Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Color Him Surprised on the Popularity of Nuclear Energy

Just in case you thought Canadians were different from Americans:

Ontarians favor nuclear power by a margin of more than two to one, a new public opinion survey suggests.

The Forum Research poll found that 54 per cent are comfortable with atomic energy compared to 23 per cent who oppose it, while 23 per cent had no opinion.

That’s 77 percent in favor or non-committal. I should add that this is the province that has nuclear energy facilities –  I’ve read that the other provinces are less in favor of nuclear energy. I haven’t really seen it borne out by polls, though support does run under Ontario. This poll, from Abacus Data in 2011, shows all Canadians supporting nuclear energy (or non-committal) at 56 percent, which is not terrible.

Now, this survey was done soon after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, so some of its findings may have faded with time. It asks explicitly whether views on nuclear energy have worsened as a result of the accident. Forty-nine percent said yes, 43 percent said no. That suggests to me that Canadians, like Americans, made the distinction between their industry – and the people’s relative faith in it - and that of another country. I suspect that the number would go up in 2012 and 2013.

Back in Ontario:

“I hate to use this analogy, but it’s not as radioactive an issue as it used to be,” [pollster Forum Research] president Lorne Bozinoff said Tuesday.

“This is a new generation of people and they weren’t around at the height of the anti-nuclear stuff,” said Bozinoff, adding he was “surprised” at the level of acceptance of nuclear energy in Ontario.

Funny guy. it’s just a guess on his part and his is as good as mine, but I also imagine that the manifest benefits of nuclear energy in Ontario – good jobs and economic development – help its standing. For me, the surprising aspect of looking into this is to find that Canada, despite the concentration of its nuclear energy industry in Ontario, probably could expand westward based just on public opinion.

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Another story in The Toronto Star is headlined “Halloween spirit has turned tasteless.” But if it isn’t tasteless, it isn’t Halloween. Maybe Americans and Canadians are different from one another.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why an MIT Study on Energy, Water Use and Carbon Emissions is Seriously Flawed

The following post was submitted by William Skaff, NEI's Director of Policy Development.

The MIT study, “Water-CO2 Trade-Offs in Electricity Generation Planning,” that was recently published in Nature Climate Change Letters indicates that power sector water use increases as carbon emissions are reduced. The measure employed for water use is withdrawal. A closer look at the study indicates that this approach is seriously flawed and could lead to erroneous conclusions about nuclear power plants and cooling water.

Climate change eliminates water from watersheds. It does not take water out and then put it back again. Therefore, the appropriate measurement of power plant water use in this context is consumption. This study is seriously flawed because its modeling employs withdrawal, when once-through cooling systems return 99 percent of the water withdrawn,1  and the power sector as a whole returns 98 percent of water withdrawn, to the source water body.2 For example, according to EPRI, nuclear plants with once-through cooling withdraw between 25,000 and 60,000 gal/MWh, but consume only 400 gal/MWh.3

Thus, when the study says, “The water withdrawal under the CO2 limit is 64% greater than under the no-limit case, owing to the additional water withdrawals for nuclear energy” (p. 2), that percent would be substantially reduced to a very small percent increase if consumption were considered. Specifically, according to the statistics above, power sector withdrawal is 100 percent of water use, and 2 percent of this amount is consumed. If, according to the study, there is an increase in withdrawal of 64 percent, roughly 2 percent of which is consumption, then the additional increase in consumption is approximately a little over one percent, at 1.28 percent.

The MIT study demonstrates that selecting an inappropriate water use measure for computer modeling will yield deceptive results that, in turn, may lead to erroneous, if not detrimental, choices for electricity generation portfolio mix made for the purpose of climate change.

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Electric Power Research Institute, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 3 U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production, 2002, p. 3-1.
U.S. Geological Survey (Wayne B. Solley, et al.), Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, 1998, p. 48-9.
Electric Power Research Institute, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 3 U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production, 2002, p. viii.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Blighting the Landscape with Turbines

From Twitterer Emily Gosden of the British newspaper The Telegraph:

Decc [Department of Energy and Climate Change] deleted this graphic comparing nukes/wind/solar "because of sensitivities". Says "not inaccurate". Hmm.

This is a post about it by Telegraph news blogger Will Heaven:

It turns out that the Renewable Energy Association called it "unhelpful" in a press release, pleading that "as Ed Davey stressed… it is not an either/or choice".

And here’s the infographic:

infographic

It basically shows the land mass taken to generate a similar amount of energy. Well, it really isn’t helpful to the renewable folks, is it?. Wind farms and solar arrays can eat up a lot of space.

Context really matters: if land mass is the key issue, nuclear energy wins. Nuclear energy wins on capacity, too, the potential generated output. Nuclear energy the realizes most of its capacity, wind and solar do not. This infographic doesn’t reflect that.

Imagine that this infographic were about water use instead of land use. Hinkley Point C and the wind farm would change places (let’s leave solar aside) and Hinkley could look far less attractive, a virtual river leech compared to those dry-as-bone turbines.  NEI has a good paper about water use, but that’s really beside the point.

This is not an issue with infographics, which can be really handy for communicating a lot of data in a friendly way. NEI has some nice infographics that make do without tacit editorializing. So let’s allow the Renewable Association its concern.

And that concern is not without cause:

Michael Fallon, the Conservative energy minister, said that nuclear power stations will ultimately prove a cheaper and less controversial alternative.

He told The Daily Telegraph: "This is the first in a wave of new nuclear plants to replace the ageing fleet that Labour did nothing to tackle.

"Without new nuclear local people would face many thousands more wind farms blighting our landscape. By contrast, nuclear power is popular in areas that have existing stations and will deliver significant jobs and investment."

We can be thrilled about Hinkley Point C without calling wind farms a blight. Land mass usage is important, but there are a lot of issues to consider – many of them still favor nuclear energy, but the government view does seem a bit lop sided. I agree with Ed Davey: it’s not either/or.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Help Us Promote the November 7th CNN Premiere of Pandora's Promise on Thunderclap

We're getting every closer to the debut of Pandora's Promise on CNN. To recap, the pro-nuclear documentary will air on the cable network in less than two weeks from tonight at 9:00 p.m. U.S. EST. To help promote the event, we've created a Thunderclap.

What's a Thunderclap? Simply put, it's a great new way to promote campaigns or events via social media. We're looking to recruit 100 people who will sign up to promote the CNN premiere of Pandora's Promise on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr (or any combination of the three). Just click the button on the widget below, and you can get in on the action.

Here's hoping you can join us on November 7th.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nuclear Energy’s Sweep of Eastern Europe

Sounds like nuclear heaven:

… Hungarians throughout the country [of Hungary – go figure] are still positive about nuclear energy. There has never been a significant anti-nuclear movement. Even politicians, deeply divided about everything else, have reached a broad consensus on energy issues and want to see an expansion of nuclear power. Hungary wants to modernize the four units in Paks to extend their lifespan - and probably build two new ones beside them.'

And heaven is a place on Earth:

Hungary is part of a trend in the region. From the Baltics to Bulgaria, almost all countries are planning a nuclear future. Lithuania and Poland are considering building new plants in spite of significant popular opposition to nuclear power. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, there are concrete plans for new reactors, supported by the majority.

