Friday, September 04, 2015

Nuclear by Northwest

energy_northwestAfter our visit to the northwest a couple of days ago (or posts below) why not stay in the rainy kingdom for awhile? It’s kind of interesting up there these days.

Washington State is in a good position because nearly all of our electricity generation is clean. Most comes from hydropower or the Columbia Generating Station, our nuclear plant, or wind. There is already a plan to phase out coal generation in the state. That alone should enable Washington to achieve our target.
This is Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann speaking to Bloomberg News. He is saying something that has been missing of coverage of the Clean Power Plan. It’s this: hydro and wind are very important to reduce CO2 emissions. And so, insists Reddemann, is nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is not a martyr or a victim nor does it require special pleading. The point is that nuclear energy answers in a big way to the goals of the Clean Power Plan, a point that has often been ignored in the press.
Reddemann redresses the balance:
The Clean Power Plan does have the potential to be effective in reducing carbon emissions from U.S. electricity generating resources, mostly by moving utilities away from coal generation to natural gas, nuclear and renewables. But we need to be seriously thinking about the alternatives for utilities that rely heavily on coal generation, which is a base load resource. Wind and solar are not viable replacements for that capacity. Natural gas is the current go-to replacement, but it emits carbon as well.
Nuclear, both the large plants that are being built in the southeast, and in 10 years, small modular reactors, can provide the capacity electricity grids need, and the carbon-free generation to meet Clean Power Plan goals. We need to do more to help make that happen.
With NuScale over the border in Oregon, it does seem that the northwest is becoming a regular modular alley for small reactors. It’ll be interesting to see what Energy Northwest does in this regard.
Of course, Reddemann heads a company that operates a nuclear facility. The importance of his point lies in the statistics: 68. 8 percent of Washington’s electricity is generated by hydro power, 7.8 percent renewable and 7.5 percent nuclear. Nuclear energy is not the solution to CO2 emission reduction, it is a solution.
That’s important in keeping options open in what promises to be a large transition in the energy profile of the United States. It’s good Bloomberg caught this aspect of the Reddemann interview and gave it some breathing space.
Unfortunately, Hamlet’s quote that provides the title doesn’t quite hit the right tone: “I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”  Maybe we should do something with the hawk-handsaw thing.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Why Diablo Canyon is Safe from Earthquake and Tsunami

Every once in a while NEI's media team has to call out a journalist for egregiously unbalanced coverage. Today is one such day. Jenner Deal, “reporting” for Business Insider, produced a wildly unbalanced video, replete with anti-nuclear activist views and horror-film ominous sound, in labeling the Diablo Canyon Power Plant a "Fukushima waiting to happen."

The report wasn't entirely erroneous -- Deal got Diablo's acreage, location, and surrounding population correct. But thereafter her reporting lapses badly into anti-nuclear activism. "Many fear that a single earthquake could cause a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster," Deal claims in the intro to her video. Actually, very few outside of California's anti-nuclear activist community do; scores of independent geologists and seismologists who've studied the site do not. Nor does the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has the authority to shut down Diablo Canyon or any other nuclear power plant in the U.S. if it isn't operating safely.

In attempting to link Diablo Canyon with Fukushima Daichii, Deal omits a number of important distinctions. Most basically, she fails to thoroughly examine that seismic and tsunami safety are continually evaluated at Diablo Canyon. In March 2015, two new studies confirmed that the plant’s design can withstand severe natural events, including earthquakes and tsunamis. For example, a new tsunami study predicts that the largest wave that could impact the plant site is about 30 feet high. Diablo Canyon sits 85 feet above sea level. Compare that to Daichii, which resided just 20 feet above ocean level. And Diablo, like all of the U.S. fleet, has notable backup safety systems in place that Japanese plants in 2011 did not.

It's also worth noting that as Japan begins to restart its commercial nuclear operations this fall that industry there incorporated many of the best safety practices long in place at nuclear plants in the U.S. Nuclear energy facilities here were designed and built with extra safety margin, in part to be able to withstand an earthquake even beyond the strongest ever recorded in the region for each site. And over the past decades, each time new seismic information became available, plant operators have confirmed, and in many cases, enhanced the facility’s seismic protection.

Diablo Canyon, located along California’s Central Coast, is understandably a subject of interest when it comes to seismic and tsunami safety. However, the plant is unique in that it maintains a Long Term Seismic Program, staffed with professional scientists, who continually partner with independent experts to ensure the plant is safe. As a result of this program, the seismic region around the plant is perhaps the most studied and understood seismic region in the country.

Between 2010-2013, PG&E conducted advanced seismic research by land and sea to further document the seismic characteristics of the fault zones in the region surrounding Diablo Canyon. The final report, completed in 2014, has given scientists and regulators an unprecedented view into the earth’s crust that significantly increases our understanding of the seismic characteristics near Diablo Canyon. Most importantly, it confirmed that the plant remains seismically safe.

It’s unfortunate that Deal either glossed over these facts or decided not to pursue them altogether. Her final product invites the interpretation that the fix was in for a hit piece from the beginning.

For a truly informative treatment of how Diablo Canyon was designed to withstand natural events, check out this video:  




After the Ball: NuScale and Its Small Reactor Expo

PrintHere’s something that might have been kind of fun to attend if you were rambling around Oregon in August:

NuScale Power announced today that it will host the first NuScale Exposition (also known as NuEx) on August 20 and 21, 2015 in Corvallis, Oregon. NuEx will provide the opportunity to learn more about the US leader in small module reactor (SMR) development, tour its facilities, talk with senior executives and interface with suppliers, investors and state and federal legislators.

NuScale also hosted a gala dinner featuring “some of the finest wines of Oregon.” I was happy to read in NuScale’s follow-up press release that our old friend, Washington state Rep. Sharon Brown, was able to make it over the state line to try out some fine Oregon wine:

“[S]mall modular reactors are not your grandpa’s nuclear. They are emerging technologies built on existing designs. New nuclear is smaller, safer, and carbon-free.”

Smaller, sure. Safer? Well, when the legislature is out of session, Brown herself works at the Hanford site where the Columbia Generating Station is sited. I’m sure she’d agree it’s safe. But she’s saying nice things about her host, so that’s fine.

Why zero in on an Expo that’s passed? Well, it explains some of the attention NuScale’s been getting in the press, presumably a motivation for the Expo. We liked that the company’s hometown paper, The Corvallis Gazette, is  supportive if lightly skeptical (which is about the right mix for a journalistic enterprise). Its editorial on the expo mentions Fukushima and invites comment from Greenpeace, but concludes thusly:

But the company may benefit from another factor: Nuclear power doesn’t generate any carbon emissions, so if you’re looking for power sources that don’t contribute to climate change, you have to at least give some thought to this new generation of nuclear reactor.

It goes a little further:

In fact, the Obama administration’s new policy aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants may have the result of encouraging people to look harder at nuclear power as an important option for the 21st century.

Indeed, just so. But attention to the Expo was surprisingly far-flung and exceptionally positive in tone. For example, consider this from the Albany (N.Y.) Democrat-Herald:

How big is the market potential? The numbers are breathtaking.

According to feasibility study released last year by the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory, global demand for SMR energy generation could be 55 to 75 gigawatts by 2035 (excluding Russia, which is assumed to be closed to foreign suppliers).

That equates to between 1,100 and 1,500 NuScale power modules, the company’s chief financial officer, Jay Surina, told the audience at NuEx. Assuming a 25 percent market share and a 10-year deployment time frame, he predicted the company could be turning out 28 to 38 modules a year.

This is a long article, but well worth the read. Speaking of far flung, this article in Wind Power Engineering grazes against NuScale:

The Senator [Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.] further suggests the nation should build nuclear reactors instead of wind farms. He’s actually half right: We should be building small modular reactors (SMRs) powered by thorium along with wind farms because consumers expect inexpensive power 24/7. As the EPA shutters coal fired plants, natural gas and wind will pick up demand for some time to come.

