Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Fantasy and corruption in the nuclear industry

Two article son nuclear activities caught my attention in recent days. One is about base corruption in the US nuclear industry, and probably the tip of an iceberg. The other , an example of the occasional complete  flight of fantasy that grips atomic advocates periodically; this time the ultimate lunacy: plans to build a nuclear- powered  base on Mars and the Moon: U.S .utilities: nuclear breakdown
Companies like free markets. Until the moment they do not. In an extraordinary criminal complaint last week, a top Ohio legislator and four others were arrested by federal authorities and accused of illegally collecting $60m in political contributions. The purpose of the money: helping to bail out the nuclear power industry.
Ohio was one of several states that deregulated power generation, allowing companies to sell electricity based on market prices. Nuclear power plants cost billions of dollars and require years to build. In the past decade, wholesale power prices have fallen sharply and unexpectedly because of plentiful production from inexpensive natural gas and increasing contributions from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
FirstEnergy is the entity which has been connected to the $60m that allegedly flowed to an Ohio politician and his political machinery. The Midwest state enacted a billion-dollar bailout that saved two nuclear plants once affiliated with First Energy in 2019. The plants have subsequently been spun off into a new company.
The chief executive of First Energy said last week that while the company had supported the bailout legislation it had “acted properly in this matter”. Still worries about potential liability sent the company’s shares down more than one-quarter, losing nearly $6bn of equity value.
According to the US Department of Energy, wind power became the third-largest source of US generating capacity in 2019. And by 2050, nuclear power will provide just above a tenth of US electricity generation, down from a fifth today.
Big utilities are politically powerful in the US — not just because of the thousands of jobs they provide, but because they also contribute heavily to political parties and causes. Incumbent nuclear players have lobbied extensively to get multiple states to prop them up even while their economics continue to deteriorate. The Ohio case, if proven, shows just how toxic this can be.

Nucleargate in Ohio

Huge criminal racketeering conspiracy orchestrated reactor bailouts

By Linda Pentz Gunter
It’s been a bit of a Watergate week for nuclear power, with individuals in two states arrested for criminally defrauding the public to keep nuclear power alive. In Ohio, it was public officials, believed to be backed by nuclear company money, who illegally orchestrated a massive subsidy. In South Carolina, it was the arrest of an energy company official who has pled guilty to a $9 billion nuclear fraud. This week, we feature the Ohio story. Next week, it will be South Carolina’s turn.
If you were going to pull someone out of central casting to play a thuggish villain, you would choose Larry Householder. But he wouldn’t need any acting skills.
On July 21, Householder, along with four others, was arrested for his alleged involvement in what amounts to the biggest criminal racketeering conspiracy in Ohio history. Somehow it’s not a surprise that it revolved around pots of money to keep two aging and unaffordable nuclear power plants open
While Householder may physically embody everyone’s idea of a gangster, it’s not his official profession. He is — and presumably that will soon be a “was” — the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
The scheme is laid bare in an 81-page criminal complaint. It was busted open by a year-long, detailed and covert investigation by the US Attorney’s office and the FBI, and involves the flow of $61 million of dark money directed toward activities that would ensure the passage of legislation in Ohio guaranteeing the bailout of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear reactors to the tune of $1.5 billion. The subsidy is being funded via a surcharge on electricity customers.
The bill, known as HB6, also slashed mandates for wind and solar energy and eliminated energy efficiency requirements. It was, as David Roberts described it on Vox just after the bill passed in July 2019, “the worst piece of legislation in the 21st century” and “the most counterproductive and corrupt piece of state energy legislation I can recall in all my time covering this stuff.”
FirstEnergy Solutions, the then owner of the plants, had threatened their closure if the subsidy was not forthcoming..

US Eyes Nuclear Plants for the Moon, Mars

A fission surface power system could allow humans to live in harsh space environments for long periods.
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. wants to build nuclear power plants that will work on the moon and Mars, and on Friday put out a request for ideas from the private sector on how to do that.
The U.S. Department of Energy put out the formal request to build what it calls a fission surface power system that could allow humans to live for long periods in harsh space environments.
The Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility in eastern Idaho, the Energy Department and NASA will evaluate the ideas for developing the reactor.
The lab has been leading the way in the U.S. on advanced reactors, some of them micro reactors and others that can operate without water for cooling. Water-cooled nuclear reactors are the vast majority of reactors on Earth.
“Small nuclear reactors can provide the power capability necessary for space exploration missions of interest to the Federal government,” the Energy Department wrote in the notice published Friday.
The Energy Department, NASA and Battelle Energy Alliance, the U.S. contractor that manages the Idaho National Laboratory, plan to hold a government-industry webcast technical meeting in August concerning expectations for the program.
The plan has two phases. The first is developing a reactor design. The second is building a test reactor, a second reactor be sent to the moon, and developing a flight system and lander that can transport the reactor to the moon. The goal is to have a reactor, flight system and lander ready to go by the end of 2026.
The reactor must be able to generate an uninterrupted electricity output of at least 10 kilowatts. The average U.S. residential home, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, uses about 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year. The Energy Department said it would likely take multiple linked reactors to meet power needs on the moon or Mars.
In addition, the reactor cannot weigh more than 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms), be able to operate in space, operate mostly autonomously, and run for at least 10 years.
The Energy Department said the reactor is intended to support exploration in the south polar region of the moon. The agency said a specific region on the Martian surface for exploration has not yet been identified.
Edwin Lyman, director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit, said his organization is concerned the parameters of the design and timeline make the most likely reactors those that use highly enriched uranium, which can be made into weapons. Nations have generally been attempting to reduce the amount of enriched uranium being produced for that reason.
“This may drive or start an international space race to build and deploy new types of reactors requiring highly enriched uranium,” he said.
Earlier this week, the United Arab Emirates launched an orbiter to Mars and China launched an orbiter, lander and rover. The U.S. has already landed rovers on the red planet and is planning to send another next week.
Officials say operating a nuclear reactor on the moon would be a first step to building a modified version to operate in the different conditions found on Mars.
“Idaho National Laboratory has a central role in emphasizing the United States’ global leadership in nuclear innovation, with the anticipated demonstration of advanced reactors on the INL site,” John Wagner, associate laboratory director of INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate, said in a statement. “The prospect of deploying an advanced reactor to the lunar surface is as exciting as it is challenging."

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