Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

TEPCO Initiates Gas Sampling for Reactors 1, 2

Plant Status

• Workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility in Japan will begin sampling gases inside containment at reactors 1 and 2 to obtain more accurate data on the types and amount of radioactive substances being released. TEPCO hopes that analysis of the samples will help determine the extent to which nuclear fuel from the reactors is leaking into containment. The gases will be extracted through pipes and analyzed on the first floor of the reactor buildings. Radiation measurements thus far have been based on readings taken on the facility premises. Sampling is scheduled to begin today at reactor 1 and in early August at reactor 2. TEPCO has not yet made plans for sampling at reactor 3, where radiation levels remain high. This is because TEPCO only began injecting nitrogen into reactor 3 on July 15 to minimize the risk of a hydrogen explosion. Nitrogen injection into reactors 1 and 2 began in April and June.

• TEPCO plans to issue an updated roadmap to recovery at the Fukushima Daiichi facility in mid-August. Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting with stakeholders July 28 to discuss the agency’s near-term task force recommendations for safety enhancements at U.S. nuclear energy facilities after the Fukushima accident. Numerous stakeholders, including the industry, called for a thorough and methodical review of accident details as they become available so that regulatory actions are consistent with lessons learned. In the next several weeks, the five-member commission is expected to provide direction to the NRC staff on next steps.

• Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano has ordered the governor of Miyagi Prefecture to suspend all shipments of beef cattle after levels of cesium above the government safety limit were detected in some cattle raised there. Miyagi is the second prefecture to have cattle shipments banned. Fukushima Prefecture received a suspension order last week.

Upcoming Events

• The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing Aug. 2 to review the NRC’s near-term task force recommendations for enhancing reactor safety. The witness list has not been announced.

The Blue Ribbon Commission

brc The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was charged by President Barack Obama with recommending ways to move forward with used nuclear fuel in light of the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project. Let’s leave aside the wisdom of closing Yucca Mountain – considering alternatives was what the commission was asked to do.

The Commission is being co-chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. They are both now elderly gentlemen – performing further public service – because they were asked to chair this committee. Would that we, at whatever age, were so devoted to the public good.

Note that the commission was not asked to find a site nor was it given guidance as to a preferred approach to processing used nuclear fuel – a permanent or interim repository, recycling, burying in salt – everything was one the table – except Yucca Mountain (which, after all, is a site. But the commission was rather pointedly directed – no Yucca Mountain.) 

The report is 192 pages. If you want to start reading, go over to the BRC site and you can download the pdf or read it online.

The language in it can be blunt:

Put simply, this nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government’s competence, and damaging to America’s standing in the world—not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of
nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security.

That strikes me as exceptionally broad, but it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The Wall Street Journal offers a reasonable summary of the report’s contents:

The centerpiece: an independent federal entity, funded by existing fees on utility customers rather than the year-to-year congressional budgeting process, that would work to find a long-term dump. The panel also said that in the interim, nuclear waste should be moved to consolidated storage sites, a move that could save money and develop expertise in storing the waste. Any final disposal site, the panel said, should be chosen by developing standards and then finding a community that wants to accept it.

NEI offered more detail:

The industry is particularly gratified to see the recommendations calling for the establishment of one or more consolidated interim storage facilities for used nuclear fuel; development of a permanent underground repository for commercial used fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs; creation of a new management organization that will assume the U.S. Department of Energy’s role in managing this material; and legislation providing full access to nuclear waste fee revenues and the federal Nuclear Waste Fund. These should be among the nation’s top energy policy priorities.

I was especially interested in the “new management organization.” Here’s why the BRC considers it necessary:

Clearly, multiple factors have worked against the timely implementation of the NWPA [Nuclear Waste Policy Act] and responsibility for the difficulties of the past does not belong to DOE alone. Nevertheless, the record of the last several decades indicates that the current approach is not well suited to conducting a steady and focused long term effort, and to building and sustaining the degree of trust and stability necessary to establish one or more permanent disposal facilities and implement other essential elements of an integrated waste management strategy. These considerations lead the Commission to agree with a conclusion that has also been reached by many stakeholders and long-time participants in the nation’s nuclear waste management program: that moving responsibility to a single purpose organization—outside DOE—at this point offers the best chance for future success.

This seems more an issue of process than a systemic problem, but the BRC takes an exceptionally delicate tack here, so there it is. And it’s not a bad idea to create an NRC-type organization (in form if not in mission) to assume control of the used fuel issue. There are certainly enough tasks to keep it busy.

The Department of Energy tries a gracious welcome on its blog:

Today, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future issued a draft of its recommendations.

The Obama Administration continues to believe that nuclear energy has an important role to play as America moves to a clean energy future.  As part of our commitment to restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process, we are committed to finding a sustainable approach to assuring safe, secure long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. 

Secretary Chu appreciates the hard work done by the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission, and thanks them for a very thoughtful report.  The interim report issued today is a strong step toward finding a workable solution to the challenges of the back end of the fuel cycle.

In other words, non-committal. To be honest, most of the major recommendations build on ideas that have been percolating throughout the industry and government for awhile, so the content of the report aggregates these ideas and argues hard for the aggregation.

I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about the report after a more thorough reading, but I wanted to be sure you knew it was out.

The Blue Ribbon Commission. Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft are second and third from left ((click for larger).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Latte Fallacy: German Nuclear Shut Down Proving Expensive

One of the big arguments against nuclear is that it simply costs too much. Well, if the latest reports from Germany are anything to go by, consumers are going to have to pay more without it.

As reported here earlier, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power and is hoping to shut down all of its plants by 2022. What has been the result? Rising electricity prices.

Since the first nuclear power plant was shut down, the price of electricity on the European Energy Exchange in Leipzig has increased by about 12 percent.

Not only that, Germany has lost  some energy independence too:

Germany has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of electricity. According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSOE) in Brussels, Germany now imports several million kilowatt hours of electricity from abroad every day.

This wasn’t the way things were supposed to go.

"According to our calculations, the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity will go up by only one cent," says Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, head of Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). For an average household, this would correspond to the price of only one latte a month, says Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

One latte a month. Doesn’t sound so bad. Well, the real price increase could be five times as much according to a study by the Rhenish-Westphalian Institute for Economic Research (RWI).

the politicians' estimate of the costs of expanding renewable sources of energy is far too low…RWI experts estimate that the cost of electricity could increase by as much as five times the government's estimate of one cent per kilowatt hour.

Another study by the “semi-governmental” German Energy Agency anticipates an increase of four to five cents, in line with the RWI estimate. Finally, a third estimate from the Economics Ministry sees more than a “latte a month” increase. 

