Friday, April 30, 2010

Russia Proposes Nuclear Cooperation with Ukraine

Leo Tolstoy put in his time at Sevastopol.

It’s funny how nuclear energy can sometimes be sucked into larger geopolitical considerations.

Case in point, this week’s proposal by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to create a nuclear power holding company with Ukraine:

“We have made massive proposals, referring to generation, nuclear power engineering, and nuclear fuel,” Putin told reporters after a meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev today. Any cooperation may be phased, Putin said after the surprise visit to Kiev.

On the face of it, it sounds good for both partners:

“Ukraine will get $40 billion to $45 billion of investment from Russia in the next ten years because of a gas agreement reached last week, with fuel supplies subsidized by Russia’s budget, Putin said.”

Russia gets

“…to take “an active part” in upgrading Ukrainian reactors and will allow Ukrainian partners on the Russian market, Putin said. Nuclear cooperation in third countries is also possible, he said.”

But that’s not the whole story. Turns out that last week Russia and Ukraine made another agreement: Russia offered cut-rate natural gas in exchange for extending a lease on a strategic naval base at Sevastopol in the Ukraine:

Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s newly elected president, agreed a deal with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia last week that gave Moscow a 25-year extension of the right to station its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.  In return, Ukraine secured a 30 percent cut in the price of Russian gas deliveries.

Then on Monday of this week, Putin sweetened the deal by offering cooperation on nuclear energy. 

In a way though, it might not be that big of a change after all. Russia heavily influences the Ukrainian nuclear industry already. Just take a look at the Ukraine page from the World Nuclear Association: 

The country's nuclear production was 84.3 billion kWh in 2007, which accounted for 47 percent of total domestic electricity production … All are Russian VVER types, two being 440 MWe    V-312 models and the rest the larger 1000 MWe units - two early models and the rest V-320s.

And that’s not all, they also control the fuel.

Ukrainian uranium concentrate and zirconium alloy are sent to Russia for fuel fabrication … the country depends primarily on Russia to provide other nuclear fuel cycle services also, notably enrichment.

Of course, with many things Russian there are two ways of looking at this. It could be a benign move by Russia to control the fuel cycle and the spread of sensitive technologies, like enrichment. Supporting this point of view is the IAEA Russian fuel bank. Ukraine could source its fuel from Russia without having to develop its own technology. On the other hand, it could all be an attempt to get the port back.

If there’s any larger lesson from this, it may be this: countries, like Russia, which have created a large, vertically-integrated nuclear industry can come into new markets and offer a compelling package on short notice. Not only can they offer nuclear reactors, but they can offer fuel supply, enrichment services, maybe even used fuel take-back. In Russia’s case, they can offer even more: cheap natural gas. It’s all part of some nations using their nuclear industry to forge national champions that can compete on a global scale.

The competition is getting stiff out there.

For more on Ukraine’s energy mix check out the International Energy Agency’s Ukraine page.

For those who want to get into the history, politics [and complexity] of Ukraine/Russian relations, the Siege of Sevastopol and Tolstoy’s first-hand account of it, might be a good place to start.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Needles in a Haystack

Earlier this week, the National Academy of Sciences held a public meeting to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's request for a study of cancer risk in populations living near nuclear power plants. According to the NRC's announcement, the purpose of the study is to update a similar 1990 study by the National Cancer Institute. During the April 26 meeting, the NAS's Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board heard recommendations from representatives of government, industry and public interest groups. (An audio recording of the meeting is available here. A fellow blogger's summary is available here.)

NEI was among the organizations invited to address the NRSB. NEI's Senior Director, Radiation Safety and Environmental Protection, Mr. Ralph Andersen, a Certified Health Physicist, spoke on the challenges facing the NRSB. In his remarks, Mr. Andersen shared the perspective of the Health Physics Society, the association of radiation protection professionals, on epidemiological studies of this nature. The HPS says that:


"Studies of...occupationally and environmentally exposed populations...are useful in addressing allegations of adverse health effects in the population and in demonstrating a concern for the health of the exposed people. However, unless they are sufficiently powerful, they do not add to the scientific knowledge of low dose effects."
The key term is "sufficiently powerful". The HPS is referring to the statistical power needed to discern changes in the incidence of cancer.

