Entergy Continues Closing Its Cash Cows

  • Cash-CowThe Louisiana based nuclear power firm announced this week it is closing its Palisades, Michigan, plant, which is the third in a series due to competition from natural gas.
  • The hit list started with Vermont Yankee and later added the troubled Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts. 
  • All three plants were acquired by Entergy from other utilities at depreciated bargain basement prices.
  • The plants were operated as cash cows until record low natural gas prices turned them into dogs and put them out of business.

Entergy said it has ended a power purchase agreement with Consumers Energy (CE), Michigan’s largest utility. Entergy said the agreement had allowed for the purchase of nearly all of the electricity generated at Palisades until April 2022. According to Entergy, market conditions have changed substantially since 2007 when it acquired Palisades and “more economic alternatives are now available to provide reliable power to the region.”

Over 600 workers will lose their jobs and the CO2 free power provided by the plant will now be generated by natural gas plants and some renewable sources. Entergy said it could offer new positions to up to 180 of the affected employees at the Palisades plant.

Under Entergy’s current plan, Palisades would be refueled as scheduled in the spring of 2017 and operate through the end of the fuel cycle. As part of the agreement, Consumers Energy also will pay Entergy $172 million to end the power purchase agreement and help Entergy transition to decommissioning the plant.

Anti-nuclear groups wasted no time pitch forking the dead this week as Entergy announced that it will permanently shut down the single-unit Palisades nuclear power station in Michigan in October 2018.

Beyond Nuclear posted the web equivalent of a victory lap on its web site even though it had no role in the utility’s decision to close the plant.

The Palisades 805MW pressurized water reactor has been in commercial operation since 1971. Palisades’ current NRC operating license expires in March 2031.

Pilgrim Staff Appear ‘Overwhelmed’ Says Leaked NRC Memo

(NucNet) Staff at the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts appear to be “overwhelmed” and struggling to improve performance at the facility, which is set to close in less than three years, according to an internal memo from the NRC leaked to the press.

The memo, written by Donald Jackson of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, indicated that inspectors had found a “safety culture problem’’ during a review along with problems with maintenance, engineering, and the reliability of equipment.

Jackson’s memo was sent to an environmental group, who forwarded the message to the Cape Cod Times. The newspaper posted the memo online.  There are suspicions the leak was a deliberate act. However, memos like this one are not the product of a one person. They are team efforts with input from multiple NRC  inspectors. Also, a draft may have been shown to plant personnel for fact checking purposes.

In the end it is unlikely it will be possible to confirm who sent the memo to the anti-nuclear group, but the intent is clear and the immediate effects are unmistakable. In Massachusetts local government officials demanded an explanation from the NRC about conditions inside the Pilgrim plant.

Jackson is leading a team of NRC investigators who began reviewing operations at the plant in November, as required by law because of the facility’s low safety rating. Pilgrim has been under increased oversight from the NRC after owner and operator Entergy did not adequately evaluate the causes of unplanned shutdowns in 2013.

Pilgrim is scheduled to close permanently in May 2019. In April 2016 Entergy said the decision to close the 677MW boiling water reactor unit, which began commercial operation in December 1972, was based on a number of financial factors.

Low current and forecast wholesale energy prices – brought about by record low natural gas prices, driven by shale gas production – have had a significant impact on Pilgrim’s revenues, Entergy said.

Illinois Nuclear Energy Bill Becomes Law

(WNN) Illinois governor Bruce Rauner this week signed energy legislation that will ensure the continued operation of the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants which are owned and operated by Exelon.

Senate Bill 2814, the Future Energy Jobs bill, was passed by the state legislature on 12/01/16. The bill will see Illinois expand clean energy production while protecting jobs and maintaining competitive electricity rates, with caps and protections to limit the impact on consumers and businesses.

It recognizes the contribution of nuclear power generation to the state’s zero-carbon emission generation and ensures that the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants can remain open. Without the legislation, both plants had faced closure.

Exelon said it plans to operate the Clinton and Quad Cities plants for at least another ten years as a result of the bill.

“This historic legislation will protect the state’s primary source of clean energy while saving thousands of good jobs at our plants and providing millions of dollars in low-income assistance, as well as job training in communities that need it most,” CEO Chris Crane said.

Rauner thanked those who had negotiated “in good faith” to make the bill a reality. “This bill ensures we don’t gamble with thousands of good paying jobs and gamble with our energy diversity.”

The Nuclear Energy Institute called passage of the bill “a remarkable moment for the people of Illinois and for thousands of nuclear energy industry employees.”

It said the legislation would preserve more than $1.2 billion in annual economic activity across Illinois.

“Despite characterizations by opposition that this legislation constitutes a bailout, to the contrary, it is an investment in Illinois’ clean energy future. The bill levels the playing field for nuclear energy with other carbon-free energy sources,” the group said.

“The clean energy benefits from this action are significant. Between them, the Clinton and Quad Cities facilities prevent the emission of more than 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year — the equivalent of taking nearly 5 million cars off the road.”

