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NRC Relicensing Old "Zombie" Nuclear Plants 260

Posted by kdawson
from the old-and-in-the-way dept.
mdsolar writes "In the Dec. 7 edition of The Nation, Christian Parenti details what he considers to be the real problem with nuclear power as a solution to carbon emissions in the US: Not the high cost of new nuclear power, but rather the irresponsible relicensing of existing nuclear power plants by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The claim is that the relicensed plants — amounting to more than half ot the 104 original 1970s-era nukes in the US — operate like zombies beyond their design lifetimes only because of lax regulation spurred by concern over carbon dioxide emissions. But these plants are actually failing, as demonstrated by a rash of accidents. And some of the ancient plants are now being allowed to operate at 120% of their designed capacity. There is a video interview with Parenti up at Democracy Now."
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NRC Relicensing Old "Zombie" Nuclear Plants

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  • Yawn.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johnlcallaway (165670) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:22AM (#30245668)
    Once again, the crowd that wants us to cut back our carbon emissions comes up with things we can't do rather than some suggestions. And their alternatives aren't viable for 10 years or more when they finally get all the kinks worked out, or electricity becomes so expensive they become economical.

    We can't build new nuclear because of the NIMBY crowd. We can't build new coal fired because of the eco-nuts. We can't drill for more oil because of the morons in congress. We don't have to wait for Obama to ruin this country, these groups are doing it for us.

    Hey .. mdsolar ... go back and stick your head in the sand until you have grow some more FUD.
    • Re:Yawn.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:36AM (#30245832)
      All this eco-stuff is especially pointless since there's a perfectly good solution to everything - put our heads in the sand, do nothing, pretend fossil fuels are harmless, and plan on increasing the population exponentially forever. It's Carter and Reagan all over again - fire the guy causing you pain my making you face up to problems, and bring in a new guy to tell you everything is wonderful as is... no more worries about Iran, the environment, the energy supply... right? Right?
      • Re:Yawn.... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by emilper (826945) on Friday November 27, 2009 @12:15PM (#30246202)

        +1 insightfull, please, for timeOday ...

        do nothing

        indeed, the perfect solution, because:

        fossil fuels are harmless

        plan on increasing the population exponentially

        ... no harm in planing, except it won't work: population never increased exponentially.

        no more worries about Iran

        are there any worries about Iran and concerning the energy supply ? The worry is about a regime that does not do well with openness attempting to develop nuclear technology.

        Right?

        Absolutely right.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "pretend fossil fuels are harmless, and plan on increasing the population exponentially forever."

        And yet you seem to be the one with the buried head.

        Nuclear fuel ain't fossil fuels.

        Many people wanted more nuclear plants, more people stopped them. If would hose the nuclear plants, there would be more coal and gas burning plants.

        The US does not have an exponentially growing population. We have been around 2.1 to 2.2 children per household for decades. (In fact, the last government report I read on populati

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NoYob (1630681)

      Once again, the crowd that wants us to cut back our carbon emissions comes up with things we can't do rather than some suggestions. And their alternatives aren't viable for 10 years or more when they finally get all the kinks worked out, or electricity becomes so expensive they become economical. We can't build new nuclear because of the NIMBY crowd. We can't build new coal fired because of the eco-nuts. We can't drill for more oil because of the morons in congress. We don't have to wait for Obama to ruin this country, these groups are doing it for us. Hey .. mdsolar ... go back and stick your head in the sand until you have grow some more FUD.

      Damn straight!

      I know exactly where to put the new power plants: in the neighborhoods of the major stockholders and executives of the power plants. Hey, if they're going to be making money on those things, wouldn't they want to be near their investments to keep an eye on them? They sure would!

      And you're right about those Eco-Nuts! I for one have no problem with children getting lead poisoning from smelters and mercury poisoning from burning coal! And the old people and small children who are at risk for res

  • by onyxruby (118189)

    Oh no, nuclear energy is being used, the world will end! Must stop this at all costs, or mother nature will be unhappy. Nuclear is evil because it has the word nuclear in it and somehow related to the military! Now that thats settled it's back to firing up some more coal power plants to meet the needs of society....

