Monday, March 31, 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 place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina into cold-standby. NNSA is evaluating alternative plutonium disposition technologies to MOX that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost effectively.

Sounds like Yucca Mountain all over again, doesn’t it? The Department of Energy has a reputation for abandoning large projects, but even leaving that aside, there’s very little justification for stopping the project.

NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel makes the case in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz:

Construction of the MOX facility is 60 percent complete, employs 1,800 people directly and utilizes more than 4,000 American contractors and suppliers in 43 states. These contracts contribute millions of dollars in revenue to those states, as the enclosure shows in state-level detail. This project has achieved nearly 18 million safe work hours – an unprecedented achievement for any construction project of this kind. The MOX project has also supported the development of advanced U.S. technology for both national security and commercial purposes.

If this were a horrible project with a destructive agenda, it wouldn’t matter at all how many people are engaged in it. Shut it down by all means. The MOX facility does not qualify as a horrible project. Not only will it produce commercial fuel, it will also quell proliferation concerns regarding the plutonium.

NEI views the MOX project as an investment in the nation’s future. The facility, once operational, will operate for more than a decade to complete its original mission to transform 34 metric tons of U.S. weapons-grade plutonium into civilian nuclear fuel. During that time, additional missions for the facility will likely be found and may include the transformation of additional U.S. weapons-grade plutonium, a worthy nonproliferation and disarmament goal.

The MOX facility is not a boondoggle. It can be finished and will serve an unalloyed good. Now, killing a project in the President’s budget request does not mean it’s dead – Congress will weigh in during the appropriations process and could reject the idea wholly or in part. But one shouldn’t count on that, as NEI wisely hasn’t. It’s an important issue and worthy of a fuss – a good topic to write about to your Congressman, in fact, who probably isn’t flooded with comments about it.

Ensuring Seismic Safety at U.S. Reactors

Scott Peterson
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’s seismic protection.

Most recently, the NRC in 2010 concluded that nuclear power plants have significant safety margin to protect against earthquakes, including those with greater ground motion than the earthquakes used to develop the original reactor designs.

The nuclear energy industry, working with the NRC, U.S. Department of Energy and other organizations, developed a new model to characterize the potential for strong earthquakes. The industry is using this model to develop new earthquake hazard estimates for each nuclear plant site. These estimates will be part of a more comprehensive evaluation to ensure nuclear plants continue to be protected against the strongest earthquakes predicted for that site.

There have been only a few cases where powerful temblors exceeded the design parameters for reactors worldwide, and in those cases the plants shut down safely.

The North Anna nuclear power plant in central Virginia is the most recent example. A 5.8 earthquake with an epicenter 11 miles from the facility caused destruction at some local schools and damaged national monuments 80 miles away in Washington, D.C. Yet, there was no damage to North Anna’s safety systems and only minimal chipping and cracking of concrete outside the vital safety areas. That’s due in part to huge shock absorbers and supports that are installed to protect safety systems during forceful quakes.



In the past two years, the industry has developed new assessment processes and an updated ground motion database to undertake the NRC-required update of seismic protection. Using the new ground motion data, the analysis for most U.S. reactors shows a reduced risk to safety from earthquakes, compared to assessments in 1994 and 2008. A few will have a higher risk, but well within a range that will protect the plant and residents near the facility. For those plants, the owners will undertake more sophisticated analyses to determine what additional safety measures should be taken, if any.

All nuclear energy facilities fall within the NRC’s safety range, and the agency’s 2010 determination of safety against potential earthquakes remains valid, NEI Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo wrote in a March 12, 2014 letter to the NRC. “Operating reactors have margin to withstand potential earthquakes exceeding their original design basis,” he wrote.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why Should You Consider a Career in Nuclear Energy?

Scott Peterson
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 are joining the 100,000-person workforce at 100 reactors that produce one-fifth of America’s electricity.

Esperanza Lapaix recognized opportunity evolving in the nuclear industry five years ago. Lapaix, whose family emigrated from Cuba, graduated from the nuclear energy program at Miami Dade College and was hired by Florida Power and Light as a technician at the company’s Turkey Point nuclear plant.

Lapaix told The New York Times that she was a computer technician, working at a community college and elsewhere, earning half the salary she does at FPL. Now, with “a reliable, great-paying job,” she is the first member of her family to own a home.

