Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

Three Fukushima Reactors Below Boiling Point

September 30, 2011

Plant Status

  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced this week that the three damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi now are below 100 Celsius at the bottom of the reactor vessels. Reactor 2 is the last reactor to drop below boiling point, after TEPCO in recent weeks began augmenting cooling by spraying water from above the fuel. Temperatures at reactors 1 and 3 have been below 100 Celsius since August. TEPCO said it would declare the reactors to be in a “cold shutdown” condition once the temperatures at the bottom of the vessels drop below 90 Celsius and other conditions are met to achieve stable cooling. The company expects to attain this goal by the end of the year.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The Japanese government today lifted evacuation advisories for five towns located between the 12-mile to 19-mile advisory ring around the Fukushima Daiichi facility. Residents in the advisory zone had been asked to evacuate or remain indoors. About half the population that chose to evacuate—about 28,500 residents—will be allowed to return to their homes. Evacuation orders within the 12-mile zone remain in place.
  • Japan’s upper house of parliament voted Friday to undertake a yearlong parliamentary investigation into the Fukushima accident. A 10-member panel of independent experts, to be appointed by lawmakers from both chambers, will be empowered to call witnesses and documents and will submit a draft report in about six months.

Media Highlights

Upcoming Events

  • Exelon Generation Co. Chief Operating Officer Charles Pardee will brief the U.S. Energy Association’s energy supply forum Oct. 4 on safety and preparedness issues at America’s nuclear energy facilities.
  • U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak at a National Journal event Oct. 5 on the global implications of the Japan nuclear accident.
  • The NRC commissioners will be briefed in a public meeting Oct. 11 on prioritization of long-term recommendations from its Japan task force. The briefing will be webcast.

What Is An "Unusual Event?"

While keeping my ear to the ground on Twitter today, I came across this message from the editor at West Chester Patch.

For those of you unfamiliar with safety procedures at American nuclear plants, the term "unusual event" is an official definition that the plant is required to use. As the folks at Nuclear Tourist helpfully remind us ...

The Notification of Unusual Event (NOUE) is the lowest NRC emergency action level and requires that the utility notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the state emergency agency. The NUE indicates there is a degradation of safety systems, although not serious enough to warrant special activation of the utility emergency organization.
I hope that clears things up.

NRC Issues Press Release Concerning North Anna Re-Start

The following press release was just issued by NRC.

NRC CONFIRMS POST-EARTHQUAKE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE NORTH ANNA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has informed Dominion Generation, operator of the two-reactor North Anna nuclear power plant near Louisa, Va., of actions that must be completed before the agency will authorize the restart of the plant. The plant shut down safely following the Aug. 23 earthquake near Louisa.

“We’re reviewing Dominion’s information to ensure North Anna’s systems will be able to keep the public safe and the plant won’t start up again until we’re satisfied on that point,” said Eric Leeds, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “We’re working diligently on coming to a technically sound decision.”

The NRC has issued Dominion a Confirmatory Action Letter, which reiterates that since the Aug. 23 earthquake exceeded design parameters for North Anna, the plant will remain shut down until Dominion demonstrates “to the Commission that no functional damage occurred to those features necessary for continued operation without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.” The letter then lays out the next steps in the restart process, starting with Dominion submitting documentation responding to all NRC questions regarding restart safety.

“Inspectors from the NRC Region II office and other agency experts will conduct additional onsite inspections at North Anna to verify that adequate actions have been taken in response to the Confirmatory Action Letter,” said Victor McCree, administrator of the NRC’s Atlanta office.

The NRC will also complete a safety evaluation regarding restart. The NRC’s directive will remain in effect until the NRC is satisfied Dominion has demonstrated the plant is safe to operate; at that point the agency would issue written permission for Dominion to restart the plant. North Anna Unit 2 is currently in a refueling outage and is shut down for refueling and associated maintenance.

###
More details as we get them.

Readers Weigh In On CJR's Look at AP Series on Nuclear Energy

A few days back, I pointed to a piece by the Columbia Journalism Review that took a look at NEI's dispute with the Associated Press over their series on the safety of nuclear power plants. Since that piece was published on Wednesday, a number of readers have weighed in with some interesting comments. We've included a few below:

I see you think the plants were designed for 40 years of use. I think rather that the plants were licensed for 40 years of use. When you get a drivers license lasting for four years, do you expect to quit driving after four years?

When a steam generator is replaced in a plant is the new steam generator less reliable that the same steam generator placed in a new plant?

The point here is safety is not determined by plant age. Safety is determined by measuring how safe something is. Is the plant safe when it is new? Is the plant safe 10 years later? Is the plant safe 40 years later? Is the plant safe 60 years later? Safety is not based on the age of the plant! This is especially true when large parts of the plant are replaced over time.

[...]

Jeff Donn did what many reporters do in similar situations. He presented material without context and relied on “experts” friendly to his point of view to make the material seem far more devastating than it actually is. The nuclear industry was right to go for the throat in this instance. They learned the hard way during the 70’s that if they don’t hit back at reporting like this it will over time do irreparable damage to the industry.

[...]

Understanding how carefully nuclear power plants are maintained requires more than a cursory look at some of the countless pages of documents that the industry produces every year. It is not news to any engineer that pipes made of steel occasionally rust or develop thinning walls, that electrical cable insulation becomes brittle in certain situations, or that valves develop leaking seals. We have inspection routines and planned maintenance systems that are designed to identify these situations and correct them before they cause major risks.
I'm sure there are more to come. Please feel free to join the fray. Click here to leave your own.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Name on the Dotted Line

PetitionsThis is posted on the White House’s We the People website, which allows we the people to create polls and collect signatures to show support or opposition to various things involving the federal government:

This petition is a response to the "End taxpayer subsidies for new nuclear reactors" petition.

Due to the manufactured controversy that is the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, perpetuated by a scientifically illiterate news media, the public is unnecessarily hostile to nuclear power as an energy source.

To date nobody has died from the accident and Fukushima, and nuclear power has the lowest per Terra-watt hour death toll of any energy source known to man:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

The Obama administration should take better strides to educate the public regarding this important energy source.

I’m not sure I agree with the much of the language here or even agree that the Obama administration has done a crummy job making the point that nuclear energy is key to the U.S. energy future. Poll numbers on nuclear energy took a hit after the Fukushima accident, certainly, but have largely recovered.

But that’s not the point, is it? You can decide for yourself if you think the petition is worth your signature. After all, if you want to create an alternate petition for others to sign, you can. 

You have to sign up for a free account on the site to sign the petition – and any number of others that are there – or create your own. The Next Big Future site describes itself as covering “science and technology having high potential for disruption and analysis of plans, policies and technology to enable radical improvements.” I assume it means radical improvements to our lives – in any event, a review of its posts show that it isn’t hauling a lot of ideological freight and covers a large number of topics.

As the poll description above indicates, the site is pugnaciously in favor of nuclear energy and participates in the Carnival of Nuclear Energy NNN hosted this week. Other than that, NEI has no affiliation with The Next Big Future, though it’s always nice to spotlight one of our blog roll friends.

If you want to know about the poll to which this one is a response, well, you’re on your own, buster.

