With spent fuel off the table for the moment as a way to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, environmental and economic tactics are being used to seek closure of operating reactors.
- Green groups seek leverage over future of power stations in NJ, NY & WA with focus on water quality permits promoted as a means to save fish
- NRC calls issue of minor concrete cracks in secondary containment at Davis-Besse “irrelevant” for 20 year license extension
For years anti-nuclear groups have used the tried-and-true tactic of throwing as many political, economic, regulatory, and technical issues they can find against the wall in an effort to make one or more of them stick. The objective is to reach the point where a utility throws up its hands and walks away shutting down the reactor in the process.
This tactic worked in Vermont where Entergy’s Vermont Yankee, a profitable and operationally safe and sound 600 MW reactor, is being closed because green groups found a way to pull the economic rug out from under the utility’s market.
The tactic failed when the anti-nuclear crowd tried to use the NRC’s waste confidence rule as a way to plug up the agency’s decision making processes for new plants and for 20 year license extensions. Although a court ruling gummed up the works for two years, the agency did produce a new waste confidence rule and has since issued a 20 year license extension for the twin BWR Limerick plant located outside Philadelphia.
More lawsuits will likely follow, but for now the agency is again working in licensing applications. And Allison Macfarlane, who’s sudden rise from academic scholarship to chairing the NRC, has since pulled the plug on her tenure, in part, because being politically anti-nuclear at the NRC just never turns out well. Just ask her predecessor, Gregory Jaczko.
Meanwhile, decisions are pending on license extensions for, among others, Ameren’s Callaway plant near St. Louis, MO, and Entergy’s Indian Point power station located on the Hudson River north of New York, NY.
Fishing for nuclear issues; sinking a hook in the balance sheet
The latest round of attacks on the nation’s nuclear fleet comes in the form of allegations that plant water cooling intakes are harming fish. While green groups have not been able to accomplish their ends by regulatory means, they are not out of tactics. Tossing fish into the mix to spike the balance sheet is now the latest trend.
There are mixed results in terms of outcomes.
In New Jersey the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has agreed to issue a draft water quality permit for the Salem Nuclear Plant which is located on the Delaware River in the southwestern corner of the state. The action could result in settlement of a lawsuit brought by green groups intended to force the plant to spend $ 1 billion on a cooling tower. However, the NJDEP says that it believes the present intake for the plant’s cooling water system for Salem is “sufficient” for compliance with the Clean Water Act.
In Washington green groups flying the banner of “river protection” have proposed remedies for the Columbia Generating Station, intended to save fish, that could cost the utility $20 million in construction costs and millions more in lost revenue.
Energy Northwest, responding the the lawsuit brought by three green groups in the Thurston County Superior Court, said in documents it submitted,
“The electric ratepayers of the Northwest have a vital economic and electric energy interest in the outcome of this action. The Columbia Generating Station produces four percent of the electric power used in the Pacific Northwest.”
The anti-nuclear groups include the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Northwest Environmental Advocates, and Columbia Riverkeeper.
In New York the Department of Environmental Conservation, egged on by similar river protection groups, wants to shut down the twin units (2200MW) at Indian Point for up to 100 days per year to save fish during the warmest months of the year. Paradoxically, that’s when Indian Point’s nuclear power is needed the most.
In a plain speaking public statement, Energy took issue with the plan.
“This is not about science,” said Entergy vice president Fred Dacimo during a public hearing on the issue in July. “This is about closing what is a safe, clean, environmentally responsible facility that generates electricity in a cost-effective manner for New Yorkers.”
The idea behind the so-called fish protection plans is to impose economic penalties on operating reactors that are a combination of onerous construction costs, which cannot be recouped, and lost days of revenue generation which would further undermine to business case for keeping the plants running.
And Matthew Cordero, a former electric grid operator and a trustee of the Long Island Power Authority, told an Albany, NY, magazine., “By reducing the capacity, you damage the nuclear power plant at the heart of its economic function.”
New York’s Riverkeeper group, which is a staunch supporter of newly elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is leading the charge to close Indian Point. The group is represented by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He has a long history of advocating for environmental causes on behalf of NRDC. More recently, he has joined the anti-vaccination movement.
Regulatory agencies, and perhaps eventually, the courts, will have to decide whether the claims of green groups about protecting fish are credible and whether the standing and interests of ratepayers weigh in the balance of these decisions.
Anti-nuclear groups crack up in head-on with NRC
over Davis-Besse license extension
The unexpected happened at a hearing being held at the NRC’s HQ offices in Rockville, MD, last week. Four anti-nuclear groups submitted testimony that the minor exterior cracks in the secondary containment structure at Davis-Besse make the plant unsafe. Therefore, they say, the NRC should not grant a 20 year extension to the current license.
The intention of the groups is to gum up the works by raising new issues to delay or even deny a license extension. Except, the tactic didn’t work.
The Toledo Blade reported 11/13/14 that NRC attorneys, headed by agency lawyer Catherine Kanatas, said in a blunt assessment that claims by anti-nuclear groups are “irrelevant” to the issue of license extension.
The groups claim that minor cracks in the exterior of the secondary containment building call into question the structural integrity of the building.
Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, representing the anti-nuclear coalition, claims that sealant applied to the structure after cracks were found three years ago isn’t working. For this reason, Lodge says, the NRC should not issue a 20 year license extension to the plant.
First Energy’s attorney, Timothy Matthews of Washington, DC, told the three judge administrative panel that the anti-nuclear groups are trying to widen the issues associated with relicensing by bringing up the issues of the cracks in the exterior of the structure.
The anti-nuclear groups include Beyond Nuclear, the Green Party of Ohio, a group from Ontario, Canada, and another from Michigan.
The three judge panel said they would render a decision in January whether to order a hearing on the matter or dismiss it.
The current license for Davis-Besse expires in 2017.
# # #