Monday, September 26, 2016

On Eve of Presidential Debate, Nuclear Energy is One Area of Agreement

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

We’ve said it often: nuclear power is a foundation of a reliable power grid, holds down carbon emissions and is a staple of local economies. But it’s nice to hear it from others as well, and earlier this month, all those points were made by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.

The committee passed a resolution calling for continued operation of the Columbia Generating Station, a publicly-owned reactor that since 1984 has been churning out 1,190 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of about a million households, and about 8.2 percent of the electricity generated in the state in 2014.

The reactor’s output is “continuously available regardless of weather conditions,” the resolution pointed out, and can help back up the rising levels of intermittent solar and wind power. Shutting it would mean the loss of 1,500 jobs directly, and three times that number in indirect jobs, and would double the state’s output of carbon dioxide from natural gas, the resolution said.

Gov. Walker signs bill ending Wisconsin's moratorium.
The Washington State Democrats are not alone in realizing the value of nuclear power. In February, Wisconsin ended a 33 year moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants. That moratorium was initiated over concern about what to do with used fuel, but Wisconsin, and the Democrats in Washington State, concluded that the problem is not urgent, because the fuel can be successfully stored for many decades in steel-and-concrete casks. The casks keep the fuel dry, and are cooled by the natural circulation of air.

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo said when he called for the establishment of a clean energy standard that “maintaining zero-emission nuclear power is a critical element to achieving New York’s ambitious climate goals.’’

The NY Clean Energy Standard: it all adds up.
The governor acted to protect nuclear plants that were threatened by financial problems brought on by flaws in the electricity market. He said, “A growing number of climate scientists have warned that if these nuclear plants were to abruptly close, carbon emissions in New York will increase by more than 31 million metric tons during the next two years, resulting in public health and other societal costs of at least $1.4 billion.’’

Nationally, in a presidential campaign in which the candidates do not agree on much, they both like nuclear power. Scientific American magazine recently asked Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump various questions about energy and environment, and published their answers.

Mrs. Clinton said, “Meeting the climate challenge is too important to limit the tools available in this fight. Nuclear power—which accounts for more than 60 percent of our zero carbon power generation today—is one of those tools. I will work to ensure that the climate benefits of our existing nuclear power plants that are safe to operate are appropriately valued and increase investment in the research, development and deployment of advanced nuclear power.’’

Mr. Trump is not a believer in human-caused climate change, but he likes nuclear too. He said, “Nuclear power is a valuable source of energy and should be part of an all-the-above program for providing power for America long into the future. We can make nuclear power safer, and its outputs are extraordinary given the investment we should make. Nuclear power must be an integral part of energy independence for America.’’

With the first in a series of debates in the Presidential campaign just hours away, it’s nice to think that not every issue divides the nation so deeply.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What the Colonial Pipeline Teaches Us About Fuel Diversity

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Six southern governors have declared states of emergency in the last few days, because a gasoline pipeline sprung a leak near Birmingham, Alabama. The pipeline, which runs from East Texas to New Jersey, normally carries 50 million gallons a day, after the leak was discovered on September 9, some gas stations have run dry and others have long lines. Gas prices have surged, and it’s not clear when the pipeline will re-open.

So what is the lesson for those six states (Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia) and the rest of us?

It’s that hand-to-mouth energy systems will intermittently face disruption.

Pipeline ruptures are not unusual. They can be caused by corrosion, or because floods washed away the soil under them, or because something was wrong with the steel before it was installed. Sometimes the pipe was hit by excavation equipment.

But they don’t even have to break to cause problems; they simply have to face bad weather. In the winter of 2012-2013 in New England, a polar vortex triggered a sharp demand in natural gas for heating, but there was no way to deliver more. The shortage pushed natural gas prices up sharply; electricity followed, running at four to five times its normal cost for a sustained period.

Florida has suffered from natural gas shortages after hurricanes disrupted production from offshore platforms. California faced an electricity crunch for all of this summer because a gas storage field called Aliso Canyon leaked and had to be emptied.