SMRs will get here, eventually. Utah’s Associated Municipal Power Systems and NuScale Power in Oregon say they are planning a 600 MW nuclear plant of 12, 50-MW SMRs.

Naturally, this is much more wind-friendly piece, making its endorsement of small reactors especially interesting.

Whether it’s NuScale, Babcock & Wilcox, Holtec, TerraPower or the number of other companies promoting small reactor technologies, promoting the idea of small reactors can only be positive. (We’d say technology rather than idea, but that’s a bit reductive, as most of the designs are quite different from one another.) But the idea is a good one and seems to be gaining traction – and the expo clearly worked very well in bringing attention to where it can do some good.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Teamwork Keeps Plant Workers Safe at Beaver Valley

Claudia Sacha works as a radiation protection services supervisor at Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa.

Claudia and Dustin Van Dame, senior nuclear specialist,  review dosimeter processing information.
Claudia and Dustin Van Dame, senior nuclear specialist,
review dosimeter processing information. 
As a supervisor in Nuclear Radiation Protection Services, Claudia leads a team of eight employees, and to her, leadership means “respecting people, earning the trust of others, finding value in each person, taking ownership of undesired outcomes, and genuinely listening.”

Claudia’s supervisory role includes dosimetry, respiratory protection and radiation protection-related technical issues. Claudia and her team also are responsible for radiation protection software, the most notable being the software that logs employees in and out of radiologically controlled areas and tracks their radiation dose.

“The most challenging part of my job is balancing the need to operate and perform plant maintenance with the principles of radiation protection. The goal is to ensure safe, reliable plant operation as well as sound radiological safety practice. We have a great team that manages roles, communicates effectively and offers support to each other. We also have a strong ability to work through any challenges.”

When asked what she likes best about her job, Claudia said she enjoys being able to work with many areas. “As a support organization, we have the opportunity to interact with many other disciplines; I enjoy that interaction and being able to provide support to ensure smooth plant operations.”

And here’s an interesting note: Last year, Claudia and her team processed 3,123 dosimeters (to measure radiation dose), and reviewed every result before submitting the data to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now that’s teamwork!

The above post by FirstEnergy is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Recognizing Clean Nuclear Plants in the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan will be with us for a long time and will be discussed pro and con for months and years. One aspect of the plan that stands out is its rather bizarre notion that all currently running nuclear plants will keep running, thus continuing to contribute emission-free electricity.
The EPA is likewise not finalizing the proposal to include a component representing preserved existing nuclear generation in the BSER [best system of emission reduction]. On further consideration, we believe it is inappropriate to base the BSER on elements that will not reduce CO2 missions from affected EGUs [electric utility generating units] below current levels. Existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.
EPA also says it cannot know which nuclear facilities might close due to economic issues and thus cannot credit them. “[W]e believe that it is inappropriate to base the BSER in part on the premise that the preservation of existing low-or zero-carbon generation, as opposed to the production of incremental, low-or zero- carbon generation, could reduce CO2 emissions from current levels.”
Of course, closing nuclear plants sets back the overall effort.  Nuclear (and hydro, too, for that matter) have done most of the heavy lifting on emission reduction over the last decades and together produce about 25 percent of U.S. electricity generation and 63 percent of zero-carbon electricity.
Let’s see how NEI addresses this:
“We are disappointed, however, that the ‘best system of emission reduction’ in the final rule does not incorporate the carbon-abatement value of existing nuclear power plants—the largest source of carbon-free electricity. This is surprising since EPA clearly recognized in the proposed rule that some of these plants are at risk of premature shutdown. 
“In the final rule, EPA notes correctly that ‘existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels.’ What the final rule fails to recognize is that CO2 emissions will be significantly higher if existing nuclear power plants shut down prematurely.
That’s the crux of it. If a plant closes, you lose its benefits.
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The Third Way tries a quantitative approach to this issue with a report called “When Nuclear Ends: How Nuclear Retirements Might Undermine Clean Power Plan Progress,” done in collaboration with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Right on point, isn’t it?  Here’s the conclusion:
If America’s nuclear plants begin retiring in droves, achieving the Clean Power Plan emissions reductions could be impossible.
Depending on different scenarios, emissions could go up 12.5 percent or more from this year if reactors retire after their initial 40-year license expires. These are enormous increases, equivalent to adding up to 76 million cars to the road, or about 30 percent of vehicles registered in America today. 2025 emissions would revert to close to 2005 levels, undermining progress towards a lower-carbon energy system.
Most economic projections in all fields do scenarios because, of course, we cannot predict the future, we can only show what might happen. The Energy Information Administration uses as its baseline the current situation projected forwards.
Read the whole report to understand its methodology better. The bottom line is this: you cannot have nuclear energy plants close and not pay a significant price in emission reduction goals. Third Way demonstrates this pretty definitively.
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Here’s the thing: anyone can write anything – and make a pretty darn convincing case - but nothing beats the experiential. That is, what happens with emissions when a country closes a nuclear plant or reopens one. We wrote about the restart of Japan’s Sendai nuclear facility last week. Here’s a germane tidbit on that event:
When operating Sendai 1 avoids the emission of more than six million tons of carbon dioxide each year, compared to coal-fired generation.
And I guess three million tons compared to natural gas. And that’s one reactor! Six million tons coal, three million tons natural gas, zero nuclear. And Japan turned on some of its oil burning plants, too. It’s doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see how the Clean Power Plan has missed a beat – several beats - here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nuclear Powers On in the Texas Heat While Wind Wilts

