuclear Power (and think you should be)

Corporate and institutional interests have far more access to the politicians who appropriate capital expenditures while taxpayers have no equivalent forum in which to be heard.

This overly restrictive and preferential system allows the industry to reap the profits associated with selling power while taxpayers are forced to back most of the costs and risks associated with mining, building, and storage. This is not free market capitalism. This is risk without benefit for taxpayers. Taxpayers, not ratepayers, are actually assuming the risk.

Taxes will pay for energy that the taxpayer never sees or uses. Ratepayers should pay for the energy they receive; taxpayers should not pay for energy they do not benefit from.

We believe the ratepayers should be included in this decision because we will fund the construction, pay for the extraction of the fuel and pay to secure the resulting waste for millions of years. Ratepayers are on the hook for these risks. Ratepayers should be able to make this decision.

There is a lot of “myth-information” about nuclear power. Here are the most common ones.

Myth: Nuclear power is cheap.
Myth: Nuclear power is clean.
Myth: Nuclear power is safe.
Myth: Nuclear power is secure.
Myth: Nuclear power is sustainable.
Myth: Nuclear power creates local jobs.
Myth: Nuclear power is reliable.
Myth: Nuclear power can be implemented quickly.

These statements are not true, but are put out by the nuclear industry and, incredibly, by our publicly-owned utility, CPS.

We present our findings, with sources, and respectfully ask you to consider them.

The truth: Nuclear power is expensive.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Cost Data

If utilities admit that a nuclear plant is more costly than other options they would sound unwise, so they say it’s the “least costly” of the options they have considered. (Source: Craig A. Severance, CPA and co-author of The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power (Praeger 1976) Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power.)

CPS has said repeatedly at recent board meetings that nuclear power is the “least risky” option for providing its ratepayers with new energy.

Nuclear power is very risky in almost every aspect we have considered, making this sound as if CPS is trying to sell us on nuclear power, rather than allowing us to evaluate it objectively. We can start by looking at the reactors already built at the South Texas Nuclear Project.

“Nuclear power, once claimed to be too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter.” (The Economist Magazine. May 19, 2001, Cover story).

Where does all this money come from? Private investors don’t risk their money on nuclear energy. Venture capitalists vote with their dollars. If an industry is healthy, they bet on it. In 2007, renewables like wind and solar energy received $71 billion in private investment. Nuclear power received none. (Lovins, A. & Sheikh, I. (May 27, 2008). The Nuclear Illusion. pg. 44-45. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from The Rocky Mountain Institute Web site:)

If the market looks for robust companies to invest in, how market-healthy are the companies applying to build STP Units 3 and 4? NRG, Inc. has never built a nuclear reactor anywhere, (Push the Pause Button On More Nuclear Plants. (2008). Texas Public Citizen. Retrieved on February 27, 2009 ) In the third quarter of 2008 NRG, Inc. had a bond rating of Baa, the lowest tier of investment grade debt. (NRG News Release. Retrieved on February 27, 2009 ) NRG, Inc. went through bankruptcy proceedings in 2003. (Lynn M. LoPucki’s Bankruptcy Research Database. Retrieved on February 27, 2009, from Web BRD website.)

Exelon has been sued for radioactive leaks, sleeping security guards, and other safety violations. (llinois sues Exelon for Radioactive Tritium Releases since 1996. (Mar. 21, 2006). Chicago, IL. Retrieved Nov.18, 2008, from the Environmental News Service Web site and Attkisson, Sharyl. (2007, Nov. 3). Guards Caught Asleep At Nuclear Power Plants: CBS Exclusive Looks At Who Is Protecting Sites, and Getting Plenty of Shut-Eye on the Job. CBS News (Web broadcast) York County, PA, Station WCBSTV. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008)

“Pro-nuclear groups herald the coming flood of applications as proof that nuclear energy makes economic sense. Nonsense. The only reason investors are interested: government handouts. Absent those subsidies, investor interest would be zero.” (Taylor, Jerry. (Oct. 22, 2008). Nuclear Energy: Risky Business. The Cato Institute. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 )

If the money doesn’t come from private investors, then from where does it come?

