Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Closing Up Shop in Germany

germany-recession-89629375 Here’s one way of looking at Germany’s decision to accelerate the retirement of nuclear energy facilities:

Shares in German power utilities E.ON and RWE AG fell sharply Monday after the government last night said it will accelerate the gradual phase-out of all nuclear power production by 2022 and keep a tax on nuclear fuel rods.

Though a drastic u-turn from a previous German policy settled in 2010, the 2022 phase-out was largely expected given the strong anti-nuclear shift in German politics after Fukushima. However, the decision to keep the nuclear tax in place and not give relief to the utilities was noteworthy after comments last week from some politicians that suggested the Germany might withdraw the tax.

Especially as the tax was considered an exchange for not closing the nuclear facilities early. But if there is a loss, there is a gain:

Meanwhile, shares in solar energy and wind power equipment makers gained sharply as investors anticipated the accelerated nuclear phase-out will result in faster expansion of alternative and greener energy sources. Shares in solar cell makers Q-Cells SE and SolarWorld AG, as well as wind turbine maker Nordex SE, closed the trading session sharply higher, posting gains of 8.5%, 8.8% and 13.3% respectively.

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A Wall Street Journal interview with AREVA’s Anne Lauvergeon gives her a chance to make a salient point:

Ms. Lauvergeon calls Germany's decision "political" and says the landscape can change "between now and 2022," when the last plant in Germany is scheduled to go offline. Germany last year accounted for around 10% of Areva's EUR9.1 billion in revenue. She says she is confident that emerging nations with booming energy needs, particular China, India and South Africa, will continue to invest in nuclear power.

Maybe Germany will change its mind - let's hope - but maybe not; in any event AREVA hasn’t really all that much to worry about:

The reaction to the Japanese nuclear disaster has varied. While Switzerland and Germany have decided to phase out nuclear power, countries such as Britain and Poland [not to mention the home territory of France] are sticking by the energy source. "The industry's future remains relatively healthy in growth markets," such as China, India and Brazil, wrote Will Pearson, an energy analyst at the Eurasia Group, in a report published Monday.

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But never let it be said that the decision doesn’t leave room for opportunity even within the nuclear sphere even if the impact on actual people is less than ideal:

[Jorma Aurela, top engineer at the Energy Department of the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy and Mikael Ohlström, the leading energy expert at the Confederation of Finnish Industry,] say that Germany’s decision could lead to higher electricity prices in Finland.
      “The use of fossil fuels will increase in Germany at least temporarily. Germany will need more emission credits, whose price will rise when shortages emerge. This will raise the price in the whole EU”, Ohlström says.
      Aurela expects that Germany will have to buy electricity from other European countries, which will also raise prices.
      “Germany is a huge European country. Nordic players could be tempted to export electricity there at a good price”, Aurela says.

I would count this as vagrant musing – hard to know what’s going to happen in 2022 and beyond – but you can almost hear the Finns licking their chops.

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This is what the Finns are talking about, via Reuters:

Germany's plan to shut all its nuclear power plants by 2022 will add up to 40 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually as the country turns to fossil fuels, analysts said on Tuesday.

Well, remember, 2022, who really knows for sure. But what a political culture that aims to bring about this result.

Closing up shop: Herties Department Store in Berlin announces it end(e).

Tuesday Update

From NEI’s Japan earthquake launch page:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the use of remote controlled machinery is believed to have caused an oxygen cylinder to explode near reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The explosion occurred outside of the building that houses reactors at the facility and did not change conditions at the site, the company said.

Workers reported the explosion at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday local time in Japan. TEPCO said workers were using unmanned heavy machinery to remove debris at the site when the machinery damaged the cylinder, causing it to burst. There were no changes in radiation levels within the plant site and no injuries were reported.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan earthquake launch page:

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) continues working toward a solution for managing radioactive water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The company has suspended transferring water from the reactor turbine buildings to a centralized radiation waste treatment facility because that complex has reached its capacity. The company also reported a leak in the water treatment facility that must be fixed before the transfer of water from the turbine buildings can continue. A new water treatment facility is expected to begin service June 15 at the plant.
  • TEPCO began spraying a synthetic resin dust inhibitor onto the walls and roof of the reactor 1 turbine building and other areas at the site as one way of reducing the release of radioactive material. Plans are to spray the resin onto the reactor and turbine buildings of reactors 1-4.
  • A minor electrical fire in the basement of a building at Fukushima Daini reactor 1 was quickly extinguished with no injuries. The reactors at the Daini plant have been safely shut down since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman, Institute of Nuclear Power Operations President and CEO Jim Ellis, and NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak at a May 31 conference sponsored by the Center for Transatlantic Relations and The Atlantic Council, "After Fukushima: The Future of Nuclear Energy in the United States and Europe." Also speaking at the Washington, D.C., event are former Congressman Lee Hamilton and the ambassadors of France, Germany and the European Union.
  • At the G8 summit May 26, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan proposed that Japan host an international nuclear safety summit later this year. He said Japan would fully support International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and would work to strengthen the Convention on Nuclear Safety. "Many among the G8 think that there is no alternative to nuclear power, even if we are convinced of the need to develop alternative energy, renewable energy," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "But we all want to give ourselves a very high level of regulation on nuclear safety that applies to all countries wishing to use civilian nuclear power to make the safety levels the highest ever known," he said.
  • Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has admonished TEPCO for failing to prevent the exposure of two clerical workers at the plant to levels of radiation three times above the annual limit.
  • The Japanese government announced plans to reduce radiation levels at school grounds in Fukushima prefecture to below 100 millirem per year, shifting from its previous limit of 20 times that amount after local parents protested. Possible measures include removing topsoil at the schools and individual monitoring of radiation for students.
  • Fukushima prefecture has conducted full-body radioactive screenings of more than 190,000 people since March 13-about one-tenth of the prefecture's population. In addition, Japan's science ministry will survey radiation levels at more than 2,200 locations within Fukushima prefecture and will draw up a map of soil contamination.
Media Highlights
  • NEI sent 10 tweets to the news media from Thursday's meeting of the National Academies of Sciences' Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board. The featured remarks from NEI's president and chief executive officer Marvin Fertel and NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis can be found on NEI's @NEI_media Twitter account.
  • NEI participated in a live interview about the implications of the Fukushima accident on NTN24 TV broadcast in South America.

Upcoming Events

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency's 10-day fact-finding mission in Japan began May 25 and ends June 2. Team leader Mike Weightman, the United Kingdom's chief nuclear safety inspector, is to present a report at the IAEA's ministerial conference on nuclear safety June 20 in Vienna. The United States has one representative on the IAEA team.
  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science will host a session on the Challenges of Nuclear Spent Fuel Management: Lessons from Around the World at 3 p.m. EDT June 3 in Washington, D.C.

Detailed Charts and Pics from TEPCO on Fukushima-Daiichi

Earlier this week TEPCO provided an 87 page document (huge pdf) full of stats, pictures and analysis on Fukushima-Daiichi. Below are a few notable shots.