The picture comes from a Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour event in North Carolina. I have no brief on the group – nice photo, though.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

Fukushima City to Decontaminate 110,000 Residences

September 28, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • Fukushima City plans to remove radioactive materials from private houses, parks and meeting venues in the city. The plan includes decontamination of all 110,000 residences in the city over two years, with emphasis on households with children. Cleaners will scrub roofs, remove concrete and decontaminate ditches.
  • Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission is resuming its discussions on revisions to the country’s nuclear policy, which were started last year and interrupted by the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The commission has added new members with expertise in safety. The country’s policy on nuclear energy was developed in 1956 and has been revised roughly every five years since.
  • The Makinohara City Assembly has called for the permanent shutdown of a local nuclear energy facility unless its safety can be guaranteed. The city is within 6.5 miles of Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka nuclear power station. Three of the facility’s five reactors were shut down following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The other two had already been taken off line for decommissioning.

New Products

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry nuclear energy facility withstood a historic spate of tornadoes earlier this year, shutting off external electricity to the plant. Managers at the facility talk about safety measures in a new report on NEI’s Safety First website.

Media Highlights

  • Japan’s government will have to remove and store as much as 29 million cubic meters of contaminated soil as cleanup progresses after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, Reuters reports.
  • Radiation levels approaching the government-set safety limit have been detected in rice harvested In Nihonmatsu, a city near Fukushima Daiichi, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports. Rice grown in the city will be subjected to additional testing.

Upcoming Events

  • The NRC commissioners will be briefed on prioritization of long-term recommendations from its Japan task force in a public meeting Oct. 11. The briefing will be webcast.
  • NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will participate in an Oct. 4 American Nuclear Society/NRC live online webinar for nuclear bloggers. Participants may submit questions in advance to BlogMtg1.Resource@nrc.gov.
  • Jaczko also will speak on the global implications of the Fukushima accident Oct. 5 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. More information is at the National Journal’s event website.

Memories of an Earthquake

How serious was the earthquake the hit the east coast last month. Consider:

rapelling

These fine folk are starting at the top of the Washington Monument and rappelling down to check out the structure. In the meantime, the monument is closed to the public. Here’s some detail:

The team [two men and two women] plans to climb up and down the monument to check each stone for cracks, chips and other damage caused by the 5.8-magnitude quake that shook the nation's capital Aug. 23. They will take breaks as needed by making a descent that can take 12 to 15 minutes without stops, and resume work by riding the elevator back to the top.

Presumably, the fourth team member is on the dark side of the monument. Happily, these aren’t just daredevils without portfolio.

[Team member Erik] Sohn is part of a team from a private firm that's certified with a rare combination of climbing and engineering skills.

and:

Each team member is carrying several items, including a digital camera, an iPad that includes data from the 1999 restoration of the monument, a two-way radio, masonry tools that will allow them to remove loose pieces of stone or mortar and a soft mallet for audio testing.

An iPad! Hip engineer daredevils!

---

And speaking of that August 23 earthquake, what about the North Anna plant in Virginia that has been closed since it occurred?

Dominion Resources officials said vibration from an August 23 earthquake in Virginia detected inside the two North Anna nuclear reactors caused the units to shut rather than a loss of power into the station, a Dominion spokesman said on Tuesday.

Which it’s supposed to do. The reason the two reactors remain closed is because no U.S. nuclear plant has experienced an earthquake larger than its design basis and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Dominion want to be thorough in their review of the facility. It can also act as a case study of such an incident.

Even with these ongoing efforts, Dominion is ready to roll:

Richmond-based Dominion had asked the commission to possibly restart one of the reactors by the end of the month…

But may be cooling its heels until the NRC issues a report, now due in late October. We’ll see.

Changing Minds in Subtle Ways

booth-tarkington-300Energy Secretary Steven Chu wants you to know:

“The rise of automobiles was driven by environmental pollution,” Chu said, explaining that horse manure had become a major problem in urban streets like New York City. “Carbon dioxide now is like horse manure then” — except, Chu noted, that carbon dioxide doesn’t have the same kind of odor problem that manure does.
This caught my attention because it seemed to speak to a frustration that electric cars have not gained the traction that seemed likely by this time. But there may be more at work here.
The change from horse to car was a key paradigm shift of the 20th century and had nothing whatever to do with clean air. Less smell and cleaner streets, yes, plus of course the technological advances that made the horseless carriage possible. Industrialization. The assembly line. Ford, etc.
With such a large change comes large concerns. Here’s what Eugene Morgan, the fictional automobile pioneer in Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), said about it:
With all their speed forward they [autos] may be a step backward in civilization. May be that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of the men's souls, I'm not sure. But automobiles have come and almost all outward things will be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. May be that in ten to twenty years from now that if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but agree with George - that automobiles had no business to be invented.
And that’s a pretty good explication of a paradigm shift. (George is the protagonist, who considers cars a nuisance.) Tarkington was prescient for 1918, still very early in the history of cars. He gets it exactly right: “Men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles.”
But strikingly, the rise of electric cars, if it happens, will not change minds very much. In fact, the wholesale adoption of them may feel like a lost opportunity to move people not just forward, but as far forward as the combustion engine did.
From jet packs at the 1939 Worlds Fair to teleportation as popularized on Star Trek, folks have dreamed of something other than the car almost since the invention of the car – maybe because autos really haven’t “added to the beauty of the world or the life of the men's souls,” maybe because people always dream of the next big thing. The electric car seems in this context rather small, just a continuation of the combustion engine in electric form. It  may be that electric cars are simply hard to dream about.
So we won’t see electric cars as our ancestors saw combustion engines, as streets became cleaner and less stinky and as people used their new-found mobility to seek a different life outside cities. They’re not a life changer.
I’m not sure people can work up much feeling for the idea that carbon dioxide is the horse manure of the new century, though they can accept it intellectually. It’s a change that will be, at best, abstract – a harder sell – one worth continuing to make, surely, but not one that will change or disturb us.
Booth Tarkington – maybe it was the nature of photography then, but I’ve never seen a photograph of Tarkington that made him seem warm or friendly.
Of course, we know that Tarkington’s references to men’s souls and changing men’s minds are terribly old-fashioned. But that’s how things got put in 1918 – you just go with the flow.

CJR Critiques AP Series on Nuclear Plant Safety

Over the Summer that the Associated Press (AP) ran a four-part series on safety at America's nuclear power plants by reporter Jeff Donn. Needless to say, everyone here at NEI believed the stories had some significant holes, ones that we detailed in a formal rebuttal back in June.

Earlier today, the Columbia Journalism Review published a the latest edition of its Audit Arbiter series about our dispute with the AP. Please give it a read right now.

