Monday, April 29, 2013

Right Side Up Down Under

Something we always like to hear:
Nuclear energy has received the thumbs up from a former anti-nuclear environmentalist who co-authored an independent report pitting the advantages of nuclear energy against renewable energy for electricity generation.
Ben Heard told a uranium conference in Adelaide today that nuclear power presented lower start-up costs, lower cost electricity, much smaller land use, no use of fresh water, more reliable generation capacity and other advantages compared to renewable energy.
Lower startup costs? He’s got numbers.
Key takeaways include nuclear power requiring a capital cost of between $3.5 billion and $4.8 billion for a 690* megawatt equivalent plant compared to $8.1 billion for a 1,460MWe equivalent combined renewable energy plant as well as requiring 2 square kilometers of exclusive land compared to 18.1 square kilometers for the renewable option.
I’d like to see those num – oh, wait, I can?
Heard’s comprehensive, self-funded report (Zero Carbon Options – Seeking an Economic Mix for an Environmental Outcome) analyses 13 specific benchmarks to identify the most efficient energy source to replace two small coal-fired power stations at Port Augusta in South Australia.
And wouldn’t you know – the report has its own attractive website – Here’s the direct link to the report. A chart on page 12 sets the baseline – the report uses a CANDU reactor on the nuclear side – and page 24 onward compares nuclear energy with what it calls combined renewable energy – wind and solar.
What motivates the report is the replacement of two coal plants with a combined capacity of about 1460 megawatts. According to the report, the CANDU reactor was chosen because it matches that figure almost exactly. That may seem a little flimsy as a rationale, but there it is.
The report is quite long, and I’m not sure the comparison is completely fair – if I’m not missing it, it ignores the intermittent nature of renewable energy. Comparing the two tends to almost over favor nuclear energy. But that in itself is fair enough – if you’re replacing a lot of baseload energy, it doesn’t hurt to bring in baseload energy.
And the demonstration of cost is interesting, too, though it has a lot of moving parts – in the case of wind, literally a lot of moving parts.
We’ll probably be watching Australia move ever closer to nuclear energy for the rest of our lives. There have always been strong voices there in favor of it, but the Australian dislike for it seems almost a birthright, genetic. But we’ll see: more surprising things have happened.
I was curious about the description of Heard as a former anti-nuclear activist. I looked to see what there was to know of him and found this description of his work at The Conversation:
Ben is also Founder of Decarbonise SA, a not-for-profit collective with the aim of achieving a rapid decarbonization of electricity in South Australia through fostering understanding and acceptance of nuclear power. A former trenchant nuclear opponent, Ben’s growing appreciation of the climate crisis lead him through research and a change of position. His presentation “Nuclear Power: From Opponent to Proponent” has been delivered to over 600 people including the State Conference of the Local Government Association of South Australia.
But wait. If he’s been at this for awhile and even has a “collective” around it, I wonder when he was a “trenchant nuclear opponent.” His self-written biography at Decarbonise SA explains this. Nothing sinister about it, aside from the fact the press stories about him have grabbed at the anti-nuclear turncoat angle quite hard.
The worst though was this: the logical part of my brain was telling me loud and clear that the broadly accepted set of energy solutions for climate change, namely renewable technologies and improvements in energy efficiency, had not a hope in hell of solving this problem on their own. No matter how optimistically my peer group and I talked them up, the reality of the scale of the climate crisis kept crashing the party. Things were getting worse, not better, and there was really no solution on my radar. Well, there was one, but I didn’t like it… nuclear power.
So - he was anti-nuclear when he was younger and chatting up the issue with his friends, but found a professional direction after his climate change epiphany (he also teaches at the University of Adelaide). I’m not tweaking him here – it happens all the time. But unlike, say, Patrick Moore, he doesn’t seem to have made this change during his professional life, which would have had a decided impact. But that’s okay – it’s overstated but not wrong. He did have a change of heart.
I was amused to read that Friends of the Earth has an Australian branch and have had at Heard over this (no link – you can find it easily enough):
A mining industry magazine article says that Mr. Heard was "once a fervent anti-nuclear campaigner". However there is no evidence of Mr. Heard ever having any involvement whatsoever in anti-nuclear campaigning let alone 'fervent' involvement. And no evidence that Mr. Heard has made any effort to correct the error in the magazine article.
No evidence that he hasn’t, either. I love how FOE jumps from the mundane to the diabolic in one short hop – it’s like a sour magic act intended to scare children. But however (and whenever) Ben Heard became pro-nuclear, power to him.

*EDITOR'S NOTE:  Due to a typographical error, this figure was incorrectly transcribed as 6,690 megawatts. We regret the error.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Traction of Small Reactors

The New York Times’ Matt Wald provides a nicely reported history and the state-of-play in the small reactor world. Just as the first domestic nuclear reactors were scaled up versions of small reactors, current versions of the tiny titans are scaled down versions of full-scale reactors (actually, some of them are – some are based on new ideas entirely).

“They offer the potential for a new paradigm in how we think about construction of nuclear power plants,” Peter B. Lyons, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said of the so-called small modular reactors, also known as S.M.R.’s. He is supervising a program under which the government will pay up to half of the development cost of two different models. One manufacturer already has a contract to develop a plan for two small reactors in Tennessee.

That manufacturer would be Babcock&Wilcox, teamed with Bechtel and the Tennessee Valley Authority (interesting B&W video on this page).

Wald also provides some interesting details about the B&W mPower reactor, which makes clear that small doesn’t mean pee-wee.

Babcock’s reactor, 13 feet in diameter and 83 feet high, can produce 180 megawatts of power, about 15 percent of the power of a large new reactor, but can run far longer before refueling is required: four years, the manufacturer says, versus one to two years for a standard reactor. When a utility company needs more power, it can order another. Babcock refers to the basic design as a “two-pack,” as if the reactors were twin boxes of laundry soap.

The reactor’s emergency cooling system consists of the natural circulation of air. Conventional reactors require operators to start up pumps and align valves, something that was impossible in the Fukushima accident, when a tsunami wiped out electric power.

There’s a fact sheet about the mPower reactor here. And the Generation mPower site that it comes from is a treasure trove of information.

Some aspects of the article are speculative in nature:

And the regulatory structure is not so great for small reactors. Regulatory commission rules for control-room staff levels, emergency planning zones and security are all predicated on large, aboveground reactors. A small one built mostly underground might logically have smaller requirements, but a potential buyer would be reluctant to build one under the current regulatory regime, experts say.

Wald’s right – these are logical assumptions – but still largely unknown until the NRC finalizes its process for small reactors.

Amusing sentence:

But new approaches to nuclear power have been forecast far more often than they have been realized, and some worry that small modular reactors could fall into that category.

First, because what large industry doesn’t forecast more than it realizes – I want my hover car and now! – and second, small reactors seem to have really moved out of that category. Yes, they’re still at an early stage, but they have gained a good deal of traction and traction can carry a process a long way.

