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Showing posts from November, 2011

Pilgrim, Blobs of Black Oil, Fusion Part 20

We always have time for some good news:

A three-judge panel at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) denied a filing by Massachusetts to stop the relicensing of Entergy's 685-megawatt Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts.
This had never seemed a good bet for Massachusetts, which had based its contention on events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. Since the NRC is working to apply lessons learned from Fukushima to the American fleet, the state’s contention seemed irrelevant. But – there are further steps to be taken:
The NRC said the state could appeal the ASLB ruling against its Fukushima contention to the five-member, presidentially appointed Commission that oversees the NRC.
The ASLB is is the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, which handles these issues. It was the ASLB that created a minor tempest when it ruled the Department of Energy could not withdraw its license application for Yucca Mountain from the NRC. This is smaller in scope, but an important step to (re)es…

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:Japanese Government Increases Radiation Testing for Rice CropsNovember 30, 2011
Industry/Regulatory/Political
Fukushima Prefecture is stepping up its testing of rice crops, now that more radioactive cesium has been found in harvested samples. Government officials measured twice the allowable radiation limit in rice from farms in Date City, about 30 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. The prefectural government is expanding radiation testing to more than 2,300 nearby farms.Researchers in Japan have created an academic society to provide recommendations for the removal of radioactive materials released by Fukushima Daiichi. Members of the society have backgrounds in nuclear energy, environmental restoration and other specialties.Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima Daiichi facility, forecasts that it will generate enough electricity over the winter to meet demand, with a small reserve margin. The utility warned that…

Monday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:Fukushima Town to Test Waste Reduction SystemNovember 28, 2011Industry/Regulatory/PoliticalThe town of Hirono in Fukushima prefecture plans to test a system that would reduce the volume of radioactive debris requiring disposal by up to a factor of 300. The equipment would heat-treat the materials in an oxygen-free environment and use a ceramic powder to absorb radioactive materials.Plant StatusTokyo Electric Power Co. is planning to address any buildup of hydrogen inside the pressure vessels of Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1 through 3 by directly injecting nitrogen into the vessel. Nitrogen injection is expected to begin early December. Meanwhile, in order to increase the amount of steam in the vessels and decrease the relative buildup of hydrogen, TEPCO is reducing the flow rate of cooling water injection into the reactors. The temperatures within all three reactors are well below the boiling temperature, TEPCO reports.
Media Highlights
A pair of articles…

“Nuclear plants are too inflexible… ?”

A certain cognitive dissonance:Building new nuclear power stations will make it harder for the UK to switch to renewable energy, said one of the top German officials leading the country's nuclear energy phase-out.And why might that be?Jochen Flasbarth, president of the Environmental Protection Agency in Germany, who advises the German government, said: "We are not missionaries, and every country will have to find its own way in energy policy, but it is obvious that nuclear plants are too inflexible and cannot sufficiently respond to variations in wind or solar generation, only gas [power stations] do."“Too inflexible.” That’s a new one. What Flasbarth is trying to say is that nuclear energy doesn’t give renewable energy enough room to play a significant role in energy policy, but what he actually conveys is that nuclear energy provides many of the benefits of renewable energy, but can run at 90 to 92 percent capacity rather than the 30 to 35 percent capacity managed by r…

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:Japan Legislature Passes $156 Billion for Rebuilding, DecontaminationNov. 23, 2011Industry/Regulatory/PoliticalJapan’s Diet passed legislation to provide $156 billion in disaster reconstruction aid, the third time since the March earthquake that legislators have approved supplemental funding. Of the total, $3 billion is earmarked to fund radiation decontamination efforts, with the majority of the money to be used to rebuild areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami and to help companies build new manufacturing plants. Fukushima Prefecture held elections delayed from April because of the earthquake and tsunami. Toshitsuna Watanabe, the incumbent, won the mayoralty race in Okuma, the town nearest the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. Watanabe favors rebuilding the town in place while his main opponent, Jin Kowata, advocated moving the entire town further inland. Evacuees from the prefecture were allowed to vote, but the total vote count was…

Powering Space; Radical Oppositions

From Digital Journal:Engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center installed a nuclear power source Thursday onto the Mars rover set to launch this month. The rover, named Curiosity, is the latest in unmanned missions to Mars, and is expected to provide new evidence about Mars history, including clues as to whether the Red Planet ever harbored life. Worth a read. This bit gave us an evil tingle:The nuclear source is also less affected by weather and daylight conditions on Mars, factors that have hampered previous missions, as when the twin Mars Exploration Rovers encountered dust storms that covered their solar panels while operating on Mars from 2004 to 2011. ---The New York Time’s Green blog tries some pushback on Curiosity:One alternative is to develop a better way to convert heat into electricity in space. The National Academy report said that the method NASA uses now is only about 6 percent efficient. A Stirling Engine system could produce five times as much electricity from each unit…

Are U.S. Navy Diesel Engines Used at Nuclear Plants?