Interestingly, the countries with public opposition have never had nuclear energy facilities (Poland) or depended on Soviet RBMK reactors (Lithuania), which the European Union pressured the country to retire.

The Visaginas project is still in play in Lithuania (it looked like it might be stopped after a change in government but was not) . The outcome of closing the Ignalina facility was that it turned Lithuania from a net electricity exporter to a net importer, not a great development for a small country.

The story enumerates other Eastern European countries that have or want nuclear energy projects – Romania and Bulgaria specifically – so the sweep of that part of the world is just about complete. All this attention originates here:

Early last week (14.10.2013), the prime ministers of the Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary [Visegrad is a coalition of these nations] - confirmed their pro-nuclear stance and called on the European Union not to enact a nuclear energy directive. They said that the choice of primary energy sources a country uses should not be decided in Brussels.

Probably because the EU has a strong German voice and we know how the Germans feel about nuclear energy these days.

It’s amusing to see this indirectly addressed:

One student, 21-year-old Peter Racz, born and raised in the city [Paks, Hungary] and whose grandmother and parents worked at the nuclear plant, would like to continue the tradition. He has just completed a welding course, and next year he wants to study engineering. He hopes this will help him get a skilled job at the plant.

Racz cannot understand why the majority of Germans do not like nuclear energy. "This technology will always be used, it is safe and provides many jobs," he says. "Do the Germans have any other ideas about how to secure their energy supply? I think there is no better solution than nuclear power."

Score one for the Hungarian kid.

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When I travelled through Eastern Europe some years ago (East Germany, then-Czechoslovakia and Hungary), filthy air was the first thing I noticed (well, after stuffing West German marks in my socks to avoid losing them to the hard currency-starved east). Not only because it turned Budapest into London 1900 (pollution so thick it sometimes resembled fog), but because black soot would attach to the skin and had to be scrubbed off. Obviously, the end of a Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe also ended, over time, its status as an environmental cesspool.

Nuclear energy was there then, too, so it could be considered a mitigating factor but not a determinative one in quelling pollution. Now, it can be part of a different solution – not only another way to produce electricity, but to continue clearing away toxic air.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Nuclear Energy Cooperation with Vietnam Serves U.S. Interests

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

In a piece published by National Review Online, Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky urge the U.S. Congress to oppose the U.S.-Vietnam nuclear cooperation agreement unless Vietnam matches the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in renouncing technologies for uranium enrichment and used-fuel reprocessing (E&R). 

Sokolski and Gilinsky are out of touch with the current realities of nuclear diplomacy and trade.  The inclusion of new nonproliferation requirements in bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements is just one of many tools used by the United States to restrain the spread of E&R.  U.S. insistence on renouncing E&R in bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements will not be persuasive to most countries.  It will also harm multiple U.S. interests – including interests in nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation – which are advanced by U.S. nuclear cooperation and supply.  A few points to consider:

1. U.S. cooperation advances nonproliferation interests.  The authors recommend a “strict, uniform policy” that conditions U.S. nuclear cooperation on a partner country’s renunciation of its rights to uranium enrichment.  But such an inflexible approach would be counterproductive to nonproliferation interests.

In a piece recently published by the Carnegie Endowment, nonproliferation experts Mark Hibbs and Fred McGoldrick examine in detail how the United States should approach E&R in nuclear cooperation agreements and in the Vietnam agreement in particular.  They conclude that

“Using U.S. bilateral agreements as a lever to limit the spread of ENR may sound like a good idea. But for a number of reasons, insisting that all countries legally forgo ENR for all future U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements risks undermining U.S. nonproliferation interests.”

Hibbs and McGoldrick note that recent U.S. initiatives to deny E&R technologies have succeeded only in provoking widespread opposition from non-nuclear weapons state parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  Few of these countries have any interest in developing E&R facilities but oppose attempts to deny what they regard as their sovereign rights, which are protected by Article IV of the NPT.  A no-E&R requirement for U.S. nuclear cooperation would open the United States to charges that it is undermining the NPT, and “inevitably diminish U.S. influence within the NPT regime and weaken the already-fragile bonds that hold the treaty together.”

The end result of a universal no-E&R requirement “would be to push the United States out of many nuclear markets,” Hibbs and McGoldrick warn. No other nuclear energy supplier country demands no-E&R terms for nuclear trade, and none is likely to do so.  United States would lose not only exports and jobs, but also the nuclear cooperation agreement itself, which is “an important bilateral legal instrument to influence other countries’ nuclear behavior.”  Without a nuclear cooperation agreement, the United States would lose nine nonproliferation assurances and guarantees from the partner country, including consent rights that other nuclear supplier countries do not require. By precluding U.S. nuclear supply arrangements, the United States would also lose the ability of U.S. personnel to identify potential red flags in the other country’s nuclear energy program.

As Hibbs and McGoldrick note, a universal no-E&R policy would “do nothing” to mitigate the larger proliferation risk posed by clandestine activities.  By insisting on no-E&R conditions, the United States would also encumber its efforts to gain broad acceptance of more useful nonproliferation commitments, such as the IAEA Additional Protocol. 

They conclude that a case-by-case approach to addressing E&R issues in Section 123 agreements is the “realistic and effective” approach to handling E&R in nuclear cooperation agreements, and “may lead to greater overall effectiveness of U.S. civil nuclear energy and nonproliferation policies.”  Applying this approach to the Vietnam agreement, they write:

“Based on what is reported to be in that agreement, it would appear Washington and Hanoi have reached a joint political understanding that Vietnam has no intention of engaging in ENR activities. An agreement along these lines would strengthen the economic and energy ties between Washington and Hanoi, promote U.S. strategic objectives in East Asia, and reinforce the global nonproliferation regime.”

McGoldrick and Hibbs are not alone.  Secretary James Schlesinger, Secretary William S. Cohen and other former national security leaders warned earlier this year that a one-size-fits-all approach would “weaken the non-proliferation regime” by encouraging nations to “turn to suppliers that do not impose difficult standards.” 

Nonproliferation experts Miles Pomper and Jessica Varnum of the Monterrey Institute recently noted that “concerns about a mass rush to enrichment and reprocessing appear to be overblown,” making a universal no-E&R policy a “solution in search of a problem.”  Indeed, only a few countries possess E&R technology and legal transfers have occurred only rarely, and with strict oversight. Since the establishment of the NSG in 1974, no NSG member has transferred E&R technologies to a state that did not already have E&R capabilities. 

2. U.S. cooperation advances nuclear safety.  Citing no evidence, Sokolski and Gilinsky claim that “there is no adequate safety agency” in Vietnam.  In fact, Vietnam has taken deliberate steps to develop its nuclear energy program consistent with the highest safety standards.  Vietnam established the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Control and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute in 2008 as the two main agencies responsible for nuclear safety and security.

Vietnam has worked closely on nuclear safety issues with the IAEA and leading nuclear energy countries, including the United States.  Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology signed a nuclear security cooperation agreement with U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration in 2007.  The following year, Vietnam began receiving technical assistance from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). That assistance deepened in 2009 when Vietnam became a pilot country for the NRC’s New Reactor Assistance Program. Vietnam has also received technical assistance from Japan, Korea and Russia.  Like other countries developing new nuclear plants, Vietnam and its foreign partners are incorporating lessons from Fukushima, including new risk assessments for earthquakes and tsunamis. 