An internal estimate making the rounds at the Economics Ministry also exceeds the official announcements. It concludes that an average three-person household will pay an additional 0.5 to 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and up to five cents more in the mid-term [emphasis added]. This would come to an additional cost of €175 ($250) a year. "Not exactly the price of a latte," says Manuel Frondel of the RWI.

It’s just more evidence that when it’s done right, nuclear energy is one of the most cost effective ways of generating electricity

Rowe; TVA; Debating; Dark and Stormy Nights

darkandstormy Exelon chief John Rowe isn’t very worried about new regulations on the company’s nuclear energy facilities:

"We're not in any panic at all," John Rowe, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. told investors on an earnings call.

Well, why not?

Rowe said the company's "worst fears" -- changes to the nuclear licensing process; mandates that would increase security personnel; or standards that would lower the amount of time spent nuclear fuel can be stored in cooling pools -- (all potential big ticket items for Exelon) so far haven't surfaced.

"We don't at the moment see anything that has a major impact on the economics of these plants," he said.

He’s referring to the findings and recommendations of the NRC’s 90-day review report of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s still early in the process of learning all the lessons that the accident will teach, and Rowe doesn’t mention that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack motivated a strong push for increased physical security at the facilities, but he’s right enough right now.

"With the challenges ahead for the country's oldest and dirtiest coal plants, I would rather have the challenges of Exelon's nuclear fleet any day," Rowe said.

Rowe is notably blunt – it’s a very appealing quality.


In a letter to TVA last week several environmental groups — Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation and Center for Health, Environment and Justice — asked that the utility remove consideration of the project [the Bellefonte facility] from its agenda.

The letter noted that the NRC is still evaluating the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, called the Bellefonte reactor design and the future of nuclear energy questionable, indicated it believes the decision is cost prohibitive, and claimed that the site is located in an earthquake zone with numerous sinkholes. It also reminded TVA that litigation attempting to block the plan is still in the early stages.

Doesn’t give you much to hang onto, does it? I’m sure TVA is just shutting everything down.

TVA is moving forward with strengthening its nuclear power plants against threat of natural disaster, and improving safety and emergency preparedness as it maintains its commitment to operate and expand its fleet of reactors in the Tennessee Valley.

Well, so much for the questionable future of nuclear energy. TVA is finishing construction of a reactor at Watts Bar in Tennessee. But what about Bellefonte?

Despite opposition, [TVA] has a plan to complete one of two unfinished reactors at the Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant near Scottsboro.

"Yes, it will be," McCollum said when asked if the TVA Board of Directors will consider a recommendation on Bellefonte. "It will be on the August board agenda."

There you go. We’ll check in next month and see if the board decides to go ahead.


Here’s something we could use more of:

Three Green Luminaries squared off at Berkeley’s David Brower Center on July 21 during a contentious debate over the future of nuclear energy. The so-called “Fix It or Nix It” debate pitted Native American activist (and two-time Green Party vice-presidential candidate) Winona LaDuke against Stewart Brand, legendary founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue and, more recently, a vocal advocate for nuclear energy.

Debates are always good. You may not have any luck converting hard core advocates on either side of an issue, but there is a broad middle that has not given much thought to or made a decision about nuclear energy – as about many other things, when you come down to it.

Brand proceeded to describe new technology as a value-neutral process that was innocent of intent — simply a process of discovering “cool new ways to do things.” So “don’t over-interpret” technology, Brand warned.

That’s part of the argument. Here’s the other part:

Brand dismissed anti-nuclear concerns as “techno-paranoia.” As an example, Brand quoted David Brower himself who once proclaimed: “All technology should be assumed guilty until proven innocent.”

Based on the coverage at the Berkeley Daily Planet, which heavily favored LaDuke, it does seem as though Brand and LaDuke took up radically different approaches that seemed unlikely to find a middle point:

Winona LaDuke countered with a calm insistence on “intergenerational justice,” as informed by the Native American concept that today’s decisions must be guided by a concern for the impacts our choices will have on the next Seven Generations. (This may have been the earliest formulation of the “Precautionary Principle.”) Winona expressed dismay at a world in which “science is the new God” and offered her own spin on Brand’s line: “We are not as Gods,” she said, “We are as children.”

Love that calm insistence! But we might have to conclude that LaDuke and Brand are debating, if anything, the value of science and perhaps the nature of progress.

Brand was asked by the moderator whether the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has changed his mind about nuclear energy:

Not at all. Brand responded by running down the statistics. Sure, there were three multiple reactor meltdowns and a spent fuel pool blown to smithereens in an explosion [whoops! Nothing like this happened] but, while 20,000 were killed by the tsunami [true], “no one died as a result of nuclear power.” [also true]Brand then recalled the e. coli outbreak that killed scores and sickened thousands in Europe. “But you didn’t hear anyone demanding that organic farms should be shut down!”

“I don’t believe all these things are equal,” Winona replied. She mentioned the dark history of Monsanto, Dow, and Agent Orange. “I don’t have amnesia,” she said, adding that “some people are living in an Oil Bubble.”

I don’t have amnesia, either, but I’m hard pressed to find a parallel between Agent Orange and nuclear energy.

Well, you can read the rest yourself. Most college environments would probably find Brand’s arguments more appealing – science and all - but Berkeley? Regardless, good for Brand and LaDuke for doing this.


The winner of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest rather amusingly tried an atrocious energy-related metaphor:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Quite dreadful.

The winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who works groan-inducing wordplay into her teaching and administrative duties whenever possible. Out of school, she introduces two members of the next generation to the mysteries of Star Trek, Star Wars, and--of course--the art of the bad pun.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton was a nineteenth century writer and politician who contributed a fair number of phrases that still have currency to the English language: “the great unwashed" and "the pen is mightier than the sword" are two.

But the award, started in 1982 at California’s San Jose State University, depends on the first line of Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The - shall we say - rich prose is violently over-yoked, but of course, it is the first seven words that became famous – via Peanuts’ Snoopy – and inspired the contest. You can read the rest of the novel here.

You can read more about Bulwer-Lytton – he had a very busy life – here. As for the libel against wind energy – I’m sure nuclear energy could inspire some pretty ghastly prose, too. (And yes, I know I’m asking for it.)

Anne Stuart’s A Dark and Stormy Night. I have no idea what “More than Men” means.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site

TEPCO to Install Second Water Decontamination System

July 27, 2011

Plant Status

• Tokyo Electric Power Co. continues its attempts to decontaminate radioactive water that has collected in the basements of buildings and in drains at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. With its current decontamination system operating at only 53 percent of capacity, TEPCO is planning to receive new water treatment equipment this week. TEPCO will use the new system alongside the existing one.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• The government of Japan will buy beef containing radioactive cesium that has reached the country’s distribution chain. NHK news service reports that more than 2,800 cattle that may have been fed radioactive rice straw have been shipped to 46 of 47 prefectures. The government will inspect the beef and buy any that contains higher-than-permissible levels of cesium.

