http://www.cleanenergy.org/2009/03/12/overview-of-nuclear-plants-in-the-southeast/

SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Overview of Nuclear Plants in the Southeast

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Nuclear power is a risky and expensive way to boil water to generate electricity. Though nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide like coal plants, they do release radioactive and hazardous materials, including long-lived, highly radioactive waste, that threaten our security, jeopardize our health and pollute our natural resources. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant could be devastating. Nuclear plants are also huge water users that deplete limited and precious water resources. To build new nuclear plants would be a waste of the valuable time and money needed to address global warming.

The Southeast currently relies on nuclear power for about 1/4 of its electricity generation. Of 104 nuclear power reactors licensed to operate in the United States, more than 30 are found in the Southeast region. The region’s large utilities–Duke Energy, Entergy, Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy, South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, Southern Company and Tennessee Valley Authority–hold operating licenses for the nuclear plants in the region, while many small utilities throughout the region have partial ownership in individual plants. Nearly all utilities in the Southeast are pursuing new nuclear plants.

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency in charge of licensing new nuclear plants, as of October 2008 twenty-three new power plant applications have been applied for or will be filed for by 2010, for a total of thirty-four new reactors. Sixteen of those reactors are proposed for the Southeast. Click here for the latest listing from the NRC.

For an interactive map of nuclear sites in the United States visit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s web page at: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/col/new-reactor-map.html

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SACE along with our partners are challenging all of these nuclear plant proposals in the region in at least some manner. Here is a list of specific nuclear plants that SACE is currently working to prevent through legal challenges at the state and/or federal levels:

  • Bellefonte (2 new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors; talk of 4!) – Tennessee Valley Authority & NuStart Energy Consortium, near Scottsboro, Alabama.
  • Levy County (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – Progress Energy, in Levy County, Florida.
  • Vogtle (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – Southern Nuclear (Georgia Power, MEAG, Oglethorpe Power, Dalton Utilities), near Augusta, Georgia.

SACE is tracking other new nuclear plant proposals in the Southeast and are engaged in campaigns to prevent them with our many regional partners. Additional regional nuclear power expansion projects are listed below—please learn more about them!

  • Grand Gulf (1 new GE ESBWR reactor) – Entergy & NuStart Energy Consortium, near Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • Lee Site (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – Duke Energy, near Gaffney, SC.
  • River Bend (1 new GE ESBWR reactor) – Entergy, near Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Shearon Harris (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – Progress Energy, NC.
  • Summer plant (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – SCE&G (SCANA) with Santee Cooper, near Columbia, SC.
  • Turkey Point (2 new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors) – FP&L, near Miami, FL.
  • Watts Bar (1 new Westinghouse ice condenser reactor) – TVA, near Spring City, TN.

The Risks of Nuclear Power Tackling Global Warming

For over five decades, nuclear power has diverted major funds away from the development of more benign but powerful forms of energy production and this continues today. But today we are facing the prospects of the most serious issue facing humankind: global warming. In order for nuclear power to make an impact on carbon reductions, official projections show that thousands of new nuclear power plants would need to be built across the globe over the next several decades. To put this in perspective, the U.S. has 104 of the 441 operating nuclear reactors in the world today. According to a recent 2007 Keystone Center fact-finding report on nuclear power, just to maintain current worldwide nuclear power capacity, seven to nine new nuclear reactors would be needed per year until 2050. SACE believes that in terms of making a substantial reduction in carbon emissions in the near term, nuclear power is too slow and too costly to be a viable strategy.

Wall Street — According to the Keystone Center’s collaborative, industry-endorsed report, in order to have a significant impact on climate, nuclear power would have to sustain unprecedented growth for several decades. (1) This growth would be extremely costly. The report estimated life-cycle cost of electricity from new nuclear plants might reasonably be between eight to 11 cents per kWh based on recent construction experience and escalation of the price of construction materials. (2) Since the Keystone report was issued, the economics of nuclear power has gotten even worse. The costs of proposed nuclear plants in Florida and elsewhere have skyrocketed. In 2008, Florida Power & Light cost estimates were between $12 and $18 billion and Progress Energy Florida estimates are near $17 billion—nearly three times what the utilities estimated in the previous year. Utilities in the region are proposing to use reactor designs, such as the Westinghouse AP1000, that have never been built before anywhere in the world. In comparison, energy efficiency is generally estimated to cost around three cents per kWh. (3) According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, each dollar invested in energy efficiency in the U.S. displaces seven times as much carbon dioxide as a dollar invested in nuclear power. (4)

Water — Water needs and water consumption rates of nuclear power plants are also problematic. According to national statistics, the electric industry is often a leading, if not the largest, water user in many southern states. Current electricity supplies threaten water resources that affect important aspects of the region’s tourism, agriculture, fishing industries and sensitive biodiversity. A comparison of different energy supply technologies shows that water usage from nuclear power plants is much greater than renewable energy supplies and is, in fact, the highest water consumer among all energy technologies. (5) According to TVA’s application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an operating license, the two reactors will withdraw over 71 million gallons of water per day (mgd) from the Tennessee River (via the Guntersville reservoir) and consume, or lose, over 46 mgd, returning only about one third. This represents more water consumption than all public water systems in the Guntersville watershed combined. (6)

The Southeast, often considered to be a water-rich region, is predicted to face increasing threat of drought in coming years based on climate models. Over the past summers, TVA had to shut down one of the Browns Ferry reactors due to thermal loading problems—water drawn from the Tennessee River exceeded a 90 F degree average over 24 hours, amid a blistering heat wave across the Southeast. A TVA spokesman commented, “We don’t believe we’ve ever shut down a nuclear unit because of river temperature.” And we’re not alone with experiencing the unreliability of nuclear power reactors in drought conditions. Europe has already experienced the unreliability of nuclear power. During the 2006 summer heat wave, nuclear power plants had to shut down across Europe because the water temperatures were too high for safe operation.