If U.S. suppliers are enabled to export to Vietnam advanced reactor designs and world-class operational expertise, they will further enhance nuclear safety in the country. 

The authors cite nuclear safety is a reason “to be cautious about pushing nuclear power in Vietnam,” but Vietnam’s nuclear energy program is well under way with no “push” from the United States.  And preventing U.S. nuclear cooperation would only harm the interest of nuclear safety in Vietnam.

3. The Vietnam nuclear energy market.  The authors also take aim at the economic benefits of U.S. nuclear energy exports to Vietnam.  They scorn projections of the Vietnam nuclear energy market as “wildly optimistic” but provide no actual evidence to challenge industry and government estimates.  Vietnam’s nuclear energy plans, developed in cooperation with the IAEA and foreign partners, call for 10 GW to 15 GW of nuclear generating capacity by 2030.  The first two plants, supplied by Russia, are scheduled to begin construction next year at a southern coastal site and come on line in 2020.  Two additional plants, supplied by Japan, will be constructed in the same province.  An additional 6-11 plants are planned at up to 8 sites in 5 provinces.  Vietnam has indicated strong interest in partnering with U.S. suppliers.

The authors cite the lack of U.S. nuclear exports to India as evidence that international nuclear energy markets are overstated.  But the reason that significant U.S.-India nuclear trade has not yet occurred nothing to do with India’s market demand or India’s interest in U.S. procurement.  The issue is India’s flawed domestic liability law.  Unique in the world, the Indian law has prevented Indian cooperation with foreign and domestic suppliers alike, and must inevitably be reformed to enable India to achieve its nuclear energy plans.

The potential for nuclear energy exports to Vietnam and other countries is far from the “old saw” claimed by the authors.  That the global market for nuclear energy is very large and rapidly growing is plain in the numbers.  According to the World Nuclear Association, 434 commercial nuclear reactors are in operation around the world.  72 are under construction, and another 167 are planned or on order. 

To maintain U.S. influence over global nonproliferation policy and international nuclear safety, the U.S. commercial nuclear energy sector must participate in these markets.  Without U.S. commercial engagement, the United States would have substantially diminished influence over other nations’ nonproliferation policies and practices. U.S. technology and U.S. industry are a critical engine that drives U.S. nonproliferation policies. A successful nuclear trade and export policy must go hand in hand.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The British Return to Nuclear to Keep the Lights On

Here’s the news:

The 16-billion pound ($25.9 billion) project, which was agreed on Monday with France's EDF energy and a group of Chinese investors, aims to keep the lights on in Britain amid declining supplies of North Sea gas and rapidly escalating fuel costs.

"If people at home want to be able to keep watching the television, be able to turn the kettle on, and benefit from electricity, we have got to make these investments," Energy Secretary Ed Davey told the BBC. "It is essential to keep the lights on and to power British business."

That sounds decidedly apocalyptic, but it’s a theme picked up by other stories. Here’s The Telegraph:

During her reign [Queen Elizabeth’s], our atomic expertise, which promised a future of clean, green and affordable electricity, has been handed to foreign competitors on a plate, and Britain’s grid is now under such strain that 57 years later, we find ourselves relying on China and France to keep the lights on.

And in the same language, too, borrowed from Davey. The Telegraph story, by Michael Hanlon, is very withering about Britain’s loss of dominance in the nuclear sphere and ponders gloomily that a “communist superpower” should be doing this rather than the Brits themselves. (In another era, he would be griping about the French end of the deal.)

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Here’s the outline of the deal, from The Guardian:

Britain is to embark on building its first nuclear power station for two decades on Monday as the coalition hands a multibillion subsidy to France's EDF with help from a state-owned Chinese firm.

The two planned pressurized water reactors at Hinkley Point C, Somerset, are the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.

The Guardian being The Guardian, the nuclear energy industry is a nest of asps hissing and spitting. It all could be so much easier:

The alternative to nuclear, made to appear unthinkable by the industry's lobbying, is in fact far from inconceivable. A huge effort to improve the UK's woeful energy efficiency is the first step. The UK government currently expects electricity demand to rise by 33-66% by 2050.

The second step is a genuine commitment to renewable energy, youthful technologies ripe for further cost reductions in stark contrast to nuclear. Even today, once you account for the much longer time for which nuclear is promised subsidies, offshore wind costs the same and it will fall.

I can’t really speak to the British industry’s lobbying efforts, but I do know that here, the industry considers itself part of a continuum that includes energy efficiency and renewable energy. if you want to be cynical about it, and why not?, you could say that there’s money in all of it. But if you want to be a little more idealistic, you could admit that it does not hurt to pursue a full range of options to answer to climate change issues and customer awareness of them. Environmentalists get a lot of mileage out of posing an adversarial relationship between energy generators, but that’s really to charge up the troops not a viable way of doing business.

The 60-year history of the nuclear industry is one unblemished by promises kept. From "too cheap to meter" to safe as houses, every pledge has been broken.

Vicious and pestilent promise breakers – the solution is so clear to some, the government must be blind.

Or perhaps it’s just trying to keep the lights on.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Five Nuclear News Items in the Form of a List

We don’t really do Buzzfeed style listicals here at NNN because – hmm, does tacky link bait get it? Not enough cute nuclear energy kittens? The real Buzzfeed currently has up  17 Pets Who Won’t Let You Poop In Peace (spoiler: cute kittens figure in), so the bottom of the barrel is exceptionally easy to scrape.

But I’ve noticed that the nuclear energy scene is busy lately. Let’s break out of a defensive crouch and look at some good news stories. In fact, let’s make a list  – some of these stories we’ll return to later with fully cooked posts, others may need a little more seasoning, and the rest are done-in-one, so to speak.

1. In a speech yesterday at the World Energy Congress in Daegu, South Korea, Mohammed Al Hammadi, Enec’s chief executive, underlined nuclear energy’s importance as an energy generation technology capable of providing continuous, safe and efficient electricity with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

ENEC is UAE’s nuclear authority, building the reactors at Barakah. That part is fairly standard. This is the good part.

One of the key challenges linked to the adoption of nuclear power was the education of the public about the opportunities that nuclear power offers, together with many of the myths that still surrounded the technology in certain countries.

The UAE had been assertive in educating its population about the benefits of nuclear power technology, as well as dispelling many of the myths associated with nuclear radiation, he added.

2. Virginia has four large nuclear plants, each a source of zero-carbon energy, whose round-the-clock production of electricity is essential for the state’s economy. The North Anna and Surry reactors are among the most efficient nuclear plants in the United States, generating electricity more than 90 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In contrast, wind power generates power an average of 31 percent of the time, and solar power, 24 percent of the time.

A useful corrective, an op-ed written to note that The Fourth Governor’s Conference on Energy has no sessions at all on nuclear energy, a really egregious absence given that nuclear energy supplies about 40 percent of the state’s electricity.

3. The U.S. reached an agreement to sell nuclear fuel and technology to Vietnam in a move aimed at boosting its former adversary’s civilian nuclear program while curbing proliferation of atomic weapons.