Slide 17 shows in blue how far the tsunami came in and affected the plant.

image

As well, to watch the tsunami happen in almost real-time, flip through slides 18-35.

image

Funny enough, on slide 48, there’s a picture of a shark washed up at the Fukushima-Daini plant.

image

Of course, the document (pdf) isn’t all about the tsunami, there’s definitely more in the slides worth checking out. The first half has some great pictures and a general overview, the second half gets much much more technical.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan earthquake launch page:

Plant Status

• Tokyo Electric Power Co. continues to deal with water management issues at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The company is plugging concrete enclosures at the plant to retain contaminated water and is studying the feasibility of building a system to purify seawater. The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has ordered TEPCO to complete a plan for storing and treating contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi site by June 1.

• TEPCO has begun to build a concrete structure to provide additional support to the used fuel storage pool for reactor 4 at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. Work is planned for completion by the end of July.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• The Japanese government announced plans to appoint a panel to investigate the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The head of the committee will be Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

• A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency has arrived in Japan for a fact-finding mission on the nuclear accident. Its objective is to make a preliminary assessment of safety issues at the facility and identify areas that need further study. The team is composed of 20 international and IAEA experts from a dozen countries and is to complete its work June 2. Leading the team is the United Kingdom’s chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, who will present a report on the mission at IAEA’s Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety June 22-24.

• NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel will speak at a public meeting of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences on the aftermath of Fukushima, beginning at 12:45 p.m. EDT May 26 in Washington, D.C. Other speakers include the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Thomas Cochrane and the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Ed Lyman.

• NEI Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo will participate in a briefing for NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards on events at Fukushima, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT May 26 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

• NEI Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Doug Walters will speak at Preparing for the Unthinkable: Joint Crisis Leadership in the Event of an Energy Systems Breakdown, at 5:30 p.m. EDT May 26, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Media Highlights

• NEI media relations is making outreach calls to reporters and editors about the recent testimony of John Boice before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Energy and Environment and Investigations and Oversight subcommittees. In a hearing on the aftermath of the Fukushima accident, Boice, a radiation epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Medicine at Vanderbilt University, said that “the health consequences [of radiation] for Japanese workers and public appear to be minor” and “the health consequences for United States citizens are negligible to nonexistent.”

New Products

• NEI has updated its frequently asked questions about issues relating to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.

• A new NEI fact sheet is available on used fuel pools.

Upcoming Events

Challenges of Nuclear Spent Fuel Management: Lessons from Around the World, 3 p.m. EDT June 3 at American Association for the Advancement of Science Headquarters, 1200 New York Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.

Replacing the Foot You Shot Yourself In

Vermont is bound and determined to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy facility over a leakage of tritium last year that harmed no one - at all. While the leak should not have occurred, the cause of it was located and sealed and no one inside or outside the plant was harmed by it. More about tritium here

But the Vermont legislature saw it as an opportunity to close the plant, an action that Vermont  Yankee's owner, Entergy, has filed suit over. The NRC has issued a license allowing the facility to operate an additional 20 years and Entergy would like to do that. We'll see if Entergy's suit prevails - I'm not a lawyer and have no special intelligence on it. You can read more about the suit here.

So let's leave that all on the side of the road and focus on the possibility of Vermont Yankee closing. Care to guess how much of Vermont's electricity is generated by nuclear energy?

72 percent
. Let that sink in - clearly, the Vermont legislature hasn't - and it's largely from Vermont Yankee, the only nuclear facility in the state. There are no coal plants and only a little natural gas (0.1%) - a little renewable energy (5 percent). Hydro (also renewable, of course) is number 2 at 22 percent.
Unwilling to gamble on Vermont Yankee, Green Mountain Power Corp. is looking instead to a nuclear plant in neighboring New Hampshire for power.The company has reached a 23-year power purchase deal to get electricity from Seabrook nuclear plant in Seabrook, N.H., officials said Tuesday.
That's called irony. Now, in fairness, Green Mountain is looking elsewhere, too, so this isn't a one-to-one swap:
The agreement, combined with a recently approved power pact with Hydro Quebec and plans to build a wind project in Lowell, helps Green Mountain Power make good on its promise of providing reliable, low-cost and low-carbon power, she said.
You'll notice that Quebec and Massachusetts benefit, but not Vermont. If the facility closes, Vermont loses about 300 jobs there - and more around the facility - and the state taxes from the facility - with no replacement. That's bad, however you look at it.

But we were intrigued by comments gathered by reporter John Curran:
Representatives of two of the company's biggest customers -- IBM in Essex Junction and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, in Waterbury -- welcome the power deal, saying the cost and low-carbon footprint of nuclear power were appealing.
"Appealing" - we'll take it. But not everyone is happy.
"We'd prefer to see our state's utilities moving away from all forms of dirty and unreliable power, including nuclear energy," said James Moore, clean energy program director for Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Well, you've always got the other foot.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said today that fuel damage likely occurred in reactors 2 and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility in the first few days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Both reactors are now reported to be stable and at relatively low temperatures. The extent of the fuel damage is unknown. If the water gauges inside the two reactors are accurate, there was sufficient water in the reactors to prevent damage to all the fuel, the company said.

Most of the fuel damage that occurred in reactor 2 is believed to have taken place within 100 hours of the earthquake. TEPCO believes fuel was damaged in reactor 3 within 60 hours. The company previously confirmed that fuel was damaged in reactor 1.

TEPCO plans to install two heat exchangers today to lower the temperature of the used reactor fuel at reactor 2.

We’re increasing the number of Japan updates to keep you better informed of developments at Fukushima Daiichi. Currently, we’ll aim for three per week.

“Beliebing” in Japan

bieberThis happened earlier this month:

Justin Bieber’s stage crew is refusing to go to Japan for two concerts scheduled later this month over fears of radiation from the recent nuclear disaster.

That comes from Gossip Cop. Now, let’s let E! Online answer the important question:

What's this about Justin Bieber's crew refusing to tour Japan? Are their fears about radiation justified?
—Clara, Switzerland, via the inbox

The Answer B!tch answers thusly:

No, at least, not on the radiation front.

In Tokyo and other major cities, "the radiation exposure is no different from where it was a year ago," says Dr. David Brenner, professor of radiation biophysics at the Center for Radiological Research at the Columbia University Medical Center. "There was an increase in radiation in March, but now it's down to normal levels again."

And that goes for water and air. As for food, "the government every day is modifying their list of what can be sold and where it can be sold, and contaminated food is not being sold. It's being monitored pretty intensively."

She gets some even better information:

In fact, says Dr. Peter Caracappa, clinical assistant professor of nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:

"They'd actually receive a lot more of a radiation dose on the flight to Japan because of exposure to cosmic rays. So if they decide to go to Amsterdam instead of Tokyo they have not saved themselves.

Dr. Caracappa is being a bit tongue in cheek, but he is talking to E! Online.

So what will Justin and crew do?

But Bieber's manager Scooter Braun told the hesitant travelers on his team to "Man the f--k up and do the right thing by these kids" during a recent staff meeting, according to TMZ.com.

Braun continued by saying Bieber would not disappoint his Japanese "Beliebers" by failing to show for his May 17 performance in Osaka and his Tokyo concert two days later -- adding that Maroon 5 is moving forward with its May tour in Japan.

Well, if Maroon 5 is going over! This bit suggests that Bieber is being led into something he may not want to do himself. But no. If I wasn’t before (hint: I wasn’t), I’m a Belieber now, that’s for sure. Especially because:

First he made the ballsy move of following through with his tour dates in Japan despite radiation concerns. Now Justin Bieber has taken it a step further. The tween pop star took time out of his hectic schedule to meet with children who had been affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Good for him. This is fan service and good publicity for him, but nothing demand he do it and he did do it. So, excellent.

