Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Update

From the new NEI Japan site.

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has repaired faulty hoses and restarted the new cooling system for the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The system resumed operations after the repair. The system, which on June 27 began circulating decontaminated water through reactors 1, 2 and 3, had developed leaks in pipes and hoses shortly after it was activated.
  • Work has started to build a giant polyester cover over reactor building 1 to contain the spread of radioactive materials. A crane that can lift up to 750 tons is at the Fukushima Daiichi site removing debris from the top of the building, which was damaged in a hydrogen explosion March 12. Later, the crane will be used to install the 175-foot-tall cover, which is expected to be complete by late September.
  • TEPCO has begun injecting inert nitrogen gas into the containment vessel of reactor 2 at Fukushima Daiichi to prevent the possibility of hydrogen ignition. Workers have been pumping nitrogen into the reactor 1 containment for several weeks. TEPCO is scheduled to begin injecting nitrogen into the reactor 3 containment by mid-July.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • TEPCO has released the English translation of a timeline covering its responses to the earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi during the first five days after the accident.
  • The mayor of Genkai town in western Japan has said he will approve resumption of the nuclear energy facility there by early next month. Mayor Hideo Kishimoto and Banri Kaieda, minister of economy and industry, both said they believe the Genkai nuclear plant is prepared to ensure safety in the event of a serious accident including earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Toshio Nishizawa became TEPCO’s president on Tuesday, taking over from Masataka Shimizu, who resigned last month. Nishizawa said he would do “everything he can to control the crisis” at Fukushima Daiichi.
  • TEPCO has won institutional shareholder backing to keep its reactors in service. Opponents failed to win enough support for a motion to decommission all reactors and stop building new ones. Chugoku Electric Power Co. shareholders voted to continue the utility's plans to build a second nuclear plant.

Media Highlights

  • Some 34,000 children in Kawamata, Fukushima prefecture, will receive dosimeters to measure their radiation exposure, CBC News reports.
  • The flooding at the Fort Calhoun nuclear energy facility in Nebraska “is not another Fukushima,” Gary Gates, president and CEO of the Omaha Public Power District, told CNN. Gates said water has not breached the buildings housing the reactor core and used fuel, and he’s confident it won't. The plant has been off-line for refueling since early April.

New Products

  • NEI’s new website provides up-to-date information on the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility and the U.S. nuclear industry’s response to events in Japan.

Upcoming Events

  • The task force reviewing U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission processes and regulations in light of the accident at Fukushima is expected to release its report on July 12. The task force will brief the commissioners on the report at a public meeting on July 19. The briefing will be webcast.

The Water Around Fort Calhoun

Last night, I saw a “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” segment of a chat show that focused on Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun station, which is sitting in an area now flooded by the swollen Missouri River. The speaker stressed that, despite the mutual presence of water around Fort Calhoun and Fukushima Daiichi, the two incidents are not similar, though he did call Fort Calhoun a Fukushima-like event in slow motion.

Is it? Let’s allow our old friends the Union of Concerned Scientists to take this one:

The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the nuclear-power industry’s toughest critics, sprang into action when the Missouri River flood threatened the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska.

But after looking into the matter, the scientists group was reassured. Precautions had been taken to deal with the floodwaters, and federal inspectors had checked over the plant on Monday.

You may be sure that if there were the tiniest concern, UCS would be taking the most dire tone imaginable.

No nuclear plant is without risks [though, we should note, many fewer than other energy generators], and the flooding will complicate getting the Nebraska reactor back up and running. But “basically what we found was … good news,” said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project for the scientists group, which is based in Washington.

The NRC itself offers an interesting account of what Fort Calhoun is up to:

The plant has erected an Aquadam around the powerblock – vital areas including the containment and auxiliary buildings. The water-filled berm is eight feet tall and 16 feet wide at the base, and provides protection for up to six feet of water. The dam also protects several pieces of equipment that have been brought onsite, including an additional emergency diesel generator for supplying AC electrical power, water pumps, firefighting equipment and sandbagging supplies.

An earthern berm protects the electrical switchyard and a concrete barrier has been built around electrical transformers to protect them. Satellite phones have been distributed to key workers. Extra food and water has been stockpiled.

Because, as you might imagine, getting to and from the plant is more of a challenge. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko visited earlier this week and said the flooding looked worse from aerial photos than from the ground, so maybe you really have to be there.

The NRC also has a post about some of the dumber rumors swirling around Fort Calhoun – you can read that part yourself, as we don’t want to promulgate them here – but trust me: dumb.

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Yesterday, we noted French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s re-embrace of nuclear energy but didn’t mention the occasion for the comments. This story from Environmental Finance tells that part of the story and tries an interesting tack:

France will invest €1 billion ($1.4billion) in its nuclear power program, bucking the post-Fukushima trend away from nuclear energy.

The €1 billion will fund ‘fourth generation’ nuclear development and research into nuclear safety, the president said on Monday.

Interestingly, another country “bucking the trend,” as the story would have it, is Great Britain:

Meanwhile, last week, the UK government also maintained its commitment to nuclear, confirming a string of sites for possible new nuclear builds.

Here’s why:

However, Ben Caldecott, head of European policy at asset manager and adviser Climate Change Capital in London, said the government has struck a fair balance between meeting energy demands and achieving emissions targets.

“I prefer renewable energy to nuclear power, but the fact of the matter is that if you didn’t replace any existing nuclear power stations, decarbonising the electricity sector would be that much harder. And that’s the challenge that Germany will be facing,” he told Environmental Finance.

Bucking the trend! Seems to me Germany and Switzerland are the countries bucking the trend.

Monday, June 27, 2011

NEI; Japan; France; Cars or No Cars?

Tricastin We’ll continue to bring you Japan updates on this page, but you may also want to take a look at NEI’s new site dedicated to Japan and Fukushima Daiichi. Called Nuclear Answers, it contains the updates, some new videos (we played some of them here in March), and – a lot of other material. Despite the nature of NEI – it is the Nuclear Energy Institute, after all – it won a lot of praise for its honest and informed coverage of Fukushima. That will continue on the new site. Well worth a bookmark.

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One thing you can say about the French, they assume an intelligence on the part of other people that can seem rather blunt.

"There is no alternative to nuclear power today." Mr. Sarkozy told a press conference. "Those who ask for a moratorium, I find this curious. It would consist in keeping old plants and abstaining from researching new safer plants."

Mr. Sarkozy is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And of course, he’s right, though France began its big push for nuclear energy just as the United States and other countries began to ramp down construction and has kept  building new plants since then. (And benefitted from it. Populous France is 17th in carbon emissions production, behind sparsely peopled-Canada and Australia among others – that’s a very good figure reasonably credited to nuclear energy.)

The support for nuclear energy in France has always hovered around 50 percent and has dipped some follow the event at Fukushima Daiichi. That makes it a prime candidate for the, uh, candidates to toss around in the next election.

"This will be the first time that the issue of nuclear power plays a significant role in a French Presidential election," says Pierre-Louis Brenac, an energy consultant at SIA Conseil in France. "It's a big change."

Well, we’ll see how significant. If this the best wedge issue the Socialists have, then the Union for for a Popular Movement (UMP – Sarkozy’s party – the conservative wing of French politics) hasn’t too much to worry about.

Actually, voter exhaustion will weigh more heavily against UMP – it’s been in power 7 years, and Sarkozy, who said he’s running again, has miserable favorability ratings. (He’s directly elected – it’s not a parliamentary election.)

But, UMP or Socialist, it’s hard to imagine France reversing path on nuclear energy – the Green Party is a different story, but it usually is.

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This is what the Europeans are up to:

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city.

There’s more, but you get the idea – make driving cars unappealing so as to push folks onto public transportation. Why?

