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Government Power Hardware Science

As Nuclear Reactors Age, the Money To Close Them Lags 292

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-go-wrong dept.
Harperdog writes "A worrying bit of news about nuclear reactors in the U.S. from the NYT: 'The operators of 20 of the nation's aging nuclear reactors, including some whose licenses expire soon, have not saved nearly enough money for prompt and proper dismantling. If it turns out that they must close, the owners intend to let them sit like industrial relics for 20 to 60 years or even longer while interest accrues in the reactors' retirement accounts.'"
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As Nuclear Reactors Age, the Money To Close Them Lags

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  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:25PM (#39447321)

    It's easy to forget that when these reactors were set up the world was a different place. The "retirement" accounts for these reactors probably assumed a MUCH lower retirement cost. So it's not the fault of the utility if there isn't enough money in the accounts if the rules changed between point A and point B.

    Something that is irritating about many regulations is that they're very casually passed sometimes without really considering what the rule actually costs. If these fellows didn't save enough by the standards of the old cost projections then I see no fault with them. This is a situation where the government should probably take responsibility for the costs IF they are in fact responsible for making them go up.

    If they never were going to save enough even by the old rules then these utilities are at fault for mismanagement and I'd be fine with squeezing them to pony up the difference.

    Regardless, the money required to dismantle these reactors is probably in excess of what the utilities are themselves liable. So the government should probably pay that difference.

    I know a lot of people don't like this idea because budgets are getting tight. But when you pass regulations they cost someone money. If the government doesn't want to pay it can always relax the regulation in some circumstances. But short of that it isn't reasonable to change the rules on the utilities and then expect them to make up the difference.

    Short of that, the utilities will do what they're already doing... just leaving the money in an account to mature until such time as it can cover dismantling costs.

    So those are the options on the ground. Maybe I'm being unfair to someone... this is my impression of the matter.

  • Re:Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Formalin (1945560) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:46PM (#39447415)

    Of course, why pay for clean-up?

    Much better to ride that "retirement fund" as a golden parachute for yourself, and externalise the actual costs onto the backs of taxpayers (and become the next superfund site).

  • Re:Two sides (Score:5, Interesting)

    by davester666 (731373) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:01PM (#39447491) Journal

    This is exactly what happens in the gas business. For decades, gas stations were "independently owned", and when they closed, the owner never would have the money to clean up the site [as gas always winds up leaking into the ground from the tanks and the various lines]. Then the gov't would require a deposit, which was simply forfeited as it was too small to cover cleaning up the site. Finally, they forced the main petroleum industry companies to [whichever 'brand' was on the station] pay for cleaning up the sites. And what to they do...just flatten the buildings, put up a temporary fence around the now-vacant lot, and just pay the now-minimal property tax on the site indefinitely...

  • Re:Two sides (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {kapimi}> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:39PM (#39447679) Homepage Journal

    Not sure there need be any risks. I see nothing inherently dangerous about nuclear reactors. We know sodium reactors don't go critical even when there's a total coolant failure. The only danger is that sodium and water shouldn't mix, so avoid using water in the reactor if you're using sodium.

    Radioactive dust is a major hazard, but since there's no reason to expose the fuel rods to air, there's no reason for there to be radioactive dust.

    Radioactive waste is another hazard, but if you reprocess the rods and separate the different radioisotopes, you can reduce the hazard. Unspent uranium can be put into a new fuel rod, a secondary reactor for consuming plutonium shouldn't be hard, several of the other isotopes have uses in industry, some plutonium can be used in nuclear batteries for space missions, and you only need to deal with what's left. Much less space than trying to store the lot - and it's probably a lot safer.

    All safety and backup systems should be triply redundant (at least), with redundant systems NOT in the same place as each other. If by the beach or in earthquake zones, redundant systems should also be behind watertight doors and not kept at ground level. (Active earthquake protection is practical these days, but you need somewhere to put the shock absorbers and protection against sheer forces.)

    All this adds cost, yes, but so does leaving a reactor unused for 20+ years. I'm fairly confident that the above is a damn sight cheaper.

