Thursday, March 31, 2011

Japan: Energy Plants All in A Row

Fukushima An interesting article at the Mainichi Daily News suggests a series of problems with nuclear energy in Japan – or its management, anyway.

This is the list of items:

overconcentration of reactors in limited areas, dangerous stockpiles of spent nuclear fuel near reactors, and the inability to easily share electricity across eastern and western Japan.

The ones that puzzled me when the Fukushima plant entered the news was the first (if the Japanese use dry cask storage, the second is no problem at all).

I don’t believe Americans or French site plants the same way as the Japanese do, but this list suggests that weaknesses in the grid argued in favor of keeping reactors and power plants bunched in fairly tight formation along either side of the island.

I’m not competent to know if this really represents a problem – Japan hasn’t had a significant problem in the forty or more years it’s used nuclear energy, and the blows taken by Fukushima Daiichi might relate to siting or to inadequate safety measures or to another issue entirely – we will not know this for awhile.

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Japan, including Tokyo, runs on 50-hertz power, while western Japan, including Osaka, is on 60-hertz. In order for one region to receive electricity from the other region, the frequency must be changed.

That just seems odd – I wonder if you have to travel with converter plugs from one part of Japan to the other. Presumably, though, the Japanese figured out how to bridge this a long time ago and it’s not really an issue.

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But this is more interesting:

There are a total of 10 nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants, demonstrating a high concentration of nuclear reactors in limited areas. Those reactors are expected to be scrapped or stay shut down for an indefinite period of time, meaning the power shortage will continue. A senior official of a power company in western Japan commented, "This is a side effect of concentrating nuclear reactors in a particular region."

Is it? I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if a tsunami had swept over an off-shore wind farm or the earthquake caused an explosion at a gas-fired plant. It seems less about the nature of nuclear energy to have had this result than it is the clumping of any kind of energy source.

And the Japanese certainly do that:

There are 55 nuclear reactors, including experimental ones, across Japan, but many are concentrated within a few prefectures. TEPCO runs 17 reactors in Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, while the Kansai Electric Power Co (KEPCO) has 11 just in Fukui Prefecture. Of 14 reactors being built or planned for construction, eight of them are going on the premises of existing plants.

Why? Let’s try this a different way: consider the lack of available land in Japan, the energy demands of its population (127 million strong and technology mavens to boot) and Japan’s lack of natural resources. Nuclear reactors make a lot of electricity without needing much fuel (to import, as Japan imports everything; we can agree, I think, that most uranium comes from parts of the world that do not throw up strong security concerns, an extra attraction) compared to other sources and the plants are relatively compact.

As a result, The nuclear plants have done an extraordinary social good in allowing Japan to continue to grow as a world market and allow its people to fully participate in the modern age.

But that doesn’t mean Japan didn’t raise its overall risk a notch or two – which I’m genuinely not sure about and the story asserts but does not address in any systematic way.

Fascinating story – I don’t think it fully addresses its premise, but it’s a premise worth exploring and really gets you thinking about the different ways countries address energy policy.

Fukushima before the earthquake.

Quick Hits: At Indian Point, Three Plants, The German Psyche

IndianPoint1 CNN’s Alan Chernoff goes into a nuclear plant – New York’s Indian Point, in this case – and nothing falls over on him and he doesn’t topple into the used fuel pool (which he takes a look at). In fact, he finds a spotless, well run industrial structure. Oh, and extremely secure.

Useful type of story for reporters to be doing – folks are probably pretty curious about the inside of a plant right about now.

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At a House hearing, NRC Commissioner Gragory Jaczko loosely identified three nuclear plants the commission believes need further oversight:

Three U.S. nuclear power plants need increased oversight from federal regulators because of safety problems or unplanned shutdowns, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday, although officials said all are operating safely.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the three plants — in South Carolina (H.B Robinson), Kansas (Wolf Creek) and Nebraska (Fort Calhoun)— "are the plants we are most concerned about" among the 65 U.S. nuclear power plants in 31 states.

Jaczko did not say what issues require the extra oversight:

"The NRC felt the three required significant additional oversight but continue to operate safely," said Scott Burnell, an agency spokesman.

The story quite correctly notes that there are four levels of oversight and these plants fall into the second. The third and fourth levels would be far more serious for the plants. Tellingly, Jaczko initially told the House committee that six reactors were on the list, but three of them, at the Oconee plant, had resolved all issues and were taken off the list.

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Sarah Sloat has a go at German kookiness about nuclear energy:

So then, what’s the source of this “special sensitivity?” It’s hard for the Germans themselves to pin down. Some see its root in German romanticism of the 19th century, the idealization of nature seen, for example, in the landscapes of Casper David Friedrich.

Others attribute it to the national character. “It’s all psychological; it’s typical German nervousness,” said one. Characteristics like “cautiousness” and “risk-aversion” also come up.

Sloat decides its all about Chernobyl, but I liked these better. Risk-aversion! It’s a wonder Germans drive cars or get on a plane – far riskier than having a nuclear energy plant in the neighborhood.

Indian Point.

Appeal of Small Reactors May Grow Following Fukushima Accident

Small, scalable reactors have captured the interest of industry and government alike. Their diverse uses, ease of deployment and relatively low cost are selling points, making the clean-air benefits of nuclear energy available to more companies in more places—and the first prototypes are not as far off as some may think. Russia is set next year to be the first in the world to deploy an innovative small nuclear power plant, aboard a barge docked offshore from the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The safety attributes of small reactors—less than 300 megawatts—are drawing increased attention in light of the Fukushima accident. Some designs place major components underground, out of reach of such natural phenomena as tsunamis and floods. And because these plants contain a relatively small amount of fuel, they produce less heat and radiation than large plants. Small plants also are seen as more affordable to build than their 1,000-plus megawatt counterparts. Ernest Moniz, director of MIT’s Energy Initiative, highlighted some of these points in a March 28 essay for The Atlantic:

The total capital cost is more in the billion dollar range rather than a significant multiple of that. Capacity can be built up with smaller bites, and this may lead to more favorable financing terms.
Moniz notes that, to be viable commercially, the SMRs must be competitive with large nuclear plants on a cost-per-installed-megawatt basis:
The [large plants] have been driven to larger and larger size in order to realize economies of scale. The SMRs may be able to defeat this logic by having factory construction of the SMR or at least of its major components. …The catch-22 is that the economies of manufacture will presumably be realizable only if there is a sufficiently reliable stream of orders to keep the manufacturing lines busy.
Tennessee Valley Authority is exploring the feasibility of building a small modular reactor—Babcock & Wilcox’s mPower design—that would begin commercial operation by 2020. TVA, which also operates large nuclear power plants, is interested in small reactors as potential replacements for older fossil-fueled power plants. Small reactor projects also are moving ahead in Argentina, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, South Africa and France. The International Atomic Energy Agency is working to coordinate the efforts of member states on both small (less than 300 megawatt) and medium-sized designs (300 to 700 megawatt):
Small and medium sized reactors (SMRs) may provide an attractive and affordable nuclear power option for many developing countries with small electrical grids, insufficient infrastructure and limited investment capability.
One of the leaders in small reactor development is the Russian Federation. A large portion of the country has low population density, a decentralized power system and a rigorous climate that requires robust sources of electric power and thermal energy. The country has identified several potential locations for floating nuclear co-generation plants, which consist of a barge-mounted dwelling unit, nuclear island and steam turbine. The first “floating power unit,” launched last June, is scheduled for completion in 2012. It will be towed to Vilyuchinsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula for deployment:
The [small reactor] offers an economic alternative to onshore power plants in remote areas with costly power transmission and fossil fuel deliveries.
Moniz emphasizes the length of time it will take to develop new reactor concepts and the importance of starting now:
Prior to Fukushima, the Obama administration submitted to the Congress a proposed 2012 budget that would greatly enhance the level of activity in bringing SMRs to market. …The program is modest but sensible. Obviously the federal budget deficit makes it difficult to start any new programs, but a hiatus in creating new clean energy options—be it nuclear SMRs or renewables or advanced batteries—will have us looking back in 10 years lamenting the lack of a technology portfolio needed to meet our energy and environmental needs economically or to compete in the global market. Let's get on with it.