    What do you mean the greens are the ones stopping the building of new nuclear power plants? The FUD power trip on nuclear is so much more important than letting people have clean power.

  • New stations NOW (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aspelling (610672) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:27AM (#30245738)

    Greenes did huge damage to this country by instilling fear in nuclear power. While Greens mostly support good things to protect environment their opposition and fearmongering of nuclear plants caused us to build economy on oil.
    Besides that we canceled all large-scale development of next generation reactors (breeders, lead-cooled, etc.) capable of burning 99% of fuel and leaving almost no waste.

    On the bigger picture in the last twenty-thirty years people became more comfortable and lazy and unwilling to take any risks. This affected everything in the society - cancellation of Space Shuttle program, public safety even kids wearing helmets on the bicycles. If there is no risk there is no reward but it seems we kind of forgot about it.
     

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sznupi (719324)

      I see and understand what you're generally saying, but how does that follow from Space Shuttle and helmets?

      Space Shuttle is simply obsolete...or rather, was a marriage of advanced concept with inappropriate technology; way too early before its time. And helmets...is there anything negative about them?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by QuantumRiff (120817)

      I am a huge fan of Nuclear Power, however, I sometimes wonder if all the irrational fear of Nuclear Power was Good for the industry? I kinda think all the negative attention and scare tactics and stuff made the nuclear industry have to go over and above to continue proving, without doubt, that they were safe..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by torkus (1133985)

      Well i'm with you on most of it...except the greens supporting good things.

      All we seem to hear is 1) Stop doing this-and-that because it's bad and B) 'This' magical technology is the panacea ... at 10x the cost and in 5-15 years when it goes from laboratory process to initial commercial production ... and another 10 for large-scale usage.

      I understand that cleaner generation plants, cars, etc. are a good thing but the cost-reward balance is often so far off I can do nothing but shake my head. Remember the f

      • "5-15 years when it goes from laboratory process to initial commercial production ... and another 10 for large-scale usage."

        Probably not what you were thinking entirely. But, I hate that we have no ability to invest in a future. Sometimes I think that countries like China will surpass the US not because of money... well that too. But because they aren't up for election every 4 years, more tech will get invested in.

        Anyways back on topic. People suck balls at doing cost benefit analysis when it comes to h
    • ...the most salient criticism raised by the "Greenes" was that we were not, as a people, disposed to live up to the "zero tolerance" policy for failure that large scale industrial use of nuclear materials really demands. We always make mistakes eventually. Even if it takes 50 or 100 years, then it means we only have 50 or 100 years until a major nuclear disaster and i.e. epic human suffering, unprecedented economic calamity, the depopulation of a major urban area, the success of a fanatical act of terrorism

      • by ckaminski (82854)
        Sign me up if it means Seabrook can get a new GenIII+ or GenIV reactor or two.

        Or restart Plymouth! I'd live there in a heartbeat.
  • The real problem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by radl (1266970)
    The real problem with nuclear power is and was (and will always be!), that there exists no solution for radioactive waste. Maybe we won't have a Chernoby like desaster again - however with every single hour we have nuclear power plants running, we are producing toxins that will be lethal for centuries. So come on, using nuclear power was a failure straight from the beginning!
    • Not so (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:43AM (#30245926)
      Reprocessing fuel reduces the waste stream. And you can bury the waste (after you vitrify it) that you can't reprocess, say in Yucca Mountain.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Loadmaster (720754)

        Yucca Mountain will probably never be used, because the Obama administration has said it won't and is looking to cut all funding. However, the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) seems like a better idea anyway.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WIPP [wikipedia.org]

    • by Stupendoussteve (891822) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:48AM (#30245974)

      Not necessarily. While still in the research phase, Fourth Generation [wikipedia.org] reactors look very promising, waste that remains dangerous for decades rather than thousands of years and the ability to use waste from Gen III reactors as fuel.

      Even current breeder reactors can use some waste as fuel.

    • Piffle!

      Your statement that 'there exists no solution for radioactive waste' is incorrect as we have solutions for the disposal of the waste that we currently generate. You confuse radiation with toxicity, showing that you know little about the actual subject.

