Germany Uses More Renewable Energy Than Ever Before, Surpassing Nuclear

Among the world’s most developed countries, Germany seems to be on the right track concerning renewable energy production. The country’s renewable resources have been used more than the classic ones this year, reports BDEW, Germany’s Federal Association of Energy.

Therefore, nuclear power dropped to 17.4 percent after Chancellor Angela Merkel had decided to show down the oldest eight reactors, as a reaction to the disaster at Fukushima, Japan. Plans are that by 2022 they’ll have phased out all of the nuclear power plants today in function.



Gates-backed TerraPower pitches new nuclear tech

To leap to the next generation of nuclear power technology, Bill Gates-backed start-up TerraPower is approaching countries rather than individual utilities or financiers.

Gates last week disclosed that he brought up TerraPower’s fourth-generation nuclear power technology with government officials at the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology during a visit to China. “TerrPower is having very good discussions with [China National Nuclear Corporation] and various people in the Chinese government,” Gates told the Associated Press.

Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower then said that the company has visited energy experts in the U.S. France, India, Japan, Korea and Russia, but that “there were no deals to at this time.”



While Germany and Japan are backing away from nuclear power, the United Kingdom is looking in completely the opposite direction – 8 new nuclear plants are scheduled to be built. As a close neighbor, Germany has a number of words on the topic (all of them polite, but not particularly flattering).

Germany’s announcement of zero nuclear was prompted by the Sendai quake and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown last spring, as Clean Technica readers may remember, but those phase-out plans were already in place. The announcement gave rise to fears of insufficient power feeding into the grid anyway. However, Jochen Flasbarth, president of Germany’s EPA, pretty much thinks the entire idea is ridiculous, and furthermore that nuclear power is not the answer to a stable power supply:



If you thought the Fukushima disaster derailed nuclear power worldwide, look again.

Evacuations and the havoc caused by meltdowns at four reactor cores at the Fukushima power plant earlier this year prompted Japan to shift away from nuclear power and recatalyzed a nuclear phase-out in Germany. But many countries remain enthusiastic about nuclear power, and interest in newer technologies has increased because they are safer, according to a panel of industry professionals here at the MIT Energy Finance Forum on Friday.

“Our investors have a very long time horizon and the reason they supported it is the long-term societal implications and the potentially significant returns from that (so) we haven’t seen any wavering of support,” said Tyler Ellis, a project manager at TerraPower. “Our development partners are trying to accelerate the time scale (of building plants) due to the energy security and safety.”



Power plants are stressing freshwater resources around the country, according to a new report that finds both the quantity and quality of water supplies—”even in unexpected places—”are affected.

The report, Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource, is based on three years of research by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of more than a dozen scientists. It is the “first systematic assessment of how power-plant cooling affects freshwater resources across the United States and of the quality of the data available on power plant water usage,” according to UCS.



Busted! Fracking Chemical Found in Wyoming Water Supply

The U.S. EPA has just released test results indicating that at least one common fracking chemical has contaminated drinking water in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. The finding is significant because the natural gas industry has long denied any systematic connection between its fracking operations and harm to water supplies, despite a growing body of anecdotal evidence. Denial has traditionally been a pretty easy call for the industry, given its exemption from chemical disclosure rules that would have definitively revealed (or disproved) any such link years ago. However, the new investigation may be only a taste of things to come, as the EPA gears up for closer scrutiny of fracking chemicals and their impacts.



Global radioactivity data challenge Japanese estimates for emissions and point to the role of spent fuel pools

The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March released far more radiation than the Japanese government has claimed. So concludes a study1 that combines radioactivity data from across the globe to estimate the scale and fate of emissions from the shattered plant.



Fukushima disaster it's not over yet

Fu Nishikata, eight, and her brother Kaito, 12, on the playground of the school they left on 1 April to evacuate to Yonezawa, 50km away. Their mother, Kanako Nishikata, is member of a group of parents for the protection of Fukushima children. Photograph: Jeremie Souteyrat

It was an email from an old friend that led me to the irradiated sunflower fields of Fukushima. I had not heard from Reiko-san since 2003, when I left my post as the Guardian’s Tokyo correspondent. Before that, the magazine editor had been the source of many astute comments about social trends in Japan. In April, she contacted me out of the blue. I was pleased at first, then worried.



Prospective caregivers for some of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens may soon be subject to extensive criminal record searches, thanks to a $3 million grant to establish a comprehensive statewide system for thorough background checks.

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky is very pleased to participate in this critical initiative that is designed to help long-term care facilities and providers avoid hiring individuals with certain criminal histories by conducting federal and state level background checks on prospective job applicants,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “This falls directly in line with our ongoing work to address elder abuse and improve patient care in long-term care facilities.”

Currently, state law requires long-term care facilities to conduct only name-based background checks for their prospective employees. This grant, however, will help the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) purchase equipment to conduct digital fingerprint background checks, which will ultimately enhance patient safety.