The agreement was initialed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on the sidelines of an East Asia summit in Brunei today. It prohibits Vietnam from enriching or reprocessing plutonium or uranium while developing nuclear energy, according to a U.S. administration official who asked not to be identified, citing government policy.

Though the story stresses non-enrichment, an equally strong interest here is that the treaty allows the United States to sell nuclear materials into Vietnam. The planned reactors are coming from Russia and Japan, but there’s still a lot of room for sales of fuel and services.

4. The country’s [Czech Republic’s]new energy strategy categorizes nuclear power as “crucial” for preserving energy security, Deputy Industry Minister Pavel Solc said in an Oct. 9 interview conducted via e-mail. The strategy draft, subject to environmental assessment, is slated for the cabinet’s approval early next year.

With two nuclear-power stations and a fleet of coal-fired plants fed by lignite from local mines, the Czech Republic exports as much as 20 percent of its electricity production. Czechs will need to replace almost 3,500 megawatts of capacity by 2030, which will come mostly in the form of new atomic power, the deputy minister said.

Lignite coal! New nuclear facilities couldn’t come soon enough.

5. This development will power a future post, as it is likely to prove controversial and potentially very consequential. This is the news:

Britain said on Thursday that it would allow Chinese firms to buy stakes in British nuclear power plants and eventually acquire majority holdings.

The agreement, which comes with caveats, opens the way for China’s fast-growing nuclear industry to play a significant role in Britain’s plans to proceed with construction of its first new reactor in nearly two decades.

Here’s a sense of where the controversy might come from:

For a chancellor so keen on the defense of UK national sovereignty against democratic Europeans, George Osborne's unbridled enthusiasm for Chinese investment in the UK's critical infrastructure is striking. If all these memorandums of understanding come to fruition, Chinese entities will hold important stakes in water in the UK, airports, IT infrastructure and now nuclear power generation, all without a serious national debate on any potential risks such involvement might bring.

It seems odd for The Guardian to raise sovereignty issues, but there you are. The deal is still a little light on details and there’s been a churn of opinion mostly informed by distaste for Chinese business methods. Another couple of days at least should calm the waters and allow us to see land.

Next up: 7 Easy Ways to Make Nuclear Energy – or Applesauce, depending on the harvest. With animated GIFs.

Why India's Nuclear Liability Law Is Harming Indian Interests

Ted Jones
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

In a post published this week on the New York Times’ India Ink blog, M.V. Ramana and Suvrat Raju discussed U.S.-Indian commercial nuclear cooperation in the context of nuclear liability law. They argue that the divergence of the Indian liability law from international practices is minimal and justified by the Indian public interest.

 But the authors are deeply misinformed about the attributes, purposes and effects of nuclear liability law. As a result, they misunderstand features of the Indian liability law that could undermine India’s public safety interest.

A basic principle of nuclear liability law – embodied in the international conventions as well as the national laws of nuclear energy countries – is channeling of absolute and exclusive legal liability to the operator of the plant. A second basic principle is limitation of the amount of liability borne by the plant operator. The authors characterize the principles of nuclear liability law as a “subsidy to the nuclear industry” that has allowed suppliers to “have escaped unscathed in the past.” But these features promote important goals – including deployment of the safest and best technologies the private sector has to offer, economic rationalization of insurance, and alignment of legal liability with responsibility.

A few points to consider:
  • Rationalization of liability. Channeling liability to the plant operator makes economic sense, because insuring a single plant is simpler and therefore cheaper than separately insuring the plant’s hundreds of suppliers. In assuming the liability risk of its suppliers, the plant operator factors the liability cost into the procurement contracts. As a result, the suppliers effectively pay their share of liability costs. They have never “escaped unscathed.”
  • Role of the regulator. The authors fail to recognize that in the nuclear energy industry – very unlike their examples of the chemical and oil and gas industries – a strong regulator plays a unique role. In the United States and India, the nuclear regulator ensures safety at every phase of plant development and operation, and this role has important ramifications for liability. After a power plant component has been rigorously scrutinized and licensed, it is appropriate for the legal liability associated with that component to shift away from it supplier. Imposing exclusive and absolute liability on the utility, which will operate and maintain it, aligns legal and functional responsibility and serves the public safety interest.
  • Worldwide acceptance. In the authors’ vivid account, nuclear liability principles were imposed on the world by the “powerful governments” of the United States and Europe, which “extracted these legislative concessions for their companies, as they expanded to build reactors around the world.” This ignores that the United States and Europe first adopted the same nuclear liability principles in their home countries for domestic reasons. Contrary to their claim that the United States bullied India to adopt nuclear liability, India’s Department of Atomic Energy adopted a liability law based on the international model for similar domestic reasons, years before the United States and India agreed to collaborate in nuclear energy. Likewise, India made its own decision to adhere to the IAEA’s Convention of Supplementary Compensation (CSC) in order to obtain the convention’s unique benefits of international support, not because the U.S. supports it.
  • India’s radical departure from international practice. The authors claim that the Indian liability law “largely copied” the CSC model law. The CSC model law, consistent with longstanding and widespread international practice, allows two exceptions to the basic principle that absolute and exclusive liability be channeled to the plant operator. The first exception, reflected in Article 17(a) of the Indian law, permits the plant operator legal recourse against a supplier if the parties so agree by contract. The second exception, reflected in the Article 17(c) of the Indian law, permits the operator legal recourse if the supplier has intentionally caused damage. To these limited exceptions, the Indian law adds a third, in Article 17(b): where “the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequences of an act of the supplier or his employee, which includes the supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.” The authors, who are not lawyers, claim that “this clause does not seem significant,” but Indian and international legal experts have consistently concluded that 17(b) undermines the channeling principle and the purpose of nuclear liability.
  • Broad dissatisfaction with the Indian law. The authors single out “strenuous demands made by the United States and industry,” but ignore the many other stakeholders who have faulted the law. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), the sole plant operator, warned in a statement on the eve of the Indian parliament’s approval of the liability law that 17(b) would “defeat the purpose” of the law. The statement predicted that if the clause remained in the law, “no manufacturer, Indian or foreign would be able to serve the nuclear power industry.” NPCIL’s prediction has been accurate, as it has failed to conclude any major contract since 2010. Despite years of contract negotiations for Kudankulam units 3 and 4, Russia and India have yet to overcome the nuclear liability issue. Russia initially sought to grandfather the two power plants under an existing intergovernmental agreement that absolves Russia of any legal liability for an accident at Kudankulam units 1 & 2. More recently, Russia has indicated that it would demand an increase in the agreed price for the plants, in consideration of costs associated with the Indian liability law. Similarly, the French have been unable to conclude a contract for the first pair of Areva power plants at Jaitapur, in large part due to concerns about liability. Indian suppliers, too, have been reluctant to agree to contracts with NPCIL. As former Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kadkodkar warned in 2010, India’s private sector may suffer the greatest impact from the law, because it impedes their collaboration with foreign nuclear companies globally, not just in India.
  • Public interest. The authors invoke the Bhopal catastrophe to justify Article 17(b) of the Indian law, but the Bhopal case illustrates why it is essential that India establish an effective liability regime. If such an effective national and international liability regime existed for the chemical industry, the victims of Bhopal would have received swift, certain and adequate compensation, supplemented by other countries and administered by a dedicated national tribunal. But instead of a liability regime, Bhopal’s victims were forced to contend with a litigation regime that is by its nature slow and uncertain, and which often provides inadequate compensation. To this day, many of Bhopal’s victims have never received compensation.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pulling Apart The Numbers on Jeff Donn's AP Story on Nuclear Safety Inspections

I wanted to return to Jeff Donn's piece from earlier this week concerning nuclear safety inspections. As I mentioned in a post from last night, I've been working with NEI's Jim Slider on taking a closer look at it. Jim is an old pro who has worked in the nuclear industry for more than 35 years, beginning his career at NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation as a design basis accident analyst.

