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Showing posts from March, 2014

Mixing It up Over MOX

Mixed oxide or MOX fuel uses more than one oxide of fissile material. Uranium can be one, plutonium another. The United States wants to use 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium in commercial MOX fuel. No plant currently uses it though most could adapt to its particularities– more fuel rods are bundled together than in an uranium powered reactor, for example. Arizona’s Palo Verde plant can use MOX fuel without adaptation, though it has never done so. CANDU reactors (which do not operate in the United States) can also use MOX fuel as is. But the first step is to fabricate the mixed oxide fuel. That will be the job of a facility the government is building at its Savannah River site in South Carolina. Construction on the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility began in 2006 and is about 60 percent complete – and will be completed if the government doesn’t pull the plug on it (this is on page 77).Following a year-long review of the plutonium disposition program, the Budget provides funding to …

Ensuring Seismic Safety at U.S. Reactors

The following is a guest post by Scott Peterson, NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications.

Companies that operate America’s nuclear energy facilities today will submit new information regarding seismic safety as part of a series of actions the industry is taking to implement lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima accident.

This comes at a time of heightened interest in earthquakes given the Los Angeles-area temblors this past weekend. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 required energy companies to reevaluate potential seismic hazards for each of America’s 100 reactors.

Nuclear energy facilities were designed and built with extra safety margin, in part to be able to withstand an earthquake even beyond the strongest ever at each site. Nonetheless, over the past decades, the industry has re-evaluated the seismic safety of its facilities. Each time new seismic information became available, plant operators have confirmed, and in many cases, enhanced the facility…

Why Should You Consider a Career in Nuclear Energy?

The following is a guest post by Scott Peterson, NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications.

The red clay landscape of rural Georgia may seem like an unlikely setting for technological innovation in the nuclear energy industry.

The expansion of Plant Vogtle is the largest construction project in the state’s history. The project is midway through building two state-of-the-art reactors that will power 500,000 homes and businesses. Nearby, Mark Verbeck, a Navy veteran and second-generation industry leader, is training the men and women who will operate the massive electricity-producing machines.

“I’m one of 5,000 workers building the future of nuclear energy,” says Verbeck. “Nuclear plant construction is creating jobs and growing local economies around the world.”

As Georgia Power’s manager for reactor operators training at full-scale, digital simulators, Verbeck oversees the development of a next generation workforce in the nuclear industry. New employees across the nation a…

A Pilgrims Progress Away from Nuclear Misinformation

A bunch of Massachusetts papers are buzzing with this news:Residents who live in Plymouth or other towns near the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station run an increased risk of developing cancer, according to an epidemiologist called as an expert witness for the defense Wednesday during the trespassing trial of 12 Cape activists in Plymouth District Court.Richard Clapp, a retired professor from the Boston University School of Public Health, said the continued operation of the Plymouth plant was "a risk and an unacceptable risk in my view."Dr. Clapp is certainly a respectable figure, but he does not like nuclear energy even a little. Interestingly, in an editorial he wrote against including nuclear in a climate change bill back in 2008, he included a laundry list of objections – cost, risk, threats, etc – with only a bit devoted to health issues as he saw them.Health: The nuclear fuel cycle exposes workers and communities to radiation from mining, milling, fuel fabrication, transport…

Popular Mechanics Calls Joe Mangano's Research, "Junk Science"

For years, we've been telling you about freelance anti-nuclear activist Joe Mangano and how he leverages flawed research to stoke fears about nuclear energy. Now, another serious science writer has taken a closer look at Mangano's studies and says it's part of a larger trend of agenda-driven science being peddled to the press.

On newsstands now is the April 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics. There you'll find a feature (yet to be published online) titled, "Junk Science." In it, Science Editor Sarah Fecht investigates a claim that Mangano and Janette Sherman made in 2012 that 14,000 American deaths could be linked to fallout from Fukushima Daiichi.

