New Nukes!




T

hey
didn’t wait long. In a November 4, 2004 press release, the
Department of Energy “announced awards to two nuclear utility-led
consortia…to demonstrate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) process for licensing the construction and operation of new
Generation III+ nuclear power plants.” One consortium is led
by Dominion Resources of Virginia. The other, NuStart Energy, is
headed by nuke heavyweights Entergy and Excelon. 


One
day after Kerry conceded and Bush crowed about four more years,
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said in the press release, “Nuclear
power is the only large-scale source of domestically produced electricity
that does not produce greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, one of
our most important energy sources today and has tremendous potential
to support the Nation’s energy and environmental goals in the
future. We appreciate the industry’s enthusiastic response
to our initiatives.”  Abraham resigned his post shortly
thereafter. 


The
press release further stated that each of the two nuclear consortia
“potentially could have a new nuclear plant in operation as
early as 2014,” Dominion at its North Anna site in Virginia,
where it currently operates two nuclear power reactors. 


The
U.S. nuclear power industry is trying to reverse its decline—and
it wants you to pay for it. If the nuke industry gets its way, the
21st century will see a revival of nuclear power across the nation,
featuring extended operations for existing old nukes and the construction
of new ones. Aided and abetted by the Bush/Cheney administration,
the industry has advanced plans and implemented policies that are
already having an impact on the future of nuclear power and the
health and safety of our communities. Meanwhile activist groups
are mobilizing around the nation to oppose these nuclear power plays. 


Currently
103 commercial nuclear power plants generate 20 percent of U.S.
electricity. But, including licensing and construction costs, nuclear
energy is more expensive than the other non-renewable energy sources.
Until this year, no one had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
to build a new nuclear plant since the late 1970s. In the wake of
the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disasters,
nuclear power plants became not only widely unpopular, but also
prohibitively costly. 


In
the 1990s old nukes built in the 1960s and 1970s began to shut down
permanently. In New England, nuclear plants closed permanently in
Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. To counter these trends,
the nuclear power industry has developed a number of schemes to
save it from ignominy. These include consolidation, license renewals,
increased operating capacity, power boosts, Early Site Permits,
and new nuclear plant consortia. 



The Nuke Schemes 



I

n
August 2000 Richmond-based Dominion Resources placed a high bid
of $1.3 billion for the troubled 3-reactor Millstone Nuclear Power
Station. Millstone is located on Long Island Sound in southeastern
Connecticut. Two months later voters elected Al Gore as president
and some weeks thereafter the Supreme Court overruled them and selected
George W. Bush. As we shall see, these events were not unconnected. 


Reporting
on Millstone’s sale, the local newspaper, the

New London
Day

, stated, “There was brisk competition for the plants,
with several companies entering the bidding, which was conducted
by J.P. Morgan.” However, the auction was closed to the public
and media.



Beginning
in late 1995, Millstone’s three plants were all shut down for
over two years. They and whistleblower George Galatis appeared on
the cover of

Time

in early 1996. The cover story slammed
Millstone’s owner, Northeast Utilities (NU) for gross mismanagement,
deliberate neglect of safety and maintenance, and harassment and
intimidation of whistleblowers like Galatis.

Time

also castigated
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for turning a blind eye
to all of this. 


In
1999 NU pled guilty to 23 federal felonies and paid $10 million
to the Department of Justice as a penalty for its shenanigans at
Millstone. But none of its top officials were charged with any crime. 


The
Millstone crisis was the worst for the U.S. nuclear industry since
Three Mile Island’s. With the industry on the ropes, nuke companies
sent in their troops to save Millstone. One of those companies was
Dominion. The August 2000

New London


Day

story on
Millstone’s sale reported that New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation
also had been interested in buying Millstone. Dominion subsequently
hired Entergy to “decommission” the permanently shut down
Millstone Unit 1. 


By
the time Dominion bought Millstone, Millstone units 2 and 3 had
been given permission to restart by the NRC. Dominion bid the highest
in a flurry of fire sales of aging nukes. Yet Millstone 3 alone
had cost over $3 billion to build. Entergy bought up four old nukes
in the Northeast: Indian Point 2 and 3 (subject of a recent HBO
film

Imagining the Unimaginable

) and Fitzpatrick in New York,
Pilgrim in Massachusetts (for a mere $13 million), and Vermont Yankee.
Deep South’s Entergy became the Northeast’s biggest nuke
utility, owning 11 reactors nationwide. Through similar fire sale
buy-ups, Chicago-based Exelon became the nation’s largest nuclear
power plant owner and operator, with 17 reactors. This consolidation
of the nuclear industry made Dominion, Entergy, and Exelon the major
players. In 2001 the Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force recommended “the
NRC relicense existing nuclear plants.” Before and after that,
nuclear utilities have been applying in droves for 20-year license
extensions for their aging nukes. 


