Friday, August 29, 2014

Nuclear Energy Sets Forth in Ghana

An energy professional with the great name of Jude Nuru writes on Ghanaweb:

It is worth mentioning that the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission has over the years successfully operated a nuclear plant on a small scale which has been of significant benefit to Ghanaians health wise. Now is the time to rally support for the Commission as it prepares to build Ghana’s first nuclear power plant which has immense potential not only to halt the recurrent power outages, but also bring additional revenue to mother Ghana through the exportation of excess power to neighboring countries.

Mr. Nuru is mostly interested in dispelling nuclear myths, at which he does a fine job. He even tackles the tough-to-simplify idea of the risk benefit ratio – nuclear is low risk and huge benefit, but that can be a hard proposition to hear over a din of fearmongering. But he does it.

The question is: is Ghana moving forward with a nuclear facility?

A bill is being prepared to establish an independent regulatory authority to control the operation of nuclear technology.
This follows Ghana formally writing to the Intentional Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, to allow her use nuclear in its energy mix.
The Director General of the Atomic Energy Commission, Professor Benjamin Nyarko, announced this to Radio Ghana in Accra.

That’s from August 6. And on August 12:

The reconstituted Board of Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) was inaugurated on Monday, to provide direction to Management to help mitigate the myriad of challenges facing the country and ensure sustainable development.

And this story indicates a lot of pieces are being put in place:

He said a clear pathway has been outlined for Ghana to add nuclear energy to her power mix in the not too distant future, citing the Nuclear Regulatory Authority Bill, the Convention on Early Notification of Nuclear of Nuclear Accident, Ratification of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and the Ratification of the Convention on Assistance in the case of Nuclear Accident of Radiological Emergency which are all before Parliament for approval.

Well, that’s a lot to get approved, but all indications are that it will happen. The '”he” mentioned there is Akwasi Opong-Fosu, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, who opened the Atomic Energy Commission.

I especially liked this commend from Minister Opong-Fosu:

He is convinced that the Commission undoubtedly has a huge potential to help turn Ghana round in its quest to develop into a proper upper middle income country.

Just so.

Ghana started talking about this in 2012, but the subject’s dropped off the radar a bit until now. It’s good to see additional steps taken now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Coffee in the Morning, Biogas in the Evening

coffee The Huffington Post has a story about the waste generated by items you use in the morning, though it stretches things a bit by including your cell phone and clothing. The interesting one is coffee:

[O]ne of the major sources of river pollution in Central America is coffee processing plants since large volumes of wastewater are generated from the separation of the coffee bean from the cherry.
The story recommends you buy “shade-grown” or naturally grown coffee, though I imagine it is processing coffee that creates the problem not growing it. Still, I wondered whether coffee processors, whether on their own or by government regulation, might have a means to do something about the wastewater.
Why, yes, at least some do:
The Energy from Coffee Wastewater project by UTZ Certified has proven that is possible to generate energy, tackle climate change and protect water resources by treating discharges from coffee mills.
How does it generate energy? Through the production of biogas that is used to power small communities. Frankly, this sounds like methane, which isn’t very climate friendly. The Biofuels Association of Australia offers this definition:
The term 'biogas' is commonly used to refer to a gas which has been produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The gases methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be combusted or oxidized with oxygen and the resultant energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel.
That doesn’t inspire confidence, nor does this:
Myth: Biofuels don’t have any environmental benefits.
Fact: Biofuels produce significantly less CO2 emissions over the full life cycle of production through to use.
Less than what? Wood? Oil?

To be honest, it would take more research to balance the risk with the benefits – perhaps even to identify the risks and benefits. In this cursory look, making energy from coffee wastewater would seem to solve two problems – clean up the water and electrify villages – but at the cost of producing methane – not to mention carbon monoxide (deadly) and hydrogen (explosive).

Ecovillage lists the pros and cons of biogas and finds it, in sum, worthwhile. The disadvantages it identifies are these:
  1. The process is not very attractive economically (as compared to other biofuels) on a large industrial scale.
  2. It is very difficult to enhance the efficiency of biogas systems.
  3. Biogas contains some gases as impurities, which are corrosive to the metal parts of internal combustion engines.
  4. Not feasible to locate at all the locations.
Naturally, we’d recommend throwing up a couple of nuclear facilities – and joking aside, nuclear can scale and it can provide economic uplift, both as an employer and through generating electricity. Some Latin American countries (Bolivia quite recently) are considering it and some (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico) have built nuclear plants. But it isn’t the complete solution – it can’t answer directly to the coffee wastewater issue, for example – and biogas seems to have the capacity to provide small scale electrification and clean up the water.

Not every energy source can solve every problem – and some, like biogas, might work especially well in specific niches. We shouldn’t ignore that, especially in developing countries. Electrification is key to that development – and the moral imperative of improving people’s lives can burn away many first world objections. Nuclear energy and biogas both can be said to have their places in achieving that goal, even if biogas might seem problematic at first blush.

A visit to UTZ Certified is worth the trip to get a fuller view. Apart from the wastewater project, this coffee industry group aims to improve farming methods with an eye on sustainability. Sounds good – hopefully, it can do some good.

Edit: I refer a couple of times to making energy from wastewater. It’s really from the coffee processing waste that would otherwise go into the water. Still, using the waste this way keeps the water clear, so the point is still valid.

Westinghouse Engineer Dedicated to Nuclear Safety Culture

The following post was sent to us by Westinghouse Electric Company’s Laura Goossen for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them.

Laura is the Nuclear Safety Culture program manager at Westinghouse Electric Company in Cranberry Township, Pa.  She’s worked in the nuclear industry for seven years, after earning a Systems Engineering degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point and then holding positions of increasing responsibility within the U.S. military before joining Westinghouse. 

For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels.

Laura Goossen
What I do matters 

A focus on safety is an overriding priority at Westinghouse and for each of our employees. This includes maintaining a strong nuclear safety culture as the foundation of everything that we do. In my role as Nuclear Safety Culture program manager, I am responsible for implementing ways to continuously strengthen our company’s nuclear safety culture on a global scale. These activities range from benchmarking and self-assessments to implementing our company’s nuclear safety culture excellence plan. 

I enjoy working in this role because it provides me with the opportunity to positively impact employees throughout Westinghouse and ultimately, all our stakeholders, including our suppliers, customers and the public. Each employee at Westinghouse – whether he or she works at one of our manufacturing centers, an office environment or in the field at a nuclear plant site – serves as an advocate for a healthy nuclear safety culture with the responsibility of ingraining nuclear safety culture into every aspect of his or her job. I have the chance to regularly engage with our more than 11,000 global employees through regular communications vehicles, training and large-scale initiatives.  