Interviewed for the piece is Dr. Robert Emery of the University of Texas at Houston:
"I read the thing and was taken aback," says Emery, who has a doctorate in public health and is a licensed health physicist. The study implied fallout from Fukushima caused 484 deaths in Houston. If there had been radiation…

Thorium: The Artisanal Nuclear Energy

While reading an article touting the benefits of thorium as a fuel for nuclear reactors, author Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry veered into this paragraph:Within the energy analysis community, nuclear advocates are one hipster subset. But as always when we're talking about hipsters, there's a subset within the subset. And these energy hipsters are pushing a nuclear technology that has all the advantages of traditional nuclear and none of the drawbacks. Its name is thorium.So does this mean that thorium powers artisanal nuclear energy? Must the operators (men and women) grow elaborate beards? Gobry zooms away for this idea about as fast as he had it, but we find the idea of thorium fans as a hipper-than-thou cohort of already hip nuclear energy advocates weirdly appealing as well as weird.---But not necessarily without serious support, though from the least hip group imaginable:China is developing a new design of nuclear power plant in an attempt to reduce its reliance on coal and to cut…

Press Release: NEI Welcomes Federal Court’s Denial of DOE’s Waste Fee Appeal

The Nuclear Energy Institute today issued the following statement from Vice President and General Counsel Ellen Ginsberg after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the Department of Energy’s request that the original panel and the entire court review the November 2013 decision in NARUC v. DOE.

In that decision, the D.C. Circuit held that the department could not continue to collect the one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour surcharge to pay for used nuclear fuel management. In the lawsuit, NEI and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners asserted that DOE’s termination of the Yucca Mountain repository program and the absence of a congressionally approved alternative to Yucca Mountain prevented DOE from determining whether an appropriate fee was being collected because there is no program to be evaluated.

In a unanimous decision, D.C. Circuit Senior Judge Silberman wrote that, “Because the Secretary is apparently unable to conduct a legally adequate fee …

Bill Gates in Rolling Stone on Controlling Carbon Emissions and Nuclear Energy

If you've got an interest in Bill Gates and his involvement in the nuclear startup TerraPower, we suggest you take a look at the interview the Microsoft founder did with Rolling Stone that was published earlier this week:
Like cut carbon emissions fast.

Yes, but people need energy. It's a gigantic business. The main thing that's missing in energy is an incentive to create things that are zero-CO2-emitting and that have the right scale and reliability characteristics.

It leads to your interest in nuclear power, right?

If you could make nuclear really, really safe, and deal with the economics, deal with waste, then it becomes the nirvana you want: a cheaper solution with very little CO2 emissions. If we don't get that, you've got a problem. Because you are not going to reduce the amount of energy used. For each year between now and 2100, the globe will use more energy. So that means more CO2 emissions every year. TerraPower, which is the nuclear-energy company that I&…

Why There Was No "Near Miss" at Columbia Generating Station

The following is a guest post by John Dobken, an employee of Energy Northwest who works at Columbia Generating Station in Washington state.

Near miss.

If you wanted a loaded term, that’s it. It’s general enough to allow the person hearing it to conjure up whatever “near miss” scenario their imagination allows: two jumbo jets; two vehicles; maybe almost falling off a tall ladder. You get the point. What has been avoided is potentially catastrophic.

So why then would an organization that supposedly prides itself as an authority on nuclear energy ascribe such a term to a federal agency that doesn’t even have it in its lexicon of regulation?

The Union of Concerned Scientists issues a report every year documenting which nuclear energy facilities receive special inspections from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But rather than calling them special inspections, the UCS chooses to call them “near misses.”

Why? Here’s what the UCS says: “When an event or discovery at a reactor results in…

Where the Used Nuclear Fuel Is

When the United States passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act back in 1982, the explicit remand was for the government to site and build a permanent repository for used nuclear (later on, it was amended to include Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as that repository). The act also established the nuclear waste fund to pay for it, “composed of payments made by the generators and owners of such waste and spent fuel.” It now holds over $25 billion.We have to set aside alternatives for now – recycling, fast reactors that can run on used fuel and the like – because while the law does envision alternatives, it only directs the Department of Energy to explore them.But shuttering the Yucca Mountain project without an alternative approach in mind basically  put the kibosh, for now, on moving the used fuel from pools and dry storage on the plant sites – which is safe as houses, of course, but not intended to be permanent, hence the need for a central repository. And further hence:The federal government mus…