Investigative journalism. Works well when reporters do their homework, but is questionable when they make up their own facts.

This week I ran across an article in the San Diego Reader on an interview with Greg Palast – “corporate fraud investigator turned investigative journalist.” For those of you who always buy into anything under the veil of “investigative journalism,” I’m here to point out where it can sometimes get iffy.

In the interview with Palast, The Reader says:
Diesel engines take time to warm up before they reach full power-generating capacity. But these massive engines, with base horsepower ratings well into the thousands (and subsequently doubled by strapping on a turbocharger), need to be online and running at full capacity in 10–12 seconds after a failure occurs in order to avert disaster. Frequently harvested from retired cruise ships, the engines simply aren’t capable of firing up as required. Frequently harvested from retired cruise ships? What? I know the industry w…

CJR Criticizes AP for Reporting on Fukushima and Radiation

Our readers may recall that at the end of September the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) published a critique of an Associated Press (AP) series on nuclear plant safety. Overnight, CJR took the AP to task again, this time for alarmist reporting about radiation releases in Japan as the result of the incident at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear facility. The critique was published over at The Observatory, CJR's science blog edited by David Ropeik. Here are a few choice quotes:
With a long-term population study of the impact of just getting under way, the AP set out to do a bit of enterprise reporting, asking what it might find with regard to cancer rates. The answer: “cancers caused by the radiation may be too few to show up” in such studies because “the ordinary rate of cancer is so high, and our understanding of the effects of radiation exposure so limited.” As the AP reported, “that could mean thousands of cancers under the radar in a study of millions of people, or it could mean…

NEI Confronts Politifact on Clinton Statement on Nuclear Costs

Last week, David Bradish posted his take on President Clinton's statement concerning the costs of electricity generated by wind, solar and nuclear energy. After looking at the numbers, David concluded that an analysis by Politifact that rated Clinton's statement as "half-true" was flawed and needed to be updated to "mostly false."

Earlier today, John Keeley of NEI's media team I shared a copy of David's analysis with reporter Louis Jacobson and editor Martha Hamilton. If and when we get a response, we'll let you know.

Monday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:Japan Cabinet Approves Decontamination ProtocolsNov. 21, 2011Industry/Regulatory/PoliticalThe Japanese cabinet has approved “basic policies” to clean up radioactive contamination resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Based on recommendations made in 2007 by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, areas contaminated to dose levels within two rem per year above background will be cleaned up to reduce adult doses by 50 percent within two years and 60 percent for children, and to a long-term level of 0.1 rem/year above background radiation levels. Two rem is about the same amount of radiation exposure a patient would receive from a full body CT scan. Areas where the annual dose levels are above two rem/year will be given priority in scheduling decontamination activities.The Japan Nuclear Technology Institute has published a report reviewing the Fukushima Daiichi accident. The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum said the analysis of the …

Utah – the Place for Nuclear Energy?

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert talked about the importance of nuclear energy during his State of the State address earlier this year – then the accident at Fukushima happened – then -“The lessons we learn from that horrific situation [in Japan] must not be lost as we discuss any possible future nuclear power generation here,” he said during the release of his 10-year energy plan in March. “The disasters in Japan, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island will not preempt the debate of nuclear power — but they certainly will influence it.” That seems sensible enough. A little more surprising:While noncommittal about the proposed Utah project, Herbert insists that nuclear power is “safer than ever” and still up for discussion in his state.Or maybe not so surprising:Approximately 82 percent of the electricity produced in Utah in 2008 was from coal-fired generation, with six plants active statewide, according to the Utah Geological Survey. Natural gas accounted for the second-largest proportion at 15…

Thoughtful Indian Columnists

This struck me as a little funny:The Dec. 14 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will look at how well the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is working as it tackles high-profile reforms in the wake of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster -- and the long-standing issue of what to do with toxic nuclear waste."There have been reports and information that the commission is not always working well together," a committee aide said.No comment on the substance of the hearing, but perhaps NRC could return the favor and hold a meeting on how well Congress is getting along.---Kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt have stalled their plans because of heightened safety concerns triggered by the Fukushima meltdown caused by a 9-magnitude earthquake and a 49-foot tsunami. Well, that makes sensehey, wait a minute there!But they have also been hit by the pro-democracy uprisings that have plunged the Arab world into political turmoil and an uncertain future. Well, there’s t…

