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Showing posts from November, 2012

To Space and Beyond With Nuclear Energy

One of the things that you can do with nuclear energy is produce a lot of energy for a long length of time with an exceptionally small amount of uranium – or dilithium crystals, whichever is available. So if you need energy for an extended period of time – say, the time it takes to get from Earth to Mars, then nuclear energy has considerable utility – and you don’t have to worry about dust blocking the sun, as on some of the solar driven rovers. Now, a group of scientists are thinking bigger – sending astronauts to Mars and beyond and doing it in a way that could get them there and back successfully. This is a barrier that hasn’t been breached, so while this project is in early days, it’s very intriguing.A team of researchers, including engineers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this week reported their successful demonstration of a new concept that could provide reliable nuclear power for space exploration. The technology is still years away from the warp drive of Star Trek, …

Aliens or Nuclear Energy –That’s Your Choice

Fitting the quotidian into the eternal can be a heavy lift, as demonstrated by this article in the Huffington Post:He spoke about Fukushima and how we do not really know how much radiation has already or will in the future rain down on us. Fukushima is still unstable yet we hear very little about it anymore. Sungjand Rinpoche said, « Fukushima releases a lot of radioactivity in the sky and it can fall on America, Alaska, China, Russia and Europe. We should end all nuclear energy because even that can be like a nuclear bomb. It will kill everybody. The main point is in society we have to change the insatisfaction [sic?] and selfishness to Love ».Well, no, it isn’t releasing a lot of radioactivity in the sky and nuclear energy has no capacity to kill everybody. But you know, if you do believe that, you may as well set your cap on changing selfishness to love. That’s certainly a good goal.He repeated that we were destroying the future for our children, destroying the planet, and bringing…

Here Comes Thanksgiving

On TV:The Stivics' Thanksgiving visit is ruined when Archie finds out that the Meathead lost his job for marching against nuclear energy---in the nude. Mike: Rob Reiner. Edith: Jean Stapleton. Gloria: Sally Struthers. Murray: Martin Balsam. Stephanie: Danielle Brisebois. Barney: Allan Melvin. Ah, the 70s – where an awful lot happened in the nude. I’m not sure why they left out Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker.But surely nuclear energy must have something to contribute to the day:I assume that you all know how a nuclear reactor works. In the oven idea, instead of steam spinning a turbine, it flows around an open topped box which food may be placed in, and viola a nuclear oven! Viola! A perfect turkey in milliseconds.Something to contribute, for real. In Oswego County, N.Y.:Despite a downturn in donations, Catholic Charities’ food pantry will provide more than 250 families with all the fixings for a complete Thanksgiving meal. “It has been a very challenging year,” said Helen Hoefe…

“Easy to shut down a nuclear power plant, but…”

We’ve left Germany alone for awhile, you may have noticed. We perhaps overstressed the country’s difficulties in its projected transition from nuclear energy to (mostly) renewable energy sources. Maybe there was too much glee on our part at what is, after all, a terrible decision. The Germans have a word for that glee. It’s Schadenfreude, taking delight in other’s misery, and it’s not an attractive quality whatever motivates it.

Still … Still … there are things to say about this that are genuinely germane and instructive. Along these lines, I was very impressed by an interview Der Spiegel had with the German Energy Agency’s President, Stephan Kohler. Their chat contains a notably balanced look at the difficulties the country has set for itself. Here’s a sampler:
It's easy to shut down a nuclear power plant, but that doesn't mean you have something to replace it with. We know today, for example, that we don't have enough reliable power plant capacity in southern Germany to…

Indifferent to Nuclear Energy, Against Wind Power

Former Vice President Al Gore has never been the biggest advocate of nuclear energy:In 2009, he said he saw it playing "a somewhat larger role" in the energy mix because of climate change and efforts to cut carbon emissions. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now skeptical about it," he told the Guardian at the time.But at least three years ago, not it biggest detractor, either. I think it’s fair to say that he is currently indifferent to it."It will play a role, but probably a limited role. I think the waste issue can probably be solved, and Fukushima notwithstanding, the safety of operation issue can probably be solved. But the cost is absurdly high and still rising," he wrote during a question and answer session on Reddit to promote his 24-hour Climate Reality webcast on the links between fossil fuels and extreme weather.That happened Wednesday into Thursday. If the webcast fit your interest, y…