Very interesting and highly readable article. Well worth a look.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

This Navy Gridiron Great Has a Pretty Bright Future

Our service academies aren't really much known for developing NFL talent, but Navy linebacker Keegan Wetzel could hear his name called during the NFL Draft, which starts tonight and concludes on Saturday. Wetzel is profiled today in the Annapolis, Md., Capital Gazette, and his inspiring story deserves broad commendation.

Navy competes admirably and successfully in the top division of NCAA college football, and after a standout senior season, Wetzel has had contact with a handful of NFL teams this spring. His football stats are tremendous, but pro football teams likely have additional cause for their interest in the linebacker. The Gazette notes that Wetzel is one serious scholar athlete:

Wetzel, who earned the Tony Rubino Silver Helmet Award as Navy's Most Outstanding Player from the Touchdown Club of Annapolis, is thought to be the first Football Subdivision player to score a perfect 1,600 on the Scholastic Assessment Test. He boasts a 3.91 grade point average as a systems engineering major and was selected a first-team Academic All-American by Capital One. 

Yesterday's Nuclear Notes brought attention to the new agreement the U.S. nuclear industry has forged with the Navy to help place nuclear Navy personnel in civilian nuclear careers. That's a program Wetzel might one day access: This October 13 he departs for the Navy's Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C. He'll spend six months in the classroom and six more months working on a reactor. And even if his name gets called in the draft the next couple of days, he'll have two years of obligation to the Navy to fulfill. One thing's for sure -- his future is exceptionally bright.

This Saturday, the Washington Nationals will honor the Navy football team before their game against the Cincinnati Reds -- a most deserving acknowledgment. We have quite a few Nats' fans at NEI, and you can bet that NEI staffers at the ballgame Saturday are likely to cheer extra loudly during the acknowledgment.     

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Swinging the Axe at MOX

One of the most vexing aspects of President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request (as regards topic of blog, naturally) is the deep cut made to MOX facility construction in South Carolina. This is being built at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site and is about 60 percent complete.

But let’s back up. What is the MOX facility? For that matter, what’s MOX? (link to NEI’s member site – you can see the whole thing if you’re a member – but this is the key part)

Shaw AREVA MOX Services is the prime contractor for the design, construction and startup of the Energy Department’s mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility being built at DOE’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. Under a program managed by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the MOX plant will help dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium by blending it into fuel for commercial power reactors

And here’s the thing or at least a thing: we share this obligation with Russia, who participated in the megatons to megawatts program to downblend plutonium. This (really great) write-up at World Nuclear Association provides much more detail about the whole program, but we’ll zero in on the MOX facility part:

After environmental and safety reviews, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorized construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant (MFFF) at the DOE Savannah River site in South Carolina by Duke, Cogema, Stone & Webster.  Construction started in August 2007, by Shaw Areva MOX Services.  It will make about 1700 civil MOX fuel assemblies from depleted uranium and at least 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, unlike other MOX plants which use fresh reactor-grade plutonium having around one third non-fissile plutonium isotopes.  US reactors using MOX fuel will need to be licensed for it. The MFFF is designed to turn 3.5 t/yr of weapons-grade plutonium into about 150 MOX fuel assemblies, both PWR and BWR.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer element, could it? It turns plutonium from destructive to constructive in a single pass. The nonproliferation aspect is a considerable upside – in fact, a key point.

NEI’s President and CEO Marvin Fertel called out DOE on this aspect during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee:

NEI supports completion of the MOX fuel facility now under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.  This facility, which is approximately halfway through construction and in which approximately $4 billion has been invested, is important to U.S. national security and as a demonstration of America’s commitment to nonproliferation.

A little more, on the value of the MOX facility to its many partners (and eventual beneficiaries):

It is estimated that the fuel produced from the MOX project would produce $50 billion worth of electricity and enable the federal government to eliminate the expense of storage and surveillance of the plutonium in the future.  Construction and operation of the MOX plant is the result of years of work and commitments with the Russian Federation, the state of South Carolina, and thousands of workers at the site and across the country.  Each of those parties made commitments on the assumption that the U.S. government is a credible partner capable of fulfilling its arms control and nonproliferation commitments.  Failure to complete this project will validate those critics of the government, and the DOE in particular, who claim it simply cannot complete complex projects, particularly those concerning nuclear materials disposition.

That’s – pretty harsh.

But not undeserved. It’s not just that the MOX facility completes an obligation with the Russians to convert this fuel. Or that DOE is risking a large blow to its reputation. Or even that it impacts workers in South Carolina in the midst of a jobs slowdown. It’s the middle part: “Each of those parties made commitments on the assumption that the U.S. government is a credible partner capable of fulfilling its arms control and nonproliferation commitments.” That’s important. That takes in all the rest.

Now, MOX has a science-y profile that makes it seem a safe project to swing a budget axe at. I get that. But this is not an examination into the love life of caterpillars (which, don’t get me wrong, still might be quite important), the MOX facility is a project with many moving parts – many goals fulfilled in several different important policy areas – and proof that America takes those policies seriously. If it doesn’t, it should – they have an existential dimension that requires a serious, committed response. It’s not a lot to ask for.

Note: Some of our commenters pointed out the MOX facility is only for conversion of U.S. fuel. That is correct – I knew that somewhere in my brainpan, but totally muddled it here. I’ve revised the post to make this clearer.

AREVA has a blog on the MOX facility here. Another good place (along with the WNA article cited above) to learn more about the MOX facility and MOX itself.

Search and Employ

If you’re looking for a compelling overview of the enormous potential for a career in the U.S. nuclear industry today, our Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides has authored it in the May-June issue of Search & Employ .

The potential for nuclear workforce participation is especially appealing for men and women in the United States Navy. In August 2012, McAndrew-Benavides notes, industry entered into a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Navy to establish a system affording a seamless transition for Navy personnel to enter the civilian nuclear workforce. The navy has long been a fertile source for industry recruitment, so the agreement makes perfect sense. The agreement is a two-way street and benefits the Navy as well. It expands from the civilian sector to also include recruitment by the Navy for enlisted positions through the industry’s Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP).

Additionally, the nuclear industry has been hiring more than 5,000 people a year in the U.S. over the past three years. That’s a significant data point in what’s been a prolonged, tough employment climate nationally.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nuclear Energy Grabs Top Spot on Reddit ... On Earth Day

We've been recognizing Earth Day all day long here on all of our social media platforms, but I wanted to share one image that warmed my heart today like no other. If you pop over to the home page at Reddit, the link that's currently ranked #1 is a story that originally appeared at Scientific American on James Hansen's conclusion that the use of nuclear energy has saved millions of lives all around the world.

Click to enlarge.
For those of you who haven't read the paper from NASA's Godard Institute, here's the nut graph:
The authors come up with the striking figure of 1.8 million as the number of lives saved by replacing fossil fuel sources with nuclear.