Media Highlights

• NEI briefed financial analysts in New York July 26 on the U.S. nuclear energy industry’s response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The presentation is available in the Financial Center on NEI’s website, along with NEI's news release on the event. NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel appeared on CNBC prior to the briefing. Media coverage included Dow Jones Market Watch and a New York Times blog.

Upcoming Events

• A July 28 public Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting will focus on the agency’s near-term task force recommendations for safety enhancements at U.S. nuclear energy facilities after the Fukushima accident. NEI talking points are available on the task force recommendations, as are talking points responding to remarks on lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. Also available for download is NEI’s July 13 press briefing on the report. NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel also provided comments in a July 15 letter to Chairman Jaczko.

• The Foundation for Nuclear Studies will host a July 29 briefing and discussion on the status of Fukushima Daiichi for congressional staff in Washington, D.C. The briefing will be conducted by Lake Barrett, former NRC site director for Three Mile Island and former acting director of the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

EPRI Cost Analysis on Energy Technologies

The Electric Power Research Institute has a report out that compares the costs of fossil fuels, nuclear and renewables.

The Integrated Generation Technology Options report provides an executive-level overview of near-term (5 – 10 years) as well as longer term (2025) electricity generation technology costs and performance. The purpose of this document is to provide a public domain reference for industry executives, policy makers, and other stakeholders. This report is based on 2010 EPRI research results and updates the Integrated Generation Technology Options report  published in November 2009.

The key numbers can be found in the two tables pasted below which are on pages 1-11 and 1-12. The first table shows the estimated costs of each technology in 2015, the second table shows the estimated costs in 2025. All dollars are inflated to the year 2010.

The important numbers to look at are the LCOE in the right column which stands for Levelized Cost of Electricity. The LCOE includes the costs for capital, fuel, and operations and maintenance (it accounts for nearly all costs of a facility’s life).



As shown in both tables, nuclear’s levelized costs are estimated to range from $76-$87/MWh. In the 2015 table, the cost ranges that are lower than nuclear are coal and natural gas. Some biomass and onshore wind are competitive but offshore wind and solar don’t look like are in the game quite yet without major incentives.

In the 2025 table, EPRI assumes carbon capture is available for coal and natural gas which adds a bit to their capital and levelized costs. The cost ranges for nuclear, biomass and wind stay mostly the same. And it looks like the range for concentrating solar thermal becomes more competitive.

To add a number of qualifiers to the results, here’s EPRI on page v:

Planning for new U.S. power generation is in a state of flux due to uncertainty associated with recovery of recession-driven declines in electricity consumption, the impacts of anticipated regulations on existing generation, and potential future climate policy. U. S. electricity consumption began to recover in 2010 after back-to-back declines in 2008 and 2009 due to the economic crisis. However, the electric sector continues to feel the impacts of the recession from high unemployment rates, slow recovery of the industrial sector, and tighter credit markets. Anticipated environmental regulations may have significant impacts on existing generation including substantial capital investment in environmental controls retrofits and retirement of older, less-efficient generating stations. Longer-term implications of potential future U.S. climate legislation continue to be a factor in integrated resource planning.

And who said planning for the future would be easy?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NEI and the Analysts; California Nuclear Dreaming

diablo-canyon-power-plant In case you hadn’t heard – and you really should’ve since it was in our spiffy Twitter feed – but NEI held a meeting for Wall Street’s financial analysts this morning to review with them issues related to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and the NRC’s subsequent 90-day review of the accident. The NRC meant to glean the lessons that can be derived from Fukushima to benefit the American industry – well, really, any country’s nuclear industry. It’s not a secret report, after all, and you can read it here.

The head of the nuclear power industry's trade group on Tuesday said U.S. plants should move within five years to implement safety measures as a result of lessons learned from Japan's nuclear crisis.

Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said the five-year timeline put forward last week by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko was "reasonable."

That’s from Marketwatch, but it really doesn’t capture the feeling of the meeting, which ranged broadly over a number of topics. NEI’s press release has a better feel for this.

“The nuclear energy industry has taken seriously the accident at Fukushima and continues to support the recovery efforts in Japan. The companies operating the nation’s 104 nuclear energy facilities already have taken a number of concrete actions to enhance safety during extreme events,” Fertel said.

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, every U.S. nuclear power plant verified its ability to safely manage the impact of a severe event, regardless of its cause. Many deficiencies were resolved immediately, and many safety enhancements also were identified, Fertel said.

The whole press release is worth at least a glance. It captures a lot of the topics discussed.

But why not capture all of it? I’d recommend, since it’s available on-line, that you watch the meeting (at Ustream). I’d further recommend that you go to the half-way point or so and watch the Q&A first. The attendees, who follow nuclear energy issues as diligently as we do, asked pointed, intelligent questions and NEI’s President Marv Fertel offered frank and honest answers in return. (Note: the Ustream archive isn’t working right now. Check our YouTube page – we’ll have it up there in a day or two.)

I especially appreciated that Fertel acknowledged that there are things about the Fukushima accident that are still not well understood. For example, Fertel said we know that Fukushima’s venting systems did not work as they should, but we don’t know why yet. (He also noted that most American reactors do not use the same venting system. But about four do, so this will be important for those facilities – and in general, too, of course.)

It’s important to know there are gaps in knowledge, because it stresses that lessons learned are a process, not a recipe with set ingredients. We’ll continue to learn new things as the Japanese bring the Fukushima Daiichi facility further under control and these things will inform the response of industry around the world. We can’t know everything yet – why pretend that we can? Doing so is a text book rush to judgment and not necessary.

This was an exceptionally interesting state-of-the-industry style presentation – NEI or not, potential for log rolling or no, well worth watching.


How about some interesting – and positive – non-NEI news?

"Nuclear power is a strong contender for zero-emissions energy because it can provide constant, or 'baseload,' power that can complement renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. While clean, many renewable energy sources produce power intermittently: if there's no sunlight and no wind, there's no power. However, a constant base output of nuclear power could make it much easier to deal with the highly variable power levels from renewables," points out chairman Burton Richter. California's law requires at least 33% of electricity generation be provided with renewable energy.

Richter is professor in the physical sciences at Stanford University and director emeritus at the University's Linear Accelerator Center. He contributed to a report called "California's Energy Future - Powering California with Nuclear Energy," issued by the California Council on Science and Technology. The council describes itself as a nonpartisan, impartial, nonprofit created in 1988 by a unanimous vote of the California Legislature.

