U.S. Nuclear Industry Will Remain Ward of the State, as in France, Report Warns
Thu, Sep 16 2010 Reuters
Government subsidies of nuclear power plans could hitch U.S taxpayers to a technology that suffers out-of-control costs while pushing aside renewable energy development, according to a study released last week by the Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment.
The study looks at the nuclear energy industry in France, where an aggressive nuclear program has resulted in three-quarters of the country’s power coming from nuclear sources. But it says that what has been hailed as a “nuclear miracle” in the European nation should serve as a cautionary tale of over-dependence on nuclear power.
"This analysis shows the greatest danger is not that the U.S. will import French technology, but that it will replicate the French model of nuclear socialism," said Mark Cooper, the report’s author and a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School Institute. "Nuclear power will remain a ward of the state, as has been true throughout its history in France."
The report comes as U.S. utilities are developing what would be the first new domestic nuclear plants in three decades, and lawmakers consider extending federal loan guarantees to help pay for such projects.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act gives the U.S. Department of Energy authority to disburse $18.5 billion in loan guarantees. In early 2010, the agency announced that $8.3 billion of that would go toward a proposed nuclear plant in Georgia being built by Southern Company, an Atlanta-based electric utility holding company. The Obama administration’s pending 2011 budget request includes an additional $36 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear projects.
Such guarantees would be a raw deal for taxpayers, Cooper said.
“It’s highly unlikely that the problems of reactor construction will be solved by an infusion of federal loan guarantees,” Cooper said. “U.S. policymakers should resist efforts to force the government into making large loans in terms that put taxpayers at risk in order to save a project or industry that may not be salvageable.”
Specifically, the report says the nuclear industries in the United States and France have seen sharp cost escalations. Measured in 2008 dollars, the cost of a nuclear power plant, excluding interest on loans, was about $1,000 per kilowatt in the early 1970s. Twenty years later, U.S. costs had risen to between $5,000 and $6,000 per kilowatt, while French costs had climbed to up to $5,000 per kilowatt.
Nuclear energy backers, meanwhile, contend that nuclear plants can serve as engines of economic growth and job creation while providing baseload power—still a challenge for intermittent resources such as wind and solar—without creating greenhouse gas emissions.
There are about two-dozen proposed reactor projects currently making their way through the federal permitting process, with the first expected to receive approvals in late 2011. That would mean a wave of construction jobs — potentially more than 60,000 — once those projects begin breaking ground, according to a report from the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nuclear policy organization. Once operational, each plant represents about 700 permanent jobs, NEI says.
But getting those projects built without federal support could be tough. The price tag for a nuclear reactor is about $8 billion to $10 billion. That cost relative to the market value of even the largest U.S. utilities is considerable, NEI spokesman Steve Kerekes said.
Not Looking to Build Just One or Two
The loan guarantee program would allow projects to receive better financing in the debt markets, bringing down the overall costs of building a nuclear power plant, ideally leading to increased investor confidence in future projects. But that doesn’t mean the need for loan guarantees would stop with the first few projects.
With U.S. power demands expected to increase almost 30 percent by 2035, it would take bringing one reactor on line each year starting in 2016 to maintain the current 20 percent of U.S. electricity that comes from nuclear sources, according to the DOE.
“To meet emission reduction requirements we're going to need potentially dozens of nuclear plants,” Kerekes said. “We’re not looking to build one or two.”
Kerekes and other nuclear supporters say costs of building plants will be stabilized by standardizing reactor designs and a streamlined regulatory process, but the VLS report contends that increasing complexity and individual site differences among projects would cause costs to continue to escalate, meaning a perpetual reliance of federal support.
“The idea that future costs will decline with standardization and economies of scale is a big selling point, that big subsidies now will bring a future cost decline,” Cooper said. “That it simply not the case.”
And while the nuclear industry would continue to lean on federal support, the report says it could also hamstring renewable energy development by siphoning off funding and other resources.
France has been slower than its European counterparts to adopt renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, the report says. Meanwhile, in the United States, states where utilities are not pursuing nuclear plants have set higher renewable energy procurement targets and stronger energy efficiency programs.
“You don't have to go to France to see more nuclear means less renewables and energy efficiency,” Cooper said.
Suit seeks to stop work on CMRR at Los Alamos
The Los Alamos Study Group announced today that it had a filed a suit in Federal Court in Albuquerque, N.M., seeking to halt further design and other activities on a plutonium processing facility known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project at Los Alamos National Lab.
