Wednesday, November 30, 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)establishing where the state’s authority over nuclear facilities ends.

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A little news from Durban, South Africa, where the United Nation’s climate change conference (COP17) is taking place:
Blobs of black oil have mysteriously surfaced on the beaches north of Durban, threatening to spoil them for holidaymakers ahead of the festive season.

Residents began noticing pockets of oil on the shores of Zinkwazi, Salt Rock, Zimbali and Blythedale beaches.

Not very climate changey. Anything else?
As COP17 kicked off on Monday in Durban, several people were reported dead following flooding over the weekend.

The eThekwini Municipality said 10 fatalities were reported, with five of the cases having been confirmed following flooding that resulted in damage to property and infrastructure in Umlazi on Sunday.

The worst-hit area is the central region, with 19 reports of flooding affecting shacks at Quarry road and Puntan's Hill.

Any questions?

(h/t ThinkProgress)

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And now, for something completely different:
In the race against world governments and the wealthiest companies to commercialize a nuclear fusion reactor, a small, innovative Canadian firm is hoping to bottle and sell the sun's energy.

In a laboratory in this Pacific Coast city [Burnaby, Vancouver], General Fusion physicists and engineers in bright red smocks are busy assembling an experimental reactor.

They hope to test a prototype in 2014 and eventually become the first to commercialize the technology, offering a safe, cheap, pollution-free and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
Ah, sweet mystery of fusion, never to die. The main problem with fusion, as the story notes, is that it takes a cup full of electricity to produce a thimble full. Forget about economy of scale – there’s no economy whatever.

But you’ve got to admire people who look at the sun and think, I can do that, and then try to do that. The only drawback is that it leads to tears – again and again.

General Fusion admits its chances of success are slim -- but backers believe in its proposal, and are pouring CAN$30 million into the project.

Good work if you can get it. Can’t help but wish General Fusion well.

One detail in the story produced a sour burp:

"The central challenge is still that fossil fuels -- getting them out of the ground and burning them -- is still so cheap to do that there is not an adequate incentive to invest in renewables or other low carbon technologies," said Matt Horne, director of the Pembina Institute.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Pembina, a Canadian think tank – it doesn’t like nuclear energy very much, but you can’t have everything - but I do think there’s plenty of incentive to invest in low carbon technologies. In any event, it’s an odd argument from a Canadian outlet – the country generates almost 60 percent of its electricity from hydro. Go figure.

Blobs of black oil - in New Zealand, in this instance.

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

Japanese Government Increases Radiation Testing for Rice Crops

November 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 unplanned shutdowns of generating stations and rapid changes in temperature could affect continuity of supply.

New Products

  • Nuclear energy facilities on the East Coast weathered Hurricane Irene by thoroughly planning for the August storm. Details are in a new article posted this week on NEI’s Safety First website.


Media Highlights

Upcoming Events

  • Staff of the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct its first meeting with stakeholders on strategies the agency is considering to address the recommendations of the near-term Fukushima task force. The meeting will be held Dec. 1 in the NRC’s Rockville, Md., offices. To view the meeting by webcast, visit http://video.nrc.gov.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

Fukushima Town to Test Waste Reduction System

November 28, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • The 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 Status

  • Tokyo 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 in the Japanese media analyzes the export market for Japanese nuclear components. Yomiuri Shimbun reports on Toshiba’s U.S. orders for turbine equipment for the nuclear energy facilities being built at the Vogtle site in Georgia and the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum notes that Japan Steel Works has forecast more than $640 million in orders from China and France for large forged components for nuclear power plants.
  • An article in The New York Times discusses how the post-Fukushima environment is changing national discussions on used nuclear fuel management.
  • Mainichi Daily News reports on the difficulty that Japan’s power industry is having in meeting its carbon dioxide reduction targets now that electricity production at nuclear energy facilities has dropped since the Fukushima accident. Kyodo News points out that Kansai Electric Power Co. is planning to restart an oil-fired plant that had been mothballed for 10 years.

“Nuclear plants are too inflexible… ?”

COP17logoA 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 renewables.

Leaving aside the other upsides and downsides of nuclear and renewable energy sources for a moment, Flasbarth is saying that nuclear energy, because it works virtually all the time, doesn’t need renewable energy sources. He knows this because Germany has until recently been a big supporter of nuclear energy.

Given Flasbarth’s formulation, you might not want nuclear energy on the same portion of the grid as renewable energy, but you can use natural gas instead and live with some carbon emissions in exchange for being able to use non-emitting renewable energy sources 35 percent of the time. You can then site nuclear energy facilities where renewable energy sources cannot function well. That’s fine.

But here’s the thing: Great Britain can organize its energy policy around these choices and use nuclear energy, wind and solar and gas wherever they work best. Germany, quite famously, can’t do this anymore.

Jochen Flasbarth – making the best of a bad situation. It’s almost a cry for help, isn’t it?

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You may want to know that COP17 is happening in Durban, South Africa right about now. The Guardian has up an informative Q&A about the United Nations’ climate change conference. A taster:

There seems little possibility that the summit will produce an emissions reduction agreement, meaning the world will soon lack any binding CO2 targets when Kyoto's first commitment period expires at the end of 2012. At best, diplomats will agree on other details, such as a "green climate fund" designed to channel billions from wealthy to poor countries to fund environmentally friendly economic development there. But with rich countries facing a financial crisis it is unclear where the money should come from.

But the burning question is: How much criminal activity has there been at this year’s conference? Very little, it turns out,

There were no climate change summit related crimes on Monday, police said on Monday afternoon.

"Everything is going smoothly so far. Not... a single conference-related crime report has been given to me today," Colonel Vish Naidoo said late on Monday afternoon.