The No-Brainer View of Nuclear Energy

The third anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has attracted more attention than the second – from my news watching perspective, not through story counting – in part because the dire projections of nuclear energy’s end have definitely not come to pass. And reporters are either gobsmacked by this or find it a practical outcome.The Economist provides a particularly sour version of the former:Yet the disaster hasn’t stopped the global interest in nuclear power—especially in developing countries that have untested regulatory and crisis-management systems. After Fukushima, Germany shut all its nuclear reactors. Japan let all of its reactors go idle, and then slowly restarted a few. But the world has done little to establish standards for nuclear disaster-response that builds confidence for the public, or their nation’s neighbors.That last bit qualifies as a bald assertion that IAEA would probably find amusing, but you get the point. (The Economist also provides a terrific chart sh…

“Nuclear Generation is here and now.”

On Fox News Sunday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ken.) said that this is what he would do to counter the Russians in Ukraine:
“I would do something differently from the president,” Paul said. “I would immediately get every obstacle out of the way for our export of oil and gas, and I would begin drilling in every possible conceivable place within our territories in order to have production we can supply Europe with if it’s interrupted from Ukraine.” There are all kinds of reasons this is a difficult proposition. Paul says “I would begin drilling,” but all he could really do (as President) is open public land to drilling and then encourage private industry to do so. And then the market would decide where the gas would go. Politicians say all kinds of things with the intent of showing resolve rather than propose real policy, so there’s that, too.
But Paul might really be on to something. Forbes has an interesting article that has nothing whatever to do with Russia, but has the same impact:
Nucl…

The Real Target at St. Lucie: Florida's Nuclear Cost-Recovery Law

Over the past week, we've seen a spate of media activity concerning the safety of the steam generators at St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. Despite the fact that the NRC has said that St. Lucie is safe, anti-nuclear activists are getting plenty of mileage in the local media over charges that don't hold any weight. In fact, anyone with any operating or regulatory experience says this story is complete bunk.

You can add former Department of Energy assistant secretary Dennis Spurgeon to that list. Today over at TCPalm.com, he's wondering out loud about the why behind all of this coverage. Though the text is behind a pay wall, we've excerpted this relevant passage:
Before repeating the Times' story, shouldn't this newspaper have looked into why such a biased hit piece was written in the first place? Is it an attempt to discredit the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant because its successful power upgrade (retrofit) has demonstrated that Florida's pay-as-you-go financing (als…

Personal Reflections on Fukushima Daiichi’s Third Anniversary (Bumped)

The following is a guest post by Steven Kraft, senior technical advisor at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Last September, Kraft traveled to Japan with U.S. chief nuclear officers to meet with their Japanese counterparts to discuss lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. A nuclear industry veteran of over four decades, Kraft recently marked his 35th anniversary working at NEI.
The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 left over 16,000 people dead and 3,000 missing.  While none of these lives were lost due to the nuclear plant accident at Fukushima Daiichi caused by the tsunami, we mourn the loss of these lives to forces of nature that we are striving to better understand to better protect our facilities and avoid future accidents.
Last September, it was sobering to see the towns ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami now suspended in time. The residents cannot return to recover and rebuild their homes and businesses due to contamination that remains …

NRC: Steam Generators at St. Lucie Are Safe

Last week, we saw a number of anti-nuclear activists try to kick up some FUD concerning the safety of the steam generators at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant. Earlier today, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed a complaint with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to attempt to prevent the plant from returning to service in April after a scheduled outage based on the same claims. A couple of paragraphs later in Ivan Penn's piece, you'll find this response from NRC:
"There is no steam generator safety problem, nor tube integrity safety concerns, at St. Lucie," Joey Ledford, an NRC spokesman has said about the issue. "There is a significant difference between 'wear problem' and a 'safety problem' or 'safety concern.' " The NRC statement comes on the heels of an op ed piece that appeared in the same newspaper by former NRC commissioner Nils Diaz. In that piece, Diaz wrote, "I am convinced that the NRC and the plant ope…