The group claims that the National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Dept. of Energy, is violating the law by proceeding with plans for the big project -- estimated to cost in the range of $4 billion -- without an updated and currently relevant environmental impact statement.
Some of the points being made in the lawsuit may ultimately have application to a similarly sized nuclear weapons project -- the Uranium Processing Facility -- at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance has said some important issues related to the UPF, including construction of a haul road and destruction of wetlands, were not identified in the draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Y-12.
In today's press release and other reports issued in recent weeks, the Los Alamos Study Group argued that CMRR is not needed and emphasized that the federal agency has significantly changed the plans since the original replacement project at LANL was proposed several years back.
In a statement released in conjunction with the legal complaint, Greg Mello, director of the New Mexico group that pushes nuclear disarmament on multiple fronts, said the time for "cozy internal review" had passed.
"Everyone knows the project's costs, challenges and impacts have exploded, and many parties, including NNSA and congressional committees, are starting to worry that the project has gotten too big, too expensive, and too risky. The underground behemoth NNSA now proposes to build bears little resemblance to the light, above-ground structure proposed in 2003."
Mello said a supplemental environmental review of previous work would not suffice.
The Los Alamos Study Group says it represents nearly 2,700 members and supporters living near or relatively near to the national lab.
Posted by Frank Munger on August 16, 2010 at 8:48 PM |
Citizens call on nuclear agency to abide by environmental laws, analyze impacts of proposed warhead factory and alternatives
Santa Fe -- A New Mexico citizen's organization has written a letter calling on the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to follow the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before proceeding further with a proposed $3.4 billion factory annex for plutonium warhead cores ("pits") at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
The proposed facility, to be built mostly underground over the next decade or longer, is awkwardly-named the "Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility" (CMRR-NF). Further information about the CMRR-NF is available at http://www.lasg.org/CMRR/open_page.htm.
This proposed facility is the largest nuclear infrastructure project in President Obama's proposed nuclear weapons spending "surge" and if built would be by far the largest public infrastructure project in the history of New Mexico except for the interstate highway system.
The estimated cost of the proposed building has risen by a factor of ten over the last eight years while the useful space to be provided in the building has dwindled. It's expected completion has been delayed 11 years so far. According to LANL spokespersons no confident cost, schedule, or design for the building is expected prior to 2014, although construction is expected to begin in just 9 months. To build CMRR-NF, automobile access to approximately one-third of LANL by scientists and other staff is expected to be shut down for approximately two years as project construction peaks. Many technical areas (TAs) will be affected directly by construction, and many more indirectly by lack of access, displaced workers, and other impacts. Tens of thousands of heavy trucks will need to traverse local highways bringing gravel, cement, and other materials to the proposed 125 foot deep pit where the building will be built. Bypass roads are being studied. Several ancillary structures are required.
The group warns it will file suit in federal district court later this month to compel NEPA compliance if NNSA does not agree to abide by the law and take what the courts have called "a hard look" at the project, which has never happened.
The evolving project's expected environmental impacts have grown dramatically in the past year. The group's letter states:
Even without adducing further evidence these huge cost increases strongly suggest there are reasonable alternatives to the project as currently proposed. The range of alternatives analyzed in the CMRR EIS was very narrow, in part because the nuclear laboratory component of the project was expected to be relatively inexpensive and soon available. Neither has turned out to be true. The CMRR EIS [environmental impact statement] was based on a matrix of assumptions now known to be false.
Most of this cost increase has occurred in the last three years – much of it in just the last year, betokening a recent rapid expansion in project scale and impacts.
This dramatic cost increase has been accompanied by a huge increase in resource requirements. In key cases more than ten times as many resources are now required as were originally estimated, as shown in Table 1 (attached).
The group alleges that today’s proposed CMRR-NF, which is on a larger scale entirely than the alternatives NNSA analyzed seven years ago, has never been the subject of any NEPA analysis, and that there has never been any notice or comment process involving the public, agencies, or tribes concerning a) the nature of actual project being designed today, b) its alternatives, or c) the likely impacts of the new project and its alternatives.
The Study Group's letter points out that no administrative or congressional commitments to initiate final design or to build CMRR-NF has been made. So if the needed NEPA and other analyses were begun promptly, NNSA could achieve compliance without any, or without any significant, project delay. The Senate Armed Services Committee has requested a review of CMRR-NF project alternatives and has questioned the propriety of initiating final design and construction without an estimated total cost, project schedule, or completed preliminary design.
