Why nu­clear could be­come the next ‘fos­sil’ fuel

Con­struc­tion of US re­ac­tors fal­ters due to high cost and cheaper al­ter­na­tives, writes

New Straits Times - - Opin­ion -

AGRAY di­nosaur statue out­side south Florida’s largest power plant is meant to sym­bol­ise two de­com­mis­sioned fos­sil fuel re­ac­tors, but it also could be seen to rep­re­sent a nu­clear in­dus­try crum­pling amid mount­ing costs.

Al­most a decade ago, Turkey Point was aim­ing to be­come one of the coun­try’s largest nu­clear plants. Florida Power and Light (FPL) had ar­gued that such ex­pan­sion was needed to main­tain di­verse en­ergy sources and to sup­ply the state’s boom­ing pop­u­la­tion for years to come.

But now, just three re­ac­tors are in op­er­a­tion — one nat­u­ral gas and two nu­clear re­ac­tors — built in the 1970s. And, plans to build two more nu­clear re­ac­tors — first an­nounced in 2009 — are es­sen­tially on hold for four years.

Ear­lier this year, the bank­ruptcy of West­ing­house, builder of the AP1000 re­ac­tor — the model sched­uled for use at plants in South Carolina and Ge­or­gia as well as Turkey Point — rat­tled the in­dus­try. Both projects are now years be­hind sched­ule and bil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get.

The South­ern Al­liance for Clean En­ergy es­ti­mates that con­struc­tion on Turkey Point has been de­layed un­til 2028, with costs ex­pected to bal­loon to over US$20 bil­lion (RM88 bil­lion).

FPL has re­fused to pub­licly re­vise its pro­jec­tions at Turkey Point, for now. The project has been con­tro­ver­sial from the start, and casts the spot­light on con­cerns about nu­clear power.

Crit­ics have pointed to the ris­ing seas from cli­mate change, risks of storm surge, ra­dioac­tive waste and threats to drink­ing wa­ter and wildlife at the site, nes­tled near Ever­glades Na­tional Park, as rea­sons to stop nu­clear ex­pan­sion.

Com­plaints have also cen­tred on the dif­fi­culty of evac­u­at­ing the densely-pop­u­lated area around the plant in case of emer­gency.

“In­vest­ing tens of bil­lions of dol­lars on a power plant that will be un­der­wa­ter one day, along with the highly ra­dioac­tive waste it will pro­duce, makes no sense,” said fish­ing cap­tain Dan Kip­nis, one of the ac­tivists who is fight­ing to stop the project.

Le­gal chal­lenges to the plant’s ex­pan­sion be­gan in 2010, and con­tin­ued this month with a hear­ing be­fore the Atomic Safety Board.

Turkey’s Point’s two nu­clear re­ac­tors use a se­ries of cool­ing canals to treat waste­water. These canals were con­firmed last year to be leak­ing into a nearby na­tional park, after the ra­dioac­tive iso­tope tri­tium was found at up to 215 times the nor­mal level in wa­ters off Bis­cayne Bay.

Mean­while, the ever-drop­ping cost of nat­u­ral gas is mak­ing nu­clear less at­trac­tive.

“Most peo­ple think Turkey Point will never get built,” said Mark Cooper, se­nior re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute for En­ergy and the En­vi­ron­ment, Ver­mont Law School, re­fer­ring to FPL’s pro­posed new nu­clear re­ac­tors.

“It turns out it was not the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, it was not the suits,” Cooper said

“They could not de­liver a safe, eco­nom­i­cally-vi­able prod­uct. They couldn’t do it in the 1980s and they can’t do it to­day.

“Nu­clear power is a tech­nol­ogy whose time never came.”

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