Whew! The roving bands of climatologists have been quelled at long last. Their sociopathic behavior almost trashed Cancun last year. Speaking of sociopathic:

Climate scientists have mounted a robust defense of their work and debates over science after more than 5,000 personal emails were leaked onto the internet in an apparent attempt to undermine public support for international action to tackle climate change.

As Rocket J. Squirrel says to Bullwinkle J. Moose when the latter threatens to pull a rabbit out of his hat, “Aw, that trick never works.”

Although the conference is not expected to carry much significance for the outside world – that would take a successor to Kyoto - the issue of climate change is no longer vulnerable to dirty tricks. Denying it at this point is just a self-indulgence.

The COP17 logo. Meant to evoke the big tree in Avatar? That didn’t end well for the big tree.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

Japan Legislature Passes $156 Billion for Rebuilding, Decontamination

Nov. 23, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • Japan’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 low.

Media Highlights

  • The Financial Times reports that American investor Warren Buffett visited Iwaki, a Japanese town in Fukushima Prefecture and pronounced the area’s recovery “amazing.” The Times said the trip, Buffett’s first to Japan, acted as a tonic to Japan’s business environment.
  • The Columbia Journalism Review took the Associated Press to task for needlessly alarmist reporting about cancer risk from radiation exposure near the Fukushima Daichi facility. In a blog post at the organization’s science blog, David Ropeik wrote, “Journalists often play up the dramatic and alarming aspects of the information they’ve found, and play down or leave out the ameliorative, neutral, or balancing aspects that might help do justice to the truth, but which could “weaken” the story. The AP’s article illustrates what this looks like.”

New Products

  • NEI’s Safety First website continues its ongoing focus on practices that enhance nuclear safety. This week, the site features an article about the Fort Calhoun nuclear energy facility, which found itself in the middle of the Missouri River earlier this year when the river flooded. The story looks at the steps taken and equipment used to ensure the integrity of the facility. Fort Calhoun is expected to return online early next year

Powering Space; Radical Oppositions

curiosity_spiritFrom 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.

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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 of heat, reducing the need for plutonium, but it has many moving parts and has not been adapted to space use.

But the response so far has been to use solar cells whenever possible. Steven W. Squyres, a professor of astronomy at Cornell who is the chief scientist for the Opportunity and Spirit rovers, said: “You always use solar when you can; it’s simpler, cheaper, just easier to do. You only use nuclear when you have to.’’

And one of those instances where you have to use nuclear is in Curiosity, because it is heavy (as in, one ton heavy) and equipment-packed and needs considerably more electricity to operate than its smaller predecessors – more than solar power can generate. (Plus there are those dust issues.) It almost feels like the pro-con debates that solar and nuclear advocates have on terra firma transferred to the depth of space.

But, well, earlier probes like Spirit and Opportunity performed well enough on solar energy and I expect Curiosity will be fine with nuclear energy (actually, the heat from plutonium-238 will be directly converted to electricity). Everybody gets a chance to shine.

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Agence Presse-France has an interesting enough article about protests against used nuclear fuel from Germany being carted over to France. We’ve covered that before here and there isn’t a lot new in the article, but this caught my eye:

France produces a higher proportion of its power in reactors than any other country in the world, and its electricity bills are around 25 percent cheaper than in its neighbors, a boon to industry.

“A boon to industry?” Well, probably so, but it seems odd to leave out “a boon to every user of electricity in France.”

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From the same article:

"Beyond the danger that this waste poses, we're demonstrating our radical opposition to a means of production that means we'll always need more power. We're against endless growth," said 24-year-old Anna, from Paris.

Okay. Efficiency fan, I guess.

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See, if you don’t give your annoying relatives the power to annoy you, then you won’t be annoyed by them. You can eat as much as you want, zone out in front of the TV in grandma’s comfiest chair, play games with your little nephews and nieces (which almost always involve their bouncing off your stomach somehow), bicker with your old Republican cousin on how Stevenson was robbed in the ‘56 elections, and dream of all those sales you’ll want to avoid on Friday. And be happy. And give thanks.

Curiosity on the left, Spirit on the right.

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

citylights2-greg-palast_t180Investigative 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 works closely with former U.S. Navy nukes, but I didn’t think they were THAT close.

I immediately took his claim to NEI’s Principal Engineer Vijay Nilekani who straight out called it FALSE. Here’s his response:
All diesel engines in U.S. nuclear plants come from just three manufacturers (Fairbanks Morse, TransAmerica and I think the third one is General Motors). Although it is true that the same manufacturers do make diesel engines for ships, the diesels supplied to the nuclear industry are “nuclear quality grade,” which means they are very high quality and cost many times more. Also, all spare parts for maintenance are nuclear quality grade as well, coming from the original manufacturer. Unauthorized substitution of parts if not permitted by Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations.
What about their reliability? Are they really as faulty as Palast claims? Nilekani’s answer:
Even though diesel engines are rarely used in the real world for an actual electrical emergency because the transmission systems in the U.S. are very reliable, they still undergo rigorous preventive maintenance per manufacturers’ recommendations (and usually every two years are replaced with new parts). All diesel engines are tested every month to make sure that they start within the required time, load the emergency buses, etc. Even the diesel fuel is inspected and tested to make sure that it is very high quality. There is also a lot of predictive maintenance performed, such as lubricant analysis or vibration analysis, which have helped to keep their reliability in the upper 90th percentile.
Whew! So basically, it looks like Palast’s personal agenda of “exposing” the nuclear industry for putting profit before safety has hindered his ability to actually investigate the topic and report the truth. Go ahead and count me out for buying his latest book, although, I’m sure that it would make for some very interesting reading….

