Sunday, April 20, 2008

News From the Week of April 14, 2008

Domenici Pans Yucca-Only Approach
Cashing in on Your Solar Savings: Bill Would Force Utilities to Pay for Excess Power

NRC Issues Report on Italy Waste

Justices to Decide Environmental Dispute Involving Utility Industry

Senate Passes One-Year Extension For Renewable Energy PTC

NRC Indicates 'Human Performance' Issues at Perry Nuclear Plant

Xcel Requests Extensions on Nuclear Plant Licenses

Utah Nuclear Waste Company Ramps Up Campaign Contributions

Unit 1 Corrections To Be Applied To Other 2 Reactors at Brown's Ferry NPP

Activists Warn Ontario Taxpayers on Hook for More Cost Overruns at Bruce Nuke Plant

Domenici Pans Yucca-Only Approach
Apr 11 - Las Vegas Review - Journal

Political support for a Yucca Mountain repository eroded further on Wednesday when a leading Senate advocate of nuclear power said it has become "foolhardy" to plan to store used nuclear fuel at the Nevada site.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the strategy to place spent nuclear fuel underground has become badly outdated in light of advances in waste reprocessing that could wring more energy from the assemblies. Even after nuclear fuel has been recycled, the resulting waste products might not need to be placed in the Nevada volcanic ridge, he said. At that point, the waste would be less toxic and could be stored safely in salt formations in New Mexico or elsewhere.

"The current strategy of limiting our options to a permanent repository for the disposal of spent fuel is deeply flawed," Domenici said. He said he was writing a bill that would alter the "Yucca only" approach.

"I'm talking about a bill that will start over and draft new law that puts America on a new path for commercial waste," he said after a Senate energy and water subcommittee hearing on the Yucca Mountain budget.

The senator's comments are reflective of a shift among key lawmakers frustrated by a decade-long delay in developing the Yucca Mountain repository, and who now are more amenable to alternatives they say are becoming more viable.

In the meantime, the Department of Energy continues to work toward licensing and building an industrial site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas to handle 77,000 tons of waste generated by the government and commercial utilities.

At the hearing, senators praised DOE nuclear waste director Ward Sproat, saying he has put the Yucca program finally on a track. But Domenici, a 35-year Senate veteran who has written a book on nuclear policy and authored key bills promoting the technology, said it might be too late.

"I am not saying that Yucca should go away, but I am saying you don't need Yucca" for managing power plant fuel, he said. "It would never have been the direct policy of the country for Yucca if you were going to have recycling like we are talking about. I want to make it very clear that I would not stop Yucca flat now," Domenici said. "I wouldn't just say cut it off because it may be used for something," perhaps burial of waste from Navy ship reactors, other military nuclear waste and other highly radioactive material that cannot be recycled.

Domenici said he was writing a bill that would divert a portion of the nuclear waste fund being set aside to build Yucca Mountain. Some of the funds in the account, which now totals $21 billion, would be steered to finding and developing reprocessing sites, and temporary nuclear fuel storage nearby. The bill would direct the Department of Energy to negotiate with interested communities.

Domenici is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year and was uncertain whether his bill would go anywhere. He said he is shopping it to senators and influential members of the House.

"This one I am really going big on," he said. "I don't know whether we can get this done while I am still a senator. ... But I want to lay down at least a cornerstone to what I think is absolutely imperative."

(c) 2008 Las Vegas Review - Journal.

Cashing in on Your Solar Savings: Bill Would Force Utilities to Pay for
Excess Power

Apr 12 - San Jose Mercury News

Electricity generated by a solar roof cuts a homeowner's utility bill, but some of those folks are upset when they learn that the best they can do is end up with a $0 bill, no matter how much power they produce.

That could be about to change.

AB 1920, working through California's Assembly, might mean that big utilities, such as Pacific Gas & Electric, would have to write checks to customers whose solar-roof power generation exceeds the amount they use.

California could be the first state with such a program, although others, including Michigan, Minnesota and Rhode Island, are considering similar strategies. Under California's Solar Initiative and current laws, the size of a solar installation is limited so that generation and consumption are roughly equal.

That's why Chris Bellizzi, who lives in a 5,100-square-foot home in Saratoga with a 3.73-kilowatt photovoltaic array on his roof, ended up owing PG&E just 25 cents in September. (Customers with solar systems reconcile generation/consumption accounting with PG&E once a year.)

Bellizzi sees an unfairness in the system. "If you owe them, you've got to send them a check," said the owner of a tree service. "If they owe you, they'll pocket it."