So it’s not an industry front, which is a plus. The report is a 43 page pdf and free to download. Here’s a bit about California’s major worry, earthquakes:

Because California is “earthquake country”, reactors to be deployed in California would, of course, require special design features in order to assure that they are safe in earthquakes. This engineering problem has been solved successfully already. Both the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre reactor plants that are now operating are designed to withstand the ground motion from very large earthquakes, and meet all of the stringent NRC regulatory criteria with adequate margin. There is no reason to believe that earthquake issues should be a barrier to deploying additional reactors in California.

I expect most people here know this, but it does have the virtue of being true.

The report intends to provide a kind of primer around many of the issues concerning nuclear energy – I’d quibble with some of it, I suppose, but it’s clear the authors intend to pin down as many issues as they can.

If California pursues a future with many new reactor sites, state permitting and public acceptance will be issues that could cause major delays in implementing a nuclear route to the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. As far as land use is concerned, nuclear energy is much more economical than any of the renewables. For example, the entire San Onofe 34 hectare site delivers 2.2 GWe while covering all of it with 10% efficient solar cells would only deliver about 1.5% of that at noon on a bright summer day.

Again, the virtue of truth again, but with a wry spin – California does not lack for sunny expanses of land, of course, so solar energy might have a rather strong role to play in the state. Land use issues really become determinative in much more cramped circumstances. Like I said – quibbles.

A quick read – might be a viable link to your friends-on-the-nuclear-fence types.

California’s Diablo Canyon facility. I didn’t realize the “canyon” aspect was so apparent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

NISA Says Stress Tests to Restart Reactors Will Take Months

July 25, 2011

Plant Status

• After a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck offshore from Fukushima in the early hours of July 25, Tokyo Electric Power Co. reported there were no problems with any of the systems used to stabilize the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and no injuries. TEPCO checked the systems for water and nitrogen injection into reactors 1, 2 and 3, the water treatment facility, and the used fuel pool cooling systems for reactors 2 and 3.

• The Japan Atomic Industry Forum said temperatures at the bottom of Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 have remained below 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit) for six consecutive days through July 24. TEPCO says it achieved the lowered temperature by raising the amount of water injected into the reactor. The company has begun implementing step 2 of its recovery plan for the reactors, which includes maintaining temperatures at the bottom of reactors 1, 2 and 3 below 100 degrees Celsius. The stable operation of the circulatory water injection system is crucial to achieving that goal.

• TEPCO said a faulty circuit breaker was the cause of a five-hour loss of electrical power to reactors 3 and 4 July 22. Power for contaminated water treatment and for the reactors’ used fuel pool cooling was eventually restored via an alternate source. TEPCO says there was no major increase in the temperature of the pools. The company is working to improve switching systems among external power supplies.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• A July 28 public Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting will focus on the agency’s near-term task force recommendations for safety enhancements at U.S. nuclear energy facilities after the Fukushima accident.

• International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano today toured the Fukushima Daiichi site, where he met with TEPCO personnel and gave an interview on location describing his visit. Amano is to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and government ministers to discuss the outcomes of the June IAEA ministerial conference on nuclear safety.

• The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said it will take months to complete the first of two-stage “stress tests” it has ordered all Japanese nuclear power reactor operators to conduct before shutdown reactors can restart. NISA said it does not anticipate any of the 22 reactors that were halted for regular safety checks to resume operations this summer. The tests involve computer simulations of the reactors’ responses to emergencies such as earthquakes, tsunamis and loss of off-site power.

• As TEPCO moves into the second stage of its recovery plan at Fukushima, the joint office it operates with the Japanese government to conduct and review its activities will be restructured. A new radiation and health management team will be established, and two other teams will be incorporated into a “medium-to-long term countermeasures” team.

Media Highlights

• The New York Times editorialized on July 24 on the U.S. response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The opinion piece discussed steps taken by the nuclear energy industry and recommendations made by the NRC’s Fukushima-focused task force.

Upcoming Events

• NEI will brief financial analysts in New York tomorrow on the status of the U.S. nuclear energy industry after the events at Fukushima Daiichi. The meeting will be webcast.

• The Foundation for Nuclear Studies will host a July 29 briefing and discussion on the status of Fukushima Daiichi for congressional staff in Washington, D.C. The briefing will be conducted by Lake Barrett, former NRC site director for Three Mile Island and former acting director of the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

Nuclear Energy and Heat, Solar Energy and Japan

solar_panel_japan_103 CBS News finds a new hook for their look at nuclear energy:

Temperatures began going down Sunday in the eastern half of the country, dropping from last week's record triple-digits and easing a heat wave blamed for at least 34 deaths.

Boy, it didn’t feel that way from here, but okay. In any event, the question of where to get more electricity as everyone switches on their air conditioners becomes crystal clear.

Demand was said to be ten percent higher than the average for July, and with demand only growing, going nuclear is getting another look.

The story doesn’t really get into why this should be so and tries to be even handed, not always to its benefit, but it makes a strong point: that if demand for more electricity increases – and it will – then nuclear energy is an excellent way to feed that demand.


The Wall Street Journal talks to Sharp Corp. President Mikio Katayama:

WSJ: Is it necessary for Japan to gradually move away from nuclear power?

Mr. Katayama: It would be too simplistic to say nuclear power is good or bad. There's no doubt that people are starting to question nuclear power's safety and security. Nobody would say "please build a nuclear plant next to my house." The actual cost of nuclear power may be different from previously estimated. Still, under the current system, using an alternative power source would be more costly.

Safety may be the most salient issue for people living relatively close to a nuclear plant, but it may not be so for those who are relatively distant. Wealthy people may not mind paying a bit more for electricity, while others may find it painful. Among businesses, manufacturers that consume a large amount of power and service industries that don't require much power may have different perspectives. The question is how to find a way to design a compromise plan and agree on it. That's what political leaders need to work on.

You might think, well, that’s okay, not great. But it seems strikingly honest given this reality:

Sharp could benefit from the new [Japanese government] policies, which would require utilities to buy up electricity that comes from renewable sources. The company is Japan's largest supplier of solar panels, which accounted for about 9% of Sharp's overall revenue of ¥3.02 trillion (US$38.57 billion) in the last fiscal year.

And that’s important because the government will create a marketplace for people who buy solar panels for their homes. That could spur a lot of business for Sharp.


WSJ: How does Sharp compete against Chinese solar-panel makers?

Mr. Katayama: Solar power, or any other energy, is in the realm of government policies. It would be a huge mistake to think that the cost of solar power is determined by competition among private companies. Governments get involved in all sorts of ways, like feed-in-tariffs or other subsidies for construction of facilities.

Katayama is quite frank that the free market itself cannot push solar energy over the hump of broad acceptance – which is necessary to make the cost of its electricity competitive. So government, having determined that solar energy helps fulfill a public policy goal, provides a push.

But that’s all solar energy inside-baseball stuff. What’s interesting is that a solar energy entrepreneur recognizes the plain difficulty of building a market and providing electricity comparable in price to nuclear energy.

