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Power The Almighty Buck United States

Funds Dwindle To Dismantle Old Nuclear Plants 315

Hugh Pickens writes "The Associated Press reports that the companies who own almost half the nation's nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough money to dismantle the reactors, so many plants may sit idle for decades, posing safety and security risks as a result. The shortfalls in funding have been caused by huge losses in the stock market that have devastated the companies' savings and by the soaring costs of decommissioning. Owners of 19 nuclear plants have won approval to idle their reactors for as long as 60 years, presumably enough time to allow investments to recover and eventually pay for dismantling the plants and removing radioactive material. But mothballing nuclear reactors or shutting them down inadequately presents the risk that radioactive waste could leak from abandoned plants into ground water or be released into the air, and spent nuclear fuel rods could be stolen by terrorists. The NRC has contacted 18 nuclear power plants to clarify how the companies will address the recent economic downturn's effects on funds to decommission reactors in the future, but some analysts worry the utility companies that own nuclear plants might not even exist in six decades."
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Funds Dwindle To Dismantle Old Nuclear Plants

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  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:53PM (#28875037) Journal

    We were touring the research reactor. The topic came up of how many students were majoring in Nuclear Engineering (or maybe it was just a specialization; not sure if it was actually a major). It was noted that there was exactly ONE student. Some people thought it was a strange major, since no plants were being built. Somebody else gave their $0.02 that the guy would be very much in demand--experts would be needed to dismantle plants.

    I wonder what that guy is doing now.

  • Same as gas stations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NFN_NLN ( 633283 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @06:54PM (#28875045)

    Why is this treated any different then a gas station?

    Gas stations have to put a certain amount in escrow to allow for digging up the storage vessels and decontaminating. Why don't nuclear reactors have to set aside the money before they're even allowed to build?

  • by newcastlejon ( 1483695 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:01PM (#28875121)
    Even if they had, the money may be worth less now, not enough to cover decommissioning costs. Personally, cynic that I am, I feel that this is just another case of the recession bogeyman being used as a catch-all excuse.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:14PM (#28875271)

    What idiot came up with *that* idea?

    Hey, we got these huge savings that can help us when we need it. Let's put it into the stock market. Because that one is known for its century-long stability. And the value of our stocks will hold perfectly stable, even in the worst times.

    Protip: USE SOME FREAKING REAL GOODS! Gold, silver, countries, or things that go *up* in bad times. (Like bank manager incomes!)

  • I'm surprised.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by antirelic ( 1030688 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @07:34PM (#28875469) Journal
    With the current administration and its very obvious ties to the environmentalist and alternative energy lobbies, I am very surprised it took 6 months for scare mongering about nuclear power plants to begin. Nuclear power has already proven to be the safest means of producing large quantities of energy, even if you include the most EXTREME and exaggerated outcomes of all nuclear catastrophes combined (lets even throw in Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Of course, you'd have to include all the people who die in the production of coal or oil over the course of the centuries, but nuclear comes out the winner. We are just unfortunate enough to live in a time where the people in power grew up under the shadow of nuclear annihilation. This child hood trauma has caused the lefty environmentalists to forsake the cleanest possible energy alternative available that allows us to maintain our standards of living. Sure, alternative energy supplies will help increase supply and lower prices eventually, but nuclear is the only way to ween our dependence off of fossil fuels in the short term (20-50 years). I mean, what about global warming?!?! I mean, Climate Change. Look, even if you are a global warming / climate change / or you dont believe in global warming / climate change , or just a skeptic either way, the benefits of nuclear are undeniable. Oh, and I'd be more than happy to have one of those plants in my backyard. Lots of high paying jobs, and a cool landmark on the horizon. Probably cheap electricity as a payoff to locals to boot.
  • Re:Weird (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:00PM (#28875705) Homepage

    It has less polution, but the polution is still radioactive.

    I have shocking news for you: Your granite counter top is radioactive! OH NOES.

    It has less change of a meltdown, but if that meltdown occurs, and it will, it's no difference from chernobyle, except this one wil be bigger.

