Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cloudy, With a Chance of More Clouds

Drive by any large power plant, and you are bound to notice the obvious.  The facility announces itself long before you make its acquaintance.  Big power plants come with big transmission needs, so the wires emanating from the facilities always make a striking sight.

This is perhaps no more apparent anywhere than it is in nuclear power plants.  Because their generating capabilities are so large -- and their capacity factors so high -- the bundle of wires running from nuclear facilities is inevitably noticeable.  A good example, if you find yourself in the vicinity, is Southern California Edison's San Onofre plant.  Drive by on I-5, and you can't miss the mass of perfectly parallel lines overhead.

The image of precise bundles of wires is fitting, perhaps, because the exactness that the nation's electrical transmission circuits demand stands in sharp contrast to the many loose ends currently in the nuclear industry.  Prior posts have touched on some of these points, but the recent developments continue only.  Looking at it today, if we were all weather anchors on the local news, the only forecast we could offer the industry would be "cloudy, with likely more clouds on the way."

To wit:

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled last week largely in favor of the U.S. government in a case brought by Energy Northwest.  Energy Northwest's claim is for breach of contract for the government's failing to take its spent nuclear fuel, when Yucca Mountain remained non-operational.  The case is certainly notable for its ruling in favor of the government, but it may be even more notable for two other reasons.  First, the decision now stands with numerous other cases the government has lost as a result of the political stalemate over Yucca, as the DOE used a standard contract in promising to take utilities' waste under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.  Second, Energy Northwest had won an award of nearly $57 million, but the government only appealed about $10 million of that award.  It let the rest -- $47 million -- stand.

  • The New York Times is reporting increased resistanceto the Jaitapur nuclear power plant proposed to be built in India.  If it goes forward, it will be the largest in the world.  If it does not, we will know that Fukushima's shadow can reach at least as far as this only growing, energy-hungry nation.

  • Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved an increase in Exelon's Limerick Generating Station's capacity by about 32 MW.  Why?  Because in a nation that seems increasingly skittish about nuclear energy, we also need more energy.  Clouds, and more clouds.

-Lincoln Davies 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2011/04/cloudy-with-a-chance-of-more-clouds.html

Climate Change, Current Affairs, Energy | Permalink

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