Nuclear Reactors Can’t Handle Global Warming
An overheated world now threatens the ability of nuclear reactors to operate at all.
Just as the sales pitch that atomic energy could help with global warming gets its biggest hype, the reactors themselves go very wrong.
And as a “renaissance” turns into a rout, a “new generation” of reactors fades ever-deeper into the realm of expensive fantasy.
The bad news on nuclear power and global warming comes most recently from Cape Cod Bay. All commercial reactors spew huge quantities of waste heat into the rivers, lakes and oceans they use for coolant.
The worst instance (so far) is Fukushima, where hot radioactive effluent still pours into the Pacific Ocean after three explosions the industry claimed could never happen.
Reactors in Alabama, France, Germany, and elsewhere have already been forced to shut because of excess heat.
At Entergy’s Pilgrim, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, a global-warmed summer has heated Cape Cod’s waters beyond the legal limit for cooling a “normal” reactor. So in mid-July Entergy was forced to take Pilgrim down to 85 percent power.
Entergy may ask regulators to let it operate at full power with overheated water anyway. Such requests--still under official consideration--have been made repeatedly at Connecticut’s Millstone 2, where the Long Island Sound has soared over 75 degrees.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s Cooper and Ft. Calhoun reactors were shut in 2011 by massive global-warmed flooding. As many as three dozen U.S. reactors are at risk from dam breaks and the flooding unleashed by climate chaos. Ft. Calhoun may never reopen.
The irony of reactors closed by the global warming they’re supposed to cure seems lost on their pushers.
But many are pushing an entirely new radioactive gizmo--a “Small Modular Reactor”--with no working prototypes. True to form, the budget and timetable stretch deep into the unknown.
Lead SMR manufacturer Babcock & Wilcox brought us both Three Mile Island and Ohio’s Davis-Besse, whose pressure head was infamously eaten through to the brink by boric acid. The core SMR technology has already been distinguished by a long line of generic failures.
The Tennessee Valley Authority has just postponed the target date to apply for the first SMR construction license until at least 2015. Ultimate development costs are a giant question mark. The huge Savannah River facility meant to convert weapons-grade materials into nuclear fuel for such projects is on the brink of cancellation, with untold billions already down the tubes.
So as its backers claim an unproven ability to help solve an ultra-urgent climate crisis, there won’t be an SMR prototype deployed for an unknowable number of years, at what is certain to be a staggering cost.
With taxpayer money pouring in, even industry supporters already warn of an “atomic Solyndra.”
The SMR’s parent generation has descended into chaos. Three U.S. reactors (Florida’s Crystal River, and two at San Onofre, California) were killed this year by the outright incompetence of their owners. France’s Fessenheim will soon join them on the radioactive junk pile.
Two new ones proposed for Levy County, Florida, jumped from $5-6 billion to $24.7 billion before their August 1 cancellation. Others proposed for Iowa, Texas and North Carolina have also bit the dust. So have uprates planned for Illinois and Pennsylvania. France’s EDF has pulled out of the U.S. market altogether, and isn’t doing much better at home.
Reactors under construction in Georgia, South Carolina, Finland, and Flamanville, France, are hugely over budget and behind schedule. New construction has been abandoned virtually everywhere except China, Russia, India and South Korea, where they are variously contested, with much to fear from shoddy construction and shadowy regulation.
SMR backers still chant the original “too cheap to meter” mantra, claiming a miraculous but unproven ability to somehow burn up old warheads and avoid small annoyances like TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
But the SMR is already on that familiar atomic go-round of production delays, cost overruns, immediate obsolescence and serious dangers its makers won’t disclose.
Despite a concerted attack from the corporate media, today’s world gets far more usable energy from renewables than SMRs can produce now (none) or for many years to come.
Our sustainable future depends on proven green power, not a supremely expensive failed atomic experiment and its pie-in-the-sky reruns.
Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org. His Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm. SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org. The producers of the pro-SMR Pandora’s Promise have refused to send us a review copy; if you have one, please write us at www.nukefree.org
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