What is more, European Union countries probably cannot meet a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions unless they curb driving. The United States never ratified that pact.

I would say that doing this is easier in most European countries because the infrastructure has been built to support it and there is not the entrenched car culture that exists in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Plus, there must be some public buy-in since this would be a politician career killer in countries with a car culture. In these countries, electric cars might find the sweet spot between helping the environment and keeping cars an important part of the transport scene.

There’s nuclear pick-up with electric cars, but not much at all in the European move to limit driving – except more people in electric trains means more need for electricity and nuclear certainly can find a place there.

The Tricastin nuclear facility in Southern France. Italy backed away from nuclear energy but gets about 10 percent of its electricity from nuclear. How? Plants like Tricastin, that’s how.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

Update as of 5 p.m. EDT, Friday, June 24
Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. is continuing efforts to reduce the accumulation of radioactive water from cooling operations at Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1, 2 and 3. With reactor temperatures stabilizing, the company is reducing the water injection flow rate into the reactors. The total inflow rate is now about 386 tons per day. Heavy rains are challenging TEPCO's effort to contain water accumulating onsite.
  • TEPCO's system to decontaminate and recycle the radioactive water in the basements of reactor buildings is now operating. As of Friday, a total of 3,000 tons of water has been decontaminated. The system is now filtering water at a rate of 400 tons per day. The design capacity of the system is 1,200 tons per day. The desalination component of the system has also begun operating. TEPCO plans to recycle the decontaminated water to cool the reactors, possibly as soon as next week.
  • About 99 tons of water was injected late last week into the reactor 4 used fuel pool using the new temporary "giraffe" injection line. The equipment storage pool-referred to in the United States as the "dryer separator pit"-has also been refilled with water to shield workers from activated metals being stored there.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues
  • Banri Kaieda, Japanese minister for economy, trade and industry, said at the IAEA ministerial conference in Vienna this week that it is vital for the country's economy that the nation's nuclear energy facilities restart. According to the Japan Atomic Industry Forum, as of mid-May only 17 of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors were in operation, representing less than a third of the total nuclear generating capacity. Local governments and populations must approve the restart of nuclear reactors. In a call to encourage restart approvals, Kaieda said, "Electricity restraint is the largest issue for the growth of Japan's economy." The Japanese government will hold a meeting in western Japan to explain the issue of restarting nuclear plants to local residents.
  • The Japan Meteorological Agency reported that a magnitude-6.7 earthquake shook northeast Japan on Thursday morning, but no damage or injuries resulted. The epicenter was off the coast of Iwate prefecture about 300 miles northeast of Tokyo.
  • Radiation exposure to schoolchildren in Fukushima prefecture continues to be a concern to local residents. The government has been removing topsoil from highly contaminated areas to reduce radiation levels below its limit of 0.4 mrem per hour. However, parents and teachers say this level is too high compared to long-term limits set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Fukushima prefecture officials have decided to distribute personal dosimeters to 280,000 children ranging from infants to junior high school students.

Media Highlights
New Products
  • A new fact sheet, "Emergency Preparedness at Nuclear Energy Facilities," has been posted on the NEI website.
  • Tony Pietrangelo, NEI's chief nuclear officer and senior vice president, responds in a video to the factual inaccuracies in a recent series of articles by The Associated Press on nuclear plant safety and regulatory oversight. The video can be found on NEI's YouTube channel here.

Upcoming Events

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Polling Nuclear in California and Japan

san-onofre-power-plant Looking at recent stories from the AP and Al-Jazeera, as we’ve done over the last week, may make one think that the media has the knives out for the nuclear energy industry. To be honest, journalists never, and never should, put the knives back in the case. Trying to find malfeasance is a goal of journalism. Finding it is the tough part.

While I think the nuclear energy industry provides a poor target for malfeasance hunting, the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has put the industry front and center, so any reporter looking to fill an annoying empty space on the wall with a Pulitzer Prize has zeroed in on nuclear energy. So be it – let’s wish them well.

But let’s not pretend the stories are even remotely fair, largely because fairness would ruin the arguments. Instead, one can just point out the flaws, link to documents that demonstrate the flaws, and note logical inconsistencies.

And, of course, wait. The media is like a school of sharks in that it has to keep moving to keep up with events. Oil spills yesterday, nuclear energy today, what next? – windmills and birds? solar arrays and land use? a coal ash spill? Something. Just wait it out.

Because once the movable feast moves on, the more mundane stories will attain more prominence or at least not be embedded in negative stories:

56 percent of Californians said they believe that the state's existing power plants are safe, compared with 32 percent who do not. When asked whether existing nuclear plants in the state should be phased out over a 10-year period, 46 percent were opposed, while 39 percent were in favor.

The actual lede is that more Californians than in a previous poll do not want new facilities built. Fukushima is still pretty fresh in the mind, so this is to be expected. But determining that California’s current facilities are safe and should not be phased out – and remember, California is quite seismically active, like Japan – is rather more surprising. This might explain why, partially:

The poll also found that 53 percent of registered voters said they oppose allowing oil companies to drill more oil and gas wells in state tidelands along the California coast, while 43 percent believed they should be allowed to drill.

We can’t assume too much based on such skimpy information, but environmental concerns seem to play a part in Californians’ thinking, which may tilt opinions away from oil and toward nuclear.

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Speaking of polls, what are the Japanese thinking these days?

But surprisingly in Japan, 45 percent of people still view nuclear power as a viable energy option and 71 percent support its modernization.

"The Japanese people still show some realism," said Henri Wallard, deputy chief executive officer at [polling firm] Ipsos "They believe they will continue to use nuclear energy in the energy mix for some time."

Support for nuclear power was strongest in India, Poland and the United States where the majority of people supported it.

Now, to be honest, Ipsos is showing that in most countries, nuclear energy has lost some support. And that’s really the result you’d expect in Japan, too, not that the Japanese would want to continue with it.

In general, polls taken around the time of an accident – this was true of the BP spill as well – tend to focus all answers through the accident. But it’s interesting that some more upbeat numbers are peeking though polls about nuclear energy – a trendline, as they say in poll-speak, there’s no reason not to expect continue. (That also happened in polling on the BP spill.)

Surfing and San Onofre – just says California, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

Pillars Installed To Support Used Fuel Pool
Update as of 5 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, June 22

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers have installed 32 steel pillars to support the reactor 4 spent fuel pool at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility and improve its capability to withstand earthquakes. The company next will wrap the pillars in concrete. It plans to finish the project by the end of July. The walls supporting the pool sustained damage in a hydrogen explosion four days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. TEPCO reported earlier that analysis shows the reactor 4 building meets seismic requirements in its current condition, but shoring up the pool will provide an additional safety margin.
  • Ten Fukushima Daiichi workers have entered the reactor 2 building to assess its environment. Faced with near 100 percent humidity inside, TEPCO had earlier opened the building's doors for ventilation, which reduced the humidity by about half. TEPCO plans to install an air filtration system in the building to reduce airborne radioactive particles.
  • With the start of the rainy season in Japan, TEPCO workers are increasing water management activities, including the reduction of cooling water injected into the reactors. More than 110,000 tons of radioactive water has accumulated in the basements of buildings and in outdoor concrete enclosures and is impeding recovery efforts. TEPCO is reported to have two more days of testing remaining for a recently installed filtration system that will decontaminate water at the site.
  • TEPCO has posted photographs that were taken shortly after the March earthquake and tsunami damaged Fukushima Daiichi. One photo shows a worker reading instruments with a flashlight in a darkened room. Others show debris from the tsunami scattered around the site.
Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues
  • The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has called for random safety inspections of global nuclear energy facilities. "We need to systematically and regularly review the safety of all nuclear power plants. I propose that countries with nuclear power should agree to systematic, periodic peer reviews by the IAEA," Director General Yukiya Amano said at the opening of a five-day ministerial conference on nuclear safety. "I therefore propose a system based on random selection. The knowledge that any plant could be subject to review would give operators an additional incentive to implement the highest safety standards." The conference in Vienna, Austria, adopted a 25-point declaration on nuclear safety. The IAEA also released the final report of the task force it sent to Japan to assess the accident. IAEA reporting on the conference is available here.
Media Highlights
  • NEI issued a news release Tuesday criticizing a series of misleading Associated Press articles on U.S. nuclear power plant safety. AP states that the Fukushima Daiichi accident "has focused attention on the safety of plants elsewhere in the world" while noting its series explores issues beyond those posed by the Fukushima events.
  • Steve Kerekes, NEI's senior director of media relations, participated in a Voice of America interview on the future of nuclear power after Fukushima Daiichi.
  • Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged world leaders to improve nuclear safety standards. At the IAEA's Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety Vienna, Austria, he said the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has "badly shaken" public trust in nuclear energy, The Hill newspaper reported.
Upcoming Events