Photo: Greg Palast featured in San Diego Reader

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 virtually none.” Yet overall, its article is clearly structured to induce at least a modicum of fear. After all, scary stories sell papers.
But that's not all ...
It’s also interesting to note that, buried down in the twenty-fifth paragraph, the story cites Japanese officials as saying “mental health problems caused by excessive fear of radiation are prevalent and posing a bigger problem than actual risk of cancer caused by radiation.” Excessive fear of radiation?! I wonder where that might have come from?
It all makes for a very interesting article. Read it all right now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

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, November 21, 2011

Monday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

Japan Cabinet Approves Decontamination Protocols

Nov. 21, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • The 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 accident is based on published facts, operational experience and knowledge of the plant design, and includes recommended safety protection measures “to prevent and mitigate severe accidents.”

Media Highlights

  • The Salt Lake Tribune quotes Adrian Heymer, NEI’s executive director of the Fukushima regulatory response, on how some of the safety lessons from the Japan accident already have been incorporated in the features of new nuclear reactor designs.
  • An Associated Press article explains the difficulty of measuring future health effects of the low doses of radiation resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
  • A Washington Post article describes the areas around the Fukushima Daiichi plant that have remained evacuated since the March accident following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Utah – the Place for Nuclear Energy?

UtahsongUtah’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 15.6 percent. Hydroelectric provided 1.4 percent, while geothermal and petroleum each comprise less than 1 percent of net generation of electricity in Utah.

So, in Utah, the renewables and nuclear energy stand on the same patch, but at least this gives the state a lot of options going forward.

The first article linked above mentions a company called Blue Castle Holdings that wants to build the first nuclear facility in the state. Blue Castle has hired former NRC Chairman Nils Diaz to help out, so its has potent assistance in the public relations game.

We wish Blue Castle good fortune. Herbert’s support for the atom is more subdued than before but still present – which is politic - and Utah could do with broadening its electricity portfolio. Utah just might be the place.

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CNET takes a look at the MIT Finance Forum and is surprised to find that nuclear energy still has the nerve to shove its nose through the door. Why?

"Our investors have a very long time horizon and the reason they supported it is the long-term societal implications and the potentially significant returns from that (so) we haven't seen any wavering of support," said Tyler Ellis, a project manager at TerraPower.

So that’s why there’s been no wavering of support. Writer Martin LaMonica focuses on small reactors, probably because CNET covers a lot of tech news and Microsoft’s Bill Gates is an investor in TerraPower. So it all fits together.

LaMonica provides a nice overview of the benefits of small reactors. I’ve always found some of the offered reasons a little thin:

Although none has actually been built, modular plants have a slight advantage in terms of cost: simply, financiers don't need to raise as much money, said Bob Percopo, a project finance expert who works at the energy division of AIG. "On balance, small modular reactors probably have a leg up on the financing side," he said.

In addition to being quicker to build, the smaller plants require fewer operators, which lowers the operations costs, [NuScale Power CEO Paul] Lorenzini said.

True statements all – well, the one about financing is unknown at this point. But I wonder if small reactors will be sold ultimately as an alternative to their full size peers or as supplements used for different purposes.

That isn’t completely clear yet, but I do think the better argument isn’t their cost effectiveness – though that’s a selling point – but that they can be used in all kinds of situations where full scale plants might be too ambitious – providing power to military bases when they’re cut off from the grid, providing process heat for industrial processes, etc.

After all, the flux capacitor ran a car, so if you’ve got a different form factor, devise a different use case (and admittedly, most of the small reactor companies have done this – LaMonica just didn’t pick up on it.)

Visit NuScale here and TerraPower here for more on what they can do.

From the Utah state song, Utah – This Is the Place:

Utah! People working together; Utah! What a great place to be; Blessed from Heaven above; It's the land that we love; This is the place!

Friday, November 18, 2011

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.

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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 that, too.

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Mind you, this comes from an Indian site called Oil Price:

Nor are the Kudankulam protests New Delhi’s only headache. In Maharashtra, locals are demonstrating against the proposed 9,900 megawatt Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Even worse, the costs of such projects are coming under scrutiny, as thoughtful Indian columnists are now questioning the need for foreign reactors that are four times more expensive than indigenous ones.

Love to see those numbers.

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Russian pragmatism at its very best (probably through Google Translate):

"Anyway, it is impossible to be expecting a global refusal from nuclear energy, as both Europe and we have winter, and everyone wants to leave (live?) with heating and light," Khaitun said.

That’s Head of the Centre of Energy Policy at the Institute of Europe of Russia's Academy of Sciences Alexei Khaitun. I must admit, there are better arguments out there.

Friday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

TEPCO Reports Water in Reactor Vessel Remains Below Boiling Point

November 18, 2011

Plant Status

  • Water 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 site at a level that can withstand heavy rain or an extended outage of processing facilities.


Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • Japanese authorities have banned rice shipments from the Oonami district of Fukushima City after detection of radiation levels above the government limit, Financial Times reports. Oonami is about 30 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy facility. This is the first time radiation levels above the safety limit have been found in rice since the nuclear accident.

Media Highlights

  • If Japan doesn’t build any new nuclear energy facilities by 2035, the cost of energy will skyrocket, the International Energy Agency says in a UPI report. Only 11 of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants are operating, most of them shut down for routine maintenance and not permitted to restart until successful completion of stress tests. With greater dependence on fossil fuel, Japan consumed six times more oil and 32 percent more natural gas in October compared to a year ago.
  • Most of the radioactive materials released during the Fukushima Daiichi accident fell into the Pacific and have spread into other oceans around the world, scientists at Japan’s Meteorological Research Institute said. In a report in the Herald Sun, an Australian newspaper, the scientists said the radiation has been widely dispersed and is well below the levels affecting humans.