Michael Purdie
The following is a guest post by NEI's Michael Purdie.

Major cities in Texas were subject to numerous 100 degree-plus days this month. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin all had record setting electricity demand. If you have ever been to these cities during one of these days, it’s hot and there is very little breeze to cool you down.

The most extreme day for the grid was August 13, when power prices peaked above $1,000/MWh. When this occurs, the grid operator (in this case, ERCOT) takes action. ERCOT called for conservation measures because electricity reserves were below 2,500 MWs during the peak.

Why did this occur? Simple. The wind generating units in Texas produced less than 20% of what they’re capable of providing. By operating at less than a 20% capacity factor, wind units provided 633 MWs of power less than what ERCOT predicted during the daily peak demand. The chart below depicts the planned and actual wind generation during hours of the day. The power price curve is positively correlated with electricity demand. This graph shows that when wind resources are most plentiful is also when the electricity is least valuable.

Source: Platts Megawatt Daily, Aug. 17, 2015

A representative of a fossil fuel generator told Platts Megawatt Daily that gas and coal were operating at approximately 90% of their potential. What did better? Texas’ four nuclear reactors (two each at the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak) operated at 100% for the whole week. These four reactors provided nearly 5,000 MW of electricity when Texans needed it most. Assuming a 90% capacity factor over one year, the four Texas reactors provide power for 2.74 million people. This is roughly equal to the population of Dallas and San Antonio combined.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Nuclear Energy for This Generation, and Beyond

Tiffany Williams is a security operations supervisor at Entergy’s Waterford 3 nuclear facility and has worked in the nuclear industry for more than 18 years. She started her career as a fire watch contractor and held other positions increasing in responsibility including nuclear security officer and alarm station operator.

Tiffany Williams
Tiffany Williams

I owe my love of nuclear power to my father. As a child, I remember him coming home from work and sharing stories of what he did that day. We were fascinated because it was like nothing else we heard before. He was actually making history by helping build Waterford 3 – Louisiana’s first nuclear power plant.

Throughout the construction period, my father would explain the importance of what he was building. The Waterford 3 Steam Electric Station would provide safe, clean and reliable electricity for Louisianans. It would also provide great paying jobs and local community support. To fully understand the importance of Waterford 3, he made sure I visited the Entergy Education Center so I could see firsthand how nuclear power is produced. I’ve been intrigued ever since.

