When a nuclear plant that supplies 4% of the power to a region shuts down, something must replace it. In New England, natural gas will replace Vermont Yankee nuclear power. However, natural gas prices can spike much higher in the winter, as more people use it for heat.
The pending closure of a 41-year-old nuclear plant located in Vermont will likely affect both natural gas and electricity markets throughout New England. Entergy Corporation’s August 27 announcement of the closure of the Vermont Yankee plant cited economic challenges to continued operations at the 604-megawatt plant, which since 2007 has generated about 4% of New England’s total annual electricity supply. The shutdown is expected in fourth-quarter 2014.
The Fukushima situation is normal, in the SNAFU sense of “normal.”Â Perhaps you’ve heard that radiation levels of the water leaving the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear power plane and flowing into the Pacific Ocean have risen by roughly 9,000 per cent. Turns out, that’s probably putting a good face on it.
By official measurement, the water coming out of Fukushima is currently 90,000 times more radioactive than officially “safe” drinking water.
These are the highest radiation levels measured at Fukushima since March 2011, when an earthquake-triggered tsunami destroyed the plant’s four nuclear reactors, three of which melted down.
As with all nuclear reporting, precise and reliable details are hard to come by, but the current picture as of July 10 seems to be something like this:
”¢Â On July 5, radiation levels at Fukushima were what passes for “normal,” which means elevated and dangerous, but stable, according to measurements by the owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
”¢Â On July 8, radiation levels had jumped about 90 times higher, as typically reported. TEPCO had no explanation for the increase.
”¢Â On July 9, radiation levels were up again from the previous day, but at a slower rate, about 22 per cent. TEPCO still had no explanation.
”¢Â On July 10, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) issued a statement saying that the NRA strongly suspects the radioactive water is coming from Fukushima’s Reactor #1 and is going into the Pacific.
We Must Do Something About This Thing With No ImpactÂ
“We must find the cause of the contamination . . . and put the highest priority on implementing countermeasures,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told an NRA meeting, according to Japan Times.
As for TEPCO, the paper reported, “The utility has claimed it has detected ‘no significant impact’ on the environment.”
“in the SNAFU sense of ‘Normal’”
Neither the NRA nor TEPCO has determined why the level of radioactivity has been increasing. Both characterize the increase as a “spike,” but so far this is a “spike” that has not yet started to come down.
Here’s another perspective on the same situation:
”¢Â 10 becquerels per liter — The officially “safe” level for radioactivity in drinking water, as set by the NRA.
A becquerel is a standard scientific measure of radioactivity, similar in some ways to a rad or a rem or a roentgen or a sievert or a curie, but not equivalent to any of them. But you don’t have to understand the nuances of nuclear physics to get a reasonable idea of what’s going on in Fukushima. Just keep the measure of that safe drinking water in mind, that liter of water, less than a quart, with 10 becquerels of radioactivity.
”¢ Â 60 becquerels per liter — For nuclear power plants, the safety limit for drinking water is 60 becquerels, as set by the NRA, with less concern for nuclear plant workers than ordinary civilians.
”¢Â 60-90 becquerels per liter — For waste water at nuclear power plants, the NRA sets a maximum standard of 90 becquerels per liter for Cesium-137 and 60 becquerels per liter of Cesium-134.
At some of Fukushima’s monitoring wells, radiation levels were in fractions of a becquerel on July 8 and 9. At the well (or wells) that are proving problematical, TEPCO has provided no baseline readings.
”¢ Â 9,000 becquerels per liter — On July 8, according to TEPCO, the company measured radioactive Cesium-134 at 9,000 becquerels per liter. Since TEPCO characterized this as 90 times higher than on July 5, the implication is that the earlier reading (about 100) was less than twice as toxic as the allowable limit and only 10 times more toxic than drinking water for civilians.
”¢Â 11,000 becquerels per liter – TEPCO’s measurement of Cesium-134 on July 9.
”¢Â Â 18,000 becquerels per liter — TEPCO measurement ofÂ Cesium-137 on July 8.
”¢Â Â 22,000 becquerels per liter – TEPCO’s measurement of Cesium-137 on July 9.
”¢Â Â 900,000 becquerels per liter – TEPCO’s measurement of the total radioactivity in the water leaking from Reactor #1. This radiation load includes both Cesium isotopes, as well as Tritium, Strontium and other beta emitters. There are more that 60 radioactive substances that have been identified at the Fukushima site.