The IAEA As Meta-Regulator?

amano You may have heard the International Atomic Energy Agency is having a ministerial conference in Vienna – ironic, of course, as Austria has no nuclear facilities. But the pastries are nice and the tourist council always appreciates the visitors.

I think the most interesting part of the conference, which was called to discuss post-Fukushima Daiichi safety issues - will happen later this week, as Japan will present its initial findings on the accident.

But the early part of the week brought a rather surprising proposal from the IAEA itself:

In Vienna this week, opening the International Atomic Energy Agency's first major global meeting since the Japanese Fukushima reactor disaster, agency head Yukiya Amano proposed that his organisation conduct random checks on reactors.

Warning that "business as usual" was not an option for the nuclear industry, he called for drafting of stronger IAEA global standards within a year and for improvements to the independence and capability of national regulators.

So, it would become kind of a “meta-regulator,” watching the watchmen, so to speak. The agency has to have its member countries sign on to this idea, which of course leads to issues of national sovereignty. Reporter Rick Wallace of the Australian writes that the idea hasn’t gone over very well – it’s essentially his lede and headline - but he offers nothing to back up the assertion – maybe he’s just reflecting hubbub on the floor of the conference rather than official statements. Stay tuned.

You can read NRC Chairman’s Gregory Jaczko’s remarks here. Here’s a bit:

While it is my opinion that U.S. nuclear plants are safe, the early work suggests there are a number of possible areas for improvement. To name a few, several of us on the commission have noted that our regulations for what is called a station blackout – essentially what happened in Fukushima – do not take into account an extended loss of AC power. Other areas that have drawn attention are spent fuel pools, emergency planning, or course seismic issues, contingency planning for situations beyond the design basis of a plant, and others.

All logical items to look at.

And IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s comments are here. A taste:

"We need to strengthen IAEA Safety Standards and to ensure that they are universally applied. I am therefore asking the IAEA's Commission on Safety Standards to review the relevant standards and to report within 12 months, with recommendations for strengthening them."

"Even the best safety standards are useless unless they are actually implemented. I urge all Member States to make a firm commitment to apply IAEA Safety Standards in practice."

He also made his “meta-regulator’ proposal in this speech. Do read the whole thing for an overview on what the IAEA has in mind.

If you want to explore the conference in detail, start here. PDFs and PowerPoint slides for the presentations are here.

We’ll have more on the conference after Japan presents its report on Fukushima.

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Something entirely different: A sort of ramshackle anti-nuclear story at the Guardian didn’t include much that is comment-worthy, but I found its conclusion amusing:

The US energy mix, instead [of nuclear energy, of course], should include a national jobs program to make existing buildings energy efficient, and to install solar and wind-power technology where appropriate. These jobs could not be outsourced and would immediately reduce our energy use and, thus, our reliance on foreign oil and domestic coal and nuclear. Such a program could favor US manufacturers, to keep the money in the US economy. That would be a simple, effective and sane reaction to Fukushima.

I’m puzzled about the impact of these ideas on oil, but I cannot think that any other quibbling would get us anywhere. It’d be like arguing with a pile of fluff.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano in duplicate at the ministerial conference.

Scientific American Blog Uses Simple Math to Expose Flawed Radiation Essay by Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman

Michael Moyer over at SciAm’s Observations blog made the easy calculations to discover how “physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano” manipulated radiation data to scare folks about the Fukushima accident. After digging into the Centers for Disease Control data, here’s what Moyer found:

a check reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths.

Only by explicitly excluding data from January and February were Sherman and Mangano able to froth up their specious statistical scaremongering.

This is not to say that the radiation from Fukushima is not dangerous (it is), nor that we shouldn’t closely monitor its potential to spread (we should). But picking only the data that suits your analysis isn’t science—it’s politics. Beware those who would confuse the latter with the former.

It’s not too hard to bust holes in Mangano’s “essays,” we’ve been doing it for years. Great to see SciAm dig into the numbers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The AP Trawls for Nuclear Wickedness

It’s reasonable for aplogojournalists to beaver around the nuclear energy industry to find evidence that the industry is a nest of vipers plotting disaster and misery. That’s what journalists do. And I guess one can always find something that can be ratcheted into a breathless story. But the nuclear energy industry in context is not very, um, viperous and thus such stories tend to point at wicked seeming details that are pretty benign – in context.

The Al-Jazeera story below doesn’t really qualify here because the story has a suspicion of American motivation underlying it that makes it vulnerable to conspiracy theories and bluntly unproveable – one might even say false - assertions.

But the Associated Press, in a long story published yesterday, tries a different approach, trawling through Nuclear Regulatory Commission records to try to show a coziness between the industry and its regulators that make the party animals at the Mine Safety and Health Administration look like shrinking violets. Well, no parties in this case, but thinly veiled collusion.

For example:

CRACKED TUBING: The industry has long known of cracking in steel alloy tubing originally used in the steam generators of pressurized water reactors. Ruptures were rampant in these tubes containing radioactive coolant; in 1993 alone, there were seven. Even today, as many as 18 reactors are still running on old generators.

This is a simple point. but let’s add in two additional data points:

1. Of the 69 nuclear facilities that have steam generators (not all do), 55 have replaced their generators, with two more in the process of doing so.What the AP ignores here and throughout the article is that older equipment can be, and is, replaced.

2. The number of plants reporting (to the NRC, mind you – the AP didn’t find this out by itself) degraded steam generator tubes has fallen considerably as the tubes are replaced. Fifteen plants reported degraded tubes in the 1980s, seven plants in the 1990s, and five plants reported degraded tubes between 2000 and 2004; And since 2004? No plant has reported degraded tubing. None at all.

That’s context and it puts a decidedly different cast on the reporting. There are also errors large and small in the article:

Yet despite the many problems linked to aging, not a single official body in government or industry has studied the overall frequency and potential impact on safety of such breakdowns in recent years, even as the NRC has extended the licenses of dozens of reactors.

This one is small, meant to bolster the notion of collusion. But that single “government or industry body” would be INPO, The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. It maintains a database of operational issues and it tracks them over time. Every utility that operates a nuclear power plant has access to this information for review and corrective action as needed.

But beyond lapses in providing context and simple errors, the story raises issues that are noted and solved over time. The success of such efforts is a credit to the industry, but the AP turns it into a debit:

Two years later, cracking was allowed to grow so bad in nozzles on the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio, that it came within two months of a possible breach, the NRC acknowledged in a report. A hole in the vessel could release radiation into the environment, yet inspections failed to catch the same problem on the replacement vessel head until more nozzles were found to be cracked last year.

But the article fails to note – or the authors didn’t know – that the industry had in place a program to monitor boric acid corrosion, which is a well-known phenomenon. And immediately after Davis-Besse happened, the industry implemented a materials management initiative to strengthen the focus of research efforts and predictive maintenance in the area of materials degradation. As the story acknowledges, the cracks were detected two months before any (potential) harm could occur. In other words, the industry fixed the problem.

