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T hey didn’t wait long. In a November 4, 2004 press release, the Department of Energy “announced awards to two nuclear utility-led consortia…to demonstrate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) process for licensing the construction and operation of new Generation III+ nuclear power plants.” One consortium is led by Dominion Resources of Virginia. The other, NuStart Energy, is headed by nuke heavyweights Entergy and Excelon.
One day after Kerry conceded and Bush crowed about four more years, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said in the press release, “Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of domestically produced electricity that does not produce greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, one of our most important energy sources today and has tremendous potential to support the Nation’s energy and environmental goals in the future. We appreciate the industry’s enthusiastic response to our initiatives.” Abraham resigned his post shortly thereafter.
The press release further stated that each of the two nuclear consortia “potentially could have a new nuclear plant in operation as early as 2014,” Dominion at its North Anna site in Virginia, where it currently operates two nuclear power reactors.
The U.S. nuclear power industry is trying to reverse its decline—and it wants you to pay for it. If the nuke industry gets its way, the 21st century will see a revival of nuclear power across the nation, featuring extended operations for existing old nukes and the construction of new ones. Aided and abetted by the Bush/Cheney administration, the industry has advanced plans and implemented policies that are already having an impact on the future of nuclear power and the health and safety of our communities. Meanwhile activist groups are mobilizing around the nation to oppose these nuclear power plays.
Currently 103 commercial nuclear power plants generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity. But, including licensing and construction costs, nuclear energy is more expensive than the other non-renewable energy sources. Until this year, no one had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a new nuclear plant since the late 1970s. In the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island and 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disasters, nuclear power plants became not only widely unpopular, but also prohibitively costly.
In the 1990s old nukes built in the 1960s and 1970s began to shut down permanently. In New England, nuclear plants closed permanently in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. To counter these trends, the nuclear power industry has developed a number of schemes to save it from ignominy. These include consolidation, license renewals, increased operating capacity, power boosts, Early Site Permits, and new nuclear plant consortia.
The Nuke Schemes
I n August 2000 Richmond-based Dominion Resources placed a high bid of $1.3 billion for the troubled 3-reactor Millstone Nuclear Power Station. Millstone is located on Long Island Sound in southeastern Connecticut. Two months later voters elected Al Gore as president and some weeks thereafter the Supreme Court overruled them and selected George W. Bush. As we shall see, these events were not unconnected.
on Millstone’s sale, the local newspaper, the
, stated, “There was brisk competition for the plants,
with several companies entering the bidding, which was conducted
by J.P. Morgan.” However, the auction was closed to the public
Beginning in late 1995, Millstone’s three plants were all shut down for over two years. They and whistleblower George Galatis appeared on the cover of Time in early 1996. The cover story slammed Millstone’s owner, Northeast Utilities (NU) for gross mismanagement, deliberate neglect of safety and maintenance, and harassment and intimidation of whistleblowers like Galatis. Time also castigated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for turning a blind eye to all of this.
In 1999 NU pled guilty to 23 federal felonies and paid $10 million to the Department of Justice as a penalty for its shenanigans at Millstone. But none of its top officials were charged with any crime.
The Millstone crisis was the worst for the U.S. nuclear industry since Three Mile Island’s. With the industry on the ropes, nuke companies sent in their troops to save Millstone. One of those companies was Dominion. The August 2000 New London Day story on Millstone’s sale reported that New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation also had been interested in buying Millstone. Dominion subsequently hired Entergy to “decommission” the permanently shut down Millstone Unit 1.
By the time Dominion bought Millstone, Millstone units 2 and 3 had been given permission to restart by the NRC. Dominion bid the highest in a flurry of fire sales of aging nukes. Yet Millstone 3 alone had cost over $3 billion to build. Entergy bought up four old nukes in the Northeast: Indian Point 2 and 3 (subject of a recent HBO film Imagining the Unimaginable ) and Fitzpatrick in New York, Pilgrim in Massachusetts (for a mere $13 million), and Vermont Yankee. Deep South’s Entergy became the Northeast’s biggest nuke utility, owning 11 reactors nationwide. Through similar fire sale buy-ups, Chicago-based Exelon became the nation’s largest nuclear power plant owner and operator, with 17 reactors. This consolidation of the nuclear industry made Dominion, Entergy, and Exelon the major players. In 2001 the Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force recommended “the NRC relicense existing nuclear plants.” Before and after that, nuclear utilities have been applying in droves for 20-year license extensions for their aging nukes.