I am also proud of the innovative approach that is necessary to make a program like this successful. Driving ourselves to remain the industry leader focused on a strong nuclear safety culture requires new approaches to implementing valuable lessons learned and industry experience, as well as benchmarking nuclear utilities around the world. 

I recognize that not many people get opportunities like this; it’s something that I feel passionate about, and I’m honored to do this work.  

Why I enjoy working in the nuclear industry 

The overall energy industry plays an important role in society, and nuclear energy is such a unique and fascinating energy platform – not only because of its technical aspects but also because of the benefits that it provides, such as safe, clean and reliable energy. 

I truly believe that nuclear power plays a vital role in our energy future. Here in the United States, Westinghouse is currently building four AP1000® pressurized water reactors (PWRs) – two each in Georgia and South Carolina. Westinghouse also recently announced a memorandum of understanding to pursue the development of a two-unit AP1000 nuclear power plant in Utah.

That focus on the future of energy continues globally for the company with the construction of the AP1000 projects at the Sanmen and Haiyang sites in China and recent shareholder agreements for the development of AP1000 plants at the Moorside site in the United Kingdom and the Kozloduy site in Bulgaria.

Working at Westinghouse has allowed me to be a part of so many new and interesting experiences. During my time with the company, I’ve worked in our technical engineering organization on the design of the AP1000 nuclear power plant. I also took an assignment as an engineer in China, where I was able to see the design work that I had completed in the United States come to life before my eyes as we constructed the world’s first AP1000 PWR.  

Every day at Westinghouse is a learning experience with exciting opportunities, and my current role in the Westinghouse Nuclear Safety Culture organization is no different – allowing me to take my technical background and experiences to a global level in order to positively impact our employees, products and services. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In California, Earthquake Damages Wineries but not Nuclear Plant

The Associated Press yesterday ran a sensationalized account of an internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission dispute over the seismic safety of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. It actually wasn't much of a dispute insomuch as one NRC voice advocated to have Diablo Canyon shut down until additional seismic testing of the site could be conducted, while the larger regulatory body over many years has exhaustively analyzed seismic threats at Diablo Canyon, always concluding that the site is safe.   

Diablo Canyon Power Plant
Federal regulations require that nuclear plants be able to withstand extreme natural events that may occur in the region where they are located, and the NRC most recently required that nuclear utilities have seismic experts re-evaluate the potential earthquake impact at their sites using the latest available data and methodologies. But earlier this year the NRC reminded the public that nuclear plants’ substantial safety margins above their designs ensure they are safe for continued operation while the additional seismic assessments are being conducted. This public information would have significantly benefited the AP's reporting yesterday.    

We can credit the AP for its newsjacking instincts -- dropping the story smack in the middle of the larger 6.0 Napa earthquake coverage. That generated a great deal of interest in the file, but so much significant context was missing from it, little in the way of public service came from it.

The United States has averaged more than 3,000 earthquakes per year over the past 20 years, mostly in the mild to moderate range of severity (magnitude 2.0 to 5.9). The quake that struck Napa at the end of last weekend ranks as one of the more severe we experience. Still, there have been few large earthquakes (magnitude 5.5 or greater) near nuclear power plants. The safety performance of these plants through the years confirms the seismic ruggedness of these facilities. And as new seismic information comes to light, this is an industry that acts on it

Most of the news coverage of the quake thus far has focused principally on havoc wrought upon many northern California wineries; the state's lone nuclear plant was unaffected by the quake. That sort of contextualization also didn't make it into Monday's AP file.         

"Environmentalists," the AP wrote, "have long depicted Diablo Canyon . . . as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting." Importantly, however, seismologists have not. It's striking that the AP apparently didn't think to contact a seismologist -- particularly one in California, with expertise of earthquakes and the faults there -- to offer some context for this story. The dissenting voice at NRC cited in the piece is not identified as a seismologist but rather a former site inspector.    
Seismic infographic
Given its location, Diablo Canyon's construction history is distinctive and fascinating. The region surrounding Diablo Canyon is one of the most seismically studied and understood areas in the U.S. -- yet another fact omitted in yesterday's AP reporting. When Diablo Canyon was under construction in the early 1970s, the nearby Hosgri fault was discovered. Subsequently, Diablo Canyon was retrofitted to withstand ground motions from the Hosgri fault. The site is unique among all in the American commercial reactor fleet in that it is licensed for three earthquake designs: the Design Earthquake, Double Design Earthquake (equivalent to the Safe Shutdown Earthquake), and the Hosgri Earthquake.

As a result, the plant is able to withstand the largest ground motions, or shaking, that could be expected to be generated from any of the nearby faults. In instances of significant natural disasters in our country it's understandable that the public wonder about the robustness of America's nuclear energy facilities. That's a story we're proud to tell.

Today, Diablo Canyon's geosciences team is conducting yet another seismic hazard assessment, and Pacific Gas & Electric will report its findings to the NRC in March 2015. Existing and new seismic information is being peer-reviewed and publically evaluated by independent experts as part of the NRC required Senior Seismic Hazard Analysis Committee (SSHAC) process. Here's hoping the AP will see fit to tell that story, too.           

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in Idaho

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has never hidden his support for nuclear energy. In 2011, before he took up his current post, he wrote an article for Foreign Affairs surveying the nuclear landscape, finding some sump holes and crevices (as well as gold-infused hillocks and verdant valleys), and concluded:

As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, finding ways to generate power cleanly, affordably, and reliably is becoming an even more pressing imperative. Nuclear power is not a silver bullet, but it is a partial solution that has proved workable on a large scale. … The government's role should be to help provide the private sector with a well-understood set of options, including nuclear power -- not to prescribe a desired market share for any specific technology.

And:

The United States must take a number of decisions to maintain and advance the option of nuclear energy.

As energy secretary, he has embraced President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy – it features in his Foreign Affairs piece, too – so his specific interest in nuclear energy has been less apparent if never absent.

Now it’s apparent again:

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz championed the use of nuclear power and urged politicians and leaders in the energy industry to adapt and modernize energy production to help minimize the fallout from global warming.

And for the same reason as in the article: because it’s a bulwark against climate change. He was speaking in Idaho with three of the state’s Congressional delegation present, so his words have some significance:

"The predictions of a world where we do nothing predict unhealthy outcomes for our forests," Moniz said. "Working hard on it means innovating energy technology. And I want to emphasize, the goal of energy is very simple, keep the costs down. As we have seen, that will make the policy making easier."