Friday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:TEPCO Reports Water in Reactor Vessel Remains Below Boiling PointNovember 18, 2011Plant StatusWater temperatures inside the Fukushima Daiichi reactor pressure vessels remain below boiling as operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. reports on progress toward stabilizing the damaged reactors. The company expects to reach what it calls a “cold shutdown condition” in the three reactors by the end of the year, with temperatures below 212 F and radiation contained. The exact status of the fuel in the reactors is not known. But if damaged fuel has leaked from the reactors into the primary containments, TEPCO said “it is sufficiently cooled to suppress steam from being generated and [the] accompanying release of radioactive materials.” Radiation measured at the site boundary is 10 millirem per year, one-tenth of the government safety limit. The circulating reactor cooling systems continue to function, as pumps maintain the total volume of accumulated water on the si…

In Attack on AP-1000, Anti-Nuke Gundersen Hits a New Low

Late last week, anti-nuclear gadfly Arne Gundersen took to the Web to attack the safety of Westinghouse's AP-1000 nuclear reactor. It's all part of a larger effort by anti-nuclear activists to delay the certification of the reactor design by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NEI's Tom Kauffman shot me a note that has asked me to share with our blog audience:
Arnie Gundersen’s claim there was an inadvertent criticality in the one Fukushima reactor is totally unfounded. A criticality is a sustained chain reaction within the nuclear fuel. There is no evidence a criticality occurred in any of the damaged reactors since the accident. Spontaneous fission of uranium atoms naturally occurs, but conditions to support criticality do not exist. The control rods are in fact in the damaged fuel. And boron, a highly effective fission control element, is mixed in the cooling water in all three reactors and all the used fuel pools thereby virtually eliminating the possibility of criticalit…

Into the Pea Ridge with Thorium

While doing research on a different topic, I ran into an article about a fellow named James Kennedy. He’s made a splash in Missouri for throwing money at unusual projects, such as building a smelter or buying a failing airport. One of his purchases was a shuttered mine called Pea Ridge.Why might Kennedy find Pea Ridge a worthwhile investment?Rare earth elements have become an urgent topic because they are needed in many high-tech products, from cellphones to laptops. They also are essential for cruise missiles, precision-guided munitions and radar systems, underscoring worry in Washington about U.S. dependency on China for strategic needs. And Pea Ridge is lousy with rare earth metals. (They’re not that rare, actually, just not concentrated enough to be economical to mine in many cases. They inhabit slots 57 through 71 (the lanthanides) on the periodic chart, plus scandium (21) and yttrium (39), which are often found in the same ore deposits.)But beyond scandium and yttrium, a non rar…

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:Second Japanese Utility Submits Stress Test Results to RegulatorNovember 16, 2011Industry/Regulatory/PoliticalShikoku Electric Power Co. has submitted the results of first-phase stress tests for its Ikata Unit 3 reactor to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The results show Ikata 3 could withstand an earthquake with ground acceleration 1.9 times as strong as the reactor’s design basis and a 47-foot tsunami, four times its design basis. Shikoku Electric is the second utility to submit a stress test result after Kansai Electric did so for its Ohi Unit 3 reactor Oct. 28.Chubu Electric Power Co. has begun building a 1-mile-long seawall to protect Hamaoka nuclear energy facility against tsunamis. The wall is designed to withstand a tsunami 59 feet high and will cost $1.3 billion. It is to be completed by December 2012. Of the five reactors at the site, reactors 1 and 2 are permanently shut, reactor 3 has been closed for periodic inspection since Nove…

Are Wind and Solar Cheaper Than Nuclear?

Last week on the Daily Show, former President Bill Clinton asserted that wind and solar are projected to be cheaper than coal in 2-5 years and that both wind and solar are cheaper than nuclear right now. PolitiFact dug into the numbers and found that the President's statements were only half true. We took their analysis one step further and argue that the President’s statements were mostly false. PolitiFact cites the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  EIA is a credible source for comparing levelized electricity costs for new generation technologies. PolitiFact is correct that solar is much more expensive than most all other generating technologies including nuclear. When it comes to the cost of wind, however, we think PolitiFact should take another look. When delving into the numbers, PolitiFact only looked at one set of single-point cost estimates from EIA. In reality, though, the cost of building and operating power facilities falls in a range that depends on many factors…

Some Additional Context on the UCS Study on Power Plants and Water Use

Yesterday afternoon, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a study that suggested that thermoelectric power plants were contributing to stress on the nation's supply of fresh water.