    Yeah. Because it's not like the Chernobyl disaster had anything to do with the design of the reactor (ignoring that even with that horrible design it took ridiculous amounts of human stupidity to make it happen since I'm assuming that's what you're assuming will always happen). It's not like you can design a reactor so that it can't meltdown, or can't meltdown in such a way that it explodes and blows its containment. It's not like the next and only other major nuclear accident was far smaller than Chernobyl. And it's not like we learned anything from that with regards to reactor design... For example self-regulating designs where the reactor getting too hot means the reaction will slow down. Nope, that doesn't exist.

    No, no matter what, meltdowns are inevitable, and will be bigger than previous ones, because... why, again?

    We really are not ready for this kind of power as mankind. Once we find a solution for the radioactive waste we will be.

    Solution: Re-use it until it is no longer useful as a radioactive fuel of any kind, meaning it is no longer particularly radioactive and thus not a particular danger. Then stick it in the ground without having to worry about security or stability since it's neither useful nor particularly dangerous. Yes the half-life will be really long, but half-life is inversely proportional to radioactivity which is entirely the point.

    So, I guess we're ready! Bring on the nuclear reactors!

    Till that time... there is always the sun.

    Yeah we're a long way from producing all our energy from the sun (directly anyway). I'm all for more of it, including solar-powered microwave satellites. Oh but wait, surely there's no way to design one such that it doesn't fry people on the ground in a swatch of destruction!

    Still a shame someone flagged me as flamebait instead of discussing our different views. Cause flamebait i Was not.

    Indeed that was an unfair mod, and they were almost certainly using it as a surrogate for "-1, uninformed paranoia" which doesn't exist for good reason.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:04PM (#28875733) Homepage

    What idiot came up with *that* idea?

    Remember when our last President thought it would be a great idea to replace Social Security with individual investment accounts?

    Remember the people who were championing it? Maybe not the same people as those running the nuke plants, but they wore similar clothes and have similar titles. Is it really that surprising they'd think this way?

  • by ibsteve2u ( 1184603 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:08PM (#28875761)

    Capitalism is like any other tool in that in the hands of idiots it can be deadly.

    When I read articles like this SlashDot entry - or just look around me at America - I can only conclude that our corporate culture's reliance upon "networking" and "interpersonal skills" (i.e., office politics) to select leaders is flawed in that it yields an overabundance of idiots.

  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @08:21PM (#28875915) Homepage
    What is the 60 year cost of maintaining these operations at a typical decommissioned site? I mean salaries, taxes, expendables, equipment maintenance, amortization, and renewal, land use, security, utilities, insurance, finance costs, etc.
  • by MrMista_B ( 891430 ) on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:02PM (#28876247)

    Hey, I have this machine that boils water for free, and makes money.

    If I turn it on.

    Which I'm not going to do - instead, I'm determined to dismantle it, but it costs too much to do so. ...

    Anyone else not see how fucked up the idea of dismantling nuclear plants is?

  • by WheelDweller ( 108946 ) <WheelDweller@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 29, 2009 @09:05PM (#28876263)

    When coal is such a no-no that our president has said he wants to "necessarily" bankrupt them with red tape and taxes, why would we de-com any nuclear power plants?

    I don't have to tell most of the audience here that it's carbon-free (as if that mattered) and that the waste trail has been cleaned up significantly, as well as being just about the cheapest form of electricity we can find.

    And there is ****19**** of them shut down now?

  • by sketerpot ( 454020 ) <sketerpotNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @12:10AM (#28877487)
    I've got news for you, buddy: someone has come up with a solution to the waste problem. It's called a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (PDF warning!) [iastate.edu] and it's not being embraced with open arms despite its elegance and practicality. It's a reactor that takes thorium (more abundant than uranium) as fuel, continuously refuels and reprocesses its fuel, and is about 100 times more fuel-efficient than existing nuclear reactors. Here's the really fun part: the waste, of which it produces very little, becomes exponentially less radioactive over time, becoming safe to handle with bare hands in about 300 years -- not hundreds of thousands of years. And it produces medical isotopes continuously, which is a nice bonus. And it's passively safe and self-regulating, so the reactor core itself doesn't really even need human supervision. Prototypes were tested successfully. (There are other reactors with similar advantages, by the way, so we don't necessarily have to use this particular solution. There's more.)