Justin Bieber and his Japanese fans. I have to say, trawling through entertainment sites that cover folks like Bieber is discouraging – rather hard edged and mean spirited, they give cynicism a bad name.

Dialing Down the Alarm; Bulgarian Rectitude

kolozduy It’s interesting that the NRC, when it wants to make a point, will use the direst language it can think of:

"When training requirements vary among staff, compromised oversight of (spent fuel storage) safety inspections can occur," said the report, released by the NRC.

"Specifically, there is an increased potential that inspections will overlook discrepancies, resulting in an increased risk to public health and safety."

Has there been such an increase? No. But there could be. As a recommendation to train NRC inspectors to do more thorough inspections of dry cask storage containers, it’s exactly right and the language makes the point as clear as it can be. Of course, it also allows news ledes like this:

U.S. citizens may be at risk from radioactive waste stored near nuclear plants as better training for federal safety inspectors and more on-site checks are needed, an internal government report showed on Friday.

Well, maybe it’s not that bad if it spurs this training. But I expect everything that comes out of the safety inspections the NRC and industry are doing will be amplified into imminent peril. It’s just the mood of the day.

If I had any advice to readers, It would be to mentally dial down a lede’s alarm a notch or two and see what the rest of the story says.

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When you see a story like this about Bulgaria:

It's a grim reality for patients and families in Bulgaria, a struggling EU nation where donors are troublingly scarce, hospitals are strapped for funds and blood traders - mainly Gypsy, or Roma, men - are thriving.

- You don’t necessarily find yourself bowled over with surprise. (A good story, by the way, about a much more complex situation than it would seem.)

Bulgaria does have a nuclear plant – Kozloduy – far from a rusty tub with fuel rods.

"Complying with the highest safety standards for nuclear power has a key role in the development of the sector after the accident at Fukushima. At the same time, the requirements should not be impossible to fulfill, as they could block the technological and commercial development of nuclear energy," he said.

That, from Bulgarian Energy Minister Traicho Traikov, seems a kind of declaration that finds some echo across Europe, some disputation. But however one slices it, it seems a balanced statement.

Bulgaria launched a safety check at its nuclear power plant in Kozloduy on March 22 2011, which is not part of the stress tests to be conducted by the EU. After Brussels decides on the criteria for the Europe-wide checks, the facility will start a new stress test in June, Bulgaria's Nuclear Regulatory Agency head Sergei Tsochev said.

Good for Kozloduy. Bulgaria may have some rather grim crevices in its civil society, but nuclear energy wouldn’t seem to roost within any of them.

A little more news from Kolozduy:

A new dry spent nuclear fuel storage facility was officially launched at Bulgaria's Kozloduy by the country's PM, Boyko Borisov, and Economy and Energy Minister, Traicho Traikov.

This is meant to house used fuel from decommissioned plants around the country and essentially becomes a cross between Yucca Mountain, a centralized used fuel repository, and dry cask storage for Kozloduy itself.

The German NUKEM Technologies-GNS has been contracted by Bulgaria to build the depot, which will cost EUR 70.5 M [about $92 million]. The new facility will accommodate casks with spent fuel from the plant's four closed units, currently stored in wet pools, and will be subsequently enlarged to receive casks from the active Units 5 and 6.

Which seems a good approach. The Bulgarians are rolling right along.

Kolozduy. Like the symbols – no mistaking what kind of energy facility it is. Bulgaria gets about 17 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, second to coal, which supplies about 19 percent

Friday, May 20, 2011

Of Valves and Venting

monticello The New York Times starts the story of the valves this way:

After the venting failed at the Fukushima plant, the hydrogen gas fueled explosions that spewed radioactive materials into the atmosphere, reaching levels about 10 percent of estimated emissions at Chernobyl, according to Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency.

It’s a very interesting story and at least feels like the start of the narrative of what happened at Fukushima Daiichi. But the discussion of valves and venting careens off in very odd ways.

American officials had said early on that reactors in the United States would be safe from such disasters because they were equipped with new, stronger venting systems. But Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, now says that Fukushima Daiichi had installed the same vents years ago.

Gulp! Did anyone ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or perhaps a utility here in the states about this? Nope.

Tokyo Electric has said the valves did not work at Fukushima Daiichi after the power failed.

That would suggest that operators of similar plants in the United States and Japan could protect reactors by moving generators to higher floors if the equipment is currently in places that could be affected by tsunamis or flooding from rivers.

But a redesign of the venting system itself might also be necessary.

Matt Wald, who wrote this story, seems to have had second thoughts, particularly about the similarity of Japanese and American plants when it comes to the implementation of valves.

Yet since 1989, when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told American plant operators that it liked the venting idea, the thinking has changed further on the operation of boiling water reactors. For one thing, most American reactors have been allowed to bolster their steam output so they can make more electricity. To get permission to do this, a reactor owner must arrive at a calculation that the emergency core cooling system could still work in case of excess heat.

Some plants now anticipate high pressure, and, in fact, require it for safe operation.

So there was divergence, at the least. Here’s a little more, specific to valves:

If the vent is operated with an electrically driven valve, as in the current design, operators can control how much steam they let out and how much pressure they keep in. The alternative is probably a rupture disk, a thin piece of steel that breaks at a pre-designed level, just below the pressure that is likely to rupture the containment.

Wald goes on to express some doubts, but the point is that he learned more about valves and venting and shared that with his readers. What started out fairly damning became considerably less so with some further research.

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Some of the concern with valves comes from an engineer named Anthony Sarrack:

Anthony Sarrack, working with another Monticello engineer, wrote a white paper in 2005 raising concerns about a venting system designed to rid boiling water reactor containment vessels of excessive pressure during accidents by releasing it outside.

But Sarrack says he left the industry in 2006 after spending a frustrating 19 months trying to persuade the regulators and industry officials to consider his proposed solution.

"As an industry, they don't want to make changes," he said.

Monticello is in Minnesota, which is why reporter David Shaffer tells this story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has caused some mischief with Sarrack’s findings, but as usual, there’s more to the story. There’s this:

The Monticello plant has a backup system powered by compressed nitrogen that officials said would power the vents if the plant lost all power. The venting system has never needed to be used, the utility said.

So one of the big concerns – that the vents would lose power if a plant does - is not really so.

Then, this:

Doug True, president of Erin Engineering and Research, a Walnut Creek, Calif., nuclear consulting firm, said Sarrack's proposal "never got any traction" in the industry because many people disagreed with its merits.

"There was lot of consideration on how to use these vents, and on balance people generally felt the way they were installed was the preferred way," he said.

So Sarrack may have been frustrated that his ideas didn’t get much pickup – fair enough - but suggesting that they weren’t given consideration isn’t really true. (Sarrack also says his bosses at Monticello never tried to silence him and that he later left of his own accord – so conspiricists do not have much of a stick to use here.)

The subject is a little esoteric, I know, but because the New York Times made a pitch of it, it picked up more interest than it probably warranted. But the interesting thing is that reporters – including the original reporter - kept digging into it and finding it, at best, rather problematic. On the other hand:

An NRC spokeswoman said the vents will be reviewed as the agency studies the lessons from the Fukushima disaster.

