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Setting the Watts Bar Too High

250px-Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Power_Plant The Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Tennessee Environmental Council, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and We the People Inc. on Wednesday asked the NRC for permission to intervene against TVA's bid for an operating license at the Rhea County site [a.k.a. the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant].

The groups contend the Unit 2 reactor could harm water resources, including the Tennessee River, and risk public health and safety because of fundamental weaknesses in the reactor's four-decade-old design.

This comes from Apparently, a gathering of environmental groups on one issue is a bit unusual:

[Sara] Barczak [of the the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy] believes it is "pretty unique for Tennessee" for several environmental groups to come together on an issue like Watts Bar, but is glad for the support. "We are very pleased to get some of our longtime allies to join in the fight."

Sometimes we wonder if actions like this are primarily to discourage nuclear energy in deference to, say, wind or solar. We know this not to be true – there’s an investment here against nuclear – but at least from the story, the complaints seem woebegone and not meant to be taken altogether seriously. Here’s that merry band of free marketeers, the Heritage Foundation, to explain why:

No nuclear reactor has ever harmed any water source in the United States. And just how, exactly, would the second reactor risk public health and safety? Would it be the radiation? Nuclear power plants do emit some radiation, but the amounts are environmentally insignificant and pose no threat. These emissions fall well below the legal safety limit sanctioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Well, the groups don’t seem to be worried about radiation (this time), so that may be a bit of a straw man. (Although looking at the various environmental sites, we couldn’t figure out where the beef was, either. So Heritage’s guess is as good as ours.)

We’ll keep half an eye on this one, but it seems a non-starter.

Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, the bone of contention.


Charles Barton said…
I just returned from a weak in Knoxville, a city where the buildings were once blackened by coal smoke. I entered and left Knoxville via i-40 toward Nashville and drove past the infamous Kingston Steam plant where a hugely polluted and radioactive slurry of coal fly ash polluted the Tennessee river a few months ago. The phony saviors of the environment have always prefered dirty coal to clean nuclear power. No doubt they are taking money under table form the coal coal companies whose interests they obviously serve. i
crf said…
~> The petition questions whether TVA has complied with all federal permits and regulations -- including an interagency agreement against disturbing contaminants from the government's nuclear bomb-building operations in Oak Ridge buried in the bottom sediments of Watts Bar Lake.

The petition also questions the reactor's post-Sept. 11 ability to withstand a crash from a terrorist aircraft. It questions whether the sometimes overheated Tennessee River can support another reactor requiring water for cooling. It questions whether an agency reporting a drop in power sales this year because of the economy needs more electricity.

It asks whether the reactor's containment dome will withstand a meltdown if its tricky ice-condenser emergency cooling system fails, and whether its backup diesel generators will prevent that from happening.

Rod Adams said…
@crf - With regard to the question about whether or not TVA "needs" more electrical generation capacity, please do not forget that the utility operates more than 15,000 MW of coal fired generators that produce millions of tons of CO2 plus lots of other air pollutants every year.

A simple answer to the capacity question is that the new Watts Bar facility would allow TVA to permanently shut down some of its coal fired generating plants - probably starting with those that are in excess of 50 years old.
perdajz said…

What else do you want to know? How about, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Yes, we will need more electricity in the decades to come, especially nuclear generated electricity that replaces fossil fuels. I don't see how anyone can question that.

How would anyone pilot a commercial aircraft into a tiny thing like an ice condenser containment?

I can't think of anything less tricky than passing steam through ice baskets to condense it and maintain pressure after a large LOCA, which has an annual likelihood of 1E-6. Steam melts ice and gives up heat in the process, thereby reducing pressure. Also, there a two independent residual heat removal systems of 2000 gpm each. On top of that, there are two independent containment spray systems of 4000 gpm each.

Each of the scenarios that you've asked about have been addressed ad nauseum, over and over, for decades now. Each scenario has a fantastically small likelihood of occurring, and even assuming that one does occur, the consequences would be minimal in relation to daily hazards that people don't think twice about. The risk-reward profile offered by a LWR is unequivocally better than anything else, especially a coal plant, which pollutes and kills ever day, year in, year out, with a probability of 1.0.

You are asking for perfectly zero risk. There is no such thing. There is only the best choice among several alternatives, and that would be nuclear power.
Anonymous said…
"looking at the various environmental sites, we couldn’t figure out where the beef was"

God forbid you actually bother to look at their ASLB filing, which lays out all the contentions in detail. You might get antinuke cooties.
Anonymous said…
"The phony saviors of the environment have always prefered dirty coal to clean nuclear power. No doubt they are taking money under table form the coal coal companies whose interests they obviously serve."

I know nuclear debates are heated, but once again, I have to complain about the posting of out-and-out libel, with no substantiation.

If you've got proof of antinuke groups taking cash from Big Coal, post it. If not, cool your jets and let's keep the discussion to the issues.

Moderator, please take note. This is not debate or discussion, it's an unsubstantiated accusation of bribery.

Turn the example around: would you let an antinuke blatantly assert that pronuclear groups are taking money under the table? Of course not.
Anonymous said…
"I can't think of anything less tricky than passing steam through ice baskets to condense it and maintain pressure after a large LOCA"

Obviously not as simple an issue as you think. NRC is addressing this as a generic safety issue, GSI-189.
Brian Mays said…
It appears that Charles's comment has hit a nerve. Nevertheless, his statement is too vague and speculative to be seriously considered libelous.

