Friday, August 05, 2011

What the Commissioner Said

George Apostolakis A couple of days ago, I said I’d bring you a longer account of NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis’ presentation – a notably frank and forthright presentation - at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Well, as politicians like to say, Promise kept. This is original reporting:

NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis criticized Japan’s preparedness at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility in his presentation at a recent forum on responses to the accident.

Speaking at a seminar on lessons learned at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., Apostolakis said, “It turns out [the event in Japan] was not unthinkable, and it was not unforeseen either. This is the kind of secret that everybody thinks but nobody wants to say in public.”

Apostolakis said that there were 10 earthquakes around the world in the last 10 years accompanied by tsunamis that Japanese regulators did not consider. “If anyone did calculations about tsunami in the United States and ignored this,” he said, “the NRC would complain bitterly.”

Discussing the report of the NRC’s post-Fukushima task force, Apostolakis said additional recommendations may be forthcoming from NRC staff.

“… The most important thing is that the staff may come up with additional recommendations. They’re very experienced people,” he said. 

Apostolakis also responded to media reports that criticized the NRC for loosening some regulations, allowing older plants to continue to operate past their initial license terms.

“We have issued some regulations over the years as a result of risk assessment and we have also relaxed some regulations over the years as a result of further insights on risk assessment, deciding that they constitute an unnecessary burden on the licensees,” he said. “We imposed a lot of burden 20 years ago in the area of risk assessment.”

He also said he did not think it necessarily worthwhile to use current rules and regulations to oversee the licensing and operation of “exotic” new reactor designs that might emerge. He noted he is chairing an NRC task force to explore merging defense-in-depth, which dictates multiple layers of protection against possible threats, and risk assessment, which calculates the likelihood of an event, into a unified vision for future regulation.


Honesty is always the best policy, but it does seem that the drive to insert entertainment into the pursuit of truth has sometimes left honesty taking care of itself. Consider, for example, the BBC car show Top Gear:

Last Sunday, an episode of Top Gear showed Jeremy Clarkson and James May setting off for Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, 60 miles away. The car unexpectedly ran out of charge when they got to Lincoln, and had to be pushed. They concluded that "electric cars are not the future".

Well, too bad for the Nissan Leaf, one of the cars in the show (The Peugeot iOn was the other). If the Leaf couldn’t hold its charge and didn’t warn the drivers it was in trouble, that should be exposed.


But it wasn't unexpected: Nissan has a monitoring device in the car which transmits information on the state of the battery. This shows that, while the company delivered the car to Top Gear fully charged, the program-makers ran the battery down before Clarkson and May set off, until only 40% of the charge was left.


Moreover, they must have known this, as the electronic display tells the driver how many miles' worth of electricity they have, and the sat-nav tells them if they don't have enough charge to reach their destination. In this case it told them – before they set out on their 60-mile journey – that they had 30 miles' worth of electricity.

Which is exactly as far as the Leaf got. It gets better:

“…[I]n order to stage a breakdown in Lincoln, "it appeared that the Leaf was driven in loops for more than 10 miles in Lincoln until the battery was flat."

Obviously, this does a disservice to viewers. The show offered an explanation, via Executive Producer Andy Wilman, which is genuinely, well::

We never, at any point in the film, said that we were testing the range claims of the vehicles, nor did we say that the vehicles wouldn’t achieve their claimed range. We also never said at any time that we were hoping to get to our destination on one charge.

What he misses is that the show never indicated what it did to the car that put it at a disadvantage. If this were made clear, then the audience would have some sense of the ground rules and judge accordingly.

We were fully aware that Nissan could monitor the state of the battery charge and distance travelled via onboard software. The reporter from The Times seems to suggest this device caught us out, but we knew about it all the time, as Nissan will confirm.

They and Nissan may have known about it – the audience did not. It goes on like that – you can read the rest at the link – and concludes:

In conclusion, we absolutely refute that we were misleading viewers over the charge/range, and we stand by the consumer points raised in the film.

Not even fans of the show buy that. At Autoblog Green, Eric Loveday wrote:

Wilman had more to say … but need we really remind anyone that Top Gear is pure entertainment with just a dash of factuality.

That means to raise “consumer points.”

Electric cars are at a tipping point and genuine attempts to help consumers understand their strong and weak points are more than welcome. But, even in pursuit of entertainment, devising “funny” ways to have the cars fail in their basic function without telling the audience what the game is has a certain – ordure - about it.


Electric cars run by nuclear energy – and its renewable cousins – has always seemed a win-win proposition by ensuring energy security and reducing carbon emissions. But of course, electric and hybrid autos will charge as they will – electricity doesn’t really care where or from what source it comes from. So a little conspiracy mongering with a soupcon of political intrigue to fit it all together:

Recently I asked the question, Are plug-in hybrids code for nuclear power? With numerous folks on the right supporting plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, I cannot help but think that some are using the move to electric autos as a ploy for more nuclear power.

I can’t say that I agree with this in any great measure – politicians right or left who want to link the two wouldn’t be shy about doing so - but if it is a ploy, then ploy away.

NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis on the job.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That Top Gear show is truly awful. They did one a few years ago with a car, a train, and a vintage motorcycle - it was a race from London to Scotland or something. 'Funny' - the shots of the bike were all in the rain while the jackass in the car had the top down in sunshine all day.