I hesitated a bit on this story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch because Moniz isn’t quoted directly about nuclear energy. He was speaking at The Intermountain Energy Summit, with the Idaho National Laboratory providing a nice backdrop for nuclear-specific comments.

Moniz said the U.S. Department of Energy would award $67 million for nuclear research and development to universities and labs across the country. Idaho will receive $3.7 million for six projects at the Idaho National Laboratory, Boise State University and Idaho State University.

But everything is of a piece. Moniz said a few things about small reactors in his 2011 piece and again in Idaho:

Small modular reactors could possibly ease critics' fears that nuclear energy costs too much to be efficient, Moniz said, but many of these are in the early stages of construction so information on long-term operation costs are minimal.

If nothing else – actually, there’s a lot else - this story demonstrates that nuclear energy remains as it has been, a strong element in the administration’s energy policy.

---

Here’s the breakdown of the $67 million DOE dispersed, from ExecutiveGov (it’s about a million short, but what’s a few dollars?):

  • $30 million for 44 university-led nuclear energy R&D projects;
  • $4 million for 19 research reactor and infrastructure improvement projects;
  • $20 million for five integrated research projects;
  • $11 million for 12 R&D projects by DOE national laboratories, industry and U.S. universities; and
  • $1 million for two infrastructure enhancement projects.

  • Thursday, August 21, 2014

    Small Nuclear Reactors? Why Not Mini?

    upowerMore from the world of venture capital :

    Less than a couple hours ago, we were highlighted in a TechCrunch article disclosing that UPower is a Y Combinator company.  This article is currently trending at story number 1 in HackerNews.

    Almost all of that is way too millenial for me, but it does raise the question: what is UPower? and Y Combinator, for that matter?

    Let’s start with the second part first:

    When Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham passed the keys of his uber-successful seed accelerator program to Sam Altman in February, he did so with an eye on the future.

    Graham’s interest was largely in internet startups, but Altman seems to have a taste for nuclear energy and biotech:

    “I’ve always loved it when we can fund companies that, if we don’t fund them, they won’t exist,” Altman said in an interview with Re/code on Tuesday. “No one is funding energy, and I think it’s a good business and really important for the world.

    “Really important for the world.” It has kind of an adolescent twang to it – though he is is, after all, right. That tone, though, seems contagious. Here’s Helion Energy’s David Kirtley talking about fusion:

    “Fusion is fundamentally safe. There’s no chance of meltdown, no carbon dioxide. But at the same time, it’s really hard.” The crowd chuckled. “It’s really hard,” Dr. Kirtley repeated.

    It’s actually kind of charming and brings venture capitalism and nuclear energy closer to a youthful impulse to change the world -  it may be really hard, but it’s really important. Although Y Combinator invests some money into the startups it supports, its main function is to get the companies together with venture capitalists and other investors.

    The startups move to Silicon Valley for 3 months, during which we work intensively with them to get the company into the best possible shape and refine their pitch to investors. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when the startups present their companies to a carefully selected, invite-only audience.

    That brings us to UPower, which presented its idea on one of these demo days.

    “Our target demographic is people off the grid,” says Jacob DeWitte, UPower CEO and co-founder. “Think of remote communities in the Northern Arctic or Canada. All of these places that aren’t connected to large continental grids rely on diesel generators for energy. … We can bring them power in a small package and get them energy they couldn’t have before.”

    These aren’t small reactors, with which they clearly have some commonality, but personal nuclear reactors. I took a look  at UPower’s web site to get a fuller sense of it. It’s a trifle vague at this point.

    UPower technology enables an always on, container-sized, truly carbon-free and emission-free nano-nuclear battery for remote and distributed generation where energy costs can exceed 30 cents/kWh, and power is needed 24/7.  The generator is a containerized unit that provides over a decade of energy without refueling, and can generate electricity for 40% less than competing technologies in these markets.  The UPower generator is powered by a unique compact, solid state, micro reactor that produces over 1 MW and can cogenerate process heat.

    Sort of like a less intrusive solar panel on the roof. If I understand correctly, the reactor uses thorium and tungsten (formed into a “pixie stick”-like fuel rod) and is cooled by a “proprietary technology” – a heat sink, perhaps. Vague, yes, but early enough to keep questions about regulating and licensing these items at bay – not to mention non-proliferation concerns. All in good time.

    I’ve been intrigued to see venture capital extend itself into the nuclear world. On first blush, it seems an extension of the interest in green technologies. Altman says as much and notes that investors have been spooked by the collapse of a few such companies – maybe that caused the turn to nuclear energy, which is green and mature, though Altman doesn’t say so.

    If the idea of micro reactors sounds unlikely, consider biotech:

    Glowing Plant, another startup in the biotech space, is focused on the genetically modified plant market, making “living air fresheners that don’t need chemical replacement cartridges, real cow’s milk without the need for dairy farming, and the ability to turn plants into useful fuel.”

    Writers Kurt Wagner and Lauren Goode note that the audience hearing the Glowing Plant pitch were clearly uneasy with it – because it introduces ethical and moral issues regarding genetic tampering. The name Glowing Plant is almost provocative in this context. Even if you think fear of Dr. Moreau-like horrors is overblown, running these ideas past the public can be difficult.

    All these ideas seem both promising and outlandish. They can be how the future is made or springboards to more practical applications (or complete dead ends, to be honest). What Y Combinator does is a working definition of “early days.” It’s interesting to see nuclear energy in the mix.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    In a Puff of Solar Smoke

    One could use a story like this to slag solar energy, but that’s not the point:

    According to the Associated Press, up to 28,000 birds per year might be meeting an early death after burning up in the focused beams of sunlight, with birds dying at a rate of one bird every two minutes. The burned-up birds are being dubbed "streamers," after the poof of smoke produced by the igniting birds.

    Assuming plant workers came up with “streamers,” well, that’s pretty tasteless. It gets (potentially) worse.

    A quasi-food chain is being established around the solar plant, with predators eating birds and bats that burn up in the plant's solar rays chasing after insects which are attracted to the bright light from the sun's reflected rays. That prompted wildlife officials to refer to Ivanpah [the solar farm’s name] as a "mega-trap" for wildlife.

    It turns out this is the consequence of what sounds like an interesting design. (You can view a very fancy Google Streets-style tour of Ivanpah here. Note that the towers are not numerous amongst the many solar panels, but I assume it is the “power towers” that get hot enough to evaporate birds.)

    The state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), which opened in February, is the world's largest solar plant to utilize "power towers,"  skyscraping structures that receive beams of focused solar rays to generate electricity.

    Energy plants that pull water from rivers can have an impact on fish, though not at a level that impacts the overall piscine population of the river – the percentage of fish affected is vanishingly small compared to the number of fish in a given environment.