The
NRC and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, initially
issued 40-year operating licenses for nuclear plants. Thus far no
nuclear plant has been able to operate that long. Nevertheless,
the NRC has made it possible for utilities to apply for licenses
that allow their nukes to operate an additional 20 years. The first
nuclear power station to apply for such a license was Calvert Cliffs
Units 1 and 2 in Maryland in 1998. In 2000 the NRC granted the license. 


Thus
far the NRC has issued 20-year license extensions for 15 nuclear
power stations comprising 26 reactors. Dominion’s two North
Anna reactors got their license extension in 2003. The NRC so far
has approved all such license extension requests. Another 8 nuke
power stations comprising 16 reactors have applications for license
extensions under review. Millstone is one of those, having applied
for its 20-year extensions for Units 2 and 3 in January 2004; and
22 more nuclear power stations comprising 25 reactors are listed
on the NRC’s website for “future submittals of applications.”
Among those are five listed only as “Entergy Plant,” and
four more listed as “Not Publicly Announced.” Expected
dates for future sub- mittals range from 2005 to 2012. 


Altogether
46 nuclear power stations comprising 70 of the nation’s 103
operating nuclear reactors have been issued, applied for, or will
apply in the future for 20-year license extensions, potentially
allowing them to operate far into the 21st century. 


Nuke
utilities are also cranking their old nukes for more than they’re
worth. The Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force recommended nuke plants
“increasing operating performance to 92 percent.” In 2003
Millstone Unit 3 operated at 98.8 percent capacity. Unit 2’s
was 80 percent, only because it had to shut down for refueling during
the year. 


Another
scheme recommended by the Task Force, was “uprating existing
nuclear plants safely.” This means cranking them up even higher,
to allow them to operate at higher capacities than their licenses
presently allow. For example, Entergy has applied to the NRC to
increase Vermont Yankee’s power output by 20 percent. The Vermont
Department of Public Service is opposing this move because, according
to TV station WCAX of Burlington, it “could dangerously reduce
safety margins.” Vermont Yankee began operating in 1972, around
the same time Richard Nixon claimed a second term for his presidency. 


The
Union of Concerned Scientists has recently issued a report, “US
Nuclear Plants in the 21st Century: The Risk of a Lifetime.”
The report noted, “The fact that 27 nuclear reactors have been
shut down in the past two decades for safety problems that took
a year or longer to fix demonstrates that errors are abundant and
margins for error are still necessary.” 


On
November 2, election day, Dow Jones reported, “Exelon Corp
said it found cracks in the generator shafts at both of its Dresden
nuclear plants in Illinois, and that the two units will stay off
line for repairs…. Craig Nesbit, spokesperson for Exelon, said
the company hasn’t ruled out the possibility that increased
[generator] vibrations are related to recent power increases of
11 percent to 12 percent on each unit.” Exelon applied for
20-year license extensions for both Dresden nukes in 2003; they
could be granted in 2005. 






Nuke Axis of Evil 



I

n
late 2003 the Radiation and Public Health Project released a report
that found increasing levels of Strontium 90 (Sr-90) in the teeth
of children living near nuclear plants (Sr-90 does not exist in
nature). The report also found that levels of Sr-90 in kids’
teeth had risen from the 1980s to the 1990s, as had operating capacity
levels for U.S. nukes. 


Nevertheless,
nuke utilities continue to look for an expansive future. The NRC
has provided them with another possibility—to apply for Early
Site Permits (ESP). Such permits allow a utility to reserve a site,
for up to 20 years, for construction of a new nuclear plant or plants.
A utility can apply for an additional 20-year ESP at the site as
well, if it doesn’t build there in the first 20 years. 


In
October 2003 Entergy applied to the NRC for an ESP at its Grand
Gulf, Mississippi site, where it currently operates two nuclear
reactors. Exelon has applied for an ESP at the site of its Clinton
nukes in Illinois. Dominion has applied for an ESP at its North
Anna nuke site in Virginia. 


According
to Brendan Hoffman of Critical Mass, “Taxpayers are funding
half the cost of ESP applications, estimated at about $14 million
each.” Critical Mass is the nuclear watchdog part of Public
Citizen, the consumer protection group founded by Ralph Nader. 


Entergy,
Exelon, and Dominion have become the nuke axis of evil. Each is
rich, powerful, politically influential, and hungry if not desperate
for new nukes. These corporations have led the nuclear industry’s
alliance with the Bush administration in an attempt to bring about
a “nuclear renaissance,” one that taxpayers would foot
much of the bill for. In the first year of his dubious presidency,
advised by then Enron CEO “Kenny Boy” Lay, Bush appointed
former Halliburton CEO and VP Dick Cheney to head up a National
Energy Task Force. 


The
Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuke industry’s lobbying
strong arm, met with Cheney’s task force 19 times, “reportedly
more than any other interest group or trade industry,” according
to Cindy Folkers of the Nuclear Information & Resource Center
(NIRS). After a series of still secret meetings dominated by energy
corporation bosses, the task force issued a National Energy Policy
Report in May 2001. The report recommended, “that the President
support the expansion of nuclear energy in the United States as
a major component of our national energy policy.” 