Chris Wolfe, a senior auxiliary operator at the V.C. Summer nuclear station in South Carolina, was playing golf on the LPGA tour in 2007. She left the tour for the nuclear profession when the recession took a bite out of her sponsorships – and paychecks.

Wolfe’s father, who worked at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, encouraged his daughter to study engineering at Vanderbilt University while on a golf scholarship. That advice turned out to be more valuable that any instruction on the golf course.

At Sweeney High School in South Texas, employees from the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Co. are mentoring 16 high-achieving 11th and 12th-grade girls in a unique program that provides the tools, academic support, and mentoring needed to pursue career opportunities related to science, technology, engineering, and math.

Women professionals from the South Texas Project and other partner industries provide mentoring to POWER SET (Powerful Opportunities for Women Eager and Ready for Science, Engineering and Technology) members, who in turn, mentor younger students in their school or community.

The nuclear energy industry provides opportunity for professionals and skilled craft workers from all walks and with a diversity of skill sets. It is an industry that builds communities, through economic development, significant tax contributions and the involvement of employees in their community.

In the Carolinas, the nuclear energy industry directly provides 29,000 jobs, has more than $2.2 billion in direct payroll, and more than $950 million paid in state and local taxes, according to a 2013 analysis by Clemson University.

Other nuclear energy facilities provide similar large-scale benefits in their states and communities. The Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire has a $1 billion economic impact each year on that state and bordering Massachusetts.

And in California, the Diablo Canyon nuclear energy facility boasts an annual economic impact of $2 billion nationwide, including $1.1 billion in California, and $920 million in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, according to a study led by the Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business.

Georgia Power's Mark Verbeck
The NEI Future of Energy campaign highlights various studies and views from the industry like those noted above to help federal and local policy makers understand the community-based benefits of nuclear energy. Georgia Power’s Mark Verbeck is one of the campaign’s voices for nuclear energy’s economic impact. To talk to energy industry professionals like Mark, you can join the conversation on Twitter at #futureofenergy.

“The benefits to the local economy are wages from workers and taxes for our tax base,” says Verbeck. “The wages are good and the skills required and technology are high. It’s a place you can work and feel good about your job. Looking into the future, we will operate these plants for 60 years so generations will be working at these plants.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

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, transportation, reactor operation, all the way to decommissioning and disposal. The biggest population-level exposure is actually to the uranium miners and millers and surrounding communities. Surely, these health implications need to be considered. Do we want to saddle future generations with the burden of solving these problems?

Presumably, the health risk is cancer, which is what he is testifying about now, and I have no problem accepting that many of the reasons he’s adopted to counter nuclear energy roots in his work as a epidemiologist. Radiation exposure is a charge to which nuclear energy is exceptionally vulnerable, but has never been responsive to. Facilities don’t add to the radiation that people pick up just moving through their days. Study after study shows that. (NEI has a nice collection of papers on various studies and of course you can read the original studies when they’re online.)

A study done by the Massachusetts Department of Health that showed elevated cancer incidents around the Pilgrim facility excited anti-nuclear advocates when it was released in 1990. But the department found the report troubling in a number of ways and asked a group of experts to critique it. Among the problems:

The leukemia mortality rates for this area [around Pilgrim] have remained close to the state average throughout the period. This finding contradicts the substantial increase in leukemia risk found by SMSII [the original study].

And:

The strength of the association between leukemia and proximity to the Pilgrim power plant was unexpected based on previous studies of the leukemogenic effects of low dose radiation. Furthermore, the specific  problems mentioned above make it difficult to conclude that the observed association is real and related to nuclear power plant emissions.

The report on the report said the first report did not include all the towns around Pilgrim or any children in the sample and did not examine areas around other nuclear facilities to provide some comparable bases. There were some other comments related to the design of the study that gets into the specifics of the field - study-speak, so to speak - but that’s the gist of it.

Regardless of this, some people have dined out on the original study – perhaps including those 12 folk now in trouble for trespassing onto Pilgrim – definitely including Dr. Clapp – for years.

We have nothing whatever against studies such as those conducted by the Department of Health. Nuclear energy has not been harmed by them at all, since they turn up nothing untoward and they do have the benefit of reassuring anyone in the public that needs it. But a fair number of anti-nuclear advocates are not going to thrown off the scent – more’s the pity. Cancer carries a potent charge that shouldn’t be exploited.