According to the National Research Council, on average 42 out of 100 people - nearly half - will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime [Note 1]. With so many people contracting cancer throughout the population, the statistician's challenge is to determining when changes in that "natural background" occurrence of cancer are meaningful. As the focus of the study shrinks to smaller and smaller groups, the statistical challenge of distinguishing random variations from meaningful differences grows more difficult. When the focus is on the population around one or a handful of power plants, it becomes extremely difficult to discern meaningful differences. A very accessible description of the problem is provided at RadiationAnswers.org.

We welcome the NRC's request for this study and applaud the NRSB for taking this on. In shaping the scope and methods of its study, we hope and trust that the NRSB will heed the advice of the Health Physics Society. As we learn more about the NRSB study, we will do our part to help the public and policymakers understand the complexities of gauging the impacts of nuclear power plants on their environs.

Note 1: See Figure PS-4, page 7, in the National Research Council's 2006 report, "Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, BEIR VII Phase 2".


For a look back at some of the previous posts on concerns about cancer rates near nuclear power plants, we recommend you start with this one by Mark Flanagan and this one by David Bradish.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Movement/Movement on the Hill

Graham-080106-18270- 0035 We were all prepared to pounce on the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham energy bill earlier this week – it should include a very interesting nuclear title, if leaks to the press are accurate – but one of its sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) bailed out at the eleventh hour due to his concern about moving the immigration issue ahead of energy in the Senate.

We’ll have to wait to see if this resolves itself. Both issues are important, of course, but Graham and his colleagues have legislation ready to roll – it’s the bird in the hand, so to speak, and it already has a bipartisan profile. Depending on the funding mechanism, this is also the kind of thing with which both parties can roll into election season that won’t cause awkward meetings with constituents – immigration reform, not so much.

So here’s where we are today:

Graham has said for days that he's dropped out of climate/energy talks, but pressed tonight, he said that he will filibuster his own bill if Reid tries to bring it up without tabling immigration altogether.

"If they can do this without me, go ahead.... I am not going to be part of an energy-climate process that has no hope of success," Graham said. "I am not going to let that happen with my vote."

Well, you could say, The Senate as usual, but we suspect that immigration popped because of current events and will go back in the queue when cooler heads prevail.

In the meantime, we have to get back into crouch position and see if we get to pounce on energy legislation next week.

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Calling nuclear energy “key to strengthening America’s energy security,” a bipartisan group of 19 Congressmen introduced legislation to promote research and development of small nuclear reactors, those that generate up to 350 MW of electricity, noting that they have the potential to “help bring nuclear technology to new regions of the country.”

Formally introduced by Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Penn.), the intiative comprises two bills:

  • The Nuclear Power 2021 Act, purposely named to evoke the Nuclear Power 2010 program, directs the Department of Energy to enter into public-private partnerships to design and license two small reactors by 2021.
  • The Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act directs DOE to develop a five-year strategy to lower the cost of constructing and licensing nuclear reactors, including small reactors.

Altmire said, “Investing in the development of safe and reliable reactors of all sizes will both increase our nation’s energy security and create good paying jobs here at home.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who co-sponsored the two bills, said that “It is clear to both the Republicans and Democrats supporting these bills that expanding the use of nuclear energy is key to strengthening America’s energy security,”

Barton continued, “By facilitating the development of small nuclear reactors, this legislation could help bring nuclear technology to new regions of the country.

The legislation mirrors Senate bills introduced late last year, including the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative Improvement Act of 2009 (S. 2052), introduced by Sen. Mark Udall, and the Nuclear Power 2021 Act (S. 2812), introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Both are being considered by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Bingaman chairs.

This is original reporting and we have nothing to point you to – well, you can look at our coverage of the Udall and Bingaman bills and the links provided there.