      We are capable of creating nuclear powerstations that produce a fraction of the waste of current powerstations and in a more manageable form.

      Stop scare-mongering.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Secret for you: the planet has a crapload of those exact "toxins" you speak of. so instead we are harvesting them, and concentrating them in one place so they dont accidentally poison people with the evil "TOXINS"

      Nuclear power is cleaning up the planet by harvesting the things that this evil planet puts all over the place to try and kill us, and getting them away from people. now go back to getting 3 enemas a day, you still have more toxins in you that needs to be flushed out for your better health!

    • Actually there is a solution for nuclear waste.
      It is called fuel reprocessing.
      With proper reprocessing the waste is much easier to handle. We are not doing it right now because it is cheaper to just let it sit and or to bury it.
      The problem is most people have been fed a line of manure from the anti nuclear folks. Do you have any idea how much money some of them are making off of book deals, speaking fees, and "donations" that people make to keep the world and the coal companies safe from the evils of nuclea

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        'Do you have any idea how much money some of them are making off of book deals, speaking fees, and "donations" that people make to keep the world and the coal companies safe from the evils of nuclear power.'

        FOLLOW THE MONEY is always a good rule. In the case of "green" or "anti-whatever" energy, the money trail invariably points at some special interest (including the aforementioned professional fearmongers) that can't make it in the open market, but stands to make a killing if the competition is made to lo

    • by sznupi (719324)

      You do realize that typical coal fired powerplant emits more radioactive waste to the biosphere in one day than typical, modern nuclear powerplant will emit in its whole lifetime?

    • by torkus (1133985)

      You do understand that a coal plants produces billions of tons of waste, and an appreciable amount of that is toxic chemicals, right? Also a fun factoid - Coal plants release more radiation than nuclear plants. Go look it up.

      In addition, you're perpetuating more FUD by linking unrelated facts. Chernobyl had *NOTHING* to do with processing nuclear waste. It had everything to do with taking every safety system offline, then having poorly trained staff incorrectly running hugely dangerous tests on a totall

    • Could just blow it into the air like coal plants.... That or you know use up all the fuel. Only the shitty plants in the US have radioactive waste problems. France, Canada and China seem to get by fine creating little no radioactive waste. Nice FUD.
    • by cnaumann (466328)

      Even barring reprocessing, breeders, and new reactor technology, waste disposal really isn't that big of a problem. Very little waste is actually produced -- on the order of kilotons a year, as opposed to gigatons for many other industrial processes. The waste is not placed into the atmosphere or dumped into ground water sources either. It is self contained. Disposing of waste simply takes time... many, many centuries. The solution really is to dig deep hole in a stable area and bury the stuff. It is not th

    • by sjames (1099)

      Sure there is. Reprocess to extract the 95% economically valuable fuel from the waste (there's nothing like economic value to make people careful not to lose any!)

      The remainder is (decreasingly) hazardous for 2 to 5 centuries. All that junk about coming up with warning signs that can be read in 10,000 years is just a bunch of FUD. Yucca Mtn is a terrible answer to that though since in a few generations the waste will be a treasure trove of industrially useful elements.

      Note that after that 2-500 years when t

  • Blame the EPA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by peragrin (659227) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:33AM (#30245816)

    The EPA won't let new nuclear plants to get built. If the plants get decommissioned it will literally cut our energy production by 1/2. It takes 10-15 years to build a new nuclear plant by EPA guidlines, and the population in that zone won't let it get built just as they refuse to let wind turbines to get built.

    So our only short term solution is to let the NRC extend the lives of the plants. It is either that or force new nuclear plants to get built but it isn't cost efficient to do so.

    there is a real energy crisis looming. Simply because people won't plan ahead, the oil will start to run out roughly when all the fission plants have to go offline do to safety reasons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by eebly (7752)

      "If the plants get decommissioned it will literally cut our energy production by 1/2"

      According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, in August 2009 Nuclear power produced approximately 0.758 quadrillion BTUs of energy, out of a total of 6.266 quadrillion BTUs produced across all sources. That's approximately 12% of total output. Thus, decomissioning nuclear power plants would not cut our energy production by half, either literally or figuratively.

