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IAEA Gives Japan Passing Grades, But Not an A

Not so very long ago, we mentioned that Japan invited in the International Atomic Energy Agency to review its stress tests at its nuclear energy facilities. Now, there’s news of how that went:The team began its work on 23 January and delivered a Preliminary Summary Report to Japanese officials today and plans to finish the final report by the end of February.So what’d it say? Here’s the good news:Based on NISA instructions and commitments of the utilities, emergency safety measures were promptly addressed in Japanese NPPs following the accident on 11 March 2011; NISA's practice of conducting an independent walkdown of emergency measures implemented at nuclear power plants enhances confidence that plants and operators can respond effectively during an emergency; and By observing European stress tests, NISA is demonstrating its commitment to improving Japanese nuclear safety by gaining experience from other countries. NISA is Japan’s NRC. NISA has been severely criticized for its co…

Nuclear Plants and Red Lights

Here’s the headline in the Sioux City (IA) Journal. I’m not sure what it means, though it seems to mean something. Nuclear power, red-light camera bills could be on Iowa legislative agendaI mean that nuclear power is given parity with the camera bill. Here’s what that’s about:A bill likely to come before the House Transportation Committee Feb. 2 could be a financial risk to lead-footed drivers. That's HF 2048 sponsored by Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, to ban red-light and speed cameras in Iowa. It calls for all existing cameras to be removed by July 1.So far the debate has pitted law enforcement and city officials against personal liberty interests."How much of a police state do we want to have?" Rogers asked at a hearing where his bill won subcommittee backing.What pops into my head is: how many traffic lights are there in Iowa?But really, we came for the lights and stayed for the energy:Example One [of controversial legislation – banning traffic light cameras is the…

Reporting on the BRC Report

The NEI coverage of the Blue Ribbon Commission final report is below this post and gives a good summary of industry response. We’d thought we’d take a look at some of the coverage in the press and see how it is playing around the country. These are news stories, so we’re not gauging reaction, as we would with editorials, just the accuracy and usefulness of the reporting.And some are better than others. The TriCity [Wash.] Herald, using the AP story as a base, sort of misses the boat with this lede:The United States should immediately start looking for an alternative to replace the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which cost an estimated $15 billion but was never completed, a presidential commission said Thursday. It’s not wrong exactly, but the stress on Yucca Mountain suggests the commission had something to say about it. In fact, it had nothing specific to say about it and, if Yucca Mountain were determined to still be the best locale for a central used fuel reposi…

US Panel Recommends New Strategies for Managing Used Nuclear Fuel

The following article was published yesterday by Nuclear Energy Overview, NEI's member-only publication.

Jan. 26, 2012—Enumerating shortcomings of the nation’s used fuel management program, a federal government panel this week recommended eight steps to improve it.

Among them, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future said in a report issued today, is that levies on nuclear energy that American consumers have been paying for years should be fully available to a new organization created to manage the federal government’s used nuclear fuel program.

The commission also recommended development of at least one consolidated storage facility for used nuclear fuel.

Congressional hearings on a new used fuel management organization should begin “as soon as possible,” the commission said.

The panel also addressed the fund created to manage the program.

Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the government has been assessing utilities—which have in turn assessed their rate payers—a f…

BRC Releases Final Report; Japan Invites in IAEA

I’d give you a link to the final report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future at its site at brc.gov, but that has been flooded and is not responsive. But NEI has you covered. Go here to get a copy of the report. The BRC says the report hews pretty closely to the draft report released last summer – our coverage of that is here with some useful links. We’ll have lots more to say about the final report, I’m sure, but for now, reading glasses on.--- The Japanese government has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop by and double check the stress tests it has been conduction on its fleet. Specifically, the Japanese want the IAEA to visit Oi, its third largest nuclear facility. Why have the IAEA do this?Seeking to assuage public misgivings about nuclear-plant safety, government and nuclear industry officials have sought to use "stress tests" that gauge resilience to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. The invitation to the IAEA is…

New Report Falsely Claims Nuclear Plants Leaking Radioactive Materials Into Ground Water Supplies

Sound the alarm bells—a new report by Environment America and U.S. PIRG wrongly claims that nuclear plants pose a threat to ground water supplies in the United States. The report, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water,” states:
With 49 million Americans drawing their drinking water from areas within 50 miles of nuclear power plants—and with three-quarters of all U.S. nuclear power plants already leaking radioactivity into groundwater supplies—it is time for the U.S. to move toward cleaner, safer and cheaper alternatives for our energy needs. It comes as no surprise that four authors without environmental monitoring backgrounds are pushing their own agenda—to shut down all U.S. nuclear plants—and distorting the facts about the industry’s ground water protection initiatives to support their case.