Subsidies of All Kinds

Federal Subsidies

In the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress insures against accidents by extending Price Anderson Act until 2025 which insures utilities against catastrophic accidents with federal money; private insurers won’t take the risk, gives 1.8 cents per kWh production tax credit for first 6,000 MW of new nuclear generation for first 8 years of operation, insures utilities for construction delays due to hearings or litigation, provides $2 billion for uranium enrichment ventures (private sector refused to finance), promises to store nuclear waste, has collected only $20 billion in nuclear waste fund from industry (ratepayers), yet not provided a viable facility. (The National Academy of Sciences says $100 billion will be needed, The nuclear industry is suing the federal government for not providing a facility).

The 2005 act also fast tracked the licensing process, eliminating safety redundancies from 5 to 1, gives industry (Sources The Risks of Building New Nuclear Power Plants. (Sept. 19, 2007) Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. presented to the Utah State Legislature Public Utilities and Technology Committee by Schlissel, D. Retrieved February 16, 2009, and Nuclear Subsidies in Energy Bill. (2008). Retrieved from the Physicians for Social Responsibility website on February 27, 2009)

And yet, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that the industry will default on its loans more than 50% of the time. (Cost Estimate: S.14 Energy Policy Act of 2003. (May, 7, 2003). Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from the Congressional Budget Office Web site )

“CBO considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high—well above 50 percent. The key factor accounting for this risk is that we expect that the plant would be uneconomic to operate because of its high construction costs, relative to other electricity generation sources.”

How can CPS possibly claim that nuclear is the “least risky option”?

The industry is remarkably forthcoming about its dependence on subsidies. In 2008, Constellation Energy’s Co-CEO Michael Wallace said in the New York Times that "Without loan guarantees we will not build nuclear power plants.” (Andrews, E. Published on Wednesday, August 1, 2007 by the New York Times US Energy Bill Aids Expansion of Atomic Power. Retrieved from the website )

This led Jerry Taylor, of the conservative Cato Institute think-tank to write: “Those who favor nuclear power should adopt a policy of tough love. Getting this industry off the government dole would finally force it to innovate or die - at least in the United States. Welfare, after all, breeds sloth in both individual and corporate recipients.” (Taylor, Jerry. (Oct. 22, 2008). Nuclear Energy: Risky Business. The Cato Institute. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008)

State subsidies
The 2007 Texas Legislature passed property tax breaks and created a state decommissioning program. The Governor’s task force recommended fast-tracking water permits, increased uranium mining and licensed one radioactive waste dump in Texas

From 1984 to 1993, electric utilities in states with nuclear construction projects wrote off in excess of $17 billion for abandoned plants throughout the country.
(The Risks of Building New Nuclear Power Plants. (Sept. 19, 2007) Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. presented to the Utah State Legislature Public Utilities and Technology Committee by Schlissel, D. Retrieved February 16, 2009)

Compare amount of subsidies to marketplace success
The Primacy of Prudence

If utilities admit that a nuclear plant is more costly than other options they would sound unwise, so they say it’s the “least costly” of the options considered. Remember, CPS told its board “nuclear is the least risky option” of its choices?

The primary requirement of a utility is to act with prudence. This is a legal term for public utilities. Utility rate-making law is founded on the principle that a utility is allowed to recover from ratepayers all costs which are prudently incurred. Costs judged to be imprudent may not be recovered from ratepayers.

Prudence means avoiding the choice of high-risk options, when a lower-risk option will “get the job done.” Shifting the risks to the ratepayers does not make the risks go away, it only privatizes the profits while socializing the risks. Those who make bad decisions walk away from the effects of their imprudence. After the market meltdown, the public has no more stomach for this. (Severance, C. (2009). Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power. Retrieved February 16, 2009)

State Regulatory Agencies

In the 1980s alone, state commissions disallowed from utility rate bases more than $7 billion of nuclear costs due to construction imprudence.

