Monday, March 23, 2015

Michigan's Energy Future At A Crossroads

Written by Keith Gunter; posted by Art Myatt

Just after the fourth anniversary of the ongoing catastrophe at Fukushima in Japan on March 11, here in Michigan we stand at a pivotal moment in the direction of our state's energy future.  Although we are half a world apart from Japan, on closer examination we're really too close for comfort.

DTE Energy's Fermi-2 nuclear plant continues to operate just 30 miles from here (and the utility is seeking to extend Fermi-2's license from 40 to 60 years).  It has the same, documented, flawed containment design that failed so spectacularly on global media in March 2011.  It has been a major source of controversy in industry circles for decades.

Yet at the same time, DTE is now at the precipice of receiving approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the construction and operation of a Fermi-3, which if built would be the largest single nuclear reactor in the world, right next to Fermi-2.  Cost projections are climbing towards $20 billion, and completion of a Fermi-3 will not be achieved without major federal subsidies in the billions, plus Construction Work In Progress (CWIP, translated billing the customer in advance with the approval of the Michigan Public Service Commission, MPSC).  DTE's 1500-plus megawatt Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor would be the first of its kind built anywhere.  It would require more concrete than to build the Pentagon, hardly a carbon-free operation.

Those who will remember will recall that Detroit Edison's Fermi-1 (also a prototype) suffered a partial meltdown on October 5, 1966, chronicled in John Fuller's excellent book, "We Almost Lost Detroit."

So as new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are mandating the shutdown of coal-fired power plants around the state and the country, we stand at an energy crossroads.  After decades of pursuing the nuclear option at the direction of the "experts" and multi-million dollar ad campaigns with no solutions for permanent waste storage in sight, ever-multiplying reactor safety issues and construction price tags reaching into the stratosphere, at what point do we say "Yes!" in a big way to wind, solar, energy efficiency and conservation and green jobs?

Especially when electrical demand projections by independent analysts agree that electricity from Fermi-3 isn't needed.  Especially when there's some 650 tons of intensely radiated fuel (the most radioactive material on the planet) in Fermi-2's jammed storage pool with no national repository.  Especially when we come to the collective realization that safe, clean, "too cheap to meter" nuclear power has been a government/industry financed mirage all along?

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has estimated that global nuclear plant construction would have to triple to even begin to mitigate the effects of climate change with nuclear power.

But if DTE and the NRC go ahead with their choreographed power tangos for Fermi-3 and Fermi-2, challenges await them emanating from the public square---questioning the Certificate of Need for Fermi-3, and the 20-year license extension for Fermi-2.

From the public square, Albert Einstein once said, should come America's voice about nukes.

Keith Gunter of Livonia is co-chair of Alliance To Halt Fermi-3, a union of concerned citizens and 18 member and endorsing organizations opposed to the construction of a third Fermi nuclear plant near Monroe and in favor of the shutdown of the existing Fermi-2.

This op-ed was originally published Thursday, March 19, 2015 in the Livonia Observer.
The Monroe News has requested permission (which has been granted) from the Observer to reprint this op-ed.

Postscript from Co-Chair Keith Gunter:

On the very day of the publication of this op-ed in the Livonia Observer, Tokyo Electric Power Company (owner and operator of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear complex) admitted that the entire reactor core of its Unit-1 nuclear plant has melted down, location unknown.  We are truly in the realm of the nuclear unknown.  We'll have to await and see whether the very worst "China Syndrome" scenario comes to pass.......

Sunday, March 22, 2015

DTE's Nuclear Con Game

Written by Jeff Alson; posted by Art Myatt

Jeff Alson is an environmental engineer who has promoted sustainable transportation policies at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Ann Arbor since 1978. He is also a member of the Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 ( The views presented are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the EPA.

One of the best kept secrets in southeastern Michigan is that DTE Energy customers will almost certainly be required to pay over $100 million in expenses for wasted planning for a Fermi 3 nuclear power plant. While Fermi 3 is unneeded, unaffordable, and probably unlikely to be built and therefore to ever generate any electricity, ratepayers will likely have to reimburse DTE for its poor judgment due to what I call the Nuclear Con Game (By “con,” I do not mean to imply illegality; rather, that rules which appear to be impartial unfairly tilt the playing field to favor utilities at the expense of ratepayers).

Nuclear Con Game Rule No. 1 is that, if history is any guide, Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC)-approved utility expenditures are reimbursed whether they actually result in useful electricity or not. The PSC approved DTE expenditures for Fermi 3 planning in 2008 (stunning given that DTE’s two previous nuclear plants were spectacular failures - Fermi 1 partially melted down in 1966 and Fermi 2 cost much more than originally estimated). A December 19 filing by DTE states that these paperwork expenditures will soon exceed $100 million and asks the PSC to include them in the rate base.