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I’m not in the least bit competent to comment on the court case, though I did find this line up of witnesses interesting:

Today, Gordon Thompson, an expert on energy, environment and security, is scheduled to testify about safety issues. And on Friday, Stephen Nathanson, a professor at Northeastern University, will focus on social change. The defense will wrap up with state Sen. Daniel Wolf, D-Harwich, a longtime Pilgrim opponent.

Being against something and trespassing onto that something sound like different issues to me, but these witnesses should at least make for a lively trial.

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-related deaths in Texas, Emery was well-positioned to know about them. Following the disaster in Japan, he supervised the effort to set up extra air-sampling stations and Geiger counters throughout Houston to monitor any increase in radioactivity; elevated levels were not found.
Emery also told Fecht: "I think these individuals have a bias toward what they believe is happening ... They're drawing conclusions that support that bias. Have you ever heard of the Texas sharpshooter? It's where a guy goes out in the field, shoots bullet holes in a barn and then paints the target around the bullet holes."

Popular Mechanics isn't the first media outlet to find flaws in Mangano's research. On two separate occasions, Mike Moyer of Scientific American criticized Mangano's work calling it, "sloppy and agenda-driven." In a June 2011 blog post, Moyer concluded that Mangano's "statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths."

Reporting on Mangano's claims has also come under intense scrutiny by Reporting on Health, a project of the USC-Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. A former editor there, Barbara Ostrov, warned journalists to "proceed with caution," when reporting Mangano's claims, as they normally appear in obscure medical journals. Later, William Heisel warned reporters to "resist the siren song of the fear monger," and "demand details," from activists like Mangano.

So what's the solution? Writes Fecht, "Ultimately, junk science can be dispelled only if individuals think like scientists; Evaluate all the evidence and try to disprove your own preconceptions."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thorium: The Artisanal Nuclear Energy

artisanal_v2_460x285While 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.

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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 air pollution.

In an effort to reduce the number of coal-fired plants, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium.

Uranium does this, too, so why the push for thorium?

China has been importing large quantities of uranium as it attempts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. However, according to the WNA, thorium is much more abundant.

Uranium is also abundant, though there is about four times more thorium in known deposits. This is potentially very important to countries both interested in energy independence and and with large supplies of the element – China is one example, India another.

When the thorium fuel cycle was first explored in the 60s, it was seen as a complement to uranium (or the other way around) because, while fertile, thorium is not fissile, so (very simplified) it is used in conjunction with isotopes of uranium or plutonium to produce a fissionable isotope of uranium. That said, many reactor types can accommodate thorium. That’s simplified, too, since all the processes necessary to provide usable thorium fuel must be accommodated, too.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has a very detailed paper on thorium here. Worth a read for the thorium curious.

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Thorium fans can be very partisan (and have elaborate names, apparently, such as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry): Here is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on the Chinese ambitions in The Telegraph:

Thorium may at least do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas, but on a bigger scale, for much longer, and with near zero carbon dioxide emissions.

We like the sound of that, even if it’s largely puffery. The economics are tough to know right now.

China’s thorium drive is galling for the Americans. They have dropped the ball. As I reported last year, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee actually built a molten salt thorium reactor in the 1960s. It was shelved by the Nixon Administration.

Galling for the Americans? Well, if you see the world from this angle, perhaps. A little more about what the Chinese are doing:

The project began with a start-up budget of $350m and the recruitment of 140 PhD scientists at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. It then had plans to reach 750 staff by 2015, but this already looks far too conservative.

The Chinese appear to be opting for a molten salt reactor – or a liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) — a notion first proposed by the US nuclear doyen Alvin Weinberg and arguably best adapted for thorium.

So, even if we find the idea of artisanal nuclear energy a bit of a heavy lift, it does fit into the so-old-its-new branch of hipsterism if without an ironic overlay. If that’s what it takes, that’s good enough for us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

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

Ellen Ginsberg
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 assessment, the Secretary is ordered to submit to Congress a proposal to change the [nuclear waste] fee to zero until such time as either the Secretary chooses to comply with the [Nuclear Waste Policy] Act as it is currently written, or until Congress enacts an alternative waste management plan.”

