Beyond Nuclear International

Explosive renewable energy growth in US

Renewables are 87.6% of new U.S. generating capacity

By Ken Bossong

According to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data recently released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower) dominated new U.S. electrical generating capacity additions during the first three-quarters of 2021. [1] 

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through September 30, 2021) reveals that renewable energy sources accounted for 87.61% — or 16,665 megawatts (MW) — of the 19,022 MW of new capacity added during the first nine months of the year. Solar led the capacity additions with 8,410 MW, followed closely by wind (8,188 MW). Compared to the first nine months of 2020, new solar capacity additions are 38.28% higher while those from wind are 34.19% higher. There were also small additions in 2021 by hydropower (28 MW), geothermal (25 MW), and biomass (14 MW).  

Most of the balance was provided by natural gas (2,327 MW) coupled with very small contributions from oil (19 MW) and coal (11 MW). 

The US is enjoying an explosive boom in solar energy. (Photo: Solar farm, Brookhaven National Laboratory/Creative Commons)

Renewables now provide more than a quarter (25.39%) of total U.S. available installed generating capacity — a share significantly greater than that of coal (18.88%) and more than three times that of nuclear power (8.32%). [1] By comparison, a year ago, renewables’ share was only 23.28%. Five years ago, it was 18.46% and a decade earlier it was 14.11%.  

That growth is almost entirely attributable to a nearly three-fold increase in wind’s share of installed generating capacity and a 37-fold increase in solar’s share. Wind is now more than a tenth (10.52%) of the nation’s generating capacity (up from 3.79% in September 2011) while utility-scale solar has surpassed five percent (5.14%) — up from 0.14% in September 2011 … and that does not include distributed (e.g., rooftop) solar. [2]

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One chance

That’s all we have to get Vermont Yankee cleanup right

By Raymond Shadis

COVID-19 has reduced the hustle and bustle, letting us think about what is important — or, more correctly, reset our priorities. This is no small thing; in fact, a culture-quake may be necessary before we can adopt the entirely new relationship with nature that must happen if we are to stave off climate change.

To go from environmental thinking globally to acting locally, let’s consider that one of Vermont’s natural, historical treasures — 130 acres of Connecticut River waterfront in the little town of Vernon — is being scarified, dug up, and heaped with demolition debris.

The demolition of Vermont Yankee is being done on schedule and on budget by a subsidiary of NorthStar, a demolition company noted for speed and precision in taking down large buildings, two recently in midtown Manhattan.

The pastoral beauty of the Connecticut River, on the Vermont-New Hampshire border, is now being destroyed around the Vermont Yankee site in Vernon, where the closed reactor is undergoing demolition. (Photo: Ken Lund/Creative Commons)

But NorthStar and most stakeholders seem to forget that decommissioning is not primarily about how fast and how cheaply you can tear down buildings.

It is about the safe, careful, detailed removal of enough carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic radioactive contaminants to the point that agreed-upon residual radiation levels will allow open, worry-free access to the site.

The way the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts it in its federal regulations (posted at nrc.gov), decommissioning is “the safe removal of a facility from service and reduction of residual radioactivity to a level that permits termination of the NRC license.”

“As one of the conditions for an operating license, the NRC requires the licensee to decommission the nuclear plant after it ceases power operations,” the regulations say. “This requirement is based on the need to reduce the amount of radioactive material at the site to ensure public health and safety as well as protection of the environment.”

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The “brigands” regroup in Basilicata

18 years after they stopped a radioactive waste dump coming to their region, locals find their land targeted once again

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The brigand songs hadn’t started yet, although there were faint early flickers and crackles coming from a small camp fire. Lights glimmered from inside a distant tent as our escort led us through crowds milling nearby, briefly allowing a television reporter a hurried interview, his deadline already long gone by.

It slowly began to dawn on us then, as we were ushered to sit at a table beneath a hand-painted banner proclaiming “No to Nuclear Waste” that this was a press conference. The rows of seats in front of us were filled to capacity. There was a quick introduction and then we were handed microphones and urged to talk.

We were in Scanzano Jonico in Basilicata, possibly Italy’s least-known Southern province. Valentina, a Greenpeace Italy colleague, and I had driven from Rome, after testifying about nuclear waste before the Italian Parliament (I had been there to deliver, in Italian, the translated testimonies of Kevin Kamps, then with NIRS, and IEER’s Arjun Makhijani). 

We had gotten lost on the way on what, under normal circumstances, was already a six-hour drive. We were late and cold and exhausted and we had no idea a press conference had been arranged for us. But that crowd had waited two hours. And now we needed to deliver.

The author (far left) at the Terza Cavone press conference in 2003 with Valentina, her Greenpeace colleague and local activists Antonello Bonfantino and Marcella Forastieri

Basilicata is a region nestled in the instep of Italy’s famous “boot”. The area is best known for Sassi, an ancient hillside complex of cave dwellings dating back thousands of years and wedged into the rocks adjacent to the town of Matera. Aficionados of Italian literature might be familiar with Carlo Levi’s book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, also set in the province.

But Basilicata is also the setting for some unexpected triumphs. The first, ironically under Mussolini’s watch, transformed what had been a mosquito-infested unlivable swamp into a market garden, famous for wines, organic farming and eco-tourism. Its beaches began to compete for holiday makers. The earlier mass exodus, which had populated mainly Argentina with exiled Lucani, as those from Basilicata call themselves, had stopped.

The second happened between November 13 and 27, 2003, just weeks before we arrived. An unprecedented and dramatic 15 days of protest had unfolded in Scanzano Jonico, culminating in the defeat of a plan by the Italian government, then led by Silvio Berlusconi, to dump all of Italy’s high-level radioactive waste at a single site at Terza Cavone, a few kilometers from Scanzano, in salt rock at a site just 200 meters from the shoreline.

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Fashion conscious

Runa Ray Is Using Her Fashion Design To Spread Environmental And Social Justice Awareness

Editor’s note. Ray will be a featured guest on a forthcoming zoom event, presented jointly by Beyond Nuclear, Goethe-Institut and Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America on Tuesday, December 7 at 6:30pm Eastern Standard Time US. This will be the second in our series, Cultural Resistance, and also features artist Mary Lou Dauray, who we previously profiled here, and theatre director Jessica Grindstaff, whose Fukushima-themed performance piece we featured here. Click here to register.

By Megan Valle

At five years old, Runa Ray won an art competition for UNICEF to have her painting printed on postcards and distributed worldwide. Decades later, she stood before the United Nations as a fashion designer and environmentalist, advocating for climate change and the effects of the fashion industry on the environment.

As a young girl growing up in India, Ray found herself most comfortable using art to express herself. It was obvious to Ray that she would eventually work in a creative field. Still, she was at a crossroads when it came time to pick a field of study in college. 

She could either become a doctor or go into the arts. Her mother was pivotal in helping her decide which path to take.

Runa Ray, kneeling center, goes beyond her brand and her art, to advocate for peace, especially between her native India and Pakistan. (Photo: courtesy of runaway.com)

“She said, I think you should take up the arts because I think you could make a difference in this field,” Ray said. 

This decision began Ray’s long and successful career of sustainable fashion design and environmental and social justice advocacy. 

“When I took up the arts, I found that it was very natural to me,” she said. “I completely loved it and that’s when I joined fashion.” 

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Keep Takoma Park truly nuclear-free

City’s Sustainability Task Force must not fall prey to nuclear power propaganda

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Normally, we do not use these pages for what might be considered strictly “local” news. But in light of the inadequate ending to the COP26 climate conference — where the words Not Good Enough are its only fitting epitaph— it is important to remind our own communities that we are past time to return to the past. We cannot afford to do anything now, such as clinging onto slow, outdated and unaffordable energy technologies like nuclear power, that would make climate change worse.

Our community, Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC, is a “nuclear-free city.” A number of months ago, many of you were drawn into a struggle — at our invitation — to preserve the Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee, a group of citizens tasked with upholding the city’s storied nuclear-free zone ordinance. Takoma Park was one of the first US cities to become a Nuclear-Free Zone, doing so in 1983.

After a protracted battle, the committee survived, for now, but with a giant caveat. Both its existence and purpose would be reviewed by a newly-established city entity comprised of nine Takoma Park residents — a Task Force on Sustainable Banking and Investments. The Task Force is primarily charged with defining and identifying “steps to implement sustainable banking and investment policies that fulfill both the City’s nuclear-free and climate change goals”.

Takoma Park’s rather battered nuclear-free zone signs have mysteriously disappeared from city streets. So, too, might its commitment not to purchase nuclear power, a decision now in the hands of a Task Force.

But the Task Force has also been asked to “Review and recommend updates to the implementation specifics of the nuclear-free ordinance, to best fulfill the purposes of the ordinance and to coordinate with the city’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and other priorities.” Why go there at all?

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More of the same on nuclear weapons?

Biden’s plan includes replacement of first strike ICBMs

By Joseph Gerson

In the dangerous Trump era, the Pentagon pronounced that “There is no higher priority for national defense” than to “replace [the country’s] strategic nuclear triad and sustain the warheads it carries.” The estimated cost for upgrading the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal and replacing all its nuclear warhead delivery systems—intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers—was $1.7 billion.

Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, the guidelines for nuclear war fighting, and maintenance and acquisition of the weapons required for genocidal or omnicidal war, reaffirmed the country’s first-strike nuclear war fighting doctrine, and it increased U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons. This included their possible use in response to cyber and other high-tech attacks on U.S. infrastructure.

As we now know from Bob Woodward’s new book Peril, General Milley, others in Pentagon leadership, and their Chinese counterparts thought it imperative to act secretly to prevent Trump from sparking a nuclear war on the eve of the 2020 presidential election and within days of the failed January 6 coup attempt. 

The Trump incited January 6 riot at the Capitol had General Milley and others fearing the outgoing president could start a nuclear war. (Photo: TapTheForwardAssist/WikimediaCommons)

Tragically, despite widespread high hopes for change, in the existential realm of potentially omnicidal nuclear war preparations, the Biden administration has signaled more continuity than change. True, it acted quickly to extend the New START Treaty with Russia, which limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons—enough to inflict the planet with nuclear winter. It is also engaged in exploratory talks with Moscow over establishing “strategic stability” between the two nuclear powers. While these talks are important, as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,  General Hyten, recently told a Brookings Institute audience, China—not Russia is the “pacing military threat” that now drives U.S. military planning.

The sad and dangerous truth is that the nuclear weapons budget President Biden submitted to Congress differs little from Trump’s nuclear weapons “modernization” commitments. Despite Biden’s election year and earlier statements that the “sole use” of nuclear weapons that he could imagine was in response to a nuclear attack against the United States, the budget he submitted to Congress includes funding to replace the country’s entire arsenal of first-strike—use them or lose them—ground based ICBMs.

So, too, the budget Congress will be voting on includes funding to produce 80 plutonium pits (the fissile core of a nuclear warhead) per year—each one of which with the destructive capability to devastate cities as large as Shanghai, Karachi and Moscow. Biden and his Pentagon also expect to win funding for the extremely destabilizing “more usable” tactical (roughly Hiroshima sized) B-61-12 bound for Europe, the nuclear air-launched cruise Long Range Standoff Weapon, and new warheads for submarine launched missiles, all designed to hold China hostage to a U.S. first-strike attack.

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