I think Katayama has more government support that he lets on – the Japanese government wants to compete with China in photovoltaics and wants home-sited solar installations, both of which will redound profitably to Sharp.

(Consider this story: “Japan is considering a plan that would make it compulsory for all new buildings and houses to come fitted with solar panels by 2030, a business daily said Sunday.”)

Still – nuclear energy doesn’t seem at all ready to cede its position as the more affordable source of electricity.

In Hakone prefecture. Not exactly NIMBY, but the panels really do mar the look of nice architecture – if they’re visible - which may discourage their adoption in some instances. If the government plan goes through, it’ll be interesting to see how the new buildings accommodate the panels.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

TEPCO Assessment: First Step in Stabilizing Fukushima Reactors Complete

July 22, 2011

Plant Status

• Japanese media are reporting on a joint assessment by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government that the company has met the first step in its effort to stabilize the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site. Among the targets met in the first step include re-establishing stable cooling capacity for reactors 1-3 and the used fuel storage pools for reactors 1-4. The company says it did this by putting recirculating cooling water systems into operation. A key indicator of success, TEPCO says, is that temperatures at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels have decreased and are now stable. TEPCO also says it has reduced the level of radioactive releases from the plant to one-2 millionth of the peak release recorded just after the March accident.

• Typhoon Ma-on has caused water levels to rise in the basements of the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi. On Thursday water in the basement of reactor 1 rose by 24 inches from the previous day, but there is no danger of water overflowing from the basements.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• A public U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting to discuss the agency’s near-term task force recommendations for safety enhancements at U.S. nuclear energy facilities is scheduled for July 28.

• Kansai Electric Power Co. has shut down two of its reactors in Fukui prefecture, one at the Takahama plant and another at Ohi. The plants were due for regular inspections, but will not restart until they have completed government-ordered “stress” tests. The schedule for the tests has not yet been determined. The shutdowns bring the number of operating nuclear reactors in Japan to 17 out of 54.

• Two Japanese supermarket operators are recalling more than 5,900 pounds of beef from Fukushima prefecture cattle that were fed rice straw possibly contaminated with radioactive cesium. The Japanese government is considering buying all contaminated beef. Earlier in the week, the government suspended shipments of beef cattle from the prefecture.

Media Highlights

• A report by Nasdaq/Dow Jones Newswires says Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency could order the country’s nuclear utilities to begin the two-stage European-style “stress tests” on shutdown reactors as early as this week. The results of the tests will inform decisions to restart the reactors.

• Asia-Pacific News says that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano will make a first visit to the Fukushima Daiichi site Monday, July 25. Amano is scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and with government ministers and TEPCO executives.

New Products

• A report by Bisconti Research Inc. on its June public opinion survey of communities near U.S. nuclear plants can be found on NEI’s member website.

• Topline results of a July nationwide survey by Luntz Global of U.S. public and opinion leaders on post-Fukushima attitudes is available on the NEI member website. Luntz’s presentation on communicating nuclear issues is also available.

Upcoming Events

• NEI will brief financial analysts on the status of the nuclear energy industry after the events at Fukushima Daiichi in a meeting in New York July 26. The meeting will be live webcast.

• The Foundation for Nuclear Studies will host a briefing and discussion for congressional staff July 29 on the status of Fukushima Daiichi in Washington, D.C.

Terror and the Nuclear Energy Industry

Department-of-Homeland-Security The US electric reliability watchdog and the power sector said Thursday that they are working with federal authorities and within the industry to shore up security in the face of a recent federal bulletin about potential threats to private sector utilities.

The Department of Homeland Security issued the bulletin on Tuesday.

That’s scary. Not that the utility sector is on a heightened alert and doing something about it but that the need is there to do so. The watchdog in this case is the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees the reliability and adequacy of bulk power transmission in North America (meaning the the U.S., Canada and a bit of Mexico).

Interestingly, NERC and the Department of Energy released a report last month on just this subject.

The report examines three high-impact, low-frequency risks in detail: coordinated cyber, physical, or blended attacks; pandemic illness; and Geomagnetic Disturbances (GMD) and Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) events. These risks are rare, and in some cases have never occurred. Certain protections and mitigations are already in place to address these risks, and the study released today will help the electric sector, public utility commissions, and the federal government to further prepare for these potential risks.

The report itself can be found here. There are a number of proposals for ensuring the safety of the grid. The first one seems germane to the DHS bulletin:

The U.S. DOE and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and appropriate government authorities in Canada should work together to establish clearer and more direct lines of communication and coordination with the electric sector. Focus should be given to improving the timely dissemination of information concerning impending threats and specific vulnerabilities, and on the provision of information with sufficient engineering depth for private sector
entities to evaluate and deploy suggested mitigations.

And that appears to be what has happened in the current instance. The rest of the proposals are well worth reading (in fact, the entire report is interesting.)

Beyond what DHS and NERC have done, several utilities have responded. Here, for example, is Progress Energy:

“It’s something, obviously, we take very seriously,” Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said Thursday morning.

He adds that Progress conducts thorough background checks on all employees, including contract employees, and continues to monitor workers throughout their stay with the company. Some are subjected to psychological examinations.

As for physical protection, Progress, and indeed all nuclear energy facilities, have ramped up security measures, Hughes said, to include more security personnel and better physical barriers to prevent a break in.

And NEI’s response:

Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Steven Kerekes said that "US nuclear energy facilities have in place a comprehensive security structure -- strengthened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- that includes extensive background checks even for temporary employees who would be authorized to work within a plant's 'protected area.' This includes a criminal history review conducted by the FBI."

The DHS guidance "illustrates the ongoing vigilance applied in this area even though, as the DHS notes, there is no specific, credible intelligence of an imminent threat to private sector utilities," Kerekes said.

You can see that the threat here regards the possibility of an inside attack.

"We knew about insider threats and we do have mechanisms in place whether cyber, physical or personnel related," said Ed Legge, spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, the Washington lobby for IOUs [investor owned utilities]. "We tend to have employee redundancy as much as physical redundancy. We have groups of people running the grid versus one guy at any one time and groups of people protecting it as well."

NEI has a section of its web site devoted to plant security and a fact sheet that provides good information about the subject. Here’s a bit detailing the history of a nuclear facility’s security profile:

Congress also responded to public concern over nuclear plant security by including in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 several provisions that increase security requirements or capabilities. As part of the bill, the NRC was directed to officially increase the scope of the design basis threat. It also requires plants to fingerprint and conduct background checks of their employees.

The bill also allowed the NRC to authorize security officers to carry certain advanced weaponry. In addition, the bill increased federal penalties for sabotage and for bringing unauthorized weapons on to a nuclear power plant site.