      Extensive stats from EIA available

      • Re:Blame the EPA (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:58AM (#30246066)

        IAAEA (I am an energy analyst with one of the larger energy companies in the US), and I'd argue your math there. Nuclear is base-load power, meaning it's always there. Coal plants, natural gas plants, and the like have to be taken on and off line for maintenance and such pretty frequently. If you live in the PJM footprint of the Northeast, it's very likely that the only plant(s) providing off-peak, nighttime power to your house is a nuclear reactor. Half sounds about right for PJM, and the same probably holds true for most of the South and California.

        Not to mention that replacing the nukes with oil or gas burning plants would cost squillions more in land, fueling pipelines, railheads, etc.

        • IAAEA (I am an energy analyst with one of the larger energy companies in the US), and I'd argue your math there. Nuclear is base-load power, meaning it's always there. Coal plants, natural gas plants, and the like have to be taken on and off line for maintenance and such pretty frequently.

          True. And, you know what? Nuclear plants have to be taken on and off line for maintenance, fueling, "and such," too.

          If you live in the PJM footprint of the Northeast,

          In response to a post about energy in the US, you respond with statistics about energy in the PJM. This does not in any way contradict the statistics quoted.

          it's very likely that the only plant(s) providing off-peak, nighttime power to your house is a nuclear reactor.

          And since off-peak, baseload power at night is a load that's less than a quarter of the capacity-- in many places, much less-- even by your numbers, you could take off-line all of the nuclear plants, and for that matter half of the

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Science cant overcome the Collective stupidity of land owners and the populace.

      • Science cant overcome the Collective stupidity of land owners and the populace.

        Markets can. Free electricity to all residences in the town where the plant is built for 20 years.

        • by salesgeek (263995)

          Correction: greed can.

          • Correction: greed can.

            People make trades when they value one thing more highly than another. This town would be trading one-in-a-million risk for real economic benefit. Voluntary trades are always to both parties' perceived benefit.

            Seeking better circumstances isn't greed, it's human nature - otherwise you'd have to call everybody not living in a 1-room cabin in the woods greedy as they insist on more than is necessary.

    • by wytcld (179112)

      19.6% of US electricity is nuclear generated. Not near 50%. That according to the Wikipedia, of course. And there's no chance it will all get shut down at once.

    • I think that is one of the reasons why several companies are trying to get new reactors built on older sites, all the environmental stuff has been looked at and approved before, and the NIMBY crowd can't get as loud about Nukes in their Back yard, when they already have them....

    • by torkus (1133985)

      Actually, new plants are on the table for the first time in ~20 years. Companies would invest millions in design and 10-100x that in initial purchase contracts if they didn't expect a good chance of finishing the project.

      You're right though, initial design to completion is FAR too long and our only current choice is more fossil fueled plants or extending the life of existing nuclear plants. Running plants at 120% isn't much of an issue if 30-40 year newer technology makes that safe.

      But, as someone else po

    • by Vellmont (569020)


      there is a real energy crisis looming. Simply because people won't plan ahead, the oil will start to run out roughly when all the fission plants have to go offline do to safety reasons.

      People also don't understand the fuel sources for our electric generation. Oil accounts for a tiny percentage of 1.6% in the U.S., so running out of oil would be a tiny dent in production capacity. Most electric generation comes from Coal, Natural Gas, and Nuclear power.

      http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?pag [doe.gov]

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:41AM (#30245896) Homepage
    There's probably some elements of truth in the article, but it's so obviously biased that it's really difficult to credit anything he says.

    According to him, if you're still running your car after the warantee expires, you've got a "zombie car"-- regardless of how much maintanance you put into it. He says a lot of scary things, but doesn't really have much real information.

  • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:46AM (#30245964)

    This will not end well

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:48AM (#30245986)

    I am a nuclear engineering/physics graduate student. Whether that makes me uniquely qualified to comment or just another industry shill is, I suppose, a question of which color Kool-Aid you drank with your Post Toasties this morning. That disclaimer out of the way:

    This article is garbage. Others have noted the inflammatory language ("Zombie nukes?" really?). The author is misleading his readers on the issue of radiation-induced embrittlement and stress-corrosion cracking -- whether through ignorance or deliberately deceptive language, it's hard to say. You'll note that of the "shocking" lapses in power plant operations, ZERO led to significant releases of radioactivity. ZERO led to any worker deaths or major injuries. The worst of the bunch, the "six inch deep hole" in the Davis-Besse pressure vessel head, wasn't caused by lax regulation -- it was caused by deliberate fraud. Inspection records were faked, and the people responsible are currently serving time in federal prison. That does point out a legitimate concern: if the operator is willing to lie to the NRC, then bad things can happen. NRC could probably use a shot in the arm, but to suggest it's merely a lapdog of the industry is highly inflammatory, and evidence suggests, not especially accurate.

    These reactors were licensed to operate for forty years because that is the maximum time permitted by law. Why was forty years written into the law? Because there was significant uncertainty as to how reactors would hold up in the long haul. The law was written conservatively. Designers built large safety margins into their designs to ensure compliance. Forty years of operational experience has demonstrated to everyone but the most anti-nuke environmentalists that there is sufficient safety margin to operate safely for another twenty years.

    As for the 120% operating capacity... sheesh. These plants have had steam generator upgrades. More efficient heat removal allows the turbines to produce more electricity. The nuclear side of the plant is essentially unchanged. They probably drive the primary coolant pumps a little harder, but still well within their designed capacity. So yes, we're getting 20% more energy out of the same number of fissions. No, we're not jamming 20% more fuel into the core. Again: deliberately misleading, or poorly informed? Hard to say.

    • It's gratifying to read some comments by someone familiar with the issues.

      I have a few questions:

      • I read the article to suggest that the plants, big machines with parts that must age over time at various rates, not always known, are decaying without an adequate regime in place to continuously inspect and replace all those components, ala the FAA and airplanes. Is there a regime in place for nuke plants sufficiently comprehensive?
      • You've said the article is misleading on "radiation-induced embrittlement and s
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I did work in the industry a few years ago and I have friends that do work in the industry currently. Your explanation is spot on. We simply know more now that we did back when the plants were built. It turns out neutron irradiation was not as destructive to plant material as we thought. As far as the power upgrades (called uprates by the NRC), they may actually be putting more fuel in the core (higher enrichment). The NRC has a good webpage describing uprates. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      And is there some reason why that pump, now being "driven a little harder", can't be replaced when it wears out, just as you would any moving part on any sort of machinery?? I'd think that would fall under ordinary maintenance, not wild-eyed panic.

      I'm sure there are spreadsheets that can tell us when maintenance is to be expected and performed under a given load level, so it's not like OMG it'll only be inspected when it's DUE to wear out under the lesser load. Something like an aircraft's airworthyness dir

    • by Vellmont (569020)

      I'll start off by saying the article presents a lot of spin and fear, but not a lot of facts. Some of it is troubling though.

      You'll note that of the "shocking" lapses in power plant operations, ZERO led to significant releases of radioactivity. ZERO led to any worker deaths or major injuries.

      Are you seriously suggesting that the only time for concern is AFTER we get the significant releases of radioactivity, or worker deaths?

      The worst of the bunch, the "six inch deep hole" in the Davis-Besse pressu

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HiddenCamper (811539)
      Actually the nuclear side of the plant does change a little. There are 2 types of power uprates, one is where you find a design safety margin that you now can reclaim because you have much more accurate equipment, and the other is a change to the plant's operating domain (power/flux shaping) which will allow for more efficient burnup rates in the fuel and in some cases also increase core power. These processes go through ridiculous licensning requirements and usually take 4-6 years to happen,....after you u
  • by rbanzai (596355) on Friday November 27, 2009 @11:57AM (#30246054)

    I don't feel like nuclear power itself is dangerous. I'm worried about the people who own and operate the plants. Most companies in this world focus on one thing: increasing profits at the expense of everything else. Forget safety. Forget responsibility. Whatever the industry just cut things to the absolute razor's edge to line the pockets of the owners and executives.