What the Poll Shows

blue-growth-chart We’ve looked at a few polls over the last couple of weeks and will reiterate about the new poll from Harris Interactive that I made about the earlier ones: taking a survey when a story about the subject is hot in the news is not going to yield a very believable result. After the situation has stabilized and the media inflammation of the public has receded – well, that’s the time for a poll.

In this case, the numbers are pretty good:

Three weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled four nuclear reactors in Japan, Americans are displaying only a slight shift in their opinions on nuclear power, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll shows.

The U.S. public is almost equally divided on whether or not more nuclear power plants should be built on American soil, with 41 percent supporting the idea and 39 percent opposed. This represents only a slight change from three years ago, when 49 percent supported nuclear plants and 32 percent opposed them, according to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll released today.

Pew had nuclear energy down considerably more. These new numbers suggests wither that the end of the big news stories has had an impact or Harris caught a more sanguine group. Here’s some of the specific numbers:

  • 73 percent of respondents believed that nuclear waste disposal remains a "major problem," while 55 percent thought that the possible escape of radioactivity into the atmosphere is equally dangerous
  • Almost a third of all adults (29 percent) still consider nuclear power plants "very safe," with another 34 percent saying they are "somewhat safe." In 2008, those numbers were very similar, at 34 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
  • 46 percent of U.S. adults agreed that, "The risk of accidents and radiation exposure from nuclear power plants is too high to be acceptable."
  • More than half (55 percent) of Americans agreed that there is need to build nuclear power plants because they do not produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change unlike those that use oil, gas or coal.
  • Additionally 59 percent of those surveyed agree to this statement, "It is OK to build nuclear power plants if we build them far enough away from earthquake fault lines and areas with large populations."

In other words, 60 percent consider nuclear energy safe – there are some polls that get this higher in less fractious times – Gallup, for one – but not by much.

If I’m not going to let my mood droop when poll numbers are low, I’d be a hypocrite to let it soar now.

Let’s just leave it at this: nuclear energy is a logical but not very stable polling target at the present time. Oh, and, if we wanted to spin it a little – not the whole circus plate spin but a little - perhaps we can see this poll as a harbinger of the Japan story taking a somewhat less prominent spot on the news page in the wake of Libya.  (And if you want to really let elation overtake you, assume that this is the worst it’s going to get at Harris – pretty darn good.)

But even that feels a bit of an overreach. But you know – I could be wrong. Take a look and see what you think.

Oh, and here’s a full story on the poll from Health Day.

Afternoon Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page

UPDATE AS OF 11:30 A.M. EDT, THURSDAY, MARCH 31:
A minuscule amount of radioactive iodine was detected in milk in Spokane, Wash., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported.
The agency said the level detected-0.8 picocuries per liter-is more than 5,000 times lower than the level that would prompt any action by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pull milk from grocery stores. "These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children," the EPA said.

The EPA has increased its nationwide monitoring of milk, rain water and drinking water (see the agency's website for information on radiation air monitoring).

Fukushima Daiichi

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is increasing its efforts to remove radioactive water that has pooled inside concrete vaults that house pipes near the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Maintaining cooling water flow to the reactors and used nuclear fuel storage pools and containing and removing the contaminated water continue to be priorities for workers at the site.

Contaminated water was found in the basements of the turbine buildings at reactors 1-4 and in the concrete vaults outside the buildings. Workers finished pumping water from the reactor 3 turbine building and are removing water from the reactor 1 tunnel into a storage tank. Today, TEPCO has been pumping contaminated water from the reactor 2 turbine building into a storage tank.
Freshwater injection continues to cool reactors 1, 2, and 3. The company also is spraying cooling water into the used nuclear fuel storage pools at reactors 1-4. (For information on how spent fuel pools work, see NEI's video.)

Fukushima Daini
All reactors at the Fukushima Daini site remain in safe condition. Smoke seen at reactor 1 at the Daini site on Wednesday resulted from a short circuit in a sump pump at the reactor. The smoke stopped after workers at the facility opened the power supply to the breaker for the pump. The cause of the short circuit is being investigated.

Safety Is a Process, Not a Recipe

415px-ABC_1946_Logo_Vector.svg ABC News tried a story on its Nightline program to suggest that the NRC finding a problem at a nuclear problem and the plant operator then fixing the problem represents a safety hazard. Aside from the the counterintuitive nature of that approach – that having to replace a nozzle puts all out lives at some kind of risk – the overall implication is that a nuclear plant can never ever have a problem, no matter how small. After all, so many people – which is to say, none – have been endangered by American nuclear power plants.

To ABC’s credit, though, it has gone to the industry to learn a few salient facts.

There are 104 U.S. nuclear power facilities, and Anthony Pietrangelo of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association, said, "The plants are very safe. There have been no abnormal occurrences reported by the NRC in their annual report to the federal government from 2005 to 2009."

That's true, but Lochbaum and the Union of Concerned Scientists point to what the NRC calls 14 "near misses" at nuclear plants in 2010, which Pietrangelo called a mischaracterization of those incidents.

Lochbaum is a safety maven, which is good, but this back-and-forth can begin to remind you of partisan politics, where an opponent can never do anything right, no matter how trivial the offense. Concerns about safety can become a set of talking points rather than an ongoing process and the point of it all – enhancing safety – gets lost.

Pietrangelo of the Nuclear Energy Institute said the industry responds when the NRC finds a safety violation.

"When we find a violation, what each licensee does is put it in their corrective action program ... the experience is shared, with not only the personnel at that site, but, also, if it's significant enough it is shared with the rest of the industry," he said.

" That's how we got better as an industry." And, he added, "The NRC can shut a plant down if it does not think that it's operating safely."

Safety is a process, not a recipe with a fixed set of ingredients providing a standard result, and the sooner that’s understood, the sooner the media will grasp that the nuclear industry is really rather good at it.