For readers of NEI Nuclear Notes, this issue isn't exactly new. Back in 2006, we needed to push out some clarifying information (click here and here) in the wake of the drought that struck Europe. Back then, the angle reporters would take targeted nuclear energy in isolation (speaking of reporters, see this from NEI's Steve Kerekes), despite the fact that any steam cycle power plant has to deal with the same issues. At the time we pointed out that data from the U.S. Geological Service showed that the largest use of freshwater in the country was not electric power generation, but rather crop irrigation.

NEI's Bill Skaff wrote the following response to the UCS study.
Responsible environmental management must begin with a recognition of the water-energy nexus—large-scale electricity generati…

“Enormous Challenges and Ludicrous Efforts”

If you happen to be in Washington DC tonight, check out a new film called Under Control at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. If you’re not familiar with the Hirshhorn, it’s the modern art museum where your cranky aunt will point out that children could make art as good as that on display. And Under Control sounds as though it adopts an aesthetic rather than documentary approach.Hirshhorn associate curator Kelly Gordon first saw the piece at the Berlin Film Festival this past February and came away impressed. “It is a mind-blowing study of the haunting elegance of the hardware of the industry,” she says. “The film meditates on the poetry of technology but also the echo of mass destruction.”I imagine for some, including your cranky aunt, that says, “Poison. Stay away.” After all, it’s not just a film, it’s a “piece.” And it “meditates.” And it does seem to want to at least imply a connection between constructive and destructive uses of energy.Hollow, echoing sounds reflect the underly…

Being At Fukushima – Now and Then

Talking Points Memo has posted a set of photos at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Reporters were let into the facility for the first time since the earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant. A New York Times story covering the visit cannot really allow much room to acknowledge that progress has been made:The ground around the hulking reactor buildings was littered with mangled trucks, twisted metal beams and broken building frames, left mostly as they were after one of the world’s largest recorded earthquakes started a chain reaction that devastated the region and, to some extent, Japan.  Chain reaction, get it? Ha ha.While no one died in the nuclear accident, the environmental and human costs were clear during the drive to the plant through the 12-mile evacuation zone. It might have been nice to have this higher than the eighth paragraph, but it’s still nice to see – though it would have been more fully accurate to note that the human toll was quite dreadful and the property damage a hu…

NEI's Tony Pietrangelo Gives Overview of INPO Timeline

In addition to the published INPO timeline, NEI CNO Tony Pietrangelo also recorded a video overview, one that includes a brief look at how American industry is applying the lessons learned from Fukushima to enhancing safety at U.S. plants:


INPO Compiles Timeline of Fukushima Events After Japan Earthquake, Tsunami

Just a few minutes ago, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations published a detailed timeline of events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station following the March 11 earthquake and tsunammi (click here for the PDF of the report). The full text of the Nuclear Energy Institute news release announcing the publication follows below:INPO Compiles Timeline of Fukushima Events After Japan Earthquake, Tsunami
4-Day Chronology Provides Common Baseline of Facts To Inform Response Activities by U.S. Industry, Government
WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 11, 2011—The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations has compiled a detailed timeline of events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The detailed report, prepared as part of the integrated response to the Japan events, was delivered today to U.S. industry executives, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and to members of Congress.

“The U.S. nuclear energy industry is committed to learning from …

In Age of Austerity, France Stays with Nuclear Power

First, an additional tidbit on our coverage of IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, where we learned that the rumors of nuclear energy’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Just consider this chart from page two of the “Key Graphs” part of the report.  As you can see, the IEA sees nuclear’s future more in line with the measured growth of renewables rather than coal or oil’s steady decline. In its report, the IEA imagines a world without (or actually, with very little) nuclear power. It’s called the “Low Nuclear Case” scenario. And surprise! It’s not the utopia some would have you believe. The net result would be to put additional upward pressure on energy prices, raise additional concerns about energy security and make it harder and more expensive to combat climate change.Of course, it’s a projection, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. But the data coming in from countries that have scaled back their nuclear energy plans show that the IEA is onto something. First, there’s Germany. As…

IEA and the Disaster of “Low Nuclear” Usage

This isn’t bad:Nuclear energy remains vital to cope with rising energy demand, mainly in emerging economies, fight global warming and avert increased damage to the environment, the IEA warned on Wednesday.Here’s another bit from the same Agence Presse Francais story:The IEA also warned that global nuclear generation capacity could fall by 15.0 percent by 2035 if countries such as Germany and Belgium pressed ahead with cutting their nuclear output in the light of the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan in April.This is exactly right. In a Dow Jones story, EIA even calls it a warning:But the report's "Low Nuclear" scenario is still only a possibility, rather than a certainty, said Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist. "We made the low nuclear scenario to show governments the consequences" of the policies they are considering in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Birol told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. It is intended as a warning, he said, withou…