Alert 650: Nutty nuclear schemes to be presented in Legislative Hall–April 9, 2009, 4:00 pm

Green Delaware Alert 650

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“PSE & G To give a presentation on nuclear power” in Legislative Hall, Dover, Wed, April 9, 2009 4:00

Delaware faces tremendous opportunities but also the danger of making horrible mistakes.  The state is a small place with a limited talent pool and limited resources.  We can’t afford to get it wrong.

Can Markell and his people tell the good ideas from the bad ones?  Will they listen to non-brownnosers?


Global climate change, very late in the game, has finally become a mainstream issue.

How late?  The first serious calculation of global warming due to human carbon dioxide emissions that I know of was published by the Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius in 1896.  See “The Discovery of Global Warming” at and .

This is, then, an “old” problem.  It is a problem that has been kept “down” by the political power of special interests, mainly the oil and coal industries, allied with the auto industry and others.  For a local example see Alert 541: Delaware’s “State Climatologist” is a global warming “denier” .

It’s very ironic.  Now that the human contribution to climate change is finally being taken seriously, it seems that every toxic special interest on earth is proposing its poison as a solution.  Garbage Burners.  Wood burners.  Landfill gas burners.   Nuke reactors.   “Clean coal.”  “Ethanol.”  Bogus carbon “offset” schemes…..

These schemes, while sometimes superficially plausible, have fatal defects.  Many of them produce high levels of air pollutants including carbon dioxide, and imply rollbacks or non-enforcement of existing environmental laws.  Many have horrible side effects such as running up food prices and promoting land clearing.  All depend on stacks of subsidies and giveaways.

Be clear: there ARE win-win solutions to global climate change and health/pollution problems.  Conservation and efficiency programs, wind, solar, geothermal, current and tidal power, large-scale electricity storage (because many clean sources are intermittent) including “vehicle to grid”zero wast.” Many others ….

Governor Jack Markell is saying many of the right things.  In a recent speech he said:

“Let me begin by saying that my vision of creating a green economy in Delaware starts first and foremost with strong environmental protection–we can’t build the economy of the future unless we have the courage to clean up polluting industries of today.”
“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing the world today. The projections about the impact of sea-level rise from climate change on our great state alone should concern us all.  While some have argued that we cannot afford to act because of the global economic recession, I agree with Sir Nicholas Stern who argues that the costs of inaction will vastly exceed the costs of acting today.”

Why then are the Delaware Energy Office, the Governor’s Energy Advisory Council, and even the organizers of a recent Delaware “environmental summit” promoting rollbacks of environmental protections?  See Alert 648. The Obama administration seems equally at sea.

Why does it seem so hard to tell the good ideas from the bad ideas?

It’s isn’t, really.  The problem is that the bad-idea-people have more money which means more political influence.  They speak with clearer, more focused voices.  They don’t hesitate to lie.

One common but misguided idea is that everything should be tried.  This has lead to extraordinary debacles such as corn ethanol, which has increased air pollution, increased gasoline consumption, run up food prices, and caused other problems.  See Alert 538: House Bill 34: Bush, ethanol , and making public policy on the basis of ignorance .  In spite of this, subsidies for “ethanol” continue to be increased–once an industry gets established, with political clout, it becomes very hard to get rid of no matter how bad it may be.  Now, the mantra is “cellulosic” ethanol, but this is unlikely to be an improvement.

The nuke industry sees global warming as its salvation…..

PSEG, the largest New Jersey utility–and political contributor–has three nuclear reactors on Artificial Island on the East bank of the Delaware River :  Salem I and II, and Hope Creek I.  The highly visible cooling tower is connected only to Hope Creek I.  Note the “I” after Hope Creek.  Originally there were to be two of them and we are told the buried foundations for Hope Creek II still exist.  A significant chunk of Delaware’s electricity comes from these nukes.

The licenses for these reactors expire in August 13, 2016 (Salem I) April 18, 2020 (Salem II) and April 11, 2026 (Hope Creek I).

PSEG is asking for 20 year licensing extensions.  See .We expect the formal applications to be filed later this year.

