Energy Independence

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 12:38 AM EDT
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The Palisades Nuclear Power Plant on the lakeshore just south of South Haven is drawing national scrutiny now that it's been shut down for the eighth time in two years.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says the aging facility is a poster child for our nation's lack of a comprehensive long-term energy policy.


I don't know about you, but I don't take much comfort in the fact that the 80-or-so gallons of radioactive waste that leaked into Lake Michigan two weeks ago was, as the Palisades people described it, "highly diluted."

After all, that plant has been shut down a lot over the years—not just recently. And the people at Palisades have had tons of practice at projecting peaceful, easy feelings in the face of one unsettling problem after another.

But what can we really expect from a plant that was built more than 40 years ago at a cost of $180-million dollars—and now holds the dubious distinction of being one of the NRC's four worst nuclear plants in the United States.

It has entered the patch, patch, patch phase of its life span and the NRC is now making rumblings about giving it just four more years before pulling the plug. And whatever happens, its not to be taken lightly.

The Palisades reactor provides 18 to 30 percent of the electricity used in West Michigan. Some 600 people work there.

The lives of thousands of people hang in the balance.

But the truth is, the United States remains uncertain of where its headed in this 13th year of the 21st century.

We've long backed away from building nuclear power plants. They're deemed too dangerous after what happened in Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, and Fukushima.

Not to mention, they're enormously expensive--$5 to $10 billion each now—and return on investment is slow, and therefore kind of unpopular. But they produce no greenhouse gasses.

France, for the record, has about 60 nuclear plants—gets 80 percent of its energy from them—the highest in the world; and 85 percent of the reactors are owned by the government.

According to surveys, the French love their reactors.

On the other hand, in the U.K., a number of reactors were so unprofitable they could not even be sold, so they were actually given away to companies who wound up needing government bailouts to stay afloat.

In Germany, reactors are slotted, for now, anyway, to be decommissioned completely in the next nine years.

And in China, meantime, they're building them like crazy.

But we in the United States have no policy, no direction, no national sense where we're headed.

It's true and exciting that with new ways of finding abundant oil and natural gas reserves, we are quickly reducing our dependence on the middle east.

But both enterprises are ecologically problematic. From the very real fear of spills to the still-unknown hazards of fracking.

It's also true that we're learning more and more about the renewable powers of sun, wind and waves.

But we have no policy.

Maybe that's the way it ought to be: where things are determined by a free market; where entrepreneurs chart our energy futures. Where what's profitable will work.

But I have long wondered why we can't muster our best and brightest—to assemble, agonize, analyze, argue and chart a new energy direction for this country: One with focus; one that appreciates our environment as a legacy for our children; one that makes efficient and affordable use of what we have.

I hear politicians talk ad nauseum about achieving the American dream in this the greatest country the world has ever known.

There are a number of components to making any dream come true—and among them, not the least of them—is reliable, affordable energy.

And without the kind of road map into the future that a comprehensive energy policy would provide, it's reasonable to fear that we will wind up with energy that, while profitable to some, will be for the rest of us neither reliable nor affordable.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.
Energy Independence
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Business News

Last Update on April 23, 2014 17:17 GMT


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in seven months, a sign that real estate's spring buying season is off to a weak start.

The Commerce Department says sales of new homes declined 14.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000. That was the second straight monthly decline and the lowest rate since July 2013.

Sales plunged in the Midwest, South and West in March. But they rebounded in the Northeast, where snowstorms in previous months curtailed purchases.

New-home sales have declined 13.3 percent over the past 12 months.

But median sales prices jumped 12.6 percent during the past month to $290,000. That's because new-home buyers in March bought more high-end properties compared to previous months.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is cutting the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to help reduce black lung disease.

Top Labor Department officials are unveiling the long-awaited rule Wednesday at an event in Morgantown, W.Va.

Black lung is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust. The government estimates that the disease has killed more than 76,000 miners since 1968.

The rule lowers the maximum levels of coal dust in mines. It also increases dust sampling in the mines, and requires coal operators to take immediate action when dust levels are high. The requirements will be phased in over two years.

