Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the ‘Clean Power Plan’
Another month, another premature nuclear plant retirement.
About two weeks ago, Entergy finally threw in the towel on the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba, N.Y., a move that came as a surprise to exactly no one who has been paying attention to the merchant nuclear business in the U.S. the past few years. FitzPatrick joined the long-troubled Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass., which Entergy gave up on in October, and Vermont Yankee, which it shut down in late 2014.
Since the end of 2012, the U.S. has lost an astonishing eight nuclear reactors to premature retirements: Kewaunee, San Onofre (2), Crystal River, and Vermont Yankee (all now shut down); FitzPatrick (retiring in late 2016); and Pilgrim and Oyster Creek (both retiring in 2019, well ahead of their planned lifetimes).
Several other reactors are on life support. Exelon’s R. E. Ginna plant in Ontario, N.Y., has been fighting to secure a rate support agreement that would keep it running a few more years, while the company’s Quad Cities and Byron plants got a reprieve after they unexpectedly cleared PJM auctions this fall. Industry observers see anywhere from five to 10 other plants as being at risk of premature retirement.
What’s remarkable about this trend is how it’s come about not from government pressure or mandates as in Germany or Japan—where nuclear is also in retreat—but from pure market pressures. In mid-2013, I wrote a post asking, “Is Cheap Gas Killing Nuclear Power?” Two years later, I’m prepared to answer that question in the affirmative.
In the case of Pilgrim, FitzPatrick, and Vermont Yankee, Entergy specifically named wholesale power prices driven to record low levels by cheap shale gas as one factor in its decisions. As my colleague Kennedy Maize has noted, observers now strongly suspect that Entergy is planning to exit the merchant nuclear business altogether—because it’s clearly become a big money-loser.
If you look at the list of retired and most at-risk plants, one common element jumps out immediately. Most of them exist in deregulated markets where power prices are largely set by the price of natural gas: ISO-New England (Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim), New York ISO (FitzPatrick and Ginna), and PJM (Oyster Creek, Byron, and Quad Cities). The other two plants, San Onofre and Crystal River, operated in more regulated markets, and while both were retired because of mechanical defects that were too expensive to repair, competition from gas-fired generation factored into both decisions to some degree.
Since 2012, when the problems for merchant nuclear really began, natural gas spot prices have stayed below $4/MMBtu except for a brief period last year, when a bitterly cold winter led to low stocks that pushed things up for a few months.
Since then, prices have fallen consistently, flirting with sub-$2 levels this fall. With gas in storage hitting a record high at the end of this year’s injection season, a repeat of 2014 seems unlikely. Meanwhile, gas production hit another record high in August at 81.3 Bcf/day. None of this, according to Energy Information Administration projections, seems likely to change in the short term, as production stubbornly continues climbing ahead of demand growth.
Where is nuclear still viable? That’s best answered by looking at the three states where a total of five nuclear plants are under construction: Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The common denominator there is clear. All three projects are being built in tightly regulated markets where the utility building them enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly and the ability to recover costs in advance of operation.
The problem for nuclear is that momentum in the electricity markets over the past couple of decades has been toward flexibility and competition and away from monopolies and subsidies.
At the state level, attempts by Exelon and others to secure changes in the law to provide greater support for nuclear have been given the cold shoulder, while solar advocates are prying open previously closed markets like the Carolinas and Florida. Despite the challenges for merchant nuclear plants, no states are even considering an exit from problematic wholesale power markets, and independent system operators like PJM have shown no interest in rigging the game for nuclear either.
At the federal level, the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, which provided enormous support for renewable generation, appear on their way out one way or another. The odds that the current Congress might pass some sort of nuclear production credit (an idea I mentioned in my 2013 post) would seem to be close to zero.
Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the Clean Power Plan (CPP)—which was revised in its final form to give more credit to nuclear generation—but that is far from a done deal. Even if the Democrats retain control of the White House in 2016, control of Congress is another matter, and the Supreme Court could still throw out or handicap the CPP on a variety of grounds.
Cheap gas is not going away. Greater state-level regulatory support seems highly unlikely. Even if the CPP survives in its current form, it won’t substantially change the economics of merchant nuclear.
