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Failure and lawsuits in Finnish nuclear constructionIn a devastating pair of financial reports that might be called "The Emperor Has No Pressure Vessel," the New York Times has blazed new light on the catastrophic economics of atomic power (this article and this one).

The two Business Section specials cover the fiasco of new French construction at Okiluoto, Finland, and the virtual collapse of Atomic Energy of Canada. In a sane world they could comprise an epitaph for the "Peaceful Atom". But they come simultaneous with Republican demands for up to $700 billion or more in new reactor construction.

The Times's "In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble" by James Kanter is a "cautionary tale" about the "most powerful reactor ever built" whose modular design "was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build" as well as safer to operate.

But four years into a construction process that was scheduled to end about now, the plant's $4.2 billion price tag has soared by 50% or more. Areva, the French government's front group, won't predict when the reactor will open. Finnish utilities have stopped trying to guess.

Finnish inspectors say Areva allowed "inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor." The Finns have also cited Areva for "the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons."

Areva hopes to build similar reactors in the US. Its boosters have promised cheaper, cleaner, faster nuke construction with standardized designs like the one at Okiluoto. But "early experience suggests these new reactors will be no easier or cheaper to build than the ones a generation ago" whose price tags soared by 700% and more, and whose completion schedules ran into the decades.

Areva's second "new generation" project at Flamanville, France, is also over budget and behind schedule. Cracks have turned up in critical steel and concrete components, along with revelations that critical work has been done by unqualified welders.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not approved the Areva design in use at Okiluoto and Flamanville. Four other designs under consideration are also mired in process. Some are still being altered. A post 9/11 issue is their ability to withstand a jet crash, which the 104 US reactors currently licensed to operate were not forced to consider.

The fiascos in Finland and Flamanville have thrown Areva into economic chaos now being mirrored at the Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited. Once touted as a global flagship, AECL sucked up 1.74 billion Canadian dollars in subsidies last year and has been a long-term money loser which the government has now announced it wants to sell.

AECL's natural uranium/heavy water design has flopped in the world market. "Design issues" with its installed plants require heavy maintenance. AECL's Chalk River research facility, which suffered a major accident in 1952 (in which former President Jimmy Carter served as a "jumper") needs 7 billion Canadian dollars for clean-up work. Its 51-year-old medical isotope facility recently popped a major leak that may close it forever.

The Paris-based energy expert Mycle Schneider reports that of 45 reactors being built worldwide, 22 are behind schedule and nine have no official ignition schedules.

Despite the torrent of bad economic indicators, Republicans like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continue to demand massive government funding for new reactor construction. Alexander says he wants the US to build as many as 100 new reactors here, even though the private sector won't finance or insure them. The media is citing the idea as a $700 billion package, but in fact the project price of building new reactors is on the rise, and by some estimates has already exceeded $10 billion each. The Department of Energy has cited four finalists for $18.5 billion in loan guarantees voted in with the 2005 Bush Energy Plan. Florida and Georgia have raised rates to pre-pay proposed new reactors.

But Missouri has turned down a proposed rate hike for a new Areva project. And green activists have three times beaten proposed $50 billion federal loan guarantee packages to fund "new generation" construction. Grassroots battles are now raging to prevent the re-licensing of aging reactors like Vermont Yankee and New York's Indian Point.

As Congress deals with a wide range of energy-related legislation, the nuclear industry is desperately grabbing for any federal money it can get. One bill after another has been floated with nuclear hand-outs hidden in various nooks and crannies.

As the comparative price of efficiency and renewables plummets, the window may be closing fast on the possibility of building new nukes in the US, raising the industry's desparation level.

This battle will certainly rage for years to come. But the appearance of such brutally bad news from Finland and Canada in the Business Section of the New York Times bodes ill for an industry that, after fifty years, cannot get private funding or liability insurance, cannot deal with its wastes, and now cannot demonstrate the ability to produce new product anywhere near on time or budget.  At very least, Paul Joskow of MIT tells the Times, the rollout of new nukes may be "a good deal slower than a lot of people were assuming."

Source: http://www.freepress.org/columns/display/7/2009/1748  
 *** No related readings were found for tag "paul joskow" *** 
  
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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Jun-3-2009)   
You can't go very wrong with wind power. You can go VERY wrong with nukes.

Humans (especially ones that make profits on Big Science) keep trying to come up with more and bigger ways to have energy, jobs, etc., without questioning the entire idea of what living is, what it requires, and why we are trying to do so much more work than we have to in order to be useful to ourselves and the universe.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Jun-2-2009)   Web site

I believe plants are less sensitive to radiation than animals. And aren't some of the animals being born with the wrong number of legs, toes, and heads? I think it looks good to see everything growing, but we would not want 10% of children born to be deformed and adults all getting cancer or other similar ailments due to radiation and weakened immune systems.

Maybe someone with additional knowledge will answer...
  
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Jun-2-2009)   Web site

Thanks to Harvey for this great article. There are so many better ways to be dealing with the combined energy and environmental crisis, let's hope news like this from Canada and Finland steers decision-makers around the world away from nuclear. And this without even mentioning Thorpe!

(Thorpe is a nuclear reprocessing plant in the UK. Technical problems mean it will be working significantly below capacity for several years. It is contracted to reprocess waste for Germany, and the German government may sue if it cannot deliver on its obligations. Meanwhile, however, the unpopular British government is pressing ahead with a new generation of reactors.)

On this topic, one thing puzzles me a lot and that is Chernobyl. Although it was a terrible accident that killed many people and blighted the lives of many more through cancers, the abandoned area around the ruined power station is now full of life - both flora and fauna are doing very well. Does anyone know how this can be?
  
Comment by: jlance (Jun-2-2009)   Web site

The world needs to be aware of the follies of nuclear power beyond major events like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Thanks for writing this, as I learned more reasons to support my arguments against nukes. I sure hope that window closes, and we don't have anymore nuclear power plants in the US (and the world for that matter).

  
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About author/contributor Member: NoNukes (Harvey Wasserman) NoNukes (Harvey Wasserman)
   Web site: http://www.SolarTopia.org

Member: NoNukes (Harvey Wasserman) Free Press Senior Editor and "Superpower of Peace" columnist Harvey Wasserman is author or co-author of a dozen books including SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030; Harvey Wasserman's History of the U.S.; and, A Glimpse of the Big Light: Losing Parents, Finding Spirit.

With Bob Fitrakis, Harvey has helped expose the theft of the presidency. Their freepress.org coverage has prompted Rev. Jesse Jackson to call them "the Woodward and Bernstein of the 2004 election." Their books include How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008, and What Happened in Ohio?, coming soon from the New Press.

Harvey's widespread appearances throughout the major media and at campuses and citizen gatherings have focussed since the 1960s on energy, environment, peace, justice, U.S. history and election protection.

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