Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

New ”Natrium” nuclear reactors – a very risky gamble.

A July 2021 Foreign Affairs article reports that in the past sixty years eight countries have spent $100 billion to produce sodium cooled fast reactors such as the one proposed for Wyoming. All have failed. The money’s spent and the lights are out.

While the Natrium design posits less risk of a meltdown, the sodium coolant is under high pressure and is explosive in the event of any breach in the containment area. And while Natrium plants produce less radioactive waste than traditional nuclear plants, there’s still the necessity to safely and permanently store this waste. How much will it cost? World Nuclear Industry Status Report’s editor Mycle Schneider says, “No one knows…because there is no functioning permanent storage facility.” Nowhere.

How much power are we talking about anyway? Writing for Canary Media, Eric Wesoff reported that in 2020, 2.4 gigawatts of new nuclear power plants were installed worldwide while there were 100 gigawatts of new solar and 60 gigawatts of new wind power generators. Meanwhile, old nuclear plants close—Indian Power in New York, Diablo Canyon in California, Exelon’s Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois. What do we do with decommissioned nuclear plants? A cooling tower in Germany has become a climbing wall.

Romtvedt: Proposal for nuclear power calls for caution  https://trib.com/opinion/columns/romtvedt-proposal-for-nuclear-power-calls-for-caution/article_ecb135f0-1378-5728-9992-abd11b681ba4.html, David Romtvedt, Aug 10, 2021

In conjunction with PacifiCorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc; and TerraPower, a nuclear reactor design company founded by Bill Gates, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon has announced his support for the construction of a nuclear reactor demonstration plant in Wyoming. According to Berkshire Hathaway, the project is intended to “validate the design, construction and operational features” of TerraPower’s Natrium nuclear plant design which uses liquid sodium as a coolant rather than water.

Governor Gordon believes that Natrium offers a safe, reliable solution to Wyoming’s economic woes, saying, “I am thrilled to see Wyoming selected for this demonstration pilot project as our great state is the perfect place for this type of innovative utility facility and our experienced workforce is looking forward to the jobs this project will provide.”

So the benefits of the nuclear plant are said to be increased economic security and diminished environmental risk than with other forms of nuclear power plants. But it’s not so clear. Both in construction and operation, Natrium nuclear plants require uniquely skilled workers employing specialized materials and building techniques. Other economic issues include the temporary nature of construction work, long lead times for safety and licensing reviews (Natrium is not licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission), and diminished severance tax revenues as a result of the shift from coal to nuclear.

There’s also the fuel—Natrium uses high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU). Power Magazine reports that there is no current supply of HALEU and that it will take at least seven years with sufficient demand to develop a fuel cycle infrastructure. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientist cautions that Russia is currently the only source of suitable fuel. In whatever quantity, the fuel is not likely to come from Wyoming uranium mines.

After construction there’s generation. World Nuclear Industry Status Report has recorded the changing costs of electric generation per kilowatt hour (in US cents) between 2009 and 2020. They are: solar—35.9 to 3.7, down 90%; wind—13.5 to 4.0, down 70%; gas—8.3 to 5.9, down 29%; coal—11.1 to 11.2, up 1%; and nuclear 12.3 to 16.3, up 33%. Nuclear is the most expensive way to generate electricity.

And time—the Wyoming proposal projects seven years to completion. Since no new nuclear power plant with a license application submitted since 1975 has yet begun operation, we may question the Wyoming timeline. More time equals more cost. Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear plants are years behind schedule with costs having risen from $14 billion to over $25 billion. But it may not matter as Georgia Power can charge cost overruns to its customers—the more the project is over budget, the more the company profits. In Florida, Duke Power, after seeing a cost increase from $5 billion to $22 billion, abandoned a Natrium nuclear project after passing $800 million dollars in excess costs to ratepayers.

A July 2021 Foreign Affairs article reports that in the past sixty years eight countries have spent $100 billion to produce sodium cooled fast reactors such as the one proposed for Wyoming. All have failed. The money’s spent and the lights are out.

While the Natrium design posits less risk of a meltdown, the sodium coolant is under high pressure and is explosive in the event of any breach in the containment area. And while Natrium plants produce less radioactive waste than traditional nuclear plants, there’s still the necessity to safely and permanently store this waste. How much will it cost? World Nuclear Industry Status Report’s editor Mycle Schneider says, “No one knows…because there is no functioning permanent storage facility.” Nowhere.

I’m guessing that Governor Gordon’s decision was driven in part by his hope to protect the lives and livelihoods of Wyoming workers. But generating radioactive waste without a procedure for safe permanent storage of that waste will protect no one—not unemployed coal miners, not me, not the governor.

How much power are we talking about anyway? Writing for Canary Media, Eric Wesoff reported that in 2020, 2.4 gigawatts of new nuclear power plants were installed worldwide while there were 100 gigawatts of new solar and 60 gigawatts of new wind power generators. Meanwhile, old nuclear plants close—Indian Power in New York, Diablo Canyon in California, Exelon’s Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois. What do we do with decommissioned nuclear plants? A cooling tower in Germany has become a climbing wall.

The questions loom. If I were a betting man, given initial costs, cost overruns, lost tax revenue, the increasing viability of renewables, the history of nuclear failure, and the health and safety hazards surrounding nuclear waste, I’d pause before I put my money on nuclear power. Not being a betting man, I wouldn’t consider it.

David Romtvedt is a writer and musician from Buffalo, Wyoming. A former activist with the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, he serves as a board member for the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

August 12, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: