Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Gasping nuclear industry in desperate need of a PR overhaul

A meltdown is under way in the nation's nuclear power industry that has nothing to do with radioactive fuel rods or core reactors.

It's a PR meltdown. And it's endangering nuclear's future in the United States.

While insisting it is a key player in the fight against global warming and an important provider of future electricity in this country, the insular industry keeps sticking its public relations foot in its mouth.

Nuclear has failed to sell America on the few good things it can bring to the country's energy and environmental table.

Nuclear's biggest friend, the debt-ridden federal government, remains wary of offering extensive loan guarantees to an industry unable to control runaway nuclear plant construction costs.

Wall Street, once the go-to place for financing big energy projects, won't touch nuclear plant financing in an energy market now dominated by cheaper and plentiful natural gas.

Worst of all, some state legislatures empowered utility monopolies like Duke Energy in Florida to charge their own captive customers to pay in advance for proposed nuclear projects. The nuclear industry wants more states to adopt such rules.

Now Duke's Florida customers are outraged. They are on the hook via higher electricity rates to pay more than $1.5 billion in advance fees for a once-proposed nuclear plant in Levy County that has now been shelved and will never produce a single watt of electricity. On top of that, the same customers will face $265 million in higher rates to cover a separate advance fee to cover costs tied to the shuttered Crystal River plant.

That leaves the nuclear power industry's three top potential allies — government, bankers and consumers — unhappy. That is a public relations disaster.

Nuclear's legitimate arguments now fall on deaf ears when the industry claims it can produce electricity 24/7 with low emissions, reduce a reliance on high-polluting coal and ease a rapidly rising dependence on low-cost natural gas.

What was supposed to be the industry's latest publicity coup — the 2013 documentary film Pandora's Promise, about longtime anti-nuke environmentalists turned pro-nuke missionaries — has generated little positive impact on public opinion so far. Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster did not help.

While crowing that this country should embrace a nuclear renaissance, the nuclear industry instead is watching its stable of 100-plus aging nuclear reactors across the nation start to falter. Already, as many as 38 reactors in 23 states are at risk of early retirements, with 12 of those facing the greatest risk of being shut down.

The Department of Energy is even reviewing one scenario under which a third of the country's reactors would be shuttered. So said DOE assistant secretary for nuclear energy Pete Lyons this past week during a nuclear energy conference in Washington, D.C.

"This is a trend we are clearly very, very concerned about," Lyons said.

The few new nuclear plant projects now under construction in this country are testaments more to runaway costs and delays than examples of a nuclear rebirth. The nuclear plant under way at Southern Co.'s Vogtle site in Georgia is seeking to help cover costs under a waning federal loan guarantee program. At the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina, utilities behind the project are trying to find more power companies to spread the costs and risks of the nuclear plant.

Former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, never one to avoid a candid comment in interviews, recently warned of the consequences of not building more nuclear plants. "It's going to have a significant impact on our carbon footprint because 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity today comes from nuclear," he told EnergyBiz magazine last month.

"There will be companies in the industry putting solar on rooftops, deploying energy-saving technologies within the home and supplying 40 percent or more of the electricity utilities historically provided to that home."

Unless, of course, the nuclear power industry can figure out how to tell a better story. One that's actually believable.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Behind the deal: $52 million boutique hotel coming to Ybor City started with cafe con leche at La Tropicana Cafe

Behind the deal: $52 million boutique hotel coming to Ybor City started with cafe con leche at La Tropicana Cafe

TAMPA ó Joe Capitano Sr. invested in the 1400 block of E Seventh Avenue in 1985, never doubting the huge potential of the property for Ybor City.But the deal to build a $52 million boutique hotel on the site didnít start to come together until six ye...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Riverview

Sprouts Farmers Market to open new store in Riverview

RIVERVIEW ó Sprouts Farmers Market is opening a new location in Riverview, the chain announced Thursday. The new store will be located at Summerfield Crossing Shopping Center, though Sprouts did not have a specific opening date.The announcement comes...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Tampa Electric to shut down Big Bend coal unit that killed 5

Tampa Electric to shut down Big Bend coal unit that killed 5

APOLLO BEACH ó Tampa Electric Co. is taking a big step away from coal. The Tampa-based utility is spending $853 million to convert its coal-fired Unit 1 at its Big Bend Power Station to natural gas and retire coal-fired Unit 2 in 2021.Five workers di...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmonís was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmonís was a meeting place

Itís where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.Itís where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the programís biggest road games.Itís where folks showed up in...
Published: 05/24/18
An Amazon Echo recorded a familyís conversation, then sent it to a random person in their contacts, report says

An Amazon Echo recorded a familyís conversation, then sent it to a random person in their contacts, report says

A family in Portland, Oregon, received a nightmarish phone call two weeks ago."Unplug your Alexa devices right now," a voice on the other line said. "Youíre being hacked."Apparently, one of Amazon.comís Alexa-powered Echo devices in their house had s...
Published: 05/24/18
As home sale prices rise, a lack of homes makes it tough on buyers

As home sale prices rise, a lack of homes makes it tough on buyers

Home sale prices continued to rise both nationally and statewide in April as a prolonged dearth of available homes on the market is making it tough on buyers. A total of 24,804 single-family homes changed hands across Florida last month, up 4.1 perce...
Published: 05/24/18
Brink: A 25-cent hike in the federal gas tax is a rotten idea for Florida

Brink: A 25-cent hike in the federal gas tax is a rotten idea for Florida

No matter your politics, the proposed 25-cent hike in the federal gas tax is a lousy idea.Itís regressive, burdening the poor and working class more than the rich.Federal interference with state transportation projects can raise costs, layer on regul...
Published: 05/24/18
Tutor looks to empower athletes in Wesley Chapel

Tutor looks to empower athletes in Wesley Chapel

Rashay Hudson operates a tutoring business in Wesley Chapel, and NaDorian Hudson has played basketball his entire life, including in college and the ABA. Now, the husband and wife duo are combining their areas of expertise with a new program for kids...
Published: 05/24/18
Bar builder finds solid success in Tampa

Bar builder finds solid success in Tampa

TAMPA ó Ever since he was a little boy, Chris Davenport loved to build things with Legos and erector sets. As he grew older, he spent time working with his dad, a carpenter, and then took welding classes in high school. While in college studying engi...
Published: 05/24/18
Metro Diner brings fare to South Tampa

Metro Diner brings fare to South Tampa

Metro Diner, having already established several locations across Florida, including St. Petersburg, now brings its large portion-sized comfort food options across the bay.The local diner is slated to open Tuesday (May 29) at 4011 W Kennedy Blvd and w...
Published: 05/24/18