  • Re:Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inviolet (797804) <slashdot.ideasmatter@org> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:51PM (#39447743) Journal

    They'll just use corrupt business laws and politics to rape the "retirement accounts" for their own benefit. Then they'll leave the dangerous corpses of their businesses as a warning to future generations on the stupidity of trusting your future to lowest-common-denominator businessmen.

    Yep.

    It's situations like this, and the revelation of how costs were cut on Fukushima's seawall by omitting the datapoint of the big tsunami in the 1800s, that made me realize something that shocked me:

    Nuclear power is perfectly safe, ideal, and awesome... but nuclear power built by humans is NOT. As a species we are short-sighted venal lying scammers, so there are many glorious technologies (nanotech anyone?) that become liabilities in our hands.

  • Re:Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:08PM (#39447803) Journal

    Or they'll just do what the NG wildcatters do in my state which is "the shell game' and goes like this: Set up a corp to own ALL the things you find valuable, mineral rights, hell even the office furniture and then LEASE them to yourself through a shell corp, will call them shitcorp or shitc for short. then when you get in trouble for dumping or causing a quake or what have you and people and the businesses you screwed come looking to sue you burn shitc and then simple make a NEW shell corp called...oh we'll say shitd. Since all the things worth having were never owned by shitc in the first place there is nothing to sue for, unless you want some shitc office stationary or something, and they walk away with the profits and just do the same shell game all over again.

    If you want proof why the entire corporate system is just fucking evil now its shit like the above, they have screwed countless people in my home state by doing that trick which lets them have ZERO responsibilities folks, they don't have to worry about pollution or tearing shit up or destroying the land because its all 100% consequence free! No how many do you think are gonna care about what they do to the environment if it costs them absolutely nothing if they ignore the rules and hundreds of thousands if not millions to follow them?

  • by swalve (1980968) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:32PM (#39447877)
    You have defined "conservative", not "libertarian". A libertarian wouldn't ask for the government's help in cleaning it up. They would either be responsible, or sell the property to someone who values it and THEY would clean it up. But that is the fatal flaw of libertarianism: they assume everyone would be as responsible they believe themselves to be. With maybe a nice topping of ignoring the idea of negative value and externalities. In the libertarian paradise, they could sell or abandon the site, and someone would find value in it. But in reality, it is an albatross that would cost a new owner tons of money, even if the price was zero.
  • Re:Standard practice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Microlith (54737) on Friday March 23, 2012 @12:18AM (#39448073)

    Depends on what isotope of plutonium. If you burn the nuclear material through enough stages you're left with Pu-238 which has a half life of 88 years. I don't know of any Cesium isotope that has a half-life of 240 years (and you get to define what an "ecologic half life" is,) the primary concern with nuclear materials is Cs-137, which has a half life of 30 years.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:5, Interesting)

    by burne (686114) on Friday March 23, 2012 @02:05AM (#39448339)

    We don't. Not always. Take the German AVR. The, where it comes to beta-radation, most contaminated place in the world. The fuel is partly still in the reactor, because it's jammed in cracks in the bottom of the reactorvessel. It's filled with concrete and labeled 'do not open until 2100' in the hope our great-grandchildren might know what to do with it.

    A nice gift to future generations.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 23, 2012 @05:07AM (#39448909)

    And is that really so bad? Gas isn't extremely toxic, and bacteria will (slowly) eat it. If keeping the lot fenced ensures safety, and natural decay is the most economic cleanup method (both will depend on local circumstances such as soil types), then the current solution may in fact be the best approach.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ConfusedVorlon (657247) on Friday March 23, 2012 @05:28AM (#39448987) Homepage

    not quite;

    Taxpayers' get the benefit, and taxpayers' children, grandchildren and great grandchildren get the expense of decommissioning and handling the waste.

    This is the big problem with nuclear - it's broadly equivalent to taking out a huge loan which will be paid down over the next few thousand years.

In order to get a loan you must first prove you don't need it.

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