POSTSCRIPT: Click here for the formal response from NEI's media team. Click here for additional material we published here on NEI Nuclear Notes, including links to other third party sources that found the AP's work less than convincing. NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, outlined his objections to the reporting in a video report that can be found here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Monday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

Japan to Lift Evacuation Advisories for 5 Municipalities

Sept. 26, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • Japan’s government will lift evacuation advisories for five municipalities between the 12-mile to 19-mile advisory zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility, said Tadahiro Matsushita, senior vice minister for economy, trade and industry. Residents in the advisory zone were asked either to evacuate or remain indoors. About half of the residents chose to evacuate, and they will be allowed to begin returning to their homes.
  • The Japanese government last week provided the IAEA General Conference with its second report on progress made by TEPCO and the government to recover from the Fukushima accident. The report outlines lessons learned since the company submitted its first report in June. It also describes longer-term responses to the accident at the plant site and in the neighboring region.
  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, meeting for the first time with Japan’s parliament, said decisions on building new nuclear energy facilities will be considered on a case-by-case basis and incorporate local public opinion. The new government is reviewing its overall energy policy, including the role of nuclear energy.
  • At the United Nations general assembly in New York last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provided the delegates with a summary of the U.N. systemwide study on the implications of the Fukushima accident. The summary proposes some follow-up actions, including an assessment of the environmental and health effects of the accident. A task force will report its findings to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Japan will co-host with the IAEA a second international conference next year to share results of the overall assessment of the accident and recommend measures to be taken by the international community to enhance nuclear safety standards.

Plant Status

  • Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has asked TEPCO to check whether hydrogen is building up at Fukushima Daiichi reactors 2 and 3. Last week, TEPCO detected hydrogen in a pipe leading to the containment vessel of reactor 1. The company said it would measure levels of hydrogen in all three reactors before injecting nitrogen and taking other measures to prevent hydrogen ignition.
  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. has released a video containing footage taken at different locations around the Fukushima Daiichi site. The clips show various activities the company is undertaking at the facility, including the installation of the cover being built around reactor 1, radiation monitoring, and operation of water purification systems.

New Products

Media Highlights

  • Dow Jones, NHK Today and The Wall Street Journal have reported on the efforts by TEPCO to begin compensating evacuees for damages related to the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Among the categories for which people are eligible for compensation are evacuation costs, loss of income, costs of radiation testing and mental suffering.
  • The Associated Press and others have reported on low levels of cesium contamination being found in Japan’s rice crop. Of samples tested in more than 400 locations in Fukushima prefecture, one sample was found contain cesium at 500 becquerels per kilogram, equivalent to the government-approved consumption limit. The highest contamination level previously found was 136 becquerels per kilogram.
  • Reuters reports on the re-election of a pro-nuclear mayor in the western Japanese town of Kaminoseki. Mayor Shigemi Kashiwabara supports Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s plan to build a new nuclear energy facility in the region. His opponent, who wanted the plan scrapped, was defeated in the election.

Upcoming Events

  • NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak Oct. 5 at a National Journal event on the global implications of the Japan nuclear accident.
  • The NRC commissioners will be briefed in a public meeting Oct. 11 on prioritization of long-term recommendations from its Japan task force. The briefing will be webcast.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mandatory Meetings

wyomingLater this week, The Nuclear Energy Commission will host what it calls a mandatory meeting between the commissioners and the NRC staff on the combined license for Southern Co.’s two reactors at its Vogtle site in Georgia. This is important as it is the first time this type of meeting has been held under NRC’s more streamlined process for licensing nuclear reactors.

So what is it?  The Atlanta Journal-Constitutions Kristy Swartz offers a preview:

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s mandatory hearing will review, among other things, emergency planning, cybersecurity and how nuclear waste will be stored at the reactor site. The NRC will not issue a ruling until perhaps early next year; with that ruling comes the construction license for the units.

Nathan Ives, a senior manager with Ernst & Young, said his initial review of documents didn’t turn up any red flags. But Ives, a consultant in the energy and nuclear industry, said regulators likely will scrutinize heavily Southern Nuclear’s plans to handle disasters, including floods and earthquakes.

Although Southern Co. will speak, the meeting will focus on the commissioners questioning of the staff – this isn’t the place to try to make the case that the project should go forward because that’s essentially settled but whether the NRC staff has done a good enough job of vetting the license application and all the issues associated with it and through it, the project.

How will it go? I couldn’t even begin to say – except – that it will probably go differently than if it had occurred before the accident in Japan. Not necessarily in tenor, but likely in focus. Even the NRC’s meeting announcement suggests its current interests:

The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. on Sept. 27 in the Commissioner’s Conference Room at NRC Headquarters, 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. The Commission expects to discuss the staff’s Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) on the first day, with discussion of the staff’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) starting on Sept. 28. The hearing will be open to public observation and will be webcast. A detailed agenda and presentation slides will be available in advance on the Commission’s meeting transcript page.

It’ll be interesting to see how much hardened vents, flooding and used fuel pools come up in the discussion. You can pick up the slides here and the webcast can be followed here.

---

“Let’s play this scenario out,” Crane said in a morning-long session with the committee. “This thing’s going to take five years before you know even whether you have NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] approval. It’s going to cost $100 million to get to that mark, that’s what nuclear costs, and you’ve got a five-year window of massive uncertainty to even know whether you’re going to get the approval.

“These are very capital-intensive,” she went on to explain. “They take many, many years, have a huge amount of uncertainty for the first five years, and then you have your typical construction risks.”

If you’re going to undertake a nuclear energy plant, then you’d better know the risks. That’s what Cindy Crane, vice president of PacifiCorp Energy’s Interwest Mining told the Task Force on Nuclear Energy Production convened by the state legislature to explore the possibility of a plant in – wait for it – Wyoming.

Wyoming has about 560,000 people in it, though outside Cheyenne, you could spend a lot of time trying to locate them. In as much as there is a plan, it is to share the cost of the facility and the electricity itself with five other states – that is, the service area of PacifiCorp.

Casper Journal writer Greg Fladager does a good job of covering the discussion between Crane and the task force. Here is Crane on CWIP or Construction Work in Progress, which might be considered as a funding mechanism. It works by charging a modest uprate to customers while a project is ongoing

“I think ‘construction work in progress’ is advantageous for the regulated utilities. I think whether it fully covers your $100 million outlay risk ... anything and everything that can help cover that risk will be very important,” Crane said. “It could take different flavors, but I think that’s the single biggest hurdle, certainly for a multi-state, regulated utility like PacifiCorp.”

That led into a discussion of the complexity of applying CWIP to a regulated utility that averages its rates among several states (six states for Rocky Mountain Power and Pacific Power). That means Wyoming rate payers wouldn’t pay for a new power plant alone, it would be spread among six states.

Fladager doesn’t mention it, but the value of CWIP to the ratepayer is that it can forestall, lessen or eliminate interest payments to a bank, saving a lot of money on a project and thus a more onerous rate increase later on. (This isn’t just a nuclear energy thing – most large plants cost more than an American private company could pay comfortably.)

But he does show the task force really working through the issues. Hard to say from one article, but the Wyoming project does seem to be well-shepherded. Worth a read.

Well, no one said a task force meeting in Wyoming was going to be a barrel of laughs. The Task Force on Nuclear Energy Production meets in Casper.

71st Carnival of Nuclear Energy: Critical Reviews, History and Future Stuff

Today, we have the privilege of hosting the carnival for the seventh time in its young history. We have contributions from ten folks discussing a whole slew of things on nuclear.

History

In the latest APR Atomic Journal, Will Davis completes the story of the Elk River nuclear plant built back in the late ‘50 and ‘60s. Using original and never-before-seen material, he takes you back in time to describe one of the first reactors constructed in the world.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future noted that research on radiation from back in 1946 was uncovered that suppressed evidence related to benign low doses of radiation.