The NRC and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission, initially issued 40-year operating licenses for nuclear plants. Thus far no nuclear plant has been able to operate that long. Nevertheless, the NRC has made it possible for utilities to apply for licenses that allow their nukes to operate an additional 20 years. The first nuclear power station to apply for such a license was Calvert Cliffs Units 1 and 2 in Maryland in 1998. In 2000 the NRC granted the license.
Thus far the NRC has issued 20-year license extensions for 15 nuclear power stations comprising 26 reactors. Dominion’s two North Anna reactors got their license extension in 2003. The NRC so far has approved all such license extension requests. Another 8 nuke power stations comprising 16 reactors have applications for license extensions under review. Millstone is one of those, having applied for its 20-year extensions for Units 2 and 3 in January 2004; and 22 more nuclear power stations comprising 25 reactors are listed on the NRC’s website for “future submittals of applications.” Among those are five listed only as “Entergy Plant,” and four more listed as “Not Publicly Announced.” Expected dates for future sub- mittals range from 2005 to 2012.
Altogether 46 nuclear power stations comprising 70 of the nation’s 103 operating nuclear reactors have been issued, applied for, or will apply in the future for 20-year license extensions, potentially allowing them to operate far into the 21st century.
Nuke utilities are also cranking their old nukes for more than they’re worth. The Bush/Cheney Energy Task Force recommended nuke plants “increasing operating performance to 92 percent.” In 2003 Millstone Unit 3 operated at 98.8 percent capacity. Unit 2’s was 80 percent, only because it had to shut down for refueling during the year.
Another scheme recommended by the Task Force, was “uprating existing nuclear plants safely.” This means cranking them up even higher, to allow them to operate at higher capacities than their licenses presently allow. For example, Entergy has applied to the NRC to increase Vermont Yankee’s power output by 20 percent. The Vermont Department of Public Service is opposing this move because, according to TV station WCAX of Burlington, it “could dangerously reduce safety margins.” Vermont Yankee began operating in 1972, around the same time Richard Nixon claimed a second term for his presidency.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has recently issued a report, “US Nuclear Plants in the 21st Century: The Risk of a Lifetime.” The report noted, “The fact that 27 nuclear reactors have been shut down in the past two decades for safety problems that took a year or longer to fix demonstrates that errors are abundant and margins for error are still necessary.”
On November 2, election day, Dow Jones reported, “Exelon Corp said it found cracks in the generator shafts at both of its Dresden nuclear plants in Illinois, and that the two units will stay off line for repairs…. Craig Nesbit, spokesperson for Exelon, said the company hasn’t ruled out the possibility that increased [generator] vibrations are related to recent power increases of 11 percent to 12 percent on each unit.” Exelon applied for 20-year license extensions for both Dresden nukes in 2003; they could be granted in 2005.
Nuke Axis of Evil
I n late 2003 the Radiation and Public Health Project released a report that found increasing levels of Strontium 90 (Sr-90) in the teeth of children living near nuclear plants (Sr-90 does not exist in nature). The report also found that levels of Sr-90 in kids’ teeth had risen from the 1980s to the 1990s, as had operating capacity levels for U.S. nukes.
Nevertheless, nuke utilities continue to look for an expansive future. The NRC has provided them with another possibility—to apply for Early Site Permits (ESP). Such permits allow a utility to reserve a site, for up to 20 years, for construction of a new nuclear plant or plants. A utility can apply for an additional 20-year ESP at the site as well, if it doesn’t build there in the first 20 years.
In October 2003 Entergy applied to the NRC for an ESP at its Grand Gulf, Mississippi site, where it currently operates two nuclear reactors. Exelon has applied for an ESP at the site of its Clinton nukes in Illinois. Dominion has applied for an ESP at its North Anna nuke site in Virginia.
According to Brendan Hoffman of Critical Mass, “Taxpayers are funding half the cost of ESP applications, estimated at about $14 million each.” Critical Mass is the nuclear watchdog part of Public Citizen, the consumer protection group founded by Ralph Nader.
Entergy, Exelon, and Dominion have become the nuke axis of evil. Each is rich, powerful, politically influential, and hungry if not desperate for new nukes. These corporations have led the nuclear industry’s alliance with the Bush administration in an attempt to bring about a “nuclear renaissance,” one that taxpayers would foot much of the bill for. In the first year of his dubious presidency, advised by then Enron CEO “Kenny Boy” Lay, Bush appointed former Halliburton CEO and VP Dick Cheney to head up a National Energy Task Force.
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the nuke industry’s lobbying strong arm, met with Cheney’s task force 19 times, “reportedly more than any other interest group or trade industry,” according to Cindy Folkers of the Nuclear Information & Resource Center (NIRS). After a series of still secret meetings dominated by energy corporation bosses, the task force issued a National Energy Policy Report in May 2001. The report recommended, “that the President support the expansion of nuclear energy in the United States as a major component of our national energy policy.”