Obviously, the AP wants to imply that we missed disaster by that much, but if disaster is always missed by that much, then it’s logical to assume that the industry and its regulators are actually keeping a good eye on things.

Could the industry and its regulators do a better job? Sure, but a safety culture in any field is a process, not a recipe. You don’t get a soufflĂ© at the end. You get an industry always working through issues and learning how to further enhance safety.

This has paid off: The industry’s average capacity factor—a measure of efficiency—has been within a percentage point or two of 90 percent every year for the past decade. To do this does not suggest short cuts and sloppiness; just the opposite: it demonstrates that the facilities are being well managed and maintained.

Oh, and PS: The AP built this story out of public data – you could write the same story (though a better, fairer one, I hope) if you wanted. How much more transparent could an industry be? Hard to hide in the shadows with thousand watt bulbs pointed at you.

Update 6/22, 7 am:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a response to the AP articles here (pdf).

Here's NEI's formal response as well.

Update 6/23, 9:30 am:

Rod Adams continues to batter AP's nuclear hit job. As well, here's Dan Yurman and Dr. John Bickel's critique of AP's first rubbish.

Tuesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

Fukushima Daiichi Water Filtration System Testing Continues

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. is working to restart full-scale tests of the water filtration system it will use to decontaminate and recycle radioactive water that has flooded the basements of buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The system went into full operation on Friday but was shut down after five hours when radiation levels rose more quickly than anticipated in the part of the system that removes oil and sludge. TEPCO may add more equipment to remove oil or lower the water flow rate through the system. Cooling water injections into reactors 1, 2 and 3 are accumulating in the building basements at the rate of 500 tons per day, and could overflow in about a week if the decontamination system is not functional by then.
  • TEPCO was able to open an entrance to the damaged reactor 2 building to lower high humidity levels without causing an increase in overall radiation levels at the site. The company has been filtering radioactive materials from the air inside the reactor building prior to opening the entrance. The move to lower humidity in the reactor building from near 100 percent levels will allow workers to enter the building to begin repair tasks, including calibrating a reactor water level gauge and ultimately restoring recirculating coolant.
  • TEPCO has begun refilling an equipment storage pool on the top floor of reactor 4 after discovering that the water level in that pool had dropped to a third of its capacity, exposing activated metal equipment and causing higher levels of radiation inside the building. Submerging the equipment again should lower worker exposure to radiation, the company said.
Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues
  • Mike Weightman, who led an International Atomic Energy Agency team to Japan March 24-June 1, leads a review of the agency's preliminary assessment of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi at the IAEA's Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety that began in Vienna today and continues throughout the week. Weightman is chief nuclear inspector and head of the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Directorate. Also speaking are IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano; NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko; and Banri Kaieda, Japan's minister for economy and industry. The Japanese government's official report also is expected to be heard at the conference. Attendees also will consider the IAEA's role in assessing member countries' nuclear safety frameworks, and could recommend a global framework for emergency preparedness.
  • The Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission has decided on a short-term policy to begin managing radioactive waste materials from the cleanup of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi site. Applicable "clearance levels" for the reuse of contaminated materials should be those already applicable in existing guidance, the commission stated. The commission also said that the radiation dose to residents near future temporary waste storage or disposal facilities, and for workers at incineration or waste treatment facilities, should not exceed 100 millirem per year (1 mSv/year). The Japanese Ministry of the Environment is discussing how to dispose of radioactive waste generated from the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant site.
Media Highlights
  • The Associated Press has published two pieces of a series of four articles criticizing various aspects of nuclear plant safety. NEI is preparing media responses to the series.
Upcoming Events

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Story Much Worse Than You Think

aljazeera_logo An article at Al-Jazeera is called Fukushima: It’s Much Worse Than You Think. Generally, I find Al-Jazeera worth a look, especially for news from the Arab world, but this story misses the mark by a wide margin.

Al-Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail interviews a few anti-nuclear energy advocates and tries out a few new wrinkles that show a basic distrust for America.

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For example, conspiracies:

Why have alarms not been sounded about radiation exposure in the US?

Nuclear operator Exelon Corporation has been among Barack Obama's biggest campaign donors, and is one of the largest employers in Illinois where Obama was senator. Exelon has donated more than $269,000 to his political campaigns, thus far. Obama also appointed Exelon CEO John Rowe to his Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.

That’s why rampant radiation in America hasn’t been reported – because John Rowe said no.

Even if there were such a conspiracy, there would have to be a lot of buy-in from radiation monitoring stations not under the harsh thumb of the “plutocrats.” Smell test – not pass.

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Utterly and obviously baseless assertions:

Dr Shoji Sawada is a theoretical particle physicist and Professor Emeritus at Nagoya University in Japan. He is concerned about the types of nuclear plants in his country, and the fact that most of them are of US design.

"Most of the reactors in Japan were designed by US companies who did not care for the effects of earthquakes," Dr Sawada told Al Jazeera. "I think this problem applies to all nuclear power stations across Japan."

Because nothing says future sales like endangering your customers. At best, Sawada is implying that the U.S. does not have earthquakes and Westinghouse just didn’t think about them in designing the plants.

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Same as above, less of a conspiratorial bent:

According to [nuclear consultant Arnie] Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as "hot particles".

"We are discovering hot particles everywhere in Japan, even in Tokyo," he said. "Scientists are finding these everywhere. Over the last 90 days these hot particles have continued to fall and are being deposited in high concentrations. A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters."

Radioactive air filters from cars in Fukushima prefecture and Tokyo are now common, and Gundersen says his sources are finding radioactive air filters in the greater Seattle area of the US as well.

“A lot of people are picking these up in car engine air filters.” If you search on hot particles and Tokyo, you will find exactly one source for this – Arnie Gundersen and his mysterious sources, including his hapless drivers.

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As you can see, there’s a lot of room to spin stories, gin up tidbits of fact into frightening fantasies and, shall we suggest it?, tell lies. Big fail from Al-Jazeera – fantastically irresponsible.

Of course, Al-Jazeera as always been a controversial news source in this country. Limit comments to the subjects addressed by the article and this post, not Al-Jazeera in general. That ways leads to flames.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:
Updated as of noon EDT, Friday, June 17
Plant Status

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said it now appears the agency was mistaken in its early conclusion that the used fuel pool at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor 4 may have lost all cooling water. "According to the latest information, it is unlikely it ever went completely dry," said William Borchardt, NRC executive director for operations, in a progress briefing Wednesday for the NRC commissioners. Concern about the potential for overheating in the pool was a factor in the NRC's conservative call for U.S. citizens to evacuate as far as 50 miles from the plant, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a congressional committee yesterday. "We are continuing to review and re-evaluate the 50-mile recommendation," he said.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is preparing to release a revised "road map" today for stabilizing the Fukushima Daiichi site, with an increased emphasis on measures to protect the health of workers in light of new information that some received radiation doses above emergency limits set by the government. The revised plan restricts work hours, creates a system for recording automatically workers' exposure to radioactivity, increases the number of devices available to check for internal exposures, places more doctors at the site round the clock and creates new rest facilities for workers.
  • Testing was suspended yesterday on a system to remove radioactive cesium from waste water because of a leaking valve. Once the valve is replaced and tests are completed, TEPCO plans to put the system in service today. Full operation of the water treatment system is essential to TEPCO's plan to cool the reactors continuously. More than 110,000 tons of contaminated water has accumulated in the complex, and it is increasing at a rate of 500 tons a day as fresh water is poured onto the reactors. The main facility to store contaminated water reached capacity yesterday. Preparations are under way to build more storage tanks, next month at the earliest, and install a backup filtering device by August.
Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held an oversight hearing June 16 on preliminary results of the NRC's safety review at America's nuclear energy facilities. Witnesses included all five NRC commissioners.
  • China has completed post-Fukushima safety inspections at its 13 operating nuclear energy facilities and is moving ahead with inspections at the 28 facilities under construction, with the goal of completing that work by October. While no new plants will be authorized to start up before the inspections are completed, China has announced plans to move ahead with development of additional nuclear energy facilities, Li Ganjie of the Ministry of Environmental Protection told a visiting U.S. delegation on June 10. The nation hopes to have as many as 100 nuclear energy facilities operational by 2020 to help meet energy demand that is rising at an estimated 10 percent to 12 percent annually.
Upcoming Events
  • International Atomic Energy Agency ministerial conference on nuclear safety, June 20-24, Vienna, Austria.
  • Japan-America Society, "The Future of Nuclear Energy Around the World," June 23, Washington, D.C.
  • Recommendations from the NRC's post-Fukushima task force will be provided to the commission in a report in July. The staff is scheduled to discuss these recommendations with the commission at a public meeting on July 19. Next steps include forming a longer-term task force to address areas identified by the near-term task force. The longer-term review is expected to take approximately six months.