Many industry security elements are considered “safeguards” information, which means they are controlled on a “need-to-know” basis. Clearly, plant protection capabilities and response strategy should be controlled and protected from public disclosure to avoid compromises that might benefit a potential adversary.

As Kerekes said above, this was all responsive to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, initially targeting “a suicidal, well-trained paramilitary force, armed with automatic weapons and explosives and intent on forcing its way into a nuclear power plant to commit radiological sabotage.” It’s rather sad that such a scenario describes both the world we live in and a bad straight-to-cable action movie. But there it is.

The notion of an insider helping the attacking force was considered originally, so this is not a more recent concern, but the later revision takes account of what DHS is now warning about: an insider who can do considerable damage without help from the outside.

As the bit above makes clear, some of the strategies put in place are not known publically, but what is known is that nuclear energy plants vastly ramped up their security protocols after 2001 and took account of potential insider subversion along the way.

I’m sure this is all true of utilities in general – especially since NERC and its regulatory wing, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (yes, they’re NERC and FERC), interact with other energy generators as well as nuclear facilities (though the NRC can be said to take the lead on such issues in the case of nuclear plants).

So, is this DHS bulleting worrying? Sure it is – one would be foolish not to worry. But is the energy sector, and specifically the nuclear energy sector, utterly without recourse? No – it’s well prepared to deal – and harshly! – with anyone who tries to disrupt the flow of electricity.


On a less alarming note, let’s just say: It’s hot outside! Really hot in many parts of the country, including in Washington, D.C.  And let’s allow that nuclear energy facilities are well-positioned to keep movie theater, bowling alleys and your home nicely crisp and cool:

U.S. reactors, on average, posted a capacity factor of 95.3 percent during the week of July 16-22. Capacity factor is the ratio of the actual electric output of a power plant over a period of time and its output if it had operated at full capacity the entire time. In other words, most nuclear energy facilities were operating around the clock throughout the week.

In fact, only three reactors were down last week. Now, we’re sure that our coal and wind and etc. cousins are doing their bit, but one of the great benefits of nuclear energy is that its facilities can achieve such a high capacity factor for as long as summer lasts (and beyond). If you want, you can keep up with capacity factors on a daily basis because the NRC posts it here for you to peruse. 

We would ask you to let us know when it droops to 36 percent (the average capacity factor of wind power), but then we’d never hear from you. Stay cool!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Not Speeding But Not Stopping

olympic-dam-uranium-mine The analysts at the Commonwealth of Australia Bank want you to know:

"But it is a case of one step backward, two steps forward," they said in a review of the sector. "Nuclear growth plans remain intact in China, India, Russia, South Korea, the U.S. and U.K. among others, and dominate the medium- term uranium industry outlook."

The Australians maintain an interest as a large exporter of uranium, but the salient point is that the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi has not dimmed interest in nuclear energy in many countries. One can see that in any number of stories, but it’s interesting to see it aggregated where its abandonment would cause financial pain – as it would in Australia – even if it has no nuclear facilities of its own. But uranium? it has a lot of that. You can read more about uranium mining in Australia here.

Obviously, not speeding ahead is good policy. But so is not stopping.


Speaking of which:

Developers of major energy projects in the U.K. such as nuclear power plants and the associated grid infrastructure will now have greater certainty on planning applications following parliament's approval of the Energy National Policy Statements, the government said Tuesday.

You can read the rest at the site – this is a procedural change, so we’ll see if it has the intended outcome – but the point is that the U.K., which has been working on this change for awhile sees no reason not to proceed. Plenty of time within this framework to apply lessons learned from Fukushima to license applications as they come in. This simply allows for better planning and allocation of assets for exceptionally big projects.


And a little more:

While America and Europe dither over nuclear power, Asia is going full steam ahead.

According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, 65 percent of nuclear plants, currently under construction, are in Asia, with China and India leading the pack. China, like India, relies on coal for 70 percent of its electricity needs… And both know that the only way to power continued economic growth is through nuclear.

I’m not sure “dither” is the word I’d have used – see bit above for Europe not dithering – but fine. Again, the argument is clear: the benefits of nuclear energy remain well understood and the lessons of Japan will be incorporated as soon as right now and into the period ahead. No reason to stop.

This story is looking primarily at China and India from an investor’s perspective. As always when we point in such a direction, the word is caution: not doing research on stocks before buying can lead to many tears and a grim future.

Australia’s Olympic Dam uranium mine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan Micro-site:

TEPCO Confirms Recovery Plans

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to achieve an improved and stabilized shutdown condition for reactors 1-3 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility within six months, the utility said. TEPCO said it will continue to use the circulating cooling system that decontaminates radioactive water and pumps it back into the reactors. TEPCO estimated it will take about three years to remove the fuel rods from the spent fuel storage pools and build a full-scale water treatment plant at the site.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • A public briefing by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-Fukushima task force was presented to the commissioners July 19. The task force’s slides for the briefing are online. A public NRC meeting to discuss the agency’s task force recommendations is scheduled for July 28.
  • The government of Japan has suspended beef cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture due to concern over radioactive contamination. Many of the herds had been fed rice straw that had been stored in open fields. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the government will compensate affected farmers. The government is asking all 47 prefectures to check cattle feed for radiation.

Media Highlights

  • A report in The Hill, a newspaper focused on government activities in the nation’s capital, quoted from a letter NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel sent to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko commenting on the NRC post-Fukushima task force report. “The task force report lacks the rigorous analysis of issues that traditionally accompanies regulatory requirements proposed by the NRC,” Fertel wrote. “Better information from Japan and more robust analysis is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of actions taken by the NRC and avoid unintended consequences at America’s nuclear energy facilities.”
  • National Public Radio covered the NRC task force report, quoting Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer: “What impressed me about the report is the lack of information that the agency had from Fukushima itself — in fact the report cites that they had either incomplete, unreliable or no information about some of the events there.”
  • A Washington Post editorial said there is “room to learn” from the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and added, “Unlike Japan, America doesn’t have nuclear reactors on a coastline abutting a major subduction zone fault, which can produce earthquakes and tsunamis much larger than, say, the San Andreas can.”

New Products

  • The NRC’s post-Fukushima task force report needs industry examination, writes guest commentator Ed Halpin, president and chief executive officer of STP Nuclear Operating Co. and member of the Fukushima Response Steering Committee, in a new post on NEI’s new microsite on the response to the nuclear accident.

Upcoming Events

  • NEI will brief financial analysts on the status of the nuclear energy industry after the events at Fukushima Daiichi in a meeting in New York July 26.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Secretary Clinton in India

Clinton and Krishna Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is visiting India. There are a skein of issues to discuss, but one with special resonance to us:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Tuesday for easier access to the Indian market for US nuclear energy firms, who are trailing their French and Russian competitors.