The first ABC TV logo, from 1946. ABC didn’t really get national coverage until it merged with the short-lived DuMont network in 1953 and the rebranded ABC emerged in 1954. It didn’t really gain a solid financial profile until the Batman show in 1966 became a brief-lived sensation, allowing ABC to compete for top shows with CBS and NBC. It was bought by Disney in 1996.

Lively Debate Between George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott

Democracy Now hosted a debate between pro-nuclear convert, George Monbiot, and anti-nuclear activist, Helen Caldicott. Text can be found here.

Here’s one of George’s notable quotes:

When it comes to low-level radiation, unfortunately, environmentalists have been responsible for quite a similar approach by making what appear to be unjustifiable and excessive claims for the impact of that radiation. That is not in any way to minimize what is—what could well happen as a result of the events in Fukushima, but what it does say is we have to use the best possible science to work out what the likely effects are to be and not engage in what could be far more devastating to the lives of people in Japan: a wild overreaction in terms of the response in which we ask the Japanese people to engage.

I’d say Mr. Monbiot did quite well holding his own, Dr. Caldicott, on the other hand, well, er, watch and decide…

Update, 4/1/11 9:50 AM EDT: Rod Adams has a great recap of his debunkings of Dr. Caldicott over the past year.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The German Nuclear Freak-Out

Dusseldorf Germany had an election this past weekend. How did that go?

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has pledged to press ahead with a review of nuclear power's future in Germany after her coalition suffered a "very painful" defeat in a weekend state election dominated by Japan's nuclear crisis.

Despite the embarrassment of losing a region held by her party, the Christian Democratic Union, for 58 years, Merkel played down the result's national significance, saying she had no plans to reshuffle her cabinet.

That region, Baden-Wuerttemberg, is one of the most conservative in Germany, so it going to the Greens is exceptionally dramatic. It’s the first time the environmental party has won any state election (I believe).

This doesn’t mean Merkel and her coalition are out of power, but  for now, this is the rhetoric:

Germany could well become the first major industrial power to abandon nuclear energy entirely: likely in the next 10-15 years. But others may follow suit. In an interview last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called events in Japan the September 11th of nuclear power. "Some events," he said, "represent such a turning point that afterwards nothing is the same."

I don’t think that quote proves that point, but there you are.

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Shutting down a major part of your electricity output while recovering from a recession has the potential to send Germany into an economic tailspin, a reality that has businesses there very nervous:

Ms Merkel’s decision to temporarily close seven nuclear power stations in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis has triggered an outpouring of criticism from business lobbies and individual entrepreneurs.

For example:

Dieter Hundt, president of the German employers’ federation (BDA), appealed for “politicians to return to good sense, rationality and reliability”.

He condemned the moratorium on extending the life of Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations as “a big mistake”. It failed to stop an anti-nuclear backlash among voters in Baden-Württemberg, who returned a “green-red” coalition of the environmentalist Green party and the centre-left Social Democratic party.

And:

Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the Federation of German Industry, warned in Stern magazine that Germany must “take incredible care not to destroy our economic success in the debate about nuclear energy.

“Electricity in Germany must be safe, clean and affordable, or we will endanger the very foundation of our prosperity.”

Indeed.

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And the real irony here: Germany still needs the electricity and renewable energy sources just aren’t mature enough to step in. So, as Merkel predicted last week, if Germany has to buy electricity, the logical place to go – is – France.

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Note: Germany and its experience with nuclear energy – essentially a positive one – makes for a richly ironic storyline. But I should stress that the election in Baden-Wuerttemberg occurred on the heels of Fukushima Daiichi and lit a flame under anti-nuclear forces there – leading to the kind of single issue voting that can lead to buyers remorse later. This happens in politics all over all the time. Once the situation has calmed down, the folks speaking the intemperate words quoted in this story and in the linked pieces will recover themselves. Then, we’ll really know what happens next.

So take this story with a large shaker of salt. I’m pretty sure there will be further developments none of us could predict now.

A nuclear plant near Dusseldorf. Lonely, isn’t it?

Quick hits: IAEA Confab, AREVA in Japan

Anne-Lauvergeon-2 This speaks for itself:

The International Atomic Energy Agency will host a high-level conference on nuclear safety from June 20 to 24 in Vienna to discuss lessons learned from Japan's nuclear crisis, Kyodo News reported Wednesday, citing the agency's director general.

Yukiya Amano said he expects conference participants to make an initial assessment of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, which was hard hit by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Participants will likely include representatives of various countries' foreign affairs, energy and other ministries, IAEA sources told Kyodo.

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The CEO of French nuclear reactor maker Areva says she will meet with Japanese officials to improve the situation at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Speaking to an NHK reporter on her arrival at Narita Airport, near Tokyo, on Wednesday afternoon, Anne Lauvergeon pledged full cooperation. She brought along a team of experts, the first such group to arrive from France since the outbreak of the incident.

Good for AREVA. It’ll be interesting to find out what they do there.

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But why leave it to the French?

The Japanese and U.S. governments are working together to tackle trouble at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Japanese government has set up 4 working groups led by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama and prime ministerial advisor Goshi Hosono.

The groups include members of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and related ministries; U.S. military forces stationed in Japan; and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

AREVA’s Anne Lauvergeon.

Shelter from the Storm

Onagawa When you need it, you need it:

As a massive tsunami ravaged this Japanese fishing town, hundreds of residents fled for the safest place they knew: the local nuclear power plant.

That would be the Onagawa plant. But now that the folks at Onagawa know what happened at Fukushima, they want to leave, right?

"I'm very happy here, everyone is grateful to the power company," said Mitsuko Saito, 63, whose house was leveled in the tsunami. "It's very clean inside. We have electricity and nice toilets."

Within the nuclear plant, facilities are pristine, electricity flows directly from Japan's national grid, and evacuees can use its dedicated phone network to make calls.

"The general public isn't normally allowed inside, but in this case we felt it was the right thing to do," company spokesman Yoshitake Kanda said.

He’s right. It was.

"It's pretty spread out. People are just kind of lying around and relaxing," said Tatsuya Abe, 29, who is staying at the plant with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. "There are a lot of aftershocks, but it's safe.”

Who’s afraid of nuclear energy? Not these people – who needed shelter from the storm. Great story from Jay Alabaster.

The Onagawa nuclear power plant.

President Obama: A Secure Energy Future

Obama Georgetown President Barack Obama gave a major address today at Washington’s Georgetown University on energy issues.

The full transcript is here.

At it, he introduced his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, which takes an all-of-the-above approach to energy, with an eye to ramping down foreign imports in favor of domestic production – of oil, particularly.

So today, I’m setting a new goal: one that is reasonable, achievable, and necessary.  When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day.  By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third.

I set this goal knowing that imported oil will remain an important part of our energy portfolio for quite some time.  And when it comes to the oil we import from other nations, we can partner with neighbors like Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, which recently discovered significant new oil reserves, and with whom we can share American technology and know-how.

He continues:

All of this means one thing:  the only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil.  We have to find ways to boost our efficiency so that we use less oil.  We have to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy with less of the carbon pollution that threatens our climate.  And we have to do it quickly. 