    That might apply here, too, though no one seems to have researched the issue in any depth.

    Unfortunately, the USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] doesn't yet know the full extent of the solar facility's impact on bird populations, and is calling for a full year study of the death toll at the site before the plant's operators are allowed to construct an even bigger "power tower" solar plant between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border, the Associated Press reports.

    A small percentage of birds caught in solar conflagration may or may not be considered too many. But what would be completely unacceptable is if the Joshua Tree solar array causes problems for the raptors known to be there (golden eagles and peregrine falcons) – that would likely lead to considerable protest from their human admirers. That’s what USFWS won’t allow.

    In sum: no energy source known to man is completely benign – there’s a reason “harnessed” and “energy” often go together – but most, including nuclear energy, have been harnessed and their potential impact on wildlife mitigated significantly. Some water bodies around nuclear energy plants have increased their fish cohort and become angler destinations. Something similar can happen with these “power towers,” too. Fewer puffs of smoke, retiring the term streamers. It’s a difficult problem, perhaps, but (let’s hope) solvable. Let’s see what happens.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    What the Energiewende is Costing Germany

    BMW knows the way to Carolina.
    Some interesting thoughts about Germany's Energiewende from John Hulsman in The Telegraph (emphasis mine):
    Third, wholly botched energy reforms, wherein Germany abruptly turned away from nuclear power without putting anything economically sustainable in its place (instead touting that some day, somehow wind and solar will make economic sense) has left the country at a permanent, seemingly long-term economic disadvantage that simply cannot be overcome. German energy prices are fully three times as high industrially as those of their American competitors. As I say to my somewhat nervous German colleagues, "You are all talented, but you are not three times more talented than the Americans."
    As I've said before, we've seen other marriages of German engineering and American muscle that seem to have worked out just fine. Why not come to South Carolina, Georgia or Tennessee, where new nuclear plants are being built right now and the electricity is reasonably priced?

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    New to the Nuclear Industry, Advocating for the Future

    The following post was provided by Christina Baworowsky for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear energy industry in the voices of the people working within it. 

    Christina is NEI’s federal programs coordinator. Though she is new to NEI, Christina has a long history of involvement with nuclear energy, from learning about it from her uncle as a child to writing her senior thesis on it.

    For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

    Christina Baworowsky
    When people ask me how I wound up working in governmental affairs at a nuclear energy trade association at the age of 22, they are usually surprised when I say it is because I wrote my thesis on nuclear power. When I was a senior in college, I decided that I wanted to answer a lot of questions I had about the role of nuclear power in America. Some students thought about writing about the founding fathers of the country, but I decided that the founding fathers of nuclear were way cooler. I began reading hundreds of articles that ranged from saying that nuclear power is dead in the United States to saying that we will soon have a nuclear renaissance.

    I should probably backtrack by explaining why I like nuclear, and why nuclear matters to me. When I was young my uncle, who is a nuclear engineer, exposed me to the world of nuclear energy. He worked at Zion Nuclear Power Station in Zion, Ill. until it was decommissioned in the late ’90s. Unlike some kids who thought that nuclear power plants were like the negative image that The Simpsons portrayed, I knew from a young age that it was nothing like that and the plants were safe with highly skilled workers.

    Statistically, the more a person knows about nuclear power, the more likely they are to support it. I support nuclear energy because I believe in it. There is no other source of energy that can provide baseload power any time of day in any weather with no emissions. I think we must expand nuclear in this country because it is the only real way to make a huge impact in cutting carbon emissions.

    In my role at NEI, I support our governmental affairs team. I organize meetings for committees made up of other companies that are involved with nuclear power, I help coordinate events for DC’s chapter of U.S. Women in Nuclear and I also help all of our team members find the research and materials that they need to be effective lobbyists. On Capitol Hill, there is a constant battle for funding for research and construction and making sure that legislation benefits, not impedes, the nuclear utilities and suppliers.

    So, how would I innovate in nuclear? I want to leverage my passion for this industry to influence views on Capitol Hill of what nuclear power facilities are like (clean, safe, efficient) and the way that our government views the role of nuclear in its energy portfolio (largest clean air source the nation has). I advocate for the expansion of nuclear programs and projects. I want a nuclear renaissance. It all starts by me getting my foot in the door and learning as much as I possibly can about energy policy in America. I may not be able to directly influence decisions today that will affect policy, but the hard work my NEI and industry colleagues and I are doing now will help us advance nuclear energy's future.

    Friday, August 15, 2014

    Nuclear Technology’s Trail Out of the Valley of Death

    When Bill Gates became Chairman of the Board of TerraPower a few years ago, the potential role of angels and venture capital to push energy technology forward became more apparent. Gates became involved with TerraPower because

    of his belief that nuclear energy will play a key role in addressing the imperative to move to low-carbon or zero-carbon energy. Because energy is a critical element in global development, he has personally supported numerous businesses working to develop safe, affordable and environmentally-friendly sources of electricity. He is an advocate for dramatic increases in government spending on energy research and is a founding member of the American Energy Innovation Council.

    Another Microsoft veteran, Nathan Myrhvold, is TerraPower’s Vice Chairman of the Board, so perhaps collegiality and friendship also play a part. In any event, they have helped TerraPower move forward.

    Gates would be classified as an angel, an individual who materially contributes to startup projects. Venture capital played a part, too, with Charles River Ventures and Khosla Ventures working with TerraPower.

    In startups, most definitely including technology startups, there is much discussion of the so-called “valley of death.” Forbes’ Martin Zwilling describes it thusly:

    The “valley of death” is a common term in the startup world, referring to the difficulty of covering the negative cash flow in the early stages of a startup, before their new product or service is bringing in revenue from real customers. 

    Zwilling continues:

    According to a Gompers and Lerner study, the challenge is very real, with 90% of new ventures that don’t attract investors failing within the first three years. The problem is that professional investors (Angels and Venture Capital) want a proven business model before they invest, ready to scale, rather than the more risky research and development efforts.

    Zwilling is offering advice to small entrepreneurs – and mostly steering them away from venture capital as antithetical to riskier new projects. That would seem to leave technology projects in the valley.

    Investing in science and energy innovation is slowly swinging back into fashion in Silicon Valley. It seems like this is partly because of a backlash against the idea that Silicon Valley hasn’t been funding the world’s more difficult problems, and instead has been making easy money on things like social media apps.

    That’s from Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher, who uses the recent funding of Transatomic Power as the hook to launch an examination of venture capital and nuclear technology projects.  She focuses largely on a company called Helion Energy, a fusion project, and mentions TerraPower and General Fusion in passing. We looked at the Transatomic deal here.