The impending loss of nuclear generation presents a problem for a variety of reasons. Loss of generation diversity is never a good thing, and the loss of low-carbon electricity will complicate efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the solution remains elusive.
—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).
“More than 50 conditions can cause or mimic the symptoms of dementia.” and “Alzheimer’s (can only be) distinguished from other dementias at autopsy.” – from a Harvard University Health Publication entitled What’s Causing Your Memory Loss? It Isn’t Necessarily Alzheimer’s
“Medications have now emerged as a major cause of mitochondrial damage, which may explain many adverse effects. All classes of psychotropic drugs have been documented to damage mitochondria, as have statin medications, analgesics such as acetaminophen, and many others.” – Neustadt and Pieczenik, authors of Medication-induced Mitochondrial Damage and Disease
“Establishing mitochondrial toxicity is not an FDA requirement for drug approval, so there is no real way of knowing which agents are truly toxic.” – Dr. Katherine Sims, Mass General Hospital –http://www.mitoaction.org
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” – Upton Sinclair, anti-fascist, anti-imperialist American author who wrote in the early 20thcentury
“No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable… for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death.” – President Ronald Reagan, as he signed The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986, absolving drug companies from all medico-legal liability when children die or are disabled from vaccine injuries.
Over the past several decades there have been a number of well-financed campaigns, promoted by well-meaning laypersons, to raise public awareness to the plight of patients with dementia. Suspiciously, most of these campaigns that come from “patient support” groups lead the public to believe that every dementia patient has Alzheimer’s dementia (AD).
Not so curiously, it turns out that many – perhaps all – of these campaigns have been funded – usually secretly – by the very pharmaceutical companies that benefit economically by indirectly promoting the sale of so-called Alzheimer’s drugs. Such corporate-generated public relations “campaigns” are standard operating procedure for all of BigPharma drugs, especially its psychopharmaceutical drugs. BigPharma has found that the promotion and de-stigmatization of so-called “mental illnesses” (for which there are FDA-approved drugs) is a great tool for marketing their drugs.
Recently Alzheimer’s support groups all around the nation have been sponsoring the documentary about country singer Glen Campbell who has recently been diagnosed by his physicians with Alzheimer’s disease (of unknown etiology) despite the obvious fact that Campbell was infamous for his chronic heavy use of brain-damaging, dementia-inducing, addicting, and very neurotoxic drugs like cocaine and alcohol. And, just like so many other hard-living celebrities like the recently suicidal Robin Williams, Campbell was known to have received prescriptions of legal drugs from their prescribing boutique psychiatrists and physicians, just adding to the burden that their failing livers, brains and psyches had to endure.
Since it is known that Alzheimer’s disease can only be truly diagnosed by a microscopic examination of the cerebral cortex (at autopsy), we have to question the very alive Glen Campbell’s diagnosis. And we also have to question the veracity and motivations of the sponsoring patient support groups and their BigPharma sponsors.
Is the Alzheimer’s Epidemic Actually a Drug-Induced Dementia Epidemic?
Synchronous with the huge increases (over the past generation or so) in
1) the incidence of childhood and adult vaccinations,
2) the widespread use of psychotropic and statin (cholesterol-lowering) drug use, and
3) the increased ingestion of a variety of neurotoxic substances – including food additives, there has been a large parallel increase in the incidence of
a) chronic illnesses of childhood, including autistic spectrum disorders,
b) “mental illnesses of unknown origin”, and also
c) dementia, a multifactorial reality which, via clever marketing and the studied ignorance of what is scientifically known about the actual causes – and diagnosis – of dementia, which has been primarily – and mistakenly – referred to as Alzheimer’s disease (of unknown etiology).
It is important to ask and then demand an honest answer to the question “could there be a connection between America’s increasingly common over-prescribing of immunotoxic, neurotoxic, synthetic prescription drugs and vaccines and some of the neurodegenerative disorders that supposedly “have no known cause”?
Could the economically disabling American epidemic of autoimmune disorders, psychiatric disorders, autism spectrum disorders, etc (all supposedly of unknown origin) that have erupted over the past several decades be found to have recognizable root causes and therefore be treatable and, most importantly, preventable?
These are extremely important questions, especially in the case of the current dementia epidemic, because the so-called Alzheimer’s patient support groups seem to be totally unaware of the powerful evidence that prescription drugs known to damage brain cells (especially by poisoning their mitochondria) would be expected to cause a variety of neurological and psychological disorders because of the brain cell death that eventually happens when enough of the mitochondria (the microscopic hearts and lungs of every cell) have been wounded irretrievably or killed off. (See more info on drugs and mitochondria below.)
One of the big problems in America’s corporate-controlled culture, corporate-controlled media and corporate-controlled medical industries is that the giant pharmaceutical corporations, who are in the business of developing, marketing and selling known mitochondrial toxins (in the form of their drugs and vaccine ingredients) have a special interest in pretending that there is no known cause for the disorders that their synthetic chemicals are causing (or they use the unprovable “it’s probably genetic” subterfuge).
It should be a concern of everybody who knows a demented patient, that some AD patient support groups are known to be front groups for the pharmaceutical companies that profit from the marketing to patients and their doctors the disappointingly ineffective drugs for Alzheimer’s like Aricept, Exelon, Namenda, Hexalon, and Razadyne.
Prescription Drug-Induced – and Vaccine-Induced – Mitochondrial Disorders
Acquired mitochondrial disorders (as opposed to the relatively rare primary mitochondrial disorders like muscular dystrophy) that can be caused by commonly prescribed drugs are difficult to diagnose and are generally poorly understood by most practitioners. When I went to med school, nobody knew anything about what synthetic drugs or vaccines did to the mitochondria.
A lot of mitochondrial research, especially since the 1990s, has proven the connections between a variety of commonly prescribed medications and mitochondrial disorders. That evidence seems to have been cunningly covered-up by the for-profit pharma groups (who control medical education and much of the media) and various other powers-that-be because of the serious economic consequences if the information was allowed in the popular press. The stake-holders in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, most of whom profit mightily from the routine and increasing usage of neurotoxic drugs and vaccines, supposedly operating in the name of Hippocrates, would be very displeased if this information got out. I submit that BigPharma’s cover-up of the connections is totally unethical and, in the opinion of many other whistleblowers, criminal.
An Honest Patient Guide for Dementia Patients from Harvard!
So I was pleasantly surprised to find a reasonably honest guide for dementia patients on a Harvard University website.
(The entire guide can be accessed at http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/whats-causing-your-memory-loss.htm#top.)
The information at that website stated that there were over 50 conditions that could cause or mimic early dementia symptoms. I hadn’t been taught anything about that reality when I went to med school, and I doubt that many of my physician colleagues were either. And besides, what medical practitioner in our double-booked clinic environment, even if he or she was aware, has the time to thoroughly rule out the 50 conditions when confronted with a patient with memory loss?
I have often said to my patients and my seminar participants: “it takes only 2 minutes to write a prescription, but it takes 20 minutes to not write a prescription”. And in the current for-profit clinic culture, time is money and few physicians are given the “luxury” of spending adequate time with their patients. (In defense of the physicians that I know, they are not happy about that reality but don’t know what to do about it.)
It is so tempting to use the popularized, but rather squishy label of AD (of unknown etiology) rather than to educate ourselves about the possibility of drug- or vaccine-induced dementia. But what is so important is that many of the 50+ conditions are preventable or reversible, which will be therapeutic only if the conditions are identified before permanent brain damage occurs.
The Harvard guide actually said that “medications are common culprits in mental decline. With aging, the liver becomes less efficient at metabolizing drugs, and the kidneys eliminate them from the body more slowly. As a result, drugs tend to accumulate in the body. Elderly people in poor health and those taking several different medications are especially vulnerable.”
The guide continued with a list of the possible classes of prescription drugs that number in the hundreds:
“The list of drugs that can cause dementia-like symptoms is long. It includes antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-Parkinson drugs, anti-anxiety medications, cardiovascular drugs, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, narcotics, sedatives.”
The Harvard guide went on to emphasize that Alzheimer’s can only be accurately diagnosed on a post-mortem examination. The guide states that “Alzheimer’s is distinguished from other dementias at autopsy by the presence of sticky beta-amyloid plaques outside brain cells (neurons) and fibrillary tangles within neurons (all indicative of cellular death). Although such lesions may be present in any aging brain, in people with Alzheimer’s these lesions tend to be more numerous and accumulate in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory.”