Let’s review the facts:

First, the nuclear industry considers any unintended release of radioactive materials to be unacceptable. Period. This is why the industry h…

Nuclear Up, Emissions Down: The EIA Outlook

The U.S. Energy Information Administration sees incremental growth in nuclear energy capacity through 2035 in its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012) reference case, which has just been released.Nuclear generating capacity in the reference case increases from 101 gigawatts in 2011 to 112 gigawatts in 2035, with 10 gigawatts of new capacity due to 5 new plants, 7 gigawatts of uprates at existing plants and 6 gigawatts of retirements, according to the report. This is one gigawatt more than projected in the AEO 2011 reference case.At the same time, it forecasts CO2 emissions rising 0.2 percent per year during this period, or about 4.9 percent in total. While the rise in nuclear capacity is good news, the news about carbon emissions is a little disturbing, at least at first glance. A forecast – and there are a bunch of them, though this is the most prominent for U.S. policy makers - can be a little confusing the first time you tackle it. That’s because, as these charts show, the Energy …

Groundwater Study Co-Authors Lack Scientific Credentials

Here at NEI, my colleagues and I have been batting around a press release from Environment America and U.S. PIRG claiming that nuclear power plants represent a threat ground water from leaks of tritium. The report is titled, “Too Close to Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water.”

From where we sit, the story seems a lot like one that the AP pushed out in June 2011 about the subject. The public needs to know that there has been no known adverse impact on public health or safety from a tritium release at commercial nuclear power plants.

While we'll have more on that later, it's also important to point out that the four co-authors of this study lack any scientific credentials.
Jennifer Kim of U.S. PIRG has a degree in history from the University of Michigan; According to her own MySpace page, Courtney Abrams of Environment America graduated with a degree in Psychology from Wake Forest;

Her Environment America colleague Rob Kerth has a BA in history from Yale;
Sean Gar…

DOE Moves Forward on Small Reactors

Writer Reese Palley has quite a little rant going on at the Philadelphia Inquirer:Unfortunately, all the arguments for developing and licensing small, modular nuclear reactors fell on deaf ears at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission has no immediate plans even to begin assessing traveling wave or any other small nuclear technology.It is not as if mini-nuclear technologies are experimental and unproven. [etc.]Palley is the author of The Answer: Why Only Inherently Safe Mini Nuclear Power Plants Can Save Our World, which I haven’t read. He certainly wants you to know he’s all over those small reactors.Unfortunately, though, his piece was published today. So was this, at the Department of Energy’s site:The U.S. Department of Energy today announced the first step toward manufacturing small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in the United States, demonstrating the Administration’s commitment to advancing U.S. manufacturing leadership in low-carbon, next generation energy technol…

A Win for Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee wins:Vermont’s only nuclear plant can remain open beyond its originally scheduled shutdown date this year, despite the state’s efforts to close the 40-year-old reactor, a federal judge ruled Thursday.In February 2010, Entergy, Vermont Yankee’s owner, discover a tritium leak at the plant. Tritium is a mildly radioactive form of hydrogen that is incorporated into water molecules. It is found in nature and as a byproduct of fission processes. Health effects are minimal and present only if ingested in large amounts. In any event, none leaked outside the plant nor was there any measureable amount in drinking water at the plant. Regardless, in March, the state legislature voted to close the plant due to the leak.Now, that was controversial. In all instances, only the NRC can close a plant due to a safety concern. But Vermont and Entergy had signed an agreement that said the plant could operate only if the state issued a certain document – the March vote essentially withheld t…

Aftermath of Frontline's “Nuclear Aftershocks”

Yesterday afternoon Miles O’Brien, correspondent for Tuesday night’s FRONTLINE piece “Nuclear Aftershocks,” and producer Jon Palfreman held a live chat with the public on reactions to the documentary and overall opinions as to what the future holds for nuclear energy in the United States. What did the public decide? Well, according to an unscientific poll taken from the audience during the chat—keep building more nuclear plants!