Another $2 billion in nuclear costs were disallowed due to the imprudence of building new capacity that was in excess of what was needed when completed.

Texas utilities were forced to write off $1.2 billion disallowance of Comanche Peak (near Dallas) nuclear plants. (The Risks of Building New Nuclear Power Plants. (Sept. 19, 2007) Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. presented to the Utah State Legislature Public Utilities and Technology Committee by Schlissel, D. Retrieved February 16, 2009 and Severance, C. (2009). Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power. Retrieved February 16, 2009 and Lovins, A. & Sheikh, I. (May 27, 2008). The Nuclear Illusion. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008 from The Rocky Mountain Institute Web site)

What effect do subsidies used with imprudence have on local economies?

Utilities pass them on to the ratepayer. Nuclear megaprojects may charge customers during construction, who then pay for zero watts of energy. Higher rates risk lower demand; customers do without (efficiency) or make own (renewables) which adds up to imprudence. Credit ratings go down, financing for further projects is unavailable, investors don’t invest, developers are driven to high debt ratios. Growth is stymied and the entire economy of the area is downgraded.
(Severance, C. (2009). Business Risks and Costs of New Nuclear Power. Retrieved February 16, 2009)

“The cost and complexity of building a new nuclear power plant could weaken the credit metrics of an electric utility and potentially pressure its credit ratings several years into the project.”(Moody’s Investment Service, June 2007)

We risk that CPS, in stranded costs would be unable to provide San Antonio with its 35% contribution to revenues. Our economy would quickly become unhealthy. (Schneider, M. 16 September 2008. 2008 world nuclear industry status report: Global nuclear power. From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website accessed on March 5, 2009. "World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2007," Prepared by author for the Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament.)

Perhaps the most infamous boondoggle was the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant on the Long Island Sound. The Long Island Lighting Company spent twenty-five years and $6 billion, eighty times the original estimate, trying to get it up and running. But it was never licensed to operate. The debacle saddled Long Island residents with some of the nation’s highest electricity rates and pushed the regional economy to the brink of ruin. Washington Monthly website Blake, M. (Jan/Feb 2009). Bad Reactors. Retrieved February 16, 2009, from the Washington Monthly website)

If not nuclear, then what? Let’s compare Construction Cost per Megawatt:

Wind: $2.5 million
Solar:$3.6 million
Nuclear:$6.5 million
(Source: Stranahan, S. Nov. 13, 2008 Nuclear Delusions, pg 59. Rolling Stone Magazine.)

What does business have to say?

Jerry Tayor writes“I …work at the Cato Institute, and blaming government for economic problems is what keeps me in business. But…government [regulation is not] the reason investors were saying “no” to [nuclear] loan applications.” and “How do France (and India, China and Russia) build cost-effective nuclear power plants? They don't. Governmental officials in those countries, not private investors, decide what is built.” (Taylor, Jerry. (Oct. 22, 2008). Nuclear Energy: Risky Business. The Cato Institute Retrieved Nov. 18, 2008)

Forbes Business Magazine recognized how profoundly dysfunctional the industry is when it wrote: “This failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster of monumental scale.” According to Forbes, “only the blind, or the biased, can now think the money has been well spent.” Nuclear Power's Failed Promise. Public Citizen website; Retrieved February 16, 2009)

The truth: Nuclear is not cheap. Nuclear is astoundingly expensive.

The Myths of Nuclear Power: Nuclear power is clean.

The truth: Nuclear power pollutes in some of the most dangerous ways known.

Nuclear energy pollutes when it releases radioactive gases and liquids, both routinely and accidentally and when it leaves behind tons of deadly, long-lived waste.

The industry claims it creates no air pollution. It does. During construction of the plant and mining of uranium tons of carbon dioxide are produced. But worse, during operation radioactive gases are released routinely and legally. We don’t know about them because, unlike smog or particulate matter, we can’t see, hear, feel or smell them. It’s easy to say they aren’t there, but they are deadly none-the-less. (Caldicott, H. Nuclear Power is Not the Answer. (2006). New York. The New Press.)