The pipeline with a problem this time is for refined oil, not natural gas, and little oil is used for electricity production. But this event highlights vulnerabilities shared by all pipelines.

It might be time to think about pipelines and supply diversity.
And it’s not just pipeline fuels like gasoline and natural gas that can face problems. Coal delivery is generally reliable – often you can look out the window at a coal plant and see the next month of fuel in piles on the ground – but in January, 2014, during another cold snap, coal piles froze, and so did some equipment. PJM, the energy market that covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland and parts of ten other states, stretching west to Chicago, reported that nearly 14,000 megawatts of coal capacity was disabled, enough to run hundreds of thousands of houses and businesses. In Texas in February, 2011, a cold snap knocked out 50 power plants, some coal and some natural gas, and produced 8 hours of rolling blackouts, in which grid operators played eeny-meeny-miney-moe with customers, turning them off in shifts.

Hydroelectric plants don’t often break down, but they do cut production when they’ve run out of water. In 2015, California got less than 7 percent of its electricity from hydropower, down from an average of 18 percent between 1983 and 2013. Wind droughts are not so obvious to the public, but they happen too.

Nuclear power, in contrast, is the energy equivalent of extra canned food on a basement shelf. Nuclear plants stop to refuel only once every 18 to 24 months, and the few truckloads of uranium fuel assemblies needed for a refueling typically arrive weeks or months before they are used. Nuclear plants have been known to shut down in advance of oncoming hurricanes, but in such cases, they are usually ready to resume production long before the transmission and distribution systems have been rebuilt.

We wouldn’t want a 100 percent nuclear system any more than we’d want a diet of only canned food. But the best electric system is a diverse one, in which we have hedged our bets with many different sources. One of the benefits that nuclear power brings to the system is that neither snow nor rain to heat nor gloom of night will stop it from churning out megawatt-hours when they are needed the most.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Innovating to Deliver the Nuclear Promise

The following was written by Maya Chandrashekhar, project manager for Nuclear Steam Supply Systems Engineering at AREVA Inc, for the Powered by Our People promotion. She has been with AREVA and the nuclear industry since 2007.

Maya Chandrashekhar

What you do and why you enjoy doing it?

As a project manager, my main goal is to help our customers solve their engineering problems expeditiously, economically and in the safest manner. I work with AREVA’s engineering, procurement and operations teams, customers’ engineering teams, our suppliers and partners. The synergies and teamwork evolving on these projects are always unique and it is wonderful to see different parties from different companies and different countries work in unison towards fulfilling the nuclear promise. I enjoy the partnerships, collaboration, the unpredictable day to day challenges and anecdotal stories each of these projects bring with them.

What is your vision for the future of nuclear in America? 

The demand for energy in the United States and worldwide is ever increasing and with it is increasing the challenge of having an environmentally friendly, low-carbon energy option. Nuclear is a reliable energy source for providing baseload power “when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow.” Nuclear is a strong contributor in the environmentally friendly energy mix and should remain there in the future. 

The United States has a robust regulatory field of experience and should be a steward in helping other countries establish a strong regulatory and safety nuclear culture across the world. 

We need increased R&D spending to attract younger generations of engineers and innovators to make and keep nuclear safer, economical and viable in the eco-friendly energy mix of the future. We have to lead the world in innovation of new generation nuclear technologies and modernization of the current fleet of operating plants.

Share your favorite story of nuclear advocacy. 

At AREVA, we sponsor a lot of STEM related activities in local schools and community and take the opportunity to educate our communities about nuclear power. I love going to classrooms and talking to students and teachers about nuclear power. It never fails to amaze the teachers and students when I show them the graphic of how one small pellet of uranium, weighing about 7 grams, can generate as much energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas or 1,780 pounds of coal.

It is surprising that most people don’t realize that nuclear power represents clean energy or connect the dot between carbon free energy and nuclear. Some of the first things that come to peoples’ mind when they think nuclear are Fukushima or Chernobyl or nuclear waste. We find that people are always surprised that they know so little of the good aspects of nuclear power!  

How are you bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry?