In fact, he said he abandoned his usual power-conserving ways last year when it looked as if PG&E would get $100 he feels he earned from his solar roof. "I used a bunch of power I normally wouldn't," he said, telling his kids they could run the air conditioning more.

That's just the type of "perverse message" that prompted Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, to introduce AB 1920. The measure passed the assembly's utilities and commerce committee this week and will be heard by the natural resources committee Monday.

The state, through the California Solar Initiative, wants 1 million solar roofs. Huffman said his bill will reduce some of the impediments to getting to that goal.

Right now, the size of a solar installation directly relates to the amount of power a homeowner or business uses, he said, so bigger systems that make more power aren't allowed. "If they generate surplus power beyond their own energy needs, that's a gift to the utility," he said. "There's no compensation."

That's enough to keep some folks from installing solar, Huffman said, and it certainly limits the size of installations.

"This bill for many people will improve the economics," he said. PG&E, based in San Francisco, has 20,000 solar customers right now, generating 175-megawatts of electricity. Of those, spokesman Keely Wachs said, 22 percent have a financial credit at year's end. That's because the state mandates that utilities pay solar owners a "premium rate" of 30 to 35 cents a kilowatt-hour for the power they generate. But even if they earn it, those customers don't get the extra money.

Only 7 percent of PG&E's solar customers generate more kilowatt-hours than they use, Wachs said.

The utility, which touts itself as a major proponent of solar, finds itself in the unusual position of arguing against AB 1920. PG&E feels the bill would mean that all of its customers would end up subsidizing those with solar systems, who tend to be wealthier customers. Plus, as written, the bill requires only investor-owned utilities, such as PG&E and Southern California Edison, to make payments, not municipally owned utilities, Wachs said.

The utility feels that AB 1969, passed in 2007, offers a better solution, he said. Under that law, customers can decide to become energy producers and sell power to PG&E. But with that option, they would lose both solar-initiative rebates and the premium rate for their power, earning a market rate of perhaps 9 to 10 cents a kilowatt-hour. And this would apply only to customers who decide to enter into the agreement and forgo other payments, while Huffman's AB 1920 would apply to everyone with a solar roof.

A San Francisco ratepayer advocacy group shares PG&E concerns, which itself is a rare occurrence. The Utility Reform Network, which usually criticizes PG&E for wasting customer money, opposed AB 1920. "Homeowners who generate excess electricity should be paid fairly for that electricity, but shouldn't be subsidized a third time by the rest of the ratepayers, who already fund generous subsidies for rooftop solar," said TURN staff attorney Marcel Hawiger.

Supporters of the bill include Environment California. "We should take away any disincentives there are," said Dan Jacobson, the group's legislative director. "We don't expect this to be a huge moneymaker," he said. "It's not like people won't need to get jobs and live off their solar. This will only help to pencil out solar a little faster."

Huffman said it's likely the bill will be altered to reflect some of the concerns, and questions about how much to pay for the excess power haven't been resolved. He thinks the bill's chance for passage is "pretty good."

Contact Matt Nauman at or (408) 920-5701.


NRC Issues Report on Italy Waste
Apr 11 - Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
By Stephen Speckman Deseret News

In an uncommon move this week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued what it calls a "fact sheet" on EnergySolutions' application to import low-level radioactive waste from Italy. NRC spokesman David McIntyre said release of the document was due to an outpouring of interest that includes members of Congress. The public comment period on the issue was recently extended to June 10.

"We have received an unusually high number of comments on this application," McIntyre said. There are over 900 comments, "overwhelmingly against" EnergySolutions' proposal.

EnergySolutions wants to import up to 20,000 tons of contaminated materials from decommissioned nuclear facilities in Italy. Most of the materials would be recycled in Tennessee and less than 1,600 tons of what's left over would be shipped to Clive, Tooele County, for disposal at an EnergySolutions dump site.

EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker would only say Thursday that the new NRC document is part of the process. His company will continue to follow the guidelines of the process until a decision about its license is made.

McIntyre said one of the main questions the NRC answered in an April 9 letter to Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., comes down to whether EnergySolutions is properly licensed in each state to do what they're proposing. "Both Tennessee and Utah have said 'yes' to that," McIntyre said.

The gist of this week's letter to Gordon described the NRC's role as regulatory, to ensure that the import process can be done safely and securely under state and federal laws, McIntyre said.

Last month Gordon and fellow House Energy and Commerce Committee members Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., sponsored legislation that would ban import of nuclear waste unless it was originally produced in the U.S. An exception would be U.S. military waste generated abroad.

According to the NRC's fact sheet, the Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act places the responsibility of regulating access to low-level radioactive waste disposal facilities on individual states. The document goes on to say that the NRC will consult with all affected states before it
grants the license to import the waste.

The NRC still expects to hear from the eight member states of the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-Level Radioactive Waste Management, which McIntyre said is scheduled to meet in May to discuss the application. There may also be an adjudicatory hearing for the Atomic Safety Board's chance to weigh in on the matter.

Utah's own advisory Radiation Control Board wrote a letter to the NRC opposing the import proposal. Gov. Jon Hunstman Jr. penned a cover letter to the NRC urging it to be the deciding agency on whether portions of the "finite" amount of this country's disposal space for radioactive material should be set aside for importing waste from other countries.

If EnergySolutions can clear all of the hurdles currently in its way, it could begin importing waste from Italy as soon as August. To critics of the proposal, the NRC's fact sheet this week has only added fuel to a growing opposition movement.

"Though it may contain useful information, people should not take issuance of a fact sheet to mean the license application will be opposed by the NRC," Friends of the Earth's Tom Clements said Thursday. "Pressure should be kept up to stop the license and prevent Tennessee, Utah and the nation from becoming an international nuclear waste dumping ground."



Justices to Decide Environmental Dispute Involving Utility Industry
WASHINGTON (The Associated Press) - Apr 14 - By PETE YOST Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an environmental case in which utility companies want to revive an industry-friendly regulation put in place by the Bush administration. The dispute with environmental groups revolves around the harm
companies cause when they draw water from rivers and lakes to cool electric generating equipment, then return it to the waterway. The process kills aquatic life.

The Environmental Protection Agency allowed the industry to forgo the most expensive solution, installing closed-cycle cooling systems which would cost billions of dollars at 550 generating units around the country including 104 nuclear power plants. The units account for 40 percent of the country's energy production.

The EPA rule allowed the companies to decide how to comply with the Clean Water Act by conducting cost-benefit analyses of the available options. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled against the companies, saying they must adopt the best technology available.

The appeals court called into question EPA's conclusion that closed-cycle cooling costs could not be reasonably borne by the industry. Last month, the Bush administration said in a court filing that it would support the industry position were the case to come before the Supreme Court.

With a new administration taking office next January, an EPA run by different presidential appointees might choose to change positions on the issue.

Robert Goldstein, general counsel at Riverkeeper Inc., one of the environmental groups involved in the dispute, said "it's about time this law enacted in 1972 get some teeth."

"We've seen this so many times with this administration, regulations basically to alleviate the burdens of the law rather than to impose the burdens of the law," said Goldstein.

The cases are Entergy Corp. v. EPA, 07-588; PSEG v. Riverkeeper, 07-589; and Utility Water Act Group v. Riverkeeper, 07-597.


Senate Passes One-Year Extension For Renewable Energy PTC
Wind Energy Weekly - 4/14/08

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a housing bill amendment from Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) that includes an extension of the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC).

The Clean Energy Stimulus Act provides for a one-year extension of the PTC, a federal incentive which provides a tax credit of 2 cents per kWh to wind farms and other renewable energy facilities for electricity produced. Following the vote, AWEA released the following statement by Senior Director of Governmental & Public Affairs Gregory Wetstone:

"Today's 88 to 8 Senate floor vote on the Clean Energy Stimulus Act is a testament to the strong support for renewable energy across the political spectrum. We are especially grateful to Senators Maria Cantwell and John Ensign and the many bipartisan cosponsors of this legislation. We look forward now to working with our many friends in the U.S. House of Representatives to secure an extension of the renewable energy tax credit, spurring economic growth and creating jobs even as we move to reduce global warming pollution."

This was the fourth time the full Senate has voted on a PTC extension. The three previous efforts narrowly fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, in two cases by a single vote, as a result of partisan disagreements over issues related to how the credits are paid for. This latest vote is a demonstration of the broad bipartisan support the wind industry can secure when it is able to separate the PTC from other sources of controversy.

The next challenge is to get the House of Representatives to support this approach. The House has on multiple occasions passed a long-term PTC extension coupled with provisions designed to offset the budget impacts of an extension through the elimination of tax incentives for the oil and gas industry. Wind energy advocates generally seek to decouple the PTC extension from issues related to tax policy for the oil and gas industry to allow for smoother passage.

AWEA urges its members to contact their Senators to thank those who supported the Cantwell- Ensign amendment and to express disappointment to the few who did not.