One of the first things I asked Jim about concerned the figures that Donn cited in his report. According to the story, the GAO report AP obtained a copy of said that NRC cited 10,776 "low-level" violations and 257 "higher-level" violations at U.S. nuclear plants between 2000 and 2012 (see page 3 of the AP story that was posted at ABCNews.com for the aggregate numbers).

Those data points puzzled Jim because according to the Reactor Oversight Process (ROP) that NRC instituted in 2000, NRC categorizes inspection violations from 1 (most significant) to 4 (least significant). The terms "higher-level" and "lower-level" simply aren't used. Given that AP refused to share the GAO report with us, we don't have any way to resolve this discrepancy.

The ROP was instituted to help plant operators and NRC identify problems with the highest level of safety significance in order to prioritize corrective actions (work on violations rated "1" first and take care of the rest in order of safety priority).

Now back to the raw numbers. There is one thing we can be sure of -- that when you add up 12 years (!) worth of statistics you can compile some scary numbers. I'm sure plenty of readers blanched at the figure of 10,776 "lower-level" violations cited by NRC inspectors. But when you realize that those violations were tabulated for 12 full years across 104 U.S. reactors, the numbers look a lot less scary.

Let's just do the math:

  • 10,776 "lower-level" violations / 12 years = 898 violations per year / 104 reactors = average of 8.6 "lower-level" violations per year per reactor or less than .75" lower-level" violations per month.
To drill down further, let’s look at one plant site that's come under closer scrutiny of late, Entergy's Indian Point Energy Center:
  • 380 "lower-level" violations/12 years = 31.66 per year /2 reactors = average of about 15 "lower-level" violations per year, or around 1.25 per month.
If you reported the numbers in that fashion, it would be a heck of a lot harder to scare the public. Given Donn's history of reporting on our industry, I can't say I'm terribly surprised the numbers were presented that way.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein Comments on AP Story on Nuclear Plant Safety

Yesterday, Jeff Donn of the Associated Press (AP) published a story on safety inspections at nuclear power plants that seemed to raise more questions than it answered. Here's the introductory paragraph:

The number of safety violations at U.S. nuclear power plants varies dramatically from region to region, pointing to inconsistent enforcement in an industry now operating mostly beyond its original 40-year licenses, according to a congressional study awaiting release.
Here are a few items to keep in mind when considering this story and its conclusions:
  • NRC conducts an average of more than 2,000 hours of inspections a year at each reactor.
  • NRC will increase the number of inspections if recurring issues are identified, and NRC always has option to close a plant if an inspector deems it doesn't meet Federal standards.
In the original story, NEI's Steve Kerekes refused to comment as AP wouldn't share a copy of the GAO report that they had obtained. It's a full day later and we still don't have access to the actual report.

One person who did read the story was former NRC Chairman Dale Klein. He shared the following statement with us once he got a chance to look at Donn's report:
The recent story about safety violations at US nuclear plants is a mixed bag. From a regulatory perspective it is important to identify errors, learn from them and ensure that corrective actions are taken. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has resident inspectors at every nuclear plant in the country. These resident inspectors are going to find issues, together with other inspections that the NRC conducts. It is not the number of safety violations that is important. The point is to ensure a check and balance system is in place to identify potential problems and fix them before a significant event can occur. As a former regulator, I have been impressed with the dedication of the resident inspectors that work with nuclear power plant operators to ensure safe and secure operations of our nation’s nuclear plants. Nuclear power is a clean source of electricity that should be a part of our total energy program.
We ought to remind our readers that this isn't the first time Donn has covered the nuclear energy industry. Back in 2011, Donn wrote a multipart series on industry safety that we called "shoddy," "selective," and "misleading." We weren't the only ones who took issue with Donn's reporting. The Columbia Journalism Review had this to say about the series:
[T]he AP series, while it tackles a critically important public policy issue, suffers from lapses in organization, narrative exposition, and basic material selection, what to leave in and what to leave out. Too much is left to rest on inconclusive he-said-she-said exchanges that end up more confusing than illuminating for readers.
In any case, with the help of an engineer here at NEI, I'm digging into the article and finding some things that just don't seem to add up. Look for more in this space soon.

Your Nuclear Energy, Not Mine: NYT Goes Mushy on Japan

nyt_logoAs we noted a couple of days ago, comments by former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi against nuclear energy in his country drew both respectful assent - and dissent - from the Japanese press. The key word is “respectful,” because Koizumi is highly regarded, sort of a Bill Clinton of Japan. Unlike former President Clinton, though, Koizumi has stayed aloof from the political scene since retiring. So his comments have been handled gracefully and tactfully, as they should. See the post below for more.

Enter the New York Times:

Japan should welcome Mr. Koizumi’s intervention and begin a healthy debate on the future of nuclear power that has not occurred in the two and a half years since the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese Diet did conduct an independent investigation, which concluded Fukushima to be a man-made disaster. But the investigation did not lead to serious parliamentary debate.

We’ve certainly seen where “healthy debate” can get you in this country, but let’s leave that aside. The people of Japan made a choice in electing the Liberal Democrats to office despite (or because of) its support for nuclear energy and current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has the authority to implement his party’s platform. That includes restarting the nuclear energy plants. (This doesn’t mean the Diet shouldn’t debate the issue – just that people who call for a “healthy debate” usually mean that their side is the “healthy” one.)

So what does the Times’ editorial board want? Does it see nuclear energy as inherently dangerous? Its view of American nuclear energy has been generally positive, so why impose a highly negative assessment on another country’s industry?

Well, it gets a little fuzzy:

He [Koizumi] also criticizes the current government’s assumption that nuclear power is essential for economic growth. Ever the acute reader of political moods, Mr. Koizumi argues that a zero nuclear policy could be cause for a great social movement in a country still gripped by economic gloom after 15 years of deflation.

And even fuzzier:

Mr. Koizumi makes a compelling argument that if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were to announce a zero nuclear policy, “the nation could come together in the creation of a recyclable society unseen in the world,” and the public mood would rise in an instant.

I had not seen this quote in Koizumi’s original comments, but the result of turning off the nuclear plants has not resulted in a great social movement. Instead:

Japan plans to start up 14 new gas and coal-fired power plants by the end of 2014, allowing a switch away from pricey oil, as Tokyo struggles with a shutdown of nuclear reactors and energy imports drive a record trade deficit.

This indicates the dreamed-about “recyclable society unseen in the world” really will be unseen.

But what about renewable energy? This story does not really address that, though it speaks to the importance of baseload energy in a highly industrialized nation.