Speaking of history, Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat reported on Siemens’ exit from the nuclear energy industry. In doing so, the firm is leaving the potential for substantial revenue. Siemens will scrap its deal with Russia’s Rosatom to develop the state-owned firm's VVER pressurized water reactor (PWR) to compete with exports from Areva. Siemens said the firm felt that after Fukushima, demand for reactor exports would diminish, casting doubt on the financial viability of the deal.

Future stuff

Brian Wang also highlighted the progress of the Sanmen AP1000 construction in China with the installation of the pressure vessel.

Margaret Harding at 4 Factor Consulting was on vacation on a cruise out in the Pacific Ocean, but was inspired to write about nuclear power cruise ships in the hope that someday they might be a reality she might get to be on.

Charles Barton at Nuclear Green discussed a plan on how Generation IV nuclear power systems are economically viable, even when countries are faced with a sovereign debt crisis. From Barton:

by adopting more advanced nuclear technology, and adopting the thorium fuel cycle, all the objections brought against nuclear power by renewable advocates can be demonstrated to be fallacious. If we want to avoid a climate disaster, we have no choice other than to commit to a massive deployment of nuclear power. Even in the face of a sovereign debt crisis, a massive deployment of LFTRs [liquid fluoride thorium reactors] is possible.

Critical Reviews

Steve Skutnik at Neutron Economy reviewed journalist Tom Zoellner's popular book: Uranium (basically a history of uranium with a slightly bent position). Skutnik, of course, gave it a critical review and even earned a comment from the author himself. Here’s Steve:

remarkably absent from Zoellner's narrative is much discussion of the flip side of the coin: the promise of clean, abundant energy in addition to a cornucopia of advances in medicine, agriculture, and engineering.

Inspired by a Wall Street Journal article, Rod Adams at Atomic Insights took a look at the companies and individuals that benefit from higher fossil fuel prices and larger sales volumes resulting from irrationally shutting down undamaged nuclear plants in response to the Fukushima disaster. Rod believes that plans are being executed to take advantage of the Japan situation to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) by nuclear energy competitors who want nuclear's market share for themselves.

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues took issue with the Canadian Auto Workers union for their alliance with a renewable energy association in order to promote and create jobs. Instead, Aplin has a better recommendation for creating jobs and generating low cost electricity: nuclear.

Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk attended the Energy Information Administration’s press event rolling out the International Energy Outlook 2011. Despite the fact that the IEO reports haven’t been the most favorable to nuclear in past years, she found the event interesting from a nuclear perspective:

In particular, the report has been a year in the making, and some of the information in it is already dated. The report shows the penetration of nuclear power increasing from 5% to 7% of total energy demand globally by 2035. However, Dr. Gruenspecht pointed out that the nuclear portion of the report was developed prior to the Fukushima event, and was not adjusted to reflect the decisions several countries have made following that event.

And last but not least, Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee analyzed VT’s energy plan (or lack thereof) published by the Department of Public Service last week. In her post, Meredith reviewed the 700 page draft energy plan which is the plan for Vermont without VY. Vermonters have only 4 weeks to review it. Luckily for Meredith, the documents had no actual content (no plan, no numbers) so reviewing it was quick work for her.

Hope you enjoyed, stay tuned for next week’s carnival at Yes Vermont Yankee!

Friday, September 23, 2011

NEI Responds to Markey Letter on Nuclear Power Plant Loan Guarantee Program

Earlier today, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Representatives Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) demanding that they hold hearings into the implementation of the nuclear power plant loan guarantee program.

The following statement concerning Rep. Markey's letter is from NEI's Rapid Response Team:

In a Sept. 23, 2011, letter, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) raises questions about the nuclear energy industry’s role in the process of developing the regulations that govern the clean energy loan guarantee program authorized by the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Specifically, Mr. Markey raises questions about the issue of subordination, and the nuclear energy industry’s position on this issue. NEI has never suggested that the U.S. Department of Energy should accept a subordinate position with respect to any other lender under the DOE loan guarantee program.

Mr. Markey’s letter demonstrates convincingly that he does not understand financing or the rules governing the loan guarantee program. Here are the facts:
  • Many of the clean energy projects eligible for DOE loan guarantees have multiple sources of debt financing—some debt guaranteed by the Department of Energy, some from other sources. In the case of certain nuclear power projects, for example, it was expected that other countries’ export credit agencies would provide debt financing side-by-side with the DOE-guaranteed debt.
  • The original rule promulgated by the Department of Energy in 2007 reflected a flawed interpretation of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, and asserted that DOE must have a “superior right” (i.e., the department must be in a first lien position) on the entire project, whether or not it was the only provider of debt financing. Under the 2007 rule, other lenders would have been forced to accept a subordinate position to DOE. This runs counter to standard financing protocols and made financing impossible.
  • The nuclear energy industry drew DOE’s attention to this flaw in the rule, as did the other clean energy technologies eligible for DOE loan guarantees.
  • In a March 2, 2009, letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the American Wind Energy Association urged DOE to change the 2007 rule to “allow DOE to share collateral pari-passu (i.e., equally and without preference) with all non-guaranteed project lenders.”
  • In a May 19, 2009, letter to President Obama, seven clean energy trade associations (representing the wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, combined heat and power, nuclear energy, biomass energy and hydropower industries) urged DOE to “[c]orrect the current requirement under the 2007 regulations that DOE must have a first lien on all project assets … and permit DOE discretion as to the scope of a given project’s collateral package. The regulations must allow for more flexible collateral-sharing arrangements, including pari passu treatment of the collateral shared among co-lenders.”
In brief, the change to the rule governing the DOE loan guarantee program referenced by Mr. Markey was advocated by all the clean energy industries eligible for loan guarantees. This was not a nuclear energy industry initiative, but a broad-based effort to make the loan guarantee program workable.
Earlier this week, NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel wrote a piece in the National Journal concerning the importance of the DOE loan guarantee program. For an NEI issues brief on the federal loan guarantee program authorized under the 2005 Energy Policy Act, click here.

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

Japan PM Says Fukushima will Achieve Cold Shutdown This Year

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a United Nations special session on nuclear safety and security that the Fukushima Daiichi energy facility will achieve cold shutdown by the end of the year. Noda said Thursday that Japan will disclose all information related to the accident and share with the international community lessons learned from the accident. Noda said that the level of radioactive material has fallen to around one four-millionth of the level seen earlier in the year.
  • After the session, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, "participants affirmed that the responsibility for ensuring the application of the highest standards of nuclear safety . . . lies with each state and operating organization."
  • At the session, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “we can make concrete improvements to nuclear safety practices around the world” and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to nuclear energy. She said, "The Obama Administration is committed to nuclear power as a component of our secure energy future, and we recognize that nuclear power is a vital contributor to the world's growing energy needs. It is, therefore, not an option that we simply can take off the table.”
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency general conference, which concludes today, unanimously endorsed its action plan on Nuclear Safety. The plan, based on lessons learned from Fukushima Daiichi, promotes the independence of regulatory bodies from industry and government influence. The plan also recommends that member states undertake assessments of their nuclear fleets to ensure they can withstand "extreme natural hazards" and calls for the agency to perform voluntary safety inspections of nuclear energy facilities.
  • Radioactive iodine released from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant spread not only to the northwest of the plant but also to the south, according to a survey released by the Japanese government. The Japanese Science Ministry will determine the level at which the element spread so further action can be taken to ensure public safety.