    Evan a few swallows don’t make a spring, but maybe it’s time to get out the binoculars as more birds flock. The projects described by Fehrenbacher are variegated in terms of technology – new ideas, revivals of older ideas, some fanciful ideas (fusion, of course – kidding!). It reflects the interest in nuclear as a “low-carbon or zero-carbon” producing energy source, perhaps a broadening of interest by venture capital firms and maybe more aggressive fundraising by project leaders. As a trail out of the valley of death, it’s encouraging - fewer brambles along the way, anyway.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Fictional Dystopia and Nuclear Optimism

    8_bigstock_Power_Distribution_Station_Wit_7397523Michael Solana has an article in Wired that tackles the trend in fiction, especially science fiction, toward dystopia. He contrasts the hopeful, forward-looking science fiction of an earlier day to the current interest in zombies and hellscapes. This is his view of the earlier period:

    Simon Lake—American mechanical engineer, naval architect, and perhaps the most important mind behind the development of the submarine—said of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, “Jules Verne was in a sense the director-general of my life.”

    He offers Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry and even Jonathan Swift as examples of forward looking authors. Of course, H.G. Wells was pretty good at creating man- or alien-created heaps of rubble – see the Shape of Things to Come or War of the Worlds – and one of Swift’s most famous pieces involves cannibalism. Let’s not even get into the Morlocks and Eloi.

    The author does allow that dystopia has always been an element in science fiction. His point is that it has now overwhelmed everything else.

    Once a literary niche within a niche, mankind is now destroyed with clockwork regularity by nuclear weapons, computers gone rogue, nanotechnology, and man-made viruses in the pages of what was once our true north; we have plague and we have zombies and we have zombie plague.

    Here’s a Time top 10 of post-apocalyptic novels, which includes books from as far back as 1951 (Day of the Triffids).

    Interestingly, Solana does not include domestic nuclear energy as a

    dystopia motivator and I’d venture that nuclear war doesn’t have the cache it had during the cold war – On the Beach, Five, etc.

    And that’s when he gets to his prescription:

    Luddites have challenged progress at every crux point in human history. The only thing new is now they’re in vogue, and all our icons are iconoclasts. So it follows here that optimism is the new subversion. It’s daring to care. The time is fit for us to dream again. 

    This seems to me a very straitened view of the fictional landscape – he uses The Hunger Games and The Road as his examples of modern dystopia – and while some such works are cynical, others use their awful future worlds to show how humans prevail over adversity, a perennial theme. Fiction needs conflict, of course. Even when scientific advance is shown as a potential good – from Frankenstein to 2001 to Minority Report - technology introduces unintended consequences. It’s as old an idea as technology itself.

    Nuclear energy has generally done fairly well in this formulation – aside from the video games series Fallout. Back to the Future uses it for time travel and the water fission project in Chain Reaction would be a boon if Morgan Freeman weren’t so evil. True, Chernobyl Diaries imagines mutated things with a taste for foolish young adults, but Cloud Atlas teases an evil nuclear energy facility only to make the real villain threatened big oil. Even in the fifties, radioactively derived creatures were joined by medical mishaps and alien invasions to provide thrills.

    So, I don’t know. I guess I don’t agree with Solana’s article, though I appreciate his preference for optimism. It might just be that he’s ready for a new pop paradigm. A few years ago, Solana might have zeroed in on vampires – today, it’s dystopia. Too much can be too much – consider it the workings of the market combined with what’s plucked out of the cultural ether. One usually has only to wait for a fad to die out. This ruined world too shall pass.

    But read it and see what you think. For those interested in a more positive view of science and nuclear science in particular, what would be some fictional exemplars? I brought up a few from the movie world, but what about novels? plays? operas? 

    Monday, August 11, 2014

    Why Nuclear Design is the Most Rewarding Career I’ve Had

    The following post was sent to us by Bechtel’s Angela McAlpin for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

    Angela is a civil engineer and has worked in the nuclear industry for 13 years. She recently supported a one-of-a-kind nuclear pipe replacement project and is currently working on the Generation mPower small modular reactor project.

    For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 

    Angela McAlpin
    Sometimes, I feel like a forensics investigator—the ones you see on TV who pore over files and mull over case details until the pieces of the puzzle come together to reveal a picture. The dedication and attention to detail needed to solve crimes appeal to me as they are the exact characteristics needed to be an effective engineer in the nuclear industry.

    I have worked across a wide variety of industries, designing structures for solar and fossil power plants, waste treatment facilities, underground communication services, chemical demilitarization facilities, missile defense buildings and nuclear power plants. Out of all these industries, nuclear design is the most challenging and rewarding.

    The nuclear industry holds the highest expectations of quality and safety in engineering design calculations. Every detail is scrutinized with an intense amount of rigor. Our work is triple checked, and is then subjected to reviews by peers, management, clients, and third-party industry personnel. The checks and balances are not just about adding conservatism, they are about getting the design right, and for me, that is the most exciting aspect of my work.

    I recently finished an assignment as the civil and structural engineering supervisor on a first-of-a-kind project replacing a large Essential Service Water (ESW) system of an operating nuclear plant. The ESW supplies cooling water to the plant's heat exchangers and other components. I managed the civil and structural design documentation and client/construction interfacing for the project.

    To support the ESW replacement project, we reviewed old drawings and photos; we talked to Bechtel engineers who designed the original plant; and we interviewed staff at the current operating site. When the design documents were complete, I was absolutely certain they were up to the standards and expectations of the nuclear industry. I was particularly proud of the final calculations and drawings because I knew how much time, effort and scrutiny was required to get to that stage. The successful construction completion of the project was a tremendous feeling of pride and accomplishment.

    Nuclear is a crucial part of the nation’s energy mix because it’s clean, efficient power. With so much diligence, ingenuity, coordination and inspection put into nuclear design, people should feel comfortable knowing they have a safe source of power in their community. For the detail-focused, problem-solving civil engineers out there, a nuclear facility design will always be an assignment worth looking forward to. In fact, I now happily lead the conceptual structural design of an underground small modular reactor, and I have a blank piece of paper this time!


    Friday, August 08, 2014

    U.S. Nuclear Technology Exports and Africa

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

    From August 4-6, heads of state from Africa came to Washington for the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit hosted by President Obama. Yesterday, NEI hosted a delegation of African leaders from Niger, Namibia and South Africa to discuss nuclear energy development in their countries. As Africa strives to develop new sources of abundant, clean electricity, nuclear energy holds great promise.

    President Mahamadou Issoufo of Niger and Ambassador Maman Sidikou.
    Africa’s Power Gap

    According to the World Bank. The 48 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a combined population of 800 million, generate roughly the same amount of power as Spain, with a population of only 45 million. Per capita power consumption – just a tenth of what is common elsewhere in the developing world – is actually falling due to lagging development and population growth.

    Africa cannot close its power gap with fossil generation without inflicting great harm to the health of its people and environment. Nuclear energy has one of the lowest impacts on the environment of any energy source because it does not emit air pollution, isolates its waste from the environment and requires a relatively small amount of land.

    What the U.S. Nuclear Energy Sector Has to Offer

    U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy, Daniel Poneman
    The United States has much to offer its African partners in nuclear energy development – and more than any other country. More than 60 percent of the world’s 436 operating reactors are based on U.S. technology. Many of the 71 nuclear plants under construction around the world rely on U.S. companies for reactor designs, engineering, precision components, high-performance nuclear fuel and more. So, adoption of U.S. technology in Africa makes terrific sense. There are numerous advantages in deploying U.S. reactor technology and in employing US companies to implement nuclear power development programs:

    • Advanced reactor designs: U.S. companies are at the forefront of developing advanced reactor designs that are even safer and more efficient than our existing fleet of world-class reactors, incorporating modular techniques for easier construction. New designs include large reactors such as the GE Hitachi ABWR, the only Generation III reactor in operation; the Westinghouse AP1000, a Generation III+ design now under construction in the United States and China; and the GE Hitachi ESBWR, another Generation III+ design. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding through public-private partnerships two U.S. companies to bring small, modular designs into operation by 2022.
    • Services, fuel and components: With a U.S. fleet average capacity factor of approximately 90 percent, U.S. firms lead the world in operational expertise. U.S. companies excel in the full range of nuclear services, including engineering and construction, nuclear fuel services and more. Services for uranium conversion, enrichment and fabrication are available, and substantial new, advanced enrichment capacity is in various stages of technological development and deployment.
    • Excellence in nuclear safety: Based on more than 50 years of experience, the U.S. nuclear industry continues to perform as one of the safest industrial working environments in the world. The U.S. supply chain leads the world in safety-conscious workforce training, operational excellence, and continuous improvement. Regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – the gold standard for nuclear regulators around the world – U.S. suppliers are known for process excellence, human performance and safety culture. 
    Of critical importance for Africa, the U.S. nuclear industry has a proven record in industrial partnership. Around the world, U.S. nuclear companies have worked with partners on technology transfer, localization, education and training, to enable broad and enduring industrial development. As the nations of Africa contemplate a role for nuclear energy in their sustainable development, the United States is ready to be their best partner.

    Wednesday, August 06, 2014

    The Nuclear Vision Takes the Prize

    Of course, it’s always been really easy for the nuclear energy industry to assert that a climate change plan must include nuclear – aside from hydro energy, no other source can produce baseload energy. Even if that changed – let’s say through a major breakthrough in battery technology – nuclear energy still has a leg up because it can produce so much electricity economically. It doesn’t just scale, it scales big.

    But the industry is also, shall we say, self-interested. That doesn’t mean that it’s willing to lie – you always get caught despite maximal sneakiness and the result is a severe loss of credibility – but it is always on the lookout for disinterested parties that study issues where nuclear energy could play a role. A lot of astroturfing depends on independent seeming polls and studies funded by self-interested parties – politics depends on it so much that the roots of the grassroots invariably show. Always sniff out the money when reviewing studies and surveys. Frankly, though, nuclear doesn’t need astroturfing. What is self-evident is also, in the eyes of credible groups, evident. Let’s look at an example.

    If you were the scientific advisor to a $200-billion venture capital fund that aims to limit global warming over the next 20 years, what investment would you recommend as having the single biggest impact? A survey of climate experts found that a majority listed the retirement of coal power—or the sequestering of their emissions—as the top priority for investment.

    Well, that’s for the coal gang to explore. This is from a survey conducted by the Vision Prize, a nonpartisan research platform that uses charity prize incentives to carry out online surveys of climate experts. The survey based its questions on an open letter written by Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, James Hansen, and Tom Wigley published two years ago. It called for an increase in nuclear energy facilities to combat climate change. We wrote about this letter then and predicted it would have an impact. That still seems the case.

    At the same time, 67 percent agreed with the letter's opinion that renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass would not scale up fast enough to meet the world's expected power requirements.

    And that one would be for the renewable mob. Oh, here we go:

    A strong majority of our expert participants (71%) agree that nuclear power is a critical component of any realistic plan to achieve climate stabilization.

    And since we made such a big deal about astroturfing, who funds these folks?

    Vision Prize® captures meta-knowledge on climate risks and solutions by polling expert scientific opinion. The nonprofit research program operates in collaboration with IOP Publishing’s scientific community website, environmentalresearchweb, and is affiliated with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. Vision Prize is strictly nonpartisan — we are not an advocacy organization.

    Read through the whole poll and by all means explore what Vision Prize is up to – the fact that it’s an environmentally oriented group and didn’t squash a poll with these results weighs strikingly in its favor, I think. I’m not sure I’d trust Greenpeace to run with it.

    In a Pit in Nuclear-Free Vermont

    Up in Vermont, a good deal of its electricity was generated by Vermont Yankee, a nuclear facility state legislators worked like demons to close. They basically lost that fight, but Entergy will close it early anyway. Fine – so it goes – and Vermont got what it wanted.

    [N]ew Englanders, more than the residents of many areas of the country, are reluctant to give ground on quality-of-life issues in order to site new facilities or means of transmission. That means we say no to wind farms on the ocean or atop the mountains, for fear of affecting our views. We say no to pipelines and fossil-fuel-based plants for fear of air, water or ground pollution through emissions or spills. We say close nuclear plants for fear of catastrophic accidents and long-term radiation pollution.

    This editorial, from the Keene (Vt.) Sentinel, is more about the spikes in energy prices that occurred during the polar vortex. We’ve made a lot of hay over the vortex, because nuclear energy proved so reliable during it, but this is a different topic – and just as serious.

    Let’s let an editorial in the Rutland (Vt.) Herald expand on it:

    For the past few years natural gas prices have been rising and, along with escalating electricity costs, have made New England less attractive to new businesses as well as for expansion of existing businesses. Limited pipeline capacity caused drastic price spikes that saw electricity prices average $132 per megawatt-hour this winter — forcing some companies to shut down because of the high energy costs. While pipeline expansion might provide some temporary relief, it will not reduce our overreliance on natural gas for electricity generation — now at roughly 50 percent.