They also estimate the saving of up to 7 million lives in the next four decades, along with substantial reductions in carbon emissions, were nuclear power to replace fossil fuel usage on a large scale.
Impressive. It's indeed a happy Earth Day.

The Ink on the Rubber Pad Redux

vermont-postcardNuclear Notes friend Meredith Angwin kindly pointed us to a pdf of Robert Alvarez’s written testimony to the Vermont Senate committee considering a bill to tax the used nuclear fuel being held at Vermont Yankee. The fuller post about the Vermont hearing and who Robert Alvarez is is two below this one.

I figured Alvarez was simply reinforcing what the committee wanted to do, and with no other witnesses, no opposition to his statements. Little did I know. The written testimony is just – awful – almost willfully useless as a fact set. Because, in this instance, facts don’t matter.

The document is on Ms. Angwin’s site, so by all means, send some clicks her way. It’s the bottom link.

Thanks to her for this. It’s an important “o” to put an umlaut over – it exposes the hearing as little more than a show trial for Vermont Yankee. If the state wants to tax used fuel, then pass a tax bill including it – that’s its right. But trying to fix a bogus motivation to the effort is very discouraging – crudely undemocratic on its face.

Happy Earth Day!

The Washington Post celebrates Earth Day as it might, with an editorial about the failure to make a cap-and-trade regime work in the European Union. Let’s let that slide off the side a bit, though, and focus on this paragraph:

Germany is irrationally shutting its nuclear power plants — which produce lots of steady, reliable electricity and no carbon dioxide emissions — and promising that renewables will somehow pick up the slack. Perversely, that approach has led power companies to ramp up coal burning, the dirtiest fossil fuel, in a country that has also lavished its public money on the solar industry. Spain, too, has over-invested in expensive renewables. To its credit, France hasn’t decided to shutter its nuclear plants, but it is one of many countries that refuse to open up natural gas reserves, a resource that could help wean the continent off coal.

This is actually pretty rough on renewable energy, more so than one usually sees from the Post. It’s also correct, especially as regards Germany. Irrational doesn’t begin to say it.

The gist of the editorial is that the United States, which seemed a few years ago way behind Europe on the issue of climate changes, is now way ahead. The ramped-up use of natural gas gets a lot of the credit for that, but the Post doesn’t ignore that nuclear energy also helps in the effort to displace carbon emissions. One can reasonably expect this displacement to accelerate after V.C. Summer and Plant Vogtle open two new reactors each over the next eight years or so.

Only a few years ago, it would have been outrageous to claim that the United States would ever be on a better emissions trajectory than Europe. Yet it is now burning less coal even as Europe burns more. That partially reflects the fact that the United States is only now taking steps mandating greater fuel efficiency for cars. But it is also the result of a practical embrace of natural gas and the continued use of nuclear power.

If electric/hybrid cars take off, the sky, so to speak, is the limit. More nuclear energy to power them wouldn’t go amiss either.


The Heritage Foundation’s Jack Spencer also takes a crack at Earth Day by reminding us that the nuclear project is embedded quite deeply in the principles that motivate those that want a cleaner plant.

More so than any other energy source, nuclear technology makes possible the production of massive amounts of clean, reliable and affordable power. In fact, nuclear power — which now provides 20 percent of our nation’s energy — does more to preserve Senator Nelson’s prized environmental resources (land, water and air) than any other energy source, “green” or otherwise.

The Nelson mentioned is not Sen. Ben Nelson (R-Neb.), by the way, but Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), who helped found Earth Day in the U.S. in 1970, rooted in a UNESCO effort to create an Earth Day on the first day of Spring. Nelson won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this and it serves as his primary legacy. You can watch the Senator speak on the first Earth Day here. Nelson died in 2005.

Spencer gets into some more specific points that are startling when put so plainly:

A traditional nuclear power plant takes up only a few hundred acres. New reactor technologies are even less land-intensive. The power produced by a single nuclear reactor is often enough to keep the lights on for millions of people. Wind and solar, on the other hand, can take thousands or tens of thousands of acres to produce the same amounts of energy. For instance, in order to generate the same amount of power as a single nuclear reactor, wind turbines would have to cover the entire area of the Great Smoky Mountains — that’s over 900 miles.

Also add in that wind energy still has a challenging capacity factor issue compared to nuclear energy (or any baseload energy) – it can deliver about 40 to 50 percent of its total potential capacity while nuclear energy is around 90 to 95 percent (over 100 percent if you count uprates). So make that two Great Smoky Mountains.

Now, let’s concede that energy choices are more complex than either Spencer – or I – are allowing. Capacity factor and land use are important but not necessarily determinative. Wind farms are less expensive than nuclear energy facilities and benefit from the approval of the environmental movement, which gives them a exceptionally benign profile. That may not give enough of the whole story, though, which is what Spencer is demonstrating – and doing an exceptionally good job of it – reminding everyone that Earth Day achieves some of its goals via nuclear energy.

In conclusion, Happy Earth Day. There are a lot of sites out there to help you with ideas of how you can make your segment of the planet earthier, but why not start with the Earth Day Network and work outward from there.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Vermont Yankee and the Ink on the Rubber Stamp

There’s been a little swath of stories lately about a hearing in Vermont about the used fuel held at the Vermont Yankee facility. Here’s a sample from one of them:

The testimony of Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, comes as some lawmakers are urging that Vermont consider a new tax on the highly radioactive nuclear waste being stored at the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon. Alvarez said Minnesota levies such a tax.  

Minnesota does indeed do this and commits the funds to renewable energy projects. You can read the details of this program here. If a consolidated storage site opens in 2021, as has been bruited, and Xcel moves its used fuel there, the state will have to find another way to, um, let’s say gather funds for this effort. Granted, that’s a lot of ifs, and I guess they would all go for Vermont as well.

But what about Robert Alvarez? Here’s more of him at the hearing.

The pool “contains about nine times more cesium-137 (a radioactive isotope) than was released from the more than 600 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests around the world,” said Alvarez, who acknowledged under questioning from Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, that his current employer takes an anti-nuclear stance. Alvarez added that the Vermont Yankee pool “contains more than the entire inventory of spent fuel in the four damaged reactors at the Fukushima site” in Japan.

Here’s the thing: none of this used fuel has done any harm at all, here or in Japan. The fuel here is very well handled (and I assume in Japan, too). Unlike, say, fertilizer facilities, used fuel is not only regulated but very closely regulated. Unless there’s a proximate cause, worrying about it will only cause undue anxiety and hearings in the Vermont legislature. That raises the suspicion that Alvarez is throwing around figures without context, which is like pointing at steam and yelling Fire.


Alvarez works at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank in Washington. Rep. Vernon is correct that IPS doesn’t care much for nuclear energy. Alvarez’s thinking about it is largely informed by his government work with nuclear weaponry.

And very good work it was, too.