Ellen Ginsberg's statement follows:
“Today’s decision rejecting DOE’s efforts to reopen its fight to collect fees for a program that the department unilaterally terminated is both appropriate and timely. DOE has already submitted to Congress the required proposal to adjust the fee to zero. If Congress does not act within the 90-day period during which the proposal is pending before it, the fee will be reset to zero, relieving consumers of nuclear-generated electricity of the burden of paying for a program that DOE illegally terminated.

“Nuclear energy generators are very pleased that their consumers will not have to pay the fee while no program is under way. However, the industry is extremely eager for the government to meet its legal obligation to dispose of used nuclear fuel. Onsite storage is safe and can be maintained without any environmental impact. But that does not in any way excuse the federal government’s failure to meet its commitment to generators, states, local governments and the public to remove used fuel to a NRC-licensed disposal facility.

“Once the Energy Department’s Yucca Mountain repository program is restarted or another waste disposal program is enacted by Congress, DOE then will be able to evaluate the projected costs of the program to determine whether additional funds will be required. Currently, the Nuclear Waste Fund has approximately $34 billion remaining and annual interest income is accruing at the rate of about $1.3 billion.”
For more on how the industry manages used nuclear fuel, see NEI's website.

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

Bill Gates
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'm backing, required a very long time to get the right people together, it required computer modeling to get the right technology together, and even now it's going to require the U.S. government to work with whatever country decides to build a pilot project – China, maybe. In a normal sort of private market, that project probably wouldn't have emerged. It took a fascination with science, concern about climate change and a very long-term view. Now, I'm not saying it's guaranteed to be successful, although it's going super, super well, but it's an example of an innovation that might not happen without the proper support.

Nuclear power has failed to fulfill its promises for a variety of economic and technical reasons for 40 years. Why continue investing in nuclear power instead of, say, cheap solar and energy storage?

Well, we have a real problem, and so we should pursue many solutions to the problem. Even the Manhattan Project pursued both the plutonium bomb and the uranium bomb – and both worked! Intermittent energy sources [like wind and solar] . . . yeah, you can crank those up, depending on the quality of the grid and the nature of your demand. You can scale that up 20 percent, 30 percent and, in some cases, even 40 percent. But when it comes to climate change, that's not interesting. You're talking about needing factors of, like, 90 percent.

But you can't just dismiss renewables, can you?

Solar is much, much harder than people think it is. When the sun shines, electricity is going to be worth zero, so all the money will be reserved for the guy who brings you power when there's no wind and no sun. There are some interesting things on the horizon along those lines. There's one called solar chemical. It's very nascent, but it comes with a built-in storage solution, because you actually secrete hydrocarbons. We're investing probably one-twentieth of what we should in that. There's another form of solar called solar thermal, which is cool because you can store heat. Heat's not easy to store, but it's a lot easier to store than electricity.
For more on Gates and his vision for the world's energy future, check out this TedTalk from 2010.

Bill Gates photo courtesy of Agencia Brasil.

Monday, March 17, 2014

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

John Dobken
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 the NRC sending out a team for a reactive inspection, UCS refers to it as a ‘near-miss.’ Over the years, using this label has proven to be more controversial than expected. UCS continues to use this term because it indicates a clear nexus to accidents involving core damage: the NRC inspection teams are dispatched only when something is believed to have increased the chances of such an accident by at least a factor of 10.” (Italics added)

Except that regarding Columbia Generating Station, that wasn’t the case.

UCS wrote that Columbia had three “near misses” in 2013 because it had three special inspections. Contrary to UCS belief, special inspections do not equate to “near misses.” Two of the special inspections involved security-related issues in which no findings were identified and would not have affected core damage probabilities at all, certainly not by a factor of 10. Both of these issues were initially brought to the attention of the NRC by Energy Northwest, owner and operator of Columbia.

The determination to conduct the third inspection was based on a calculated core damage probability. However, the assumption used in the calculation was later proven to be wrong and thus, the actual core damage probability did not change at all for the third event.

In that light, these three incidents don’t even seem to reach the flawed threshold of UCS. Interesting.

When asked about the use of the term “near miss,” the NRC has said that it is a “mischaracterization” of their regulatory regimen.