SCANA’s Analyst Day - “New nuclear continues to be the low cost alternative for customers”

Yesterday, SCANA held an Analyst Day that mostly talked about the construction of the two nuclear units at their Summer station. Here’s the link to the 164 page slide deck (18 mega-byte pdf). Below are a few noteworthy slides.

The first slide to mention is “Why Nuclear?” If you look at the chart at the top right of the slide below, SCANA provided their all-in cost estimates for nuclear ($76/MWh), natural gas ($81/MWh), coal ($117/MWh), offshore wind ($292/MWh) and solar ($437/MWh). For them, “new nuclear continues to be the low cost alternative for customers.”

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Here are two slides, of many, showing construction at the site.

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Also worth mentioning is the slide showing where SCANA is purchasing the supplies around the world to construct the units.

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And, below is a picture of one of the AP1000s being built in China that is 2.5 years ahead of SCANA’s construction schedule. They are, of course, sharing lessons between each other.

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There is definitely much more to peruse in the fat document so be sure to check it out.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grist’s Anti-Nuclear Campaign Distorts Reality (Part 3 of 3)

This last part discusses Paul Gipe’s analysis of nuclear’s costs and risks which was based on questionable assumptions from a California Energy Commission study, a report published in German by the country’s renewable energy association, and an unknown study on energy externalities.

Let’s get into it. From Mr. Gipe:

The CEC's 186-page report, "Comparative Costs of California Central Station Electricity Generation" [PDF], found that a 1,000-megawatt pressurized water reactor would generate electricity in 2018 from as little as $0.17 per kilowatt-hour to as much as $0.34 per kilowatt-hour.

The study from the California Energy Commission was published in January 2010, more than a year ago. Yet the first sentence in his Grist post says the “nuclear industry continues to take a battering,” suggesting that he’s offering new information and that one report from California constitutes battering.

There is new info since January 2010 but it’s not mentioned in Mr. Gipe’s post. For instance, the Energy Information Administration has been providing updated levelized cost numbers every year for a few years now. This year, 2011, EIA provided a range of likely costs for each technology (not averages), just like the California report.

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According to EIA’s numbers, the range for nuclear is 11-12 cents/kWh, much lower and less dramatic than CEC’s 17-34 cents/kWh. Hmm, what gives? Of course, it’s the assumptions.

When the CEC report came out more than a year ago, we looked closely at their data to see how they derived their results. One of the big eye-catchers was their assumptions for capital costs. For some reason, which their methodology doesn’t adequately explain, their assumptions reject learning curves for nuclear, and predict that nuclear’s costs rise faster than inflation. Below is the chart from page 6 showing the result of these bogus assumptions: nuclear is the top line.

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When digging a little further, according to the CEC’s backup report (p. 151, PDF), the consultants relied on “two MIT studies, research from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the International Energy Agency, and several other metastudies” for nuclear construction costs.

Well, according to a supplemental paper to one of the two MIT studies, recent overnight nuclear cost data is indeed available to analyze learning curves (see page 45 of 66, PDF).

To put the numbers in perspective, the costs of the eleven nuclear units in the MIT supplemental paper were plotted in the chart below based on time and technology type.

Slide1

As one can see, the capital costs for a particular reactor type all decline after subsequent units are built. This clearly shows learning curves. The CEC reports fail utterly to incorporate this knowledge from their own cited sources, apparently electing to disregard distasteful sections, and assume something entirely opposite.

There are a number of other questionable assumptions in the CEC report that have the effect of skewing nuclear’s costs higher:

  • Fixed and variable O&M costs are nearly twice as high as EIA’s.
  • The CEC assumes a capacity factor of 86%, many others assume 90%.
  • The capacity of the AP1000 is 1,150 MW, but CEC assumes only 960 MW - a nearly 200 MW deduction that could mean more revenue and production.
  • And CEC assumes several financial factors such as the percent of equity, interest on debt, and length of repayment that are debatable and can dramatically affect results.

Of all the nuclear numbers issued from academics, analysts and policy wonks, the numbers to read first are the ones from the utilities building the stations. That’s because they’re the ones who know their territories, market demands, credit worth, costs of competing technologies and other data to make their numbers work for various projects. Nuclear plants are efficient and powerful energy producers, but they are not status symbols or investments made frivolously.

As an example, below is the spending curve for the AP1000 at Summer units 2 and 3. We noted this in our Wall Street presentation on page 16 (pdf).

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The total construction cost for those two units is projected to come out at about $3,700/kW.

To add, below is a snapshot of our chart on page 5 showing estimates from publicly available regulatory filings.

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In terms of capital and levelized costs, the CEC report is clearly an outlier. The latest MIT study calculated levelized costs at 6.6-8.4 cents/kWh (PDF, page 6), EIA was 11-12 cents/kWh and the IEA was 2.9-13.7 cents/kWh depending on the country and discount rate (PDF, page 8).

CEC cited, mentioned, and incorporated portions of these studies, yet CEC’s own conclusions somehow managed to differ wildly. If the universally acknowledged sources for energy market data and forecasts are MIT, EIA, IEA, and a few others, what special knowledge did CEC obtain, yet fail to cite? Did CEC allow bias and subjectivity to skew their analysis? Does this affect the reliability of Mr. Gipe’s policy pronouncements, or was he just editorializing, after all?

Enough about costs.

Is Nuclear Uninsurable?

Here’s Mr. Gipe’s claim: 

In an unrelated study for the German Renewable Energy Association, consultants found that nuclear reactors are effectively uninsurable. The 157-page report [PDF] by Versicherungsforen Leipzig estimated that the premium necessary to insure a nuclear reactor from accident would cost from $0.20 per kilowatt-hour to a staggering $3.40 per kilowatt-hour.

Hmm, two things. One - if an argument is written in one language but relies entirely on a study in another language, the argument would carry more weight if a translation was provided, or another study, if there is, by chance, any other study that supports one’s argument.

Two – it might be good to thoroughly read through the reports that one references, even if one’s just typing out a hit-job on the fly. It is unnerving to be discredited by one’s bibliography.

On page 30 in the CEC report that Mr. Gipe cites and relies on, there is in fact a column showing the estimated cost of insurance for various technologies (chart pasted below).

image The CEC assumes an insurance cost of $12.52/MWh for nuclear.

Mr. Gipe may not have studied closely those portions of the CEC report he found distasteful (we can’t blame him), but besides nuclear, CEC also assumes an insurance cost of $10/MWh for offshore wind and more than $13/MWh for solar. If nuclear is “uninsurable,” then solar is catastrophic.