    Energy companies won't develop them because of the large financial risk and paranoid regulatory environment and lack of a clear payoff. Governments won't step in because any nuclear reactor is seen as evil by the green fanatics and seen as threatening by the coal companies.

  • by Eclipse-now ( 987359 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @12:52AM (#28877735) Homepage
    Hi, I'd love to hear if you have any papers on the economics of Gen-4 reprocessing plants? Surely some in Greenpeace would have to support Gen-4 (if they are economical enough) because they're supposed to "burn" all that waste we'll have to store for 10 thousand years or more and process it into highly radioactive waste that we only have to store for 300 years.

    Any recent papers on the energy economics of Gen-4? I love nuclear power for the space race, and for burning old waste, but not necessarily if it is not economically competitive with baseload solar thermal plants and the 'mixed' decentralised diverse green grid of the future. However, Gen-4 is appealing even to a greenie like me for the one fact that it provides power while 'burning' the old waste of other reactors so we don't have to store it for as long.
  • Re:Weird (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jbezorg ( 1263978 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @01:16AM (#28877853)

    I've worked as an Operator at a US Power Reactor ( North Anna Power Station in Virginia ) a long time ago. It is a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor and it's a completely different design than Chernobyl. The containment dome is of sufficient volume to maintain integrity during a complete meltdown. It's one of the biggest expenses. ( A description of the construction can be found in the license application [nrc.gov] in section 2.4.1 page 2-97 ).

    The Unit 1 and Unit 2 Containments are Seismic Class I structures that house the reactor and other Nuclear Steam Supply System (NSSS) components for the respective unit. Each Containment consists of a reinforced concrete cylinder with a hemispherical dome and a flat, 10-foot-thick reinforced concrete mat foundation. A waterproof membrane is located below the Containment's structural mat and extends up the Containment wall to ground level.

    In fact, it's such a large expense that this particular design keeps the interior of the containment dome at about 9 psia to allow for the expansion of Reactor Coolant during a meltdown in a smaller volume. Meaning a smaller containment dome. It also has the advantage that if there are any leaks, it leaks in, not out. If an accident did happen, the containment dome would probably been sealed and filled with concrete.

    So why have nuclear plants? Why all the expense?

    When I worked at that plant. Dominion Power ( Then Virginia Power ) had 4 reactors and about 17 coal fired plants and I think 2 natural gas plants. Those 4 reactors could at times supply about 40% of the power for the company's power grid covering almost all of Virginia and the northern part of North Carolina. This was usually at night when energy consumption dropped.

    The coal plants also didn't operate at 100% all the time. They altered their power output increasing output during peak demand during the day and late evening and decreasing output as demand dropped during late night and early morning.

    I hope you have noticed like I have that the standard operating procedure of the coal fired plants closely mirror what you would expect to see from a solar & battery power plant.

    Also, I know how much coal ash is produced in a single day from a coal fired plant. I also know, for the nuclear plant I worked at, only one third of the fuel rods were replaced every 18 months. So, given the choice of fields covered in tons of low level waste or only a few tons of concentrated nastiness, I'd opt for the later because it is far easier to maintain stricter and safer control of it.

  • by DrKnark ( 1536431 ) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @02:38AM (#28878259)

    There is nothing inherently unprofitable about nuclear power. I don't know how the situation with regulation, taxes etc on it is in the US (where I presume you are from) which might make it unprofitable there. Do you have any good sources for this information?

    I work in nuclear power in Sweden, and the power companies here drool at the prospect of building a new reactor. And if and when the government allows such an endeavor, it will not be subsidized by tax payer money in any way. There is even a law that a certain amount of money per kWh has to go to a (public) fund that will be used in the future for final storage and such to handle the waste.

    I hear this anti-nuclear argument that it is unprofitable all the time. But the simple fact is, that if the profit-driven power companies are willing to completely fund the construction, running, decommisioning of a reactor as well as the waste handling... there must be profit in it.

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