However, if one has an agenda, such as UCS, then you use whatever information you can, in any way you can, even if it means misleading the public you are trying to sway.

Enter the Oregon and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Piggy-backing on their anti-nuclear energy brethren, they also take the made-up UCS term “near miss” and wrongly liken to it an actual NRC term “accident sequence precursor” (a term, presumably, UCS does not find sufficiently inflammatory).

Dr. John Pearson, Oregon PSR board member and someone who advocates closing Columbia permanently, recently said in reference to the UCS report, “My colleagues and I are concerned by what appears to be a pattern of behavior at the CGS nuclear reactor.”

Remember, he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Literally, in this case, as security-related issues are rightly not divulged to the public.

It is akin to your doctor advocating euthanasia simply because he heard you went to the emergency room a couple of times last year.

Too harsh? Yes, any rational person would call that malpractice. Unfortunately, anti-nuclear energy activists cannot be sued for their negligent actions. But they can, and should be, ignored.

Friday, March 14, 2014

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 must pay Energy Northwest $19.3 million for its continued costs because the Department of Energy failed to accept the used fuel from its nuclear power plant near Richland [Wash.], according to a federal court ruling this week.

And that follows this:

This week's ruling follows a decision in 2011 that awarded Energy Northwest $48.7 million in damages for the construction and licensing of a used fuel storage area at the Columbia Generating Station. That award was for 1998 through August 2006.

And this is just one facility. There’s lots more where this one came from. Still, in Richland, the award is not funding caviar breakfasts washed down with champagne. What it does is compensate Energy Northwest for maintaining its used fuel storage strategy.

Energy Northwest would maintain such a policy regardless. But these breach of contract actions brought by facility operators have always been successful – because there has been a breach of contract, with the federal government not holding up its end of the fuel storage deal.

There has been movement – or at least considerable government percolation - around the ideas of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which has many good ideas about consolidated storage and a permanent repository and adheres to the goals of the Nuclear Waste Act. You can read the commission report here and, while you’re at it, take a look at NEI’s white paper on an Integrated Used Nuclear Fuel Management Policy, which overlaps and expands upon ideas in the BRC report.

None of this is news – or shall I say new news, except for Energy Northwest winning its lawsuit. So why bring it up at all? Well, a story of this kind has not been in the media for awhile and it reminds us that there are plenty of reasons to encourage forward movement with a revised used fuel policy. A court award to Energy Northwest is really the least of it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

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 logoThe 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 showing nuclear usage around the planet and an even better one toting up planned or in progress facilities. Well worth visiting just for the sweet chart action.)

smhFrom nuclear energy’s best friend, Australia, via the Sydney Morning Herald, the view from Japan:

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe backs plans to restart nuclear plants, the country has to weigh the economic damage as fossil fuel imports drive record trade deficits, against risks to safety and the environment. At stake is Japan's nuclear fleet that is designed to produce a further 5 trillion kilowatts of energy worth 40 trillion yen ($431 billion), according to Penn Bowers, an energy analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo.

Here’s the capper:

“In the short-term, economically it's a no-brainer to restart” the idled fleet, Bowers said in an interview this month.

Bowers doesn’t really discuss the long term, but this take on what makes sense for Japan raises the issue of cost-benefit and finds the risk of an accident very low and the cost of abandoning nuclear energy very high indeed.

Does that mean that, whether put in the harshest light possible or simply practically, that the Fukushima Daiichi accident had, in sum, no impact? Not at all. But it does suggest that after the world looked over its existing reactor fleet and worked out safety measures based on lessons learned from Japan, considered the costs of building new reactors, and surveyed the energy landscape (and let’s throw in emission reduction goals) – well, it’s a “no-brainer,” isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

“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:
Nuclear generation is here and now.