The administration first proposed the rule back in 2010.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's tobacco companies and the Justice Department are including black media outlets in court-ordered advertisements that say the cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking.

A federal judge in 2006 ordered the industry to pay for the corrective statements in various advertisements in newspapers, as well as on TV, websites and cigarette pack inserts.

The brief filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday revises a January agreement outlining the details of those ads to address concerns raised by the judge and black media groups.

The groups had argued the ads should be disseminated through their outlets because the black community has been disproportionally targeted by tobacco companies.

The new agreement proposes more newspapers and TV networks that have greater reach to the black community.


NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit by the European Union alleging that U.S. tobacco company R.J. Reynolds sponsored cigarette smuggling in Europe.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled Wednesday that the European Union and 26 of its member states were within their rights to sue in U.S. courts.

The lawsuit alleges that RJR directed, managed and controlled a global money-laundering scheme with organized crime groups. It said the company laundered money through New York-based financial institutions.

The lawsuit had been tossed out by a Brooklyn judge. But the appeals court says a racketeering law can apply to a foreign enterprise or conduct outside the U.S.

Lawyers did not immediately return messages for comment.

Reynolds American Inc. is based in Winston-Salem, N.C.


BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union says Greece has reached a major financial milestone that was required if it were to be granted more debt relief.

European Commission spokesman Simon O'Connor said Wednesday that Greece's government revenues last year exceeded expenditure when interest payment and other items were excluded.

He says Greece's so-called primary budget surplus of 1.5 billion euros ($2.1 billion), or 0.8 percent of its annual gross domestic product, is "well ahead of the 2013 target."

Greece's international creditors have said a primary surplus will entitle Greece to further debt relief. Discussions are set to be concluded in the second half of the year.

Most analysts expect the eurozone to lower the interest rates Greece pays on its loans or be granted another extension on when they have to be repaid.


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Business activity in Europe has risen to its highest level in three years as a once-shaky economic recovery gains speed.

The Markit survey of purchasing managers, a closely watched gauge of business activity, climbed to 54.0 in April from 53.1 in March. That's the highest reading since May, 2011. Anything over 50 indicates expansion.

Analysts said Wednesday's figures, which cover both services and manufacturing companies, showed that the moderate recovery was showing increasing strength in the 18 countries that share the euro.

Alarmingly low inflation of only 0.5 percent and high unemployment have raised fears the rebound was too weak to sustain itself and would require more stimulus from the European Central Bank.

The eurozone grew by a quarterly rate of 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.


TORONTO (AP) -- Canada says it will require a three-year phase out of the type of tank cars involved in the Quebec train derailment last summer that killed 47.

Last July, a runaway oil train derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Forty-seven people were incinerated and 30 buildings destroyed.

A government official confirmed the phase out of the DOT-111 tanker cars used to carry oil and other flammable liquids. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Canada's Transport Minister will announce new rules later Wednesday in response to recommendations by Canada's Transportation Safety Board in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The DOT-111 tank car is considered the workhorse of the North American fleet and makes up about 70 percent of all tankers on the rails.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Just over a month after buying Beechcraft for $1.4 billion, Textron announced 750 job cuts at that company and at its Cessna division.

The layoffs will occur over the next 60 days. Both aircraft makers are based in Wichita, Kan.

Management and non-management jobs will be eliminated, the company said.

Textron Inc., based in Providence, R.I., expects about $4.6 billion in annual revenue from the combination of Cessna and Beechcraft.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Postal workers plan protests in 27 states Thursday against the opening of postal counters in Staples stores that are staffed with Staples employees.

Last year, Staples office supply stores began providing postal services under a pilot program that now includes some 80 stores. The American Postal Workers Union objects because the program replaces well-paid union workers with low-wage nonunion workers.

The union says that could lead to layoffs and the closing of post offices. In a statement, the union said postal workers "have taken an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail," unlike poorly trained retail workers. The union wants the counters staffed by uniformed postal workers.

The financially struggling U.S. Postal Service has been working to form partnerships with private companies as it tries to cut costs and boost revenues.

Washington Times