Czeching in on the Nuclear State of the Republic

John Feffer provides an interesting history of nuclear energy in Eastern Europe. This seems a fair summary of what’s happening now:Poland cancelled the four plants under construction in 1990 but has committed to building its first plant by 2022. Romania has added two units to its Cernavoda facility. Hungary has extended the lifespan of its Paks reactor by another 20 years. Only Bulgaria has bucked the trend by cancelling a second nuclear plant at Belene in 2012.When they broke away from Soviet influence in the 90s, these countries were running nuclear reactors built by the Russians. That they were Russian  weighed against them and that they did not have European support (and thus had to be closed for these countries to join the European Union) really brought an end to them.The Czech situation, as described by Feffer, is indicative of how attitudes changed as Soviet domination faded into memory:The issue of nuclear energy has been particularly contentious in the Czech Republic. The pl…

The Nuclear Bamboozlement Road Show

Alfred Meyer of Physicians for Social Responsibility, travelling around and talking nuclear smack:His speaking tour … has taken him to Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and South Haven. The final stop will be to­night in Ann Arbor. During his presentation, Mr. Meyer shared informa­tion about how nuclear power plants, such as Fermi 2 in New­port, affect the lives of those liv­ing there and the environment in their immediate vicinity. He argued that there were “no safe levels” of exposure to radiation for humans, plants or animals and that the effects of those energy waves are rarely tested. “Illnesses don’t come with labels,” he said. “ There isn’t a sign that tells (doctors) a person has thyroid cancer because of Fermi — they just have thyroid cancer. But it isn’t just cancer. (Radiation) affects your circula­tory system and other parts of the body.” At least the Monroe News throws this in:According to the DTE Energy Web site about Fermi, “people living near Fermi 2 receive less than one millir…

Joe Mangano Takes Aim at Diablo Canyon Power Plant With Junk Science

You knew it would only be a matter of time before Joe Mangano resurfaced. This time, he's brought his brand of junk science to California's Central Coast in order to make some scurrilous claims about the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. This time, a story appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press (paywall), which is where NEI's Steve Kerekes steps into the picture:
While antinuclear groups hail Mr. Mangano’s study, others argue that the science behind Mr. Mangano’s report is far from settled.

“(Mr. Mangano) is a traveling roadshow of fearmongering,” said Steve Kerekes, director of media relations with the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“Once to twice a year he pops up in some corner of the country,” Mr. Kerekes said. “It’s always a similar scenario: he throws a bunch of data at the wall and sees what sticks, but there’s no direct cause and effect between the data and the nuclear facility he is smearing.”

Mr. Kerekes said his organization has regularly debunked Mr. Mangano’s claims, a…

Former NRC Commissioner Nils Diaz Disputes Tampa Bay Times, Declares St. Lucie Plant Safe

Last week, we saw the Site Vice President at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant step up to debunk a story in the Tampa Bay Times concerning the safety and efficiency of the plant's steam generators in the wake of a power uprate. Now, former NRC Commissioner Nils Diaz is stepping into the fray, writing his own piece for the newspaper buttressing the plant's reputation for safety and reliability:
The public health and safety of people who live within 50 miles of St. Lucie and beyond are protected by the demanding safety framework established by the nuclear power industry and confirmed by its regulators. No member of the public in the United States has ever been exposed to a radioactive hazard detrimental to their health from an operating nuclear power plant.

I am convinced that the NRC and the plant operator have rigorously reviewed the safety of the St. Lucie Plant prior to and after the power upgrade and concluded that the public health and safety is protected.That's not all he h…

"Unless you have a lot of nuclear power plants."

This might qualify as a discussable point, from a Time Magazine discussion with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.):
Q. You used to be very engaged on the issue of climate change?I’m still interested in it. And I think there are a lot of things that we can do like this transition that we’re making to natural gas thanks to our resources and I still believe in nuclear power as one of the big parts of the answers, and that’s almost impossible to get. And I think we need to address greenhouse gas emissions. But I try to get involved in issues were I see a legislative result… But there’s going to be no movement in the Congress of the United States certainly this year and probably next year. So I just leave the issue alone because I don’t see a way through it, and there are certain fundamentals, for example nuke power, that people on the left will never agree with me on. So why should I waste my time when I know the people on the left are going to reject nuclear power? I don’t believe that you can r…