Sen. Lindsay Graham.

C-SPAN's StudentCam Grand Prize Winners

As covered here on the blog last week, three 8th grade students from McKinley Middle Charter School (Racine, WI) are this year's Grand Prize winners in C-SPAN's StudentCam competition for their video on nuclear energy. The young filmmakers, Madison Richards, Samantha Noll and Lauren Nixon, appeared on Washington Journal Tuesday morning to discuss their winning entry, "I've Got the Power."

They were joined by NEI's Senior Project Manager, Kathryn Gerlach.


While we're plugging C-SPAN programming, this is a perfect opportunity to point readers to network's newly launched video library. The fully searchable archive contains nearly every minute of programming that C-SPAN has broadcast since 1987. That's over 160,000 hours of wonky bliss; available on demand. On cue and in the queue: every appearance by NEI.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sue Lowden and the Return (?) of Yucca Mountain

SueLowden2 Here’s something we didn’t expect to read:

At the meeting, Lowden said she is committed to amending and rewording the Nuclear Waste Policy Act so that it requires Yucca Mountain be prepared not only for the long-term storage of the nuclear waste, but also for reprocessing the waste into usable fuel.

A little context, perhaps? Well, the meeting was of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation and Lowden is Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden. She leads in the Republican primary there and in poll-driven match-ups against Democrat Harry Reid, she also wins.

We’d warn, though, that it’s still too far out to count on such polls, which can change on a dime. Good example: Lowden herself – she’s the candidate who picked up considerable bad press after she suggested that bartering for medical care might help contain costs and that the barter might include chickens.

None-the-less, we were interested to see that opposition to Yucca Mountain is not an article of faith for politicians – that is, a local circumstance that trumps party loyalty.

Last month, GOP adviser Sig Rogich criticized Lowden’s stance on Yucca Mountain, saying that a single nuclear waste spill could destroy the Nevada economy.  This echoes the stance of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which cites concern for leaks of radioactive substances and accidents in transportation as two of its reasons for opposing the repository site.

These are non-starter arguments: used nuclear fuel already travels around the country, and has for a long time, without incident; and a “single nuclear waste spill” ruining the Nevada economy seems an out-of-the-hat argument that has no basis in any reality. Not sure the journalistic “balance” was really necessary here.

This is what makes sense:

“I don’t understand how someone could just willfully take out $500 million to $1 billion out of the economy of southern Nevada, and expect it to just flourish” he [Dr. Dennis Moltz, a nuclear scientist] said. “Because that’s what Yucca Mountain was bringing in for many years: $500 million to $1 billion.“

So if Lowden supports reopening Yucca Mountain, fine. That she may have to face down DOE Secretary Steven Chu and President Obama, also fine. There’s been a lot of doubt raised – and lawsuits filed – over Yucca Mountain, so she’s in good company.

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We paid a visit to Lowden’s campaign site to see what, if anything, she had to say about nuclear energy. We got a bit of a surprise:

Sue Lowden has always been and remains opposed to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act – which calls for deep, geologic burial of high-level nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  As a Nevada State Senator, Sue traveled to Washington, DC, in the 90s to testify before a congressional panel in opposition to this misguided policy.

That’s not exactly inconsistent – she says above she want to rethink the Nuclear Waste Act – but it does seem she does not support reopening Yucca Mountain.

Or does she?

Sue believes that if nuclear waste ends up being shipped to Nevada, we should ensure that Nevada can become the leader of a new, job-creating industry on reducing and ultimately, permanently eliminating the waste.  She believes our Nevada Test Site could become the next major economic development, job-creating, high-tech nuclear laboratory – not just for the US, but throughout the world.  Lawrence Livermore in California and Los Alamos in New Mexico are two of our nation’s leading national laboratories and many other states are competing for new, high-tech, job, career and industry-creating projects.

Hmm! Now, we’re really not sure what she has in mind. Here’s a little more from the meeting that may clarify her position a little better.