Prior to joining the DOE, Mr. Alvarez served for five years as a Senior Investigator for the U. S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, chaired by Senator John Glenn, and as one of the Senate’s primary staff experts on the U.S. nuclear weapons program. While serving for Senator Glenn, Bob worked to help establish the environmental cleanup program in the Department of Energy, strengthened the Clean Air Act, uncovered several serious nuclear safety and health problems, improved medical radiation regulations, and created a transition program for communities and workers affected by the closure of nuclear weapons facilities.

That’s substantial, though focused largely on defense. Still, some of his statements about domestic nuclear energy have a decided anti-nuclear zeal to them:

The United States remains a major pillar of nuclear support here and around the world. About 70 percent of the Energy Department's $26.3-billion budget covers nuclear activities — and that's not including $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors that are slated for construction in South Carolina and Georgia. Japan's failing nuclear industry is supposed to build them.

Toshiba will probably be surprised to hear it’s failing, and Southern Co. and SCANA are proceeding apace without loan guarantees (Southern Co. is negotiating with DOE on its provisional guarantee, but has already hit some construction milestones at Plant Vogtle). And of course, Alvarez is conflating defense and domestic nuclear activities to get his 70 percent figure. But it certainly sounds like he means the domestic industry alone, doesn’t it? I guess you could call this red meat for the faithful, raw and without context.

But the point here isn’t really to set up Alvarez as a gull – I’m sure he’s sincere in his views – but to show that Vermont isn’t playing subtle games to get where it wants to go. This is when legislative hearings essentially become ink on the rubber stamp, creating the illusion of sounding out an issue without actually doing so.


I have to give the Vermont press credit – they really didn’t settle on Alvarez’s view as definitive. Enter Howard Shaffer.

"He's [Alvarez] from an industry who makes his living saying the sky is  falling. without saying what the odds are," said nuclear engineer Howard Shaffer, of Enfield, N.H.

Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernon Republican who sits on the committee, said Alvarez "represents an anti-nuclear group who will give the most negative position you'd expect them to do."

To be fair, it looks like Shaffer may have buttonholed the reporters. He’s given some space in a few stories. Good for him. And Rep. Hebert, too.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Regulation, Nuclear Energy and the Cafeteria

Do the regulated always feel overregulated?

One day’s delivery brings a directive stipulating that the sidewalks must be widened to permit two wheelchairs to cross paths without bumping. Another says the school cafeteria must be made accessible by elevator. Trees must be trimmed of branches six feet up their trunks, the orders go, and only government-certified technicians can change a light bulb on city property.

This is from a story in the Washington Post about a small French town (pop. 600) called Albaret-Sainte-Marie and its relationship with regulators in Paris. Now, except for the light bulb changing, all these directives could have truly beneficial outcomes, making life easier for a slice of the population, notably the disabled slice, but if various agencies are all putting their stamps onto the daily life of Albaret-Sainte-Marie simultaneously, the result could drain the town’s resources and kill the town’s overall civic effort to enable a better life for its people.

“We are being strangled,” [Mayor Michel] Therond complained, sifting through a pile of rules and regulations on his desk that he largely ignores — and many of which he does not even understand.

The larger argument against this is that it stifles economic growth, though the balance between beneficial regulation and economic activity is very tough to achieve. And there’s another large argument that edges us closer to the nuclear energy industry.

Therond said the problem has grown acute because France increasingly has a mind-set in which all risks must be eliminated, what is called “the principle of precaution.” “But you just can’t do that,” he objected.

No, you really just can’t do that, though some of the French regulation cited is geared not toward eliminating risk but improving access – those widened sidewalks and elevators to the cafeteria – and that’s an unalloyed good. Therond (or the Post) overreaches a little, but his point is good.


In the case of nuclear energy and the NRC (and other regulators, including the industry’s safety watchdog, INPO), the issue isn’t to slough off anything that might make plants safer or reduce risk, but to implement the rules and regulations in an order that gets the most essential items done first. This would achieve the regulators goal while not bankrupting utilities or placing undo strain on the work force. It is possible without compromising safety – in fact, it improves safety by giving each item its due.

“This is our No. 1 issue right now,” NEI Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo said. “It’s not just an [NRC] regulatory issue. We want to make sure that the focus necessary on safety and reliability at the sites is not inadvertently diverted by the collective weight of meeting both industry and regulatory demands.”

Pietrangelo explained that a “cultural change” is needed to manage the cumulative impact of the regulatory demands made by the NRC and the activities of NEI, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations [INPO] and the Electric Power Research Institute [EPRI] on the time and resources of nuclear energy facility staff.

And the NRC recognizes it.

Also this week, the NRC’s five-member commission approved the agency staff’s proposals for implementing process enhancements for the cumulative impact of regulation process as described in its October 2012 paper (SECY-12-0137)


The commission’s memorandum directed agency staff to consider more deeply cumulative impact on licensees.

“The staff should continue to develop and implement outreach tools that will allow NRC to consider more completely the overall impacts of multiple rules, orders, generic communications, advisories, and other regulatory actions on licensees and their ability to focus effectively on items of greatest safety import,” the memorandum said.

This was at the March NRC Regulatory Information Conference, so it’s still a big topic.

In setting the industry’s priorities for the Department of Energy’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request (what the industry would like to see, not necessarily what will come to pass), NEI’s President and CEO Marvin Fertel made a further push in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee:

The industry welcomes the oversight of the NRC by Congress to ensure that the agency effectively prioritizes its activities, based on safety significance, and achieves closure on issues in a timely manner.  The agency is making important initial progress in these areas – addressing the cumulative impacts of its regulatory activities – and the industry believes the agency should be encouraged to continue these efforts.

This is how it happens – through a shared recognition of a problem. The industry is not sloughing off safety – and the regulator acknowledges there could be a more effective approach. This is a topic that’s going to pop up every now and then and has a fairly large chance of being misunderstood. But it enhances safety and reduces risk not the opposite – unless you happen to think all risk can be eliminated all at once.


And in France? It provides a pretty good example of how not to engage the regulatory process.

The second-floor cafeteria for Albaret-Sainte-Marie’s 70 students will have to be moved to the ground floor, he said, because the cost of an elevator would be prohibitive for a community of 600 residents with an operating budget of just over $500,000.

Let’s keep the atomic café on the second floor – it’s safer there - and find a way to do it that gives both regulatory and industrial concerns their due.

The Post story is worth a read to understand the problem of regulation run amok, even without a specific nuclear angle.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sharing Nostalgic Photos in Honor of NEI’s 60th

Last week, blogger Will Davis (@atomicnews) honored NEI’s 60th anniversary by sharing a handful of historical photos from the time of our founding. 

NEI was founded on April 10, 1953 as the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF) to serve the nation in the “development of atomic energy for constructive purposes.” 

Will was gracious enough to tweet out photos of AIF artifacts from the 1950s, including a membership roster and cover of the Forum Memo magazine. Take a look at the photos below.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Little Nuclear Diversity in the Energy Mix

France enjoyed a little controversy a few weeks ago when automaker Renault questioned whether nuclear energy alone could recharge all the electric cars that will soon be on the road. I wrote about it as an issue of energy diversity or rather, France’s lack of it due to its use of nuclear energy. If there can be a place where nuclear energy can be said to hamper energy diversity, France is it, even if it has had a largely salutary effect on the country.

The principle of diversity is a good one, regardless of energy type and where it can become an issue usually doesn’t involve nuclear energy. Too much of one energy type can lead to shortages that can lead in turn to price instability; a single source for fuel can play some pretty repulsive games, as Russia did to some of its neighbors with natural gas a few years ago.

Former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman weighs in on the topic as regards the rush to natural gas in this country:

The shale gas revolution has spawned another American “dash to gas” in the electric sector. This is a mixed issue, based on whether you take the short- or long-term view. In the short term, consumers benefit from lower natural gas prices and our air quality benefits from energy-sector fuel switching from coal to gas for electricity production.

All true.

The decision to focus solely on cheap natural gas instead of investing for the long term in a diverse portfolio of affordable electricity options will prove problematic in the coming years.

Whitman points to a white paper issued by the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy) of which she is chairman. It’s done in the form of an attractive brochure, but it does contain a cogent case for energy diversity. Since CASEnergy is nuclear-centered, the case here is definitely for nuclear energy and its benefits, though it does give natural gas its due:

Growing consumer demand for cleaner electricity, the need for increased use of domestic energy resources and pressure to minimize and stabilize energy costs should drive America to develop a more diverse electricity portfolio. Energy sources like natural gas and nuclear energy provide baseload electricity for our economy and standard of living. Moreover, natural gas is necessary to back up renewable energy sources when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

All true as well. Sometimes, it does seem as though renewable energy gets too much of a pass. Natural gas ramps down to accommodate it on the grid – that doesn’t buy you more electricity necessarily, just considerably more expensive electricity while solar and wind run in lieu of natural gas. That’s a side rant, I know, and I reckon renewable energy will continue to become cost competitive as the technologies mature (breakthroughs in battery technology wouldn’t hurt their profile, either.) Still, it can make renewable energy seem a crippled alternative.

But they do add to a diversified energy portfolio. And so does nuclear energy.

Significant investment in the grid must be made over the next two decades—in fact, more investment than has been made in the existing grid. These investments must include baseload power facilities.Nuclear energy facilities cost between $6 billion and $10 billion and take about five years to build, but this “always-on” power production is vital for industry and consumers alike.

Especially with the natural gas-renewable energy tandem, nuclear energy’s role changes a bit by consistently supplying baseload power while producing about as much greenhouse gas as renewable energy – which is to say, none. It’s a key point and it staves off the worry that depending heavily on renewable energy could have a measureable impact on electricity availability. It allows energy efficiency to mean “efficiency,” as it should, not “doing without.”

Now, there’s really very little here that readers of this site do not know, especially about nuclear energy. It is written to explain energy diversity to a lay audience and it does that very well. It’s worth sharing with your non-technical friends and groups.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

“A great boon for the benefit of mankind”

Whether or not NEI is involved, we’re sure to see coverage, even celebration, of the 60th anniversary of the domestic nuclear energy industry. C.T. Carley of Mississippi State University decides to be the one that gets it going with an op-ed:

Now, 60 years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his historic “Atoms for Peace” address to the U.N. General Assembly, history has shown that the world has benefited from nuclear energy.
That’s pretty nice. More, please:
“A great boon for the benefit of mankind” is on the horizon if that energy is harnessed for peace. His [Eisenhower’s] proposal took the form of an ambitious Marshall Plan for nuclear energy, a program of international pooling of nuclear technology and fissionable materials.
The editorial goes on to mention the five reactors being built here and 68 other ones being sited around the world.
Nuclear plants supply more clean energy than any of the alternative power sources. Despite billions of dollars in government subsidies for renewables, the combined output from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources currently meets only 4 percent of our nation’s energy needs. By contrast, nuclear power supplies around 20 percent of our electricity and 70 percent of our carbon-free power.
I’d probably go easier on our renewable cousins. Comparing a fully mature industry with one that’s fairly nascent in this manner can bite you back in the fullness of time. Let’s just say that nuclear energy was well positioned to do some good when the problem of climate change  arose. And very well positioned to do more good.
The conclusion:
A new generation of small modular reactors — competitive with natural gas and designed for safety and limited use of water — will be necessary to extend the benefits of nuclear energy in the United States and abroad. The rewards will be substantial.
I’m sure we’ll see some rather less positive views of nuclear energy as the 60th anniversary goes on. But this was a nicely done description of the nuclear machine that President Eisenhower set in motion.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

NEI Statement on GAO Report on Radiological Incidents and Likely Public Response

Earlier today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a study that concluded that the NRC needs to do a better job understanding how the public might react in response to theoretical incidents at U.S. nuclear power plants.

In response to media inquiries concerning the study, NEI issued the following statement:
The emergency planning programs and requirements that are the focus of this report are only one element of a comprehensive, multilayered strategy that is in place to assure public health and safety. Because our facilities are operating safely – as verified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a multitude of safety and performance indicators that are monitored and reported regularly – this report should be viewed within the larger context of protective measures that we take to prepare for the unexpected. Our defense in depth approach encompasses the robust design and construction of facilities, including the fuel cladding, the reactor coolant systems, and the containment structure, buttressed by severe accident management procedures, the FLEX strategy of portable, emergency equipment being implemented post-Fukushima, and these emergency preparedness programs that are exercised and evaluated regularly.

The report notes that the NRC still considers the 10-mile and 50-mile emergency planning zones to be adequate, based on health evidence from the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents and the findings of recent NRC studies on the potential consequences of severe accidents at U.S. facilities. The State of the Art Reactor Consequences analyses, released in January 2012, showed that earlier NRC studies that projected off-site radiological health consequences for potential severe reactor accidents were extremely conservative. The analyses showed that there are significantly more fission products retained within the reactor coolant system and containment than previously believed, and that there is more time for mitigation of a severe accident than previously believed, because accidents generally progress significantly more slowly than previously believed --that is, many hours to tens of hours vs. about one hour in a related study from 1982.
Please consult our website for more information about emergency preparedness.

Jim Asselstine's Bullish Assessment of Nuclear Energy’s Future

Jim Asselstine
The following is a guest post submitted by Scott Peterson, NEI's senior vice president of communications.

SINGAPORE--Jim Asselstine has an unparalleled pedigree to assess the nuclear energy industry. He has analyzed the industry for the past 23 years at Lehman Brothers and Barclays, was a Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner and punched his policy credential as a congressional staffer.

“My own personal view is that we should try to keep nuclear power, as the only zero-carbon, large-scale baseload generating source at about its current level of 19 or 20 percent of U.S. [electric] generation,” Asselstine said during a clear-eyed assessment of America’s nuclear energy industry. He was speaking at the World Nuclear Fuel Conference, a global symposium in Singapore sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute and World Nuclear Association.

Assuming modest electricity demand growth and with the closure of existing reactors after 60 years of production, Asselstine said meeting this goal would require building 30 to 35 reactors by 2030. Whether the industry builds advanced reactor technology at that pace, he said, depends on these factors:
  • Electricity demand must increase with economic rejuvenation.
  • Increases in natural gas prices, forecasted by Barclays to move to $3.70 per million Btu by the end of this year, up from $2.82 per million Btu in 2012.
  • New Environmental Protection Agency regulations affecting coal-fired power plants, including the announced closure of 25,000 megawatts of coal capacity already and up to 50,000 to 60,000 megawatts of coal capacity by 2015.
  • The focused response to the Fukushima accident in Japan both by industry and the NRC. “I regard the NRC requirements and industry initiatives as comprehensive and complementary,” he said.
  • Industry and NRC must effectively carry out their responsibilities under a new regulatory framework for building new reactors.
Ironically, Asselstine said this is an exceptional time for energy companies to build large capital projects.

“The industry enjoys broad access to financing at historically attractive rates,” he said. “As a defensive safe haven sector, the electric utilities—unlike many other industries—were able to access the debt capital markets during even the most difficult period in the recession in late 2008 and early 2009. This is an excellent time to finance significant capital investments in the industry.”
It’s appropriate that the industry’s fuel companies are gathering in Singapore. Seventy-one reactors are being built worldwide, with the majority of these projects located in Asia to meet fast-rising electricity demand.

The International Energy Agency predicts that electricity demand will expand by more than 70 percent by 2035, or 2.2 percent per year on average. More than 80 percent of that growth will be in non-OECD countries—more than half in China and India alone.

Growth in China’s electricity demand alone over that period is greater than the total current electricity demand in the United States and Japan combined. China has 26 reactors under construction and the country aims to quadruple its nuclear capacity from reactors now operating and under construction by 2020. India has seven reactors under construction; 20 others are planned. Asselstine said he expects the majority of these projects to be completed despite the 2011 accident in Japan.

On the U.S. response to the Fukushima accident, Asselstine said “the industry and NRC responses have been constructive and timely, and should prove effective in addressing the lessons learned for the industry. The review process helped set priorities for the various recommendations, focusing the agency’s and industry’s efforts on a set of changes that can be implemented relatively quickly to produce substantial near-term safety improvements.”

Nuclear Energy’s Storied History and Bright Future

The following is a guest post from NEI’s President and CEO, Marv Fertel.

Marv Fertel
This year is the 60th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s famous “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations. It also is the 60th anniversary of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) which began its existence on April 10, 1953 as the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF).

Through its 26 founding members, AIF became the organization that launched the U.S. nuclear industry as it worked to bring the commercial uses of nuclear energy and nuclear materials to benefit America and the rest of the world. We can thank the visionary leaders over the early years, leaders like John Simpson of Westinghouse, Bert Wolfe from General Electric, Jim O’Connor from Commonwealth Edison and many others who guided the industry through tremendous research, technology advancement and promise. During this time, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) played a dual role as both advocate and supporter of technology development as well as the safety regulator.

The 1970s saw great change in America’s energy demand and supply. As a result of the mideast oil embargoes, the world experienced the double whammy of a deep recession and double-digit inflation. Electricity demand in America plummeted from 7 percent and 10 percent annual growth rates to 1 percent to 2 percent. Hundreds of new power plants, both nuclear and coal, were cancelled. Even in these circumstances, our industry completed 81 reactors during the period 1960-1980 making nuclear energy our second largest source of electricity after coal. Also during this time the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was established as an independent regulator of nuclear safety.

During the mid-'70s, our industry leaders saw the need for a focused congressional lobbying organization and established the American Nuclear Energy Counsel (ANEC), initially led by John Conway from Consolidated Edison Company and George Gleason who came from AIF. Tom Kuhn, currently the CEO at the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), was actually the second CEO at ANEC.

Then, in 1979 we experienced the accident at Three Mile Island (TMI). While the accident had no public safety consequences, it did significantly expand our industry’s focus on operational safety – a focus that then and now has made nuclear energy much safer. Through the leadership of individuals like Bill Lee, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) was formed to focus our industry on always striving for excellence in operations. To address public education and communications the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness (USCEA) was established with Harry Finger as its CEO.

Later in the '80s, Byron Lee and Joe Colvin became the leaders of NUMARC, the Nuclear Utility Management and Resources Committee, established by the utilities to interface with the NRC on generic technical and regulatory issues.

Finally in 1994, the industry's leaders consolidated ANEC, USCEA, NUMARC and the nuclear fuels and waste activities at EEI into one organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute, to provide a unified voice to foster the beneficial uses of nuclear energy and technology in America and around the world.

I’ve had the honor and pleasure to have worked in our industry since 1968 in engineering, licensing, building plants and supporting operating plants. I spent two years at AIF when its headquarters was in New York in the early '70s. I joined USCEA as the vice president for technical programs in 1990 and moved to NEI when it was established in 1994. This journey has been very rewarding-mostly because of the wonderful men and women in our industry I’ve had the good fortune to work with and get to know every step of the way.

The theme for NEI's 60th anniversary is “Storied History, Bright Future.” We will celebrate our history over a 60-day period from April 10 to June 8 including events at NEI’s Nuclear Energy Assembly, May 13-15 in Washington, D.C. and with special events with current and former employees and members.

So much has happened that we can be proud of and can learn from over the last 60 years. Our bright future is exemplified by the more than 9,500 young women and men who comprise our North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) and the almost 5,600 members of U.S. Women In Nuclear (WIN). In just under five weeks, hundreds of NAYGN members will join us in D.C. at the Nuclear Energy Assembly, bringing enthusiasm, knowledge and energy. The bright future is also evidenced by the five new nuclear energy facilities under construction (V.C. Summer in South Carolina, Vogtle in Georgia, and Watts Bar in Tennessee), the expansion of our domestic uranium enrichment facilities, the construction of the MOX facility at the Savannah River site and the more than 70 nuclear plants under construction and 164 planned worldwide.

The foundation of this bright future is based on the real value that nuclear energy and nuclear materials bring to mankind. Whether it’s how nuclear medicine helps save lives, how nuclear materials do everything from enhancing food supplies to checking welds and filling beverage cans, or how nuclear energy provides reliable clean air electricity 24/7, our quality of life in America and worldwide is significantly enhanced. It is for reasons like this that Bill Gates is pursuing advanced nuclear technology and that environmental leaders like Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, have become nuclear energy advocates.

As we look to the future we must always keep our focus on safety as our top priority when operating our facilities and handling radioactive materials. Also, those of us who have experienced the storied history of our industry have a responsibility to effectively transfer knowledge to the extremely talented young women and men who will become our future leaders. As we navigate the various challenges facing our industry, NEI and its 350+ member organizations will continue to strive toward our vision: nuclear energy is recognized as an indispensable part of America’s energy security, environmental stewardship and economic development in the 21st century.

Let’s enjoy the celebration.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

NEI's Paul Genoa Hits 10 Markets in Radio Media Tour on Small Modular Reactors

This morning Paul Genoa, NEI’s senior director of policy development, completed a tour of 10 radio outlets – including three state networks covering Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee – discussing small reactor technology in the context of the administration’s release of the FY 14 budget tomorrow. The president has supported SMR technology in his budgets each of the past three years. Paul characterized SMRs as an “elegant evolution” relative to large light water reactor technology, one whose development over the next decade will “kickstart an entire industry.”

You'd be right in believing that today in industry there is a good deal of excitement about the frontier of SMR technology, and for good reason.

B&W's mPower SMR.
The four current SMR designs, Paul told his radio audiences, possess “an economy of scaleability,” affording them the versatility to respond to load growth, and are likely to be situated on sites of about 30 acres, or “the size of a relatively small shopping center.” They are being designed in a post 9/11, post-Fukushima environment, with safety advances incorporated from the ground up.

On the radio today Paul was particularly effective I thought in conveying safety messaging. His segments in Virginia (Richmond, Roanoke) aroused discussion of nuclear technology relative to the August 2011 earthquake there, and Paul noted that while that earthquake delivered some significant damage to the Washington Monument, our National Cathedral, and even Union Station, “at the North Anna nuclear plant the earthquake didn’t even damage a lightbulb” on site.

More effective messaging: While America today has seen an erosion of some aspects of its manufacturing leadership, Paul pointed out, it remains a world leader in aerospace, technology, and defense, and the skills and expertise in these realms are directly relatable and transferable to SMR development.

Paul’s radio tour took him to the aforementioned Midwest states as well as the municipalities of Raleigh-Durham, Richmond, Roanoke, Washington, DC, and St. Louis. Paul appeared on two separate stations in St. Louis this morning, and one host there told him on the air that he’d be happy to have an SMR in his backyard!

Paul very effectively evoked third part support for SMR technology, from Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the President’s top climate advisor, James Hansen, to Bill Gates, who is putting his own money into new reactor deisgns. Gates is driven by a vision to address our planet’s more than 2 billion inhabitants who today have no access to clean drinking water or electricity. “The world would be a better place with Gates’ SMR vision deployed,” Paul said over the airwaves. “We can influence the safety and security of the planet with this technology,” added.

Here's a clip of Genoa from this morning appearing on WJMA-FM in Central Virginia.

NEI CEO Marv Fertel: America's Reactors Safe Under Jaczko Term as NRC Chair, Still Safe Today

Marv Fertel
The following statement can be attributed to Marv Fertel, NEI's President and CEO. The entire statement was provided to Matt Wald of the New York Times in response to comments made yesterday in Washington by former U.S. NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko:
“U.S. nuclear energy facilities are operating safely. That was the case prior to Greg Jaczko’s tenure as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman. It was the case during his tenure as NRC chairman, as acknowledged by the NRC’s special Fukushima response task force and evidenced by a multitude of safety and performance indicators. It is still the case today, particularly as every U.S. nuclear energy facility adds yet another layer of safety by implementing lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

“The greatest safety improvement to protect against extreme events, regardless of their cause, comes from the FLEX response strategy that the industry began implementing last year. The heart of this effort is adding more portable, backup safety equipment at each reactor. More than 1,500 pieces of equipment have been acquired or ordered, including portable generators, diesel-driven pumps and satellite phones. The additional portable equipment will provide power and water to maintain key safety functions in the absence of AC power and heat transfer capability from permanently installed safety systems. These functions are reactor core cooling, used fuel pool cooling and containment integrity.

“In addition to new equipment being placed at all U.S. reactors, the industry is developing regional response centers in Memphis and Phoenix that will serve as dispatch points for additional equipment and resources. The regional response centers will be capable of delivering another full set of portable safety equipment, radiation protection equipment, electrical generators, pumps and other emergency response equipment to an affected site within 24 hours after an extreme event.

“The nuclear energy industry’s approach to safety includes a continuous focus on operational procedures, extensive training, and sharing of lessons learned among the highly professional men and women who personify our facilities’ world-class safety culture.

“Beyond the steps that the industry is taking, the NRC carries out its safety oversight mission with a staff of 4,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $1 billion.

“It is imperative that we continue to operate at exemplary levels of safety to maintain the far-reaching benefits of nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants generate one-fifth of America’s total electricity supply and nearly two-thirds of the carbon-free supply. Beyond their around-the-clock production of large amounts of electricity, nuclear energy facilities help maintain electric grid stability, play a major role in meeting clean air requirements, anchor the local tax base with high-paying jobs, provide electric price stability for homes and businesses alike, and support fuel diversity.”

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Nuclear View from Accra

This one flew in under the radar:
Minister for Energy and Petroleum Emmanuel Kofi Buah, says Ghana is committed to considering nuclear energy as a viable option in power generation.
He said the Ministry is putting the necessary measures in place to ensure the realization of that great goal.
According to him, the increasing demand for power in the country called for accelerated measures to venture into nuclear power, adding that the time has come for critical consideration of this option.
The author here seems to jumping straight from considering to implementing, which still seems a way off. Still, the reason Ghana is looking into nuclear energy is very easy to understand.
The IAEA Africa Head pledged his support for Ghana in its quest to venture into that area, saying that if the country is to achieve higher middle income status, then there is the need for cheap and clean energy to power its developing industries.
That’s about right. Although I didn’t find much discussion of limiting carbon emissions as a goal, it’s something that Ghana has been exceptionally good at up to now.
Currently only 72% of the country's population has access to mains electricity, two-thirds of which is currently generated by hydro-electric plants.
A full-scale nuclear power facility is felt likely to not only electrify the parts of Ghana needing it, but to provide an exportable item to its west African neighbors. In several different ways, it could be an engine of prosperity for the country.
Maybe one hesitates at the idea of any African country having access to nuclear energy (South Africa has two reactors, just to cross that t). it can be a pretty fractious place, with many countries barely able to stand themselves up before coup time arrives. That does not describe Ghana, though. It has a fairly stable government and, according to Foreign Policy’s Failed State Index, it scores better than any other country on the continent aside from South Africa and Botswana.
BBC’s roundup of countries puts it this way:
A well-administered country by regional standards, Ghana is often seen as a model for political and economic reform in Africa.
Ghana is already operating an experimental reactor, so, although It may take a little longer than Buah anticipates, commercial operation may be a question of when not if. Should that be so, welcome to the club, Ghana.