    The repercussions of this attitude in the nuclear power industry are far greater than other energy producers. Mistakes (or outright negligence) in the handling of materials related to nuclear power production become the legacy of generations, and as usual we will only find out about these problems when it's too late.

    Nuclear power can be clean. It can also be relatively safe. It's the people in the equation that make me anti-nuke. I just don't trust the owners, operators or regulators.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Friday November 27, 2009 @12:14PM (#30246198)
    By having zombies run the places you don't have to give the workers protection against radiation since they're already dead. I hear they work pretty cheaply too, just give them some cow brains and they don't know the difference.
  • IS SNPP on the list?

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Friday November 27, 2009 @12:32PM (#30246348) Homepage
    This story is blatant anti-nuclear propaganda that is full of misleading statements and an inflammatory title. This is not a news story, it's someone's editorial and a bad one at that. The fact that some plants run beyond their design output is a simple matter of more effecient equipment retrofitted to their systems. Turbines and generators are better now than they were 30+ years ago, and that's the age of many plants. The additional years of service are due to life-extension upgrades and the fact that there's no reason a plant can't operate safely for 60+ years.

    I've seen some very un newsworthy crap on Slashdot before, but this blatantly one-sided and completely overstated editorial without any further investigation or counter statement is really pushing it. Shame on you, slashdot.

    Now if you want, I'd be happy to write a rebuttal to this on my site, and you're welcome to link to that, but I don't expect you will, will you?

    I expect that this article was read by someone at Slashdot with a background in computer science or something else that made them totally incapable of judging the merits of these claims. For example the statement "Radiation makes metal brittle, so old pipes must be routinely switched out for new ones." That's totally bogus. There is a such thing as neutron brittling but that happens to the reactor vessel, not the outside plumbing, which is never exposed to neutron irradiation.

    Another lie in the article, which is a common political lie used by certain anti-nuclear energy interests is "The government has put up $18.5 billion in subsidies to build atomic plants." That is simply not true. The only thing the government put up is what are called loan guarantees, which basically is to say that the government has agreed to underwrite loans on nuclear plants, a common practice in many private public works projects. It's a means of assuring that the plant can get financing at a reasonable interest rate. The government is not handing out 18.5 billion dollars.

    There is more regulation and inspection of nuclear power plants than any other industrial facility on the fact of the earth. Commercial aircraft, chemical production facilities, massive gas storage facilities, explosives storage locations, trains that cary tens of thousands of tons of chlorine - these are all subject to far far less regulatory and safety oversight.

    Shame on you again, Slashdot. Next time you go to publish something so obviously slanted and inflammatory, consider asking an expert in the field, who actually understands this stuff. My suggestion would be hps.org. They have excellent media relations and very helpful people who know their stuff.

    I'd be happy to write a rebuttal to this, line by line, but I don't know if I have time to today.
  • While the post says I wrote that, your edits are a big improvement.
  • The Martian rovers are operating years past their 90 day expected lifetime. Why no "zombie" smear against them?

  • Odd (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarthVain (724186) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:26PM (#30246820)

    I think it is odd in this, our age of progress and technological prowess that we can no longer afford the infrastructure of the past.

    New nuke plants are now somehow out of reach, as are new oil refining facilities, rail, bridges, sewers. Somehow in the last 30 years we lost the ability to undertake large infrastructure, which you would think given the wealth, technology, etc... that it would be easier.

    I wonder if this is political or simply part of a new phase. It just seems to me that everything was constructed in the 60's and 70's and now everything is crumbling and falling apart around us, and we lack the ability or will replace it.

    • Re:Odd (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lennier (44736) on Friday November 27, 2009 @04:56PM (#30248780) Homepage

      "Somehow in the last 30 years we lost the ability to undertake large infrastructure, which you would think given the wealth, technology, etc... that it would be easier."

      I think Vietnam was the tipping point. A huge military expenditure forced the curtailment of domestic infrastructure subsidies. Which led to industrial stagnation, and those of us who were kids in the 70s remember it being a bit grim: strikes, inflation, gas price rises, quality problems, and so on.