“The leading theory is that the damage to the brain results from inflammation and other biological changes that cause synaptic loss and malfunction, disrupting communication between brain cells. Eventually the brain cells die, causing tissue loss In imaging scans, brain shrinkage is usually first noticeable in the hippocampus, which plays a central role in memory function.”
But even the Harvard guide inexplicably failed to mention known mitochondrial toxins such as statin drugs, metformin, Depakote, general anesthetics, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, fluorinated psychotropic drugs, NutraSweet (every molecule of aspartame, when it reaches 86 degrees F, releases one molecule of the excitotoxin aspartic acid and one molecule of methanol [wood alcohol] which metabolizes into the known mitochondrial poison formaldehyde [embalming fluid]), pesticides (including the chlorinated artificial sweetener Splenda, which was initially developed as a pesticide) or the mercury (thimerosal), aluminum and formaldehyde which are common ingredients in vaccines. These are only some of the synthetic drugs that are capable of causing mitochondrial damage in brain cells – with memory loss, confusion and cognitive dysfunction, all early symptoms of dementia.
It is tragic, but all–too-common, for reversible and preventable drug-induced dementias (therefore of known cause and thus not Alzheimer’s) to be mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease “of unknown etiology” and to then be prescribed costly, essentially ineffective and potentially toxic drugs – whose mitochondrial toxicities have not been tested for.
(The pharmaceutical industry, it should be noted, is not required by the FDA to test its drugs for mitochondrial toxicity when it is doing its studies for marketing approval, again exhibiting the total disdain for the Precautionary Principle by both industry and the regulatory agencies such as the FDA, the CDC and WHO.)
There is much more in the basic neuroscience literature proving the connections, at least from authors who do not have conflicts of interest with BigPharma and BigMedicine. The authors of these articles have raised the questions and have published the proof that concerned families of patients and their physicians desperately need to know.
Don’t expect BigPharma to respond or to offer apologies or mea culpas. Do expect denials, dismissals, distractions, discrediting and then the delaying of real legitimate explorations of the real scientific evidence that exposes its subterfuge in the name of maintaining large profits for their stakeholders.
Here are the abstracts from just two of the many peer-reviewed articles from various science journals that support the thesis of this column.
Medication-induced mitochondrial damage and disease
Published in the Molecular Nutrition and Food Research journal ; 2008 Jul;52(7):780-8.
Authors: Neustadt, J, Pieczenik SR.
Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Psychiatric Disorders
From: The Journal of Neurochemical Research 2009 Jun;34(6):1021-9.
Mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation is the major ATP-producing pathway, which supplies more than 95% of the total energy requirement in the cells. Damage to the mitochondrial electron transport chain has been suggested to be an important factor in the pathogenesis of a range of psychiatric disorders. Tissues with high energy demands, such as the brain, contain a large number of mitochondria, being therefore more susceptible to reduction of the aerobic metabolism. Mitochondrial dysfunction results from alterations in biochemical cascade and the damage to the mitochondrial electron transport chain has been suggested to be an important factor in the pathogenesis of a range of (so-called) neuropsychiatric disorders, such as (psychotropic drug-treated) bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia….Alterations of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation in (anti-psychotic drug-treated) schizophrenia have been reported in several brain regions and also in platelets. Abnormal mitochondrial morphology, size and density have all been reported in the brains of (anti-psychotic drug-treated) schizophrenic individuals. Considering that several studies link energy impairment to neuronal death, neurodegeneration and disease, this review article discusses energy impairment as a mechanism underlying the pathophysiology of some psychiatric disorders, like (psychotropic drug-treated) bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.
Dr Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic mental health care for the last decade of his career, and took seriously the Hippocratic Oath that he swore when he received his medical degree. He is also a peace and justice advocate and writes a weekly column for the Reader Weekly, an alternative newsweekly published in Duluth, Minnesota, USA. The last three years of Dr Kohls’ columns are archived at http://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn.
Industry leaders will have no problem closing nuclear reactors that don’t generate expected profits. Exelon, the Chicago-based company that owns 17 of the 104 U.S. reactors, recently saw its stock price drop below $30 a share, the same level as mid-2003, and a whopping 70% below its peak of over $92 a share in mid-2008.