Expanding gas-fired generation is the only viable large-scale option in a nuclear-free Japan to power its industrial and commercial sector and keep electricity prices low enough for businesses to stay competitive globally.

In other words, I don’t know what the Times is on about. It seems to want to lift mushy-headed sentiments about “great social movements” above the issues of running a highly complex society with many practical issues to address. It’s easy to be glib and dreamy from afar – Koizumi is much tougher minded than his comments used by The Times indicate - much more difficult locally.

Germany’s Nuclear Retreat: Depressing and Wholly Predictable

The energy situation in Germany is both depressing and wholly predictable. To replace nuclear energy with renewable power sources was always going to be the heaviest of lifts, because it replaces most baseload energy with intermittent alternatives and because the alternatives are not fully mature,scalable technologies. Beyond this, the cost of pushing wind and solar forward has been mind-bogglingly expensive, which is now being felt by ratepayers.

Germany’s power grid operators boosted the surcharge consumers pay for renewable energy by 18 percent to a record, adding to pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to act against rising electricity bills.

It gets worse. As we’ve seen in Japan, these subsidies put an exceptional burden on heavy industry:

The total subsidy next year will amount to about 23.6 billion euros ($32 billion), which is added to consumers’ power bills. The fee increase will raise the bill of the average German household with 3,500 kilowatt-hours of consumption by about 34 euros a year. Consumers and smaller companies shoulder a bigger portion of the cost of the increase while big industrial users are largely exempt.

The BDI industry federation that represents about 100,000 companies including Siemens AG (SIE) and Volkswagen AG (VOW) said in a statement today that Merkel’s third-term government needs to “radically reform” the EEG to reduce industry costs. Steelmakers face 300 million euros of extra charges next year and are “strained to the limit,” said Hans Juergen Kerkhoff, head of German steel lobby Wirtschaftsvereinigung Stahl.

That is contradictory to me, as Siemens and Volkswagen are certainly big industrial users but don’t appear to be exempt.

Poking fun at Germany is fun, but we need to be careful about it. I’ve seen a number of articles that try to tie Germany’s woes to renewable energy in general – especially by climate change skeptics - but the country’s energy policy is an extreme situation caused by an extreme reaction to the Fukushima Daiichi accident – in other words, not altogether rational.

The steep increase in the cost of electricity is happening in a Germany where most of its nuclear facilities are still operating (and will until 2022, which the cynical could construe as a bit of an escape hatch). Still, it’s unfortunate to see commentators use the transition as a template for bashing more measured renewable energy project rollouts.

Conversely, environmental groups want to put the best possible face on a wholesale move to renewable energy. Smart Planet tries to do some fact checking on various negative claims to get the needle back into positive territory.

Fact: The increase [in coal usage] was temporary, and is now reversing.

Germany’s recent uptick in coal consumption has been a temporary situation, primarily driven by high natural gas prices which made coal power cheaper. It’s simply incorrect to lay that at the feet of the nuclear power phaseout or the Energiewende.

Which more-or-less admits that most baseload energy has become unwelcome. That approach can turn flipping a light switch into a suspenseful activity. All the unknown qualities can be useful to all sides of the debate, because it allows anyone to say anything.

But here’s the thing: an atomic Germany had an exceptionally stable energy market well able to roll out renewable energy projects and offer generous subsides for them. Now, the country is flirting with the most expensive electricity in Europe while still depending a fair bit on nuclear energy. When 2022 comes, the country will shut down its reactors and – then what? It all seems as it always has – precipitous and potentially ruinous.

Friday, October 11, 2013

NRC Shuts Down with Plant Safety Unimpaired

NRC_logo_tcm6-70473We haven’t talked much about the partial government shutdown because it isn’t our brief – and honestly, who hasn’t been bloviating about it lately? But it did lead the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to depend, at least for awhile, on money described as “carryover” funds to fully operate. Now, that’s gone, too, so the agency has suspended many of its activities:

Beginning on Thursday, we will not conduct non-emergency reactor licensing, reactor license renewal amendments, emergency preparedness exercises, reviews of design certifications or rulemaking and regulatory guidance.

Also suspended for now will be routine licensing and inspection of nuclear materials and waste licensees, Agreement State support and rulemakings, including Waste Confidence. This is just a short list of the actions we are prohibited from performing under Anti-deficiency Act restrictions.

Obviously, the NRC will continue to fund the resident inspectors at the individual facilities, because they’re safety related, what are considered “excepted function” employees. But about 3600 of 3900 employees are furloughed.

The NRC has a management directive that covers this, called Contingency Plan for Periods of Lapsed Appropriations (probably the most neutral way one could put the situation). The interesting part – to me – are the excepted functions that begin on page 13 of the pdf. There’s a lot of them, almost all related to safety and to ensuring that furloughed employees can be recalled to work if they are needed.

Here are just a few (there are 19 categories enumerated) beyond the resident inspectors:

Event Notification - Maintain readiness to accept notification calls regarding emergencies related to nuclear reactors or materials licensees.

Emergency Response - Perform early actions to activate Emergency Operations Centers and provide prompt analysis and advice to licensees and State decision makers. Includes incident response teams when called in for an event.

Site Operations - Maintain capability to send a team of experts to an emergency operations facility in the vicinity of an accident during the first hours following a major reactor incident.

As we’ve seen at other agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, employees can be called back to work if needed (The directive discusses that, too.).

Once the government reopens, the commission will have to reschedule public meetings and reformulate dates to finish in process activities. NEI has been collecting a list of various meetings and hearings that have been postponed. That’s here. And the NRC blog will be doing this, too – the main NRC site is up but not updating for the duration.

I’ve seen some news reports that note the NRC furloughing employees – that’s the agency that ensures nuclear safety! – but really, the plants themselves do an excellent job of keeping safety a paramount concern and the NRC resident inspectors are still on duty. Reactors are not going to start rattling off their foundations at the news. It’s an unfortunate situation but not a fretful one.

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The NRC blog also answers a nagging question – why should it shut down at all if 90 percent of its funds are collected from licensees?

The bottom line is this: the NRC is not funded directly by the fees we collect. Fees collected by the NRC must be deposited in the U.S. Treasury, and the Congress provides us an appropriation.

So there you are.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Koizumi Goes Anti-Nuclear

Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister of Japan for six years, from 2001 to 2006. At that time, he was a booster of nuclear energy. Since he retired from politics, he has not maintained a public profile, but remains a highly respected figure – maybe because the Japanese public knows him best, as no prime minister since 2006 has been able to hold on to the job for more than a year or so.

So when Koizumi decides to say something, it gets attention:

In a recent lecture meeting, Koizumi asked the government to put forth a zero nuclear energy policy by calling for establishment of “a recycling society based on natural resources and that does not rely on nuclear power generation.” Koizumi said his view on this matter changed after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The Great East Japan earthquake (and associated tsunami)precipitated the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The strong public opinion to end nuclear energy has softened considerably and the current government has decided to restart the facilities. In fact, the election that brought the Liberal Democrats to power was considered a kind of referendum on nuclear energy –at first – but the subject barely figured into the campaign.

So I was curious about the response to Koizumi’s comments. It’s hard to measure the impact of retired politicians in this country much less another one, so there is an element of mystery here.