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 criticality. Gundersen knows this and is deliberately misleading people.

Gundersen’s claim that loss of the cooling water at the top of the AP1000 containment structure would be the loss of the plant’s ultimate heat sink also is false. Just like the nuclear plants at Fukushima, the ultimate heat sink of the AP1000 reactor is the cooling water source for the plant. If that is lost, multiple emergency cooling water supplies would be used to cool the reactor. If they too are lost, the water at the top of the containment could provide cooling for three days even in the event of a total loss of all electrical power. He also failed to mention that no U.S. nuclear facility faces the sudden flooding that stopped the ultimate heat sink in Japan.

His claim the fuel pool at the #4 reactor at Fukushima “blew up” is absolutely false and is fear-mongering at its worst. Video of the #4 pool and the used fuel in it along with samples of the water in the pool, are irrefutable proof there was no explosion in the fuel pool and fuel is intact. In fact, there were no explosions in any of the fuel pools. NRC Chairman Jaczko publicly confirmed this weeks ago. Likewise, Gundersen’s recent claim that molten fuel is moving into the ground beneath one plant and causing groundwater to change into steam is totally unsupported and irresponsible.

Mr. Gundersen also failed to mention that the AP1000 reactor, designed to be at least 100 times safer than existing plants due to exceptionally large safety margins, is based on 50 years of operational lessons-learned and more than 20 years of research and development. Probably the most highly engineered and analyzed nuclear plant design in the history of the U.S. (if not the world), the Westinghouse advanced passive reactor design underwent the most thorough pre-construction licensing review ever conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Because of the AP1000 design’s huge safety margins, any changes needed in response to the lessons learned from the accident in Japan are expected to be manageable during plant construction.

Mr. Gundersen does not speak for the people of Georgia or South Carolina, nor their governors or public service commissions who support new nuclear facilities. He should respect their right to decide for themselves how to manage their energy supplies.
This isn't the first time Gundersen and his allies have attacked the AP-1000. Last April, a group of 12 regional anti-nuclear energy organizations called on the NRC to investigate their claims. Click here for NEI's response to that request.

An artist's conception of the AP-1000 reactor, courtesy of Westinghouse.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Into the Pea Ridge with Thorium

thorium1While 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 rare-earth metal is often found plentifully with them.

While the climate is right for selling Missouri-mined rare earth, Kennedy has encountered an obstacle: what to do with vast quantities of thorium, a naturally occurring radioactive element that is a byproduct of rare earth extraction.

Our old friend thorium! I can think of a thing or two that could be done with it, though I imagine some of Kennedy’s problem lie with the fact that it is not much used at present and not much of a market exists for it.

Energy from thorium has been tried before in the United States and abandoned. But thorium power has many advocates and is undergoing a resurgence in parts of the world, particularly India and China.

Kennedy is proposing that the government become a partner in the enterprise. He believes that building a regional storehouse for thorium is the only means to overcome liability concerns, and he is pressing for legislation that would relax rules that classify thorium along with uranium for purposes of handling.

And then:

China, India, Japan, France, Russia and the U.S. are all currently developing thorium-based reactors, with various degrees of commitment.

India is already well into its thorium fuel development. The country's three-stage nuclear power plan laid out in the '50s was designed specifically to take advantage of India's vast thorium reserves. India has taken a more conventional route, utilizing uranium-catalyzed pressurized heavy water reactors that use thorium compounds as breeder fuel to produce more uranium.

India consequently may not be a good market for Kennedy, but there is at least a suggestion that processing and storing it while getting at the rare metals might be a forward-looking idea – if thorium can gain more traction than, say, fusion.

That’s a little glib, as the thorium fuel cycle is well-understood and nothing really excludes it from consideration. The U.S. experiments with it at Peach Bottom and Fort St. Varain in the seventies were not failures. It’s lack of pickup after that time may have had as much to do with the developed uranium market as any other factor.

But…

Time has a way of catching up with you, though, and sometimes catching you short:

After nearly three years of soaring prices for rare earth metals, with the cost of some rising nearly thirtyfold, the market is rapidly coming back down.

International prices for some light rare earths, like cerium and lanthanum, used in the polishing of flat-screen televisions and the refining of oil, respectively, have fallen by up to two-thirds since August and are still dropping. Prices have declined by roughly one-third since then for highly magnetic rare earths, like neodymium, needed for products like smartphones, computers and large wind turbines.

That’s from yesterday’s news. I don’t understand the world of elements well enough to grasp its ups and downs; still, it may well be that thorium proves to be the most useful item you can extract from Pea Ridge.

Thorium. A good faith effort to make a soft black rock attractive.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday Update

From NEI’s Safety First web site:

Second Japanese Utility Submits Stress Test Results to Regulator

November 16, 2011

Industry/Regulatory/Political

  • Shikoku 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 November 2010, and reactors 4 and 5 were shut down in May after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Plant Status

  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said Nov. 15 it is installing the first of eight 90-cubic-meter storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi. The tanks will be used to store sludge from water decontamination operations. Installation of the tanks is to be completed by April. Tokyo Electric Power Co. told journalists last week that 77,500 metric tons of water still needs purification treatment.
  • Nuclear Engineering International reported that TEPCO has sealed stairwells, hatches and other penetrations leading to the basements of turbine halls and other buildings at Fukushima Daiichi. The measure is meant to reduce the spread of radioactive dust as the company pumps water from the basements to decontaminate and recycle it for reactor cooling.

