Planting Seeds for a New CA Nuclear Plant

Could California’s next nuke be on the horizon?

Backers of a new Fresno “clean energy park” aim to use nuclear power to clean up salty irrigation water in California’s Central Valley.

The twin cooling towers of the decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. Could the Central Valley see another nuke constructed near Fresno? (Photo: Craig Miller)

They see the state’s 35-year-old moratorium on expansion of nuclear power as a mere speed bump in the road. They wouldn’t be the first. There have been several attempts to challenge the ban over the years – in the courts, in the legislature, and even a couple false starts through the initiative process.

But the idea of simply drawing up plans for a plant and gearing up to build it – without getting permission from the state – that’s a new approach, which I explain in my Wednesday radio feature for The California Report.

Fresno Nuclear CEO John Hutson told me he thinks it would be much more profitable to sell precious clean water to farmers than to generate electricity for the grid.

“Why should we sell electricity when we could clean enough water to irrigate 40 thousand acres of Thompson seedless grapes?”, Hutson asked. He also plans to make water bottles out of the captured salts and fill them with fresh, desalinated water. I wonder how many of those he’d have to sell to finance two 1600-megawatt reactors?

KQED’s Quest first talked to Hutson several years ago about his plan to build a nuclear plant next to a Fresno wastewater treatment plant. At that point, he was talking about selling electricity and possibly introducing a ballot initiative to overturn the moratorium, enacted in 1976.

But now he’s simply plowing forward, teaming up with French energy giant Areva to draw up plans for a clean energy park that would include solar, desalinization, and nuclear. They’ve even produced an animated tour of the proposed park:

Meanwhile, some of the state’s anti-nuclear activists are pushing in the other direction. They hope to collect signatures for a proposed ballot initiative which would expand the current moratorium to the point of shutting down power generation at the state’s two existing nuclear plants.

The initiative’s author, Ben Davis, told me he’s not quite ready to knock on doors yet. He sent a letter to the state Attorney General’s office voicing concern about the state’s summary of the proposed initiative. He doesn’t like the clause that predicts a full nuclear stoppage could cost Californians billions of dollars a year due to electricity interruptions and rate increases.

“It misleads the public,” Davis said. “It’s written as if they handed the proposal to the nuclear industry and asked them to write whatever they wanted.” And he wants the summary to include a more specific estimate of what a nuclear disaster like Fukushima could cost the state.

  • http://www.environmentcalifornia.org Bernadette Del Chiaro

    Nuclear power is no solution to global warming, not to mention water pollution. Nuclear power will actually set California back in the race to reduce pollution and shift to clean energy. This is because nuclear power is too slow and too expensive to make enough of a difference. Moreover, nuclear power is not necessary to provide clean, carbon-free electricity for the long haul. Per dollar spent over the lifetime of the technology, energy efficiency and biomass co-firing are five times more effective at preventing carbon dioxide pollution, and combined heat and power (in which a power plant generates both electricity and heat for a building or industrial application) is greater than three times more effective. In 2018, biomass and land-based wind energy will be more than twice as effective, and solar photovoltaic power should be comparable to a new nuclear reactor in terms of its perdollar ability to prevent global warming
    pollution by this date if not sooner. Cal;ifornia should reject nuclear power, both the new and the old, and embrace real clean energy solutions.
    -Bernadette Del Chiaro, Director, Clean Energy Programs, Environment California

  • http://cagreening.blogspot.com/ Wes Rolley

    Current CA law specifies that nuclear power plants are banned until there is a solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal. That is still a problem.

    However, what no one has taken into consideration is the ecological effect of the work required to get process uranium to the plant in the first place. Since Dr. Raymond-Whish reported on the relationship between uranium and breast cancer, (http://www.nau.edu/gradcol/enews/2008September/Research.html) has been ignored, I would suggest that anyone proposing new nuclear facilities be willing to relocate their families to the Navajo Reservation and there to drink the water. It might be appropriate since the Fresno Scam claims to want to use the facility to clean up Central Valley water.

    • Craig Miller

      As you’ll hear in Sasha’s radio report, Fresno Nuclear investors believe they have a way around (or through) the current moratorium. Not everybody agrees.

  • http://www.jimbell.com Jim Bell

    Nuclear Power — One of Humankind’s Biggest Mistakes
    Jim Bell, http://www.jimbell.com

    Nuclear Power was a mistake and remains a mistake. If the human family survives it, our descendants will wonder what we were thinking to justify leaving them nuclear power’s toxic legacy — a legacy they will be dealing with for hundreds if not thousands of generations.

    And why did we do it? To power our lights, TVs, radios, stereos, air conditioners, etc. and the tools we used to make them.

    Our creation of nuclear power will be especially difficult for our descendants to understand because they will know that in the nuclear era, we already had all the technologies and know-how needed to power everything in ways that are perpetually recyclable, powered by free solar energy and which leave zero harmful residues in their wake.

    On its own, nuclear power’s toxic radioactive legacy should be enough to give any thinking person sufficient reason to want to eliminate it as quickly as possible and do everything to protect our descendants from the radioactive wastes already created.

    The human family has been at war with itself for the majority of its history. Human history is full of successful, advanced and sophisticated civilizations that utterly collapsed. To the informed, even our current civilization(s) don’t feel very solid. Plus there are earthquakes, tsunami’s volcanoes, severe weather, terrorism, and just plain human error. This given, who can guarantee that anything as dangerous and long-lived as nuclear waste can be kept safe for even 100 years much less the hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years it will take before some of these wastes are safe to be around.

    And even if an insurance company did guarantee its safety, what is their guarantee worth? What could they do to protect us and future generations if San Onofre’s spent fuel storage pond lost its coolant water. If this happened an almost unquenchable radioactive fire would spontaneously erupt, spewing radioactive materials wherever the wind blew for weeks if not months — rendering Southern California a dangerous place to live for thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

    Notwithstanding the above, the nuclear industry is lobbying the public and the government to continue supporting them politically and economically so the industry can expand.