New products

  • The Ask an Expert section of NEI’s Safety First website answers a new question: Who pays the cost of used fuel storage and disposal?
  • A new interactive graphic demonstrating how nuclear fuel is produced, used and stored is now available on NEI’s Safety First website.

Upcoming events

  • NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will speak on the “Global Implications of a Nuclear Disaster” at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on October 5.
  • The NRC will conduct a briefing on its Japan Task Force Report to prioritize the report’s recommendations on October 11. The meeting will be webcast.
 

The United Nations and Fukushima

alg_un_clintonSome words from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations:

The Obama Administration is committed to nuclear power as a component of our secure energy future, and we recognize that nuclear power is a vital contributor to the world’s growing energy needs. It is, therefore, not an option that we simply can take off the table.

But:

But it is an option that carries special risks and dangers. Therefore, we must do everything possible to ensure its safe and responsible use. We must remain vigilant against outside threats and internal weaknesses to prevent accidents from occurring. We must make continuous improvements to regulations and strengthen implementation of existing conventions so we hold ourselves, and others, to the highest standards.

One might call all this self-evident, but she was speaking at a high-level meeting on nuclear safety of the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, so perhaps we can allow for the self-evident.

Here is Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the same meeting (somewhat loosely translated):

Japan is determined to raise the safety of nuclear power generation to the highest level in the world. In addition to the emergency measures already taken, we plan to establish ''The Nuclear Safety and Security Agency'' around April of next year, by separating off the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, to accomplish the independence of nuclear regulation from promotion, for the purpose of centralizing the regulatory system and ensuring a thorough safety culture.

He is here responding to criticism that the Japanese equivalent of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission resided in the equivalent of the Commerce Department. The latter is a cheerleader for industry, the former is meant to oversee an industry, but sometimes defaulted to an industry-friendly stance. This did the Japanese nuclear energy industry no favors, at least in Noda’s view.

Noda is still keeping the regulatory body within the direct purview of government – the NRC is an independent government agency, more removed from politics – but fine. That’s how Japan wants to do it. Different countries handle their regulators differently.

Here’s a bit from Noda’s speech that struck us:

Japan stands ready to respond to the interest of countries seeking to use nuclear power generation. For several years, emerging nations and many other countries around the world have earnestly explored ways of using nuclear energy amid the need for energy security and in response to global warming. Japan has been supporting their efforts, including their improvements of nuclear safety. Japan remains steadfast in responding positively to their interest in our undertakings.

I had run into a couple of stories about Japan bidding for nuclear-related work in other countries – this is the kind of thing a Commerce Department facilitates diplomatically - but it’s interesting to see Noda make a point of it.

It serves to remind us that nuclear energy is not just an economic engine domestically but also as an export. I’ve written here about different countries considering nuclear energy and shopping among their choices for technology – the United States, France, Russia, South Korea, Japan. Nuclear technology is not just a purveyor of electricity but an economic force. Noda has this exactly right.

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Now, the U.N. being the U.N., the goal behind the meeting was to take the international temperature on nuclear energy. And perhaps one can conclude that the fever has gone down and the patient has lost a bit of weight, but that’s about all.

Indeed, it has been left to the International Atomic Energy Agency to initiate the therapy. At its international conference that concludes today in Vienna, the IAEA has passed its action plan on Nuclear Safety. This means the plan faced the meat grinder of consensus, as every country had to approve it. But it hasn’t been ground down to pabulum.

The voluntary plan, prepared by the office of IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, calls on member states to promptly assess their nuclear power plants to determine whether they can withstand extreme natural hazards. The members would also take steps to remedy any weaknesses and strengthen emergency preparedness.

Well, maybe it has been ground down a little bit. What the IAEA would like in an ideal world is the ability to do inspections itself and to impose rules more forcefully, but that raises issues of national prerogative. So, on the one hand:

One group of nations -- including Germany, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark -- voiced disappointment about the final version of the IAEA's safety action plan for not going far enough.

It represents a "considerable step backwards" compared with the aspirations voiced by many at a ministerial safety meeting in June, the Swiss representative told the board.

And on the other:

The United States, India, China and Pakistan were among countries resisting any moves towards mandatory outside inspections of their atomic energy facilities.

Both sides have valid points. Navigating between them is what the IAEA had to do because it had to find consensus. That’s what U.N. agencies do. And it did find it, likely to the full satisfaction of few.

All that said, it’s not a bad document, if perhaps more useful to countries with small nuclear fleets and those considering nuclear energy for the first time. The IAEA hasn’t posted the final version, but a late draft can be found here.

Secretary Hillary Clinton. Not from the meeting yesterday, but we wanted her and the U.N. symbol. This is from March.

Reasons to Doubt the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

This morning's edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a short piece reporting that the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is moving to block the construction of a third reactor at North Anna in Virginia in the wake of the August earthquake on the East coast.

Here's what the folks at Dominion Virginia Power have to say about the action:

Dominion Virginia Power, owner of two nuclear reactors at the North Anna plant, said the earthquake has no bearing on the licensing of a third unit, which would be built to a seismic standard more than four times that of the existing units.

"We have worked through the seismic requirements for Unit 3," utility spokesman Rick Zuercher said Thursday night. "They're stringent and would have well withstood what happened at North Anna with the existing units."

While the ground vibration from the quake exceeded design limits for the two existing reactors, the utility said the plant suffered no significant damage.
I can't help but shake my head every time I read something from the folks at BREDL. From my experience, they're just not credible, something we've pointed out here at NEI Nuclear Notes in a number of instances:
Something tells me that the folks at the Atomic Safety Licensing Board Panel will take these points into account when they consider BREDL's latest complaint.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

USA Today Errs on Condition of Spent Fuel Pools at Fukushima

We've seen a few recent instances of reporters incorrectly stating the fuel in the pools melted. That's incorrect, as the AP reported earlier this year. However, the misconception persists. USA Today included the following in a story published earlier today:
Spent nuclear fuel pools that burned during the crisis are now under control.
The spent nuclear fuel assemblies at Fukushima never burned or melted, and in fact, were always underwater. Here's a more accurate description of the accident from the consultants at Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems. You can find this description on page 9 of the report:
Disablement of spent fuel pool cooling and the possibility of earthquake-induced damage to the pools were the cause of great concern, which spurred one-week-long unconventional cooling efforts with helicopters and water cannons. While it was later established that the fuel assemblies in the pools remained underwater throughout the accident, the Fukushima experience does underscore the importance of reliable long-term cooling and protection of the spent fuel pools at nuclear plants.
We're sending a note to USA Today asking for a correction. Stand by for updates.

