Gainesville's Nuclear Future?
Rob Brinkman
November/December 2007

Did you know that Gainesville owns a 1.3% share of the Crystal River Nuclear plant (CR#3)? Progress Energy, the owner of Crystal River, is planning upgrades to the plant which will increase its output by about 180 megawatts. Gainesville is obligated to pay $5.4 million as its share and we will receive 2.53 megawatts in addition to the 11 megawatts currently used by GRU. This means we are paying $2,134 per kilowatt of nuclear fueled capacity. Energy efficiency, some forms of renewable generation, and even fossil fuels are less expensive, and they are all far safer, except for perhaps coal.

You may not know that GRU is asking for a commitment from the Gainesville City Commission to buy up to a 100 megawatt share of the new nuclear plants proposed for Levy County by Progress Energy. While our previous investment in nuclear was modest, by comparison, this proposal is reckless. The first new nuke in Western Europe is under construction in Finland where, not surprisingly, it is two years behind schedule and more than a billion dollars over budget.

Warning! If Gainesville buys into this nuclear retread project, Progress Energy will be spending your money to design, permit and build the plant. Under a bill passed last year by the Florida Legislature, utilities can charge customers for the costs incurred in attempting to build a new nuclear plant. Even if they are ultimately unsuccessful, your money is at risk, not utility investors.

Contact the Gainesville City Commission at or call (352) 334-5015 and tell them you don't want your money going to support Progress Energy's gamble on nuclear energy.

The City Commission has scheduled a workshop on nuclear energy for November 27th from 3-6 pm. Remember, if GRU buys a share of the Levy County nukes all GRU and Progress Energy customers will pay the costs of permitting and building these plants no matter how much they end up costing or even if they are never completed.

The nuclear industry is currently seeking $25 billion dollars a year in loan guarantees, so tax payers and rate payers bear the risk while investors reap the profits. This is in addition to other subsidies for the first six new nuclear power plants built in the U.S. Sounds once again like public subsidy of private profit.

Go to http://www.nukefree.org/ and sign the petition to strip subsides of nukes from the Energy Bill. If the renewable industry had been subsidized to a similar extent we would not need the nukes we currently have.

According to 2007 estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total lifecycle cost of electricity from a new U.S. nuclear plant in 2015 would be 15% more expensive than natural gas and 13% more than coal. Fossil fuels will continue to get more expensive, but renewable energy will get cheaper as it is more widely used. Investing in nuclear power or fossil fuels is a bad strategy simply because these are finite fuel resources; as they are depleted, costs will increase. Nuclear power is among the most expensive types of electrical generation; the fuel costs may be lower than, for example, natural gas, but the costs to build, operate and decommission a nuke are very high.

Then there is the issue of radioactive waste. There is not yet, anywhere on the planet, a long term geological storage site. While some countries are engaging in reprocessing, this only creates high level wastes while also raising nuclear proliferation concerns and creating more terror targets. How do we even quantify the costs to store, monitor and secure radioactive wastes for eons?

Nuclear power is often touted as carbon free; ultimately no form of power generation is carbon free since there is a carbon footprint to any material structure. Nukes require a lot of concrete and steel to build, also mining and processing uranium for fuel is also very carbon intensive. On a life cycle basis a nuke is roughly equivalent to an efficient natural gas combined cycle heat and power plant like the one GRU is building at the new Shands Cancer Center. In fact it is not possible to construct enough nuclear power plants fast enough or cheaply enough to have any significant effect on efforts to address climate change. Money spent on nuclear plants could instead be used on energy efficiency efforts and renewable energy investments which can be accomplished at lower costs and in much less time.

Recently I have read statements like Three Mile Island (TMI) "wasn't that bad" and "nobody died." The actual health effects from TMI are unknown because no one knows how much radiation was released. It was not insignificant, at one point to keep from having a catastrophic containment failure TMI vented radioactive steam with a roaring sound heard for miles. Just because no one died in the streets, just as no one dies in front of a coal plant, it is nave and disingenuous to claim that coal or nuclear plants have not caused premature deaths. Most people are unaware that about half of the uranium fuel rods at TMI melted and dripped into the bottom of the reactor vessel. It actually took years before video and sonar evidence finally convinced the experts of the severity of damage to the reactor core.

I did some historical research on the TMI accident and rediscovered a facet of the accident that I had forgotten. During the several days of the first general emergency at a US reactor it was discovered that a 1,000 cubic foot hydrogen gas bubble had formed in the top of the reactor. There was a great deal of tension as the percentage of oxygen gas increased in the reactor. Fortunately it never exceeded 10 %, above which there is a danger of a spontaneous combustion explosion that could have breached the reactor vessel and the containment building.

If this had happened the TMI accident would have been comparable to Chernobyl, where an explosion of uncertain origin blew the top off the reactor exposing the reactor core to the atmosphere while it burned. The resulting radiation release was detectable worldwide and thousands of workers were exposed to lethal radiation doses in the process of entombing the burning reactor in concrete.

There have been other more recent accidents including one at the largest reactor complex in the world after it was damaged by an earthquake. There have been many more near misses. Currently in Toledo, Ohio two nuclear power plant workers are being criminally tried for withholding information that came to light in 2002 when extensive corrosion of the reactor vessel's pressurized head was discovered. In one location a hole the size of a football in the 6.5 inch thick carbon steel reactor head occurred with only a 3/16th inch thick stainless steel liner preventing a potentially catastrophic accident at the Davis-Besse nuclear power station near Toledo.

The reactors at TMI and Davis-Besse were manufactured by the same company that made Crystal River (CR#3).

With respect to climate change, time is of the essence. Recent reports from Greenland indicate that a degree of melting not expected until 2030 is, in fact, occurring now. Similarly there is, for the first time in recoded history, an open sea lane above Canada due to unprecedented melting of arctic sea ice. While this ice melting does not significantly raise sea levels any more than ice cubes in a glass of water, there is a huge impact. While ice reflects 90% of incoming solar radiation, open seawater absorbs 90%. This sets up positive feedback effects where the more ice that melts the warmer it gets, sooner. We simply cannot wait ten years for a new generation of nukes which cannot ultimately save us. We must reduce our energy usage and convert to renewables ASAP.

previous article [current issue] next article
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional eXTReMe Tracker