We need a short, (painless!) lesson here, to understand how radiation works.

Radioactive substances (radionuclides) are elements that are unstable. Imagine them as a person trying to hold onto twenty billiard balls at once. They will feel one falling, move to catch it, and in the process start to drop another. This is an unstable arrangement. If the person drops a few of the billiard balls, he finds he doesn’t have to exert as much energy to hold on to fewer of them.

Elements are made of atoms that are unstable like this. They have so many particles that it takes too much energy to hang on to all of them. Radioactive elements also release particles and energy to be more stable.

It is these particles and rays of energy, released from atoms of elements, that are radiation. Radioactive elements all produce radiation that is harmfully energetic (meaning it destroys the normal functioning of living cells – which are what keep us alive).

Again, you can think of it like two people playing dodge ball. The harder you throw the ball at the other, the bigger the bruise.

When strong energy hits a living cell it can kill it, damage it, or cause the DNA codes to be disrupted so the cell does not function properly. The more energy, or the more times it hits, the more damage done to the cell.

We need these cells to be healthy; they manage the processes that keep us alive. When they are damaged, that part of the body doesn’t work. Cancer occurs when cells multiply rapidly and needlessly. Cancer in a body disrupts the activity of healthy cells, and causes the death of the whole organism.

This is why radioactive elements need to be isolated from the environment and kept away from us

Nuclear power generates electricity by splitting atoms (helping them drop the particles and energy that make them unstable) and therefore releasing radiation. It is not the only source of radiation. You are exposed to naturally harmful radiation whenever you fly in an airplane at 30,000 feet. This is because earth’s atmosphere protects us from the harmful radiation of the sun and, at 30,000 feet there is less atmosphere so more harmful rays can reach you. There is no safe dose of radioactive energy of the kind we are discussing.(U.S. Panel Recognizes No Safe Dose of Radiation. (July, 2005). U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved on March 7, 2009.)

The nuclear industry, however, is being purposefully disingenuous when it implies that a little radiation won’t hurt you. Even natural radiation that is energetic enough to disrupt cell function is harmful. We aren’t protected when we fly at 30,000 feet, but most of us are willing to take the risk of a little exposure to have the convenience of fast travel. The government sets the standards, and we live with the risk.

We all choose to take risks, it’s part of life. However, we should know which risks we’re taking and be given the choice as to whether to take them. When we choose to drive a car, we know that many people die in automobile accidents. We try to minimize the risk by wearing seatbelts, taking driving lessons, and not drinking alcohol, but we know it’s there when we make the decision. What is not acceptable is when a small group of people decides for us which risks we’re going to take and isn’t honest about the consequences.

That is what is happening with nuclear energy. A relatively small group of utilities, corporations, and the politicians that they lobby, have decided the amount of radiation we, the public, will be exposed to. They are doing it to make a profit. And we don’t know when we’re exposed, because radiation can’t be felt, smelled, seen, or heard. We don’t know when we’re getting it or how much we’re getting.

Nuclear energy pollutes when it…

Releases radioactive gases and liquids routinely.

Radioactive substances build up in reactors and must be released for the safety of workers. The NRC permits these releases. The pollutants produced are a potpourri of radioactive elements, not just one. Here are some and how they affect the body

Strontium-90 is released in small amounts daily, large amounts during accidents, is treated like calcium by the body which concentrates it in any kind of milk, breasts, and bones, causing cancers years later. Its radioactive dangers last 600 years.

Iodine-131 is quickly absorbed by thyroid, especially in children. Potassium iodide tablets lower risk of thyroid cancer, but are seldom made available.

Cesium-137 acts like potassium in the body, is captured by muscle cells and causes cancer. Dr. John Gofman, discoverer of uranium-233, estimates that 100 reactors operating for 25 years, preventing cesium leaks 99.9% of the time, would still release enough cesium to equal 4 Chernobyl accidents.