Here’s Mr. Gipe again:

Earlier German studies of the cost for insuring reactors against catastrophic failure found similar results. A 1999 report for the European Commission on the externalities of energy found that the external cost of nuclear power was $2.59 per kilowatt-hour largely due to the cost of insurance.

It would be helpful if there was a link or a title of the European Commission report being referenced here. That’s because there have been a number of EC reports released on energy externalities by a number of different countries. For more than a decade, the EC has been researching externalities for various energy technologies.

An external cost, also known as an externality, arises when the social or economic activities of one group of persons have an impact on another group and when that impact is not fully accounted, or compensated for, by the first group.

After all of the studies, if you click on the Results link in the left hand bar at the ExternE website, you can find the estimated external costs at the bottom of the page. Below is the same chart:

External costs for electricity production in the EU (in EUR-cent per kWh**)

The numbers are hardly damaging for nuclear and are comparable to renewables. This is quite the contrary to Mr. Gipe’s claims.

For those interested in nuclear risk, the World Nuclear Association has a great description of the laws around the world that cover insurance for all nuclear plants. Here’s a nugget:

It is commonly asserted that nuclear power stations are not covered by insurance, and that insurance companies don't want to know about them either for first-party insurance of the plant itself or third-party liability for accidents. This is incorrect, and the misconception was addressed as follows in 2006 by a broker who had been responsible for a nuclear insurance pool: "it is wrong [to believe] that insurers will not touch nuclear power stations. In fact, wherever they are available to private sector insurers, Western-designed nuclear installations are sought-after business because of their high engineering and risk management standards. This has been the case for fifty years."

Be sure to check out more on that page.

This concludes our three part critique of Grist’s campaign. I’m sure this won’t change many minds at Grist, but hopefully it’ll get the critics to dig and think a little deeper about nuclear before they start writing and publishing. They have a responsibility to their readers, and to history.

For those who missed it, here’s our part one and two rebuttals to Grist’s anti-nuclear campaign. Hope you enjoyed the series and I’m sure this won’t be the last time we do something like this.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“30 percent higher than it would otherwise be”

logo One of the points that is made again and again about nuclear energy – on this blog, certainly, but really, in many places – is that if the world pulled away from nuclear energy, it would be very hard to achieve the carbon emission reduction goals that are wanted – needed – to stave off climate disaster. That’s not a slam at renewable energy, just a recognition of what’s currently possible and impossible, practical and not practical

Still, the starkness of this article startling:

A halving of a global nuclear power expansion after Japan's Fukushima disaster would increase global growth in carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent through 2035, the IEA said on Wednesday.

Although the International Energy Agency has a dog in the race, it’s not the one you think. It was created after the seventies oil crisis (If you’re of an age, you may remember lining up your car - on certain days of the week – to get your rationed gasoline) to act as a stopgap if the petroleum supply is again interrupted. It still has that role, but has also taken on board issues of international energy development.

"(Growth in) CO2 emissions from electricity generation between now and 2035 would be about 30 percent higher than it would otherwise be." That was equivalent to almost an extra 500 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually by 2035, he [IEA chief economist Fatih Birol] added.

CO2 emissions rose above 30 billion tons last year, a new record and just short of the amount that Birol estimated was consistent with the world's new warming target.

You can read the rest for yourself. There are two points to keep in mind before getting thoroughly depressed by the article (which you will): One, as Doris Day once sang, the future’s not ours to see. People predict things all the time based on the band of evidence they consider relevant, but there are many, many such bands and they all of them make the future together. Two, the world has not declared that fifty percent of nuclear energy will go away. In fact, the likelihood of it becoming more ubiquitous is pretty good.

And one of the reasons this is so, no doubt, is the grim forecasts of groups like the IEA. We’re not the only ones who can read, after all. But, all told, I doubt the issue of carbon emission reduction is even determinative in countries committing to more nuclear energy – the growing need for a lot more electricity is closer, the desire for developing countries to modernize while not producing emissions closer even.

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News is of a mixed nature, but not bad. There’s this:

China's nuclear safety regulators said that the country's all operating nuclear reactors are safe and sound, following a two-month inspection after the disaster at Japan's earthquake-stricken Fukushima Daiich nuclear power plant in March.

Li Ganjie, Vice Minister of Environment and director of China's Nuclear Energy Safety Administration, said in a statement posted on the ministry's website Wednesday that inspections of all 13 working reactors have been completed, and found no problems.

Not that there would be any particularly glaring problems. But this is what China has really needed:

The country originally plans to have up to 100 reactors in operation by 2020, but Beijing has suspended issuing permits for new plants until a national nuclear safety regime is phased in.

And that seems just right.

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And this:

The UAE’s nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), has said that there could be changes to the design and location of the country’s proposed nuclear reactors to ensure safety, following Japan’s nuclear disaster.

Again, seems judicious enough.

“Everything is on track. We asked Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp (ENEC) and its Korean partners to look at the design and siting in the light of the Fukushima accident and see what can be learned from that,” John Loy, Director of Radiation and Safety Department at FANR, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday.

He added that changes would not affect the project’s timeline.

The UAE said it expects to start its first nuclear power plant in 2017, and hopes nuclear energy to eventually supply 25 per cent of its power.

A variation of trust but verify. I expect many actions regarding nuclear energy will take that approach.

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

New Filters Remove Radiation from Seawater

Updated as of 3 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, June 15

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has begun full operation of seawater filtering systems near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. Installed near the water intakes of reactors 2 and 3, the filters absorb radioactive cesium then return the water to the ocean. Tests indicate the system reduces cesium levels by 20 percent to 30 percent. TEPCO is seeking ways to increase the filtering capability.
  • Japan's health ministry has ordered TEPCO to release from duty 23 workers who had been exposed internally to more than 10 rem (100 millisieverts) of radiation early in the accident. The ministry took the precaution because the employees' continued work at the facility could result in exposure beyond the temporary 25 rem (250 mSv) limit. The limit was raised in March from 10 rem (100 mSv) to the emergency level of 25 rem. TEPCO said earlier that two workers were exposed to more than 60 rem (600 mSv) and announced on Monday that six more were believed to have been exposed to up to 50 rem (500 mSv). TEPCO is screening 3,700 workers for exposure.
  • TEPCO has completed tests on a U.S.-made system that will be used to absorb radioactive cesium from water that has accumulated in various locations at the Fukushima Daiichi site and has also begun tests of a French-manufactured water-treatment device. The company plans to begin full operation of the systems by Friday. More than 105,000 tons of radioactive water has accumulated at the facility. The U.S.-based water treatment system is from Kurion Inc. and the French system is from AREVA.
  • Inspection of farmland in the no-entry zone around Fukushima Daiichi will begin next month. Rice planting has been suspended within an 18.5-mile radius of the plant and no agricultural products are being shipped from within the no-entry zone. Government officials will study soil in the area in response to concerns from residents who have inquired about the status of their farmland.
  • TEPCO plans to install rooftop vents for the seven reactor buildings at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear energy facility in north central Japan. The vents are designed to prevent hydrogen from building up during an emergency. Hydrogen build-up caused explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in March.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted a briefing today on the progress of the short-term task force reviewing NRC processes and regulations following the events in Japan. Slides prepared for the briefing said that capabilities already in place for dealing with potential large fires and explosions could be useful for other events, such as station blackout conditions. The near-term task force will recommend actions and propose topics for longer-term review at a July 19 commission meeting.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold an oversight hearing June 16 on preliminary results of the NRC's safety review at America's nuclear energy facilities. Witnesses include all five NRC commissioners.

Media Highlights

  • Doug Walters, NEI's vice president of regulatory affairs, participated in an extensive interview this week with Voice of America's "Voice of Russia," which focused on U.S. nuclear plant safety in light of the events at Fukushima Daiichi. Walters analyzed the accident in Japan and provided a status update on the ability of U.S. nuclear plants to cope with a similar situation.