In the area of project management I follow earned value management techniques to ensure our projects finish on time, under budget and safely. I use integrated planning and scheduling between the different AREVA disciplines, customers, and suppliers to manage the project as a whole to ensure on time delivery. 

What does Delivering the Nuclear Promise mean to you? 

Delivering the Nuclear Promise is everything we can do today to ensure that nuclear power has a place in the foreseeable future as a reliable energy source. In my work, I constantly challenge myself and my teams to think differently to optimize our solutions and bring efficiencies. 

In the current market, the Nuclear Promise is to make our operating fleet efficient and economical to continue to be the safest and reliable producers of electricity. AREVA’s global award winning innovation in the area of Alloy 600 mitigation using Cavitation Peening technology is a very good example of how AREVA supports the Nuclear Promise. This break-through innovation gives utilities a viable option of mitigation without having to exercise cost prohibitive options of repair or replacement of aging components. It demonstrates our commitment to innovating solutions that help our customers deliver on the nuclear promise.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How Nuclear Energy Can Help Count the Cost of Carbon

Matt Wald
The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

A Federal appeals court recently ruled against companies that make commercial refrigerators in a case involving energy efficiency standards. What does this have to do with nuclear power? Potentially, a lot.

The Federal government’s goal is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which the Intergovernmental Climate on Climate Change and the Environmental Protection Agency have found are destabilizing the climate. But the United States does not have a tax on carbon, or even an overall limit on emissions. This gap in regulations is one reason that nuclear power plants usually do not get credit for the fact that their production is carbon-free.

But the government does have an emerging tool, called the "Social Cost of Carbon." That cost, determined jointly by several federal agencies, puts a dollar number on the damage caused by an additional ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

As of last year the cost was put at between $11 and $56 per ton of carbon dioxide.

The recent decision, by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, concerned appliance efficiency standards. The Energy Department sets efficiency standards for 60 categories of devices, everything from ceiling fans to light bulbs to air conditioners, under a 1975 law intended to cut oil consumption (oil was widely used to make electricity in those days) and to produce “potential environmental benefits.” And it used that law to set a standard for commercial refrigerators.

As part of the cost/benefit analysis, it counted the benefits of reduced carbon dioxide production from reduced electricity demand. But the refrigeration industry argued that the Department of Energy was not authorized to use the Social Cost of Carbon. In fact, the department has been doing so for several years now. Here’s a list of standards in which the social cost of carbon played a role.

The Court ruled that the government can, in fact, use the social cost of carbon and count carbon pollution reduction as a benefit when it decides on energy efficiency standards.

The case, may be relied on in a variety of future decisions by the Energy Department and other agencies, and other courts as well, as they consider arguments over rules and policies that have an impact on climate change.

This is another step in the acceptance of the Social Cost of Carbon, a yardstick for determining the value of avoiding a ton of carbon emissions.

Recently New York State used the Social Cost of Carbon to calculate the value of electricity production from several nuclear reactors whose continued operations were threatened by inexpensive natural gas and subsidized wind power.

And the court decision in the refrigerator case made another significant point: because U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide affect the climate globally, “those global effects are an appropriate consideration when looking at a national policy.” Thus the Energy Department was permitted to use a measure of global damage avoided by a carbon-saving measure when it calculated benefits and costs. Other governmental agencies can also take account of the global benefits.

On Friday, for example, the Justice Department cited the decision in the refrigerator case in defending a case against the Clean Power Plan, which seeks to put state-by-state limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Giving Back to the Community With Nuclear Energy

I started my career at Entergy’s Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Southwest Michigan 11 years ago as a security officer. After seven years, I moved on to become a supervisor of Document Control and Records Management. Now, I’m a senior emergency planner, thanks to the encouragement of my nuclear mentor, Otto Gustafson.


In emergency planning, I’m proud to be on the front lines to ensure the safety of my plant and community. I help organize and facilitate our emergency response organization. I enjoy my job because it allows me to help Palisades be prepared for emergency situations. I know that my coworkers have the knowledge and procedures to secure the plant and keep the community safe, in the case of an emergency. My position challenges me in ways I never dreamed of prior to joining emergency planning and I learn new things every day.