    Its latest rational is that nuclear power will produce fewer greenhouse gases than what would be produced using fossil fuels to make electricity. This is true if one only looks at what happens inside a reactor. It’s not true when accounting for all the fossil fuel energy consumed during nuclear power’s fuel cycle, and what it takes to build, operate and dismantle plants when they wear out. Additionally, even if nuclear power was ended today, fossil fuel energy must be consumed for millennia in order to protect the public from the radioactive residues that nuclear power has already generated.

    An increasing number of former industry and non-industry experts are saying that at best nuclear power releases slightly fewer greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than if the fossil fuels embodied in it had been burned to make electricity directly.

    In his 2002 book, Asleep at the Geiger Counter, p. 107-118, Sidney Goodman, (giving the industry the benefit of the doubt on a number of fronts and assuming no serious accidents or terrorism), concludes that the net output of the typical nuclear power plant would be only 4% more than if the fossil fuels embodied in it had been uses directly to produce electricity. This means, best-case scenario, replacing direct fossil fuel generated electricity with nuclear generated electricity will only reduce the carbon dioxide released per unit of electricity produced by 4%. Goodman is a long practicing licensed Professional Engineer with a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

    Other experts believe that nuclear power will produce about the same amount of energy as was, is, and will be consumed to create, operate and deal with its aftermath. This case was made in an article published in Pergamon Journals Ltd. Vol.13, No. 1, 1988, P. 139, titled “The Net Energy Yield of Nuclear Power.” In their article the authors concluded that even without including the energy that has or would be consumed to mitigate past or future serious radioactive releases, nuclear power is only “the re-embodiment of the energy that went into creating it.”
    In its July/August 2006 edition, The Ecologist Magazine, a respected British publication, featured a16-page analysis of nuclear power. One of the conclusions was that nuclear power does not even produce enough electricity to make up for the fossil fuels consumed just to mine, mill and otherwise process uranium ore into nuclear fuel, much less all the other energy inputs required This is not surprising given that typical U-235 ore concentrations of .01% to .02%, require mining, crushing and processing a ton of ore to end up with 1/2 oz to 1 oz of nuclear reactor fuel.

    To put this in perspective, the typical 1,000 MW nuclear power plants uses around 33 tons or over 1 million oz of nuclear fuel each year.

    As a teenager I saw a TV program that showed a man holding a piece of metal in the palm of his hand. He was saying that if what he held was pure uranium it would contain as much energy as the train full of coal that was passing by him on the screen. I became an instant “true believer” in nuclear power. I thought if something that small can produce the same amount of energy as all that coal, there will be plenty of energy and therefore plenty of money to address any dangers that using it might pose.

    Unfortunately, to get that level of energy from a small amount of pure or near pure uranium it would require that it be exploded as an atomic bomb. Of the uranium used in a reactor, only a fraction of the energy in pure uranium gets used. That’s why we are left with depleted uranium and other long-lived wastes.

    The nuclear industry says that nuclear power is safe, a big net energy producer, and that it will be cheap and easy to keep its wastes out of the environment and out of the hands of terrorists. But if these claims are true, why has an industry that supplies only 8% of our country’s total energy and 20% of its electricity consumed hundreds of billions of tax dollar subsidies since its inception? The 2005 Federal Energy Bill continues this trend. According to U.S. PIRG,

    Taxpayers for Common Sense, Public Citizen and the Congressional Research Service say that the recently passed 2005 Federal Energy Bill includes “a taxpayer liability of $14 to $16 billion” in support of nuclear power.

    If nuclear power is so safe and wonderful, why does it require the Price Anderson Act? The Price Anderson Act puts taxpayers on the hook if the cost of a major radioactive release exceeds $10.5 billion. According to a Sandia National Laboratory analysis, this puts taxpayers on the hook for over $600 billion to cover the damage that a serious radioactive release would cause. Another Sandia Laboratory study focusing just on the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York, concluded the damage caused by a serious release from that plant could cost up to a trillion dollars. Needless to say, any serious radioactive release from any U. S. plant would wipe out any net energy gain by nuclear power if — there ever was one.

    Realizing the potential cost of a serious radioactive release, manufacturers, insurers and utilities, were unwilling to build, insure or order plants. They only got seriously involved after the Congress assigned these cost to the taxpaying public. On page 7 of a report by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research titled The Nuclear Power Deception, they included the following 1996 quote from then NRC Commissioner James Asselstine, “given the present level of safety being achieved by the operating nuclear power plants in this country, we can expect a meltdown within the next 20 years, and it is possible that such as accident could result in off-site releases of radiation which are as large as, or larger than the released estimates to have occurred at Chernobyl.” Bare in mind, a meltdown is only one of several things that could happen with nuclear power to cause a serious radioactive release.

    As I said in the beginning, nuclear power is a mistake. Especially considering we already have all the technologies and know-how needed to make us completely and abundantly renewable electricity self-sufficient with out nuclear power. As a bonus, solar energy leaves no radioactive residues for our children or future generations to deal with. Additionally, although not completely environmentally benign yet, solar energy collection systems can be designed to last generations, be perpetually recyclable and leave zero toxic residues behind.

    If San Diego County covered 24% of its roofs and parking lots with 10% efficient PV panels, it would produce more electricity than the county consumes. This assumes that 3 million resident use, on average, 10 kWh per capita per day after installing cost-effective electricity use efficiency improvements.

    For ourselves, our children and future generations, let’s move into the solar age.

    For details watch my videos and read my free books and articles at http://www.jimbell.com. The books and articles can even be printed out for free.