Nukes move north: Fireworks slated for Glen Rose Expo

Greg Harman

CPS Energy has decided to forgo its own little nuclear renaissance (until at least, say, the fall, if that's still good with you), but that hasn't stopped the greater world from ambling along into the void.

A scoping meeting today will take stock of public attitudes in North Texas regarding plans by Luminant, subsidiary of the goliath formerly known as TXU (um, that'd be the titillatingly titled Energy Future Holdings, to you swab), to double the size of Comanche Peak.

If turnout is marginal at today's two meetings, let's just say it's to be expected, since no one (apparently) knew about the thing until the day before Christmas.

The pair of 1,600-megawatt Advanced Pressurized Water Reactors, to be built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and go online by mid-2018, offer a new design to the U.S. nuclear matrix. That is: they've never been built before. A fact that opponents are using to throw foul water on the plan.

Then there is the Texas experience with the last round of nuke construction to consider, suggests Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen's Texas office, in a prepared press release that went out today. It seems Comanche Peak shares something with the South Texas Nuclear Project that now provides a chunk of San Antonio's power.

“Luminant has said that costs could go as high as $22 billion and the Comanche Peak reactors could cost even more due to its design and the rising costs of uranium, steel and cement,” Smith said. “Comanche Peak Unit One ran ten times over budget and was years late coming online.”

Cost is nothing to sneeze at.

Writes Frank Grunwald in Time:

It turns out that new plants would be not just extremely expensive but spectacularly expensive. The first detailed cost estimate, filed by Florida Power & Light (FPL) for a large plant off the Keys, came in at a shocking $12 billion to $18 billion. Progress Energy announced a $17 billion plan for a similar Florida plant, tripling its estimate in just a year. "Completely mind-boggling," says Charlie Beck, who represents ratepayers for Florida's Office of Public Counsel. "A real wake-up call," says Dale Klein, President Bush's chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). "I'll admit, the costs are daunting," says Richard Myers, NEI's vice president for policy development.

The math gets ugly in a hurry. McCain called for 45 new plants by 2030; given the nuclear industry's history of 250% cost overruns, that could rise to well over $1 trillion. Ratepayers would take the main hit, but taxpayers could be on the hook for billions in loan guarantees, tax breaks, insurance benefits and direct subsidies--not to mention the problem of storing radioactive waste, if Congress can ever figure out where to put it.

Currently, nukes being built in Finland by predominantly French-government-controlled Areva are pushing the bottom line into the ionosphere.

Writes Chris Goodall in the Guardian:

If Finland is any guide, nuclear power is far more expensive than anybody expected â?¦ the French press recently offered the opinion that total provisions may now be â?¬1.5bn, suggesting that Areva thinks that the total cost of fulfilling the contract is already â?¬4.5bn, a rise of 50% on the initial price.

This will not be the end of the matter. Areva has recently indicated that the final completion date of the plant will be sometime in 2012, making the station over three years late. Any further construction problems will raise the total eventual cost yet further.

If there were any questions about CPS Energy's decision to hit the pause button on any nuclear commitment after a year of fast running for the goal, the fast analysis above may provide some clarity.

Countering popular claims that environmentalists are just a bunch of hairy nay-sayers, the Sierra Club release also offered alternatives for North Texas power deciders: Solar, wind, efficiency. Sounds a lot like the direction South Texas had been heading. (You may want to check a story on Mayor Hardberger's sustainability plan, Mission Verde, for more on that in tomorrow's Current.)

But, really, shouldn't we be concerned about how Granbury residents feel about their multi-millenial obligation to the nuclear waste that would be created by two new plants? After all, we're talking tens- to hundreds of thousands of years this stuff remains deadly and the current solution appears to be letting the stuff pile up at the reactors until Science saves us all.

Not to worry. Luminant's ahead-of-the-curve public relations staff is all over it.

From the company's page on Comanche:

“Expanding nuclear power at plants such as Comanche Peak can help play an important role in increasing access to a safe, clean energy supply while creating new highly-skilled jobs that can boost the economy,” said U.S. Representative Chet Edwards (D-Waco), a senior member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

“The Somervell County Commissioners have passed a resolution supporting the potential expansion of the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant,” said Somervell County Judge Walter Maynard. “Luminant has been a good neighbor since the 1980s by consistently doing what they said they would do — taking care of the land, the air and the water in partnership with the people of our County. They have also brought jobs, tax revenues and economic development that we wouldn't see otherwise. We hope this project moves forward.”

Jobs, money: Check. Anywayâ?¦

Back to that Sierra Club press release:

A report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that Dallas/Ft.Worth can reduce projected energy needs by 101% in the next 15 years. Peak demand can be reduced by 38% in the area.

“Renewable energy production was up about 5% between 2007 and 2008, while nuclear power production decreased,” noted Jim Duncan, President of North Texas Renewable Energy, Inc. “With the success of wind power and progress in solar technology, why would Luminant even consider sinking money into an obsolete nuclear technology?”

With the most recent ERCOT projections reporting that Texas' existing generating capacity will meet its reserve margin needs until at least 2013, the Sierra Club's Reed agreed that it makes better sense to invest in energy efficiency, demand response and emerging renewable technologies like wind, solar, geothermal and ways to store energy.

Here's a parting thought, courtesy of Foreign Policy magazine (I just love info-graphics, don't you?):

Remember all those "crazy" Middle East countries we don't want to buy oil from anymore? If you think oil is a nasty terror weapon, you may want to consider who is lining up for the nukes today.


Now if this whole Comanche thing is catching you off guard, I'm sure the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission folks would appreciate an email or phone call. Here's their page on the latest Comanche haps and regulatory cataracts.


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