Noble Gases damage lung, liver, skeleton, digestive tract; often settle near testes and ovaries, causing birth defects. 2.97 million curies released by U.S. reactors in 1974; some can be filtered, some cannot. They often decay into more deadly radioactive elements like cesium-135, which has a half-life of 3 million years,

Plutonium-239 less than one millionth of a gram will cause lung cancer if inhaled, resembles iron, so body sends it to bone marrow, and causes blood cancers such as lymphoma or leukemia, It is stored in liver and causes liver cancer. Being teratogenic, which means it enters a developing embryo through the placenta it can be stored in testicles causing mutations in offspring and testicular cancer, as a half-life of 24,000 years, making it dangerous for over a half million years.

Tritium as a gas is easily absorbed through skin, Tritiated water (1,360 curies released yearly) is an isotope of water, so it is absorbed like water in the cells, can be ingested in food, water, inhaled, or absorbed through skin, dangerous for 120-248 years,Taken in by plants, and animals in environment; bioconcentrates in food chain, causes tumors in lung and digestive tract, shrinks testicles and ovaries even at low doses, causing birth defects, mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome, smaller brains and deformed fetuses, and reproductive loss in offspring Some of these radionuclides, like plutonium, are extremely long-lived. It’s half-life is 24,000 years.

Radiation is measured in curies. For reference, a large medical center with 1000 laboratories may have a total of 2 curies of radioactive materials. The average operating nuclear power reactor, by contrast, will have around 16 billion curies in its reactor core. This is equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima bombs. The nuclear power industry routinely releases millions of curies yearly.

(Sources Caldicott, H. Nuclear Power is Not the Answer. (2006). New York. The New Press. Gofman, J. M.D., Ph.D. Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation (HEIR) Reports. From the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility’s website, accessed on March 7, 2009, Radiation Basics. (1999). Prepared by Folkers, Cindy. Retrieved on March 7, 2009,
Alvarez, R. Radioactive Wastesand the Global nucleaR eneRGy PaRtneRshiP.Accessed on March 7, 2009)

Accidental vs. planned releases of radioactivity

We’ve been describing planned releases. Accidental releases happen all the time and are called “incidents” by the industry. They occur due to human or mechanical error.

As our fleet of nuclear reactors age we can expect to see more of these “incidents.” Metal fatigue causes structures to become fragile and brittle, and the radioactivity inside a reactor is intense.

Even more concerning is the fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRC), which monitors the industry is planning to extend the time reactors can be used from 30 to 70 years, and decrease the number of safety redundancy requirements from 5 to 1.

Nuclear energy also pollutes when it leaves behind tons of deadly, long-lived, radioactive waste.

The U.S. has now produced over 77,000 tons of waste from nuclear energy production.

The volumes are staggering:
by 2020 France expects to generate 1.9 million cubic meters annually.
England produced 470,000 cubic meters as of 2005, enough to fill the Albert Hall 5 times over.

The nuclear industry is not being honest when it claims that very little waste is produced, which it does repeatedly. (Lochbaum, D. 02/11/03. How Nuclear Power Works. Principles of Nuclear Power. Conway, E. November 28, 2006, Nuclear waste stockpile soars. Retrieved on March 7, 2009, from website)

Yucca Mountain

The only repository in the world that has been (partially) built to store nuclear waste is Yucca Mountain, a site in Nevada100 miles from Las Vegas.

This site is geologically active, prone to earthquakes, collects moisture inside the mountain causing rust on metal containment vessels. The National Academy of Sciences doubts the accuracy of data collected at the site. It will only be able to hold the waste already generated.

Nevadans have fought for decades to keep the waste out of their state. No one around the world is requesting to host a high-level nuclear waste dump.

Land used to store nuclear waste is land sacrificed; it will never be used by humans safely again.

(Sussex, A. February 2003. The Road to Yucca Mountain: Nuclear Waste and Terrorism. Inside Politics. Stranahan, S. Nov. 13, 2008 Nuclear Delusions, pg 59. Rolling Stone Magazine. Senator Harry Reid. June 13, 2001. Yucca Mountain site poses many problems. Accessed on March 7, 2009, from The Hill website.

To be continued... The original ppt is 128 slides long.

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