A First Look at the World Energy Outlook

The International Energy Agency released its key annual report, World Energy Outlook, today and in it, makes a number of striking forecasts about the profile of energy. And forecast is the right word – the IEA takes the pulse of energy markets as they stand today and projects them out to about 2035. These are not Nostradamus-like predictions of the future. The forecasts vary in detail from year to year, but are useful to policymakers and to those interested in energy-related issues.This year, the IEA report has stirred some controversy.In an indication how “fracking” is reshaping the global energy picture, the International Energy Agency today projected that the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.And within just three years, the United States will unseat Russia as the largest producer of natural gas.The response to this assertion has been mixed. Rob Wile at Business Insider polled his sources and found a decided lack of support:But Man…

Mobilizing across many miles for mutual assistance

No doubt you know that thousands upon thousands of utility workers are battling extraordinary conditions around the clock to try and restore power for hundreds of thousands of people along the Mid-Atlantic coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and then this week's Nor'easter. Some portions of the Northeast this week received a foot of snow on top of downed power lines and flooded out neighborhoods from last week. What you may not fully appreciate is the range and breadth of dedicated help that arrives when significant storms overwhelm local utilities and their power restoration efforts.

Electric companies impacted by significant outages routinely call on sister utilities to help speed power restoration. Men and women from utilities from all corners of the country have descended most particularly upon New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in an all-hands mission known as Mutual Assistance. The Edison Electric Institute formally established its Mutual Assistance Program in 1…

The IAEA Annual Report

The International Atomic Energy Agency is important, in part, because it encourages, supports and helps organize the regulatory and safety regimes necessary to have a viable domestic nuclear energy industry. Countries with mature industries – the United States, France, Russia, etc. – may not need that kind of assistance, but they all participate in the IAEA’s activities to support it. The IAEA is like the engine that allows the nuclear energy industry to motor ahead globally. (Terrible analogy – I don’t think countries want to be seen as cogs.)

So, I’m always keenly interested in the IAEA’s annual report to its home base, the United Nations. A lot of the report is routine speech filler, but it’s always intriguing to see how the organization characterizes the world of nuclear energy and nuclear energy in the world. To an extent, it informs how nuclear energy will be discussed over the next year and the issues that may gain prominence.

You can read IAEA Director Yukiya Amano’s statemen…

The Pitfalls of Arguing Against Nuclear Energy

There’s little to agree with in Lucy Birmingham’s editorial against nuclear energy in Time, but I must admit, I enjoyed it. She argues her points with reasonable data points, not as common as one might hope, even if the conclusion she comes to doesn’t really follow the data.As Sandy made landfall on Atlantic City, Oyster Creek nuclear power plant nearby was fortunately on a scheduled outage. But Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y., Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J., all experienced shutdowns because of high water levels or electrical disruption. This is all factual – a nuclear facility will also shut down if winds heading toward it surpass 75 miles per hour. This happened at Waterford 3 in the face of Hurricane Isaac. This is what you want to happen. Birmingham, however, sees this and harsh weather in general as dangerous to nuclear energy plants.Equally dangerous are drought and record heat conditions the U.S. experienced last summer. In August…

The Hurricane This Time

It’s so annoying when things don’t go your way. Take Hurricane Sandy:
Critics of U.S. nuclear-safety requirements said a few breaks, including that reactors such as Oyster Creek were idled for refueling, prevented a disaster, and that plants need stiffer government standards to cope with a likely increase in the number and severity of storms. This is akin to a losing politician saying that he would have won if only his competitor had committed adultery (murder, treason, take your pick). If only Oyster Creek had run into major problems, it would have proven how dangerous it is – ah, if only. 

This amusing example of  negative wish fulfillment comes from a Bloomberg story about nuclear energy facilities weathering Hurricane Sandy quite well. Even if there was no reason to expect any of the 34 reactors in the storm’s path to develop major problems, the post-Fukushima environment in which the storm took place means that we must expect stories like this – though the actual content is now…

Guest Post: Responding to Anti-Nuclear Fearmongering

Earlier today, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by Phillip Lipscy, Kenji Kushida and and Trevor Incert entitled, "Protecting nuclear plants from nature's worst." Steve Kerekes, NEI's Director of Media Relations, left the following comment in response at WashingtonPost.com:
This is a pathetic case of opportunistic fear-mongering. To the extent that there really is public concern about U.S. nuclear plants’ ability to withstand extreme events, it centers around what MIGHT happen in fantastical scenarios. This week, here’s what actually DID happen: The largest Atlantic storm ever recorded slammed into the New Jersey shore, creating record human and property devastation, yet every nuclear energy facility in this super-storm’s path – including the oldest nuclear plant in operation – managed through it safely and expertly with no threat or damage. Every … single … one.

Does this mean we should stop looking for safer ways to operate? Of course not, and we neve…