On February 14, 2002, Bush Secretary of Energy Abraham released the National Power 2010 Program, a “joint government/industry cost-shared program to develop advanced reactor technologies and demonstrate new regulatory processes leading to initiation of private reactor construction of new nuclear plants in the U.S. in 2005 and operation of new nuclear plants in the U.S. by 2010.” According to both Critical Mass’s Hoffman and the NEI, the Nukes 2010 Program adopted the nuclear industry’s Vision 2020 Program, which calls for 50 new U.S. nukes by 2020.
But the nuke industry can’t advance their new nukes program without our tax money. That’s because no private investor would be insane enough to risk money on an energy technology that is more expensive to license, construct, and operate than any other. Not to mention that it’s potentially catastrophic; causes cancers, infant deaths, and other serious health problems; has piled up over 50,000 tons of high level radwaste; and today is a target of attack.
For the past two years the nuke industry supporters in Congress, led by Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico (a state that has no commercial nuclear power plants), have tried to push through legislation that would give the new nuke utilities billions of dollars of taxpayer money. So far this boondoggle has gone down to defeat.
Nukes To the 22nd Century
L ast spring three new nukes consortiums applied to the NRC to kickstart the process to bring about the first new nuclear plants in the U.S. in decades. According to an April 30, 2004 Nuclear Energy Institute press release, “The companies are responding to a solicitation from the DOE (Department of Energy) last November asking energy companies for proposals to test the NRC’s new COL (Combined Construction and Operation License) process...to facilitate the development of advanced technology reactors through a government-industry, 50-50 cost-sharing initiative.” The COL “streamlines,” i.e., speeds up, the process to avoid costly delays and minimize messy public meetings.
One new nukes consortium is headed by Dominion and also includes Hitachi and Bechtel. As previously reported, Exelon and Entergy lead NuStart Energy, which also includes Duke Energy, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and reactor builders Westinghouse and General Electric. Another new nukes consortium, led by the TVA, includes GE, Toshiba, and Bechtel. In addition, according to Hoffman, “Exelon and Dominion were also funded to consider constructing commercial nuclear plants on federal land at Savanna River (SC), Portmouth (OH) and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab.” Activist and media reports differ about how many millions or billions of dollars NuStart and Dominion would need to license and build a new nuke. No one disagrees, however, that the new nukers want you to pay for half of the cost. NuStart would let GE and Westinghouse compete for the new reactor design. Then, the NEI reported, “After NRC approval, any individual company or group of companies could decide to use the license to build a new plant.” If or when that time comes, Dominion plans to have an approved new nukes site at North Anna, Entergy one at Grand Gulf, and Exelon one more at Clinton.
Last May four activist groups filed a petition requesting a hearing and status as interveners in Entergy’s application process for an ESP at Grand Gulf. The groups wanted the hearing to present evidence as to why the NRC should deny the permit to Entergy. Those groups were the NAACP Claiborne County, Mississippi, Branch (Grand Gulf is located in Claiborne County); the Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Public Citizen; and the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club. They opposed the Entergy application because, they alleged, issuance of the Early Site Permit could impact its members living within 50 miles of Grand Gulf with negative health and environmental effects. For example, the groups asserted, “issuance of an Early Site Permit would have disproportionate adverse environmental impacts on the predominantly African American community of Claiborne County, where a significantly large proportion of residents live below the poverty line.”
The NRC denied the petition. But the groups are appealing that decision. The NRC has allowed Public Citizen, NIRS, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center to intervene in the ESP process for Clinton and North Anna.
In Connecticut, the Coalition Against Millstone is actively opposing Millstone’s re-licensing. The stakes are very high. If Dominion succeeds in building a new nuke at North Anna, it may try to do the same at Millstone. If Millstone gets a 20-year license extension, Unit 3 will be permitted to operate until 2045. A new nuke built on the site around that time would get a 40-year license and, theoretically, a 20-year extension as well.
So we’re already facing a new nukes scenario that threatens to react into the next century, dooming future generations to experience the nuclear menace. Leuren Moret, president of Scientists for Indigenous People, is a former whistleblower at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory. Perhaps she best sums all of this up in her forward to Ahira Tashiro’s 2001 Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium, published by the Hiroshima newspaper Chugoku Shimbun : “In the past half century, 1.3 billion people have been killed, maimed and diseased by nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Millions more will be killed, maimed and diseased unless the citizens of the world demand an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear waste, and the new radiological weapons.”
Michael Steinberg is a veteran activist and author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut .
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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