A becquerel is a measure of the radioactivity a substance is emitting, a measure of the potential danger. There is no real danger from radiation unless you get too close to it – or it gets too close to you, especially from inhalation or ingestion.
Nobody Knows If It Will Get Worse, Get Better, or Just Stay BadÂ
The water flow through the Fukushima accident site is substantial and constant, both from groundwater and from water pumped into the reactors and fuel pools to prevent further meltdowns.
In an effort to prevent the water from reaching the ocean, TEPCO is building what amounts to a huge, underground dike – “a deeply sunken coastal containment wall.”Â The NRA is calling on TEPCO to finish the project before its scheduled 2015 completion date.
Meanwhile, radiation levels remain high and no one knows for sure how to bring them down, or even if they can be brought down by any means other than waiting however long it takes.
Nuclear power makes a great carbon-free energy source except for that little matter of radioactive waste, like at the mostly decommissioned Hanford Site.
[Washington Governor] Inslee said Secretary Ernest Moniz informed him June 20 that the department “discovered what appears to be an elevated contamination level reading in the leak detection pit outside and adjacent to the Hanford double-shell tank AY-10.” Inslee characterized this as “most disturbing news for Washington.”
The report came from The Breakthrough Institute, who I know a bit and have followed for several years. They’re definitely mavericks but have no ideological axe to grind that I can see and are genuinely convinced renewables can not generate enough power to replace fossil fuels, that only nuclear power can do that. If we don’t use nuclear, then the gap will be filled by fossil fuels with all its carbon emissions. This just happened in California with the permanent shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant.
The problems with nuclear are obvious. If something goes wrong it can be catastrophic. Plus, storage of spent fuel rods is expensive and also dangerous. It costs billions and years to build a new nuclear plant, and that’s not counting opposition to a new plant which can block it in court.
DJ makes artisan cheese on a small ranch in Utah and has some renewable power,
Our business currently uses a great deal of renewable energy in the form of solar electric, solar hot water, wind, wood, and geothermal. We don’t have the technology to calculate how much fossil fuel energy we are saving, but I’d guess the ballpark is more than 1MW per year. That’s for a small, 2-person cheese-making business. Yes, we still buy power from the grid. There’s wind energy available at about 2 cents per KWH more than coal, but right now we are hand-to-mouth and every penny counts, so the amount of wind we can buy is limited. We would also like to add manure-to-methane capability, but we don’t have the money and can’t find reliable technology for a small scale plant. They use them all over Central America, but not here.
After the disaster in Japan and the spread of radiation across the Pacific, no one can say “it can’t happen here” or “it won’t affect us” any longer. Nuclear disaster can happen anywhere, and can affect the entire hemisphere.
Saying we need such a dangerous source of power is irresponsible before we have (1) put solar hot water systems on every roof (they have a very rapid payback compared to other renewable systems and are readily available and can even be built from scratch, as ours has been), (2) expanded our capacity for geothermal heating and cooling (ours is used entirely for cooling), (3) maximized our trash-to-power and sewage/manure-to-power capacity, (4) and explored how we can save the 75% of our nation’s energy that goes to waste. Why is it, for example, that we use twice as much energy per person as the major European industrial economies? Do we really need that much more, or do we have structural inefficiencies that maximize energy usage for the benefit of our corporate (government-subsidized) energy providers?
Lastly, it would serve us to look at the state of our economy and contemplate the very real possibility that we will soon be living in an economy in which cheap, government-subsidized energy (fossil fuel, nuclear, or otherwise) is no longer available. When price goes up (and availability falters), usage comes down.
Dave Riley is a long-time left organizer in Australia and has solar panels on his roof.
I don’t agree with the cabal of pro-nuclear greenies that this is the scenario. They misrepresent the advances in renewable technology — as you have done here before — esp in regard to energy storage — to fit their shibboleth.
But that aside the complication with going nuclear is that reactors take so long to build and the number of engineers that would be required don’t exist out there to build them. So ‘going nuclear’ on the seeming scale required is a bit of a fantasy.
How many reactors world wide built in what tine scale by whom?
This grid thing is also a red herring primarily because renewables like wind and solar lend themselves to localisation when nuclear power — which requires not only massive quantities of water but acceptance in the communities of their location — does not. Intermittent supply, given current storage technologies, is not as you suggest.
Nor for that matter is cost.
As an example of feasibility the workup has been done for the whole of Australia based on renewables: Beyond Zero Emissions: a 10 year fast track to renewables [synopsis] and the full version is available here.