Well, why not? Where’s the harm? It’s even as it should be.

Monticello. The valves are – okay.

Weekly Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

UPDATE AS OF 1:30 P.M. EDT, FRIDAY, MAY 20:
Below is a round-up of noteworthy news that happened this week with regard to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the U.S. nuclear industry's response.


Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) workers entered reactor buildings 2 and 3 Wednesday for the first time since explosions at the facility. Radiation levels in building 2 peaked at 5 rem per hour. Facing high heat and humidity, the workers remained in the building for only 15 minutes. In reactor 3, radiation peaked at 17 rem per hour near a pipe connected to the reactor. TEPCO employees first entered the reactor 1 building on May 5.
  • TEPCO is looking at how to begin nitrogen injection into reactors 2 and 3 to further stabilize them. The company has been injecting nitrogen into reactor 1 for several weeks. High humidity in building 2 is hampering operations. In building 3, high radiation levels must be reduced before workers can begin efforts to inject nitrogen. TEPCO announced plans to install new cooling systems for fuel pools in four of the six reactors at the site. It is believed the new systems will reduce the high humidity in the reactor buildings.
  • TEPCO provided a new timeline for recovery of the damaged reactors, recognizing challenges the company has encountered are slowing progress on certain activities. The company reaffirmed that the target timeframe for stabilizing the plant-between October and January-remains unchanged.
  • Radiation levels in the ocean near the Fukushima Daiichi facility increased again on Thursday, but overall radiation is decreasing in seawater and other areas around the facility.
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has created two radiation-proof forklifts to assist TEPCO workers in removing debris from the Fukushima Daiichi site. TEPCO has been using robotic and remote-controlled equipment for clean-up activities. The forklifts, with cabins sealed by 10 centimeter-thick steel plates and more than 20 centimeter-thick lead-glass, have filters that keep out radioactive dust.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues
Media Highlights
  • TEPCO had a net loss of $15.4 billion for the fiscal year that ended March 31, and the company's president has announced his resignation, CNN reports.
  • Japan will continue to use nuclear power plants "that are deemed safe," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a Reuters report, but "we need to fully consider what needs to be done to enhance the safety of nuclear power."
  • TEPCO said the earthquake that struck Fukushima Daiichi March 11 exceeded design specifications at three of the site's six reactors, Reuters reported. "This was clearly a larger earthquake than we had forecast," said Junichi Matsumoto, a TEPCO spokesman. "It would have been hard to anticipate this."
  • Operators of nuclear energy facilities have fixed or scheduled for correction all the issues NRC inspections found in post-Fukushima inspections, The New York Times reports.
  • Five tons of seawater may have flooded a reactor at the Hamaoka nuclear energy site, Japan Today reports. The site closed last week at the request of Japan's prime minister for fears of a possible earthquake.
  • Japan's utilities could have trouble meeting summer electricity demand, unless nuclear reactors-including those unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami but were shut down for maintenance at the time-are restarted, Reuters reports.

The Week Ahead

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    GAO Cites Missteps in DOE's Hasty Termination of Yucca Mountain Project

    A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Energy’s expedited termination of the Yucca Mountain repository project “did not consistently follow federal policy and guidance for planning or assessing the risks of the shutdown” and showed lax attention to government procedures for disposing of federal property.

    The report was requested by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who asked GAO to determine, among other things, the basis of DOE’s action. Here’s what GAO found:

    DOE’s decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons.
    The acting principal deputy director of the [Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management] explained Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s thinking this way:
    [He said] that the secretary’s decision was based on a proposed change of department policy. … He did not, however, cite any technical concerns or safety issues related to the Yucca Mountain repository. [He] explained that the secretary believes there are better solutions that can achieve a broader national consensus to the nation’s spent fuel and nuclear waste storage needs than Yucca Mountain, although he did not cite any.
    The National Academy of Sciences and international science experts continue to believe geologic disposal is the best solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste, GAO said.

    Meanwhile, DOE has spent nearly $15 billion since 1983 to evaluate potential nuclear waste repository sites, mostly to evaluate the Yucca Mountain site in more depth and prepare a license application for it. About 65 percent of this expenditure, or about $9.5 billion, came from the Nuclear Waste Fund. In return for that investment, U.S. taxpayers got a very large, empty hole under a remote mountain. But the funds invested directly in creating and studying the cavernous hole do not give a full picture of the cost to taxpayers, GAO said:
    This does not include an estimated $956 million already paid by taxpayers from the U.S. Treasury’s judgment fund, resulting from 74 industry lawsuits, in which courts have ordered the government to compensate utilities for not accepting spent nuclear fuel starting in 1998, as required under the [Nuclear Waste Policy Act]. The government also has incurred $168 million in costs to defend DOE in litigation.
    Now DOE apparently wants to start over, from square one.

    GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a more predictable funding mechanism to develop and implement a disposal solution for used nuclear fuel and defense waste and creating an independent organization, outside DOE, to lead the siting and development of a permanent repository.

    For another GAO report on the Yucca Mountain project, see this post.

    Eleven Bloggers Share Advice to the Blue Ribbon Commission on How to Manage Used Nuclear Fuel

    The ANS Nuclear Cafe has put together short and sweet recommendations to the Blue Ribbon Commission from 11 pro-nuclear bloggers. One would think that there would be a consensus on a few issues but there are actually quite a diverse mix of opinions. Below are a few notable nuggets:

    … We must think beyond just temporary storage and permanent disposal—recycling is an essential part of building a more sustainable fuel cycle. Interim storage facilities are only part of the solution. Without a complete strategy for managing the nation’s used fuel, we are only “kicking the can down the road.” - Jarret Adams http://us.arevablog.com/

    … I am a lifelong procrastinator who lives by the motto, “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow and never do at all what you can put off indefinitely.” I am thus happy to see that the BRC has apparently reached the conclusion that America does not have a nuclear waste crisis. Instead, we have a used nuclear fuel resource opportunity. - Rod Adams http://atomicinsights.com/

    … In nuclear waste management, three C’s matter: credibility, consent, and consensus. Unfortunately, the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendation for interim storage fails on all counts. … waste management policy must represent a broad social consensus. The fragility of the current policy was evident in how easily it was derailed by political maneuvering. Interim storage simply punts on this issue, leaving it still unresolved. - Steve Skutnik http://neutroneconomy.blogspot.com/

    There are many more excellent comments to read.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    All Around Us, In Us, Emitted from Us

    boice-john Last week, the House Committee on Science Space and Technology took a look at various issues related to nuclear risk management, obviously in the shadow of Fukushima.

    The hearing was okay – we’ll see if any policy prescriptions come out of it - though that’ll probably be down the legislative road a bit – but I was especially impressed with the testimony of John Boice, Scientific Director at the International Epidemiology Institute (in Maryland – it’s associated with Vanderbilt University.) He has a good amount of knowledge on radiation issues and provided House members – and us - with a lot of useful information.

    In his testimony, he covered the following bullet points:

    • Fukushima is not Chernobyl.
    • The health consequences for Japanese workers and public appear to be minor.
    • The health consequences for United States citizens are negligible to nonexistent.
    • We live in a radioactive world.
    • There is a pressing need to learn more about the health consequences of radiation in humans when exposures are spread over time at low levels and not received briefly at high doses such as in atomic bomb survivors.

