Monday, August 01, 2011

Spinning a Report, Ramping Up in South Africa

Milusi Gigaba An early release of a draft of an NRC report contains good news that clearly isn’t what some folks, however perversely, might have hoped:

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown.

And that conclusion?

[A] meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

By far fewer, it means close to zero. Now, I’d rather wait until the final version is released next April to discuss it in detail, but what is interesting now is that it was the Union of Concerned Science that requested this version of the report via the Freedom of Information Act. 

I cannot imagine the report’s conclusions are what the group expected, and having gotten it, they just deny it.

Edwin Lyman, a nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, contends that the nuclear commission has consistently painted an overly rosy picture and that its latest study does as well. He noted that the study assumed a successful evacuation of 99.5 percent of the people within 10 miles, for example. The report also assumes “average” weather conditions, he noted.

You can read the article if you want to see Lyman spin like a top – some of which writer Matt Wald counteracts with contrary but truthful information – but it would be churlish not to point out that UCS requested the report and gave it to the New York Times. Since the report doesn’t really fit the UCS narrative, it might have just buried it. But it didn’t, so good for UCS.

Our good friend Rod Adams has a more thorough response to some of Lyman’s comments – it really is like watching a dream evaporate.

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On the road to nuclear energy:

However, SA was firmly on the road to nuclear generation - which at present only accounted for around 6% of electricity generated in the country.
The country has only one nuclear power station in the Western Cape constructed during the eighties.

SA is South Africa. It already has one nuclear facility, but it provides only 8 per cent of South Africa’s electricity – coal has most of the marketplace - and that’s a problem because 3.7 million people lack any electricity at all. So this is an instance where electricity generation will have to grow with infrastructure, which provides South Africa an opportunity to change course.

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba supports the use of nuclear and renewable sources, and of course, he is more than aware of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

"While there is a risk that there might be delays in introducing nuclear capacity, rather have these delays than a disaster of life threatening proportions."

Amen. But he knows that the lessons learned – and the fact that any new nuclear build will be of the current generation – can mitigate concern. South Africa is ready to move forward.

The minister added that it could take up to twenty years for SA to fully supply electricity to these 3.7 million people. "But we don't think we can wait that long ... and if we do, then new challenges would have emerged."

Can’t help but like Minister Gigaba. He knows what his country needs and he makes the argument to move forward.

(A number of stories have noted that the South African nuclear market will be state-owned – I’m not sure why this is interesting, as it is true of virtually all its electricity generation now.)

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In Japan:

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was siding with the industry rather than acting as a regulator. He said that underscored a cozy relationship and the deep-rooted problem that must be corrected following the March 11 tsunami and the nuclear crisis.

What is NISA alleged to have done?

Japan’s prime minister criticized the country’s nuclear safety agency yesterday for allegedly trying to plant questions aimed at supporting atomic energy at public forums.

That would certainly cause a major scandal if done by the NRC here, but it is perhaps a little worse for Japan because NISA does not have the independent profile of the NRC. Instead, it is a department under the government’s Trade and Industry Ministry, which promotes Japan’s nuclear technology in the manner of our Commerce Department. It’s easy to see why NISA might see its role as promotional in part, but Kan is right: it leads to ethical deadlocks.

But it also means a NISA scandal is a government scandal and that’s what Kan has to knock back. (The IAEA has recommended that Japan separate the two – that would certainly moderate industry/regulatory coziness.) But still: alleged. Let’s see how this works out.

In Japan, 35 of 54 reactors are idle, causing electricity shortages in sweltering heat.

Most of those facilities could be running, but so it goes. We cannot criticize Japan for anything it chooses to do at this junction. But if the Japanese summer is anything like the American summer, oof!

Milusi Gigaba

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