So, from the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s national paper, an editorial:

Koizumi said finding substitute energy sources for nuclear power would “certainly be worked out by wise people.” We think this statement is overly optimistic and irresponsible.

Thermal power generation is currently filling the shortfall created by the loss of nuclear power generation. As a result, utility bills continue to rise due to higher fuel import costs. If this situation goes unchecked, the impact on household budgets and economic activity will be significant.

Thermal power generation is a major cause of accelerated global warming because it discharges a huge amount of carbon dioxide.

Renewable energy sources don’t get a very good reading, either:

Renewable energy sources that utilize sunlight and wind have the disadvantage of being affected by weather conditions. As such, there is no prospect that they will become principal power sources. It is necessary to seek a balanced composition of electricity sources in which nuclear and thermal power account for the lion’s share.

There’s more along these lines, too. I can’t say whether the Yomiuri Shimbun considers Koizumi’s comments a rear-guard action, whether the paper has an editorial distaste for Koizumi in general or it’s all just a consequence of fading opposition to Japanese use of nuclear energy. Maybe some of each.

It is unclear how big a lift, if any, the proclamation will give Japan’s antinuclear movement, which appeared to crest last year when tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered weekly outside the prime minister’s residence. While public opinion polls still show that more than half of Japanese oppose restarting the nation’s idled nuclear plants, the protests have dwindled to a few dozen die-hards.

There is an editorial in the The Daily Mainichi that takes Koizumi’s comments quite seriously and largely agrees with him, but it acknowledges that “It remains to be seen whether Koizumi will take political action to seek to rid Japan of all nuclear reactors…”. It remains to be seen. So, let’s see what happens.

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Koizumi’s son, Shinjiro Koizumi, considered a political comer in the Liberal Democrat party, is sympathetic to his father’s view, but is still a working politician, so he’s a little more circumspect in his own response: 

"There is continuing concern that it may be inappropriate (to maintain or further increase dependency on nuclear power) without debate," Koizumi added. "Because the economy is now apparently in the process of recovery, people are keeping silent."

That doesn’t seem wholly logical, but it does the job of responding without stating a real view. Koizumi thinks the Liberal Democrats should take a more serious look at renewable energy sources, which it has already proposed doing, while keeping his options open on nuclear energy. That’s not the same as stating out-and-out opposition as his father does but he also does not refute his father, either, which is good both personally and politically.

The younger Koizumi’s comments convince me more that nuclear energy has moved from pariah in Japan to prodigal child.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why Are U.S. Nuclear Plants Better Prepared for Emergencies Than Fukushima? Here's a Checklist.

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest post written by NEI's Tom Kauffman. Though Tom works in NEI's media relations shop, he also spent 23 years working at Three Mile Island, seven of those as a licensed reactor operator.

Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein was justified in criticizing an anti-nuclear panel’s comparison of the potential of an accident at nuclear energy facilities in New York and Massachusetts with the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. “Comparing the accident at Fukushima Daiichi to a hypothetical accident at Indian Point or Pilgrim is intellectually dishonest and resembles the classic fear mongering intended to create unnecessary anxiety," Klein said. "Comparing the US nuclear power plants to those that have not added new safety systems and procedures is simply wrong.”

As the former Chairman points out, the U.S. and Japanese nuclear industries have very different approaches to nuclear safety. The differences developed over several decades and are profound. Below is a comparison of some of the key safety factors.

U.S. Japan
REGULATORY STRUCTURE NRC is a single, transparent, independent federal agency. Had four agencies with overlapping authorities. Two promoted the industry. An independent safety regulator was formed post-Fukushima.
PLANT OPERATIONS COMMAND & CONTROL All decisions rest with the on-duty, federally licensed senior reactor operators. For some key safety-related decisions, plant operators seek the approval of government officials.
REACTOR OPERATOR LICENSING All reactor operators are individually licensed by the NRC and must fully requalify every two years to maintain their license. Only shift supervisors are licensed by regulator. Others are certified by company.
CONTROL ROOM SIMULATORS All reactor operators are required to be trained and tested on a full-scale replica simulator that is identical to their facility’s control room. Replica simulators are not required.
SAFETY CULTURE Industrywide safety culture program encourages all workers to be engaged in safety and to freely report safety concerns. No established safety culture program.
INDUSTRY SELF-POLICING Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (est.1980) continuously monitors industry safety and presses for continuous improvement. An entity modeled after INPO is being formed post-Fukushima.
POST 9/11 ACTIONS Enhanced security and added safety equipment to mitigate effects of extreme events such as large fires, explosions and aircraft impact. No significant post 9/11 protective actions.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Comprehensive, federally mandated emergency response plans require quarterly, full-scale drills and biennial graded drills involving local, state and federal authorities. Emergency planning well below U.S. standards. No required or graded emergency drill protocols.

For more information on how the U.S. nuclear industry differs from Japan's, watch this video featuring NEI's Tony Pietrangelo.

Canada, Westinghouse and A Fusion Follow-Up


Westinghouse previews a forum taking place today in Toronto called The Future of Nuclear. Westinghouse has no reactors in Canada and isn’t trying to sell any in its press release, which does include some interesting tidbits:
"With 55 per cent of Ontario's energy being generated by nuclear, and given the province's commitment to clean-air sources of energy, nuclear cannot be ignored as a vital part of Ontario's energy mix," says Ron Lewis, vice president, Nuclear Power Plant Business and Project Development, Westinghouse Electric Company.
That 55 percent figure is new  - it’s a little higher than I’ve seen before - and I’m not enough up on Canadian energy markets to know how much of that is exported to Ontario’s neighbors. That said, Ontario is the only province to aggressively pursue nuclear energy, with five facilities housing 20 reactors. Quebec and New Brunswick have 2 and 1 reactors respectively, with Quebec’s retired. When we looked at Canadian nuclear energy previously, it seemed the other provinces were pretty dim on nuclear energy and not particularly well informed as to its benefits.

All Canadian reactors are home grown CANDUs.The DU stands for Deuterium Uranium and hints at the use of deuterium (heavy water, actually, or deuterium oxide) to moderate the nuclear reaction, a unique feature of this design. I poked around the Candu web site and found the company is moving right along:
One of the unique features of CANDU reactor design is its ability to use alternative fuels such as recovered uranium (RU) from the reprocessing of used light water reactor fuel, low-enriched uranium (LEU) and plutonium (Pu) mixed oxide, thorium and actinides, in addition to the conventional natural uranium. Candu is currently working with China to further develop thorium as an alternative fuel source.
So, for this forum, Westinghouse is more focused on touting the benefits of nuclear energy, priming the pump for the siting of new reactors and perhaps – just maybe – one or more of those will be AP1000s. We’ll see. In the meantime:
"Canada has spent more than a generation developing nuclear energy, dating back to the 1950s right here in Ontario. The Province has an industrial base that depends on further build-out. On balance, nuclear is the best choice for jobs and the environment. The alternative is a move to high-cost electricity generation and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which are unavoidable if nuclear is not a part of Ontario's future energy mix," Lewis says.
Indeed.
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Since we had a little fun with fusion and the National ignition Facility’s project related to it last week, it’s only fair to pass along this news from the BBC:
The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel - the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.
The story goes on to make the point that the goal is to make a lot more energy than is used, but out of negative numbers? Very good news for the fusion profusion crowd.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For a deeper dive on what's happening in Canada, we suggest Canadian Energy Issues, written by the tireless Stephen Aplin.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein Blasts Fukushima Panel for Comparing Fukushima to Indian Point