Upcoming Events

Great Picture of Fort Calhoun and the Missouri River

From St. Louis today:

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The NRC sent out a notice (pdf) last week saying a fire had occurred in a switchgear room and was extinguished in less than an hour. No incidents have been reported since. Here’s what Omaha Public Power District said yesterday:

Jeff Hanson says, "We're protected far above where this is projected to go."

It helps that the facility was built to withstand a 500-year flood event and Hanson says there are feet of protection between the Missouri and the important structures on site.

That was before the aqua dams were put in place. Hanson says the plant has plans and procedures in place and practice flood defense. The aqua dams add another layer of protection from flooding.

Jeff Hanson says, "Protecting the vital assets, we have sandbagged and placed earthen berms around the substations which guarantees the power can get into the plant to keep the plant powered."

The facility was taken offline to refuel earlier this year so the containment building has been flooded by OPPD in order to cool the fuel rods.

Hanson adds they have a number of backup systems in place to continue to pump clean water through the spent fuel pool and into the reactor containment building so he says there is nothing to fear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Earthquake launch page:

TEPCO To Test Water Filtration System

Update as of 5 p.m. EDT, Monday, June 13

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) says it will test a new water treatment system on Tuesday at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The company had planned to check the equipment last weekend, but the system was running too slowly to complete the test. The system is designed to treat 1,200 tons of contaminated water per day.

  • The company injected cooling water into reactor 3 for about two hours on June 13, accompanied by injections of hydrazine, which is a corrosion inhibitor. Pressure and temperature conditions of reactors 1, 2 and 3 are stable, according to reports. The company has begun installing a temporary cover over the reactor 1 building that will help prevent the dispersal of radioactive material. Also on June 13, TEPCO started operation of a circulating seawater purification facility installed at the water intake screen area of reactors 2 and 3.

  • TEPCO is taking steps to protect the 2,500 workers at the Fukushima Daiichi site from heat-related illness during the summer. Seven additional air-conditioned rest areas will be set up to supplement the eight that are already in operation. Other measures include the use of vests containing cooling gel to be worn underneath protective gear and 1,300 face masks that provide additional air ventilation.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues
  • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct a briefing June 15 on the progress of the task force reviewing NRC processes and regulations following the events in Japan. The event will be webcast live.

  • Two long-term studies on the health effects of the Fukushima accident are planned, according to the World Health Organization. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation will begin a yearlong study on the magnitude of radioactive releases to the atmosphere and ocean and the range of radiation doses received by the public and workers. The Fukushima prefecture will begin a "several decades"-long epidemiological survey of all Fukushima residents. The survey will include data-gathering on demographics, health conditions and geographic information to estimate cumulative radiation doses.

  • All schoolchildren in the Fukushima prefecture will receive radiation measurement devices, Japan's Ministry of Education said. The government intends to limit cumulative radiation exposure to schoolchildren to 100 millirem per year or less. That is the same level for public radiation exposure set by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Local municipalities and schools are taking additional measures to reduce radiation exposure of schoolchildren.

  • An adviser to Japan's prime minister said officials from Japan and the United States will meet weekly to discuss recovery activities at Fukushima Daiichi. At a press conference earlier this month, he said the U.S. government offered assistance immediately after the nuclear accident and that the United States had provided considerable equipment and supplies to support Japanese efforts to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold an oversight hearing June 16 on preliminary results of the NRC's safety review at America's nuclear energy facilities. Witnesses include all five NRC commissioners.

Media Highlights
  • "For companies with nuclear energy assets, the events at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan are a stark reminder that nuclear energy is one industry, bound together by a technology that is both remarkable and demanding. Our commitment to safety must be equally demanding, as should our commitment to international cooperation and assistance," NEI president and CEO Marvin Fertel writes in a column in the May/June issue of Electric Perspectives.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grist’s Anti-Nuclear Campaign Distorts Reality (Part 2 of 3)

Continuing on with our analysis of Grist’s anti-nuclear campaign, the following is what we think about Mr. Jungjohann’s third and fourth pieces.

Grist’s Part Three - States fight back against nuclear power, even as the feds remain in its thrall

In his third piece, Mr. Jungjohann claims, with little evidence, that states are turning against nuclear. Of the five states he mentions, only one of them is actually fighting against nuclear and that’s Vermont, which has been fighting for years.

In New York, a new, ambitious governor who wants to shut down Indian Point may not speak for the majority. As an example, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani supports nuclear and the folks up in Oswego County have been working hard for a long time to bring a new reactor to the state.

In California, just because activists are going after the state’s two nuclear plants doesn’t mean the state is fighting nuclear.

And in Maryland and Texas, the decision to suspend the process for new plants was made by the sponsoring companies for competitive and business reasons. The state governments were not involved.

Based on our count (pdf), Mr. Jungjohann may be interested to know that there are 19 states with legislation and regulations that encourage and support the expansion of nuclear electricity to power their economies.

Further, here’s what New Jersey (not in our count of 19) said in its draft energy plan (pdf) released last week:

While the prospect of new nuclear generation to replace Oyster Creek is not achievable by the end of the decade, New Jersey should remain committed to the objective assessment of how nuclear power fits into the diversified resource mix to meet economic, reliability and environmental goals [p. 5]. … The State cannot achieve its 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goal without a significant portion of the energy supply coming from nuclear technology [p. 79].

‘Nuff said about the states.

Grist’s Part Four - Is pro-nuke enthusiasm in the U.S. waning?

Mr. Jungjohann’s fourth and final piece is conjecture and speculation barren of factual or evidentiary support. He asks and answers:

Can we then look forward to a new renaissance of nuclear power in the United States, as its supporters like to claim? Unlikely, for the nuclear revival is on financially shaky ground. Exploding costs and cheap competition from natural gas are grave problems for the industry. The Wall Street banks see the new construction plans as too expensive and too risky. Even with billions in federal guarantees, American businesses can't afford the price of nuclear power. Only a handful of new nuclear projects have moved ahead in recent years, primarily at existing nuclear plant sites in the southeastern United States.

One question, if businesses can’t afford nuclear, how does he explain “the new nuclear projects [that] have moved ahead”?

As we’ve said for a number of years now (pdf), building new nuclear plants would unfold slowly and that “we expect four to eight new reactors on-line in the 2016-2020 timeframe.” We also said that “yes, the price of gas is low, but we’ve seen four major periods of volatility in gas prices since 2000. At no time during that period did we have any concern about gas supply or resource base. So at least in the past, gas price volatility has not been correlated to resource base.” Here’s a slide from page 19 in our Wall Street presentation earlier this year looking at the long-term fundamentals for nuclear in the electricity market:

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Utilities take a long-term view on nuclear since building and operating plants will provide electricity for 40 to 60 years. Looking at the data, as described in pages 9 and 10, the long-term fundamentals have not really changed. The US will continue to consume more and more electricity, half of all power plants are more than 30 years old and will eventually need to be replaced, and gas prices have historically shown volatility regardless of how much is known to be in the ground. Sounds like there’s still a big niche that nuclear can fill.

Here’s Mr. Jungjohann’s last line in his series:

In the best case, nuclear will be an unnecessary delay for a transition toward a renewable energy-based economy.

I guess we’ll see. Many people in the US and across the world, however, believe Germany’s making a mistake. Below are a number of affirmations of nuclear power from the many countries that have decided on a course starkly different than the German one.

Malcom Grimston, Chatham House research fellow and advisor to the UK government on nuclear policy said this about the shutdown:

To have a major European economy inevitably saddling itself with more greenhouse gas emissions - the German Greens are openly talking about building more gas-powered plants and supporting the new coal-fired plants that are being brought online - is, I think, going to be a tragedy for the environment, and I don't think it's going to be good for the German economy.