NRC Indicates 'Human Performance' Issues at Perry Nuclear Plant
PAINESVILLE, Ohio (The Associated Press) - Apr 14

Regulators overseeing the Perry nuclear power plant in northeast Ohio have expressed concerns about staff performance. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has sent a letter to the power plant's management about what is described as "an adverse trend in human performance."

Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. operates the plant in North Perry, about 25 miles east of Cleveland. Company spokesman Todd Schneider says FirstEnergy intends to explain at a public meeting Tuesday in Painesville how it has a plan to satisfy NRC concerns with how the Perry plant staff follows procedures.

In May of last year the NRC ended a period of heightened regulatory oversight at Perry.


Xcel Requests Extensions on Nuclear Plant Licenses
MINNEAPOLIS (The Associated Press) - Apr 15
Xcel Energy says it wants to extend licenses to operate the Prairie Island nuclear plant near Red Wing. Xcel submitted applications Tuesday for 20-year license extensions for the two reactors at Prairie Island. The plant's current licenses expire in 2013 and 2014.

Xcel also wants to increase Prairie Island's power generation capacity. The company says it will ask the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission later this spring to increase the generating capacity of each reactor by about 80 megawatts. Right now each reactor generates up to 538

Xcel also says it will ask state regulators to increase the number of used fuel storage containers at the site.

Xcel officials say the Prairie Island plant generates about 20 percent of the electricity used by Upper Midwest customers.

Editor's note: The plant is owned by Northern States Power Company (NSP), a subsidiary of Xcel Energy, and is operated by the Nuclear Management Company (NMC). In 1991, the company requested permission from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to eventually store waste in 48 dry casks on the site. Opposition by environmentalists and the neighboring Prairie Island tribe led the Minnesota Legislature to decrease the number of allowed casks to 17. Eventually, those casks filled, and Xcel Energy requested that the limit be expanded beyond 17 casks. The legislature granted the request, but required the company to make greater use of renewable energy such as wind power and to pay the local Indian community up to $2.25 million per year to help with evacuation improvements and the acquisition and development of new land and to help pay for a health study and emergency management activities.


Utah Nuclear Waste Company Ramps Up Campaign Contributions
SALT LAKE CITY (The Associated Press) - Apr 16 - By BROCK VERGAKIS
Associated Press Writer

A Utah disposal company seeking federal permission to import more than 20,000 tons of nuclear waste from Italy has raised its campaign contributions to lawmakers by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions Inc. is aggressively donating to members of key energy committees in Congress as it increasingly seeks lucrative federal contracts and legislation beneficial to the nuclear power industry.

Since 2005, the company's political action committee, executives and investors have poured nearly $400,000 into congressional campaigns through January, up from about $40,000 in the four previous years, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The company's growing influence in Washington will be tested this year as it tries to kill a bill that would ban the importation of low-level radioactive foreign waste, which would be disposed at its dump in western Utah's desert.

"I'm sure this means many millions of dollars to them, so I'm sure they're going to be working hard to stop it," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., the bill's co-sponsor. U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., is also a co-sponsor.

EnergySolutions increased lobbyist spending from $680,000 in 2006 to more than $1 million last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

The company already handles some foreign waste, but the amount it wants to import from Italy would be the largest ever from another country, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman David McIntyre said.

The volume and the publicity surrounding it have generated more than 900 public comments on the company's application to the NRC, he said. Import-license applications typically don't receive more than a handful of comments, if any.

EnergySolutions says it welcomes the comments but contends Gordon's bill is unnecessary.

"The NRC has the scientific and technical expertise to make thoughtful decisions based on the facts," EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said.

The company has never shied away from the fact that it donates heavily to state politicians, but the emphasis on contributing to nearly four dozen federal lawmakers from across the country is new.

Political giving, Walker said, "gives us the opportunity to participate with elected officials and offer solutions to growing concerns within the energy sector."

Last year, EnergySolutions CEO Steve Creamer donated the maximum allowed by law - $28,500 - to Democratic and Republican senatorial campaign committees.

The biggest recipient of EnergySolutions' recent spending spree is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an ardent supporter of nuclear energy. Graham has received $24,000 in campaign contributions from EnergySolutions' PAC and more than $19,000 from company investors and
executives since December 2006. He is encouraging the NRC to allow the construction of two nuclear power plants in South Carolina, where EnergySolutions manages the site through which the Italian waste could be imported.

The company wants to import the waste through the ports of Charleston, S.C., or New Orleans for processing in Tennessee.

After processing, about 8 percent, or some 1,600 tons, would be shipped to EnergySolutions' Utah facility, about 70 miles west of Salt Lake City, for disposal. It is the largest and only privately owned radioactive-waste dump in the United States.