So, it was a pretty proud moment when I began working at the plant in 1992 during a refueling outage – alongside my father.

Since then, I’ve grown a rewarding career in Waterford 3’s security organization. I play an important role as a security supervisor, responsible for the overall protection of the plant and station personnel to ensure the public’s trust is maintained while safely and reliably providing electricity.

Nuclear power plants take security very seriously. Waterford 3’s security organization continually challenges each other to stay ahead of any potential threat. No one person in the security organization can operate alone. We depend on each other to do what has been instinctively taught through standardized training – observe, report, react and respond.
Tiffany Williams and her father
Tiffany and her father
Our security force must meet the rigorous standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. We do this by completing hundreds of hours of training prior to joining the security organization and then we complete regular testing and drill requirements, including participation in large scale force-on-force exercises designed to test our defensive capabilities. 

Our job is to protect the plant, its workers and the community from any potential threat. We do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

I’m proud to be a second generation nuclear worker. Just like my father, I will continue to educate people about the safe, reliable and clean air energy generated from nuclear. It’s important for America’s energy future.

The above post by Entergy is a part of NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion which showcases the innovators within the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Radiation All Around Us All the Time

2005. Former U.S. President Jimmy CarterThe dreadful recent news about former President Jimmy Carter brought back happier memories. Some years ago, my wife and I stood next to and chatted with the then-Governor of Georgia and  First Lady while waiting to get into a concert at Atlanta’s Omni complex. I wouldn’t call it the most memorable moment in my life, but it doesn’t have to be to be fondly recalled.

Carter was dipping into a bag of boiled peanuts – a southern specialty I then considered foul – and we compared notes on various music halls and local bands. The Carters were likely more familiar with Macon than Atlanta at the time, but they had clearly canvassed the local music scene – and knew more about it than we did – and we were the college students.

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President Carter’s treatment at Emory University has already begun and radiation therapy will be part of it.

Thursday afternoon, Carter was to undergo radiation treatment.

On Wednesday, the hospital fitted him with a mask that will hold his head perfectly still to make sure the radiation goes into the right places in his brain. "Focused radiation as compared to general radiation has shown some success," said Dr. Manmeet Ahluwalia. "That they are really small makes it more likely that these lesions can be controlled."

I’ve read elsewhere that this kind of treatment, combined with medicines, does not always completely clear the cancer, but can make the disease manageable, as AZT does with AIDs. We nervously but hopefully await a good outcome.

We wish President and Mrs. Carter all the best.

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Time has stolen away some of the fear traditionally associated with radiation. In the 50s, radiation was often used in movies to enlarge people and animals to monstrous proportions, but, in case you haven’t noticed, that hasn’t happened in real life. And the medical uses of radiation have saved or lengthened many lives, as we hope it will for President Carter.

Radiation may not carry quite as potent a charge as it once did because people recognize that it is everywhere around us all the time and it always has been. That’s the idea Gizmodo author Maddie Stone runs with, with a dose, so to speak, of the unexpected places ionizing radiation is found. These include: bananas, concrete, cigarettes, and water. You name it, there’s likely to be ionizing radiation in or around it.

You will often see mSv as the unit used for representing radiation dose. Sieverts measure the biological impact of ionizing radiation, with one sievert considered potent enough to induce radiation poisoning in a human being. That’s a lot of radiation, though, making the unit problematic as a measuring instrument – every use of it would almost always be expressed as a decimal. Enter the millisievert: it is much more useful and manageable, representing 1/1000 of a sievert. All the items on Gizmodo’s list carry a relatively small number of millisieverts, which makes comparing one against another easy.

This is a “More You Know” kind of article and it’s information is worth knowing. Anything that helps people understand radiation is a plus – for the nuclear industry, of course, but just for general knowledge, too. Many of us have benefited from radiation in our real lives and know it; it is worth saying it and learning more about it.