My vision for the future of nuclear is continuing to provide clean energy to my community and state. Nuclear offers great benefits to my community, not just through the economic stability of employing more than 600 people, but also through the many programs that support the community in various ways. I see nuclear continuing to be a huge part of my community and the country as a whole.

I love how my career in nuclear has afforded me the opportunity to give back to my community. I am the president of Entergy Women in Nuclear (WIN) at Palisades. Through WIN, I have participated in Feeding America where we provide food to those in need. Every fall, I help fill 1,200 backpacks that we hand out to underprivileged children. And, I have planned and instructed nuclear activities for two local schools to educate young people about the possibilities of nuclear.

I am bringing innovation into the nuclear energy industry by keeping my eyes open to all opportunities for change. I ensure that all projects I am included on are following proper regulations. I enjoy challenges and strive for superior quality in all of my work. I like to look to other fields and see what can transition to nuclear and keep the path to new ideas fresh.

To me, Delivering the Nuclear Promise is helping define what is necessary to keep nuclear power sustainable, safe, reliable and affordable.

The above post was written by Entergy’s Kelly Howard for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this story of nuclear’s benefits with your network using #whynuclear. To learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

A Nuclear Family Ensuring Our Clean Energy Future

When Marian Kellett first moved to Tri-Cities, Wash. while in her 20s, she wasn’t too sure about nuclear energy.

“I was so negatively biased toward nuclear power growing up. Our landlord, a Ph.D. at Battelle Northwest, was a good guy who was clearly smart,” Kellett said. “The fact that he chose to raise a family here challenged every (negative) preconception I had about nuclear energy.”

She came to realize that people who were a lot more knowledgeable than she was on the subject were quite comfortable with nuclear energy.

Laura Pickard and her mother, Marian Kellett
“It was a clarifying moment, and I started to learn more about nuclear instead of just giving in to what I knew from movies and the press.”

Good thing for Marian. That change in perspective led to a nearly 26 year career at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, located 10 miles north of Richland, Wash. She started as a temporary clerk seeking a stable working environment and an opportunity to advance if she worked hard. She certainly did that and now is assistant to the vice president for operations and spearheading the station’s Delivering the Nuclear Promise effort, an industry initiative to reduce costs through greater efficiencies.

But more than that, Marian is also a colleague to someone she knows very well – her daughter Laura.

“More than anything, it's a real treat to see her as an adult who fends for herself, makes her own way, has a great sense of style and humor, and will occasionally call me ‘momma’ when I see her on site,” Kellett said.

Laura Pickard works as nuclear security officer at Columbia. She joined the Marine Corps after high school and spent five years serving her country, training at the Defense Language Institute to become a Korean linguist. When she left the service it was back to school and a degree from Washington State University in Pullman. Even though her degree is in communications, nuclear security seemed a good fit.

“My military background has been extremely helpful in my job working security, where so much of the focus is on regulations and tactics,” Pickard said. “I really enjoy the annual training, which is even more extensive than the training I received in the military. This is such a great career for veterans like me, because my previous training has only been enhanced by the nuclear aspect of this job.”

Marian is looking forward to her daughter having a long career in nuclear energy, just as she has. But she knows the industry has faced hardships, both internal and external. Delivering the Nuclear Promise will address some of those hardships and, hopefully, pave the way for future generations to find meaningful employment providing carbon-free electricity to homes and businesses.

“From a personal perspective, I've been given so many opportunities in this industry to grow and advance, it's astounding. I was seeking a stable working environment with benefits,” Kellett said. “Today, I have earned a degree that was supported and financed by Energy Northwest, I've had the opportunity to work my way up in the company and had meaningful and rewarding work along the way, and I'm looking ahead at a retirement complete with the satisfaction of having worked with some of the most talented people I've ever known.”

It’s not hard to see why her daughter Laura feels similarly.

“I really appreciate that I’m able to have a stable job with great benefits in an industry that provides a service to my community. I’m also proud to be part of creating safe and clean energy for a huge part of Washington,” Pickard said.