“There was a feeling that this was being shoved down Nevada’s throat by the federal government, and people don’t like it in Nevada when the federal government comes in and says ‘you will do this,’ without having any input from the people,” Lowden said. “And frankly, I didn’t like it when I was a state senator. I testified to them in Washington that I did not like the fact that Nevada was told ‘this is what we will do.’”

Lowden said, however, that she’s willing to learn more about nuclear energy, and its potential use for Nevada in the future.

So – an evolving stance. Especially if Lowden wins her primary on June 8, this will be an evolution well worth following. This may shape up to be a very consequential race.

Sue Lowden.

About Coal and Coal Miners

ObamaWVEulogySteveHelber The Washington Post has an excellent, plangent photo gallery of the funeral for the 29 coal miners killed in West Virginia. The Post could really have foregone the ad, though.

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Here is a bit of President Obama’s eulogy:

Even as we mourn 29 lives lost, we also remember 29 lives lived. Up at 4:30, 5 o'clock in the morning at the latest, they began their day, as they worked, in darkness. In coveralls and hard-toe boots, a hardhat over their heads, they would sit quietly for their hour-long journey, 5 miles into a mountain, the only light the lamp on their caps, or the glow from the mantrip they rode in.

Day after day, they would burrow into the coal, the fruits of their labor, what so often we take for granted: the electricity that lights up a convention center; that lights up our church, our homes, our school and office; the energy that powers our country and powers the world.

All that hard work; all that hardship; all the time spent underground; it was all for their families. It was all for you. For a car in the driveway. A roof overhead. For a chance to give their kids opportunities that they would never knew; and enjoy retirement with their spouses. It was all in the hopes of something better. So these miners lived - as they died - in pursuit of the American dream.

Read the whole thing. It’s very moving.

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In West Virginia, Obama lost against Hilary Clinton in the Democratic primary two years ago and against John McCain in the general election. And West Virginia is a heavily Democratic state. Various reasons have been posited for Obama’s loss, but a major reason West Virginians vote or do not vote for someone comes down to coal.

"I think they [the federal government] want to outlaw coal mining," said David Baisden (D), a county commissioner in Mingo County on the Kentucky border, which gets half its tax revenue from coal. "We have the utmost respect for the president of the United States. But his policies . . . have us concerned that he's going to give America away."

To whom, we’re not sure, and writers David A. Fahrenthold and Michael D. Shear don’t say. And there’s more along the same lines.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a president whose actions have been more warlike on coal. There are those who say the president has parked his tanks on our front lawn, and it's hard to dispute that," said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association.

That’s pretty stark. We went over to the National Mining Association to see what’s upsetting them. (Uranium miners are part of this group, too.) There’s this:

President Obama’s budget proposal, by increasing taxes for America’s most affordable energy source—coal—threatens good-paying mining jobs and jobs in small businesses and manufacturing that depend on reliable and affordable energy to meet payrolls and remain competitive in a global economy.

Which isn’t quite true.

The most interesting this about the energy budget request is just how hard hit the fossil fuel industry would be. About $2.7 billion in subsidies for oil, coal and gas would be canceled under this plan.

Ending subsidies may well have the impact the NMA outlines, but it’s not raising taxes. It is, however, exactly what was feared. Although the 2011 budget request continues with carbon capture and other coal related projects, there is a significant chill when it comes to coal-fueled electricity production where, say, renewable energy sources and nuclear energy are feeling considerable warmth. For the coal industry, it’s like watching a ship turn ever so slowly away while the industry bobs in shark-infested waters.

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By the way, here are NMA’s pages on carbon capture and sequestration.

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We expect there will be continuing news on Massey Energy and Upper Big Branch mine. There’s been a lot written about this incident and there will be a lot more. We’ll let coal bloggers follow up on all that and return to our nuclear energy brief presently. But as a local (to D.C.) energy-related tragedy, we didn’t want to let the event pass without note.