Media Highlights

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency’s final report to the Japanese government from its October inspection of the areas surrounding Fukushima Daiichi recommends Japanese authorities take a “balanced approach” in prioritizing cleanup efforts. It also recommends local disposal of contaminated soils and other materials from remediation efforts and offers IAEA assistance if requested.
  • Dow Jones reports that a panel has been set up to advise the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on the need to revise safety regulations for the country’s older nuclear reactors.
  • Platts reports that as Japan’s nuclear energy utilization plummeted to a record low of 18.5 percent, the country’s 10 major electric utilities have consumed six times more oil this October than they did the same time last year.

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 such as financing, transmission requirements, available natural resources for renewables and performance of the operating companies.

Wind turbines, like all other technologies, have a range of costs based on many variables.  EIA shows that the upper end of wind’s cost range is more expensive than the lower end of nuclear’s cost range. On the bottom of EIA’s page, a range of costs for each technology is provided (chart below).

Table 2. Regional Variation in Levelized Cost of New Generation Resources, 2016.

As shown above, the low end of nuclear’s cost range ($109.70/MWh) is lower than the high end of wind’s cost range ($115/MWh); therefore wind is not always cheaper than nuclear.

Further, the amount of wind that can be built is limited to specific places in the U.S. that receive adequate wind flow (see map below).

A substantial amount of wind cannot be built in places such as the Southeast due to a lack of natural resources. Areas with low wind resources will produce less electricity from installed turbines which in turn cause higher levelized costs.  Here are SCANA’s estimates for its region which show nuclear is cheaper than gas, coal, wind and solar (different incentives included for all):

[image3.png]

Currently, 104 nuclear reactors (101 gigawatts) generate 20% of the country’s baseload power at low operating costs. This compares to 40 GW of wind and 1 GW of solar generating 2.2% and 0.0003% of the country’s electricity, respectively, at intermittent times.

The folks at PolitiFact should reconsider their conclusion about former President Clinton’s statements and change it from Half True to Mostly False.

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 generation and large-scale usable water production are interdependent. We cannot have one without the other. Power plants require water for cooling, and water utilities require electricity for filtration, purification, and pumping to deliver usable water. In fact, nationwide, about 80 percent of municipal water processing and distribution costs are for electricity.i

According to USGS, residential consumption of freshwater—at 6.7 percent of U.S. total water consumption—is more than double the consumption of freshwater for electric power generation, at 3.3 percent.ii A typical nuclear plant supplies 740,000 homes with all of the electricity they use while consuming 13 to 23 gallons of water per day per household. By comparison, the average U.S. household of three people consumes about 94 gallons of water per day for indoor and outdoor activities.iii

Power plants may withdraw almost as much water as farms for irrigation, but 98 percent of the water withdrawn by the electric power sector is returned to lakes and rivers, available for other uses. Since only 20 percent of irrigation water is returned, irrigation is the largest consumer of water resources.iv Power plants observe the temperature limit of their discharge water as set by the state regulatory authority, who determines the temperature that is safe for fish and plant life.

Numerous scientific studies of power plants around the country—reviewed by state permitting authorities—demonstrate that once-through cooling systems have no adverse impact on aquatic life populations.v This is because the miniscule number of fish lost to the cooling system, when compared to the overall population, is readily replaced by prolific reproduction.vi

Cooling towers consume twice as much water as once-through cooling systems.vii In light of climate change modeling that indicates freshwater constraints, how can cooling towers nationwide be a sustainable choice of cooling system?

Wind and solar energy use very little water, but their electricity output is variable—wind changes speed and direction, clouds block the sun—and intermittent—the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun shine. An electricity grid can only balance a limited amount of these electricity shortfalls, limiting how much renewable energy can be accommodated by a grid before it becomes unstable and black outs occur. Moreover, the variable, intermittent output of these renewables is usually balanced by fossil plants, which emit carbon dioxide and air pollutants.

The electricity grid requires steady, reliable baseload electricity—the output of nuclear and fossil plants. Nuclear power plant water use is comparable to coal plants. Natural gas uses less water,viii but produces half as much carbon dioxide as a coal plant as well as nitrous oxide, which contributes to ground level ozone formation, a cause of respiratory ailments. By contrast, nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse gases or air pollutants during operations.

Sustainable development will require electricity for quality of life and a mix of energy sources to generate that electricity—renewable, nuclear, and fossil. We must balance all environmental, social, and economic factors and make trade-offs when considering what energy source or cooling system to deploy at each of our diverse ecosystems around the country.

i EPRI, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 4 U.S. Electricity Consumption for Water Supply & Treatment, 2002, p. 1-2.

ii U.S. Geological Survey (Wayne B. Solley, et al.), Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, 1998, pp. 6, 48-9, 40-1, 36-7, 28-9, 44-5, and 32-3. Percentages are derived from the individual sector data tables rather than the summary percentage chart (Figure 7) on p. 19. The USGS 1995 study is the most recent to include both consumption and withdrawal data.

iii This calculation assumes a 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant operating at 90 percent capacity factor per year, the industry average of the time that a plant is actually operating compared to its operating 100 percent of the time. Average U.S. household electricity consumption is from EIA, Survey of Residential End-Use Electricity Consumption, 2001. Nuclear plant water consumption per megawatt/hour is from EPRI, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 3 U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production, 2002, p. viii. Residential water consumption per person is from U.S. Geological Survey, Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, 1998, p. 24. Number of persons in an average U.S. household is from U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports; reports consulted were from 1995, 2003, and 2006.

iv U.S. Geological Survey (Wayne B. Solley, et al.), Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 1995, 1998, pp. 48-9, 24-5, and 32-3.