The plan has drawn opposition from environmental groups.

"Public opinion should rule and not political opinion that's influenced by campaign donations," said Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth in Columbia, S.C. He fears Charleston will become the nation's gateway for nuclear waste, putting it at risk in the event of an accident.

The bill by Gordon, Whitfield, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, would allow only nuclear waste that originated in the United States or came from an overseas American military base. "If we start taking it from other countries, then it's going to diminish our ability to take care of our waste with a rejuvenated nuclear power industry," Gordon said.

EnergySolutions says capacity is not an issue, insisting that the Italian waste would represent less than 1 percent of all waste disposed at its Utah site each year.

Gordon said the bill would also limit the possibility of terrorists targeting a shipment at a U.S. port.

It's unclear when the legislation will receive a hearing, but the NRC is expected to rule on the Italian waste this summer.

Gordon, Whitefield and Matheson sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Since 2005, committee chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., has received $6,000 from EnergySolutions' PAC, while executives and company investors have given him more than $7,000 since December. Matheson has received $6,000.

EnergySolutions has spent heavily to polish its image and bought the naming rights to the arena where the NBA's Utah Jazz play. It became a publicly traded company in November.


Unit 1 Corrections To Be Applied To Other 2 Reactors at Brown's Ferry NPP
Apr 17 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Karen Middleton The News Courier,
Athens, Ala.

Earlier this year the Nuclear Regulatory Commission assigned a yellow performance indicator for the newly restarted Unit 2 reactor because of five unplanned scrams in its first 7,000 hours of operation.

The NRC uses color-coded performance indicators and inspection findings to evaluate performance at all nuclear power plants. The colors start with "green" and then increase to "white," "yellow" or "red," commensurate with the safety significance of the issues involved.

While yellow indicates "substantial safety issues" in the grading system, NRC Region II officials said in a Wednesday meeting at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant that all three reactors "operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety" throughout 2007.

Unit 1 was restarted May 22, 2007, after a 22-year shutdown and a five-year, $1.8 billion recovery. The Tennessee Valley Authority took Unit 1 off line in 1985 because of safety concerns.

Unit 1 is one of just eight reactors of a total 104 in the U.S. to receive the yellow performance indicator.

Thierry Ross, senior NRC resident inspector said within the industry, 7,000 hours is not enough hours to give an idea of overall reactor performance. "Typically, it takes 36 months of data for a valid performance indicator," said Ross.

NRC Public Affairs Officer Roger Hannah further explained during a break that, "If you have a bad period, the findings are not valid until your have larger period of time to gauge performance. It should not be gauged on an isolated period."

It was determined that the Unit 1 shutdowns -- or scrams -- resulted from problems in the electronic hydraulic controls and in the moisture separator drain tank.

Browns Ferry Site Vice President Rusty West said the lessons learned from Unit 1 reactor's first 7,000 hours would be applied to units 2 and 3. "We do value the process and agree," said West.

West said that although the yellow performance indicator might make it seem that plant officials do not value the health and safety of the public, that is not the case.

"We will make sure we resolve this before going forward," said West. "Safety is paramount to TVA. All the corrective actions will be applied to all three units."

Unit 3 reactor is currently down for refueling. TVA spokesman Craig Beasley said that when Unit 3 was taken out of service for refueling and maintenance a month ago, it was expected it would be off line for two or three months.

Typically, those in the nuclear industry are vague about the length of outages because of how it can affect the price of energy on the open market.

NRC will conduct a supplemental inspection of Unit 1 in the summer.


Activists Warn Ontario Taxpayers on Hook for More Cost Overruns at Bruce Nuke Plant

(The Associated Press) - Apr 17

Environmentalists are warning that Ontario electricity consumers are on the hook for some of the escalating costs of refurbishing two reactors at the Bruce nuclear station.

Bruce Power says the estimated cost for bringing the two reactors back on line could be $3.4 billion, up from the original estimate of $2.5 billion.

The World Wildlife Fund says the province's hydro customers will have to pay more than $237 million as their share of the cost overruns to date.

WWF spokesman Keith Stewart says that figure dwarfs the $163 million the Liberal government spent on energy conservation programs during its first mandate.

Bruce Power spokesman Steve Cannon says the nuclear sector isn't alone in facing higher costs for construction materials and labour.

Cannon says about 60 per cent of the work on the two reactors has been completed, including many jobs such as replacing steam generators that had never been done before.

The two reactors at the Lake Huron nuclear plant that were idled in the 1990s are scheduled to be back on line by mid-2009 or early 2010.


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