It’s too bad Entergy didn’t have this kind of support in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Molten Salt Reactor Designs Draw New Interest

(Bloomberg) The International Atomic Energy Agency is opening an exchange for countries to trade information on a technology that uses molten salt to moderate the atomic reaction of liquid fuels, rather than water and solid fuel. The exchange offers backing to investors who have supported the new-model reactors as both safer and cheaper.

The push comes as the U.S. accelerates retirement of its aging fleet of nuclear plants, and utilities tilt toward cheaper natural gas and renewables. Eighteen U.S. reactors are now being decommissioned, and a half-dozen more face closure for economic reasons. A wave of retirements around 2030 will further diminish the nation’s biggest source of low-emissions power, threatening the fight against global warming.

Are Molten Salt Reactors Competitive?

“The technology used in today’s reactors is never going to be economical,” said Rory O’Sullivan, the 30-year-old chief operating officer at Moltex Energy in London. The new molten salt design “has the potential to disrupt the entire energy system,” he said.

Leslie Dewan, 32, is the founder and chief executive officer of Transatomic Power Corp., a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based molten-salt-reactor designer who presented her design at the International Atomic Energy Agency in September and aims to build a prototype at a U.S. national laboratory site, possibly in Idaho, which has hosted other advanced test reactors in the past.

Startups like Transatomic could play a key role by kick starting the stagnant U.S. nuclear industry. That would allow the U.S. to catch up with next generation Chinese and Russian nuclear designs already being connected to the power grid, according to Ken Luongo, a former director at the Energy Department.

“There is a lot at stake for the U.S., its allies, and global stability and economic growth,” said Luongo, who helps lead the Global Nexus Initiative, a Washington-based policy adviser uniting nuclear proponents and environmentalists. “The nexus of nuclear, climate, and global security is a critical intersection.”

Senate Passes Funding for Savannah River Site’s MOX Facility

(Aiken Standard) The federal funding bill for 2017 is headed for President Obama’s desk after passing a Senate vote. It contains measures to keep construction efforts afloat at Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

During the last year, the Obama Administration and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration have been openly trying to cut the funding from underneath the project.

MOX is being created as part of a now-suspended weapons grade plutonium disposition agreement between the U.S. and Russia. The project, once built, is designed to turn once-militarized plutonium into usable fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. The 34 metric tonnes of weapons grade plutonium will be converted into the equivalent of 1700 MOX fuel elements.

The issue was contentious enough that specific language regarding the project differed between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA before the conference committee. In the final version, the project is allotted $340 million to continue construction at basic levels of progress.

Additionally, the new NDAA includes language that would allow for a rebaseline project cost study. Cost estimates from both the NNSA and the MOX construction contract company has varied. Sources from both sides of the cost-debate indicated that a new study could clear things up.

Previous studies have been politicized as proponents and critics have lobbed accusations of each side cooking the books at each other. A DOE internal “Red Team” review of the MOX plant, intended to resolve the differences, was leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists, who oppose the MOX plant.

US Navy to Build $1.6B Idaho Facility for its Spent Nuclear Fuel

(AP) A $1.65 billion facility will be built at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho to handle fuel waste from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships, the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy announced this week.

The new construction will be at the Naval Reactors facility on the Energy Department’s southeastern Idaho site which includes the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s primary lab for nuclear research.

“This action will provide the infrastructure necessary to support the naval nuclear reactor defueling and refueling schedules to meet the operational needs of the U.S. Navy,” the Department of Energy said in a statement.

Officials said site preparation is expected to begin in 2017 with construction of the facility likely to start in 2019, creating 360 on-site jobs. The facility is expected to start operating in late 2024.

The Department of Energy formally announced the plan with publication of what’s called a record of decision in the Federal Register. The record of decision was signed last month by Admiral James F. Caldwell Jr., director of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

Previous coverage on this bog from October 2016; U.S. Navy Sets Plans to Upgrade Idaho Spent Fuel Facility

Idaho AG Wasden Says New Navy Spent Fuel Facility at INL is OK with State

(Spokesman-Review) Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says he’s supporting the Navy’s plans for a new waste facility for nuclear waste from warships at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho, and the plan is consistent with the 1995 agreement between Idaho and the federal government requiring removal of nuclear waste from the state and setting deadlines.

“I support the Navy’s efforts to upgrade the facilities at INL, which will provide greater protection for Idahoans and their resources,” Wasden said.

Here is his full statement:

“In 2008, the State of Idaho and the U.S. Navy entered into an Addendum to the 1995 Settlement Agreement. The Addendum took into consideration a project like the one announced today. The Addendum relates to the receipt and storage of Naval spent fuel at Idaho National Laboratory after January 1, 2017 and before January 1, 2035.

The language specifically states that the Navy must be in full compliance with the deadlines for removal of spent fuel from INL by 2035. The Navy has proven to be a good partner and has diligently fulfilled its obligations under the 1995 Settlement Agreement.  I support the Navy’s efforts to upgrade the facilities at INL, which will provide greater protection for Idahoans and their resources.”

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