Their opinions closely mirrored our October 2011 public opinion poll which found that 62 percent of respondents said they favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States.

The chat’s audience also said that their opinions about nuclear power were not influenced by Tuesday night’s documentary:


This survey result really only proves one thing—that people are generally distrustful of media reports, but interested enough in the subject matter to take part in an online chat at 1 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon!

During t…

Germany and the Nuclear Self-Trap Conundrum

Nuclear energy isn’t a trap for the unwary. When a country decides to invest in nuclear energy, it does so knowing the risks and benefits. If it invests heavily in nuclear energy – think France, Germany, Russia, China, The U.S. - it has done a good deal of study over many years to determine the value of the decision. Public support for nuclear energy certainly took a significant hit after the accident at  Japans’ Fukushima Daiichi plant, but even that has begun to moderate.Public support for nuclear power appears to have bounced back in the UK after falling sharply in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, a survey showed today.The Ipsos MORI poll of almost 1,000 adults across Britain revealed half of those questioned (50%) supported the building of new nuclear plants in the UK to replace the current generation of reactors which are being shut down.That’s what makes Germany’s decision to close its nuclear energy facilities so fascinating. Of course, you’d expect nuclear energy advoc…

Frontline to Host Online Chat on "Nuclear Aftershocks" at 1:00 p.m. EST

The team at Frontline is hosting a live online chat today about last night's airing of "Nuclear Aftershocks" at 1:00 p.m. today. Some details:
What’s the future of nuclear after Fukushima? Can the world’s faith in nuclear energy be restored? Or could another Fukishima-like disaster bring the nuclear age to an end? Is a nuclear plant near you at risk?

Veteran science reporter Miles O’Brien and producer Jon Palfreman have been digging into these issues for the past year. We asked them to join us for a live chat to discuss these questions and take yours.

Spencer Reiss, a contributing editor at WIRED who specializes in energy issues, will be our guest questioner.Click here to join the chat.

Former Frontline Science Advisor Blasts "Nuclear Aftershocks"

I've been perusing some of the comment strings over at Frontline since "Nuclear Aftershocks" aired last night, and I came across this comment from Neil Todreas, a professor at M.I.T who says he worked as a science advisor on last night's program. Todreas also served as co-chair of the Indian Point Independent Safety Evaluation Panel.

To say that his comment is illuminating would be a serious understatement. Please note I've inserted some line breaks in the copy in order to enhance readability:
The portion of the Frontline story which starts with the Fukushima accident is a worthwhile public service. However, as an initial scientific advisor to the team producing this show, I found the lack of accuracy and balance in the second half of the story covering the Indian Point reactor disturbing. The statement that that reactor lies "right on the faults" is not accurate, and the portrayal of the potential activity of the seismic faults by Professor Sykes is not …

On Frontline, Indian Point and the Ramopo Fault

On tonight's program, we're hearing a lot about the Ramopo fault, but we're not hearing a lot from experts who disagree with Columbia University seismologist Lynn Sykes and his conclusions about earthquake risk around Indian Point Energy Center.

But back in March 2011, the Journal Newsdid ask those questions:
But the U.S. Geological Survey — one of the nation's foremost research labs — said geologic evidence about the Ramapo Fault is "insufficient to demonstrate the existence of tectonic faulting or ... slip or deformation."

It didn't even include the fault in calculations of earthquake hazards in 2008.

Geology professor Alec Gates put it more succinctly: "The Ramapo Fault is dead," said Gates, chairman of Earth and environmental sciences at Rutgers University. "It was a big fault in the old days, but not anymore."...

What differentiates this region from more earthquake-prone areas, experts say, is that it lies in the middle of the North Am…

Follow Us on Twitter During Frontline's Nuclear Aftershocks

We're just sitting down to watch Frontline and its "Nuclear Aftershocks" report. We'll be following the conversation on Twitter in real time on our main NEI feed (@N_E_I) beginning at 10:00 p.m. EST. You can follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag, #Frontline. Please join in.

UPDATE: We've just finished watching the report, and you can take a look at what we tweeted by peeking at our timeline. Overall, Miles O'Brien and the Frontline team got some things right, especially when it came to the environmental and economic consequences of getting rid of nuclear energy on a global scale.

On the other hand, there were portions of the report where significant omissions were made in terms of emergency preparedness, license renewal and the proven slow-moving character of nuclear incidents.