He runs through a number of energy sources before coming to nuclear energy. Given the events in Japan, one might expect the atom to go unmentioned or passed by with a glance. Not so:

Now, in light of ongoing events in Japan, I want to say another word about nuclear power. America gets one-fifth of our electricity from nuclear energy. It has important potential for increasing our electricity without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But I’m determined to ensure that it’s safe.  That’s why I’ve requested a comprehensive safety review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make sure that all of our existing nuclear energy facilities are safe. We’ll incorporate those conclusions and lessons from Japan in designing and building the next generation of plants. And my Administration is leading global discussions towards a new international framework in which all countries operate their nuclear plants without spreading dangerous nuclear materials and technology.

The speech only touches on renewable energy and virtually ignores coal, clean or otherwise, focusing instead on biofuels, natural gas, oil and energy efficiency – and nuclear energy.

I'm not sure the inclusion or exclusion of any source should be over-interpreted – this is a speech not an encyclical – but I was admittedly surprised at the absence of coal. Even the inclusion of nuclear energy was not too startling: the President mostly reiterated what he had already said about nuclear energy in his speech about the Japan earthquake.

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A second major point of the speech is President Obama’s strong support for a clean energy standard:

A Clean Energy Standard will broaden the scope of clean energy investment by giving cutting-edge companies the certainty they need to invest in America.  In the 1980s, America was home to more than 80 percent of the world’s wind capacity, and 90 percent of its solar capacity.  We owned the clean energy economy.  But today, China has the most wind capacity.  Germany has the most solar.  Both invest more than we do in clean energy.  Other countries are exporting technology we pioneered and chasing the jobs that come with it because they know that the countries that lead the 21st century clean energy economy will be the countries that lead the 21st century global economy. 

I want America to be that nation.  I want America to win the future.

A Clean Energy Standard will help drive private investment.  But government funding will be critical too.  Over the past two years, the historic investments we’ve made in clean and renewable energy research and technology have helped private sector companies grow and hire hundreds of thousands of new workers.  I’ve visited gleaming new solar arrays among the largest in the world, tested an electric vehicle fresh off the assembly line, and toured once-shuttered factories where they’re building advanced wind blades as long as a 747 and the towers to support them.  I’ve seen the scientists searching for that next big energy breakthrough.  And none of this would have happened without government support.

The key word here is “clean.” The renewable energy standard bruited in the last Congress excluded nuclear energy while the clean energy standard allows it – as any energy standard with carbon emission reduction goals should – because nuclear energy is “clean.”

The point of developing the standard is to provide a clear roadmap for the future so that industry knows where best to make investment.

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We’ll round up some responses to this speech later. But, in the meantime, this headline struck us as amusing: “Natural Gas Fuel Stocks Surge on Obama Energy Speech” – in the Wall Street Journal, of course.

President Obama at Georgetown.

Afternoon Report

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 12 P.M. EDT, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30:
Operators of nuclear power stations in Japan have been urged to ensure their facilities have emergency power sources.

Industry Minister Banri Kaieda Wednesday attributed the nuclear emergency in Japan to the loss of cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Japan Atomic Industry Forum reported. He told utility companies they should have mobile generators on hand to cool their nuclear reactors as an added safety measure.

Kaieda said the utilities should confirm the steps they have taken and conduct drills within a month or stop operating their nuclear facilities.

According to the NHK news service, many companies are introducing emergency power generators to their facilities. Some have conducted drills for cooling operations based on a situation in which emergency generators fail.

At the Fukushima Daiichi site, workers continued to inject fresh water into reactors 1, 2 and 3 to keep them cool, while at the same time dealing with water that has pooled in the basements of turbine buildings and in concrete trenches near the units. As available storage space in the reactors' condensers is filled, Tokyo Electric Power Co. is looking to store the radioactive water in tanks that will be brought to the facility. TEPCO has switched to fresh water for spraying the spent fuel pools for reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4.

All the units at Daiichi are operating on off-site electric power and work continues to connect equipment. High radiation levels and wet equipment still hampers restoration of the plants' original machinery.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry will learn important lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi accident and "identify additional steps we can and will take to further improve safety at our nuclear plants," one of the industry's leaders told a U.S. Senate committee today.

"U.S. nuclear power plants are safe. Still, we cannot be complacent about the accident at Fukushima," said William Levis, president and chief operating officer at PSEG Power LLC, which operates three reactors in New Jersey and is part owner of two others in Pennsylvania. To read more, click here.

Rep. Markey Proposes a Bill

ed-markey Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) proposes a bill:

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a new bill Tuesday that would overhaul U.S. nuclear safety and impose a moratorium on all new nuclear reactor licenses or license extensions until new safety requirements are in place that reflect the lessons learned from the Fukushima reactor meltdown.

A bill like this is what you’d expect after a situation like the one in Japan. Markey raises the rhetorical level a bit in introducing it:

The Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011 will help ensure that the U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors is safe,” Markey said.  “We should not wait for an American meltdown to beef up American nuclear safety measures.  We must heed the lessons to be learned from the nuclear meltdown in Japan and ensure nuclear safety here in America.”

The NRC is conducting a safety review now, which would seem to fulfill some of Markey’s goals. And since it would take a new plant awhile to come online, approving license applications now wouldn’t preclude applying lessons learned from Japan. That’s true for license renewals, too, unless Markey feels that granting licenses precludes implementing extra safety measures when they are developed.

Push come to shove, I’m not sure what this bill could accomplish in either the short or long term. Well, it could lead to interesting debates in committee and on the House floor. That’s something.

NEI’s President and CEO Marvin Fertel  responds for the industry:

“The NRC chairman testified before a Senate committee today that U.S. nuclear plants are safe and secure, and it is “very unlikely” that the combination of events in Japan earlier this month would occur in the United States. Nonetheless, the NRC is an independent regulator of the nuclear energy industry and therefore can require additional action by the industry as part of its licensing processes. Similarly, Congress has direct oversight of the NRC and has an established process to vet these issues before hastening to legislate changes to the licensing process.

Just so.

You can find the bill here. The bill’s stated purpose is “To ensure that nuclear power plants can withstand and adequately respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, strong storms, or other events that threaten a major impact.” The text is not available yet, but should be in a day or so.

Rep. Edward Markey

Editorial Round-Up

Dan_River_Danville_Virginia From The Macomb (Mich.) Daily:

The agonizing restatement of Murphy's law at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in northern Japan threatens to delay once again a promising expansion of our own nuclear power generating capacity.

It should prompt a check and recheck of plans and proposals for new nuclear plants in this nation. But we question if anyone can offer well-founded objections to nuclear plants of improved designs in areas which are not seismically active.

Me, either - even in seismically active areas, actually. We won’t know until much later the role the earthquake played at Fukushima, but the tsunami added a wild card that most regions of the United States don’t have to worry about.

In any event:

Nuclear energy, for all its opposition, has some useful life left. Solar and wind power in the long run can provide the cleanest, safest source of energy. But until they can be put to use on a larger scale, we should use whatever other clean energy is at hand. For the next few decades, at least, nuclear energy fits that requirement.

Not the most ringing endorsement, but it’s okay. I’ll take it.