v Among the studies submitted for NPDES permit renewal: Virginia Power, Impingement and Entrainment Studies for North Anna Power Station, 1978-1983, prepared by the Water Quality Department, Richmond, Virginia, May 1985. The study’s results are presented in Dominion, North Anna Early Site Permit Application, Revision 9, September 2006, p. 3-5-54. PSEG, Salem Generating Station NJPDES Permit Renewal Application, February 1, 2006, Section 5, Adverse Environmental Impact, p. 159. LWB Environmental Services, Inc. (L.W. Barnthouse), AKRF, Inc. (D. G. Heimbuch), Van Winkle Environmental Consulting (W. Van Winkle), and ASA Analysis & Communications, Inc. (J. Young), Entrainment and Impingement at IP2 and IP3: A Biological Impact Assessment, January 2008, p. 79. Carolina Power & Light, Environmental Services Section, Brunswick Steam Electric Plant 1993 Biological Monitoring Report, March 1994, p. viii. ASA Analysis & Communication, Inc., Impingement Mortality Characterization Report, 2006-2007 [for Oconee Nuclear Station], May 2008. p. ES-2. In addition, see Electric Power Research Institute, Ohio River Research Program: Impingement Mortality Characterization Study at 15 Power Stations, June 2009, pp. v-vi.

vi For a discussion of population dynamics, see National Research Council, Commission on Life Sciences, Committee on the Applications of Ecological Theory to Environmental Problems, Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Problem-Solving: Concepts and Case Studies (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1986), pp. 28-35.

vii National Renewable Energy Laboratory, A Review of Operational Water Consumption and Withdrawal Factors for Electricity Generating Technologies, March 2011, p. 6.

viii EPRI, Water & Sustainability, Vol. 3 U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production, 2002, p. viii. National Energy Technology Laboratory (G. J. Stiegel, J. R. Longanbach, M. D. Rutkowski, M. G. Klett, N. J. Kuehn, R. L. Schoff, V. Vaysman, J. S. White), Power Plant Water Usage and Loss Study, August 2005, revised May 2007, p. xiii.
Here's hoping that provides some useful context when it comes to domestic use of freshwater. Then again, something tells me that we'll probably be revisiting this story over and over again in the coming years. For more information, see this page at NEI.org.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

“Enormous Challenges and Ludicrous Efforts”

UnderControl

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 underlying menace that’s present. Yet there’s an appeal to the clean lines of the sterile, industrial design and a retro Eastern European feel to the furniture and instrument panels that ironically control some of the most powerful forces on the planet.

I’m not sure that even makes sense unless you’re already of a mind to imagine a “hollow, echoing sound” in a nuclear energy facility equals some “underlying menace.”

At its worst, talking and writing about modern art hits a kind of squishy liberalism where words mean what you want them to mean rather than what they clearly do mean. It’s a place where a grinding bore becomes a meditation.

Even though director Volker Satter has an agenda - here’s a quote: “Looking at the long term, you can sense the enormous challenges and ludicrous efforts that this form of energy generation demands of human beings” – he wants to make his case visually rather than verbally.

It’s always amusing to hear filmmakers, who after all practice the most technological and communal of arts, talk like this about any other human endeavor. “You can sense” they lack a certain self-knowledge.

But that’s not to say the film’s bad – after all, I’m describing a description not the film - or lacks points of interest. It’s on at 7:00. Director Satter will be there to explain it all for you.

---

Sometimes, flipping a switch can be enough:

The North Anna nuclear plant is likely to begin generating electricity tomorrow for the first time since both reactors at the Louisa County power station were shut down by a magnitude 5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23.

With everything that’s happened this year, one can’t blame Dominion and the NRC for being extremely careful about North Anna. The earthquake, while light (and short) compared to the one that struck Japan in March, still exceeded North Anna’s seismic design basis – a bit – for a few seconds.

This is how the NRC put it:

“The earthquake shook the reactors more strongly than the plant’s design anticipated, so Dominion had to prove to us that the quake caused no functional damage to the reactors’ safety systems,” said Eric Leeds, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “We’ve asked Dominion dozens of detailed questions, and our experts have examined Dominion’s answers as well as information from our own inspections. We’re satisfied the plant meets our requirements to restart safely, and we’ll monitor Dominion’s ongoing tests and inspections during startup of both reactors.”

That’s fine. But the key is here:

Both Dominion and NRC’s results showed only minor damage that did not affect North Anna’s safety systems.

Here is what the NRC still wants Dominion to do:

Updating North Anna’s Final Safety Analysis Report to incorporate information from the quake and subsequent analysis;

Additional characterization of the fault responsible for the Aug. 23 quake, as well as any special ground motion effects at North Anna;

Re-evaluating plant equipment (including an assessment of potential improvements) identified in earlier seismic reviews;

Developing any needed inspections or evaluations for components within the North Anna reactor vessels; and

Permanently updating seismic monitoring equipment for the North Anna reactors and dry-cask spent fuel storage facility.

Seems reasonable enough.

As you may expect, Dominion also put out a press release. This bit struck me as especially interesting:

[Following the earthquake] The company immediately began a program of inspections, testing and analysis to make sure the station was undamaged and capable of being safely restarted. The program involved more than 100,000 man-hours of work and cost more than $21 million, plus the use of numerous outside seismic and engineering experts.

Which may seem excessive, but the earthquake was so rare – and North Anna so near the epicenter (about 12 miles away) – that one doesn’t hesitate to suggest the money and time were well spent. Dominion doesn’t say how much of this was spent at their own behest and how much due to NRC questions, but presumably, there is some division.

Again, here’s the key:

“The station suffered no functional damage from the quake and is ready to resume generating clean, low-cost energy safely for our customers."

That’s David Heacock, Dominion’s president and chief nuclear officer. (NEI’s Nuclear Energy Insight newsletter recently published an interview with Heacock - mostly about Dominion’s post- Fukushima actions - which is online here.)

So, good news – especially for Virginians - on a number of fronts.