The Washington Post’s editorial board said this:

Panicked overreaction isn’t the right response to the partial meltdowns in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex. Instead, countries aiming to provide their citizens with reliable, low-carbon electricity should ask how to minimize inevitable, if small, risks — making their nuclear facilities safer, more reliable and more efficient.

Daniel Poneman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy reaffirmed the American commitment to nuclear. 

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) called Germany’s decision a “mistake.”

Francois Fillon, Prime Minister of France said this:

“there’s no way” for the European Union to meet its emission-cutting targets without at least some nuclear power.

Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland said this

If nuclear power isn’t good enough for the Germans and others, it raises the question of what type of energy is good enough … With all due respect, windmills will not replace the nuclear power plants that exist in Germany. And despite Nord Stream, there won’t be enough gas to build enough [gas-fired] power plants to replace nuclear ones.

Darja Radic, Slovenia’s Economy Minister, said they won’t “give up its nuclear plans because of the accident.”

And the global sustainable electricity partnership of utilities from 12 countries just made this statement:

Top executives of many of the world's largest electricity companies today offered a collective statement on nuclear energy, saying its limitation threatens to raise the cost of electricity significantly, reduce the world's ability to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and undermine the reliability of power supplies.

Perhaps maybe Mr. Jungjohann and other German folks should think a little bit harder about a decision that could seriously affect their economy and environment. Sweden voted in 1980 to phase out the nation’s 12 reactors by 2010; ten of them still operate today. Time will tell.

In the meantime, look out for our last response to Grist’s anti-nuclear campaign later this week. It will delve into Paul Gipe’s post that claims “nuclear power is expensive and uninsurable.” 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

56th Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Nuclear Politics, Future Plans and Germany, Germany, Germany

It’s been another contentious week on nuclear and the pro-nuclear blogging community has been right in the mix. This week we have the privilege of hosting the carnival for the fifth time that’s been on-going for more than a year.

Nuclear Politics

To start, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights has a piece describing what’s happening between the NRC, the AP1000 and Friends of the Earth. According to Rod, the NRC appears to be wavering in its commitment to its own established process because some believe that receiving 14,000 emails on the AP1000 design certification indicates a high level of general public opposition. Rod notes that the emails are mainly from a single group, the FOE, who have professionally opposed nuclear energy for 40 years. The group claims credit for orchestrating nearly every one of those emails as part of a campaign against nuclear energy in general, not against the AP1000 in particular. The FOE sources who have identified the cited "technical issues" have questionable professional backgrounds, long histories of antinuclear activity, and little credibility.

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat discusses the NRC Inspector General’s report on the NRC Chairman’s use of budget guidance on the review of the Yucca Mountain license. According to media summaries of the leaked IG’s review in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, the Chairman issued controversial budget guidance to his staff to stop the work and brushed off complaints from other commissioners about it.

Rick Maltese at Deregulate the Atom pointed out that the NRC should not get all the credit for nuclear energy's decades of safety.

The Institute for Nuclear Power Operations in the US and the World Association of Nuclear Operators deserve a lot of the credit for improvements in safety and other design improvements. They are the Nuclear Industry’s self regulating bodies. And most of the accomplishments were made within the 10 or so years after the Three Mile Island accident. I point this out to set the record straight about who and how the excellent record of safety that has come about in the nuclear industry is not at all understood.

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee reviewed a new blog started by Vermont Law School (VLS) about Vermont Yankee’s legal actions. VLS has been advising the State of Vermont on how to shut down VY. Meredith notes that lawsuits on the subject are breeding like rabbits and VLS is not exactly doing a great job of reporting on them.

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues asks: Why is Iran stepping up uranium enrichment? Tension over Mid-East nuclear security increased this week when Iran announced it would install additional uranium enrichment capacity. Is this a headlong rush to a nuclear bomb, or a new negotiating position? Aplin argues that it could have everything to do with Libya, and that recent history might offer clues as to how to negotiate a resolution of this issue.

New Construction and Future Plans

Jeff Madison at Cool Hand Nuke notes that one “of the most dramatic resurrections of a stalled nuclear reactor construction project is unfolding in Hollywood, Ala. There, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is getting ready to formally ask its board of directors this August to approve completion of the 1,260 MW PWR plant [Bellefonte] which halted in the late 1980s.”

Alan Rominger and Steve Skutnik at Neutron Economy have two posts to mention. Alan explains the connection between the recent idea for "charter cities" where small modular reactors located at the bottom of the ocean can provide sustainable, independent power for such efforts. And Steve explains why he ultimately went from being a physicist to a nuclear engineer. Steve encourages other nuclear professionals and advocates to tell their stories of how they came to be involved in nuclear energy as well (I’m reminded of this example).

Charles Barton at Nuclear Green asks: Why Is Renewable Energy So Expensive, While Molten Salt Reactors will be So Cheap? He finds that an examination of input materials for wind generation systems and solar PV generation is greater than the input materials for an Advanced High Temperature Reactor. The study he cites reveals that the AHTR, a near relative of the Molten Salt Reactor, has big advantages by the little amount of resources needed. MSRs can potentially offer the same material input advantages over renewables, and thus may generate electricity at very competitive costs.

Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat posts that Areva plans to push spent fuel recycling plans in the US. Areva’s CEO, Jacques Besnainou, sees startup of the effort by 2015. Besnainou said the firm is already in discussions with several nuclear utilities about a consortium to develop a plan and design for such a plant. Along with Areva, Besaninou said the group “would advocate more loudly for a recycling center in the U.S. … We’re going to be much more vocal by the end of the year.”

Brian Wang at Next Big Future reports that Lawrenceville Plasma Physics’s (LPP) research team has sorted out several issues on their dense plasma focus fusion project which should enable them to substantially increase power.

Germany, Germany, Germany

Margaret Harding at 4 Factor Consulting, with her cynical glasses on, looks at Chancellor Merkel’s decision to acquiesce to Germany’s apparent desire to abandon nuclear power. Margaret notes that it is a brilliant move politically that puts Merkel’s government into a win-win. Doesn’t matter if they succeed or fail at nuclear power, Merkel can look the hero.

Michele Kearney at her Nuclear Wire points out that Germany’s nuclear exit failed to give Chancellor Merkel's party a boost. As well, she also points out a piece from IEA on Germany’s “real costs of zero nuclear.”

And to add, Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk examined the recent decisions by Germany and Switzerland to withdraw from nuclear power as well as the rumblings in Japan who may move in that direction. In her piece she points to some of the implications of these actions, both within those countries and elsewhere.

Nuclear Stats and Competitors

Brian Wang at Next Big Future reported the latest nuclear generation stats in the developed countries. “The IEA's Monthly Electricity Statistics for March 2011 showed nuclear generation at 185.6 TWh (1.2 % ahead of March 2010). For the year to date up to March 2011, the OECD is 13.5 TWh ahead of the pace of 2010.” Japan's nuclear generation in April was 17 TWh, three TWh lower than March.

Another post worth mentioning from Rod Adams at Atomic Insights is his discussion on the IEA’s new gas report. A recent meme floating around the media is that we are entering a "golden age for natural gas". Atomic Insights wants to start a new meme - the golden age of nuclear energy. There is no way that any other fuel or power source can compete with uranium or thorium fission on anything close to a level playing field. The fuel is extremely dense, is the cheapest source of fuel per unit of heat, and is clean enough to power sealed submarines for long periods of time.

Fukushima-Daiichi

And last but not least, Will Davis at Atomic Power Review has the latest on Fukushima-Daiichi. As we noted before, if you’re not following Will, you’re not following what’s really going on at Fukushima.

Hope you enjoyed, stay tuned for next week’s carnival to be hosted at the ANS Nuclear Cafe.