UPDATE: USA Today has informed us that they'll run a clarification that the fuel rods didn't burn. The correction should be appended to the online version of the story and run on page 2A or 3A in the newspaper.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:
Japan PM Expects Shutdown Reactors to Restart by Next Summer
September 21, 2011
Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who will speak at this week’s United Nations general assembly, said he expects Japan’s shutdown nuclear energy facilities to be running by next summer. Since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, communities throughout Japan have refused to let plants restart after they shut down for routine maintenance. In Japan, local governments have the ability to block nuclear facility restarts. Only about 25 percent of Japan’s nuclear reactors are operating.
  • There will be “continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power” over the next 20 years, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the organization’s general conference, which is taking place this week. He added that he expects the growth to proceed “at a slower rate than in our previous projections.” The range of growth, he said, is 90 to 350 new reactors by 2030.
  • Radioactive cesium at levels well below the Japanese government’s safety limit has been detected in 4 percent of rice samples from Japan’s Tohoku and Kanto regions. So far, tests on rice in seven prefectures are complete, but not in Fukushima or Miyagi. Cesium has been detected in rice in 64 locations in Fukushima Prefecture, but the highest level was only about 25 percent of the limit.
  • Japan’s government may lift its evacuation advisories for areas 12.5 to 18.5 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility by the end of September. Residents of five municipalities that lie mostly within that zone will be required to prepare for quick evacuation in case of an emergency.
Plant Status
  • In its monthly status report on its roadmap for recovery at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it will increase monitoring of radioactive materials released from the site. January remains its goal to reach what TEPCO calls a “cold shutdown condition” for the three damaged reactors, the company reports.
  • The Japanese government and TEPCO said the utility will soon begin to install filters to reduce the amount of radioactive substances in the air at reactors 1-3 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The new equipment will remove contaminated gases from the reactors. TEPCO also said it expects to complete construction of a giant shield around reactor building 1 by mid-October. The vinyl shield is designed to keep radioactive material from entering the environment.
  • A large amount of groundwater may be entering the nuclear facilities at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO reported that 200 to 500 tons of what it believes to be rainwater that had seeped into the soil may be entering reactor buildings through cracks in basement walls, mixing with contaminated water that already is there. For the last several weeks, TEPCO has been decontaminating water that has accumulated at the site and is recycling it to cool the reactors.

Media Highlights

  • Typhoon Roke grazed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility and damaged only a security camera, CBS News reported.
Upcoming Events
  • NEI and industry representatives are meeting with NRC staff today to discuss actions related to the NRC’s Japan task force recommendations. The meeting will be webcast.
  • Lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be discussed in a Sept. 22 meeting on nuclear safety and security that will convene as part of the United Nations’ general assembly.
  • The NRC commissioners will be briefed in a public meeting Oct. 11 on prioritization of long-term recommendations from its Japan task force. The briefing will be webcast.

Nostradamus at the IAEA

nostradamusPlatts has the story:

The share of nuclear power in world electricity supply could shrink over the next 40 years to 6.2%, half what it was in 2010, according to a recent analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency's Department of Nuclear Energy.

This would be bad:

Although overall installed capacity will grow, nuclear power will lose ground to other energy sources like renewables and fossil fuels, Hans Holger Rogner, head of the Vienna agency's Planning and Economic Studies Section, told journalists in Vienna today. That would mean increased carbon emissions and higher fossil fuel prices, he said.

I don’t really doubt Herr Rogner nor the prognosticators at DOE’s Energy Information Administration when they put out the agency’s annual energy forecast. But forecasting is forecasting. It sets out some scenarios that may or may not happen and looks at the outcome of the scenarios – if time were to unfold as predicted. And Rogner has that right – if you ramp down nuclear energy, then natural gas and coal will provide baseload generation and carbon output will increase. That’s a reason to think harder about options – no doubt what IAEA would like to see happen. And maybe will happen.

So it’s worth reviewing these prediction as cause-effect exercises, to be added to one’s thinking about energy policy, but not as Nostradamus-like visions of the future. One might say, vis a vis Herr Rogner’s exercise, that it might be considered fashionable to imagine nuclear energy losing share, but fashion, as we all know, is changeable. I have the bell bottoms to prove it.

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Also from the story:

The agency evaluates the overnight cost of new nuclear power units at between $2,500 and $3,500 per installed kilowatt for advanced nuclear countries, and between $5,000 and $6,000 per installed kW for developing countries, he said, adding that those were "back of the envelope" numbers.

That inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

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Speaking of IAEA, Director General Yukia Amano addressed the organization’s 55th General Conference and referenced the report:

"Following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, there was speculation that the expansion in interest in nuclear power seen in recent years could come to an end. However, it is clear that there will, in fact, be continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power in the next two decades, although at a slower rate than in our previous projections. We expect the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world to increase by about 90 by 2030, in our low projection, or by around 350, in our high projection, from the current total of 432 reactors. Most of the growth will occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, such as China and India."

I vote for 350, but that’s just me. About Fukushima Daiichi:

"Today, the Agency's assessment of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi is that the reactors are essentially stable. The expectation is that the 'cold shutdown' of all the reactors will be achieved as planned. The IAEA will continue to provide every possible assistance to Japan. Continuing full transparency on Japan's part will also be important."

I know this is a keynote speech, but Amano does have a habit of saying things in the most politic way. For example, also about Japan:

We will continue to send technical teams to Japan, as required. The most important thing now is to ensure transparency, build confidence, and meet the high expectations of the public. It is actions, not words, that count.

The right words can mean a lot, too, of course. Amano’s IAEA definitely has a less contentious manner than that of his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei. Better or worse – who knows? To quote Amano, It is actions, not words, that count. You can read the rest of his speech at the link.

Michel de Nostradame (1503-1566) became interested in the occult in the last 15 or so years of his life. He published his enduring work,The Prophecies, in 1555. Written as a series of quatrains, Nostradamus’ prophecies are open enough for anyone to dream in and make the prophecies into predictions. And many have, with sleazy tabloids especially heavy users of Nostradamus. But many people throughout the succeeding centuries have found Nostradamus astoundingly accurate if overly metaphorical. The only thing we know for sure that he predicted correctly was his own death. He told his secretary one night that he would be dead by morning and in the morning, dead he was, of dropsy. This site has the quatrains for your browsing pleasure.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

Japan Prime Minister Noda to Address United Nations

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda this week will address the United Nations’ general assembly in New York on the continuing need for safe and reliable nuclear energy in Japan. As part of the assembly, a meeting on nuclear safety and security will be held Sept. 22, during which lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be discussed.

• Delegates to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference are expected to endorse a voluntary action plan to enhance safety and emergency preparedness as a response to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The plan, adopted by the agency’s board last week, calls for IAEA inspectors to periodically review the safety of reactors worldwide at the request of their operators. Goshi Hosono, Japan’s minister for nuclear crisis management, told the conference today that the Fukushima reactors will be brought to cold shutdown by year’s end, a precondition for the return of evacuees from the restricted zone around the plant. Also, the International Nuclear Safety Group, chaired by Richard Meserve, is to hold a Sept. 19 roundtable discussion on nuclear energy safety issues and on actions needed to strengthen safety.

Media Highlights

• The country’s seismic safety standards should be revised for all nuclear reactors to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a 50-foot tsunami, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission told The Wall Street Journal.

• The Associated Press reported on a large anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo on Monday.

Upcoming Events

• NEI and industry representatives will meet with NRC staff Sept. 21 to discuss actions related to the NRC’s Japan task force recommendations. The meeting will be webcast.

• Lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be discussed in a Sept. 22 meeting on nuclear safety and security that will convene as part of the United Nations’ general assembly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Solydra and Nuclear Energy Loan Guarantees

Solyndra-logo11A lot of the posts over at the National Journal’s energy blog have been about Solyndra – as one might expect – but the loan guarantee aspect of the story has a nuclear energy angle. NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel explains (about a quarter of the way down the page):

Loan guarantees are one of the most effective tools available to the federal government, and are widely used by the federal government to support financing of projects that have substantial public value. The federal government manages a successful loan guarantee portfolio of approximately $1.2 trillion which, on balance, returns more to the Treasury than it costs the taxpayer.

Loan guarantees cost the taxpayers money when a company defaults. That’s collateral damage from the the Solyndra collapse, because the company had received one - with a good deal of fanfare.

Why offer loan guarantee at all? Well, they lower the cost of a loan, making it more plausible for a company to risk the considerable cash needed to erect a nuclear facility or solar array. And as Fertel points out, they are “are widely used by the federal government to support financing of projects that have substantial public value.”

By reducing the cost of capital, loan guarantee programs serve the public interest by accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies at a lower cost to consumers.

Or, to be honest, anything that requires large loans to bring off successfully - shipbuilding, steelmaking and affordable housing, to name a few. The government recognizes the need and private industry does most of the heavy lifting.

I’ve seen the failure of Solyndra used as a whipping post for loan guarantees, renewable energy, the solar industry and green jobs. Ignore all of it. Solydra was a company that failed – we’ll learn more about why it failed as we go along and whether the government did adequate due diligence – but companies fail all the time. Even the federal government can back a bad horse sometimes.

The Energy Department has offered one conditional loan guarantee for a nuclear energy project, to Southern Co.’s Vogtle reactors in Georgia. The company’s exceptional financial strength and 30-year history of safely operating nuclear energy facilities make it a solid credit-worthy candidate for the DOE loan guarantee. 

Southern Co. is different company, in no danger of failing and taking advantage of a loan guarantee to build new reactors at its Vogtle facility. The result will be a lot more electricity for Georgians – at minimal risk – and at a lesser cost.

Fertel has this subject exactly right. Read the rest at the link.

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Siemens has left the building, shuttering (most of) the nuclear aspects of its business. This is a major shift for the company:

"The chapter is closed for us," [Siemens head Peter] Löscher said. "We will no longer be involved in managing the building or financing of nuclear plants."

Siemens is international in nature, with a lot of its work in Europe and especially in Germany, where it had a hand in all 17 nuclear facilities there. The decision to shut all the nuclear plants there no doubt caused Siemens to rethink its options. This didn’t help, either:

An arbitration tribunal in May ordered the German company to pay €648 million ($927 million) to France's Areva after it failed to meet contractual obligations in a nuclear joint venture with Areva that it left earlier this year.

Although that could have been mitigated by this:

The nuclear exit would mean that the company would shelve a long-planned joint venture with Russian nuclear firm Rosatom, he [Löscher] said, adding that he still wanted to work with the Russian partner in other areas.

Just two years ago, the Munich-based conglomerate announced a venture with the Russian firm to build up to 400 nuclear plants by 2030.

No doubt there will be much more about this story. For example, the New York Times turned up this tidbit:

The Siemens decision does not amount to a boycott of the nuclear energy industry. A spokesman said the company would continue to make systems that could be used in nuclear power stations.

“We will provide conventional steam turbines that can be used for nuclear power plants and conventional power plants,” Alfons Benzinger, a spokesman for Siemens’s energy business, said Sunday.

Always wise to leave a crack open in the door.

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Meanwhile,

Chancellor Angela Merkel's authority is being undermined by leading members of her coalition partners, the FDP and CSU parties, who have openly challenged her policy on the euro. There is growing speculation that her coalition may collapse, prompting a return of the right-left grand coalition of conservatives and SPD.

Don’t ask me to try to explain German politics, but I do know that SPD are the Social Democrats. They are closest in nature to our Democrats. FPD are the Free Democrats and leans to the right fiscally and the left socially – sort of like what used to be called Rockefeller Republicans here, mostly from the Northeast, that held similar views. The CSU, Merkel’s party, are the Christian Democrats, closest to our Republicans.

Switching from a CSU-FPD to CSU-SPD coalition would be kind of goofy from an American perspective (though it would be closer to what we actually do have now when you think about it), but the result still would not be noticeably better for German nuclear energy. Whereas the CSU supported nuclear energy before the accident in Japan, the SPD took up that position while in power in the late 90s and got the ball rolling on closing the nuclear facilities. And that hasn’t changed. So, Siemens may see no way back.

Still, it provides an evil tingle to read this:

[A] January 2007 report by Deutsche Bank warned that Germany will miss its carbon dioxide emission targets by a wide margin, face higher electricity prices, suffer more blackouts and dramatically increase its dependence on gas imports from Russia as a result of its nuclear phase-out policy.

Evil, of course, because we don’t want any of this to happen. But so it goes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Update

From NEI’s Japan micro-site:

TEPCO Improves Core Cooling for Fukushima Daiichi Reactors

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

• The United Nations has released a report, “United Nations System-wide Study on the Implications of the Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.” The report was prepared for the U.N. high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security to be held Sept. 22 in New York. Among the report’s findings are that “the design basis accident of the Fukushima Daiichi plant had been too modest” and that accident risks relating to the environment “had been underestimated.”

Plant Status

• Tokyo Electric Power Co. says it has begun to increase the flow rate of cooling water into Fukushima Daiichi reactors 2 and 3 using the core spray method, which the operator says is successfully decreasing the reactor temperatures. Earlier this month, TEPCO began using the core spray system to inject cooling water from above the uranium fuel rods as well as from the sides and bottom using normal cooling water supply systems. As of Friday morning, the bottom of reactor 2 measured 114 degrees Celsius, reactor 3 was 103 degrees C, and reactor 1 was 85 degrees C. TEPCO plans to bring all three reactors below 100 degrees C by January.

New Products

• The Ask an Expert section of NEI’s Safety First website answers a new question about insurance available to nuclear plant workers and contract employees in the event of an accident.

• An updated compilation of frequently asked questions on the Japanese nuclear energy situation is available on NEI’s Safety First website.

Media Highlights

• Bloomberg reports that about 20,000 families will be allowed to make brief visits to their homes within the 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant. Visitors will be allowed to use their own cars and will be provided with radiation monitors and protective garments.

• Electric Light & Power says that Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will place more critics of nuclear energy on a government advisory panel that is slated to formulate a basic energy policy by next summer.

Upcoming Events

• NEI and industry representatives will meet with NRC staff Sept. 21 to discuss actions related to the NRC’s Japan task force recommendations. The meeting will be webcast.

• The International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference will be held Sept. 19-23 in Vienna.

• The United Nations will hold a meeting on nuclear safety and security Sept. 22 in New York, during which lessons learned from the Fukushima accident will be discussed.

UCS and The Politics of Naïveté

ucs_logoSometimes, when you see an attack on the nuclear energy industry, it may have some grain of truth in that a facility did not implement something perfectly or a license application is missing some data.

But when you don’t like something – as in the case of anti-nuclear campaigners – then any perceived flaw proves the industry negligent.

So that’s one thing.

But some arguments just seem willfully naïve – about how the industry works, how NEI works, the NRC, in the hopes that information that is fairly benign is instead shocking evidence of malicious intent.

