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Entries in Nuclear Reactors (4)

Friday
Mar182011

Environmental Groups Question Obama's Support for Nuclear Industry

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Just as President Obama was publicly addressing the fallout from the cascading nuclear power plant disaster in Japan Thursday, the CEO of one of the largest nuclear power suppliers in the U.S. was lined up to speak at a closed-door gathering of top fundraisers for President Obama's reelection.

James E. Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, the nation's third largest nuclear energy supplier, was asked to lay out his fundraising plans for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an effort he is undertaking as the host committee co-chair. The evening before, he was among those invited to join a discussion of the president's re-election fundraising plans at a private dinner in downtown Washington, D.C.

"It's troubling," said Dan Hirsch, a nuclear safety advocate in Southern California. Obama "is cozying up to large financial interests that might become donors and who wish our policy to be blind to the implications of this catastrophe."

Since his earliest days in the U.S. Senate, President Obama has had a close relationship with the nation's nuclear energy suppliers, and he brought his support for nuclear power with him to the White House. In his 2010 State of the Union address, he laid out his ambitions without ambiguity, calling for "building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country."

Obama has not only championed nuclear power, he has set aside millions of dollars for loan guarantees aimed at helping spur that new construction. His 2012 budget proposal calls for an additional $36 billion to triple the amount of money used to guarantee loans for nuclear plants.

So far one proposed plant in Georgia has been given a loan guarantee, completing a process that requires independent regulators to sign off on the design.

The White House points out that nuclear energy is just one piece of its portfolio as the president attempts to address global warming and curtail greenhouse gas emissions -- but that it accounts for 70 percent of the carbon-free energy currently being produced. And administration officials have long rejected suggestions that Obama is influenced by donors, noting that the president has had so many donors, supporters can be found on either side of just about any contentious issue.

"The administration's energy priorities are based solely on how best to build a 21st century, clean energy economy," said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. "That policy is not about picking one energy source over another, in fact it is about setting a bold but achievable clean energy goal, and providing industry the flexibility on how best to increase their clean energy share."

That includes, he said, the "responsible development of a broad range of energy sources -- including renewables like wind, solar, and homegrown biofuels, as well as natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power."

Still, Obama's contact with top executives in the nuclear industry, in particular, has attracted criticism from some quarters of the environmental community -- even from those who otherwise support him. The bulk of that attention has been focused on the nation's top nuclear supplier, the Exelon Corporation.

Exelon is a Chicago-based energy giant that has invested heavily in Obama's campaign, with two executives serving as top fundraisers in 2008, and more than $200,000 in contributions coming from the company's employees. Since the inauguration, Exelon Chairman John W. Rowe's name has appeared at least twice on White House visitor logs for appointments with then chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel, and USA Today reported that he was tapped by the Obama White House to help lobby Congress on climate change legislation.

Another major utility, Duke Energy, also has been building a record of support for Obama. In addition to overseeing the Democratic convention host committee, Rogers is also personally a donor, and his company recently agreed to guarantee a $10 million line of credit to help get convention planning underway -- an arrangement first reported by the Charlotte Observer last week.

Both Democratic National Committee officials and Will Miller, who is acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention, said Duke Energy's offer to back the line of credit was intended to help Charlotte win in its bid to host the convention, and had nothing to do with the president.

"They thought it was good business to help secure the convention, which is good for the region," said Will Miller, acting executive director of the committee overseeing the convention. "Duke was interested in helping the bid and said they'd be glad to put up credit security to help enhance the bid."

Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams said Rogers's efforts are less about supporting Obama's reelection than they are about economic development for Charlotte, N.C., where the convention will be held. "He has supported both Republicans and Democrats," Williams said. "Duke supported the effort to attract the Republican convention in 2000. This is all about promoting Charlotte."

That said, Williams acknowledged the company does have a policy agenda in Washington, and has not been shy about pursuing it. Among the company's goals are climate legislation -- backed by the president -- that includes efforts to promote nuclear energy. They also support Obama's efforts to promote federal backing for nuclear plant construction. The company is considering building two reactors in South Carolina.

Some environmentalists tell ABC News the overlap of Obama's agenda and the industry's has at times made them uneasy. Now, scenes of smoldering nuclear reactors in Japan have heightened their concerns that the nuclear industry may have too much sway with this administration.

"Unfortunately, I think they have committed themselves to this position," said Dave Hamilton, the director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "Even today, they seem resolute."

The president addressed the Japanese disaster and the fears it has stoked in the U.S. during remarks to the press on Thursday. From a podium in the Rose Garden, the president announced he has ordered a comprehensive review of the safety of domestic nuclear plants.

Obama reiterated his belief that nuclear power remains "an important part of our own energy future." He repeated a message that has been offered by the nuclear industry in recent days, saying that U.S. "nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies."

"When we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event, and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people," he said.

Williams, the Duke Energy spokesman, said the company agrees. "We need to continue to develop and advance it and learn from what happened in Japan," he told ABC News, adding, "You're not going to be able to address climate change without nuclear energy."