President Obama after delivering his eulogy. The lady is Linda Davis, the grandmother of deceased miner Cory Davis.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beyond Lies

avenging_angels_leaks_cvr Slashdot ran a story today called “Report Blames NRC For VT Yankee Leak,” and found that the link took us over to Beyond Nuclear. Well, that was that. While some anti-nuclear groups are worth engaging with, Beyond Nuclear is, how shall we say, not. Dishonest and amateurish in its approach, the group has never required much comment from us: our readers – any interested readers – could see through its stuff as though it were made of cheap plastic.

But we did make a note to revisit Slashdot and see if at least some of its readership might be accepting this hooey. Nope.

First, the quote, "Numerous incidents of unplanned releases of radioactivity have been reported to the NRC within the past few months." "These incidents of leaks, overflows and spills have resulted in contamination of areas outside of plant buildings. " is not actually in the article but rather it is in the link from the NRC in 1979 about responding to the leaks. The article then goes on the say "the NRC is capitulating to an industry decision to take almost three more years before announcing an action plan" but the link supporting this is broken, so I can't evaluate it.

That’s from electricprof. See what we mean about amateurish?

NRC page on tritium http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/tritium-radiation-fs.html [nrc.gov]. Even the levels at so called "contaminated wells", assuming you drink from it every day for a year, are negligible compared to other sources of background radiation and even potassium in your body.

From anonymous. This is true, although nuclear plants should never release tritium or add to the “background radiation or potassium.” This did not happen at Vermont Yankee and it did find the leak.

I seem to notice that there is a lot of FUD and misinformation out there (not just from mdsolar and Beyond Nuclear) regarding nuclear power. This is helped in part because of ignorance by the general public. It's important to understand that there is a wide range of radioactive sources. Most of them are naturally occurring, or occur is such small amounts that they present no health hazard.

From SovBob. He goes on to list radiation exposure by x-rays and the like. We agree with the FUD and misinformation part, but we also think the general public is not all that ignorant. In reality, these are just bad arguments not gaining traction – as the commenters themselves prove.

How many times do I have to tell you! It's clean, not dirty! It's the cleanest of them all! Cleaner than coal! Cleaner than gas! Cleaner than oil! Cleaner than those … latte-drinking atheistic hippie socialist wind generators!

Um, well, it is Slashdot (we cleaned this one up a bit). We could have missed it in the sub comments, but we didn’t run into a single anti-nuclear viewpoint or any defense of Beyond Nuclear at all.

From Beyond Nuclear. You really cannot win an argument this way.

Fact Checking and The Difficulties of English

DonQuixoteWindmill We wrote about an editorial in The Hill by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) a couple of months ago. Now, Politifact, an invaluable service provided by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times that weighs comments by politicians for their truthfulness, has decided to see whether Alexander is passing the truth test for this assertion made in the editorial:

"No member of the American public has ever been killed by commercial nuclear power — a record unmatched by other fuels."

The first part of his statement we know to be true, but the second part – well, we’re not sure. Of course, no field can suffer fewer than zero fatalities, but we figure other energy generators match nuclear’s safety record.

Politifact does come up with a couple of accidents at nuclear plants that killed workers:

In a 1986 incident, four workers were killed at the Surry power plant in Virginia from the rupture of a pipe that sprayed workers with scalding water and steam. But the accident happened in a non-nuclear portion of the plant.

We read Alexander to mean the public outside of plants, not workers, but nuclear energy plants have an enviable worker safety record, too. It’s a safety-obsessed field.

But there are other considerations in Alexander’s statement that reach the ambiguous. For example, if a runaway windmill buzzsawed through a gaggle of birdwatchers, would that count? Is wind a “fuel” in Alexander’s meaning? (We don’t think that example is conceivable, by the way.)

We’d need to look at the issue in more depth, but our intuition is that energy generation has not been a kill-crazy industry and that Alexander aims to make a strong – and true - point about nuclear energy.