In any case, I would think that so-called "green" initiatives against nuclear power are much more likely to be covertly funded by oil/gas interests, since public opposition to traditional baseload power, like coal and nuclear (and often even hydroelectric), and naive public support for ineffective generation technologies, like wind and solar, will simply result in more gas-fired plants being built and more natural gas being sold for electricity production. The natural gas producers (i.e., the oil companies) are in a position to win big in this scenario.

Some groups, like the Sierra Club, are not shy about endorsing natural gas as a "cleaner" fuel. Others, such as Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute, not only heavily promote increased use of natural gas (which they often euphemistically refer to as "cogeneration"), but they also have a history of being paid by natural gas companies as consultants.
Anonymous said…
"his statement is too vague and speculative to be seriously considered libelous."

Barton is saying that specific anti-nuclear groups opposing Watts Bar-2 are "taking money under the table" from the coal industry. That's pretty specific, and completely unsubstantiated.

And examples of groups "promoting" natural gas, or consulting for gas companies, is absolutely not any kind of proof of under-the-table payments or collusion.

How many NEI employees have consulted for the fossil fuel industry at some point in their careers? Show of hands? Does that make them corrupt?
Brian Mays said…
Anonymous, don't be silly. It's a pretty tall stretch to infer that Charles's use of the word "they" refers to any specific group, particularly since nowhere in his comment does he mention any group by name. Unless a statement can be shown to intentionally and unjustly defame a specific individual or group, it cannot be considered libelous. A classification as vague as "phony saviors of the environment" is too nebulous to qualify.

As for my comment, I have offered no "proof," since I have not accused anyone of doing anything underhanded. I have merely pointed out who is in the best position to benefit financially from the actions of most "environmental" groups. Thus, natural gas and oil companies would be the logical suspect if one is concerned that there is some underreported corporate "sponsorship" of these groups' activities.

The last time I checked, NEI employees promote nuclear energy, not natural gas. I have no problem with an industry's trade group being an advocate for that industry's product or services.

These "environmental" groups are a less straightforward, however. They rely on funding from an opaque system that combines individual donors and a veritable zoo of charitable foundations, trusts, and funds, sometimes with multiple layers of giving, all of which serves to obfuscate the original source of money. Naturally, contributions and funding are high priorities for these organizations, and many tailor their activities specifically to target donors and increase donations.

Considering the importance of funding and the large number of uncertainties, I think that it is only fair to ask: Cui bono?
Anonymous said…
So when NEI promotes its pro-nuclear agenda, that's just the way of the world. But if groups opposing nuclear power promote their agenda, it must be because they're corrupted by pro-fossil fuel donors?

OK, believe what you want to believe. I know a lot of antinuclear activists, and right or wrong, they honestly believe it's a dangerous, inappropriate energy source. It's not some Exxon-Mobil dodge.
Brian Mays said…
Anonymous, now you are just being ridiculous. Nowhere have I said, or even implied, that every anti-nuclear activist is a fossil-fuel-industry stooge. I'm sure that most believe deeply in their cause, however misguided it might be. Many people hold strong beliefs. Some people believe in government conspiracies; some people believe in UFO's; still others believe in government conspiracies to cover up UFO's. Belief is a powerful thing.

Nevertheless, the anti-nuclear community does hire professionals -- people who are paid to be activists, sometimes paid very well -- and their salary has to come from somewhere. For example, Greenpeace raises millions of dollars each year and hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. What is it doing with all of that money? Where does it come from? Where does it go?

This highly prominent anti-nuclear organization has been criticized for "paying six-figure salaries to desk-bound bureaucrats sitting in multi-million dollar office buildings" and for being in a "never-ending quest for money, money, and more money." Now before you write off these criticisms as coming from some right-wing, free-market think tank, I should point out that they come from Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson, someone who is not exactly an enemy of environmentalism.

Today, Environmentalism is a big business, and you had better believe that big business takes it seriously. With all of the "green" advertising that pervades the media these days (even British Petroleum, recently known as "Beyond Petroleum," has pictures of wind turbines in its commercials), do you really believe that corporate interests, particularly those with the most to gain or lose, are not trying to influence these environmentalist organizations?
Anonymous said…
"do you really believe that corporate interests, particularly those with the most to gain or lose, are not trying to influence these environmentalist organizations?"

Total straw man argument. Of course they'd like to influence those orgs, just as they'd like to and do influence NEI.

The original question, and the one I'd still like to see answered, was whether Mr. Barton could prove his undocumented (at least on this board) assertion that antinuclear activists are taking money "under the table" (his words) from fossil fuel interests to perpetuate a FF agenda.

Simply put, that's an accusation of bribery. if it's true he should be able to prove it.

Slyly equivocating the issue to whether or not FF interests have any direct or indirect influence on environmental groups is evading the issue.

But that's what people who read this board seem to want to hear, preacher preaches to choir, so whatever. Look elsewhere for actual analysis.
Brian Mays said…
Oh, come on, Anonymous. You have done nothing but set up straw men in this entire series of comments. Your latest straw man is a challenge to "prove" Mr. Barton's somewhat speculative statement, a speculation that I neither made nor endorsed. Meanwhile, I have pretty much stuck to the topic of my original comment here, in spite of your attempts to bait me off the subject with your straw men.

For example, you keep bringing up the Nuclear Energy Institute as some sort of dodge when you cannot think of a reasonable argument. The NEI is a trade association. It is not influenced by the industry; it is the industry, or at least, it is the public representative of the industry. There's a huge difference between a trade group and an environmental organization like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace. You're trying to compare apples and oranges here.

Anyhow, this is going nowhere. Charles can answer for his own comment if he wants. However, I doubt that he is even reading this.

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