I’m hoping to start a firestorm.
Here’s a burning question that won’t allow me to sleep, so I’m going to be really selfish and try to share it with the world so that more people can lose some sleep in the process of trying to answer it.
It’s a complicated question that has a number of initial conditions, so please bear with me.
- Nuclear power plants are prodigious producers of ultra low carbon electricity
- Electricity customers must pay rates high enough to cover their cost of operation and a moderate profit
- New nuclear plant projects are required to go through an excruciating public process that determines need; proper siting, including safety, environmental impact, seismic stability, etc.; ability of the operator to pay for the cost of building, operating and decommissioning; an anti-trust review by the Justice Department, and public hearings that allow intervenors to actively challenge the safety, security, environmental impact, and need
- There is an eventual decision to build and begin operating the plant that is no longer subject to public hearings
- Energy security is a factor in national security
- The government is responsible for the long term disposal of used nuclear fuel
- The taxpayers/ratepayers can be held responsible for decommissioning costs that exceed the required decommissioning reserve funds
- Nuclear plant owners feel so strongly about the need for the public to recognize and pay for the value of the plants that they start and fund a high priced lobbying effort aimed at increasing the revenue that the plants generate, even if that means direct taxpayer/ratepayer subsidies
Then: Why is the decision to permanently and prematurely shut down a nuclear power plant left entirely in the hands of the final owner without a public and excruciating review process that eventually concurs that permanent closure is the correct course of action for the plant?
I’ve published a number of articles on Atomic Insights questioning the relatively recent and already executed decisions to close Crystal River, San Onofre, Kewaunee, Vermont Yankee. I even spent quite a bit of time trying to reopen a 1990s vintage decision to close Zion.
I’ve also begun writing to question decisions that have already been made, but have not yet passed what I believe is the current point of no return–the act of submitting and accepting two official documents to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifying that the plant has been defueled and operations have ceased in order to amend the operating license to a possession-only license. The list of pending premature closures already includes Pilgrim, Fitzpatrick, and Oyster Creek with as many as a couple of dozen others that have already joined “in the conversation.”
Of course, I’m just a lonely blogger with a keyboard who has no real constituency, money, or responsible government position, so I get why those efforts have been about as effective as pissing into a gale force wind.
However, after catching up on my reading with a couple of week-old articles yesterday (Ex: Entergy rejects Cuomo idea, says FitzPatrick nuclear plant will close for sure) that claimed that Entergy has adamantly refused to reconsider its decision to close Fitzpatrick, I’ve been thinking non-stop about upping the ante and finding stronger partners in my effort.
However, the current process is apparently stacked so heavily in favor of the current owners that even governors have no ability to force reconsideration of the decision.
I’d love to find out that the following was misquoted or that the statements were simply part of a negotiating ploy to encourage a more lucrative offer before giving in.
“We have explored every legitimate commercial arrangement that might have changed the decision regarding Fitzpatrick’s retirement,” said Tammy Holden, speaking for Entergy. “There is no viable alternative left to consider. The plant will retire at the end of 2016 or early 2017, as we previously announced and have formally advised the NRC.”
I’d be happy to moderate my anger and revise my steadily deteriorating opinion about the leadership of that company and work with them to find a reasonably profitable path that saves both Fitzpatrick and Pilgrim.
However, for now, I will press forward with the actions I think need to be discussed and resolved as soon as possible. I can think of a few savvy activists who may be willing to join me in successfully questioning “the powers that be.”
It’s time to formally insert a public hearing process–with the possibility of approved and funded intervenors–into the decommissioning decision. It should have been in the Atomic Energy Act all along; the drafters were obviously concerned about anti-trust implications of building large nuclear power stations, but they apparently overlooked the fact that trusts/cartels gain their power by coordinated efforts to control production in both the positive and negative directions.
Knowing what we know today about the importance of reducing CO2 emissions and other pollutants, the process probably should include an environmental impact assessment.
Closing nuclear plants permanently eliminates their electricity production from the energy markets. That action constrains electricity supply and moves the supply/demand balance in favor of producers instead of consumers. That is an act that an electricity or energy cartel might take if there was one in existence.
Closing nuclear plants harms the environment because the eliminated clean electricity production must be replaced. For now, that means that a more polluting source will have to be used for at least a decade to allow a new nuclear plant to be planned, sited, licensed and built.
It is, of course, possible for cartels to exist without any official announcement or acknowledgement. The most famous example in the United States, the Standard Oil trust, operated deceptively for decades before being exposed by diligent investigative reporters like Ida Tarbell.