Politifact agrees that Alexander’s statement about industries other than nuclear is hard to parse:

It's difficult to get a good comparison with other power-source fatalities because the numbers don't necessarily separate between common workplace hazards and those specifically related to the power source. But for comparison, 13 people have been killed in hydroelectric power generation since 2003, and fossil-fuel electric power generation has killed 23 since then, said Andrew Marsh, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We’re not sure about those numbers – they may also be workers. So we cannot say – and Politifact doesn’t - that the number of fatalities for hydro and fossil-fuels are zero or above zero for the public outside those kinds of plants.

Bottom Line:

Despite these deaths [the Surry workers], nuclear power does stack up as one of the safest forms of energy.

And:

Alexander is right that no has been killed "by commercial nuclear power." And those statistics and the most complete numbers we can find for other energy sources confirm his claim that it is a record unmatched by other fuels. So we find his claim True.

We do, too.

If Don Quixote had found himself deceased as a result of tilting at the windmill, would that have been the windmill’s fault? Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

02hime.large1 Patrick Moore celebrates the actions taken lately to push out bad nuclear and bring in good nuclear:

On this 40th Earth Day I hope people recognize that we are moving in a positive direction by encouraging the peaceful use of nuclear technology and working to reduce the threat of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. These twin accomplishments make 2010 the most significant year in decades of nuclear achievements.

Well worth a read.

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Our old friend Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has a run at the question, Is Nuclear Green?

Nuclear turns out to be the gold standard.  You can produce a million megawatt-hours of electricity a year – that’s the standard they chose – from a nuclear reactor sitting on one square mile.  That’s enough electricity to power 90,000 homes.  A coal-powered plant absorbs four square miles when you count all the land required for mining and extraction.  A solar thermal plant, where they use big mirrors to heat a fluid, takes six square miles.  Natural gas takes seven square miles and petroleum takes 17 – once again counting the land needed for drilling and refining.  Photovoltaic cells that turn sunlight directly into electricity take 14 square miles and wind is even more diluted, taking 28 square miles to produce the same amount of electricity.

We always attend to Alexander’s thoughts on nuclear energy. He’s absolutely right about nuclear energy’s ability to produce a tremendous amount of electricity in a relatively contained space. We may tilt a bit more to the opinion that there’s a lot of unused land out there that could be turned to energy generation, but that doesn’t negate Alexander’s thesis at all. It’s a very strong bow in the quiver.

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Although we didn’t find this article all that interesting – it promised a nuclear-wind “smackdown” that doesn’t materialize – writer Eric Rosenbaum gets the optics about right:

Thursday is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and this year, it's not just the renewable energy companies that are celebrating.

Some conventional -- not to mention controversial -- energy sector players have been given recent reason to celebrate, from nuclear power plant operators to offshore oil and gas drillers.

And celebrate we shall. And the controversy? Eh – nuclear is riding above 50% and 60% in the polls. We’ve seen more controversial things.

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Entergy throws its hat into the Earth Day celebration, as well it should:

It is celebrated nationally on April 22 annually, but at Entergy we are committed to make every day Earth Day through business actions to support the environment. Sustainability isn’t just a fancy word to us, it means being responsible for helping to reduce the carbon footprint we all make – through clean nuclear power, through changing light bulbs and so much more.

It’s repurposed a lot of material for its Earth Day section – lots of good reading.

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And of course, where would we all be without our friends at the Washington Times?

We're hearing a lot these days from the nation's capital about the coming "clean-energy economy" and all the green jobs we'll get out of it. If truth-in-advertising laws applied to politics, however, you'd have to replace the word "clean" with "costlier" - which is why this agenda is very bad news for jobs and the economy.

It’s like finding a spider on your birthday cake, isn’t it?

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But let’s close on a positive note. Here’s a list of things you can do today and everyday to celebrate the earth. We like it because it harks back to the idealistic, perhaps slightly naive beginnings of Earth Day in 1970, when we kids would sing This Land Is Your Land and pick up the litter at the local park. We may hope that that idealistic, slightly naive quality lives today.

I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.

From This Land Is My Land by Woody Guthrie (pictured – click to see larger.)

