Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NEI and the Analysts; California Nuclear Dreaming

diablo-canyon-power-plant In case you hadn’t heard – and you really should’ve since it was in our spiffy Twitter feed – but NEI held a meeting for Wall Street’s financial analysts this morning to review with them issues related to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and the NRC’s subsequent 90-day review of the accident. The NRC meant to glean the lessons that can be derived from Fukushima to benefit the American industry – well, really, any country’s nuclear industry. It’s not a secret report, after all, and you can read it here.

The head of the nuclear power industry's trade group on Tuesday said U.S. plants should move within five years to implement safety measures as a result of lessons learned from Japan's nuclear crisis.

Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the five-year timeline put forward last week by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko was "reasonable."

That’s from Marketwatch, but it really doesn’t capture the feeling of the meeting, which ranged broadly over a number of topics. NEI’s press release has a better feel for this.

“The nuclear energy industry has taken seriously the accident at Fukushima and continues to support the recovery efforts in Japan. The companies operating the nation’s 104 nuclear energy facilities already have taken a number of concrete actions to enhance safety during extreme events,” Fertel said.

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, every U.S. nuclear power plant verified its ability to safely manage the impact of a severe event, regardless of its cause. Many deficiencies were resolved immediately, and many safety enhancements also were identified, Fertel said.

The whole press release is worth at least a glance. It captures a lot of the topics discussed.

But why not capture all of it? I’d recommend, since it’s available on-line, that you watch the meeting (at Ustream). I’d further recommend that you go to the half-way point or so and watch the Q&A first. The attendees, who follow nuclear energy issues as diligently as we do, asked pointed, intelligent questions and NEI’s President Marv Fertel offered frank and honest answers in return. (Note: the Ustream archive isn’t working right now. Check our YouTube page – we’ll have it up there in a day or two.)

I especially appreciated that Fertel acknowledged that there are things about the Fukushima accident that are still not well understood. For example, Fertel said we know that Fukushima’s venting systems did not work as they should, but we don’t know why yet. (He also noted that most American reactors do not use the same venting system. But about four do, so this will be important for those facilities – and in general, too, of course.)

It’s important to know there are gaps in knowledge, because it stresses that lessons learned are a process, not a recipe with set ingredients. We’ll continue to learn new things as the Japanese bring the Fukushima Daiichi facility further under control and these things will inform the response of industry around the world. We can’t know everything yet – why pretend that we can? Doing so is a text book rush to judgment and not necessary.

This was an exceptionally interesting state-of-the-industry style presentation – NEI or not, potential for log rolling or no, well worth watching.

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How about some interesting – and positive – non-NEI news?

"Nuclear power is a strong contender for zero-emissions energy because it can provide constant, or 'baseload,' power that can complement renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. While clean, many renewable energy sources produce power intermittently: if there's no sunlight and no wind, there's no power. However, a constant base output of nuclear power could make it much easier to deal with the highly variable power levels from renewables," points out chairman Burton Richter. California's law requires at least 33% of electricity generation be provided with renewable energy.

Richter is professor in the physical sciences at Stanford University and director emeritus at the University's Linear Accelerator Center. He contributed to a report called "California's Energy Future - Powering California with Nuclear Energy," issued by the California Council on Science and Technology. The council describes itself as a nonpartisan, impartial, nonprofit created in 1988 by a unanimous vote of the California Legislature.

So it’s not an industry front, which is a plus. The report is a 43 page pdf and free to download. Here’s a bit about California’s major worry, earthquakes:

Because California is “earthquake country”, reactors to be deployed in California would, of course, require special design features in order to assure that they are safe in earthquakes. This engineering problem has been solved successfully already. Both the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre reactor plants that are now operating are designed to withstand the ground motion from very large earthquakes, and meet all of the stringent NRC regulatory criteria with adequate margin. There is no reason to believe that earthquake issues should be a barrier to deploying additional reactors in California.

I expect most people here know this, but it does have the virtue of being true.

The report intends to provide a kind of primer around many of the issues concerning nuclear energy – I’d quibble with some of it, I suppose, but it’s clear the authors intend to pin down as many issues as they can.

If California pursues a future with many new reactor sites, state permitting and public acceptance will be issues that could cause major delays in implementing a nuclear route to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. As far as land use is concerned, nuclear energy is much more economical than any of the renewables. For example, the entire San Onofe 34 hectare site delivers 2.2 GWe while covering all of it with 10% efficient solar cells would only deliver about 1.5% of that at noon on a bright summer day.

Again, the virtue of truth again, but with a wry spin – California does not lack for sunny expanses of land, of course, so solar energy might have a rather strong role to play in the state. Land use issues really become determinative in much more cramped circumstances. Like I said – quibbles.

A quick read – might be a viable link to your friends-on-the-nuclear-fence types.

California’s Diablo Canyon facility. I didn’t realize the “canyon” aspect was so apparent.

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