Major energy transitions are lengthy, says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, in an interview. … “The right questions are how do we encourage a transition to it and how do we make it cheaper,” and not to dismiss it because of a stale mindset.
Writer Ken Silverstein shows how this is already happening in Europe and Asia.
Meantime, China, Korea, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the UK are advancing nuclear production to address air pollution and climate concerns. China has 20 nuclear plants today and 28 more under construction — 40 percent of all projected new nuclear units, says the World Nuclear Association. A similar dynamic exists in the UK, which approved the construction of two reactors at Hinkley Point that will provide 7 percent of the UK’s electricity.
The beneficial aspects of this are manifest. Paul and other politicians often zero in on fuel types to promote energy policy, but that’s not all there is on offer. America has nuclear technology, nuclear manufacturers and nuclear personnel. The U.S. is  not a big supplier of uranium, but “good actors” like Australia are.
It takes time to build nuclear plants, but, as in the U.K, it takes no time at all to set an energy policy – well, okay, it does, but it can be done quickly – and energy policy that favors nuclear energy can benefit the U.S. right away. No need to drill everywhere if it proves to be a problem – nuclear is all ready to go. Even Sen. Paul might find it appealing.

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

Dennis Spurgeon
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 (also known as nuclear cost recovery) can work well and save millions of dollars in unnecessary financing costs for customers?

Anti-nuclear activists, along with the Times, oppose this method of paying for new plants and retorfits. Are they trying to spruce up their arguments by adding a safety component?
The stakes in Florida are very high, as our Richard Myers explained in a letter to the editor at the Tampa Bay Times in May 2013. With its nuclear cost recovery law in place, Florida is able to avoid the trap that would be created by loading up its electric portfolio with too much natural gas:
In 2012, Florida generated 68 percent of its electricity from natural gas, a significant increase from 47 percent in 2008. Floridians may recall that in 2008 and 2009, the state endured its highest-ever electricity costs when natural gas prices were hitting all-time highs. Five years later, Florida relies even more on natural gas.

Just like a diversified financial portfolio is important for investors, so is a diversified energy portfolio for consumers. By relying ever more heavily on natural gas, Florida is putting itself in an increasingly vulnerable position if and when natural gas prices change.
For more on the attacks in Florida on cost recovery by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, see our blog post from December 2012. It's a story we've been covering since 2009.

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

Steven Kraft
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 from the multiple reactor accidents at Fukushima Daiichi.

It was equally uplifting to see how resilient the Japanese people are and the hard work at Fukushima Daiichi to recover and decontaminate the plant and surrounding area.  While they face many problems, we are confident that our colleagues in Japan will see their way through.

Here at home, the design and construction of U.S. nuclear plants are extremely robust and can withstand a broad range of events that challenge plant safety.  However, the U.S. industry is taking coordinated actions – some in conjunction with Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements – to assure that an accident caused by events beyond the built-in capability of our plants does not occur.


Following the 2001 terrorist attacks, each nuclear energy station added portable equipment that is yet another layer of safety to enable nuclear fuel cooling if large portions of the plant were damaged by explosions or fires.  Since March 2011, this system was greatly expanded and made more reliable by additional equipment, both on-site and at new regional response centers, as well as every other nuclear plant.  Our power plants have the ability to cool the reactor core and used fuel in storage from outside the plant with temporary equipment if internal systems cannot operate.

In addition, there will be enhanced instrumentation to remotely measure the water depth in the used fuel storage pool at all plants and to reliably reduce the pressure in the containment of Boiling Water Reactors (like those at Fukushima Daiichi). Both are key safety enhancements.

As the knowledge and analyses of severe natural events increases, the U.S. nuclear industry is re-examining the possibility that earthquakes and floods greater than those considered in original plant designs could occur and taking measures to keep these facilities safe.

Simply put, we cannot let such an accident happen here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

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 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."

For more on the complaints from Joseph Jensen, St. Lucie's Site Vice President, click here.

Friday, March 07, 2014

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 plant at Temelin [an RBMK-1000], which was planned by the Communist government, originally had the same design as the one at Chernobyl. It was redesigned to meet EU specifications. But many Czechs, including Vaclav Havel, still voiced opposition. Public opinion fluctuated considerably, from 53 percent against in 1999 to 64 percent in favor in 2000. The Czech government pushed forward with construction plans, negotiating around Austria's objections. The Czech energy utility is currently dealing with bids for an expansion of the facility.

The whole thing is worth a read.

Feffer includes an interview he did with Vladimir Prchlik, a former Czech Environment Ministry official. Prchlik, among other things, reduced the amount of brown coal used in the Czech Republic by switching to nuclear energy. I found the discussion about tilting technology decisions east to west especially interesting – it’s like threading a nuclear needle:

There was also a big discussion about atomic power. The reactor at Temelin was only part of it. The plant was built with Soviet technology. We switched many of the components of the reactor to Westinghouse. It was very critical to combine Soviet technology with American technology. Nothing could be changed in the agreements with the Soviet Union. … So, this kind of work required a lot of diplomacy and not just technical knowledge. A lot of work was about modernizing and achieving greater efficiency.