In addition to preparing its legal case, the Study Group will be working with other parties in New Mexico and with members of Congress and the Executive branch to advance what it believes to be a necessary legal and political discussion.
"To top it off, this facility," explains Study Group Director Mello, "will create only a tiny fraction of the rewarding jobs and careers that would be created if the same amount of funds were used to leverage private or state and local investments in renewable energy production, or used to improve energy efficiency and security in homes and businesses across the state. Many of the specialized workers need to come from out of state, and will be temporary.
"If New Mexico is to avoid further economic decline it is necessary to break out of the lazy thinking that automatically associates the DOE nuclear labs with positive economic outcomes, whether regionally or nationally. There is just no data supporting the idea that spending money at the labs helps New Mexico. Especially if the result is giant underground plutonium bunker, lab, and processing facility. That's of negative utility to society -- and even to NNSA and LANL. We can't afford such folly."
Contact: Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563 cell
Thomas Hnasko, Esq., Hinkle law firm, 505-982-4554
Dr. Darwin BondGraham, Los Alamos Study Group, 505-265-1200
Large portions of Recovery Act spending fail to stimulate New Mexico's economy
Nuclear and military controlled funds generate few jobs and accrue benefits to a relatively small number of corporate contractors, institutions, and privileged communities Recovery Act experience suggests need for broad-based, not centralized “trickle-down,” economic development path
By Darwin Bond-Graham or Greg Mello
Albuquerque — An analysis of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contracts and grants in New Mexico reveals that the intended effects of the legislation —to stimulate the economy and protect communities hit hard by job losses— have been blunted by prevailing patterns of federal spending in the state. Entitled "Nuclear and Military Maldistribution and Inefficient Use of Recovery Act Funds in New Mexico," the brief is available through the Los Alamos Study Group's web site.
"Regardless of what Congress and the Obama administration intended with the Recovery Act a serious portion of its dollars have been wasted in the state of New Mexico," explains Darwin BondGraham, a board member and visiting researcher with the Los Alamos Study Group, and author of the analysis. "If the goal was to create large numbers of good jobs, jobs involving dignified work in areas like clean energy, transportation infrastructure, education, and industry, then Recovery Act dollars have been poorly allocated in this state."
The Study Group's brief examines the largest contracts and grants made under the ARRA in New Mexico and notes that a full quarter of these have been consumed by nuclear weapons and military contractors so far. Four of the top-ten contract recipients are nuclear weapons laboratory contractors. Thirty-six nuclear and military contractor recipients have consumed more than $504 million of New Mexico's ARRA allocation. By examining the level of spending each federal agency has reported to create one job, the brief concludes: "compared to practically every other federal agency, nuclear and military spending of ARRA funds has proven so far to be a poor generator of jobs."
The report also notes the concentration of Recovery Act funds and projects in a few zip codes such as Los Alamos, Carlsbad (near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), or those proximate to Sandia Labs. "Disproportionate amounts of federal stimulus money are being concentrated in affluent communities, and into the hands of corporate contractors linked to the labs," explains BondGraham. "People living in these zip codes and working for these companies have not been as hard hit by the economic downturn as most other parts of the state, and most other sectors of the economy." Meanwhile, BondGraham says that, "rural communities, tribes, and marginalized urban neighborhoods are suffering. The irony though is that the zip codes representing Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) are very inefficient at using stimulus dollars to create jobs, whereas places like Zuni or Silver City, where Recovery Act funds have been spent through the Education, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services Departments, have proven themselves to be incredibly efficient at creating jobs."
"The lesson here involves priorities," says Greg Mello, executive Director of the Los Alamos Study Group. "How will New Mexico use the precious federal funds it receives over the coming decade? This is a critical period, and we need to make sure we maximize the use of our tax dollars to create green jobs, protect the poor, and transition our economy away from environmentally disastrous forms of energy, particularly the burning of coal, and misguided and wasteful priorities like nuclear weapons.
“It is indeed important to clean up the nuclear waste that was disposed in shallow pits at Los Alamos. Much more cleanup should be done, but it should be managed to involve less profit to out-of-state contractors, fewer overhead hours, and engage fewer people making six-figure salaries. LANL’s “cleanup” – which often isn’t cleanup at all – has always been highly inefficient from the environmental standpoint. The ARRA-funded cleanup may finally be real, but to the extent the reported rate of ARRA job creation is accurate, it is not producing the number of jobs it could and should.