    Boice would like to see a long-term, direct study done of people who work around low-level radiation – that’s what his last point is about – instead of depending upon information derived indirectly. (He references a DOE pilot program about low-level radiation that looks pretty comprehensive if it progresses to a full study.)

    In his view, using information about people who took a large but brief dose of high-level radiation to generalize about those who absorb a small but continuous dose  of low-level represents a big gap in our knowledge. As Boice puts it,

    Although we know much about the health effects of high levels of radiation when received briefly, as was the case for atomic bomb survivors, the risk following exposures experienced gradually over time is uncertain and remains the major unanswered question in radiation epidemiology.

    Boice’s third point is worth stressing – radiation is all around us, in us, emitted from us. Boice wants to understand that better, as it impacts his field, but there it is.

    We breathe radioactive radon which contributes over the year to about 210 millirem of natural background radiation. Bricks and granite contain radioactive materials that result in radiation exposures to the public (20 millirem). The Capitol Building was constructed with granite and is frequently cited as having some of the highest radiation levels in all of the United States, about 85 millirem per year. Water contains small amounts of radioactive radium, thorium and uranium, all within allowable limits.

    Not only do we live in a radioactive world, our bodies are radioactive (30 millirem per year). Each second over 7,000 radioactive atoms in our bodies decay and can irradiate those sitting next to us. The atoms are largely radioactive potassium in our muscles and carbon-14 in our tissues. The amount of radiation we receive each year from medical sources (300 millirem), such as CT and medical imaging, equals the amount received from natural sources (300 millirem).

    Just because all this is true is no reason to get silly about it. There’s a lot that is understood.

    These examples are not to minimize the health consequences of high-level exposures which are clearly demonstrable in human populations and include acute radiation sickness at very high doses in excess of 200 rem and an increase in cancer at moderate doses above about 10 rem (10,000 millirem). The examples do indicate, however, that we live in a world of low-level radiation for which the possible health consequences are of little concern. The exposures to the U.S. population from Fukushima are tiny and thousands of times below U.S. standards or guidelines where remedial action would be triggered.

    Which, conversely, is why we also know “The health consequences for Japanese workers and public appear to be minor” and for Americans, nonexistent.

    This is precisely the information policymakers need to, well, make policy. Very clear eyed and complete in a compact presentation. The whole testimony is worth a read.

    Dr. John Boice

    Video and Status of Activities at Fukushima-Daiichi – 5/17

    TEPCO has a number of links and updates available showing the activities going on at Fukushima-Daiichi. Below is a 13 minute video provided by the company and uploaded to YouTube by Daniel Garcia who we mentioned last month.

    There are quite a few good scenes of the work being done as well as the work still yet to be done. One of the more interesting parts was at about the 11th minute where you can see the workers busy changing shifts in their suits.

    On top of the video, TEPCO has a simple 19 page pdf with pictures describing all of the countermeasures being taken to resolve the issues. Pages 1-5 describe the actions needed to cool units 1-3; pages 6-8 discuss actions being taken on unit four’s spent fuel pool; and the rest of the pages discuss mitigation steps to decontaminate and monitor the environment, plans for the installation of a temporary tide barrier in case of other tsunamis, and radiation monitoring data. Many of the pictures in the pdf and video above can be found here.

    Also worth noting is that TEPCO has begun work on clearing space to install a temporary cover for unit 1. Installation is planned to begin in June.

    image

    And last to note, it’s been more than a month since we mentioned Daniel Garcia’s daily chart updates at his blog. Pasted below is one of his latest charts showing the revised water level for unit 1 after TEPCO fixed their monitoring gauge. Similar water levels for units 2 and 3 have not been ruled out yet.

    image

    Anyways, lots of info above to explore so have at it. Hat tip to Dan Yurman twittering at ANS for the links.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Through Natural Disasters

    bferry6 While we expect to see some articles gleefully bid adieu to nuclear energy in favor of its renewable cousins – or natural gas, which for all its positive qualities, still generates greenhouse gasses – what tends to happen is that writers nudge the facts to fit the desired conclusion. For example, this story from NPR is fairly unremarkable in tracing nuclear’s long goodbye, but I was struck by its conclusion:

    Fukushima shows that there will always be some risk from nuclear reactors. For Philip Sharp at Resources for the Future, that presents the public with a big question: "To what degree [are] we as a people ... to accept that some of these things are high risk, and how far are we willing to go to tolerate those high risks?"

    I would not care to downplay the seriousness of the accident, but I would stress that the above paragraph is written in the context of an earthquake and tsunami now believed to have killed 27,000 people, a fair number of them in the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi. Meanwhile, the accident at the nuclear plant killed no one (two plant workers were killed by the tsunami), though it has displaced a lot of people.

    So the risk of being hurt or killed by a natural disaster versus by a nuclear plant accident caught in that natural disaster has been demonstrated – tragically but vividly.

    “How far are people willing to go to tolerate those high risks?” I genuinely do not think that the speaker – in this case, Ed Lyman at the Union of Concerned Scientists – has really thought through what he’s saying.

    ---

    In fact, the United States, while experiencing nothing like the earthquake in Japan, has recently suffered a natural disaster that disconnected at least a couple of nuclear energy plants from off-site power – just as happened at Fukushima.

    An unconfirmed tornado landed outside the Surry Nuclear Plant in Virginia on Saturday and automatically shutdown the site’s two reactors, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    The apparent tornado affected an electrical switchyard next to the plant, cutting off the electrical feed to the station, in Surry County, about 17 miles northwest of Newport News.

    That’s one.

    The second-biggest nuclear power plant in the United States may be down for weeks after killer thunderstorms and tornadoes in Alabama knocked out power and automatically shut down the plant, avoiding a nuclear disaster, officials said on Thursday.

    The backup power systems at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama shut as designed on Wednesday, preventing a partial meltdown like the disaster last month in Japan that was also caused by a natural disaster.

    And two. Love that second paragraph, but it’s only fair, I suppose. Glad it avoided a partial meltdown.

    In both cases, diesel engines kicked in and allowed the plants to shut down normally. In Japan, the tsunami swept away the engines. Neither Browns Ferry nor Surry are vulnerable to tsunami, but they are expected to stand up to massive rain and flooding and tornadoes – which they did.

    So? At Surry:

    Surry Unit 1 was returned to service this past weekend and Surry Unit 2 has begun its scheduled refueling.

    That would be April 24. It lost power on April 17, so that was a week.

    And Browns Ferry:

    All three nuclear units at Browns Ferry automatically tripped on April 27 when severe storms damaged transmission lines, causing the plant to lose offsite power.

    Browns Ferry exited its unusual event status Monday night with the restoration of two independent sources of offsite power.

    This is on May 3, so again, about a week. It’s going to take awhile longer to get back online, but that’s mostly because transmission lines got pummeled and need to be set back up.

    I’m not sure there’s a full accounting of the deaths caused by the rains and tornadoes, but the last number I saw was 85.

    Browns Ferry.

    NRC’s Blog on Fire Protection at US Nuclear Plants

    There’s been a lot of confusion and misinterpretation over the past week in the media about how US nuclear plants meet fire protection regulations. NRC’s Director of Public Affairs, Eliot Brenner, posted a piece over the weekend clearing it up:

    Let’s start with the bottom line — every U.S. nuclear power plant complies with the relevant NRC requirements for protecting its reactor from fire hazards. There may be confusion over the “exemptions” sometimes issued to some plants under the NRC’s least flexible fire protection approach, called Appendix R.

