May 31st, 2009

Would you trust French nuclear plant builders to tarmac your drive?

In a devastating pair of financial reports that might be called "The Emperor Has No Pressure Vessel," the New York Times has blazed new light on the catastrophic economics of atomic power.

The two Business Section specials cover the fiasco of new French construction at Okiluoto, Finland, and the virtual collapse of Atomic Energy of Canada. In a sane world they could comprise an epitaph for the "Peaceful Atom". But they come simultaneous with Republican demands for up to $700 billion or more in new reactor construction.

The Times's "In Finland, Nuclear Renaissance Runs Into Trouble" by James Kanter is a "cautionary tale" about the "most powerful reactor ever built" whose modular design "was supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build" as well as safer to operate.

But four years into a construction process that was scheduled to end about now, the plant's $4.2 billion price tag has soared by 50% or more. Areva, the French government's front group, won't predict when the reactor will open. Finnish utilities have stopped trying to guess.

Finnish inspectors say Areva allowed "inexperienced subcontractors to drill holes in the wrong places on a vast steel container that seals the reactor." The Finns have also cited Areva for "the attitude or lack of professional knowledge of some persons."

Areva hopes to build similar reactors in the US. Its boosters have promised cheaper, cleaner, faster nuke construction with standardized designs like the one at Okiluoto. But "early experience suggests these new reactors will be no easier or cheaper to build than the ones a generation ago" whose price tags soared by 700% and more, and whose completion schedules ran into the decades.

Areva's second "new generation" project at Flamanville, France, is also over budget and behind schedule. Cracks have turned up in critical steel and concrete components, along with revelations that critical work has been done by unqualified welders.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not approved the Areva design in use at Okiluoto and Flamanville. Four other designs under consideration are also mired in process. Some are still being altered. A post 9/11 issue is their ability to withstand a jet crash, which the 104 US reactors currently licensed to operate were not forced to consider.

The fiascos in Finland and Flamanville have thrown Areva into economic chaos now being mirrored at the Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited. Once touted as a global flagship, AECL sucked up 1.74 billion Canadian dollars in subsidies last year and has been a long-term money loser which the government has now announced it wants to sell.

AECL's natural uranium/heavy water design has flopped in the world market. "Design issues" with its installed plants require heavy maintenance. AECL's Chalk River research facility, which suffered a major accident in 1952 (in which former President Jimmy Carter served as a "jumper") needs 7 billion Canadian dollars for clean-up work. Its 51-year-old medical isotope facility recently popped a major leak that may close it forever.

The Paris-based energy expert Mycle Schneider reports that of 45 reactors being built worldwide, 22 are behind schedule and nine have no official ignition schedules.

Despite the torrent of bad economic indicators, Republicans like Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continue to demand massive government funding for new reactor construction. Alexander says he wants the US to build as many as 100 new reactors here, even though the private sector won't finance or insure them. The media is citing the idea as a $700 billion package, but in fact the project price of building new reactors is on the rise, and by some estimates has already exceeded $10 billion each. The Department of Energy has cited four finalists for $18.5 billion in loan guarantees voted in with the 2005 Bush Energy Plan. Florida and Georgia have raised rates to pre-pay proposed new reactors.

But Missouri has turned down a proposed rate hike for a new Areva project. And green activists have three times beaten proposed $50 billion federal loan guarantee packages to fund "new generation" construction. Grassroots battles are now raging to prevent the re-licensing of aging reactors like Vermont Yankee and New York's Indian Point.

As Congress deals with a wide range of energy-related legislation, the nuclear industry is desperately grabbing for any federal money it can get. One bill after another has been floated with nuclear hand-outs hidden in various nooks and crannies.

As the comparative price of efficiency and renewables plummets, the window may be closing fast on the possibility of building new nukes in the US, raising the industry's desparation level.

This battle will certainly rage for years to come. But the appearance of such brutally bad news from Finland and Canada in the Business Section of the New York Times bodes ill for an industry that, after fifty years, cannot get private funding or liability insurance, cannot deal with its wastes, and now cannot demonstrate the ability to produce new product anywhere near on time or budget.

At very least, Paul Joskow of MIT tells the Times, the rollout of new nukes may be "a good deal slower than a lot of people were assuming."

Liars, damned liars and europiles

Lie 1) The proposed Constitution/Lisbon Treaty wouldn't give more powers to Brussels – in fact, it would return some powers to nation states.
Lie 2) EU member states don't lose their sovereignty, they just "pool" it.
Lie 3) Pooling sovereignty in a supranational union is "progressive".
Lie 4) The principle of "subsidiarity" means that democracy will be preserved.
Lie 5) European politicians represent their country's interests in the European arena.
Lie 6) People today think of themselves not as Italian, German, French etc. but as European.
Lie 7) There is no plan for a United States of Europe.
Lie 8) Eurosceptics just hate foreigners and/or are obsessed with the Second World War.
Lie 9) "Nobody is talking about..."
Lie 10) Britain has more clout as part of a supranational union.

How many Eurocrats does it take to change a light bulb? 25 Heads of State. (On expenses...)

11) Diversity is a core value of the EU.
12) The only alternative to the EU is to be dominated by America.
13) The euro has been a boost to tourism in Europe.
14) Business, then.
15) Harmonising laws spreads best practice across Europe.
16) It doesn't matter that the Commission in unelected.
17) Belonging to the EU is necessary for Britain's trade.
18) EFTA countries have to abide by legislation they played no part in framing.
19) Britain couldn't leave the EU as it is the source of so much of our legal system.
20) Britain would face reprisals if it left the EU.
21) These Eurosceptics have no idea what they'd put in place of the European Union.
22) The EU has prevented war between its member states for 60 years.
23) No other country is as Eurosceptic as Britain.
24) A new EU deal will reduce international air fares.
25) The Constitution is necessary because rules devised for a club of six won't work now there are 27 members.
26) Domestic issues are more important than the EU in determining how I vote.
27) The EU can't be called an empire because it exists with the consent of its member states.
28) The EU must be a good thing since so many countries outside want to join.
29) The EU may have its problems, but the best way to reform it is from within.
30) Sovereignty is a myth in the modern world.
31) The EU stands up for its member states in international disputes.
32) "There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe, we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified."

"You're not going to stop us. We'll go ahead [with the Lisbon Treaty]. There are ways to do it. This is the history of the EU."
I mean god bless the euro.

The mountain range comprised of various summits such as beef, butter, grain mountains and all the other terraforming accomplished by idiots europrats MEPs discussed in this article. A butter hill is currently growing. Perhaps just a river of red tape and an atmosphere of hot air is missing...

Some like it cold: