September 26, 2013

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant Closing

The Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor, one of the oldest nuclear plants in the country and the subject of heated battles over the decades, will close late next year, the company that owns it announced, less than two weeks after winning a protracted legal fight against the State of Vermont to keep it open.

The company, Entergy, said a long depression in natural gas prices had pushed the wholesale price of electricity so low that it was losing money on the reactor, which is on the Connecticut River in Vernon just north of the Massachusetts border. So far this year, owners have announced the retirements of five reactors, with the low price of gas being cited as a factor in all of the cases. Three of the five have substantial mechanical problems.

Tearing down the old reactor will require many years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Using an option approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Entergy intends to seal the plant and leave it for years, while some of the radioactivity dies down and a trust fund established for its decommissioning — now with about $582 million on hand — grows.
But Vermont Yankee and one in Wisconsin, Kewaunee, represent a more significant trend because they have no major physical needs beyond the typical requirements for continuing capital investments. Vermont Yankee did face some expenses for improvements prompted by the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns in Japan in March 2011, but these do not appear to have been decisive.
The latest closing would leave the United States with 99 operating reactors, presuming no others are shut before the fourth quarter of next year, when Vermont Yankee is to close. Four reactors in Georgia and South Carolina are under construction, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is finishing a fifth in Tennessee. But the industry is in a period of rapid decline.
"This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us," said Leo Denault, Entergy's chairman and chief executive, in a statement.
The Vermont plant has 630 permanent workers and employs a large number of contractors. In a midday press conference, Peter Shumlin, Vermont's governor, said "my heart goes out to the hardworking employees and their families" but nonetheless said: "This is the right decision for Vermont, and it's the right decision for Vermont's energy future."
Red Marker shows location of Vermont Yankee and its proximity to the Quabbin Reservoir

Wildfires and Water

The problems stemming from climate change will be expressed through water. On the Atlantic coast, we all have images of waves pouring into and through our cities, but in the West, the issue is not one of too much water, but too little. 

Climate change makes wet places wetter and dry places drier. In the West, one result of a long term drought is more and more devastating wildfires.

2013 is already a huge wildfire year; and it may become a record year after a series of very bad wildfire years. So far this year almost 4,000,000 million acres have burned, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. 

Here in San Francisco, we have become acutely aware of the dangers the Rim Fire near Yosemite. That fire is already the largest fire in the recorded history of the Sierra Nevada, a fact that by itself should give everyone pause. For many of us though, the surprise has been the threat this fire has posed to our drinking water, most of which comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park. The threat to our drinking water will continue for years because of erosion and flooding as a result of the burned forest.

San Francisco is not alone. Twenty-percent of the clean water for our nation's cities originates in forests. In the west, major cities depend on water from forests. In addition to San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Denver and even Los Angeles depend on clean water that originates in forests. Huge wildfires could pose a toxic threat to metropolitan populations hundreds of miles from the fire, populations that feel falsely secure from these fires. [Climate Progress]

Canada Offers to Lower Emissions in exchange for Keystone XL approval

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to gain approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to CBC News.

It is worth pointing out that Canada has already far exceeded the emissions targets it set for itself under the Copenhagen Accord in December 2009 (the yellow line below).

Fixing Farming Forever

This farmer talks about the success of cover crops and no till agriculture to deliver impressive yields with minimal fertilizer and pesticides as demonstrated on his farm in central Ohio. His has great success by focusing on the health of the soil. 

Primary benefits include carbon capture and building up soil - instead of losing soil to erosion.  

I felt like cheering at the end. It is great to see these ideas taking root - literally!

Flooding and Fracking don't mix - see Colorado

Colorado flooding has not only overwhelmed roads and homes, but also the oil and gas infrastructure stationed in one of the most densely drilled areas in the U.S. Nearby locals say an unknown amount of chemicals has leaked, mixing fracking fluids and oil along with sewage, gasoline, and agriculture pesticides.
"You have 100, if not thousands, of wells underwater right now and we have no idea what those wells are leaking," East Boulder County United spokesman Cliff Willmeng said Monday. "It's very clear they are leaking into the floodwaters though."
Photographs shared by East Boulder County United, show many tanks have been ruptured and others floating in the flood. At least one pipeline has been confirmed broken and leaking. [Climate Progress]