At the same time, PSEG doesn’t want to spend the money to make the plants safe or to build cooling towers to stop the massive destruction of marine life from pumping up to three billion gallons per day through the “once through” cooling systems.  Delaware typically takes a payoff from PSEG of about two million dollars a year to support continued operation without cooling towers.

PSEG is also making noises about building a fourth reactor at Salem.

Will new nukes happen?  Not if sanity prevails.

Aside from the dangers and unsolvable waste problems, new nuclear power is mega-expensive.  Costs range upwards from $8000 per kilowatt.  At this rate, each of the reactors at Salem would cost around ten billion dollars.  This money would be far more beneficially invested in wind, solar, conservation, etc.

A reactor under construction in Finland has turned into a nightmare–years behind schedule and billions over budget.

Because residents believed the new reactor in Olkiluoto would drastically cut emissions, there was little effort to promote renewable energy or boost efficiency, with the result that the country is now lagging behind its neighbors. Despite its long, windswept coast, Finland has less wind power capacity than any central European state except the tiny, landlocked countries of Luxembourg and Switzerland. It also ranks near the bottom on energy efficiency, and its record on greenhouse gas emissions is dismal: between 1990 and 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available) the nation’s carbon output leapt by ten million tons a year, or 13 percent, one of the largest spikes in any developed nation. This means that to meet the European Union goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, Finland will have to either resort to austerity measures or shell out hundreds of millions more dollars for emissions credits.
“We concentrated so much on nuclear that we lost sight of everything else,” says Oras Tynkynnen, a climate policy adviser in the Finnish prime minister’s office. “And nuclear has failed to deliver. It has turned out to be a costly gamble for Finland, and for the planet.”

(See Reactors–Rethinking your opposition to nuclear power? Rethink again,  See  concise discussion of the recent political history of the nuke industry.)

See also

The Flawed Economics of Nuclear Power, Lester R. Brown at (brief)

And Nuclear Power: Climate Fix or Folly? by Amory Lovins, et al.  (not light reading but worth the effort).

For a Delaware take see Green Delaware Alert 579: Nuclear Plantation Journalism from Delaware; The truth, but not the whole truth….or anything like it, at . (Some of the links are dead.)

Of the innumerable ripoffs contained in the nuclear industry offensive, none are more dangerous to ratepayer’s pocketbooks than “Construction Work in Progress.”
“an electric surcharge that raises the rates of current ratepayers’ bills allowing utility companies to finance the future construction of multi-billion dollar coal and nuclear power plants.” For a description of CWIP see .

“Biomass” burners, including any number of magic garbage “gasifiers,” chicken-shit burners, wood burners, etc., are undesirable for similar reasons:  High pollution, high costs, negative benefits.  I’ve been analyzing several such projects in several states and we’ll report in detail.   The key point is that Delaware has in place strong laws against such burners and these laws need to be kept in place.

PSEG is represented by top bad-actor lobbyist Bobby Byrd.  The presentation will be before the House Energy Committee (members listed here:*/9275AC16D8B73D8985257507005A4CA4/?opendocument&nav=House ) at 4:00 pm on April 9th in the House Majority Hearing Room.  Committee chair John Kowalko is doing a good job and the committee is more open to public comment than it was under the previous Republican leadership.  Kowalko says he wants the legislators to “get better informed on very complicated issues.”  Kowalko is one of Delaware’s most thoughtful elected officials and an excellent choice to head this vital committee.

We expect the committee also to hear from long-time anti-nuke activist Frieda Berryhill, who lead the fight against a Delmarva Power scheme to build a nuke on the banks of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal near Summit.

A number of good thinkers have “put it together.”  Three top sources:

o       Rocky Mountain Institute (Amory Lovins)

o       Earth Policy Institute (Lester Brown)

o       Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Arjun Makhijani)

Note:  This isn’t an endorsement of everything from these three sources.

Non-endorsement:  New York Times columnist and rich-boy-about-the-planet Thomas Friedman.  Friedman has a large audience and “gets” some things, but he’s as likely to be wrong as right.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that Delaware faces tremendous opportunities but also the danger of making horrible mistakes.  The state is a small place with a limited talent pool and limited resources.  We can’t afford to get it wrong.  As much as anything else, Delaware has been limited by a culture of only listening to the people causing the problems.  Markell, to succeed, needs to change this, at least in his own administration.

Alan Muller

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