The grant enables the state to purchase live scan equipment to secure digital fingerprints that will be used for both in-state and FBI criminal background checks, according to cabinet officials.

Kentucky is home to 590 long-term care facilities, 101 assisted living facilities, and roughly 600 other providers who employ direct patient access workers.

Once established, this new statewide system will allow officials to perform more in-depth screening of applicants seeking employment at nursing, intermediate care and Alzheimer’s facilities; personal care and family care homes; home health agencies, hospice care providers, long-term care hospitals, personal services agencies, adult day care providers, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and other entities that provide long-term services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is charged with administering the National Background Check Program (NBCP), created under Section 6201 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This agency is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last year, Beshear ordered a multi-agency review – coordinated by the CHFS – that resulted in a comprehensive report on the protection of nursing home residents. The Cabinet has implemented many recommendations included in the report. Additionally, the cabinet has revived the state Elder Abuse Committee to continue the vital collaboration between agencies and stakeholders in an effort to enhance measures aimed at protecting Kentucky’s seniors.

The state also joined the national Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. In the program, states work with medical professionals to detect cases where older Americans are being scammed.

On the heels of these actions, Beshear supported and later signed into law two pieces of legislation targeted at protecting adults and the elderly from abuse and exploitation. The laws, which specifically addressed guardianship of adults, bar individuals convicted of felony abuse or exploitation of an adult from serving as that victim’s guardian, executor or power of attorney. The other measure makes the guardianship process more accessible for those who are dealing with more than one state.

“The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is committed to our mission to protect Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens,” said CHFS Secretary Janie Miller. “We are pleased to take part in the National Background Check Program and commend Beshear for his continued leadership and support of issues that safeguard Kentucky’s seniors.”

As the state begins to implement the grant, it seeks input from the provider community and public and private stakeholders on the development of legislation designed to expand current background check policies. For more information or to provide input on the new program, contact the Office of the Inspector General at (502) 564-2888.

Source: lex18

The timebomb of ageing US nuclear reactors revealed

Getting old isn’t pleasant: things start to creak or stop working all together. The good news, you would think, in the case of nuclear power plants is that you can replace worn, corroded or cracked parts with new ones.

But an impressive year-long investigation into the US nuclear power industry by Associated Press reveals how the regulators and the industry have repeatedly found a much simpler solution to ageing: weaken the safety standards until the creaking plants meet them.

On yesterday’s post, some commenters argued the engineering safety issue is not unique to nuclear power, meaning it is unfair to criticise the nuclear industry for failings that pass unnoticed elsewhere. I disagree for the simple reason that the stakes are so vastly higher for nuclear reactors: safety standards have to be far more stringent because the consequences of serious accidents have such huge economic and social costs. Remember, the pact you sign when you build a reactor is to control that atomic inferno for decades and then look after the waste for thousands of years.

The reactors at the Indian Point nuclear power plant, on the banks of the Hudson River in New York state, first operated in 1974 and 1976. Photograph: Susan Watts/Getty Images


That leads to the point that underlies the AP investigation. The incentive to maintain costly safety regimes runs entirely counter to the primary incentive of the nuclear power plant operators, which, perfectly reasonably, is to make money. The problem comes when, as years roll by without serious incidents, that heavy, expensive regulation starts to look like an unnecessary burden.

And that’s exactly what AP’s reporters found:

Federal regulators have been working closely with the US nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s ageing reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them. Time after time, officials at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have decided that original regulations were too strict, arguing that safety margins could be eased without peril, according to records and interviews.

Examples abound. When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to ageing were uncovered. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.

Yet despite the many problems linked to ageing, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

The problem of ageing is another where the incentive to close old reactors down in favour of newer, safer reactors is easily overwhelmed by the incentive to keep it running. The plant exists and the capital costs are paid off, so as long you can sell the electricity for more than the maintenance costs, you have a money-printing machine.

At the time, the 30 to 40 year licences granted to nuclear power plants were seen as the absolute maximum period for which they would run: the period matched their design lifetimes. Now, AP found, 66 of the 104 operating units in the US have been relicenced for 20 extra years, with applications being considered for 16 more.

Globally, the oldest operational nuclear power plant is in the UK: the 44-year-old Oldbury reactors, 15 miles north of Bristol on the bank of the river Severn. Of the 440 reactors in the world, 22 are older than 40 years, and 163 are older than 30 years.

AP quote NRC chief spokesman Eliot Brenner defending the licence extensions: “When a plant gets to be 40 years old, about the only thing that’s 40 years old is the ink on the license. Most, if not all of the major components, will have been changed out.”

But a former NRC head, Ivan Selin, has a different view. “It’s as if we were all driving Model T’s today and trying to bring them up to current mileage standards.”

So here’s the choice. You can back nuclear, an industry far more inherently dangerous than its rivals, with a history of capturing its safety regulators and dumping its costs on taxpayers. Or you can do all you can to back energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage plans.

Source: guardian