Also from Dave
We have been debating nuclear junkie, Geoff Russell — who the “Breakthrough” bods reference among their sources — here.. The issue of going nuclear is potent because of Australia’s uranium mining industry and opposition to it has been major mass movement for over 30 years.
So Australia is the only continent not producing nuclear energy although our mines supply reactors worldwide.
As for grinding axes, the nucleartoids in my experience pass themselves off as imbued with absolute truth because the rest of us are supposedly ignorant and paranoid when they know so much better because their minds are embedded in ‘real’ ‘unbiased’ science.
But in effect they sign on with the nuclear industry and deploy the same arguments esp the ready scam of counterposing nuclear to fossil fuels while dismissing and denigrating any and all advances in renewables. They also repudiate the scale and depth of community opposition to nuclear reactors such as in places like India and Japan.
The other complication is that the pace of reactor construction is slowing world wide for very simple profit garnering reasons: cost vs return.
Their answer: renewables are a waste of time, money, reseach and effort. There is supposedly only one way into the energy g future and that is by going nuclear.
Thats’ what is called a shibboleth.
[Here over one million Australian homes are resourced by rooftop solar. In a total people population of 23 million, that’s an extraordinary take up of renewables kin communities nationwide. At my home, over each financial year, we don’t pay for the electricity we use as we end each year in credit. The complication is that if so many people rely on solar and are aware of its benefits, it is much harder to argue for fossil fuels or even to bang the nuclear drum. While there is a huge difference between domestic and commercial production of electricity, and Australia’s switch to large scale renewables is tardy — energy consumption is falling here. However the primary shift underway is from coal to CSG [Coal Seam Gas]. And therein rides the largest mass movement of opposition this country has seen in years.]
The Breakthrough Institute is all in favor of renewables. They just don’t think renewable energy will be able to do it all, hence their “no other option” support for nuclear power. Dave accurately mentions the difference between consumer and commercial use of electricity. I’m writing this and you’re reading it on the internet after it has passed through any number of ginormous servers farms that each use as much electricity as a small city. That’s just one example of the tremendous amounts of power that must be available 24/7, day or night, wind or no wind. Can renewable energy replace fossil fuels and deliver reliable amounts of grid-scale energy? Here in California alone, peak power usage on a hot summer day can reach 72 GW. Renewables are maybe 10% of that. “We got a long way to go and a short time to get there.”
The Breakthrough Institute and other major environmentalists say we need nuclear power to stop climate change because renewables will not be able to replace fossil fuels. Renewable energy can’t scale to meet the hundreds of gigawatts of 24/7 power needed to transition to clean energy. Plus it is expensive, once you factor in the humongous grid upgrades needed to handle large amounts of intermittent power. Nuclear power, by contrast, generates power 24/7 with no grid upgrade needed.
These charts are generated by CAISO, The California Independent System Operator, and show the problem. Yesterday at 4 pm, on a sunny day with lots of wind in the right areas, California generated 23% of its power from renewables. This is certainly impressive but at night at least half of that disappears. The electrical grid requires that supply always match demand perfectly. Fluctuating amounts of wind and solar can be problematic for grids to handle and difficult to plan for.
Our analysis was further biased toward solar over nuclear by not accounting for the high costs of backing up and integrating intermittent solar electricity. Leading anti-nuclear greens, including Bill McKibben and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., note that for a few hours during a sunny weekend day, solar provided 50 percent of Germany’s electricity; at the same time, as we pointed out, only five percent of the country’s total electricity came from solar in 2012. What that means is that if Germany doubled the amount of solar, as it intends to do, there might be a few hours or even days every year where the country gets 100 percent of its electricity from solar, even though solar only provides 10 percent of its annual electricity needs.
If a country like Germany can’t get all its power from renewables on a steady basis then it will use fossil fuels or nuclear. That’s the problem. The power has to come from somewhere. And unless nuclear is available they will use fossil fuels.
In reality, there’s little evidence that renewables have supplanted — rather than supplemented — fossil fuel production anywhere in the world. Whatever their merits as innovation policy, Germany’s enormous solar investments have had little discernible impact on carbon emissions. Germany’s move away from baseload zero-carbon nuclear has resulted in higher coal consumption since 2009. In 2012, Germany’s carbon emissions rose 2 percent.
Nuclear, by contrast, replaces fossil energy.
And to highlight this, the recent permanent shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California will boost carbon emissions by at least 8 million metric tons a year…