Britain & India Go Nuclear As Japan Struggles to Contain Radiation

As Japan struggles to contain nuclear radiation two years after the meltdown, nuclear plants are in the news again but because they are being built, not shuttered.

This week, India started up its largest nuclear plant – where? smack on the coast that was slammed by that unforgettable 2004 tsunami.

Run by Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the plant has been under construction since 1997, delayed all this time from massive opposition, as well as the usual problems nuclear is noted for. Thousands of people protested on opening day and 200 were arrested.

20 nuclear reactors supply 3% of India’s electricity (4.8 gigawatts) and the government has plans for many more to bring "clean energy" to the country.

There’s also an uproar in Britain, as the government approved the first nuclear plant in Europe since the Fukushima meltdown.

French utility EDF is building "Hinkley Point C" adjacent to existing plants in southwest England, and two Chinese nuke companies have 30-40% stakes.

"The British nuclear industry has been dirty, destructive, polluting, and damaging to the environment and public health for decades in Britain," Damon Moglen from Friends of the Earth, told Common Dreams. "The idea that we are going to turn a corner on that history by outsourcing the industry and asking the rate payer to pay twice as much for nuclear power is laughable."

That’s right, the $26 billion plant will be paid for through utility bills, and isn’t slated for completion until 2023. The UK government is guaranteeing $150 per megawatt-hour, more than twice the current market rate for electricity.

Neither India nor Britain knows what they will do with the nuclear waste.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says the deal will "kick-start" a nuclear renaissance there, It’s "a very big day for our country." Nuclear is at the core of its plan to reduce emissions.

When have we heard of $26 billion being spent on a wind or solar plant?!

Meanwhile, in the US

It’s ironic that in the US, EDF is abandoning nuclear and turning to solar and wind instead.

"We see no room for nuclear to expand in the US at this time," EDF CEO Henri Proglio told The Wall Street Journal, citing a dramatic drop in US gas prices."

A recent report shows that every, single commercial nuclear reactor in the US is vulnerable to terrorist threats.

11 of the 107 reactors are most at risk, but they all have problems, according to the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas/ Austin. 

Indian Point, 24 miles north of New York City, ranks worst, receiving 384 citations over 12 years, reports Associated Press. Four of those have been high-level violations. Other vulnerable plants include Diablo Canyon (California), St. Lucie (Florida), Brunswick (North Carolina), Surry (Virginia), Millstone (Connecticut), Pilgrim (Massachusetts), and the South Texas Project.

Three civilian reactors fueled with bomb-grade uranium are particularly at risk at the University of Missouri/ Columbia,  Massachusetts Institute of Technology/ Boston and National Institute of Standards and Technology, just 25 miles from the White House. 

And a move toward modular, small reactors won’t resurrect the industry, says Union of Concerned Scientists in the report, Small Isn’t Always Beautiful.

Less than a third in size of a typical 1,000-megawatt reactor, it will be difficult for them to provide less expensive electricity and still be safer than larger plants. 

"A utility that thinks it can have its own little nuclear reactor at a bargain-basement price may get exactly what it pays for: a plant more vulnerable to serious accidents and terrorist attacks," says Senior Scientist Edwin Lyman, author of the report.

The Department of Energy is offering $452 million in matching grants to subsidize design and licensing costs of small commercial reactors, the first of which could be deployed by 2020.

"Utilities started building larger reactors in the first place because they produce electricity at a much lower cost than smaller ones due to the principle of economies of scale. So even if small modular reactors were cheaper to build than a large reactor on a per-unit basis, they would be less cost-competitive on a per-kilowatt basis, putting enormous pressure on reactor vendors to slash the costs of construction and operation to make small reactors cost-effective," Lyman points out.

That means cutting corners on important safety features, he says, and the industry is also pressuring the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to weaken requirements for emergency planning, control room staffing, and security force staffing.

Read the report:

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