Here’s what she had to say about that:

"With regard to our civil nuclear agreement... we need to resolve those issues that still remain so we can reap the rewards of a robust energy partnership," Clinton said in opening remarks during her trip to India.

Creating or expanding a market for goods of any stripe is a job creator, so well worth pursuing. Nuclear trade between India and the U.S. is still relatively new – the treaty opening it was one of President George W. Bush’s last major accomplishments – so effort is still needed to resolve lingering issues. The most serious such issue involves liability:

The United States wants India to "tighten up" legislation to protect equipment makers from liability in case of nuclear accidents, saying it is much more stringent than comparable laws in other countries. General Electric and Westinghouse, the U.S.-based arm of Japan's Toshiba Corp , are keen to take a slice of the market.

Now, India has signed onto the relevant international treaty covering liability, the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, but even at the time it did this last year, most nuclear technology vendors – including those in India’s domestic industry – thought it was inadequate to fully address the liability issue. That’s because the Indian parliament had earlier passed a law that conflicts with the conference and does not adequately shield suppliers from lawsuits.

Here’s what the Indian law says (you can read the legislation here):

The operator of the nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear damage, … shall have a right of recourse where the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects of sub-standard services.”

That provision and the lack of a provision prohibiting individual claims run counter to the convention. Here’s the specific provision in the convention:

The right to compensation for nuclear damage may be exercised only against the operator liable, provided that national law may permit a direct right of action against any supplier of funds that are made available pursuant to provisions in national law to ensure compensation through the use of funds from sources other than the operator.”

There’s no particular reason to think the U.S. is asking for something outlandish here – every other country that engages in trade of nuclear technologies follows the terms of the convention.

Now, to be fair, India has the experience of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, which led to the deaths of nearly 4,000 people. (You can read more about this at the National Institutes of Health.) Serious minds can disagree over the extent and quality of Union Carbide’s disposition of its liability obligation, but cannot dispute that the accident has cast a dark shadow over any subsequent consideration of industrial liability in India.

But, to return to a positive posture, it sounds as though India, at least on the executive level, agrees with Clinton. Here are the comments made by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna:

We reiterated our commitment to taking forward civil nuclear energy cooperation on the basis of full implementation of mutual commitments. We were reassured that United States reaffirmed its commitment for full civil nuclear cooperation. I expressed appreciation for our ongoing engagement and full support of the US for India’s full membership of the four export control regimes and our expectation of progress in tandem on the four regimes. We discussed UNSC reforms and India’s permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council.

Diplomat-speak, of course, with an excess of politesse, but it shows the U.S. and India in sync on trade issues.

Now, I admit that there isn’t much a story here – Clinton and Krishna don’t seem ready to sign anything and I can’t find much evidence that the Indian parliament will revisit the liability issue imminently. But State is pushing for a reconsideration – that’s a plus – and the Indian equivalent seems open to it – another plus. That’s movement – good for the industry, good for trade balance, good for job creation. It’s a worthy effort that should have a few lights shined on it.

Hillary Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna.

Tuesday Update

Government Recommends New Regulatory Oversight Agency for Japan Reactors

Plant Status

  • TEPCO is scheduled today to install a metal cover over the turbine building of reactor 3 before Typhoon Ma-on moves toward the Japanese coast on Tuesday. The 15-foot-by-50-foot structure is meant to cover a hole in the building.
  • TEPCO reported that the nitrogen injection into reactor 3 is not holding pressure. TEPCO is checking for leaks from the primary containment vessel. TEPCO said that it has injected more than 200 cubic meters of nitrogen into the containment vessel to stabilize the reactor, but there has been little increase in pressure within the secondary containment structure at reactor 3.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • Goshi Hosono, Japan’s minister for nuclear crisis management, said he is drawing up plans for a new nuclear regulatory agency that is independent of the Economy and Industry Ministry. The new agency will incorporate some of the monitoring functions now being performed by the Science Ministry’s Nuclear Safety Commission. Hosono said he wants the new entity to be operational by next April.
  • Japanese reactors that are currently shut down should reopen once their safety is assured, Hosono said. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has developed two-stage computer-based stress tests to assess the resistance of the reactors to earthquakes, tsunamis, and loss of power and cooling capacity. The first-stage tests will apply to reactors that were shut down for regular inspections. The secondary tests are for all reactors and involve simulations for an earthquake accompanied by tsunami.
  • U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko spoke today on near-term lessons learned from Fukushima at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. NEI transmitted a letter to the commission on the NRC’s 90-day task force report and recommendations.  Jaczko is seeking a 90-day period for consideration of the task force recommendations, but the industry believes that more data is needed from Japan before many of the recommendations can be reviewed by the five NRC commissioners.
  • Reiterating the urgency of restarting shutdown nuclear reactors, the chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives said the shortfall in electricity supply could cause more companies to shift manufacturing abroad and affect the global competitiveness of Japanese industry.

Media Highlights

Upcoming Events

  • The NRC’s near-term post-Fukushima task force will brief the commissioners on its report at a public meeting July 19. A public NRC meeting to discuss the report is scheduled for July 28.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan Micro-site:

TEPCO Expects To Meet First Recovery Deadline

July 15, 2011

Plant Status

• Tokyo Electric Power Co. expects to meet its self-imposed July 19 deadline to stabilize reactor cooling and mitigate radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. That work includes injecting inert nitrogen gas into the reactor 3 containment vessel, which started today. The nitrogen is intended to help prevent a potential explosion of built-up hydrogen. TEPCO has been injecting nitrogen into reactors 1 and 2 since April 7 and June 28 respectively. The next major milestone in the plan for Fukushima recovery includes cold shutdowns for reactors 1-3, which are expected to take place in the next three to six months.

• TEPCO continues to have difficulties with water decontamination equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi site. The system that is used to decontaminate and recycle cooling water is performing 20 percent below its target level. Toshiba this week unveiled a new decontamination system that can supplement the one already in use. It is expected to be in place by early August.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• The Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has told TEPCO to improve its control of worker exposure to radiation at Fukushima Daiichi. The agency also asked TEPCO to increase the number of safety managers for contract workers. There are about 3,000 people at the site working to recover from the accident.

• Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan should gradually reduce its use of nuclear energy until it is no longer used at all. The government plans to review Japan’s energy policy, which now calls for building more reactors.

Media Highlights

• Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, participated in a teleconference for the media following the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s release of its post-Fukushima task force report. Several outlets included his comments in their coverage, including The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, the Christian Science Monitor, and Platts. Pietrangelo also appeared in an interview on Reuters television, and NEI issued a statement on the report.

New Products

• A graphic on NEI’s post-Fukushima website, “Commitment to Continuous Learning, Safety,” which outlines significant actions the industry has taken to ensure that American nuclear energy facilities are operating safely and securely.