    Appendix R is effectively a one-size-fits-all approach for plants that are in fact custom-built projects. Newer plants tend to be built closer to Appendix R requirements, while older plants are more likely to have difficulty meeting the goals.

    The NRC knew from the start that the appendix wouldn’t apply to every part of every plant, so plants were going to apply for exemptions where Appendix R didn’t make sense. The NRC has a well-established process for reviewing exemption requests, which must have solid technical support in order to get approved. The federal court covering southern New York recently upheld the agency’s process — in fact, the court’s ruling even noted the NRC rejects exemption requests if they’re not justified.

    You can see an everyday example of exemptions at the DMV, when it comes to having “acceptable vision” for a drivers license exam. Since not everyone’s vision falls in the acceptable range, DMV regulations allow people to wear glasses or contacts. This can be considered an “exemption” from uncorrected vision requirements that’s still acceptable and compliant with the law.

    Even if a plant has exemptions from parts of Appendix R, the NRC is satisfied that plant has an appropriate overall fire protection program.

    Bottom line? The fix for an exemption or a compensatory measure has to be safe. Otherwise it won’t fly with the NRC.

    There's more I left out so be sure to stop by and see the rest.

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    NEI Weekly Update on Fukushima Daiichi – 5/13/11

    From NEI’s Japan launch page.

    Plant Status

    • Japan's nuclear safety agency has suggested that significant damage to fuel at Fukushima Daiichi 1 means that filling the reactor containment vessel with water may be meaningless. The agency’s Hidehiko Nishiyama said on Friday that melted fuel rods at the bottom of reactor 1 are being cooled by a small amount of water. He said he doubts that it is necessary to flood the containment vessel entirely, as workers have been trying to do. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said on Thursday that most of the fuel rods in the reactor are believed to be damaged and are at the bottom of the reactor's pressure vessel. Based on the temperature of the reactor vessel surface temperature, the company said the fuel apparently has cooled.
    • TEPCO announced this week delays in its schedule to contain the reactors. The company noted that while its work to restore reactor 1 is in progress, it had not begun these measures at the other reactors at the sites. It said that high levels of radiation in the reactor 1 building could force a change in plans.
    • TEPCO has accepted terms established by the Japanese government for state support to compensate those affected by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Under the framework, a new state-backed institution will be set up to facilitate quick payments to those affected by the Fukushima events. The body would receive financial contributions from electric power companies that own nuclear power plants in Japan. The government will inject public funds by allocating to the institution special bonds that can be cashed whenever necessary. The institution would strengthen TEPCO's capital base by making use of these funds to pay compensation claims and make business investments. The institution would annually return a certain amount of money from TEPCO to the treasury to offset the use of the bonds. The government must pass the necessary legislation in the Diet to establish this framework, which is expected to be difficult given that the amount of compensation needed is not yet known.
    • TEPCO released a video this week of the reactor 3 spent fuel pool that shows debris and other material atop fuel racks in the pool. To see the video, click here for TEPCO’s Japanese-language website. A video of the reactor 4 spent fuel pool showed no debris.
    • The Japanese government plans to advise schools near the Fukushima facility that burying soil contaminated by radiation reduces its radiation level. The government said that burying topsoil 20 inches underground reduced its radiation level by 90 percent.
    • Chubu Electric Power Co. has agreed to the Japanese government’s request to shut down reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The government had asked Chubu to implement safeguards against possible earthquakes and tsunamis. The company began shutdown of Hamaoka 4 on Friday.

    Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

    • The nuclear energy industry is “going to be held accountable for learning the lessons from Fukushima and for applying them accordingly. I know that we can meet that standard,” NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said at NEI’s annual Nuclear Energy Assembly this week in Washington, D.C. At the same meeting, James Ellis Jr., president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called on the industry to seize the opportunity presented by the Fukushima accident and take a leadership position in ensuring safety enhancements are adopted at nuclear energy facilities worldwide.
    • A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force studying lessons learned from Fukushima reported to the commission May 12 that it “has not identified any issues that we think undermine our confidence in the continued safety and emergency planning of U.S. plants.” The three-month review likely will result in recommendations to enhance safety and preparedness at nuclear energy facilities, the task force reported (pdf). “That said, we do expect we will have findings and recommendations that will further enhance safety,” said Charles Miller, who leads the post-Fukushima task force. A longer-term review is scheduled to begin by the time the short-term study is complete.
    • The NRC has issued a bulletin to U.S. nuclear energy facility operators requesting information on how the plants are complying with requirements to manage the potential loss of large areas of the plant after extreme events. The agency wants to know how the plants ensure their strategies have remained effective over time. “The NRC continues to conclude these strategies can effectively cool down reactor cores and spent fuel pools even if a plant’s normal safety systems are damaged or unavailable,” the agency said in a press release. “The U.S. nuclear energy industry recognizes that we are accountable to independent oversight authorities and to the American people. We must demonstrate that our facilities are fully prepared to maintain safety, even in cases where we have made protective enhancements that go beyond the NRC’s regulatory requirements,” said Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s chief nuclear officer and senior vice president. See NEI’s press release.
    • The NRC issued a second temporary instruction (TI 2515/184) requiring the inspection of the availability and readiness of severe accident management guidelines. NRC resident inspectors at each U.S. nuclear energy facility will conduct the inspections over the next three weeks, with support from the agency’s regional offices.
    • Japan will reconsider its energy policy following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the prime minister said. Nuclear energy is considered important to Japan’s energy plans, but the government will take new looks at renewable sources and efficiency measures.
    • A forum held by The Women's Council on Energy and the Environment and Women in Nuclear yesterday in Washington, D.C., addressed the future of nuclear power in the wake of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Panelists included NEI’s Leslie Kass, senior director of business and policy programs; Annie Caputo, professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    Media Highlights

    • Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are not expected to “have a major impact on new nuclear plant licensing,” NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said May 10 at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington, D.C. Fertel anticipates that four to eight new reactors will be built in the U.S. by 2020. Bloomberg covered the speech.
    • James Ellis Jr., president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called for the creation of a rapid response team that would be dispatched to major nuclear accidents in the United States and other countries. The creation of such a team is one of the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, said Ellis in a Platts report on Wednesday.
    • The Associated Press published a report May 10 on Japan's long-term energy policy. Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, said the nation will need to "start from scratch," indicating the country will likely reassess a plan to obtain half the country's electricity from nuclear power and will instead promote renewable energy and conservation as a result of its ongoing nuclear crisis.
    • Reuters reported May 12 that a leak confirmed at Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 may be an indicator of failed or melted fuel in the reactor and will likely complicate the cleanup of the facility. The exact location of the leak at reactor 1 remains unclear.

    New NEI Products

    • NEI developed several videos this week with industry executives and energy thought leaders on steps that should be taken to enhance nuclear plant safety and finance new nuclear energy projects, as well as the outlook for nuclear energy after Fukushima. To see a list of the video clips, visit NEI's Web page for Nuclear Energy Assembly news coverage or NEI's YouTube channel.