The standard explanation for this reversal is cost. In particular, electricity from growing natural gas and wind sources costs less to produce than that from nuclear reactors. The famous 1954 promise by Atomic Energy Commission head Lewis Strauss that the atom would create energy “too cheap to meter” has failed miserably. But while cost is the reason why utilities will be closing reactors, most reports fail to look beneath the surface and understand WHY nukes are so expensive.
The answer is that nuclear power poses great danger to safety and health. This danger means that reactors must comply with numerous safety regulations; must be built with many safety features; and must be manned by a large and highly trained work force – each a high-ticket item. In addition, the fleet of 104 U.S. reactors in operation is aging – most over 30 years old – requiring that corroding parts be replaced, pushing costs even higher.
Another element in the high cost of nukes won’t be faced until they are decommissioned (after closing). Decommissioning costs run hundreds of millions of dollars per reactor. Utilities are forced by federal law to keep a large decommissioning fund while operating reactors, to prevent them from simply closing reactors, not securing them, and sticking taxpayers with the bill.
Even with all these extensive and expensive efforts to protect the public, nukes still aren’t safe. The chance of a meltdown exists every day, from human error, natural disaster, or terrorist act. The disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and at Fukushima last year remind us that catastrophic meltdowns that affect thousands to millions are a sobering reality. In addition to meltdowns, there is the matter of routine emissions from reactors and elevated cancer rates near reactors, demonstrated in many studies. Finally, the U. S. and other nations still have no long-term plans to store the massive amounts of hazardous nuclear waste.
Dominion Nuclear recently announced that the Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin will permanently shut down in the spring. This action is a milestone. Not only will this be the first U.S. reactor closed since 1998, but it will likely be followed by numerous other shutdowns. An October 23 New York Times article was headlined “Reactors Face Mothballs.”
Kewaunee’s closing also represents a turning point. For over a decade, nuclear leaders steadily proclaimed an era of a revival, after years of no growth. But the word “renaissance” has vanished, and nuclear power is now in full retreat.
So which reactors will join Kewaunee and be the next to close? Nobody knows for sure, but there are a number of reactors that are faring poorly, and are candidates for shutdown:
– Crystal River (Florida), closed for over three years, needs considerable funds to replace defective parts
– San Onofre (California, two reactors), closed for nearly one year due to faulty steam generators, will require millions to repair.
– Oyster Creek (New Jersey), which must shut down by 2019, may close sooner according to Exelon executives who cite costs and market forces
– Vermont Yankee (Vermont), up for sale (and like Kewaunee with no buyers), along with stiff opposition from local citizens and elected officials
– Clinton (Illinois), another Exelon reactor, has been hit hard by cheaper alternatives
– Indian Point (New York, two reactors), faced considerable citizen and political opposition ever since a plane hijacked by terrorists on 9/11 flew directly over it on its way to the World Trade Center.
This autumn has been the worst period for U.S. nuclear reactors in a long time. Hurricane Sandy caused six reactors to close temporarily, while others were shut to change fuel, and others closed due to mechanical problems. From mid-October to late November, U.S. reactors operated at just 70-75% of capacity, down sharply from the 90% figure of the past decade.
Shrinking nuclear power is even more pronounced overseas. In Japan, nearly two years after Fukushima, only 2 of 54 reactors are operating, and the majority of Japanese are fiercely opposed to restarting any reactors. Soon after Fukushima, governments in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland announced plans to phase out nuclear power, and Germany has already closed half a dozen reactors.
The business troubles facing reactors are nothing new – historical construction costs far exceeded original estimates, and Wall Street executives stopped lending money for new reactors in the 1970s. Fewer reactors will mean reduced threats to health but also reduced costs – proving what’s good for the environment is also good for business.
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (www.radiation.org).
Janette Sherman, MD is an internist and toxicologist. (www.janettesherman.com).
- ‘A huge setback for, if not the end of, the American nuclear renaissance’ (alethonews)
- EDF Falls in Paris on Rising Costs for Normandy Nuclear Reactor – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Even France can’t build a nuclear reactor economically, and in the planned time (nuclear-news.net)
- South Korea Shuts Down 2 Nuclear Reactors (blogs.voanews.com)