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From the Lynchburg (Va.) News and Advance:

Nuclear reactors have been safely generating power around the world for more than four decades, and for any other industry, three disasters in more than 40 years would be a safety record to be envied.

The public needs to calm down; the environmentalists need to quit trying to make political hay of a grave crisis; the politicians simply need to grow a spine.

I’m not sure I’d be quite this harsh. They grow them tough in Lynchburg;

An Associated Press story earlier this week about the number of U.S. nuclear plants near fault lines played into feeding the public’s irrational fears of the nuclear industry. After all, the idea of a nuclear plant near the site of a possible earthquake would scare just about anyone. But in Japan, it was not last week’s earthquake that caused the current crisis; it was the ensuing tsunami that severely damaged the coolant systems at the plant.

I’m not sure yet that the earthquake wasn’t determinative and neither is the News-Advance editorial board, but I must say, this is the most pugnacious defense of nuclear energy I’ve seen yet.

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The Danville (Va.) Register-Bee offers a negative editorial, but mostly about the costs of a nuclear energy plant:

A fact not mentioned about nuclear energy by those advocating its use is there has been a growing volume of comments about the capital cost of nuclear-powered electric plants becoming prohibitively expensive.

And goes on from there. Its alternative to nuclear energy is interesting:

The IGCC electric plant does not burn the coal. Rather it uses a thermo-chemical process to produce the gas stage from the coal. The resulting gas is stated to be virtually free of fuel-bound nitrogen. Pollutants, such as sulfur (98 percent removed), particulates and trace minerals, are removed in IGCC processing and sold as by-products for other industrial uses. IGCC results in a small stream of carbon dioxide, which can be captured. The slag is sold for use in building roads or manufacturing wallboard and the plant has “zero process water discharge.” A second such unit, producing twice the electricity, has been considered, at a projected cost of $2 billion.

I’ve nothing against this per se – I guess the idea is to propose carbon capture as a base energy source to replace nuclear energy, but it seems an awfully rosy picture. Consider:

I [Hildred Shelton wrote the editorial] do not feel obligated to support uranium mining in Virginia regardless of the findings of the NAS study, and I do not see why anyone else should so feel either.

But coal mining seems a-ok. Well, you can’t win ‘em all.

A view of the Dan River – hence, Danville.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Evening Update

UPDATE AS OF 5:00 P.M. EDT, TUESDAY, MARCH 29:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said that cooling water is being added to the spent storage fuel pools at reactor 2 and 3. Reactor 2 was using a temporary motor-driven pump and reactor 3 was using a truck to pump the freshwater into the fuel storage pools. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that plans are being made to begin pumping freshwater into the fuel storage pool at reactor 4 starting today.

IAEA said that 63 food samples taken March 24-29 in eight prefectures (Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Niigata, Tochigi and Yamagata) were below regulatory limits set by the Japanese government for iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137.

New analyses of seawater about 1,000 feet from the discharge point of reactor 1 through 4 show “a significant decrease” in radiation levels from March 26, IAEA said.

Readings for iodine-131 went from 2,000,000 picocuries (1 picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie) per liter on March 26 to 297,300 picocuries per liter on March 27. Readings for cesium-137 went from 324,324 picocuries per liter on March 26 to 51,351 picocuries per liter on March 27. IAEA said that radiation readings in seawater “will be quite variable in the near future depending on water discharge levels.”

Japan’s National Research Institute of Fishery Research has analyzed five fish samples from the port of Choshi in Chiba prefecture and found concentrations in the fish to be “far below any concern for fish consumption.” Four of five samples showed cesium-137 concentrations below the limit of detection. In the remaining sample, cesium-137 was found to be slightly above detectable levels.

IAEA said the situation was evolving, but that concentrations of radionuclides in seawater would soon drop to lower values by dilution and that the levels in marine food would most likely not reach levels above regulatory limits set for consumption.

In the United States, EPA’s daily data summary from its RadNet radiation air monitors across the U.S show typical fluctuations in background radiation levels as of 8:30 A.M. EDT. “The levels detected are far below levels of concern,” EPA said.

Lessons Learned from Japan

Constellation Energy Nuclear Group's Chief Nuclear Officer Maria Korsnick discusses lessons learned for the industry following the recent events in Japan. Visit ‪http://bit.ly/gT2XY5‬ to learn more about industry actions.

Visit the NEI Network for a lot more videos.

When You Don't Have Bad News...

... make some up. From The Guardian (U.K.), our old friend in nuclear alarmism:
The radioactive core in a reactor at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant appears to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor, experts say, raising fears of a major release of radiation at the site.
Experts? Really?


Well, one, and he was an expert 40 years ago:
Richard Lahey, who was head of safety research for boiling-water reactors at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, told the Guardian workers at the site appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor, but said there was no danger of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.
If he was head of safety research then, that was 1971. So it's a reach, at best. No one is quoted to agree or disagree with Lahey, so the story is just the opinion of one fellow - a fine fellow, we're sure, but still. The only other "expert" quoted in the story is Robert Gale, a US medical researcher who is helping out in Japan but has no opinion about the state of the plant.


Honestly! Can we agree not to build stories about such a serious event around such flimsy evidence.


Sheesh!


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Let's jump a little west.  From The Irish Times:

What are the implications of Fukushima for Ireland? It will require a more measured appraisal of the full consequences of the accident before its significance for the possible future use of nuclear power in Ireland can be definitively assessed.
All the same, even at this point we cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of a reliable supply of safe, affordable and clean energy for a modern society, which is as important to our wellbeing as clean air and water. In coming years, after our economic recovery, we shall need more energy than we are currently consuming. From where is this energy to come?
Read the rest to find out where from - it's pretty long - and well written by David Sowby from the International Commission on Radiological Protection and Frank Turvey, a fellow of the Institute of Nuclear Engineers and a former member of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. It's great to see informed sources standing up for what they know is true.


An Irish nuclear power plant? Nah  - but the green filter has clearly been turned down a few notches.

Concerns and Then There Are Concerns

And the Premier of New Brunswick, Canada doesn't have any:

The premier of New Brunswick says he has no concerns about resuming nuclear power generation in his province, despite the nuclear crisis in Japan.

And why might this be?
Premier David Alward said Monday he knows the incident in Japan has caused some concern over his province's nuclear facility.
"I'm concerned about confidence that could be undermined because of that," he said.
"What I can assure the people of New Brunswick is the work that's being done at Lepreau is with full regulatory process, full transparency and in a very safe way."

Lepreau has been offline for awhile for refurbishment (so it can stay in operation another 30 years), and work continues to return it to service in 2012. Read the rest of the story - they're well aware of concerns, but apparently, the plant is not vulnerable to the problems experienced in Japan.
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And Simone di Silvestro, race car driver, seems well able to fields concerns as well as questions:
“I got questioned about Japan over the weekend but mostly about my new car, new chief engineer and my new sponsor, Entergy. I couldn’t be more proud to represent Entergy and this industry since I am a personal advocate for clean and safe nuclear power,” noted De Silvestro after her successful sponsor debut on Sunday. “I have been inside a nuclear power plant and seen first-hand the security and precision of operations at Entergy’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. I’ve been very happy to talk about that,” she concluded.