    The Week Ahead

    • The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future begins its meeting today with updates on Fukushima from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department. The co-chairs of the commission’s three subcommittees will present their draft recommendations. View the webcast here.
    • Subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are conducting a joint hearing today on nuclear energy risk management in view of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Witnesses include Lake Barrett, principal with L. Barrett Consulting LLC; Brian Sherrod, director of the NRC Office of Regulatory Research; John Boice, scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute; and David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project.
    NEI will conduct a webinar on the aftermath of Fukushima for the National League of Cities on May 17.

    For Every Action…

    wisconsin-cheese-01 Duke Energy got a motley crew of protestors at its annual shareholder meeting, with environmentalist upset with coal and nuclear and the local tea party upset that Duke apparently helped bring the Democratic National Convention to Charlotte.

    "We need to move away from coal," said Kim Jackson, an activist. "Yet they continue to embrace it. And nuclear isn't much better. Look what happened in Japan. Does nuclear look safe to you?"

    Not to understate the seriousness of the accident in Japan, but to date the death toll from the plant is zero.

    Jane Bilelle of the Asheville, N.C., Tea Party said [Duke chief executive Jim] Rogers should be ashamed of himself for giving "shareholders' money to the Democratic Party."

    "That's theft of shareholder's money," she said.

    If she’s a Duke shareholder, she should complain; otherwise, it’s just words on the wind.

    Duke spokesman Tom Williams said the utility has long supported economic development in the Charlotte region. He also called the protest outside the company's headquarters "free speech at work."

    Duke also was moving forward with plans to build a new nuclear plant in Gaffney, S.C., he said.

    Good for Williams – he gets that protests add to the mix. They may or may not move Duke’s plans immediately – or ever -one way or another, but they put more ideas in play and that likely will inform Duke’s thinking into the future.

    Not that a pro-nuclear rally would go amiss.

    ---

    But if some of the protesters in Charlotte wanted less coal and nuclear and would prefer what they consider a greener profile for the state, others have other priorities.

    The governor and GOP lawmakers have pushed more than a dozen initiatives that would reverse the course set by Democrats when they held power.

    Among the changes:

    • Trying to eliminate mandatory requirements for recycling and the subsidies to local government that went with it.

    • Weakening the state's commitment to wind power by making it more difficult for developers to meet siting requirements.

    • Canceling a major state contract to burn homegrown biomass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    • Delaying costly water pollution rules to control weed-producing phosphorus in waterways.

    This is in Wisconsin. I’ve no brief on this, but it does demonstrate that there are different competing constituencies that experience rises and falls in their influence. I’m not sure this signals a rise in the business class – wind power business people don’t seem to be benefiting – but renewable energy advocates must be sorely disappointed.

    But Clint Woods of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that supports free markets and limited government based in Washington, sees it differently.

    He said the trend on environmental issues is driven by the weak economy, states' balance sheets and many voters' wish to rein in government.

    "Wisconsin's reconsideration of past energy and environmental policies is definitely consistent with the efforts of other state legislatures," Woods said.

    Well, maybe. If Wisconsin voters find these ideas not to their taste, then they’ll protest and change some votes in the legislation or, failing that, vote in a new wave of politicians to find other ways to save money. When people are involved, it’s not really true that for every action there is an equal reaction. But it can seem that way.

    ---

    Duke Energy is in the process of merging with Progress Energy. There are still a lot of steps Duke has to take to make this happen, but the St. Petersburg Times assumes it’s a inevitability and covers what it calls Progress Energy’s final annual meeting.

    "If we look at the capital expenditures in front of us and if we want to be a player in new nuclear construction, which we think is important, we're just not big enough to do that efficiently," Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson told the Associated Press.

    Sound like Johnson thinks so, too.

    A merged Duke-Progress Energy will lobby aggressively for such pro-nuclear aid as cheaper government loans and energy incentives.

    It will seek the power to charge more consumers up front for the expense of building nuclear plants.

    Progress, like Duke, is based in North Carolina, but it operates in Florida, too.This story is written by business columnist Robert Trigaux, so he’s allowed to diverge from known facts – he can’t really know, after all, what the merged entity will do unless someone told him.

    But if he is a business columnist, then he should know that charging ratepayers while a project is under construction save those same ratepayers a lot of money later in finance charges – Progress won’t have to borrow as much money.

    "Nuclear energy remains vital to the world's electricity needs," CEO James E. Rogers said last week at Duke's annual shareholders meeting.

    Oh, and full circle to Duke. Well, that’s okay. It’s actually rather refreshing to hear Duke Energy and Progress Energy, pre-merged, state the obvious about nuclear energy.

    It’s Wisconsin cheese. Yum!

    At the Nuclear Energy Assembly

    The Honorable Gregory Jaczko_DSC2362 NEI hosted its annual Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington DC Tuesday and Wednesday with a solid lineup of speakers and plenty of opportunities for attendees to catch up with colleagues and industry pals. Let’s consider the latter analog social media and leave it at that.

    The speakers represented a topflight assemblage of industry, government and regulatory figures. Happily, none tried “the future is bright for nuclear energy” approach you might reasonably expect at an industry meeting. Everyone looked at the year and years ahead through clear eyes.

    Here’s a bit of what they had to say:

    NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko expressed the continued confidence of his agency in the safety of U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

    “The commission remains confident in the programs of the NRC and in the safety of the nation’s nuclear power plants,” he said, noting that in 2010 “there were no statistically significant adverse trends in industry performance.”

    Still, Jaczko warned the gathered nuclear energy executives against complacency. He noted an increase in the number of automatic reactor shutdowns and significant reactor events in 2010 compared to 2009.

    ---

    In the wake of events in Japan, the head of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations has proposed an international organization for emergency response to accidents at nuclear energy facilities.

    “Events of the last few weeks have clearly shown the benefits of significantly improving site-specific plans while moving beyond them to establish and formalize a national and even international response capability worthy of the name,” said James Ellis, INPO’s president and CEO.

    Formed after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, INPO is an industry-established organization that rigorously promotes excellence in nuclear energy facility safety and operations.

    ---

    Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman made clear that the president’s support for nuclear power remains unwavering, as the events at Japan’s Fukushima plant continue to unfold.

    “The president made clear that we still see nuclear energy as an important element of a diverse clean energy portfolio and an important source of low-carbon baseload electricity,” said Poneman.

    The domestic nuclear energy industry must continue to make safe and secure operations its top priority, said Poneman, who is also the Energy Department’s chief operating officer.

    ---

    In order to “win the future” we need to continue investing in nuclear and other forms of clean energy, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.

    “Advances in innovation don’t occur in a vacuum,” said Clyburn. “We must make the necessary investments today. Unless we keep innovating, exploring and investing in basic research, our economy will shrivel and die.”

    Clyburn said that recent nuclear energy budgets “have been more generous,” but international competition means the country will have to push harder to keep the edge in innovation.

    ---

    Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility “have changed the industry landscape,” said Laurent Stricker, chairman of the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

    And, Stricker said, WANO is changing to respond to a post-Fukushima world. For example, he anticipates a better WANO strategy for sharing operational experience and safety information among members and with such organizations as the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, Japan Nuclear Technology Institute, World Nuclear Association and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    ---

    Given this round-up, I suspect the next year will be an extremely interesting time.

    Consider the Nuclear Energy Assembly a snapshot in atomic time: we’ll check back in 2012 to see how things are going.

    ---

    This is all original reporting, by Chris Charles, Lynne Neal, T.J. Swanek and myself.

    NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko at NEA.

    Three Nuclear Plants Along the Mississippi River Prepare for Rising Waters

    The NRC’s blog has a timely piece on how Grand Gulf, River Bend and Waterford are preparing for the rising floodwaters from the Mississippi River. Here’s what Grand Gulf is up to:

    NRC’s resident inspectors at Grand Gulf have been monitoring preparations by Entergy workers. According to projections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the plant should be able to keep operating safely even as river levels rise. The plant is located 132.5 feet above mean sea level and the river is expected to crest at 95 feet on May 19. No safety-related equipment is expected to be affected by the flooding. But as a preventive measure, plant personnel are sandbagging and applying waterproof sealants to buildings and non-safety related equipment.

    Emergency diesel generators have been checked and re-checked as have emergency batteries that would be relied on in the unlikely event the diesels fail. Unlike at Fukushima, the diesels are located in water-proof buildings.

    Be sure to stop by to see what the other two plants are doing.

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    NEI Top Industry Practice Awards for 2011

    Every year, nuclear utilities and vendors submit to NEI new and innovative practices they’ve developed to achieve better operations. NEI and a few industry folks analyze the submissions and hand out awards for the best new practices. The awards recognize industry employees in 14 categories—four vendor awards, nine process awards for innovation to improve safety, efficiency and nuclear plant performance, and one award for vision and leadership. This year there are a number of excellent innovations highlighted below. The full list of awards and descriptions can be found here. 

    Real-Time Method to Prevent Fuel Rod Defects

    Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) employees at the Browns Ferry nuclear energy facility in Alabama have been honored with the B. Ralph Sylvia “Best of the Best” Award for developing a state-of-the-art method to prevent reactor fuel rod defects. Using real-time stress monitoring of the sealed tubes that hold the uranium fuel pellets, a new methodology called XEDOR has proven highly effective.

    Five years ago, the industry established a goal to eliminate by the end of 2010 fuel rod defects that could release radionuclides from fuel pellets. Some damage is caused by the interaction between fuel pellets and the metal tube material called cladding. The phenomenon can result in additional costs to utilities, affect plant operation and subject personnel performing repairs to additional radiation exposure. image

    Working with AREVA, the winning TVA team implemented a new methodology that performs real-time, on-line stress calculations for every six-inch fuel rod segment in all parts of the reactor core. It is the first method that can calculate how close fuel rods are to cladding damage, thus ensuring fuel integrity performance. The user-friendly methodology is incorporated into the core monitoring system, and provides the plant operating staff with fuel condition information that can be easily understood and applied. This method has reduced fuel leaks, increased reactor productivity, and avoided millions of dollars in additional costs.

    Tungsten Radiation Shielding

    Entergy employees at Arkansas Nuclear One won the Materials and Services Process Award for creating tungsten radiation shielding that effectively protects both equipment and personnel. The innovation has been used in Japan in response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power station.

    The new material shields piping and surfaces effectively and economically, and also has been fabricated into a radiation-shielding vest that workers wear—a breakthrough application. Made primarily from tungsten with iron metal powder immersed in a silicone polymer, the material is flexible, heat-resistant, nontoxic and nonhazardous.

    The tungsten vest is a major advancement. Traditionally, the industry has only thought to “shield the source” of radiation. Now “shielding the person” can be done in a lightweight and effective way to reduce exposure on an individual level and provide industrial safety value. Tungsten shielding is twice as effective at lowering exposure rates as lead and saves more than $300,000 per maintenance outage.

    Medical Isotopes image

    Employees at Exelon Nuclear’s Clinton power station in Illinois are recipients of the Vision & Leadership Award for their pioneering development of the Isotope Test Assembly project. By simultaneously generating power and creating a widely used medical isotope—cobalt-60—the Exelon Nuclear team is addressing an urgent international medical need.

    Cobalt-60 is used in noninvasive cancer therapy, with more than 15 million treatments each year in 80 countries. Cobalt-60 also is used in medical instrument sterilization, food preservation, package decontamination and pharmaceutical purification. The United States imports 95 percent of the cobalt isotopes that it uses for such purposes. To maintain a steady supply of isotopes to satisfy demand for necessary nuclear medicine procedures, the Exelon Nuclear’s team is working to create cobalt-60 in a commercial reactor during normal power generation.

    To produce the isotope, cobalt-59 “targets” are added to some fuel assemblies in the reactor. During reactor operations, cobalt-59 atoms absorb neutrons and are transformed into cobalt-60 isotopes. The isotope rods are removed and shipped to a processing facility after several operating cycles. Cobalt-60 then is available for medical and other health and safety applications. The first commercial supply of cobalt-60 from Clinton will be available in 2014. Be sure to check out the rest of the awards.

    Update, 5/13:

    A short video explaining the radiation shielding is below. As well, below is another short video explaining Exelon's medical isotopes project.

    FPL Finds New Nuclear Units at Turkey Point Still Economical

    Last week, Florida Power & Light, subsidiary of NextEra Energy, submitted their annual filings on the need for two more nuclear units at its Turkey Point station. The units are projected to come online in 2022 and 2023. Below are a few highlights from one of the filings (pdf), p. 4:

    assuming the same medium fuel cost, “Environmental II” scenario, FPL expects that Turkey Point 6 & 7 will:

    • Provide estimated fuel cost savings for FPL’s customers of approximately $1.07 billion (nominal) in the first full year of operation;
    • Provide estimated fuel cost savings for FPL’s customers over the life of the project of approximately $75 billion (nominal);
    • Diversify FPL’s fuel sources by decreasing reliance on natural gas by approximately 13% beginning in the first full year of operation;
    • Reduce annual fossil fuel usage by the equivalent of 28 million barrels of oil or 177 million mmBTU of natural gas; and
    • Reduce C02 emissions by an estimated 287 million tons over the life of the project, which is the equivalent of operating FPL’s entire generating system with zero CO2 emissions for 7 years.

    And on page 11:

    As described by Dr. Sim, Turkey Point 6 & 7 also continues to be a cost-effective addition for FPL’s customers, taking into account all updated assumptions. FPL’s analysis of Turkey Point 6 & 7 was performed by calculating a “breakeven capital cost” - the capital cost amount FPL could spend on new nuclear and breakeven with what it would spend for a combined cycle resource addition on a CPVRR [cumulative present value of revenue requirements] basis - and comparing it to its current project non-binding cost estimate range. The breakeven costs are higher than FPL’s cost estimate (i.e., the results are favorable) in six out of seven fuel and environmental compliance cost scenarios analyzed, and in the seventh, the breakeven costs are within the non-binding cost estimate range.

    Accordingly, Turkey Point 6 & 7 continues to be an economically sound choice for FPL’s customers. Additionally, as explained by Mr. Scroggs, the Turkey Point 6 & 7 project remains feasible with respect to other, non-economic considerations.

    For their detailed analysis, see FPL’s testimony from Steven Sim (pdf). In it, you can find their updated capital cost assumptions which are $3,483/kW to $5,063/kW in 2011 dollars (page 49 of 107). As well, pasted below are their assumed costs for natural gas in nominal dollars (page 41 of 107).

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    The capital costs for a new nuclear unit and the fuel price of natural gas are two key factors in determining the competitiveness of nuclear. Even with a huge glut of gas in the country, new nuclear is still found to be economical.