Nuclear Con Game Rule No. 2
practically guarantees utility profit on every PSC-approved capital expenditure (perversely, the more a utility spends, even on cost overruns, the more it may profit). So DTE ratepayers must not only cover the $100 million, but possibly millions more in profits, rewarding DTE for its poor decision making.

Nuclear Con Game Rule No. 3 is continuing to give the benefit of the doubt to nuclear utilities like DTE, even though reactors completed in the 1980s and 1990s were routinely over budget, and continuing to place the burden of proof on those of us who point out that the nuclear emperor has no clothes. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, it is insane to ever expect a nuclear power plant to be built on budget.

Independent experts agree that we do not need electricity from Fermi 3. Even if electricity supply were an issue, conservation, wind, and solar are cheaper, can be brought online more quickly, yield lower life-cycle carbon emissions, and do not entail the risk of an industry-wide shutdown that would be likely after a major nuclear accident in the U.S.

If built, Fermi 3 would be the largest nuclear reactor in the U.S. and would cost at least $10 billion and almost certainly more given the history of massive nuclear cost overruns. I believe it would be the largest investment on a single project in Michigan history and would take capital away from infrastructure we truly need. For perspective, building Fermi 3 would cost at least 10 times the one billion dollars that nearly everyone agrees we need to repair our roads.

There are many other reasons to oppose nuclear power: the low-but-not-zero probability of a catastrophic accident, the health risks associated with routine radiation releases, and the lack of any long-term, high-level nuclear waste solution. But, however you view these safety and health risks, the nuclear option is simply unnecessary and uneconomic.

Yet, DTE is the only utility in the entire Midwest charging its ratepayers for nuclear plant planning. Why is DTE wasting our money?

The most plausible explanation is that DTE wants to up the ante in the Nuclear Con Game by trying to convince the PSC to approve the use of “construction work in progress” to build Fermi 3. This extreme form of corporate welfare would permit DTE to charge ratepayers in advance for the $10 billion or more needed to build Fermi 3. DTE could place all of the financial risk on its customers and would likely make a profit even if the plant turns out to be a nuclear white elephant.

In this scenario, every DTE customer, over the course of many years, would pay thousands of dollars to build Fermi 3, whether it ever successfully operates or not. This is one of the most important financial decisions affecting families in southeastern Michigan, yet most are completely unaware as so little is known about the project by its customers. DTE’s website makes only brief mention of Fermi 3, does not appear to have been updated since 2008, and also appears to make no mention of the $100 million spending to date or the billions that may be spent in the future.

If you want to influence your family’s financial future and prefer that your ratepayer dollars go toward conservation, wind, and solar rather than Fermi 3, then you should let DTE and the PSC know that it is time to come clean with ratepayers and shut down the Nuclear Con Game.

= = =

This article was originally published at Bridge - News and Analysis from the Center for Michigan and is republished here by permission of the author.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

We Need the Energy

Is nuclear power a good idea? Well, that depends.

Utility companies operating nuclear power plants make the basic argument, "We need the energy." "We" in this context means "our society," or "our economy," or just "we, the people who use electricity." We need the energy.

Picture yourself coming home from work at the end of the day. Man or woman, it doesn't matter. Whichever gender you are, you may be tired from a full day of work, but still need energy to deal with ordinary household stuff - getting something to eat, fixing a leaky faucet, making sure the children do their homework, and so forth.

Well, here's a solution. Take a hit of cocaine. That will give you the energy to deal with a whole list of household items. Cocaine will actually work - in the short term.

In order to think it's a good idea, you have to ignore the long-term effects, and just focus on the short-term benefits. You need the energy; take cocaine. Don't think about consequences for next month or next year. Don't worry about making a habit of it, just get through the day.

That's exactly the sense in which nuclear power is cocaine for the electrical grid. Sure, there's the possibility of a meltdown, causing the permanent evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people - or millions, depending on which way the wind blows. Sure, there's no known solution for what to do with "spent fuel" and other highly radioactive waste. Maybe we can put off dealing with it for a century or so longer. (That's the actual summary of current nuclear industry recommendations for their toxic waste.)

Get energy now. Ignore long-term consequences. Pretend that someone will figure something out, so you don't have to worry about it now. Just get the damned energy you "need." if you actually accept all the consequences, maybe you'll figure out you don't really "need" energy that comes with all the risk of disaster.

The nuclear industry and their political servants will argue endlessly that "we need the energy." Well, do we? Do you accept that idea, or not? That's the fundamental question you have to answer for yourself.

Art Myatt