Radioactive waste from an Argonne National Laboratory facility is shipped via truck to Idaho in 2010. (Photo by Argonne National Laboratory)
Illinois is currently home to the largest amount of nuclear waste of any state, and the industry is content to keep it that way, at least for the time being.
Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) were in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook recently to discuss a new “waste confidence rule” that would allow spent nuclear fuel to be stored at reactor sites for 60 years after the plants close.
Nuclear industry employees and supporters say waste has been stored onsite for years and can be safely stored there in pools and dry casks for decades more. Industry opponents counter that natural disasters, terrorist attacks or accidents could mean catastrophe when waste is stored on reactor sites in populated areas.
The waste confidence rule was originally adopted in 1984 as the result of a 1979 federal court decision. The original rule posited that a permanent waste storage site would be available by 2009; a 2010 update to the rule vaguely stipulated that permanent storage would be ready “when necessary.”
As a result of a lawsuit, in 2012 a federal appeals court ordered the NRC to go back to the drawing board with the waste confidence rule and the related environmental impact statement.
(Photo by Samat Jain via Creative Commons)
New geology research says radioactive wastes are unlikely to enter groundwater from a proposed Canadian disposal site less than a mile from Lake Huron.
The research raises questions about future disposal on both sides of the border as radioactive waste continues to sit at power plants around the Great Lakes.
Ontario Power Generation is planning an underground disposal site for low and intermediate level nuclear waste at Kincardine on the Bruce Peninsula in western Ontario. The categories include most things in the United States’ classifications for low-level radioactive waste. For power plants, that includes things like contaminated equipment, clothing, protective gear, and cleaning supplies, as well as filters and reactor water treatment residues.
Starting on September 16, the Canadian government’s joint review panel will hold a public hearing on the project’s environmental assessment. Construction could start within two years, says a timetable on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s website.
Low water levels in Lake Michigan near Traverse City in 2008. (Photo by Michigan Sea Grant via Creative Commons)
Low water levels in the Great Lakes pose potential operating and efficiency problems for Midwest power plants.
It’s one of several ways power plants are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather, an issue recently highlighted in a Department of Energy report.
Several plants in the Midwest have already had to take action in response to water-related conditions. Others must monitor conditions carefully to avoid being left high and dry.
Michigan’s Cloverland Electric Cooperative knew it had a problem last year. Output at its hydroelectric plant at Sault Sainte Marie kept dropping dramatically before bouncing back up.
“We experienced about a 60-80 percent drop in the plant’s output,” says Phil Schmitigal, Cloverland’s Director of Generation.
The problem wasn’t inside the 36-megawatt plant, but outside in the St. Mary’s River, which connects Lake Superior with the lower Great Lakes. Cloverland’s plant draws river water in from a 2-1/4 mile long canal that runs from near Ashmun Bay on the west to downstream of the Sabin Lock on the east.
The LaSalle nuclear plant in Illinois. (Photo via NRC)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Hannah Northey
Exelon Corp. is scrapping expansion plans at nuclear plants in Illinois and Pennsylvania because of waning demand for electricity and competition with subsidized wind generators.
The country’s largest owner of nuclear reactors announced Wednesday it would sideline plans to add capacity to its LaSalle nuclear plant 75 miles southwest of Chicago and its Limerick plant 20 miles northwest of Philadelphia in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Exelon has added about 1,400 megawatts of power to the grid by conducting “extended power uprates” at its nuclear plants, a process that involves installing larger pumps and valves with greater capacity to increase a reactor’s output by up to 20 percent.
That process at the LaSalle and Limerick plants, however, was derailed by market conditions and cheap wind, and Exelon has instead decided to take a $100 million hit in the second quarter, according to the filing.
Michael Vickerman is program and policy director of RENEW Wisconsin.
By Michael Vickerman
Though equipped with a license to operate for an additional 20 years, the Kewaunee nuclear power station rode into the sunset this week, having generated its final kilowatt-hour.
Dominion Resources, the Virginia-based company that owns the 550 MW facility along Lake Michigan, plans to spend nearly $1 billion to decommission the facility and transform the acreage back to its former status as farm fields. The process could take as long as 60 years.
It’s more than a little odd to see a 39-year-old nuclear plant taken offline in a state that’s replete with middle-aged fossil units. But in this story, age and fuel type matter less than the extremely unfavorable market structure confronting an independently owned baseload plant in the Upper Midwest, especially one lacking a power purchase agreement.
A cask of nuclear waste is loaded onto a truck at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. (Photo via ANL)
A proposal in the U.S. Senate has advocates concerned that Illinois could become a leading contender for storing nuclear waste from around the nation.
The discussion draft of a Senate bill released April 25 and open for public comment until May 24 launches a process to create a “centralized interim storage” site (CIS) for nuclear waste that is currently stored at reactors nationwide.
And a June 2012 study [PDF] by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using spatial modeling suggests that northern Illinois would be among the top possibilities.
Many nuclear energy critics oppose the concept of centralized interim storage, saying that the long-distance transport of nuclear waste to such sites would pose serious risks, and that interim storage sites could become financial and safety burdens especially if a long-term waste repository is never created.
The tepid economic recovery means at least one Michigan utility is seeing slow growth in summer peak demand, according to a recent filing with state regulators.
The flat demand for power for Detroit Edison was reflected in summer assessments filed recently with the state’s Public Service Commission by Michigan electric power providers as well as Wisconsin utilities serving the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Detroit Edison predicted peak summer peak demand which was lower than 2008, while American Electric Power said its reserve margin — a measurement of available capacity relative to projected demand — was a flush 29 percent for its 5 state east region. Historically, reserve margin targets have been around 15 percent.
(Photo via GE Hitachi)
A new, smaller breed of nuclear reactor that is being promoted by the Obama administration may offer some advantages over the larger reactors that now provide about 20 percent of the United States’ electricity, but critics say they also have the same drawbacks.
While nuclear plant construction is largely a thing of the past in the U.S., the new smaller paradigm – and the $452 million in federal funds aimed at pushing it forward – has generated a lot of interest. At least four consortia of engineering and utility firms are now developing designs and licensing standards, and competing for federal funds.
One industry group, led by engineering/construction firms Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel, has been awarded federal funds and plans to have its first small modular reactor (SMR) operating at a site in Tennessee by 2022.
The Obama administration is aiming for 20 plants by 2030 and 50 plants by 2040.
A simulated control room at the visitor’s center for the Cook Nuclear Plant in Michigan. (Photo by John Grabowski via Creative Commons)
The future of a Michigan nuclear plant lies in the hands of Indiana regulators, as they decide whether ratepayers should be responsible for funding work needed to extend the plant’s life.
The Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant in southwest Michigan needs $1.17 billion worth of upgrades to continue operating for another two decades, according to Indiana Michigan Power (I&M), a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP).
In 2005 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted license renewals allowing the plant’s two reactors to keep running through 2034 and 2037. I&M wants to bill ratepayers for 117 separate projects it categorizes as “life cycle management” necessary to extend the reactors’ lives.
In order to undertake the upgrades, the utility needs the go-ahead from Indiana and Michigan public utility commissions agreeing that the projects are needed and that ratepayers in the two states can be billed for the work as it progresses.
In late January, the Michigan Public Service Commission decided that Michigan customers can be billed for their proportional share of up to $851 million worth of upgrades on the 35- and 29–year-old pressurized water reactors. That figure represents projects that the commission decided would fall within the state’s six year pre-approval window; and it includes a 10 percent cushion for cost overruns.
Michigan customers buy about 15 percent of the 2,100 MW plant’s power, while Indiana customers buy about 65 percent. The rest is sold on the wholesale market, according to AEP spokesperson Sarah Bodner.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is currently considering the utility’s request, with the fate of the plant essentially hanging in the balance.
The Palisades Nuclear Plant in Michigan is among several flagged for safety issues in a new report. (Photo via Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has a “ripped nuclear safety net,” according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The report, by nuclear engineer Dave Lochbaum, details 14 incidents in 2012 where the NRC did special inspections at reactors and considered that the likelihood of a core meltdown had increased at least 10-fold over normal circumstances. In the past three years, 40 of the nation’s 104 reactors logged such incidents.
Lochbaum calls them “near misses,” a term that NRC spokesman David McIntyre takes issue with.
“When we conduct a special inspection this is intended to revise problems early before they become serious,” McIntyre said. “We would view these as evidence that the regulatory process works.
“We point out that none of these incidents posed any threat to public health or safety. The special inspection is done when something a little more than a routine problem happens – it’s meant to nip it in the bud.”
Lochbaum’s report acknowledges that none of the incidents posed an imminent safety threat. He told Midwest Energy News that the NRC’s approach on imminent and serious safety issues is “generally pretty good” and has improved significantly in the past decade, but he faults the agency for dropping the ball on seemingly more minor issues that could add up to or indicate very serious problems.
In the report Lochbaum compares the NRC’s current approach to a police department that investigates murders but ignores burglaries and vandalism.