From Under Control. Looks darkly lustrous.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Being At Fukushima – Now and Then

insidefukushima8Talking 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 hurt heaped upon a mortal wound.

About 20,364 people have been declared (about 15,700) or assumed (about 4800) dead. About 112,000 buildings were leveled and another 140,000 badly damaged. All of it caused by the earthquake and tsunami, none of it by Fukushima Daiichi.

The company’s minders on the bus were eager to show off one of its major accomplishments so far: the completion of a huge superstructure built over reactor No. 1, designed to trap radioactive materials. The company said a similar cap would soon be built over the heavily damaged No. 3 reactor.

So there’s that. But you know what? As far as a story on this event goes, that’s okay. The pieces are mostly there and it would be foolish to pretend that the accident hasn’t taken its own toll and that the toll doesn’t merit covering. It does – of course it does – but it’s worth stressing that the horror widely anticipated by the press early on never materialized. But – that’s okay.

Finding a balance that will satisfy all readers will take considerably more time. In the interim, the Times’ Martin Fackler does allow for some consideration:

The star of Saturday’s press briefing was Masao Yoshida, the manager of the plant and a man now revered for his stamina over months of grueling, and often dispiriting, work.

During the briefing, he mainly stuck to the message that Tepco was hoping to deliver: “I have no doubt the reactors have been stabilized,” he said. But in an echo of the plain spokenness that won the admiration of Naoto Kan, the prime minister at the peak of the crisis, he added a note of caution: “There is still danger.”

Well, some consideration anyway. I’d say the whole article is worth a read, though one has to allow for a narrative approach that Fukushima, stubbornly, hasn’t really earned. The earthquake and tsunami? Woefully, they did earn it.

---

If you want to know what it was like to be at Fukushima Daiichi after a major earthquake hit and the staff knew it had about 40 minutes to prepare before a tsunami struck the facility, and the tsunami then struck, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO to its friends), has assembled a timeline, with complete cooperation from Tepco and the Japanese authorities, that does not mean to create a dramatic narrative but cannot avoid it.

Because of a lack of power, temporary batteries were necessary to open the SRV. Batteries were gathered from cars, carried to the control room, and connected. However, the voltage was insufficient, so additional batteries were scavenged and added. Operators attempted to operate several SRVs without success. With no injection, reactor water level decreased. The lack of core cooling likely resulted in core damage and the generation of hydrogen from the high-temperature interaction of steam and zirconium inside the reactor.

In it’s dry, factual way, the timeline can occasionally forget that those batteries didn’t gather themselves from cars – and that those gathering the batteries could not be sure then if their families were alive or dead.

Granted, the point here is not drama:

“The U.S. nuclear energy industry is committed to learning from Japan’s experience and applying relevant lessons to make U.S. nuclear energy facilities even safer. We are sharing this report with the widest possible audience because it is important that we all work from the same set of facts in determining the appropriate response,” said NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo. “It is of paramount importance that we learn from it and take our facilities to even higher levels of safety and preparedness.”

That’s the point. But drama is there, too.

What a remarkably resourceful and brave group of people those workers were at Fukushima. I hope we learn their names at some point.

There’ll be plenty more to say about the substance of the timeline, but it’d be a shame to let the moment of its release pass without a salute to the workers over on that side of the Pacific.

Cars piled up against the Fukushima Daiichi facilities.

Friday, November 11, 2011

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 Japan’s experience and applying relevant lessons to make U.S. nuclear energy facilities even safer. We are sharing this report with the widest possible audience because it is important that we all work from the same set of facts in determining the appropriate response,” said NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo. “It is of paramount importance that we learn from it and take our facilities to even higher levels of safety and preparedness.”

U.S. nuclear power plants operating in 31 states produce 20 percent of U.S. electricity, with a unique combination of 24/7 production, industry-leading reliability and zero carbon emissions or air pollution.

The report presents a chronology of activities at the Fukushima Daiichi station in the first four days after the earthquake and tsunami. It does not provide analysis, draw conclusions or include recommendations on the events. Most of the information in the report has been previously released, but in a piecemeal fashion. The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, an industry organization whose mission is to promote the highest levels of safety throughout the U.S. nuclear industry, worked closely with the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, to develop the timeline. Information was compiled from multiple sources, including the Japanese government, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and several Japanese nuclear and safety organizations.

The U.S. nuclear energy industry has established a leadership model among major electric sector organizations – including NEI, the Electric Power Research Institute, reactor vendors and INPO – to integrate and coordinate the nuclear industry’s ongoing response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

This Fukushima Response Steering Committee already has identified five areas that warrant action or further examination:

  • Seismic and flooding inspections
  • Maintaining safety during a prolonged loss of AC power
  • Assuring the accessibility and functionality of reactor containment vent valves assuming loss of AC power
  • Enhanced training in guidelines to manage severe accidents
  • Enhanced monitoring of used fuel storage pools at reactors

  • “This timeline doesn’t tell us why events unfolded – a comprehensive root cause analysis will likely take several months if not years to achieve that understanding. However, the facts presented in this timeline reinforce the industry’s and the NRC’s independent assessments on what our response priorities should be,” Pietrangelo said.

    The timeline is available here and at NEI’s “Safety First” website, http://safetyfirst.nei.org.
    More to come.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    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. 

    image

    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 we’ve covered before, their nuclear moratorium has led to higher cost electricity, lost jobs and more emissions.

    There’s some evidence that Japan’s shutdown of most of its reactors may be having a negative effect on Japan’s export-based economy. [Financial Times, subscript req’d. “Japan restarts first nuclear reactor since disaster,” Nov. 1, 2011.]

    Concerns about stable supply of electricity are prompting some [Japanese] companies to shift production overseas. A rise in fuel costs for utilities to make up for a lack of nuclear power, leading to bigger electricity bills for consumers, is another factor undermining the economy.