• A backgrounder on how the U.S. nuclear industry is learning lessons from Fukushima and enhancing safety at nuclear facilities.

Upcoming Events

• The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s NRC’s near-term post-Fukushima task force will brief the commissioners on its report at a public meeting July 19. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak on lessons from Fukushima at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on July 18. A public NRC meeting to discuss the report is scheduled for July 28.

Bad Directions: Energy Blog Post Directs Readers to Shoddy AP Series

Around the time of the July 4 holiday, we responded to a four-part series published by The Associated Press that was larded with inaccuracies about the nuclear energy industry. It’s one thing for a single newspaper to get something wrong in a single print file; quite another when a global news wire service devotes more than a year and notable resources to an “investigative” series characterized by shoddy reporting throughout. What could have been a notable public service by the AP instead turned out to be a grievously misguided series that lacked vital context. NEI’s Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo pulled no punches in assessing the merits of the AP series in a video posted to our YouTube channel.

Most recently, this post – AP: US nuclear power plant safety isn’t being tightly regulated – directs readers to the AP articles. While the post contains some perspective that highlights how nuclear energy can be beneficial in the economic and environmental arenas, the AP series most certainly does not. And we weren’t the only ones troubled by the AP reporting – our regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, took the unusual step of responding formally and directly and critically to the news organization’s series.

It is wrong to conclude that nuclear plant operators are systemically working with regulators to endanger the lives of employees, their families and their neighbors by implementing subpar standards and regulations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses the professionals who operate a facility’s reactor, in addition to continuously assessing a plant’s performance and safety. The independent NRC inspectors who work at each nuclear energy facility have unfettered access to workers and information at that site and have the authority to shut down facilities they believe are unsafe. They can also order changes in operations. Bottom line: the NRC can shut America’s nuclear plants down if they aren’t operating safely.

And if there is ever a doubt in nuclear power safety, remember this fact: there have been zero “abnormal occurrences” [the NRC’s term] throughout the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the past eight years (2003-10). Optimized technology, expertise and innovation from industry employees (your neighbors), continuous sharing of plant operating experience and precise monitoring capabilities are among the reasons U.S. citizens near nuclear energy facilities are safe.

The author of the BoingBoing post references protection of the Ft. Calhoun reactor in Nebraska in the wake of record Missouri River flooding. The facility was safe because it met all NRC requirements for flood protection (it was designed and built on a higher elevation as step one) and because Omaha Public Power District took additional measures to hold flood waters back. Among these extra measures was installing a 2,000 foot long water-filled berm to protect electrical equipment—yet another example of the nuclear energy industry exceeding federal safety standards.

Every industry has its supporters and detractors, and the flow of information will be abundant. This is why we urge everyone to effectively weigh the information included and omitted in the AP series by reading “Setting the Record Straight: NEI Responds to AP Series on Nuclear Energy.”

Safe, reliable nuclear energy is a vital part of America’s energy portfolio today. The industry is building new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina and designing the next generation of plants to maintain the most significant of low-carbon electricity we have to secure our energy future.

By NEI’s Media Relations Manager, John Keeley (you can see him in the YouTube video)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Update

From NEI’s Japan Micro-site:

Plant Status

• Tokyo Electric Power Co. has measured high levels of radioactivity inside reactor building 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The company believes the source of the radioactivity is steam from the reactor. TEPCO has been using robotic measuring devices to conduct radiation surveys inside three reactor buildings and in areas surrounding the buildings since early this month.

• New water cooling systems are planned for the spent fuel storage pools at reactors 1 and 4 at Fukushima Daiichi. The fuel storage pools at reactors 2 and 3 already have new cooling systems and water temperatures are in the normal range.

Structures supporting the used fuel storage pool of reactor 3 at Fukushima Daiichi are seismically sound, TEPCO reported. The analysis was ordered by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• Officials in Fukushima prefecture will inspect cattle after cesium was detected in cattle shipped from Minamisoma city. Livestock in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility will be inspected, along with at least one head of cattle from other farms.

• Fukushima prefecture plans to test its population of 2 million people for internal radiation. Screening for residents from the evacuation zone is in progress.

Media Highlights

• NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel has a comment on the National Journal Expert Blog on Energy and Environment, responding to the question “Should America follow Europe’s lead on energy?” Fertel writes: “We should take a measured approach to global events based on what’s right for America.” He cites the nuclear energy industry’s experience, referencing its response to events in Japan.

New Products

• Three new backgrounders have been posted to NEI’s new post-Fukushima website. They discuss the NRC’s strict regulatory oversight of nuclear energy facilities, describe security for used nuclear fuel, and outline protection against flooding.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NRC’s 90 Day Report from the Fukushima Task Force

image Today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published its Fukushima task force’s Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century (pdf). This is a significant report because it sets the stage for what’s to come over the next few years to enhance nuclear safety. Here are a few nuggets from our press release on the report:

The task force report confirms the safety of U.S. nuclear energy facilities and recommends actions to enhance U.S. nuclear plant readiness to safely manage severe events.

The task force report does not cite significant data from the Fukushima accident to support many of its recommendations. Given the mammoth challenge it faced in gathering and evaluating the still-incomplete information from Japan, the agency should seek broader engagement with stakeholders on the task force report to ensure that its decisions are informed by the best information possible.

The industry reiterates our commitment to make nuclear plant safety our top priority. Even as the NRC and industry separately have taken steps to identify additional layers of protection to enhance nuclear plant safety, the NRC and many of our nation’s leaders have recognized that U.S. reactors are safe.

Besides what NEI has to say, here are a few nuggets from the NRC report to mention:

The current regulatory approach, and more importantly, the resultant plant capabilities allow the Task Force to conclude that a sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States and some appropriate mitigation measures have been implemented, reducing the likelihood of core damage and radiological releases. Therefore, continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety. p. vii

The primary responsibility for safety rests with the licensees, and the NRC holds licensees accountable for meeting regulatory requirements. p. 19

This [proposed] framework, by itself, would not create requirements nor eliminate any current requirements. It would provide a more coherent structure within the regulations to facilitate Commission decisions relating to what issues should be subject to NRC requirements and what those requirements ought to be. p. 21

As discussed earlier, the Task Force believes the voluntary industry initiatives could play a useful and valuable role in the suggested framework. p. 21

In a new regulatory framework, risk assessment and defense-in-depth would be combined more formally. p. 21

And here’s a valuable nugget on new plant designs:

By nature of their passive designs and inherent 72-hour coping capability for core, containment, and spent fuel pool cooling with no operator action required, the ESBWR and AP1000 designs have many of the design features and attributes necessary to address the Task Force recommendations. The Task Force supports completing those design certification rulemaking activities without delay. p. 71

Good to hear. For more on the industry’s perspective, see our Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, in an interview with Reuters Insider.