    And mind you, this is before Vermont Yankee closes, due to occur December 29.

    Policies enacted over the past decade have favored “green” energy initiatives like 30 percent production/investment tax subsidies to wind and solar, state-funded rebates for distributed generation, Renewable Portfolio Standards and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, among others. These policies have distorted the market and provided little incentive for base-load power generators to invest in New England. Elected officials have pushed valuable nuclear and coal generators to the sidelines without providing us with any real solutions for replacing their power.

    I’d probably look askance at the “distorting markets” argument, since there are solid policy goals at work, but one could argue, as the Herald is doing, that it’s run a bit wild.

    Leaving coal aside for the moment, Vermont Yankee has 620 megawatts generating capacity, fulfilling about 35 percent of Vermont’s electricity needs, and all of it emission free. Vermont was in the driver’s seat  on any Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative and/or Renewable Portfolio Standard. And now it’s not. NIMBY and short-sightedness are setting it back on its heels.

    What we are left with is the status quo of continually rising electricity prices and growing opposition to any infrastructure. Yet the proposed solution is more government-led initiatives and mandates. Do we really trust the same group of people who have led us to the edge of the cliff to turn us around instead of jumping off?

    It’s almost nihilistic, isn’t it? The editorial is unusual in that it sees a yawning abyss beckoning – really, folks, it’s not that grim. And there’s much more to consider than just the fate of one nuclear facility. But Vermont seems at the bottom of a very deep pit and purposely cut the rope that could help it climb out.

    Herald reader George Coppenrath, responding to the editorial, describes the texture of that rope quite well:

    And finally, they were thinking that closing a big, base-load nuclear power plant or two would push New England utilities into the waiting arms of intermittent solar and wind power; they were wrong. You cannot replace base-load power sources with intermittent ones, so electric utilities were instead forced into the waiting arms of high carbon fossil fuel.

    Our very own Germany? See post below and decide for yourself.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2014

    Energiewende Damages German Industry

    Germany's Isar Nuclear Power Plant
    We've been following the unintended consequences of Germany's "Energiewende" for some time now. Ever since that nation made the hasty decision to phase out its nuclear power plants in favor of renewables in 2011, the news has been nothing but bad.

    Electricity prices are rising along with coal use and carbon emissions. Now comes word that German industry, the heart of its export-led economy, is beginning to suffer thanks to the inevitable grid instability wrought by the "Energiewende."

    Here's the latest from Spiegel Online:
    It was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when the machines suddenly ground to a halt at Hydro Aluminium in Hamburg. The rolling mill's highly sensitive monitor stopped production so abruptly that the aluminum belts snagged. They hit the machines and destroyed a piece of the mill. The reason: The voltage off the electricity grid weakened for just a millisecond.

    Workers had to free half-finished aluminum rolls from the machines, and several hours passed before they could be restarted. The damage to the machines cost some €10,000 ($12,300). In the following three weeks, the voltage weakened at the Hamburg factory two more times, each time for a fraction of second. Since the machines were on a production break both times, there was no damage. Still, the company invested €150,000 to set up its own emergency power supply, using batteries, to protect itself from future damages.

    "It could have affected us again in the middle of production and even led to a fire," said plant manager Axel Brand. "That would have been really expensive."
    When Spiegel looked at the numbers, it found that the situation at Hydro Aluminum wasn't an isolated case:
    A survey of members of the Association of German Industrial Energy Companies (VIK) revealed that the number of short interruptions to the German electricity grid has grown by 29 percent in the past three years. Over the same time period, the number of service failures has grown 31 percent, and almost half of those failures have led to production stoppages. Damages have ranged between €10,000 and hundreds of thousands of euros, according to company information.
    The lesson here: you can't remove a baseload source of energy like nuclear from the electric grid and replace it with intermittent sources like renewables and not take a hit in reliability. That was part of the point of the online package we produced a few weeks ago concerning nuclear energy's unmatched reliability. It doesn't matter whether the grid gets stressed by sustained heat, cold, or a long production run at a major industrial facility, without always-on power, you're putting a lot at risk.

    So what's next for German industry? Apparently, a lot of businesses are wondering if it isn't time to leave.  "In the long run, if we can't guarantee a stable grid, companies will leave (Germany)," says Joachim Pfeiffer, a parliamentarian and economic policy spokesman for the governing center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). "As a center of industry, we can't afford that."

    So where might they go? I've got a few ideas. Why not follow German auto manufacturing giant BMW? The company opened a manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1994. The state has seven reactors that provide more than 51% of its electricity. There won't be any questions about reliability there.

    Photo Credit: Shot of Isar Nuclear Plant by Flickr user Bjeorn Schwarz. Photo used under Creative Commons license. In the wake of Germany's nuclear phaseout, Isar Unit 1 was closed in May 2011. Unit 2, one of the best performing plants in Germany, is scheduled for shutdown in 2022.

    Transatomic Snags $2 Million Investment from FF Science for New Reactor Design

    Transatomic Power Logo
    We generally don't pay much attention to news from the venture capital community here at NEI Nuclear Notes, but for one day we're happy to make an exception for this announcement from Transatomic Power:
    Transatomic Power, developers of a breakthrough in nuclear reactor design, announced today that FF Science, an investment vehicle of Founders Fund, has invested $2 million to assist the company with its seed stage development. The funds will be used for bench-top laboratory testing and refinement of the company’s designs and computer models.

    "We believe there are massive opportunities for innovation across all parts of the energy sector, ranging from technologies to improve production and transmission to new methods of baseload generation, like the Transatomic Power reactor. Transatomic has the potential to make nuclear energy clean, safe, and affordable, providing a low-cost source of carbon-free power and consuming the waste of older reactors currently in operation,” said Scott Nolan, Partner at Founders Fund.
    Congratulations to the team at Transatomic, and in particular to Chief Science Officer, Leslie Dewan. Most of the world got their first chance to know Dewan thanks to this 2011 Ted Talk where she first posited her idea about how she could tackle the question of used nuclear fuel by burning it in a new type of reactor. It wasn't long after that Dewan caught the attention of Forbes, being named to the magazine's "30 Under 30" feature in 2012.

    Of course, here at NEI, we know Dewan all too well as she's one of the four faces of our Future of Energy campaign that we kicked off earlier this year.



    To get to know Dewan a little better, watch this video interview she did after shooting the NEI ad. And when you get a chance, please check out the website for Founders Fund, where it looks like the Founders are having more fun investing in the future than they might want to let on. What other startups have they invested in? How about Facebook, SpaceX and Spotify? Have to like that track record.