One thing to worry about with nuclear energy in Europe has been Germany’s large role in the EU government. But, after some fuel rod rattling from that direction, Eastern Europe has made it clear it’s continuing with nuclear energy. 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Nuclear Bamboozlement Road Show

snake-oil-scamAlfred 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 millirem of exposure a year due to that plant’s opera­tion.”

They might have mentioned that a person picks up about 310 millirem per year just by walking around, but it’s a fair effort.

You can’t really rebut vaporous arguments about the “unknown” causes of thyroid cancer, but a responsible physician would know you can look for elevated instances of it around nuclear facilities – except he would also know you won’t find them. 

Here’s an example of a study looking for thyroid cancer among workers cleaning up after the Chernobyl accident:

In the study of 4,742 Estonian cleanup workers referred to above, Inskip et al. did not find an excess of thyroid cancer 9 years after the accident, and subsequent extended follow-up of this cohort did not show any increase in the risk of thyroid cancer up to 16 years after the accident.

Using such a group is important because “studies of such workers potentially have greater statistical power to measure effects.” And that’s because, while other factors still apply, this is a group that spent a measureable period working in a radiation-heavy area.

So it’s not impossible to sort out nuclear facility impacts (and this was after an accident, not daily operation) versus environmental issues. Complex yes, impossible no

NEI sends speakers around to provide a truer accounting of nuclear energy – hopefully, the folks at DTE Energy have someone to give talks to bamboozled Michigan residents.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

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, and he noted that while Mr. Mangano has conducted similar studies across the country, state and federal regulators rarely substantiate his claims in their followup studies.

Mr. Kerekes called attention to the first sentence of the report’s conclusions section. “While many factors can affect disease and death rates, the official public health data presented in this report suggest a probable link between the routine, federally permitted emissions of radioactivity from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and elevated health risks among those infants, children and adults living closest to the reactors,” the report says.

“That’s another way of saying ‘I don’t have proof of any of this,’” Mr. Kerekes said.
We've been on Mangano's trail on NEI Nuclear Notes since 2005. And from that first post, I'd like to share the following statement from the New Jersey Commission on Radiation Protection, one that was issued after it had evaluated one of Mr. Mangano's reports:
The Commission is of the opinion that "Radioactive Strontium-90 in Baby Teeth of New Jersey Children and the Link with Cancer: A Special Report," is a flawed report, with substantial errors in methodology and invalid statistics. As a result, any information gathered through this project would not stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific community.
If there's a bright side to Mr. Mangano's continued activities, it's that he'll always provide another reason to keep our blog in business.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

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

Nils Diaz
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 had to say. Read the rest, right now.

Monday, March 03, 2014

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

Sen. John McCain
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 really succeed in reducing greenhouse gases unless you have a lot of nuclear power plants. They’re against them. Well, okay, I move on to other issues.
That's all there is to it. I vaguely remembered what might have motivated McCain's view, though this is an exceptionally blunt expression of it. David Corn discusses this (very much from the left) in Mother Jones. This is about McCain working with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and environmental groups on a new version of the McCain-Lieberman climate change bill, the first version of which had narrowly been voted down in 2008:
McCain had long been an advocate of nuclear power. "He feels strongly that nuclear power will be one of the keys to reducing emissions," says Heather Wicke, who was his environmental legislative aide at the time. But environmentalists who had worked with McCain and Lieberman on the first bill were stunned. In one meeting, lobbyists for environmental groups attempted to persuade McCain not to attach nuclear subsidies to the legislation, arguing that doing so would weaken support for the bill. 
The second attempt failed, too, and a third attempt went nowhere. Corn blames this on the nuclear provisions. Maybe, but a similar bill without those provisions also failed. Maybe the moment for this legislation crested with that first attempt and then passed. It could return - maybe through McCain's office, maybe not - but the bottom line is, McCain is right: "I don’t believe that you can really succeed in reducing greenhouse gases unless you have a lot of nuclear power plants." Well, you can define "a lot" however you like, but right is right.