Entergy is sponsoring the Newman Wachs-sponsored car (NEI had it in some previous years), which just started its season at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in Florida. Di Simone finished fourth. I liked this detail, though:
Driver Takuma Sato, sponsored by Panasonic, replaced his sponsor logo with a map and a message for Japan, his home country. He placed fifth.

Good for Sato (that's him glaring at you above). Vroom!

Tuesday Afternoon Update

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 3 PM EDT, TUESDAY, MARCH 29:

Plutonium found in five soil samples at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex originated from uranium fuel at the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has determined. The level of radiation from the plutonium is not considered dangerous to human health.

The company on March 28 said that some of the plutonium—which is at a very low level—could have been the result of fallout from atomic weapons tests during the Cold War.

Fresh water is being injected into reactors 1, 2 and 3 to cool fuel in the reactors. Workers have switched from diesel fire pumps to temporary electric pumps to move water into the reactors. U.S. Navy barges filled with fresh water have arrived at the site with much-needed supplies of fresh water to pump into the reactors and used nuclear fuel storage pools.

TEPCO also continues to clean contaminated water from the basements of the turbine buildings at the three reactors. The water is being pumped into the main condenser for each reactor. Workers also are working to drain water remaining at unit 4.

As reported earlier, radioactive water has been found in concrete-enclosed channels that hold piping and cables outside of the reactor 1, 2, and 3 turbine buildings. TEPCO is assessing the best way to remove the water from these structures. None of the trenches empty directly into the sea near the Fukushima plant.

NEI’s Pietrangelo Briefs Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Tony Pietrangelo, NEI senior vice president and chief nuclear offer, briefed members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on events in Japan and steps U.S. companies are doing to ensure safety and emergency preparedness at nuclear energy facilities. To watch video of Pietrangelo’s briefing, click here and go to the 94 minute mark.

Former NRC Commissioner - “Keep calm and carry on with nuclear energy”

Jeff Merrifield, former NRC commissioner, has a post in The Hill’s Congress Blog reflecting on the reactions of anti-nuclear folks after 9/11 to their reactions today to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident:

While many are taking measured responses to the recent events in Japan, there has been one predictable exception.  

Members of the anti-nuclear community and their supporters in Congress have taken to the media to demand that some or all of our nation’s 104 nuclear power plants be shut down and construction of new nuclear power plants be stopped.    

As I listened to some of their arguments, I had a déjà vu moment, remembering several of these same arguments from many of the same individuals immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

I was serving as a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at that time and remember vividly testifying before House and Senate committees on security issues. Members of Congress spoke of shutting down the essential nuclear energy facilities, arming them with mobile missile systems or surrounding them with large steel monoliths to protect against commercial airliners.

What we did then, and what we need to do right now while events still unfold at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site, is avoid a rush to judgment. We should allow the NRC time to conduct an in-depth review of the events that occurred and make common sense recommendations for assuring safe operation of U.S. reactors. After the 9/11 attacks, the NRC, in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, undertook a comprehensive review of the nation’s nuclear power plants. The agencies sought to determine if there were steps that would enhance the ability of utilities to respond to terrorist attacks, as well as mitigate the effects of large fires and explosions that could result from these activities.

Be sure to stop by for the rest.

Tuesday Morning Update

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 11 A.M. EDT, TUESDAY, MARCH 29:
Japan's nuclear regulatory agency says Tokyo Electric Power Co. needs to balance injecting cooling water into the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and preventing contaminated water from seeping out, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum reported Tuesday.

On Monday, TEPCO reported radiation levels of more than 100 rem per hour on the surface of puddles in the reactor 2 turbine building and in a trench outside the building. TEPCO is using sandbags to keep the water confined to the trench, a concrete channel that does not connect to the ocean. The trenches at reactors 1 and 3 are also at risk of overflowing and measures are being taken to contain the water.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is awaiting the results of new Science Ministry tests for radioactivity beyond 20-kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi and new samples from TEPCO of the plant grounds.

On Monday, TEPCO discovered minute levels of plutonium in the soil at five locations at the site. The plutonium measured is as little as was in the environment in Japan following nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War and poses no health risk to humans.

Blog Recommendation for Latest Updates on Fukushima Daiichi

Will Davis, blogger at atomic power review, has been providing excellent and timely updates on the nuclear accident in Japan. For a taste, here’s a nugget he noted today on what other nuclear plants in Japan are doing to prepare for an accident:

In an unrelated location, Chubu Electric Power has run a fantastic drill sequence at its Hamaoka nuclear station, and press were allowed. The company ran an SBO sequence in its control room simulator, showing what occurs and the operator responses. After this, outside, the company staged practice drills of bringing in fire trucks to supply emergency cooling water and portable diesel generator equipment for emergency power. The company said this is part of its response to knowledge of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and it has also announced plans for a roughly 36 foot high protective wall around the Hamaoka plant. Chubu is getting it right -- respond to the accident scenario quickly and show the public that you are doing everything you can figure out to prevent this happening again.

I highly recommend adding his blog to your RSS feeds, he cuts to the chase and filters the distracting info to provide the important updates about the accident.

Senate Meeting Update on the Fukushima Daiichi Plant

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee is currently holding a meeting this morning that started at 10 AM EDT and can be watched online here. NEI’s Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, is on a panel as well as Peter Lyons from the Department of Energy, Bill Borchardt from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Should be a good discussion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Evening Update

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 7 P.M. EDT, MONDAY, MARCH 28:
The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is planning a meeting with Tokyo Electric Power Co. to determine the origin of contaminated water in the turbine buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Contaminated water from the basement floor of the reactor 1 turbine building is being pumped into its main condenser. At reactor 2 that process has not begun because the steam condenser is full, IAEA said. Pumping contaminated water is being considered at reactors 3 and 4.

Three workers who received radiation exposure from standing in contaminated water were released today from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, where they had been under observation. The level of localized exposure received by two of the workers is between 200 to 300 rem, lower than the previous estimate of 200 to 600 rem, IAEA said.

Radiation Monitoring Continues

Results from ocean monitoring stations up to 18 miles off the shoreline from the Fukushima Daiichi plant showed levels of iodine-131 at most locations were below federal limits. IAEA said results from four monitoring stations on March 26 showed iodine-131 concentrations were between 162 and 486 picocuries (1 picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie) per liter. Cesium-137 concentrations ranged from below the level of detection up to 432 picocuries per liter.
IAEA said that it is still too early to draw conclusions for expected concentrations in marine food, because the situation can change rapidly.

The latest sampling shows that drinking water in Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures remain below the Japanese limits for the ingestion of drinking water by infants. Iodine-131 was reported in food samples taken from March 26 to March 27 in six prefectures (Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Niigata, Tochigi and Yamagata) in vegetables, strawberries and watermelon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified trace amounts of radioactive isotopes at its 12 RadNet air monitor locations across the nation. The levels are extremely low and are far below levels that would be a public health concern. EPA's samples were captured by monitors in Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada and Washington state over the past week and sent to EPA scientists for detailed laboratory analysis.