    UPDATE: Check out additional coverage from the Wall Street JournalXconomy and Reuters. Apparently, it's tough out there on energy companies looking for VC support.

    Monday, August 04, 2014

    Why Becoming An Operations Shift Foreman Was Tough…But Worth It

    The following post was sent to us by Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) Meagan Wilson for NEI’s Powered by Our People promotion. Powered by Our People is part of the Future of Energy campaign that NEI launched earlier this year. This promotion aims to communicate innovation in our nation’s nuclear facilities in the voices of the people working at them. 

    Meagan is an Operations Shift Foreman for Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant and has worked in the nuclear industry for ten years. Meagan is also the Region IV President for U.S. Women in Nuclear (U.S. WIN). Check out some of the highlights from this year’s U.S. WIN Conference.

    For more on this promotion, take a look at the featured content on our website and follow the #futureofenergy tag across our digital channels. 


    Meagan Wilson
    Nestled just south of America’s Happiest City is the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. This powerhouse is the largest private employer in San Luis Obispo County with over 1,500 employees. On some days (or nights), if you were to look to the control room of one of the two operating units, you might just find Operations Shift Foreman Meagan Wilson. Meagan is one of a couple dozen qualified shift foremen responsible for supervising the operation of the reactors and authorizing work. 

    "I like what I do because of the interactions with the different work groups,” said Meagan. “I get to supervise licensed and non-licensed operators and observe their work in the field. I also get to interact with the various departments when work is being performed, so I always feel engaged in what is happening on a daily basis.”

    You might ask, what does it take to be a shift foreman? 
    Well, there are really two paths you could take to qualify for a shift foreman position – both require a lot of work. The first is to obtain your reactor operator license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which is a multiyear process that entails hundreds of hours on a simulator and dozens of tests. You would then “stand post” with your reactor operator license for at least two years before being eligible to obtain your senior reactor operating license, also issued by the NRC upon completion of a rigorous training program.

    Diablo Canyon Power Plant
    The second is to enter the process, as Meagan did, by first obtaining an engineering degree. With an engineering degree, once you’re hired by a utility you can enter what’s called a direct senior reactor operator license path. This is a demanding two-year training program, which also involves hundreds of hours and dozens of tests that culminate with a weeklong exam issued by the NRC—but the fun doesn’t stop there. Once you are licensed and qualified to perform your job, you then spend 40 hours in training every five weeks to maintain your qualification.    

    Why does she do it? 
    “That’s simple,” said Meagan. “Nuclear energy is a carbon-free energy source that is highly reliable and dependable. I support the industry and look for advancements in the technology that will help to solidify nuclear energy as a viable part of America’s future energy mix.”



    Friday, August 01, 2014

    IHS Explores Energy Diversity

    IHSCoverEnergy Diversity has always been a tough topic. Renewable energy advocates would prefer to see diversity end with their preferred gusty, sunny choices while the energy industry is wary of putting too many eggs in an intermittent omelet. Conversely, the polar vortex showed that natural gas and coal can be sidelined by physical limitations (coal freezing in piles) and operational considerations (natural gas diverted to home heating).

    But noting these things anecdotally is much easier than trying to quantify them. This is what IHS, a data and software company in Colorado, has tried to do in a report called The Value of U.S. Power Supply Diversity. It’s a worthwhile report because IHS is not in the tank (or reactor core) for any particular industry – it might like to service any and all of them, which one should consider in reviewing this report – and comes across as exceptionally even handed.

    That doesn’t mean the company has nothing to say about itself:

    IHS Energy employed its proprietary Power System Razor (Razor) Model to create a base case by closely approximating the actual interactions between power demand and supply in US power systems.

    I’m sure their salespeople would be happy to share Razor with you so you can model your industry.

    So what has Razor come up with on energy diversity?

    The current diverse US power supply reduces US consumer power bills by over $93 billion per year compared to a reduced diversity case. In addition, the current diversified power generation mix mitigates exposure to the price fluctuations of any single fuel and, by doing so, cuts the potential variability of monthly power bills roughly in half.

    It agrees with our view of the polar vortex:

    The recent volatility [because of the polar vortex] in the delivered price of natural gas to the US Northeast power systems demonstrates the value of fuel diversity.

    Nuclear energy made a significant difference here, but IHS at least validates the premise. To be honest, I was a little doubtful about using the polar vortex to demonstrate that nuclear facilities did what they’re supposed to do anyway – keep running, which they did. For making the case for energy diversity, however, the vortex is a gift in a bottomless box.

    The report pins down elements that define the elements of diversity. These include what it calls “The Portfolio Effect,” which like a stock portfolio, hedges against price volatility by including a variety of types; and “The Substitution Effect,” by which one energy type can spell another (as nuclear did for natural gas and coal during the vortex).

    The report takes a kind of Panglossian view here and there:

    US power consumers benefit from the diverse power supply mix shown in Figure 14 [which shows the current mix]. Simply inheriting this diverse generation mix based on fuel and technology decisions made decades ago makes it easy for current power stakeholders to take the benefits for granted.

    Which is, we live in the best of all possible energy worlds. If you accept that, it’s because it’s the mix (more-or-less) that created the modern world - which wasn’t fretting about carbon emissions until relatively recently.

    The report tackles this, though it’s fair to say that while downplaying climate change keeps the focus on diversity, it also makes the report seem a little dim on current events:

    The relative unpopularity of coal, oil, nuclear, and hydroelectric power plants (compared to renewables), combined with the missing money problem, tightening environmental regulations, and a lack of public awareness of the value of fuel diversity create the potential for the United States to move down a path toward a significant reduction in power supply diversity.

    Which is bad, of course – and it is. I’d probably ease nuclear and hydroelectric out of that list because 1.) nuclear is well-recognized for its emission-free qualities and 2.) hydro feels misplaced no matter how you cut it. Who dislikes hydropower? If these are allowed back in, that’s good for diversity and for carbon emission reduction. It’s broadly recognized that these are key energy types going forward, which the report itself considers essential to policy.

    Whenever the report looks at nuclear energy, it’s well-informed and, as far as it goes, correct.

    German power prices increased rapidly over the past decade because Germany closed nuclear power plants before it was economic to do so and added too many wind and solar power resources too quickly into the generation mix.

    The arbitrary distinctions involved in “clean energy” are evident when comparing the emissions profiles of integrated wind and solar power production to that of nuclear power production. A simplistic and misleading distinction between power supply resources is a contributing factor to the loss of fuel diversity.

    We’ve picked a few nits, but this is without doubt one of the best reports we’ve seen that zeroes in on energy diversity. Well worth serious consideration to understand this important energy topic.

    NEI has a good story about this report here.