As for next steps, I'm going home to watch the program one more time on my DVR to take some notes and then head to bed. Thanks to all our friends online who joined in t…

Transcript of Interview Between Entergy's Joe Pollock and Miles O'Brien of Frontline

For those of you who are watching the Frontline report, "Nuclear Aftershocks," we wanted to share with you a transcript of an interview that Frontline's Miles O'Brien conducted with Joe Pollock on December 1, 2011 (click here to download).
At the time, Joe, who is now working here at NEI as a loaned employee, was working as Vice President of Operations for Indian Point Energy Center. The audio file the transcript was derived from comes in at just over one hour, so we clearly anticipate that not nearly everything that Joe said to O'Brien will be included in tonight's program.
Still, we thought it could serve as a handy guide to some of the sausage making behind news reporting. Feel free to peruse it at your leisure.

On Frontline, Nuclear Aftershocks and Renewing the Operating License at Indian Point

Just picked up this clip from The Daily Courtland. In it, Frontline's Miles O'Brien repeats a common misconception about nuclear power plants:
“The reality is, Indian Point’s technology is not cutting edge, it’s old,” correspondent Miles O’Brien says in the documentary. The documentary shows scenes of the Village of Buchanan, Mayor Sean Murray and inside Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants, discussing the relicensing of the 40-year-old plants.Again, I refer back to the transcript of the December 1, 2011 interview that O'Brien conducted with Joe Pollock, then Vice President of Operations with Indian Point Energy Center:
MR. O’BRIEN: 60 years seems like a long time to run a plant. And I’ve even heard some people say, hey, maybe we can go 80 years with some of these plants. First of all, did you take a position on that yet? Or are you still –

MR. POLLOCK: No, we have already – we’re working on 20 years. And when the plants were designed, they built for the 40 year life cycl…

Some Notes On Frontline, Indian Point and Emergency Preparedness

Tonight, PBS will be airing a new episode of Frontline entitled, "Nuclear Aftershocks," a look at the world's reaction to the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. Here on the East Coast, the program will begin at 10:00 p.m. EST.
As we noted at NEI Nuclear Notes last week, the nuclear industry cooperated extensively with Frontline on the broadcast, and over the past few days, we've been getting a better idea on the direction of the program.
A good portion of the program deals with Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) and the question of whether or not the sort of incident that occurred in Japan could happen there.

Chief among the questions posed by reporter Miles O'Brien is whether or not the area around IPEC could be evacuated in time in case of an accident. As it turns out, that's a question that's been recently addressed by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. As Bloomberg reported in Decmember:
The New York City area may be safely evacuated in the even…

Consequential Elections

There’s some good news:China has 28 plants under construction, and India is building seven reactors and has plans for 20 more. And despite its proximity to Japan, South Korea, with 21 active nuclear reactors, is moving forward on 18 more. Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand are all actively seeking to join the nuclear-power club. But mostly bad:When voters here choose a president and a new legislature on Saturday, their decisions will also determine whether Taiwan pulls the plug on a state-backed nuclear power industry that provides the country with a fifth of its electricity. This is because the challenger Tsai Ing-wen has a good shot of unseating the current President Ma Ying-jeou. I was curious about this, because Ma has overseen a economic boom due to a financial rapprochement with mainland China. Tsai prefers no contact with the mainland. Of course, this is a key issue in any Taiwanese election – much more so than nuclear energy could ever be – and consequently, according to this sto…

Industry Presents New Strategy to Increase Safety, Address NRC’s Post-Fukushima Recommendations

The industry will present a strategy to the Nuclear Regulatory Commissiontoday on how it plans to enhance safety at the nation’s 67 plant sites to better equip them for unexpected events. The strategy—known as the “diverse and flexible mitigation capability,” or FLEX—addresses many of the recommendations set forth by the NRC’s Fukushima task force and takes into account some of the early lessons from the Fukushima accident on the need to maintain key safety functions amid conditions where electricity may be lost, back-up equipment could be damaged, and several reactors may be involved.

NEI’s Adrian Heymer, executive director for Fukushima regulatory response, held a media briefing Wednesday to explain the FLEX approach:
FLEX is a set of portable equipment that is located in diverse locations around the plant. We think there needs to be more than one set of equipment at diverse locations that can be quickly deployed and connected to provide injection and power supplies for instrumentatio…