For more information about radiation, see NEI's Web page on health and radiation safety. For detailed information on EPA's RadNet air monitor locations, click here.

Monday Afternoon Report

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 1:30 P.M. EDT, MONDAY, MARCH 28

Tokyo Electric Power has detected isolated, low concentrations of plutonium in the soil at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The density of plutonium is equivalent to the fallout that reached Japan from nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War, the company said.

TEPCO conducted analysis of plutonium contained in the soil collected on March 21 and 22 at five locations at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Plutonium 238, 239 and 240 were detected, however just two of the samples may be the direct result of the recent incident, considering the ratio of the plutonium isotopes.

“The density detected in the plutonium is equivalent to the density in the soil under normal environmental conditions and therefore poses no major impact on human health,” TEPCO said. The company said it plans to strengthen environmental monitoring inside the station and surrounding areas.

The International Atomic Energy Agency today said it plans to conduct a high-level conference on nuclear safety “before the summer.” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said it is “vitally important that we learn the right lessons from what happened on March 11, and afterwards, in order to strengthen nuclear safety throughout the world.”

Amano said the conference should cover: an initial assessment of the Fukushima accident, its impact and consequences; lessons learned for the industry; strengthening nuclear safety; and strengthening the response to nuclear accidents and emergencies.

The Design and Safe Operation of a Nuclear Reactor

Last week we highlighted NEI’s Everett Redmond in a video on spent fuel pools, today he’s explaining how a nuclear reactor works and the features that are incorporated to maintain safety.

32 Years Later, A Look Back at Three Mile Island

National Public Radio has a short bit on the lessons learned from the Three Mile Island accident that happened this day back in 1979, here’s a snippet:

“The most important changes were what were called human factors,” [former NRC historian Sam] Walker says. “That was the lesson that was most obvious was one, you had to improve operator training. You had to give the operators the knowledge and the tools they needed to be able to deal with a situation like they faced on the morning of March 28, 1979.”

Today every nuclear power plant is required to build a replica of its control room for training purposes.

"It's real," says Ralph DeSantis, communication manager at Three Mile Island. "It's as real as it can be. Like a cockpit simulator for airline pilots, the training is very realistic."

And just like TMI, the nuclear industry will continue to learn and improve upon its safety and operations from the lessons that come out of the Fukushima-Daiichi accident.

Monday Morning Report

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 11:30 A.M. EDT, MONDAY, MARCH 28:
Radiation levels in the seawater near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remained high on Monday, but dropped considerably from the levels reported on Sunday. Monday's sampling near the plant's south discharge outlet showed that radioactive iodine levels were 250 times normal, reduced significantly from 1,850 times normal.

Radiation dose rates also remained elevated in the turbine buildings of reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4. Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Monday said that workers had found similarly high radiation levels in water in drainage conduits outside reactors 1 and 2. The company said that rubble at reactor 3 prevented measures from being taken there on Monday.

TEPCO is pumping contaminated water from the basement of the turbine building at reactors 1 and 2 to the main condenser. The company also continued to pump fresh water into reactors 1, 2 and 3, using electrical-driven pumps rather than diesel-powered fire pumps.

Levels of radiation at the plant's main gate ranged from 12.5 millirems per hour to about 20 millirem per hour (125-200 microSieverts/hour). The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's annual limit for occupational exposure is 5,000 millirem.

For more information about radiation, see NEI's Web page on health and radiation safety.

Oxford Physicist - “We should stop running away from radiation”

Over at the BBC, Wade Allison, nuclear and medical physicist at the University of Oxford, helps put radiation in perspective:

More than 10,000 people have died in the Japanese tsunami and the survivors are cold and hungry. But the media concentrate on nuclear radiation from which no-one has died - and is unlikely to.

Nuclear radiation at very high levels is dangerous, but the scale of concern that it evokes is misplaced. Nuclear technology cures countless cancer patients every day - and a radiation dose given for radiotherapy in hospital is no different in principle to a similar dose received in the environment.

People worry about radiation because they cannot feel it. However, nature has a solution - in recent years it has been found that living cells replace and mend themselves in various ways to recover from a dose of radiation.

These clever mechanisms kick in within hours and rarely fail, except when they are overloaded - as at Chernobyl, where most of the emergency workers who received a dose greater than 4,000 mSv over a few hours died within weeks.

However, patients receiving a course of radiotherapy usually get a dose of more than 20,000 mSv to vital healthy tissue close to the treated tumour. This tissue survives only because the treatment is spread over many days giving healthy cells time for repair or replacement.

In this way, many patients get to enjoy further rewarding years of life, even after many vital organs have received the equivalent of more than 20,000 years' dose at the above internationally recommended annual limit …

There’s much more from the professor at the BBC. Be sure to stop by and see what he says about the radiation from Fukushima and if he would accept used fuel buried under his house.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Evening Report

From NEI's Japan Earthquake launch page


UPDATE AS OF 7:30 P.M. EDT, SUNDAY MARCH 27
 
The International Atomic Energy Agency, Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency have reported no new developments at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

NEI’s Resources on Japan

If you haven’t visited NEI’s Japan Earthquake page, well, you really ought to. It’s grown – enormous – in the last three weeks and provides a lot of good information about issues that have swirled around events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Information about Health and Radiation Safety

Emergency Planning: Protecting the Pubic and Environment – with a graphic showing the American approach to ensuring public safety

A growing FAQ about the events in Japan – helping to counter myths and provide solid information

A set of Fact Sheets and Graphics describing the workings of various kinds of reactors, including Fukushima Daiichi.

A large collection of quotes from American politicians and other policymakers with their views on Japan and the American nuclear energy industry.

And, as they say on infomercials, much much more. I think it’s fair to assert that NEI has provided more good information, data, graphics and links about Japan and Fukushima Daiichi than any other site on the Internet. And despite NEI’s role as a nuclear advocate, nothing is sugar coated or spun for advantage. It all aims for the highest level of unvarnished fact possible.

Thinking About Safety in India and Nigeria

lagos_nigeria Like the United States, India wants to take a look at the relative safety of its nuclear plants.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has set up a 10-member committee to examine if our 20 nuclear plants can withstand earthquakes and other external events such as tsunamis, cyclones, floods, etc. That includes checking if the arrangements are adequate to ensure safety in case of such events, both within and beyond the design.

The panel is chaired by AERB’s former chairman, S K Sharma. Its first meeting is on the coming Thursday.

Naturally, the focus will be on earthquakes and tsunamis:

He [an unidentified board member] said during the 2004 tsunami, nuclear plants in south India were able to withstand the effects. “Our plants are almost 2,000 km away from the tectonic boundary of Sumatra. The earthquake following the tsunami in Japan was quite unprecedented and, therefore, the committee will revisit the safety applications installed in our plants.”

This is a worthwhile effort. It sounds as though the board members are well informed and serious about their jobs – it helps that they come from a range of disciplines.

Committee members include representatives of AERB, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Nuclear Power Corporation, IIT-Madras, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and Central Water & Power Research Station, Pune.

It’ll be interesting to see what they turn up – the article doesn’t say, but I assume they will make a report to the AERB.