That brings us to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The group says it’s nominally in favor of nuclear energy – as long as the industry passes a long litmus test devised by UCS to prove its worth. This allows UCS to nibble at the edges in the hopes that enough holes will cause the edifice of the nuclear energy industry to crumble into dust.

The blatancy of the approach is actually rather amusing. Take for example a blog post from the UCS All Things Nuclear blog earlier this week:

The [NRC] document, entitled The Evolution of Mitigating Measures for Large Fire and Explosions: A Chronological History From September 11, 2001 Through October 7, 2009 (Part 1, Part 2), provides an extensive, detailed account of the delaying tactics used by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) to prevent the NRC from enforcing requirements that it imposed on the nuclear industry soon after the 9/11 attacks.

Really? That’s what it shows? Let’s see:

The bottom line revealed in this document is that the NRC issued orders on February 25, 2002 to all nuclear plant licensees to immediately upgrade security in a number of areas by August 31, 2002. Among those areas was Section B.5.b of the order, which required “licensees to adopt mitigation strategies using readily available resources to maintain or restore core cooling, containment and spent fuel pool cooling capabilities to cope with the loss of large areas of the facility due to large fires and explosions from any cause, including beyond design-basis aircraft attacks.”

That’s true. What this is about is section B.5.b. of the NRC’s order, which deals with plant security and the context was the implementation of that requirement in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Naturally, right after the attacks, industrial facilities erected barriers, secured the perimeters of the plants, beefed up security – essentially what was done across many realms of American life after the attacks. The B.5.b. requirements were part of a comprehensive approach by the industry and NRC to enhance security further. So what went wrong in UCS’s view?

However, the lack of specificity in this requirement, including the meaning of “readily available,” led to differing positions between the industry and the NRC as to what, if anything, was actually required by B.5.b. As a result of extensive arguments on these points and others, it took nearly five years before the NRC and NEI came to agreement on what actually was required and how those requirements could be met.

This is partly true, partly not. It didn’t really lead to a disagreement in the sense of the NRC and the industry taking entrenched, mutually exclusive positions. But it’s a good enough word – even the NRC calls it a disagreement. The salient point, though, is that NRC can assert its will even while it works with licensees to ensure it isn’t forcing unrealistic requirements. Here’s what the report itself says:

Industry representatives interpreted the definition [of the B.5.b. rule] more narrowly than did the [NRC] staff, which resulted in a smaller number of required strategies. This continuing disagreement resulted in the NRC’s position that additional actions by licensees were necessary to meet the requirements of the ICM Order, after August 31, 2002, which was the original implementation date for the ICM Order.

In other words, the NRC recognized itself that the phrase “readily available” was open to interpretation. But you’ll note that NRC did not bend to industry’s “narrow” interpretation (remember, NRC is writing this report) but imposed its own, more expansive interpretation. If NEI and the industry were attempting to delay this, they failed rather spectacularly. 

Moreover, all companies that operate nuclear energy facilities implemented the original ICM order on or before August 31, 2002, as required. NRC began inspections in October 2002 and completed them in a year. This became the first phase of an expanded three-phase implementation of B.5.b. Again, there was no alleged attempt to stonewall the commission; it’s hard, based on the report’s narrative, to even posit such an attempt. Phases 2 and 3 of the implementation took more time, but that’s to be expected. Plants are not less safe as a result, and as the initial panic over further terrorist attacks receded, cooler heads prevailed and the plan to implement B.5.b. became more refined.

NEI issued a press release in 2004 that covered the completion of the original phases:

All of the 103 commercial nuclear power plants operating at 64 sites in 31 states have met the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Oct. 29 deadline for implementing more stringent security measures. The NRC in April 2003 issued three security orders that included a requirement that the industry take measures to meet the agency’s new description of the size and attributes of an attacking force against which the industry must be able to defend its facilities.

And gave a list of what the facilities did to fulfill them:

  • increased the size of their paramilitary security forces by 60 percent to a total of 8,000 officers;
  • made substantial physical improvements to provide additional protection against vehicle bombs and other potential terrorist assaults;
  • increased training for security officers;
  • established a rigorous “force on force” mock adversary exercise regime;
  • increased security patrols;
  • added more security posts;
  • increased vehicle standoff distances;
  • tightened access controls; and
  • enhanced coordination with state and local law enforcement.

So even if one didn’t agree with the NRC and NEI and thought that the original order was not as open to interpretation as they did, the orders certainly became more specific as the NRC and the industry came to an agreement over what measures to implement. The industry effort cost more than $1 billion to implement, so it wouldn’t seem that NEI’s “stonewalling” prevented quite a lot of activity on the security front.

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Implementing rules and regulations is a process and, in most instances, the industry’s views, UCS’s views, Congress’ views and the views of you and me, if we have any as private citizens, are solicited before rules are finalized. (B.5.b. was admittedly different because it concerned national security and much of the implementation rightfully was safeguarded.)

Here’s how UCS puts it:

Although there is a legitimate interest in protecting information that could be useful to terrorists planning attacks, in our view the NRC cast an overly broad net over information related to nuclear power plant security after 9/11.

Well, so they say. It didn’t really matter what UCS or NEI thought about it. The American government in late 2001 and into 2002 was figuring out how to keep America’s critical infrastructure safe. That infrastructure, including nuclear facilities, had to be kept safe. How much overreach occurred and how much secrecy was too much are arguments for another day.

Still, it was a process and what the NRC document lays out is how that process unfolded.

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The UCS post covers some odd items. For example:

The NRC apparently made mitigation of risks to spent fuel pools more of a priority than mitigation of risks to reactors and containment buildings, and reordered the development of B.5.b measures to address spent fuel pools first. The document cites this change as a “response to heightened public and congressional interest in the potential vulnerability of the SFPs. This heightened interest stemmed from the January 31, 2003, paper by Robert Alvarez, Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States, of which I [Edward Lyman] was a co-author.

You can read the whole Alvarez paper here. But what doesn’t get mentioned here is that the NRC staff reviewed this paper and offered a critique that might be called blistering.

In the first paragraph of the staff paper:

The NRC staff has reviewed the paper, "Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power- Reactor Fuel in the United States," April 21, 2003, Robert Alvarez, et al., (published in Science and Global Security, spring 2003) and concludes that it fails to make the case for its central recommendation.

It gets worse for Mr. Alvarez:

Our review of the paper indicates that it is a deficient study of the hazards associated with the storage of spent fuel. Many of the 114 cited references are NRC studies or NRC contracted studies conducted for a variety of purposes, and most are not applicable to terrorist attacks.

You can read the rest at the link, but NRC staff is nothing if not thorough. Here’s a bit from the summary:

The use of these previous studies, most of them NRC or NRC contractor studies, provides overly conservative and misleading results when assessing potential spent fuel pool vulnerabilities to terrorist events.

Yet UCS has this paper, it has the experience of Fukushima Daiichi – in which the vulnerability of the fuel pools proved to be much less than was originally assumed – and it recognizes that the public hasn’t caught up with how well the used fuel pools actually weathered the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Japanese facility. So here they are, via an essentially discredited paper.

But you’ve got to use what you’ve got, even if what you’ve got is not very much.

The UCS logo. Rather pretty.