Why nuclear could become the next 'fossil' fuel

May 28, 2017 by Kerry Sheridan
Plans to expand the Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor power station are on hold

A gray dinosaur statue outside south Florida's largest power plant is meant to symbolize two decommissioned fossil fuel reactors, but it also could be seen to represent a nuclear industry crumpling under mounting costs.

Almost a decade ago, Turkey Point was aiming to become one of the country's largest nuclear plants.

Florida Power and Light had argued that such expansion was needed to maintain diverse energy sources and to supply Florida's booming population for years to come, while touting nuclear as a clean form of energy.

But now, just three reactors are in operation – one natural gas and two nuclear reactors, built in the 1970s.

And plans to build two more nuclear reactors—first announced in 2009—are essentially on hold for at least four years, according to filings with the state's Public Service Commission.

"Right now our only focus is on getting all the approvals we need," company spokesman Peter Robbins told AFP.

"We are not buying construction materials."

Westinghouse bankruptcy

Earlier this year, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, builder of the AP1000 —the model scheduled for use at plants in South Carolina and Georgia as well as Turkey Point—rattled the industry.

Both projects are now years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

"We are very closely monitoring the two new nuclear projects going on," Robbins said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy estimates that construction on Turkey Point has been delayed until 2028 at the earliest, with costs expected to balloon to over $20 billion.

FPL has refused to publicly revise its projections at Turkey Point, for now.

"We don't think there is value in coming up with a new cost or schedule until those reactors are closer to completion," Robbins said.

Controversial project

The project has been controversial from the start, and casts the spotlight on wider concerns about .

The dinosaur statue outside the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant was intended to symbolise the fate of fossil fuel power generation

Critics have pointed to the rising seas from climate change, risks of storm surge, and threats to drinking water and wildlife at the site, nestled near Everglades National Park, as reasons to stop nuclear expansion.

Complaints have also centered on the difficulty of evacuating the densely populated area around the plant in case of emergency. Miami-Dade County is home to 2.6 million people.

"Investing tens of billions of dollars on a power plant that will be underwater one day, along with the highly radioactive waste it will produce, makes no sense," said fishing captain Dan Kipnis, one of the activists who is fighting to stop the project.

Legal challenges to the plant's planned expansion began in 2010, and continued this month with a hearing before the Atomic Safety Board.

Over the course of the two-day hearing, environmental scientists and lawyers wrangled over whether the porous limestone in Florida could really contain wastewater injected underground, without allowing toxic chemicals to seep upward into drinking water.

Currently, Turkey's Point's two nuclear reactors use a series of cooling canals to treat wastewater.

These canals were confirmed last year to be leaking into a nearby , after a radioactive isotope, tritium, was found at up to 215 times the normal levels in the waters of Biscayne Bay.

The three-judge safety board panel is expected to rule by year's end on whether an operating license should be granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Time never came

Throughout Florida, FPL is expanding its solar installations, and is shuttering coal plants.

Its energy mix is 70 percent natural gas, 17 percent nuclear, with the rest divided between solar, oil and coal.

Meanwhile, the ever-dropping cost of is making nuclear less attractive every day, analysts say.

"Most people think Turkey Point will never get built," said Mark Cooper, senior research fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, referring to FPL's proposed two new nuclear reactors.

"It turns out it was not the environmentalists, it was not the lawsuits," Cooper told AFP.

"They could not deliver a safe, economically viable product. They couldn't do it in the '80s and they can't do it today," said Cooper.

"Nuclear power is a technology whose time never came."

Explore further: Westinghouse's woes spotlight US nuclear sector's decline

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10 comments

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Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) May 28, 2017
If the economics isn't there, then the economics isn't there - but don't throw the baby under the bus just yet.
rderkis
3.7 / 5 (3) May 28, 2017
Fusion! Invest every cent we can in it NOW!.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) May 28, 2017
I invested in my power of choice, rderkis, have you?

Westinghouse needs your money - they just went bankrupt!
WillieWard
5 / 5 (2) May 28, 2017
"Carbon intensity is the only metric that matters when it comes to solving Climate Change."
http://electricitymap.tmrow.co
Low-carbon nuclear power is the only proven way.
katesisco
May 28, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
nrauhauser
3 / 5 (2) May 28, 2017
We can cut about 35% of oil use by recreating our streetcar network from a century ago, our economy would expand due to the development, but there are far too many economic losers with this plan.

Sadly, it appears the only hope for cutting emissions is a lifestyle affecting imperial collapse for the U.S. No candidate from 2016 presidential cycle was really ready to face reality in this area; we aren't going to climb down, Mother Nature is going to knock us down.

I suspect a billion dollars in solar cells would be more useful than a billion dollars worth of nuclear reactor, and that'll hold true until solar covers our day time activity & cooling needs.
Da Schneib
2.3 / 5 (3) May 28, 2017
@Eikka was last seen whining that "greens" were stopping nuclear energy.

Looks like that was, well, you know, wrong.

And stuff.

Just sayin'.
CrossoverManiac
3.7 / 5 (3) May 31, 2017
"Why nuclear could become the next 'fossil' fuel"

"A gray dinosaur statue outside south Florida's largest power plant is meant to symbolize two decommissioned fossil fuel reactors, but it also could be seen to represent a nuclear industry crumpling under mounting costs."

"Controversial project"

A hit piece full of loaded words and completely void of intellectual value. No actual science but plenty of anti-nuke BS. This article is trash and phys.org is better than that. Please fire this Greenpeace shill.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) May 31, 2017
A hit piece full of loaded words and completely void of intellectual value.

I dunno, the article seems to point out (with examples) that nuclear reactors either aren't being built as planned, are costing much more than anticipated when one looks at all costs and traditional companies that built them (i.e. the ones with the most experties) are already folding - as well as a ölack of any kind of realistic plan in case of an emergency.

That seems to make a strong factual case for the premise of the article. Where are you seeing this 'lack of intellectual value'?
MR166
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2017
"Critics have pointed to the rising seas from climate change, risks of storm surge, radioactive waste and threats to drinking water and wildlife at the site, nestled near Everglades National Park, as reasons to stop nuclear expansion."

OMG, rising seas! 3mm per year can never be overcome. In thirty years 3 more inches of water would be crashing upon the seawall. We could never design something to withstand that sort of natural disaster.

As far as increased costs go an adversarial government can make anything cost prohibitive.

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