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And Nigeria, which is thinking of buidling of nuclear energy plant, is concerned about safety too. The Daily Independent offers an opinion.

We cannot but narrow the scenario to Nigeria, which has for some time now tinkered with the idea of nuclear power to generate electricity. According to the National Space Research and Development Agency (NARSDA), Nigeria should be prepared for the earthquake experience. Having experienced earth tremors in 1933,1939,1984,1990,1994,1997,2000 and 2006 with the surface wave magnitude of between 3.7 and 3.9, the probability cannot be ruled out. 

After noting the haphazard efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency in other recent emergency, the editorial makes a few suggestions:

While urging government to take pro-active measures against natural disasters, NEMA’s facilities and training of personnel should be upgraded. Ecological funds should be judiciously utilized by state governments for the purpose meant.  

The writer also notes all the international help offered to Japan and guesses that Nigeria would receive the same (which seems a safe assumption. I also assume Nigeria will have a regulator.

Not a bad overview of concerns, though I think the paper underestimates how much of an safety infrastructure will be put in place should Nigeria pursue nuclear energy.

A fish-eyed view of Lagos, Nigeria.

They Write Letters (or Emails)

contra_costa The Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard introduces us to the NRC inspectors who oversee the two plants in that part of the world – Nine Mile and James A. FitzPatrick:

“Every day, we do a control room walk-down,” [Inspector Edward] Knutson said. “We look at what’s going on, we indicate what we expect them (operators) to do.”

“We talk to the control-room supervisor and get from them what has occurred in the previous shift,” [Inspector Scott] Rutenkroger said. “We see what’s in service and what’s out of service. We find out what they see as the condition of the plant.”

And they keep their eyes perpetually open:

Rutenkroger once noticed that the door between an emergency diesel-generator room and turbine building had a support missing. It could have hampered proper operation of the door and that could have led to trouble: Steam lines are located on the other side of the door. If the door hadn’t shut properly and one or more of the steam lines ruptured, steam could have seeped into the generator room and knocked out the generators — the backup power source for the plant.

Nice story – writer Debra Groom sticks close to home and doesn’t expand the story to make a point about American plants (well, except that they have regulatory inspectors on-site). Worth a read.

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Interestingly, when news readers are asked to weigh in on nuclear energy, the results are surprisingly favorable given some of the coverage. For example, the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times posted a series of letters (or emails, I guess, these days). Some excerpts:

Yes, we need new nuclear plants. Forget about the fact they will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and that they will help to meet our future needs for electricity. Instead, realize that as we build nuclear power plants, we will reduce our dependence on our own coal-fired plants.

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Let's be rational. Nuclear energy is our best prospect for future economic stability and energy independence. Our nation deserves it.

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Keep in mind that people of my generation survived atmospheric detonations of hydrogen bombs for many years in the 1950s and '60s. This irrational fear of radiation is causing us to make poor decisions based on junk science and environmentalism run amok. Life goes on, even in Chernobyl.

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Given the amount of damage done, the radiation levels, so far, have been more than survivable. Bear in mind those plants are over 30 years old and technology has improved since then.

And so on. There are a few negative comments, too:

I am constantly amazed at how short American's memories are. After the Three Mile Island disaster, everyone said "never again."After Chernobyl, there was zilch interest in new nuclear power development. Hopefully, what has happened in Japan will wake the U.S. public up to the dangers of nuclear power plants, but I'm afraid after a few months, no one will recall what has just happened, or if they do, they will say "it couldn't happen here."

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A nuclear energy accident can ruin your whole day, year, century and beyond -- thousands of years. The downside is great and the upside ethereal.

Don’t look at me. I’m not going to dispute any of this – the discussion is what’s important. Even if, in this round up, the pro-nuclear contingent enjoys a 6-2 margin, the is a good moment to hash out attitudes. In you have the means to put them online, go ahead and do it.

Lovely Contra Costa. It is inland from San Francisco, with Mt. Diablo State Park providing a lot of its scenery.

Sunday Afternoon Report

From NEI’s Japan earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 1:30 P.M. EDT, MARCH 27:
U.S. Navy barges carrying 500,000 gallons of fresh water were nearing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Sunday as workers continued to pump cooling water into reactors and spent fuel pools.

Beginning Friday, workers began to switch from sea water to fresh water to cool reactors 1, 2 and 3. The arrival of the barges will maintain the fresh water supply. Engineers are concerned that continued use of sea water will cause corrosion inside the reactors and hinder the cooling process.

Dose rates at the site boundary continued to range from 1 to 3 millirem per hour (10-30 microSieverts per hour).

TEPCO Begins Removing the Water

From NucNet:

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has begun work to remove contaminated water that has accumulated in the turbine building basements at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said.

Workers have started to remove water from the unit 1 turbine building to its main condenser and are preparing to do the same at unit 2. Work to remove water from the turbine buildings in units 3 and 4 is being considered.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) confirmed that Tepco had taken “immediate action” to drain off the water so recovery work is not delayed.

Good news.

Thinking Out Loud

clas_mine__ky_-_portal_and_great_sandstone_roof This is the kind of editorial that pops up more frequently, from the Lexington Herald-Leader (actually, an op-ed in this case):

Should Kentucky reconsider nuclear power, which now provides 20 percent of this nation's electricity? Maybe so. We're in no position to ignore any source of energy. But Japan's disaster reminds us nuclear power is an imperfect, unforgiving technology that can be dangerous and costly.

And Kentucky, of course, provides a fairly good case study when one is of a mixed mind:

Coal provides half the nation's power and more than 90 percent of Kentucky's power. Electricity has been cheap in this state, because many of the health and environmental costs of mining and burning coal have been ignored. That is changing, because it must.

We’re not completely sure about “must,” but let’s hear out the argument:

We must invest in research and technology to mine, drill and burn coal and oil more cleanly and efficiently. We must incorporate whatever lessons are learned from Japan's crisis to make nuclear power safer.

We must develop renewable energy sources — solar, wind and biomass — that will be able to sustain civilization long after coal and oil are gone. Government must play a significant role in this research where private industry cannot or will not.

Perhaps more than anything, we must get serious about designing buildings, vehicles and gadgets to use less energy. Conservation isn't as difficult as many people think. Take, for example, Kentucky's many new energy-efficient school buildings, including one in Warren County that will generate as much power as it uses.

And the conclusion:

We have a choice: ignore the headlines and fight inevitable change, or learn from them and get serious about balancing our needs and desires with those of future generations. Anyone who thinks we can maintain our energy status quo is a dim bulb

This op-ed, by Tom Eblen, is a case of thinking out loud. Puzzling out the energy options available to us – domestically and globally – seems often to lead in the same conclusion: completely shutting down an energy source – coal, nuclear, whatever – keeps us from getting where we want to go. So what do we do? Thinking out loud seems a good place to start.

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On the other hand, why not just think big?:

In light of recent energy-related disasters (the nuclear plant in Japan, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico), advocates are calling for a new approach to generate electricity: space solar power.

I assume those are the space solar power advocates doing the calling.

The Lexie coal mine in Kentucky.