The president's remarks brought a different reaction from the group Friends of the Earth. "President Obama has talked a lot in the past about humility, but his continued support for dangerous new reactors looks more like hubris," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S. "It's irresponsible and puts the public at risk."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar182011

Indian Point Near New York City on List of High-Risk Nuclear Plants

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The crisis in Japan has reignited intense debate among lawmakers about the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, and nowhere more so than at Indian Point, where two aging reactors located just 24 miles north of New York City.

"We are using up our reservoir of good luck," said Richard Brodsky, a former New York State legislator who last week lost a lawsuit over the level of insulation required around electrical cables at Indian Point.  "The chances of an accident at Indian Point are small but the consequences are so dramatic."

An analysis by the Daily Beast Thursday ranked reactors at the Buchanan, New York plant as the most dangerous among 65 U.S. nuclear facilities, based on risk of natural disaster, safety performance and the surrounding population.

Also ranking high on the list were San Onofre in San Clemente, California; Limerick in Limerick, Pennsylvania; Dresden in Morris, Illinois; and Diablo Canyon in Avila, California.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rejected the list, saying the NRC doesn't do risk rankings. "Currently, the operating nuclear power plants in the U.S. remain safe, with no need for immediate action," she said by e-mail.

Screnci said that even though "overall seismic risk estimates remain small," the NRC has identified 27 reactors "where we need to complete additional analysis. That's being done. The Indian Point Units are two of those."

Some politicians aren't satisfied with the promise of additional analysis. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday called for Indian Point to be closed, pointing out that Reactor 3 at Indian Point sits on the Ramapo Fault.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat whose district includes parts of New York City and Westchester County, pointed out that the planes that attacked the World Trade Center flew over Indian Point and said its license should not be renewed.

But another local congresswoman, Rep. Nan Hayworth, a Republican, says the plant should stay online. "It is a crucial source of carbon-clean power," she said.

And having toured the plant and spoken to people in the community, she added, "I have not heard anything that makes me think Indian Point's continuing operation poses a threat."

"The plant is built to withstand an earthquake far worse than this area has ever experienced," said Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Indian Point.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar162011

White House Says US Citizens Should Listen to US, Not Japan, on Evacuation

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Armed with new independent data, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee Wednesday recommended that all American citizens evacuate the 50 mile radius surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactors.

NRC Chairman Jaczko told President Obama and the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday, that "the NRC made a recommendation that based on the available information that we have, that for a comparable situation in the United States we would recommend an evacuation to a much larger radius than has currently been provided in Japan. As a result of this recommendation, the Ambassador in Japan has issued a statement to American citizens that we believe it is appropriate to evacuate to a larger distance, up to approximately 50 miles."

The recommendation -- approximately 80 km -- is 4 times larger than the recommended evacuation radius given by the government of Japan, but the White House downplayed the significance of seemingly more dire view of the conditions on the ground.

White House press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that "the advice is no longer in agreement," but refused to make any judgment on the information and recommendations being made by the government of Japan, a close US ally.

Carney told reporters that while initially the U.S. agreed with the Japanese government's 20 km recommendation, Wednesday "based on our independent analysis of the deteriorating situation -- we all have watched on television and read about the damage at the various reactors and the potential for emissions -- based on that new information, the new data and the independent analysis, the NRC is now advising an evacuation beyond a 50-mile radius."

When a reporter stated that the US recommendation suggests that the information coming from the Japanese government is inadequate, Carney said only that it suggests the advice the Japanese government is giving is "different."

"It is not about the quality of information; it is about the standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here in the United States and the kind of advice it would be giving should this incident happen in the United States, or something similar to it," Carney said.

Does the US have higher standards?

"It's not about high or low," Carney said. "I'm just simply saying that this is our advice based on the information that we have."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar152011

Napolitano: Radiation from Japan's Nuclear Reactors Not a Threat to US

Alex Wong/Getty Images(DENVER) -- With Japan’s nuclear radiation situation worsening, officials in the United States are taking a sharper look at the safety, and faults, of America’s nuclear facilities. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the nuclear failures in Japan will “undoubtedly” expedite disaster planning at U.S. nuclear plants.

“We constantly think about, prepare, exercise, work with our states, our localities, our utilities and the private sector on thinking about what would occur and exercise to the point of failure,” Napolitano told ABC News Tuesday after a conference in Denver.

Napolitano sought to quiet fears of radiation drifting from Japan to California shores.

“The level of radiation coming out of Japan does not put the United States at risk,” she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay indoors Tuesday after fears that a containment vessel at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was leaking radiation. Concerns that the radiation would spread across the Pacific to the United States sparked a mad dash in California for potassium iodide, which protects the thyroid from radiation poisoning.

There are 15 American nuclear power plants that have the same or similar design as the site in Japan where explosions near three reactors have the country on high alert for nuclear radiation. The U.S. plants are located along the New Madrid fault line which runs through eight states -- Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi -- and could affect more than 15 million people.

“As we look at something like the upcoming New Madrid fault exercise, we will be stressing our systems and looking to what they can withstand and where we need to continue to improve,” Napolitano said.

“Just as we have learned as a nation from Katrina, on response when there’s a major incident, just as we have learned from the BP oil spill this last year, I’m sure in the, sure in the aftermath when all is said and done we’ll learn something from the tragedy occurring in Japan,” Napolitano said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio