Friday, August 30, 2013

The Smart Money Is on Nuclear

This week's announcement that Vermont Yankee would be shut down in 2014 was sad news to bear for our industry. Here at NEI, we covered the negative impact on the local economy that this closing will have, and our CEO Marv Fertel's comments expressed how disappointing it is when a well-run and highly productive nuclear plant gets shuttered because of skewed markets.

Caroline Cochran 

It was easy to feel discouraged by this, especially knowing all of the hard work put forth by the talented employees and tireless supporters of Vermont Yankee. That's why it was both inspiring and uplifting to read the following message to industry communicators from Caroline Cochran, a nuclear engineer, blogger and advocate.
I wish we were fighting a battle of facts, but clearly that's not what this is. This is a battle of hearts and guts and cool and public opinion. That’s why what you all are doing is so important. Organizations like PopAtomic Studios and The Breakthrough Institute are great because they make nuclear energy accessible and fun, and help people understand that it’s critical for our environment.

I've seen it over and over again talking to person after person in all types of settings. I work in marketing now and speak with thousands of people monthly -- the change is coming. Young people are pro-nuclear. They think it’s cool. They also think it’s important for our future. Many visionaries and big names are pro-nuclear too: Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and Elon Musk is really coming around.

I was just at the largest annual inbound marketing conference, and everyone I talked to there loved the idea of nuclear. These aren’t engineers, these are young techies and social media types. The types that love TechCrunch and Wired and blogs. I was also just in D.C. meeting with the heads of several agencies and offices. There is momentum coming from there as well.  The New York Times and the old guard will have a change of heart…eventually!

Don’t lose heart guys. The smart money is on nuclear. The people that really care about our future care about nuclear.
On behalf of nukes everywhere, I want to say thank you, Caroline. This is exactly what we needed to hear. We are heartened by your message and will continue to spread the word that nuclear energy is crucial for powering our future.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Local Towns Counting the Cost of the Vermont Yankee Shutdown

Entergy's Vermont Yankee
Here at NEI, we're used to producing economic benefits reports to quantify exactly what sort of impact the operation of a nuclear plant has on a local economy.

But from time to time, it's important to hear from the folks who live closest to the plants to really understand how important they can be. Here's an excerpt from a story that ran earlier this week on VT Digger that reinforces the point:
“Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, said the closing will have an irreparable impact on local towns. ‘It’s going to be devastating to our communities because of the volunteers,’ he said. ‘Our local rescue is predominantly Yankee employees, the volunteer fire department is predominantly Yankee employees, just about every charitable organization in the county has received something from Yankee. … It will be a brain drain,’ he added. ‘It’s not just the economic impact.’

The economic impact will be significant. Since 2007, the Windham Regional Commission, which is the county planning commission, has been preparing for the one of the area’s largest economic engines to turn off. ‘There’s a significant impact to having those very highly paid jobs,’ Hebert said. “Those are the people that buy your cars and eat in your restaurants.’ Entergy workers make roughly $90,000 a year, and the company contributes nearly $100 million to the state’s economy through wages, charitable donations and payments in local and state fees and taxes. Once Vermont Yankee closes these sources of income will begin to dry up.’”
For more on what folks living closest to nuclear power plants have to say, take a look at our latest plant neighbor survey.

Responding to Mark Bittman's "Half-Baked" Diatribe in the New York Times

Over the past few months, coincident with the release of Robert Stone's Pandora's Promise, we've seen a lot of favorable news coverage concerning how many environmentalists have begun to reconsider their position on nuclear energy. One of the places where we've seen this coverage has been in the New York Times, which recently ran a story by Eduardo Porter urging the nation to get moving on building new nuclear power plant in order to help constrain CO2 emissions.

This apparently got under the skin of the paper's food critic, Mark Bittman, who took a radical departure from his normal area of expertise in order to question folks like Stone, James Hansen and Stewart Brand who no longer see any contradiction between being pro-environment and pro-nuclear energy:

Before we all become pro-nuclear greens, however, you’ve got to ask three questions: Is nuclear power safe and clean? Is it economical? And are there better alternatives?

No, no and yes. So let’s not swap the pending environmental disaster of climate change for another that may be equally risky.
In the comments, NEI's own Steve Kerekes left the following rejoinder:
Something smells rotten in Mr. Bittman's kitchen, specifically this half-baked diatribe. Nuclear energy facilities have long since proven their value to society. In the United States, for two decades now, they've provided 20 percent of our electricity supply (even as overall demand has risen) from only 10 percent of the nation's installed electric-generating capacity. That alone demonstrates their efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness.

The author misleadingly compares the Solyndra loan guarantee (startup technology for a company with virtually no assets) to a loan guarantee (not yet finalized, by the way) for a reactor project being undertaken by an electric utility that has operated for decades and has billions of dollars of assets. He mischaracterizes the Price-Anderson Act liability framework that has functioned effectively (and generated revenues TO the federal government) since the 1950s.

He wrongly suggests that used nuclear fuel is not secured safely and securely. And he seeks to pin America's energy future on technologies that, while they have a role to play in our energy mix, have not proven their reliabiity over time in no small part because they are intermittent by their nature. During the recent East Coast heat wave, nuclear energy facilities operated at 96 percent of their availability the full week. Mr. Bittman's preferred technologies came nowhere close to that.
Thanks to Steve for stepping into the fray.

Department of Defense Makes it Official: It Never Requested Nuclear Security Report from Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project

Even though the mainstream media has moved on to other topics, there are still a number of other facts we've uncovered concerning the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project and its supposed relationship to the Department of Defense (DoD). Earlier this week, a reporter from NEI's Nuclear Energy Overview made a phone call to the Pentagon to get some clarification about the exact relationship between DoD and the published report. Here's an excerpt:

The U.S. Department of Defense did not request or validate a recent study on security at America’s nuclear energy facilities by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, a DOD official said.

“The Department of Defense did provide funding to the University of Texas at Austin, but did not request a report on that specific topic, nor did we validate its findings,” the Defense Department official said.
That's what we all suspected, but it's nice to get it on the record. We'll have more if events warrant.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Think You’ve Got Game? Try NARUC’s Energy Risk Lab

The following guest post was written by Mary Pietrzyk, NEI’s  Manager, Fuel Cycle Policies and Programs.

I had the opportunity recently to participate in a thought provoking and action packed event in Washington, DC—NARUC’s Energy Risk LabNARUC, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, is the national association representing public utility commissioners from each state.  NARUC is a valuable resource for Commissioners around the country and provides fora for dialogue among diverse entities in the public utility industry.

NARUC’s Energy Risk Lab, generously supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a scenario-planning game that looks at decisions and uncertainty facing the U.S. electricity generation sector.  NARUC staff, using natural disaster related emergency tabletop exercises as a foundation, developed this game, along with others, to explore the impacts of new policy, market, or technology developments on electricity generation. 

The basis of this lab is that each team is given a portfolio of generation. Teams start with coal, and then other technologies are added as the game progresses.  NARUC’s Miles Keogh walked our group through various rounds of complying with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Rules.  After getting a brief overview of each rule, teams had to retrofit, repower or replace generation to comply with:

·         the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule in round 1;
·         the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in round 3; and
·         the New Source Performance Standards Rule for existing plants in round 5. 

While some of these rules are not finalized, assumptions were made as to what would be deemed compliant.  Teams worked to make generation decisions, manage uncertainties as the game progressed, and eventually worked between teams to buy and sell generation and allowances.

In addition to gaining valuable knowledge about EPA rules, the game explored the psychology of decision-making under situations of uncertainty and incomplete information (sounds like the real world doesn’t it?)  For example, all teams had a proclivity to make small incremental changes instead of making dramatic changes to their generation portfolios due to uncertainty looming in subsequent rounds.  

It was also difficult to balance the various drivers of change—complying with the rules in a timely manner while maintaining reliability, developing new clean energy generation while managing costs, and the list continues.  Compounding the challenges, my team was representative of a diverse set of interests (industry, environmental organizations, regulatory organizations, etc), so options had to be carefully presented and defended.   

This game definitely conveyed the enormous pressures on our electricity system—but more importantly the enormous pressure on our utilities, regulators and legislators who have to make these generation planning decisions.

Kudos to the NARUC team and the Department of Energy for the great event!  A special thanks to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for hosting the group in its DC conference center.
  

Anyone seeking more information regarding the Energy Risk Lab should contact Miles Keough, Director of Grants and Research, at mkeough-at-naruc.org.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Editor's Note: Cleaning Up the Blogroll

At the behest of one of our friends from AREVA, we took a quick inventory of the links in our blogroll and got to business cleaning things up. Over the years, we've been pretty liberal about who we included in that list, especially when it came to extended periods of inactivity.

There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which was the fact that a number of blogs listed here played an important part in online conversation about the industry during the early days of NEI Nuclear Notes. If an when any of our friends online take a break, we generally like to let them know that we haven't forgotten about them, and if and when they ever decide to come back, we'd be happy to see them return to the conversation.

Still, in checking over the links, things had clearly gotten a bit overgrown. In general, if a blog hadn't been updated in six months or more, we pruned it from the list. That of course begs the next question: are there any new blogs that we ought to be following now that aren't currently on our list? If there are, drop off the URLs in the comment box below.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Welcoming Progressives for Nuclear Progress to the Blogosphere

A new blog, started by Eric Schmitz, presents an increasingly common voice in the pro-nuclear blogosphere: the progressive liberal. Schmitz’s blog, called Progressives for Nuclear Progress, has the tagline of “Bringing the American left on board for a clean nuclear future.”

The blog marks a new trend as more political liberals have come out in support of nuclear. The Breakthrough Institute explains the phenomenon:
While historically conservatives have been the prominent supporters of nuclear energy, the urgency of climate change has recently compelled liberals and progressives to reconsider nuclear as the best zero-carbon source of baseload electricity for a world with rapidly rising energy demand.
Schmitz is a progressive proponent of nuclear and an engineer by trade. He reminds the reader that he is not a nuclear professional, and he has no education in the field. However, he does admit to be a “cheerleader” for nuclear progress simply by reading every nuclear-related article he comes across—along with a couple of books—and then posting anything substantial he might have to say.

The following statement of his says it all:
I have come to realize that we (liberals and progressives) cannot afford to continue sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to the one kind of power generation that is capable of providing ample energy at nearly zero carbon cost. And we cannot go on ignoring the real science behind nuclear power, especially while accusing others of being “anti-science” about issues such as climate change.
Schmitz’s voice is direct and clear. He calls out those who worry about climate change but do not accept nuclear as a viable energy source, and coherently argues his way through why those who have shunned nuclear power in the past must learn to accept it for the benefit of the environment. Please give him a read.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Some Final Thoughts on the Nuclear Plant Security Report by Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project

As our readers will recall, we spent a considerable amount of time last week responding to a "study" issued by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project on the security of nuclear energy facilities here in the U.S. Over the weekend, Jim Conca, a blogger for Forbes, took a closer look at the report, and made a number of interesting points (emphasis added in bold):

Those of us who have actually worked within the nuclear complex can tell you this study is grossly flawed. You need only read the limited source materials the author used in making her case and the absence of any references that contradict her thesis. And the lack of any expert review.

But if you read the press on this report, it sounds like it was actually commissioned by the “Office of the Secretary of Defense, which provided financial support for the research”. Inquiries to DoD say the report was not requested by the department. DoD just funds the program as a whole at the University and has no knowledge what’s coming out, until it’s out. We all know how this works.

There was no expert peer review, and the report only represents speculations of the student and her advisor. Even the cartoon on the front page is childish. The authors confuse nuclear weapons with nuclear energy, and have no first-hand knowledge of the security aspects of these facilities, since they have no access to such highly classified information.

But hey, just wing it! What could go wrong?

What’s stranger yet is that UT has an amazing number of nuclear experts, any one of whom could have reviewed this report, if asked. UT even has Dale Klein, former NRC chairman and nuclear security expert at the Pentagon (March 5, 2010 Speech). Why was he purposefully ignored?
One other important point that the media missed: Alan J. Kuperman, the head of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, isn't a neutral academic. In fact, he used to work for the avowedly anti-nuclear Greenpeace. The reference is included in his online bio.

One wonders why that reference wasn't mentioned during last week's media frenzy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

NEI Responds to NPPP Report on Security at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

A few minutes ago, NEI issued a statement concerning the security of the nation's 100 operating nuclear reactors. The statement comes in response to the release yesterday of a report by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project. Here's the nut graf:

A report by a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas’ Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project, released Aug. 15, is an academic paper developed for discussion among academia of the appropriate security levels at nuclear energy facilities. It is not a full assessment of security, nor does the author of the report have access to the safeguarded information that she would need to make such as assessment.

Like many such evaluations that examine the potential theft of uranium fuel from commercial reactors, the NPPP report fails to explain how attackers would be able to dislodge highly irradiated uranium fuel—800 to 1,200-pound, 18-foot-tall fuel bundles—and maneuver them from reactors, storage pools or steel and concrete containers past layers of elaborate security.
See our website for more information on nuclear power plant security.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Fresh Perspective on Nuclear Plant Security

Nuclear plants are widely acknowledged to be the best-defended facilities among the nation’s critical infrastructure. Critical, independent security experts share the industry’s belief that nuclear power plants are very well-defended, particularly in comparison to other elements of the nation’s industrial infrastructure. These include assessments from the the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The robustness of our industry's security isn't the easiest topic to address in great detail; appropriately, key security features for our sites are Safeguards Information. Still, this NEI video treatment of site security does offer some much-needed perspective relative to reports like today's from Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP).

There's a common/recurring flaw in many such evaluations of nuclear plant security: they ever fail to explain how attackers upon a nuclear power plant will be able to dislodge highly irradiated fuel, stored in tons-weighing 18-foot tall assemblies in reactors, pools, or in megaton dry casks, and maneuver them past layers of elaborate security measures.  

It's also important to remember that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds nuclear power plants to the highest security standards of any American industry, and industry exceeds those standards.

Approximately 9,000 extremely well-armed and highly trained security officers defend the nation’s 62 nuclear power plant sites. This is an increase of approximately 60 percent in the size of nuclear plant security forces since 9/11. These forces, a large percentage from military and law enforcement backgrounds, are drilled and tested regularly to ensure their readiness. Security officers receive hundreds of hours of training before they are deployed.

“Force on force” exercises that use dedicated teams of mock adversaries who specialize in attack strategies and tactics are part of the comprehensive oversight of industry security programs. Each plant site conducts quarterly and annual drills for each security team and undergoes an NRC-evaluated “force on force” exercise once every three years. Ongoing integrated response with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies ensures robust and extensive site protection plans. Based on its regular interactions with federal intelligence and law enforcement authorities, the NRC establishes the threat against which the industry must be protected and sets stringent standards that security forces must meet.

"U.S. nuclear plants were safe and secure before Sept. 11, 2001," Dave Kline, NEI's Director of Security, told me this morning. "They are even safer and more secure today, on the strength of more than $2 billion in additional security investment encompassing substantial physical changes and enhancements at plant sites; the hiring of thousands of additional, highly trained security officers; procurement of more sophisticated detection and access systems; and closer coordination with local, state and federal law enforcement, intelligence experts, and the military."

Some key considerations to keep in mind as you weigh allegations of lax security lobbed by academics versus the time-tested, ongoing assessments of this nation's top-ranking security professionals:

  • Every commercial nuclear reactor in the country has conducted an aircraft impact assessment. 
  • Industry's Design Basis Threat is reviewed periodically, and threat information is considered for DBT revision. DBT is Safeguards information, and as such can't have its attributes characterized.
  •  Frequent Beyond Design Basis Threat drills are conducted, confirming margin in the protective strategies. 
  • Contingency planning is in place for loss of large areas of a plant.  
Finally, a report like the NPPP's today also fails to acknowledge that the very type of terrorist attack alleged as a vulnerability necessarily represents an enemy of the state incursion within our country. It isn't the obligation of any electric utility to defend against that; that's a job for the highest levels of federal national security.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Understanding the Facts About Radiation and Public Health at Turkey Point

The following guest post was submitted by NEI Media Manager, Mitch Singer.

Last month I attended two public hearings in Homestead, Fla., focusing on the proposed two new additional nuclear plants, Turkey Point 6&7, at the nearby facility that has two operating reactors and a natural gas plant. Turkey Point has significant support and people are upbeat about the prospects of the additional units.

Aerial view of Turkey Point
But as to be expected there were a number of opponents. One person who testified identified himself as a biologist.

Unfortunately, he sounded more like a script writer for a 1950s horror film as, he accused the operators of Turkey Point of causing all sorts of flesh-eating maladies as the result of radiation leaks from the plant.

Back in high school, all of my science teachers taught me the same valuable lesson: science is the pursuit of truth based on evidence from study and experimentation.

It was a lesson I took to heart, and one that I wish more members of the public would apply to questions of public policy, like the licensing of new nuclear power plants.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets an individual exposure limit for nuclear plant workers of 5,000 millirem (mrem) per year. The average plant worker receives 115 mrem…that’s less than one percent a year of that amount. To put it into perspective, the average American is exposed to about 600 mrem of radiation per year from all sources. That includes natural background radiation. As it turns out, the largest source of radiation exposure to the general public is from medical applications like X-Rays.

If you were to Google facts about radiation the search results would be voluminous. NEI has saved you the trouble by creating a Radiation: Standards and Organization Provide Safety for Public and Workers fact sheet with top-line information and footnoted sources from reputable, independent organizations including the National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

I hope the biologist/screen writer takes a look at this information. Perhaps he’ll discover the lessons of scientific study that were drilled into me during my youth in New Jersey by dedicated teachers like Mrs. Lustbader, Mr. Mitros, Mrs. Kratt, Mr. Edack and Mr. Susskind .

Nobody is more concerned with protecting the health and safety of its workers and the surrounding community than the operators of a nuclear power plant. After all, the folks who work at the plant also live in the surrounding community. Their diligence doesn't only buttress their own safety, it also guarantees the safety and health of their family, friends and neighbors.

Perhaps the most compelling input I heard at the hearings was from Faith Banks, a quality assurance manager who has worked at Turkey Point for more than two decades. During that time she never worried about her health because of the emphasis on safety by plant owner, Florida Power & Light.

“I worked before, during and after my two pregnancies,” she said. “I’m healthy and my children are healthy.”

Editor's Note: Over at the News section of the new NEI website, we've recently posted a story about Turkey Point's economic impact on South Florida.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Duke Energy COL for Levy County Nuclear Plant Still Alive Outside Cost Recovery

We've been watching the wires pretty closely every since we caught wind of a potential announcement by Duke Energy about the proposed nuclear project in Levy County, Florida. So far, several outlets have incorrectly reported that the project has been permanently shelved.

It's too bad those reporters didn't bother reading the fine print of the Duke Energy press release concerning a wide-ranging settlement with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) that went out about an hour ago (Bold emphasis mine):

In 2008, Duke Energy Florida announced plans to construct two 1,100-megawatt nuclear units in Levy County, Fla.

Duke Energy’s EPC agreement was based on the ability to obtain the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) combined construction and operating license (COL) by Jan. 1, 2014. As a result of delays by the NRC in issuing COLs for new nuclear plants, as well as increased uncertainty in cost recovery caused by recent legislative changes in Florida, Duke Energy will be terminating the EPC agreement for the proposed Levy nuclear project.

Although the proposed Levy nuclear project is no longer an option for meeting energy needs within the originally scheduled timeframe, Duke Energy Florida continues to regard the Levy site as a viable option for future nuclear generation and understands the importance of fuel diversity in creating a sustainable energy future. Because of this, the company will continue to pursue the COL outside of the nuclear cost recovery clause.

“We continue to believe that a balanced energy portfolio, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and state-of-the-art cleaner power plants are critical to securing Florida’s energy future, and nuclear energy should remain an option to meet Florida’s future energy needs,” Glenn said.
So, what we're looking at is a delay, not a cancellation, and regulatory preparation for a potential new plant will continue. Here's hoping that detail gets back into the coverage this evening.