Readers are Catching on to Helen Caldicott's Alarmist Rhetoric About Nuclear Energy

Dr. Helen Caldicott
For a number of years now, we've been sure to follow the public pronouncements of anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott and how the public is beginning to push back against her radical agenda.

The latest example comes from the Sydney Morning Herald, where Caldicott's latest op-ed was greeted frostily in the comments section following the article.

Here's a sampler:
As someone who worked as a medical physicist, whose job it was to be on to of these sorts of issues. I must say this is alarmist, unbalanced and inaccurate and should be treated with a healthy degree of suspicion.,

Long on rhetoric, short on actual data.


I'm very surprised such a vague article could be published in the SMH. "Growing body of scientific evidence", "unprecedented increase" and "huge continuing" are the words used here to back up the basic premise. No numbers, emotive language and non-specifics - these are the hallmarks of spin, propaganda and a hidden agenda.


When someone writes an article without data it's always worth looking a little more. And indeed, this author should be presented as 'Helen Caldicott is a physician, author and anti-nuclear activist'. Once you know that, and consider that no facts are presented you know to take what she says with a pinch of salt.
When it comes to monitoring the potential health effects from the accident at Fukushima, I always come back to the following passage that Mike Moyer of Scientific American wrote in response to the publication of research by anti-nuclear activist Joseph Mangano:
This is not to say that the radiation from Fukushima is not dangerous (it is), nor that we shouldn’t closely monitor its potential to spread (we should). But picking only the data that suits your analysis isn’t science—it’s politics. Beware those who would confuse the latter with the former.
For a more sober assessment on Fukushima, read this piece from Dr. Robert Peter Gale that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. As for Dr. Caldicott, you might want to consult a post from our archives by David Bradish from 2005 that puts her positions on commercial nuclear energy in the proper perspective.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

In California, Nuclear Turns Off and Prices Go Up

What would happen to electricity prices in the event of a significant nuclear power plant shutdown? If recent events in Southern California are any measure, electricity prices would go up.

In January of 2012, both reactors at San Onofre in Southern California were taken out of service. The result? Electricity prices in the north and south of the state are no longer comparable. Prices were up 12% in 2012 in “the Southland” compared to Northern California where PG&E’s Diablo Canyon keeps humming along, according to new data from the US Energy Information Administration.

Electric Light & Power magazine says that the difference is one of simple substitution. Switching off nuclear power has led to more expensive alternatives.

But don’t look to natural gas prices as the culprit.

Relative differences in natural gas prices do not seem to be driving the gap between Northern and Southern California power prices…
Electricity imports (from other states) aren’t to blame either. In fact, one of the more affordable import sources turns out to be nuclear energy from Arizona.
Generation from outside the state is often less expensive [emphasis added]. Some power plants located in adjacent states are partially owned by California utility companies, and special agreements exist for exporting power to California. For instance, 18% of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, located in Tonopah, Arizona, is owned by California-based utilities.
Rather, it’s local (non-nuclear) sources of electricity generation that may be causing the price increases.
The major nearby alternative sources, however, are more expensive, and seem to be contributing to higher wholesale power prices.
The article isn’t clear on whether this price rise is due to “transmission congestion” or local natural gas plants (see chart below). But the root cause remains the same: The lack of nuclear-based generation from San Onofre is driving electricity prices higher in Southern California.

This overall dynamic is not unique to California, Germany has seen electricity prices escalate as a result of its nuclear shutdown and switch to pricier renewables.

Nuclear energy already suffers from a raft of myths and misconceptions. Here’s hoping that if anything is learned from the shutdowns in California and Germany, it’s that nuclear power is one of the most cost effective ways to generate electricity.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Value of Energy Diversity, Nuclear Energy Division

On the one hand, people jabber about energy diversity – simply, the practice of not betting the megawatts on one energy source – but if the price is right, there is a rush for, say, natural gas. Now, that’s still within the context, in this country, of a pretty broad energy mix. And natural gas isn’t exactly a villain, as utilities have embraced it as a means of reducing carbon emissions and shuttering coal plants.

But what about France? It gets between 75 and 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. That’s not very diverse, though it doesn’t seem to have caused a lot of problems. Yet.

I ran into this little story at Autoblog Green, about Renault’s warning that the grid may not be able to handle a big influx of electric cars:

The culprit is a combination of France's extensive use of nuclear power, which lacks the flexibility to cope with power-demand surges, and the widespread use of electric heaters during France's cold spells, which already strains the country's power supply.

I seem to recall that France encouraged electrically generated heat as a means to soak up excess electricity. It may be that France just needs to make more electricity if it now needs to accommodate cars. But the story, while not dishonest, seems to want to have nuclear energy as the problem rather than the grid. Since this was picked up out of the Reuters news service, it seemed a good idea to look there for more details.

And voila! The grid does seem to be struggling:

France's power grid, already under strain at peak periods, could struggle to cope if growing numbers of electric car owners all recharge their batteries when they sit down for dinner, power sector executives say.

But, um, Zut alors! Nuclear energy is not completely off the hook:

The heavy reliance on electrical heating in France was instigated by successive governments to absorb surplus nuclear power. Its 19 nuclear power plants make France Europe's biggest electricity exporter and ensure generally steady power supplies.

However, it lacks flexible capacity - usually generated by gas, coal or oil-fired plants - to meet peak evening demand during cold snaps.

So I was right about electric heating, but its use appears to have led the country inadvertently into a kind of cul-de-sac. Would coal or natural gas (let’s let oil slip away) help? Sure – because both can ramp up and down relatively quickly and relieve peak demand – if the grid can absorb more electricity and transmit it where its needed. (France has not done much with a “smart” grid yet that has more routing flexibility.)

Logically, trying to add more nuclear energy will produce more excess electricity when cars are not being charged – presumed to be at night – which may cause the government to encourage – what? – more exports? More electric cars?

A lot of this, according the article, is speculative on the part of Renault, which provides time to cook up ideas to deal with it.

Electric cars' batteries could smooth the variability of wind and solar energy by storing wind power produced at night and injecting it back to the grid when it needs help, he [RTE's Oliveier Grabette] said. Such vehicle-to-grid systems are already being tested in the United States and Japan.

RTE is Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, essentially the manager of the grid. Reseau means grid or network.

In any event, one could reasonably argue that lack of energy diversity might catch up with the French. The decision to go all-in on nuclear energy has allowed the country to have the lowest cost electricity in Europe, to act as a net exporter, and to be exceedingly well-positioned as the issue of carbon emissions rose to the fore. France chose energy security (access to uranium, a recycling regime) over energy diversity to suit its own national interests.

But the lack of diversity also – along with a wobbly grid – might be finding its limit – and ironically, with electric cars, which we’ve found a natural match for nuclear energy. It still might be in France and certainly is here. That said, some renewable energy or natural gas where they can be most effective wouldn’t go amiss.

For more on the subject of energy diversity, you may find this Congressional testimony by William Mohl, the president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, interesting.