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PORTSIDE  March 2012, Week 2

PORTSIDE March 2012, Week 2

Subject:

No Nuclear Nirvana on the Horizon

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Date:

Sun, 11 Mar 2012 22:38:03 -0400

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No Nuclear Nirvana on the Horizon
By Robert Alvarez
Institute for Policy Studies
March 5, 2012
http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/no_nuclear_nirvana

Nearly a year after the Fukushima disaster and more than
three decades after the Three Mile Island accident,
nuclear power remains expensive, dangerous, and too
radioactive for Wall Street.

Is the nuclear drought over?

When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently
approved two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia,
the first such decision in 32 years, there was plenty of
hoopla.

It marked a "clarion call to the world," declared Marvin
S. Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute.
"Nuclear energy is a critical part of President Obama's
all-of-the-above energy strategy," declared Energy
Secretary Chu, who traveled in February to the Vogtle
site where Westinghouse plans to build two new reactors.

But it's too soon for nuclear boosters to pop their
champagne corks. Japan's Fukushima disaster continues to
unfold nearly a year after the deadly earthquake and
tsunami unleashed what's shaping up to be the worst
nuclear disaster ever. Meanwhile, a raft of worldwide
reactor closures, cancellations, and postponements is
still playing out. The global investment bank UBS
estimates that some 30 reactors in several countries are
at risk of closure, including at least two in highly
pro-nuclear France.

And Siemens AG, one of the world's largest builders of
nuclear power plants, has already dumped its nuclear
business.

Recently, Standard and Poor's (S&P) credit rating agency
announced that without blanket financing from consumers
and taxpayers, the prospects of an American nuclear
renaissance are "faint." It doesn't help that the
nuclear price tag has nearly doubled in the past five
years. Currently reactors are estimated to cost about $6
to $10 billion to build. The glut of cheap natural gas
makes it even less attractive for us to nuke out.

How expensive is the bill that S&P thinks private
lenders will shun?

Replacing the nation's existing fleet of 104 reactors,
which are all slated for closure by 2056, could cost
about $1.4 trillion. Oh, and add another $500 billion to
boost the generating capacity by 50 percent to make a
meaningful impact on reducing carbon emissions. (Nuclear
power advocates are touting it as a means of slowing
climate change.) We'd need to fire up at least one new
reactor every month, or even more often, for the next
several decades.

Dream on.

Meanwhile, Japan - which has the world's third-largest
nuclear reactor fleet - has cancelled all new nuclear
reactor projects. All but two of its 54 plants are shut
down. Plus the risk of yet another highly destructive
earthquake occurring even closer to the Fukushima
reactors has increased, according to the European
Geosciences Union.

This is particularly worrisome for Daiichi's
structurally damaged spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4,
which sits 100 feet above ground, exposed to the
elements. Drainage of water from this pool resulting
from another quake could trigger a catastrophic
radiological fire involving about eight times more
radioactive cesium than was released at Chernobyl.

Ironically, the NRC's decision to license those two
reactors has thrown a lifeline to Japan's flagging
nuclear power industry (along with an $8.3-billion U.S.
taxpayer loan guarantee). Toshiba Corp. owns 87 percent
of Westinghouse, which is slated to build the new
reactors. Since U.S.-based nuclear power vendors
disappeared years ago, all of the proposed reactors in
this country are to be made by Japanese firms - Toshiba,
Mitsubishi, and Hitachi - or Areva, which is mostly
owned by the French government. According to the Energy
Department, "major equipment would not be manufactured
by U.S. facilities."

For Southern Co., which would operate the Vogtle
reactors, the NRC's approval is just the beginning of a
financial and political gauntlet it must run through.
Over the strenuous objections of consumers and
businesses, energy customers will shoulder the costs of
financing and constructing this $17-billion project,
even if the reactors are abandoned before completion. If
things don't turn out, U.S. taxpayers will also be on
the hook for an $8.3-billion loan guarantee that the
Energy Department has approved.

The Congressional Budget Office and the Government
Accountability Office estimate that nuclear loan
guarantees have a 50/50 chance of default.

Nearly four decades after the Three Mile Island
accident, nuclear power remains expensive, dangerous,
and too radioactive for Wall Street. The industry won't
grow unless the U.S. government props it up and the
public bears the risks.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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