That anti-nuke panel discussion led by former NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko went off just about as expected today, with Jaczko asserting that local stakeholders should get together soon to arrange for the closure of the plant. You'll forgive us if we beg to differ. In the meantime, another former NRC Chairman, Dale Klein, issued the following statement through NY AREA concerning how many members of the panel attempted to compare a potential accident at Indian Point with the accident at Fukushima Daiichi:

“Comparing the accident at Fukushima Daiichi to a hypothetical accident at Indian Point or Pilgrim is intellectually dishonest and resembles the classic fear mongering intended to create unnecessary anxiety. The additional safety systems and safety procedures added to the US nuclear power plants after the 9/11 attacks have greatly enhanced their ability to handle the loss of off-site power, loss of the emergency diesel generators, and the loss of back-up battery supplies. Just like automobiles today have additional safety features compared to the 1970s designs, todays US nuclear power plants have added considerable safety systems from their initial designs. The nuclear power plants at Fukushima Daiichi did not have the same improved safety systems as implemented at our US nuclear power plants. Comparing the US nuclear power plants to those that have not added new safety systems and procedures is simply wrong.”
More later, if warranted.

Monday, October 07, 2013

What You Won't Hear When Gregory Jaczko, Peter Bradford and Arnie Gundersen Take to the Podium in New York and Boston This Week

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest post written by NEI's Tom Kauffman. Tom works in NEI's media relations shop and spent 23 years working at Three Mile Island, seven of those as a licensed reactor operator.

This week in New York and Boston, anti-nuclear activists have scheduled panel discussions designed to scare the public into pressuring politicians into shuttering local nuclear power plants.

The members of the panel are:
  • former NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko;
  • Peter Bradford, former NRC commissioner; and 
  • anti-nuke extremist Arnie Gundersen, an engineer who never lets science or facts get in his way.
So what can you expect to hear from this trio? We figure it's more or less a combination of the three following assertions: 1) The nuclear accident in Japan can happen here. 2) All U.S. nuclear energy facilities are unsafe. 3) All U.S. reactors should be permanently shut down.

On the other hand, there are some facts they are sure to ignore:
  • After more than a half-century (more than 7,500 reactor-years) of operation, including the accident at Three Mile Island, there is no evidence that any member of the public has been harmed by the radiation from any U.S. nuclear energy facility. 

Friday, October 04, 2013

Pandora’s Promise Upside Down

We haven’t mentioned Pandora’s Promise for a while, but the pro-nuclear energy documentary continues chugging around the world and picking up play dates. Its director, Robert Stone, has written a very specific editorial in Australia’s national newspaper, The Age, not about his movie – though he does tout it a bit - but about nuclear energy down under.

Like much of the world, the main fuel that lights Australian homes and powers Australian industry is coal. The difference is that Australia's dependence on coal is nearly double the global average.

That’s actually a good point that one does not see too often. Australia as we’ve noted before is about as anti-nuclear energy as a country could be – with its neighbor New Zealand a close contender – it’s practically an article of faith there. All power to antipodean pro-nuclear activists, but from afar, it seems an intractable position.

But the result has been that the country has exceptionally limited alternatives to its coal plants. It’s become, ironically, an impressive polluter – it’s been working to decrease its emissions, but lately has moved to roll back its efforts.

And Stone makes the point that this has decided consequences:

Australia is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, as evidenced by the recent drought, heat waves, floods and fires. That so much of the population lives close to the coast makes rising sea levels a concern. Ocean acidification, a direct consequence of CO2 emissions, threatens the Great Barrier Reef. So there's no question that Australians have an interest in tackling this problem. The commitments to renewable energy and carbon trading are examples of the seriousness with which it is being taken. But it's not nearly enough, not by a long shot.

Stone does make the play for Pandora’s Promise:

What if both accidents [in Chernobyl and Fukushima] (horrific as they were) when put into perspective actually prove the opposite of what anti-nuclear groups contend? What if this extraordinarily powerful technology once associated with the existential threat that defined the Cold War, turned out to hold the key to solving the great existential threat of the current era?

Hmmm! Might there be a movie that answers these questions?

Given what must be Stone’s primary objective – selling his movie - this is an impressively good op-ed that makes its case without hyperbole or overly partisan construction. In itself, it makes a good case for him as a filmmaker and as a man who takes very seriously what he documents.

For more on the movie, see NNN’s Unofficial Guide to Pandora’s Promise.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Nuclear Fusion and Imploding Porcupines

When the sun makes energy through nuclear fusion, it has the benefit of not having to pay real cash for the energy expended to make more energy. Here on Earth, the effort to make fusion energy affordable and practical has been a lot tougher, though the payout is potentially so great – and the benefits manifest - that much effort has gone into it.

Every now and then we get a peek into the fusion world, which is almost always almost ready to almost produce a plausible reactor. And this will happen – I’m sure of it – someday.

To create fusion reactions, the NIF [National Ignition Facility] scientists fire lasers into a hohlraum, or a hollow cylinder made of gold. The laser pulses, lasting billionths of a second, hit a tiny sphere that is full of deuterium (hydrogen with an extra neutron) and tritium (hydrogen with two extra neutrons).

As the laser beams hit the hohlraum, the gold emits X-rays that are so powerful they vaporize the metal surface of the sphere. That vaporization puts immense pressure on the deuterium and tritium, and induces fusion, smashing the hydrogen atoms into helium, plus one neutron.

This is very basically what the sun does, minus the hohlraum and gold, but featuring hydrogen and helium. But this part isn’t where the economics begin to work. This is:

The problem is that even tiny imperfections in the surface of the sphere will mean the pressure on the deuterium and tritium isn't perfectly even all the way around. Result? "It implodes like a porcupine," Edwards told LiveScience. This uneven "reverse explosion" results in energy waste so that more energy is put into the system than comes out of it.

Well, that’s an unfortunate metaphor. Do porcupines implode? We hope the National Ignition Facility’s John Edwards didn’t find a way to do that in a previous job.

This is the kind of sentence we’re used to in fusion stories:

Right now, the amount of energy coming out of the NIF setup is about 80 percent of what is put in.

That’s like the sun, too, though the sun doesn’t need to worry about break-even. Jesse Emspak’s story goes further to express the perpetual doubt about fusion, but, like so many others, including myself, he hopes for the best:

Still, Edwards is optimistic. "Our goal is to demonstrate that ignition is feasible," he said. "We've made a huge amount of progress, and we're close to achieving what our calculations say should be happening in a regime slightly less demanding than full-up ignition implosions."

“Close to achieving.” Let’s look forward to the day when that phrase and fusion are not logically linked. The whole story’s worth a read.

Here’s the Web site for NIF – it’s part of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. On its homepage, it points out that Star Trek: Into Darkness was filmed there, so there’s that. Here’s its page on fusion if you’d like to learn more.