On
February 14, 2002, Bush Secretary of Energy Abraham released the
National Power 2010 Program, a “joint government/industry cost-shared
program to develop advanced reactor technologies and demonstrate
new regulatory processes leading to initiation of private reactor
construction of new nuclear plants in the U.S. in 2005 and operation
of new nuclear plants in the U.S. by 2010.” According to both
Critical Mass’s Hoffman and the NEI, the Nukes 2010 Program
adopted the nuclear industry’s Vision 2020 Program, which calls
for 50 new U.S. nukes by 2020. 


But
the nuke industry can’t advance their new nukes program without
our tax money. That’s because no private investor would be
insane enough to risk money on an energy technology that is more
expensive to license, construct, and operate than any other. Not
to mention that it’s potentially catastrophic; causes cancers,
infant deaths, and other serious health problems; has piled up over
50,000 tons of high level radwaste; and today is a target of attack.
 


For
the past two years the nuke industry supporters in Congress, led
by Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico (a state that
has no commercial nuclear power plants), have tried to push through
legislation that would give the new nuke utilities billions of dollars
of taxpayer money. So far this boondoggle has gone down to defeat. 




Nukes To the 22nd Century 



L

ast
spring three new nukes consortiums applied to the NRC to kickstart
the process to bring about the first new nuclear plants in the U.S.
in decades. According to an April 30, 2004 Nuclear Energy Institute
press release, “The companies are responding to a solicitation
from the DOE (Department of Energy) last November asking energy
companies for proposals to test the NRC’s new COL (Combined
Construction and Operation License) process…to facilitate the
development of advanced technology reactors through a government-industry,
50-50 cost-sharing initiative.” The COL “streamlines,”
i.e., speeds up, the process to avoid costly delays and minimize
messy public meetings. 


One
new nukes consortium is headed by Dominion and also includes Hitachi
and Bechtel. As previously reported, Exelon and Entergy lead NuStart
Energy, which also includes Duke Energy, the Tennessee Valley Authority
(TVA), and reactor builders Westinghouse and General Electric. Another
new nukes consortium, led by the TVA, includes GE, Toshiba, and
Bechtel. In addition, according to Hoffman, “Exelon and Dominion
were also funded to consider constructing commercial nuclear plants
on federal land at Savanna River (SC), Portmouth (OH) and Idaho
National Engineering and Environmental Lab.” Activist and media
reports differ about how many millions or billions of dollars NuStart
and Dominion would need to license and build a new nuke. No one
disagrees, however, that the new nukers want you to pay for half
of the cost. NuStart would let GE and Westinghouse compete for the
new reactor design. Then, the NEI reported, “After NRC approval,
any individual company or group of companies could decide to use
the license to build a new plant.” If or when that time comes,
Dominion plans to have an approved new nukes site at North Anna,
Entergy one at Grand Gulf, and Exelon one more at Clinton. 


Last
May four activist groups filed a petition requesting a hearing and
status as interveners in Entergy’s application process for
an ESP at Grand Gulf. The groups wanted the hearing to present evidence
as to why the NRC should deny the permit to Entergy. Those groups
were the NAACP Claiborne County, Mississippi, Branch (Grand Gulf
is located in Claiborne County); the Nuclear Information and Resource
Service; Public Citizen; and the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra
Club. They opposed the Entergy application because, they alleged,
issuance of the Early Site Permit could impact its members living
within 50 miles of Grand Gulf with negative health and environmental
effects. For example, the groups asserted, “issuance of an
Early Site Permit would have disproportionate adverse environmental
impacts on the predominantly African American community of Claiborne
County, where a significantly large proportion of residents live
below the poverty line.” 


The
NRC denied the petition. But the groups are appealing that decision.
The NRC has allowed Public Citizen, NIRS, the Blue Ridge Environmental
Defense League, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center to intervene
in the ESP process for Clinton and North Anna. 


In
Connecticut, the Coalition Against Millstone is actively opposing
Millstone’s re-licensing. The stakes are very high. If Dominion
succeeds in building a new nuke at North Anna, it may try to do
the same at Millstone. If Millstone gets a 20-year license extension,
Unit 3 will be permitted to operate until 2045. A new nuke built
on the site around that time would get a 40-year license and, theoretically,
a 20-year extension as well. 


So
we’re already facing a new nukes scenario that threatens to
react into the next century, dooming future generations to experience
the nuclear menace. Leuren Moret, president of Scientists for Indigenous
People, is a former whistleblower at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear
Laboratory. Perhaps she best sums all of this up in her forward
to Ahira Tashiro’s 2001

Discounted Casualties: The Human
Cost of Depleted Uranium,

published by the Hiroshima newspaper

Chugoku Shimbun

: “In the past half century, 1.3 billion
people have been killed, maimed and diseased by nuclear weapons
and nuclear power. Millions more will be killed, maimed and diseased
unless the citizens of the world demand an end to the proliferation
of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear waste, and the new radiological
weapons.”



 





Michael Steinberg
is a veteran activist and author of



Millstone and Me: Sex,
Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut

.