We know momma is proud too.

The above post was written by Energy Northwest’s John Dobken for the Powered by Our People promotion, which aims to showcase the best and the brightest in the nation’s nuclear energy workforce.

Share this story of nuclear’s benefits with your network using #whynuclear. To learn more, go to nei.org/whynuclear.

Monday, August 01, 2016

5 Facts About Electricity and Summer Heat (Bumped)

The past two weeks have seen record temperatures grip the nation as a "heat dome" has descended over most of the continental U.S. While it isn't news that summer is hot, it is when the temperatures are 15-20 degrees higher than average for this time of year.

But life must go on and the electricity must flow. Without the sort of reliable baseload power that nuclear energy provides, our electric grid would be in a tight spot, as grid operators would be forced to juggle intermittent source of energy (like wind and solar) with others that could be vulnerable to supply constraints (like natural gas). In California, the independent system operator recently asked consumers to conserve electricity in the face of high temperatures during a period where the supply of natural gas is constrained due to the Aliso Canyon methane leak.

Put it all together and you could be looking at grid reliability being compromised, prices skyrocketing and electric utilities being forced to use dirtier and less efficient means of generating electricity like coal, oil and even jet fuel. With that in mind, we've put together this short list of facts about Summer heat and electricity.

1. An Extra 20 Degrees of Summer Heat Makes a World of Difference: According to a 2012 study by OPWR, total daily electricity use was 22% higher when Summer temps rose 20 degrees above the seasonal average. In the late afternoon when electricity demand peaked, usage was a whopping 40% higher, which doubled the wholesale price of electricity during that part of the day.

2. Your Air Conditioner Is Your Lifeline: When the heat goes up, people can't help but turn up the air conditioner. That has a significant impact on the electric grid. A Spanish university study found that air conditioning consumes one-third of peak electric consumption in the Summer. This isn't just a matter of convenience, in many cases, it's a matter of life and death. During a 2003 European heat wave, France suffered nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mostly among the elderly who simply couldn't cope with the extreme temperatures.

3. Summer Heat Drives More Extreme Weather Events and Higher Energy Prices: On Monday, July 25, the New York Independent System Operator issued a thunderstorm alert at 2:00 p.m. That's not unusual in the middle of the Summer, but when it comes in the midst of a heat wave when the grid is already running at full capacity, fears that a lightning strike could cut the ability to import power from the Upstate to New York City sent a shockwave through the market. Power prices that clocked in at $50 per megawatt-hour earlier in the day rose to $1,000 less than 90 minutes after the thunderstorm alert.

4. Wind is MIA, while Solar Comes on Strong: We asked NEI's Michael Purdie to take a closer look at the performance of renewables on the grid, comparing seasonal performance between Summer and Winter from 2010-2015. Based on data from the ABB Velocity Suite, the capacity factor for wind dropped an average of over 15% from Winter to Summer. In some area, that variability can be problematic, like in Texas last Summer, when ERCOT reported that the grid's wind turbines dropped to 20% of capacity as the temperature topped 100 degrees all over the state. In August 2006, a late Summer heat wave in California saw the state's wind assets drop to just 4% of capacity. Of course, solar power's capacity factor rises almost 35% in the Summer, but that seasonal increase is more than offset by capacity factors that crater nearly 77% in Winter.

5. Nuclear Performance is High Because Plants Prep in the Spring: Between July 23-28, in the midst of the nationwide heat wave, the average capacity factor of the U.S. nuclear fleet didn't drop lower than 96.6%. That's an incredible performance—99 reactors producing electricity at maximum output nearly every minute of the day and night. That isn’t possible without the dedication of outage workers who descended on plant sites throughout the Spring to perform needed maintenance and repairs to ensure this performance when it is needed most.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Even when the mercury tops 100 degrees, it's good to know that you and your aren't completely at the mercy of extreme weather. Just as is the case in the winter, there are a number of common sense rules you can follow to limit the size of your electric bill. Be sure to check out these tips from PG&E to learn more. And please, when you're outside, pay attention to these guidelines from the Mayo Clinic to keep cool and healthy.