      Then came Reagan like the white knight, and his "solution" for Morning In America was to deregulate, which let private infrastructure companies morph into Enron-like shell games. Finance became the new "sunrise industry", alongside microcomputing and networking - the focus was on production of information rather than investment in the old crumbling infrastructure. It was easier and cheaper to make profits by repackaging ownership and debt than doing the hard work. Image, not substance, was what the free market rewarded, so that's what we got.

      If you look at early 80s science fiction, like the cyberpunks, you see a lot of sunny optimism, even mixed in with terror, of how efficient private companies were going to be at building infrastructure. But that didn't happen except in computing, and I'm kind of surprised as to why even that occurred - I presume the Pentagon and Wall Street were the main drivers there.

      Clinton slowed back a bit but kept mostly on the same privatisation track, and W accelerated it again. Now Obama's trying to reinvest in social infrastructure (healthcare) and gets called the worst of names for that. Far from Kennedy's space race era, half of the USA now sees the mere idea of national-level investment in anything but war as inherently evil. As an outsider, I don't understand why, but I can see the effects.

      Space, for instance, was really all just about the ICBM buildout. Once the Minutemen were built, and the military got their spy and comms networks, and computers had shown that a manned space presence wasn't necessary to achieve the military objectives... there wasn't a whole lot left to do. Just more commsats.

      Infrastructure is a hard problem to start with. When there's a political movement which actively believes even having a shared infrastructure to be a bad thing and that it's a moral duty to prevent those who don't have their own capital reserves from getting access to services... it gets a lot harder.

  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Friday November 27, 2009 @01:53PM (#30247054)
    I love the crux of their argument being that the plants are operating at 120% of their initial design... Unfortunately, the author has no clue as to why that output figure was increased. The actual generators (i.e. the turbines, wires, etc., that are turned by the steam which produce the electricity) have been updated using today's technology. Generator technology has increased dramatically over the last 40 years from when the original plants were produced. In fact, generators have been updated in the plants during most refueling cycles in their normal operation. As those generators increased in efficiency, so too has the output power gone up at the plants. That increased efficiency has allowed the same power from the nuclear reactor to create more output power.

    Tritium laced water is bad in the water supply, I agree. But as the author said, these happened at one location which the original owner thought was going to be decommissioned. It should have been made know to the new purchasers that some maintenance was not done. I mean, really, would you put a new exhaust system on a 15 year old car which has over 250,000 miles on it? No, you would patch up the one you got and get ready to buy a new car, which is what the previous owner did. They did neglect to tell the new owner of the "car" about the issue and that there was only a temporary patch in place...
    • Also the above second paragraph is making a bad assumption that the leaky pipe was actually caused by it not being replaced when it should have been or that the people responsible realized that it needed to be replaced and didn't, and wasn't just some screw up, or caused by some other issue (like the new pipe not meeting standards, having a mechanical failure, or some other event which caused the pipe to leak, like a bad seal/connection).
  • by fatbaldsubmariner (1688282) on Friday November 27, 2009 @03:26PM (#30247976)
    I work as a plant operator at a boiling water reactor. The re-licensing of plants for an extra 20 years is based on the life span of the pressure vessel. The author is correct about neutron embrittlement. It does cause materials to fail by causing interstitial point defects in the grain structure. However, the point defects reach an equilibrium over the life of the plant. As more defects are created by collisions with neutrons, others are filled again by a collision. This has been observed through mechanical testing of test materials that are placed in high neutron flux zones in the core. These are removed and mechanically tested every 2 years. Calling these old plants 'zombies' is indicative of a serious lack of knowledge about materials, engineering and nuclear power in general. As to the horrific sounding 120% power levels that plants are running, you can thank digital technology for this extra power generation. When the plants were designed in the 60s, analog controls required tremendous safety margins to ensure save operation. Coolant flows and many other variables had a large margin of uncertainty when being measured and computed to show reactor power. With modern computers, we can get extremely precise readings on coolant flows, neutron flux, etc, which allows us to increase the power of the reactor without reducing the margin of safety we operate under.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by StickyWidget (741415)

      Bingo. Uprating is a standard practice after a controls upgrade, and is often the very reason you perform a controls upgrade.

      ~Sticky

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce

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