“As it happens, the same old shallow land disposal practices are unfortunately still with us, and are even expected to grow with LANL’s proposed – and gratuitous – plutonium manufacturing mission. NNSA and DOE are burying waste at taxpayer expense in one place and digging it up in another. Municipal waste disposal is regulated more tightly than nuclear waste at LANL, which is not regulated at all.”
Mello and BondGraham point to a single federal capital project, one larger in budgetary terms than all ARRA contract and grant allocations in New Mexico put together —LANL's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project. "This is a $3.4 billion facility," explains Mello, "one that will create only a tiny fraction of the rewarding jobs and careers that would be created if the same amount of funds were used to leverage private or state and local investments in renewable energy production, or used to improve energy efficiency and security in homes and businesses across the state. If New Mexico is to avoid further economic decline in the coming years it is necessary to break the lazy mindset that associates the DOE labs with positive economic outcomes, regionally or nationally. There is no data supporting the idea that spending money at the labs helps New Mexico.”
"Worse still," says BondGraham, "is that this is a plutonium bunker they're building on the hill. It has no positive multiplying impacts for our economy. It's a giant sink for tax dollars. It doesn't get used like public transportation. It produces no social value like education. It's a dead end for development."
Contact: Darwin Bond-Graham or Greg Mello 505-265-1200
Study: CMRR is especially dispensable
By Roger Snodgrass
A decision to save rather than spend billions on new nuclear weapons research and production capabilities could spell doom for the multibillion-dollar Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other big-ticket construction projects across the nuclear weapons complex.
An important new study identified a trillion dollars or more in potential military savings over the next ten years, including further reductions in the nuclear arsenal ($113.5 billion) and limits on modernizing the nuclear weapons infrastructure ($26 billion).
Such cuts won’t be easy, given President Obama’s proposals to raise next year’s budget for nuclear weapons programs by $624 million to $7 billion, including a green light for a nuclear weapons resurgence.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of high priority reductions in strategic capabilities in this new study, “Debt, Deficits and Defense,” by the Sustainable Defense Task Force is the product of an unusually broad spectrum of participants affiliated with think tanks from the Cato Institute to the Institute for Policy Studies. Their recommendations respond to mounting concerns about budget deficits and deepening fiscal debt that have exposed the vast reservoir of military spending to skeptical inquiry.
The cuts selected by the Task Force go well beyond Defense Secretary Robert Gates relatively trivial reduction goals announced earlier this month. He suggested $7 billion in spending cuts for 2012 up to $37 billion a year by 2016.
Criteria for developing funding reduction options focused on cutting defense programs that are based on “unreliable or unproven technologies,” inefficient and ineffective programs with a very limited utility, assets that mismatch or substantially overmatch emerging military challenges, or opportunities for providing alternatives at lower costs.
All of those criteria would seem to apply to the CMRR Nuclear Facility, an unneeded and over-determined plutonium processing plant still on the drawing boards at Los Alamos, along with a uranium production facility at Oak Ridge in Tennessee and a new factory for non-nuclear parts in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Given the plans to reduce the size of the US nuclear arsenal over time,” the study concludes, “a convincing case has not been made for the need for three brand-new nuclear weapons facilities. Stopping these facilities would save an estimated $6 billion, or an average of $600 million per year over a ten-year period.”
Management improvements could save the complex another $2 billion a year, the authors argue. They cite as one example a premature, $251 million effort to refurbish the B-61 warhead, which may no longer make strategic sense for our European NATO allies. The B-61 job was yanked into the schedule at the last minute with a budget shuffle, but has already encountered delays.
In making the case for substantial reductions, the report calculates that reducing nuclear warheads by another 500 weapons could save $113.5 billion over ten years and curtailing missile defense and space defense spending could save another $55 billion.
Congress has yet to pass any of the twelve appropriations bills needed to fund government operations for the fiscal year beginning in October, and many onlookers doubt that congress will be able to agree on controversial spending packages before the November elections.
The Sustainable Defense Task Force was formed in response to a request from Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.), working in cooperation with Representative Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), to explore possible defense budget contributions to deficit reduction efforts that would not compromise the essential security of the United States.
Repurposed missiles risk nuclear war
April 23: Rachel Maddow explains the U.S. military's dangerous idea to change the war heads on ICBMs from nuclear to conventional. Danger Room's Noah Shachtman joins to discuss the potential for other countries confusing re-tipped ICBMs for nuclear missiles.
New German Leadership Wants U.S. Nukes Out
Friday, Oct. 23, 2009A policy document prepared by Germany's new governing coalition calls for the United States to withdraw its nuclear weapons from its European ally, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (see GSN, April 13).