    A full nuclear shutdown would have a huge annual bill as Japan turns to more expensive fossil fuels.  

    Using gas and oil to make up for the loss of all nuclear power reactors will cost more than 3,000 bn yen ($38bn) a year, based on imported fuel prices and utilisation rates in 2009, the government has estimated.

    Another country has considered the pros and cons of nuclear power, but when asked about shutting down its reactors replied with an emphatic “Non, merci!”

    The French government's fiscal belt-tightening effort won't touch the country's ambitious nuclear energy program, France's energy minister said Wednesday, as he also dismissed any need for France to reduce its nuclear dependency...French energy and industry minister Eric Besson said Flamanville, the follow-up Penly reactor and other French nuclear investments won't be affected "at all" by the country's austerity package.

    "The plan is designed to reduce deficits, yet growth engines aren't touched, budgets for the future haven't been dented," Mr. Besson said two days after the government unveiled a €7 billion austerity package.

    In fact, it turns out nuclear energy can be especially helpful in times of austerity. First nuclear energy creates jobs—not only in the industry itself—but in wholly unrelated fields.

    Mr. [Henri] Proglio [chief executive of Electricité de France] said that 400,000 jobs, direct and indirect, in the nuclear industry would be threatened [if France shut down its reactors] as well as another 100,000 future jobs dependent on nuclear exports. Another 500,000 jobs in energy-intensive sectors like aluminum production could be outsourced to other countries as a result of higher energy costs, he predicted.

    Lower cost electricity (generated thanks to nuclear energy) also leaves ratepayers/consumers with more money in their pockets, too. Money they can spend on other goods and services, spreading the wealth.

    The French pay, on average, about 30 percent less for their electricity than their neighbors do, he said, ‘‘thanks to our nuclear establishment and hydropower.’’

    Of course there is a way out. Something akin to the IEA’s Low Nuclear Case: build more fossil fuel plants.

    Mr. Proglio told the paper that it was his ‘‘conviction’’ that France…would need to invest somewhere in the vicinity of $544 billion to build new fossil fuel power plants to replace lost generating capacity if it shut down its reactors.

    That, he said, would have to be financed by a doubling of the price of electricity and would bring a 50 percent increase in France’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    A doubling of electricity prices, hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and (lest we forget!) higher emissions. Sounds like the IEA is onto something in its projections of a world without nuclear power. And sounds like France has the right idea to not scale back nuclear energy during tough times. Something to keep in mind as more nations, including our own, face budget cuts.

    Wednesday, November 09, 2011

    IEA and the Disaster of “Low Nuclear” Usage

    Belgium-Nuclear-Power-JPEG-9This 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, without naming any particular governments.

    Well, the AFP story calls out Germany and Belgium by name and the report mentions them, too, but perhaps Birol wants to be more subtle. Focusing on this is good for the nuclear energy business, but it probably sells short what the EIA report is and does.

    What the EIA does is provide an Annual Energy Outlook report which presents a number of reference scenarios and cases showing what might happen over the next 25 years in the energy market given different variables. One of the variables – which is called the Low Nuclear Case – reduces nuclear energy capacity by half by 2035. And indeed, doing so has exactly the dire outcomes AFP and Dow Jones says it does.

    This story from Dow Jones avoids the issue of warnings, allowing the EIA itself to say that later on:

    The crisis at Japan's Fukushima atomic facility could result in a 15% fall in nuclear power capacity by 2035 if countries reconsider existing policies, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday.

    This would result in increased costs for coal and gas imports for power generation and higher emissions of climate-warming gases, it said.

    But it still should be stressed that the IEA also says no such thing will happen – in most of the other scenarios and cases. The New Policy scenario sees nuclear energy capacity increasing 70 percent. In introducing this scenario, the report directly says (no link – IEA would like to sell this report):

    In the New Policies Scenario, generation from nuclear power plants worldwide increases by almost 2000 TWh over the Outlook period, more than the nuclear output in North America and OECD Europe combined in 2010. This increase comes predominantly from non-OECD countries, with China alone accounting for over two-fifths of the global increase. In India, nuclear power generation grows almost ten-fold. In Russia, it grows by two-thirds. About 60% of the nuclear capacity added in the OECD replaces ageing nuclear plants that are retired in the Outlook period; in total, capacity increases by only 16%.

    And elsewhere in the report, the report mentions that most countries have reaffirmed their commitment to their nuclear energy industries.

    That’s the thing about the future – you can say almost anything about it – ands IEA does, sometimes drastically different things, from year to year. And that’s fine: after all, the accident in Japan happened between two reports.

    The IEA reports are highly informed, but still, they cannot be anything but provisional. It’s the nature of the work. (The OECD, by the way, is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a sort of international chamber of commerce.)

    Now, having said all that, the point these stories make is more than valid. if nuclear capacity were halved in the next 25 years, IEA cannot project a plausible way to achieve key policy goals – about global warming and carbon emission reduction – and the price of electricity will certainly face upward pressure. Moreover, renewable energy source will take up some of the slack, but coal will take up a lot more.

    And IEA says the cost to replace nuclear capacity and meet new demand will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. (after a few billion, why just hand out blank pieces of paper?)

    While it was certainly pleasing to watch EIA set the table for a lot of press attention, I think it’s fair to say that most policymakers understand what nuclear energy is and does – what policy goals it helps achieve – and how much electricity it can produce. So the somewhat dire tone taken – while justified by the report – reflects what is explicitly a prediction not a reality.

    No one wants to alarm anyone, you understand.

    Although the report is not available to the general public, you can still get a lot of information here.

    Unusual angle on the Doel nuclear facility in Belgium. But not by name.