A decade ago, nuclear proponents were claiming a renaissance for the US industry. Dozens of reactors were penciled out – if only on the backs of napkins – and the federal government was set to provide billions of dollars in loan guarantees for new construction. States in the southeast US allowed utilities to impose Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) charges on ratepayers long before reactors went on-line.
No more. Only four new reactors are being built in the US, and it is possible that none of them will ever operate. Westinghouse, which is building the reactors – all over-budget and behind schedule – is out of the nuclear construction business. Its parent company, Toshiba, recently announced a $6.3 billion loss on its US nuclear business and may well file for bankruptcy.
The bottom line for nuclear power is grim. Since October 2012, reactor owners have closed (or revealed plans to close) 14 reactors at 11 sites across the country. Even more telling, according to World Nuclear News, is that of 27 GigaWatts of new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2016, only 1 GW was nuclear, and that from a reactor that took 42 years to bring on-line.
Developers promoting small modular reactor (SMR) such as NuScale say their plans are unaffected by all the bad nuclear news. But most analysts see SMRs as a bridge to a very uncertain next generation of reactors. It’s becoming clear that the present shore is crumbling as the far shore grows more distant.
The clock that symbolizes the threat of global catastrophe from nuclear weapons and climate change has advanced 30 seconds. It’s now 2 ½ minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.
Manhattan Project scientists founded the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945 because they “could not remain aloof from the consequences of their work.” The Doomsday Clock first appeared on the cover of the magazine in 1947, and the hands were set then at 7 minutes to midnight. The hands have since been set as close as 2 minutes to midnight in 1953, after both the Soviet Union and the U.S. tested H-bombs. The farthest away from doom they’ve been – 17 minutes – was in 1991, when the end of the Cold War led Russia and the U.S. to make deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals and sign the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
This year the hands have moved as close to midnight as they have been since 1953. The Bulletin explained the decision in January: “In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change. Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.”
The Snake River Alliance has always known that our words – and actions – matter, too. The Bulletin’s guidance to its readers on what to do next echoes our convictions. 1. Learn about the problem. 2. Share what you’ve learned with others. 3. Tell your government representatives what to do.
The latest test of the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) has failed. The IWTU was to have solidified INL’s last 900,000 gallons of liquid high-level waste in 2012, a key cleanup deadline in the 1995 Settlement Agreement. But the facility has yet to operate successfully, and each time it is tested – without radioactive waste – workers encounter a different set of major problems.
February 2017 was to have been the start of a series of increasingly long test runs. But the first run had to be aborted when one of the vessels supposed to hold and treat the liquid did not heat up properly – although the surrounding cell enclosure did. Now everything has to cool off before inspectors can go in and try to figure out what went wrong this time.
Some people believe it’s all right that the liquid waste is still in the buried tanks because the tanks haven’t leaked. But the pipes and valves around them have, and the soil surrounding the tank farm is some of the most contaminated at the Site. This winter’s weather reminds us that INL can’t cap the tank farm area until the waste has been removed. Every time it rains or snows, more of the waste in the soil is driven down toward water.
Shipments from INL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will begin in April after accidents in February 2014 closed the facility. It will be slow going. WIPP will accept 128 shipments in 2017, and 61 of those will come from Idaho. Our large share reflects both the precedence the 1995 Settlement Agreement gives the State as well as how much plutonium-contaminated weapons waste ended up here. But WIPP plans to accept only 34 shipments in 2018 because the waste hoist that lowers barrels into the repository needs major repairs. INL currently has more than 900 shipments of contact-handled waste and more than 200 shipments of remote-handled waste that is ready to certify for WIPP disposal.
The Alliance is searching for a dedicated and enthusiastic Program Associate to join our staff in Boise. Help us protect Idaho and build a new world with 100%, safe, clean and renewable energy. View the Job Description on our website. To apply send resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 20, 2017.
Tickets Available Now. The second “Holding What Can’t be Held” exhibition at the MING Studio in Boise is sponsored by the Alliance in partnership with artists working together as The Feeling Body . If you have ever wanted to tour the Idaho National Laboratory but weren’t sure if you should – please come see this exhibition.
Each year Alliance members tour the INL to see some of the lesser known sights behind the basic public tours. We have been given access to see — but not photograph — sensitive areas at INL including the partially-melted reactor core from Three-mile Island and Superfund clean up operations in areas of nuclear contamination.
The whole experience is hard to express without being allowed to take photos. So, The Feeling Body has taken small groups of artists out to the desert and asked them to share their experience through their art. The public can now view the results at the MING Studio in Boise, through February 4th.
On February 3rd the Alliance and MING will sponsor a Closing Dinner with the artists. Tickets are available for this exciting event. Many pieces from the show will be available to purchase that evening. Proceeds will go to a special Snake River Alliance fund to support Art and Activism and launch next year’s project with The Feeling Body.