Waste — No nation in the world has yet to open a geologic repository. Our nation’s proposed federal repository, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, is severely over budget and decades off schedule and may never open. At current levels of operation the U.S. fleet of reactors is expected to exceed Yucca’s capacity by 2010, even if it opened, it would not be large enough to accommodate all of the waste generated from our currently operating nuclear reactors, let alone any new reactors. According to the Keystone Center report, for nuclear power to play a role in carbon reductions, it would require 10 nuclear waste repositories the size of the statutory capacity of Yucca Mountain to store 713,000 tons of spent fuel worldwide. (7) In terms of reprocessing, the Keystone report determined that the long-term availability of uranium at reasonable prices suggests reprocessing of spent fuel will not be cost-effective in the U.S. in the foreseeable future. Additionally, a fuel cycle with reprocessing and any type of separation will still require a geologic repository for long-term management of nuclear waste.

Weapons — The level of growth needed to impact global warming would require a global expansion of nuclear power greatly increasing the threat of nuclear proliferation. The safety and security culture in some countries raises concerns about further expansion of nuclear power abroad. The United States is not expected to export nuclear power as a solution to global warming to many in the developing world where energy needs are growing the fastest. Many of these countries, such as Indonesia and Somalia, do not have the security infrastructure to support nuclear materials. Current battles over nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran are examples of the challenges in foreign diplomacy of exporting nuclear power technology. It is a double standard to claim nuclear power as a global warming solution for the United States and then prevent it from being an option in the developing world. We need technologies that we can freely share with other emerging countries while demonstrating them at home. Nuclear power simply has too many risks in a post-9/11 world to be a viable solution to global warming:

  1. The Keystone Center, Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding Report, June 2007, http://www.keystone.org/. A Pacala/Socolow “wedge” is defined as 25 gigatons of carbon reductions. The Keystone report stated that in order for nuclear power to achieve just one wedge of carbon reductions over the next 50 years would require sustaining the most rapid decade of historical growth in nuclear power for that entire period.
  2. The Keystone Center, Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding Report, p. 11.
  3. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Direct Testimony of Bill Prindle for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, GA 2007 IRP, Docket 24505, May 4, 2007.
  4. Rocky Mountain Institute Newsletter, Vol. XVI, #1, Spring 2000, pp. 15, 25, available at http://www.rmi.org/images/other/Newsletter/NLRMIspring20.pdf
  5. Hoffmann, J., S. Forbes, T. Feeley. U.S. DOE, Estimating Freshwater Needs to Meet 2025 Electrical Generating Capacity Forecasts. June 2004, p. 12.
  6. TVA, Bellefonte Units 3&4 COLA (Environmental Report), Rev 0, Section 2.3.2.2.4, Tables 2.3-32, 3.3-1, & 2.3-31.
  7. Defined as one “wedge” of carbon reductions or 25 gigatons in carbon reductions.

Impacts

Nuclear power is just too risky to be considered a reasonable solution to mitigating global warming. Nuclear power is extremely expensive, water intensive, polluting, especially in terms of producing highly radioactive waste for which no safe storage exists, and threatens to increase nuclear proliferation globally (the spread of nuclear weapons and materials).

Nuclear power generates energy by splitting (or “fissioning”) a uranium atom. This process:

  • produces many man-made radioactive by-products and hazardous chemicals that pollute the environment and can negatively impact human health;
  • creates long-lived, highly radioactive nuclear waste that must be isolated from humans and the environment for essentially forever. Nuclear waste is an expensive and dangerous liability that threatens not only today’s society, but also the health and livelihood of future generations;
  • degrades our region’s precious water resources through the release of thermal pollution (hot water) and guzzling those water supplies on which many other important uses rely (agriculture, drinking water, recreation, fishing, industry) – nuclear power is the most water intensive power plant technology;
  • diverts billions and billions of dollars from clean, safe and affordable energy solutions that could be used globally to more quickly and effectively reduce global warming pollution;
  • threatens our security – nuclear power plants are stated terrorist targets and an accident or attack could cause irreversible and devastating damage.

Solutions

  • Utilities in the region need to abandon risky pursuits to expand nuclear power.
  • Citizens, businesses, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels need to encourage utilities to instead pursue clean, safe energy choices that affordably and efficiently reduce global warming pollution while preserving our water resources.
  • Congress needs to stop funding the highly subsidized nuclear power industry when better solutions exist. State elected officials and public utility commissions should not offer incentives to nuclear power plant expansion projects.
  • Safe solutions include energy efficiency and conservation, wind, solar and bio-energy.

What SACE is doing

  • SACE is legally challenging new reactor proposals in the region, both at the state and federal levels.
  • SACE is actively calling upon lawmakers and utility regulators to support clean, safe energy solutions that will reduce global warming pollution now including energy efficiency and conservation, wind, solar and bio-energy.
  • SACE is working with concerned citizens, organizations, community leaders, and elected officials to build a coalition to promote clean, safe energy choices.
  • Through the Southern Energy Network, a project of SACE, students in the region are mobilizing to stop new power plant proposals and advocate for global warming solutions that protect our communities, bolster our economy, and preserve our natural resources.

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