Activists' Claims Distort Facts about Advanced Reactor Design

Westinghouse AP1000 - China's Sanmen unitBelow is from our rapid response team.

Yesterday, regional anti-nuclear organizations asked federal nuclear energy regulators to launch an investigation into what it claims are “newly identified flaws” in Westinghouse’s advanced reactor design, the AP1000. During a teleconference releasing a report on the subject, participants urged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to suspend license reviews of proposed AP1000 reactors.

In its news release, even the groups making these allegations provide conflicting information on its findings. In one instance, the groups cite “dozens of corrosion holes” at reactor vessels and in another says that eight holes have been documented. In all cases, there is another containment mechanism that would provide a barrier to radiation release.

Below, we examine why these claims are unwarranted and why the AP1000 design certification process should continue as designated by the NRC.

Myth:

In the AP1000 reactor design, the gap between the shield building and reactor containment (which surrounds the reactor core to protect the public and the environment in the case of a radiation release) allows for “numerous locations where rust can develop on the steel containment.” This rust could create a hole large enough that, during an accident, the radiation dose to the public could be “ten times greater than the NRC allows.”

The Facts:

Compared to the example cited in the report, the AP1000 containment vessel is more accessible for inspection and makes use of thicker, corrosion-resistant steel. NRC requirements for inspection and maintenance, as well as operational testing, would preclude an undetected corrosion of steel used in the reactor containment structure.

The report alleges that the gap between the plant shield building and containment creates an area that is “extraordinarily difficult to detect until the rust creates a hole completely through the steel.” In reality, unlike the example cited by the report, the AP1000 containment vessel is accessible for inspection.

Furthermore, the AP1000 containment vessel is made of high-quality, 1.75” thick steel. Water corrosion as specified in the critics’ report would require rates that simply are not credible. Operational testing and inspection would reveal any flaw, especially those significant enough that could lead to a hole of the hypothetical size stated.

Finally, the containment vessel itself is built to American Society of Mechanical Engineers codes that have more than 100 years of proven safety margin protection to the public.

For a copy of Arnold Gundersen's statement and visuals used in the report, see http://fairewinds.com/reports

For more on the AP1000’s safety features, click here.

NEI Rapid Response Team

Picture of the AP1000’s containment vessel bottom head at China’s Sanmen nuclear station. Courtesy of the Shaw Group.

Update 6:20 PM:

After taking a closer look at the critics' report and materials, there are quite a few bits of data and claims that don't all jibe with each other. The NRC study Gunderson's report cites (pdf) says that there "have been at least 66 separate occurrences of degradation in operating containments." NIRS' press release claims 77 and Gunderson's press conference statement says more than 80 (p. 1). Talk about a counting mess. So what's the real number? Here's the NRC doc from above:

"Since 1986 [to 2000], there have been over 32 reported occurrences of corrosion of steel containments or liners of reinforced concrete containments" (p. 5).

The other 34 containment degradation occurrences were "related to the reinforced concrete or post-tensioning systems," (p. 6) which had nothing to do with corrosion. Thus, less than half of the examples the critics cite aren't directly related to the AP1000 issue they think they've discovered.

As well, while the anti's claim that there are 77 instances of degradation, according to the NRC pdf from above, just "one-fourth of all containments have experienced corrosion" (p. 5).

The critics claim that this is an AP1000 issue but corrosion is an issue that all designs have to address. One of the ways the AP1000 design addresses corrosion penetration is its 1.75 inch thick steel plate containment liner (as mentioned above). The existing nuclear plants have steel plates that are less than half of the thickness of the AP1000 and only a handful of those had corrosion problems that penetrated containment (all were promptly addressed once discovered, page 5 from NRC). As well, the Beaver Valley containment which Gunderson constantly references corroded 3/8" of a hole. Yet, his analysis gives little credit to the difference in steel thicknesses between designs. Well, we've noted above that the critics' numbers are all mixed up, guess it makes sense that this difference is mis-understood too.