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2012: The Year After the Year

2012 may fade away and 2013 arrive with undo chipperness, but It’s all a continuum. Last year’s narratives will continue into the new year, a few cameo players from 2012 will gain additional prominence in 2013 – I’m thinking small reactors here – and, to paraphrase the tagline of an old horror comic, always expect the unexpected.

So let’s not fill up a top ten list – that might be the expected thing to do on December 31; instead, let’s see if we can find some recent quotes that summarize (some of) the themes of the last year even if that is not exactly their purpose.
Take this, for example, from the Wall Street Journal:
But phasing out nuclear power, which helps meet nearly 75% of France's electricity needs and about 27% across the EU, could deprive the continent of a key source of energy and jobs, making it more dependent on fossil-fuel imports.
Higher fuel bills could also hurt European economies, economists warned. And closing nuclear reactors—which emit little to no greenhouse…

Inescapable Dilemmas: A Few Friday Nuclear Readings

From the end of a column in the Guardian by Neil Hirst of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change:All in all, there is no simple answer to this question. If you believe strongly enough that we should phase out nuclear then with sufficiently strong political commitment around the world, this could be done consistently with tackling climate change. However, as a practical matter, we are far from being on course to limit carbon emissions to levels consistent with a 2C target. Ruling out one of the major low-carbon technology options currently available is bound to add to the difficulty and the risk of what is already looking like a very tough challenge. Balancing the problems of nuclear power against its contribution to climate mitigation (and other energy policy objectives) is an inescapable dilemma.Hirst knows as well as we do that finding “sufficiently strong political commitment around the world” to shutter nuclear energy is as likely as finding sufficiently strong political commit…

Nuclear Energy and The Darkest Nightmare

I like the way the Sundance Film Festival tries to square a bunch of circles in selling its showings (beginning January 18) of Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise, his pro-nuclear energy documentary:The atomic bomb, the specter of a global nuclear holocaust, and disasters like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the darkest nightmares of the modern world. But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong? What if people knew that there are reactors that are self-sustaining and fully controllable and ones that require no waste disposal? What if nuclear power is the only energy source that has the ability to stop climate change?Need we note that domestic nuclear energy, the subject of the film, has nothing whatever to with the atomic bomb or “the specter of a global nuclear holocaust?” I hope not. If you allow that, “Darkest nightmares of the modern world” might seem a bit hyperbolic, yes?But fine: if it inspires people to wander in and see the film, fine. They may get some of th…

Pro-Nuclear Party Wins Big in Japan

They have elections:More than 20 months after a catastrophic nuclear disaster that triggered massive protests against atomic energy and fueled public opinion polls backing the phase-out of reactors, a pro-nuclear party won Japan’s parliamentary election. The result left anti-nuclear proponents in shock Monday, struggling to understand how the Liberal Democratic Party not only won, but won in a landslide.Japan has a parliamentary system. This election was for the lower chamber, like ours called the House of Representatives, and elected by direct vote. The upper chamber, the House of Councilors, has a rather complicated system for election (part proportional based on party, part direct based on candidate). The House of Representatives will select a new Prime Minister later this month.In any event, you might wonder if this means that the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has receded as an issue. Probably not – the Japanese national paper the Asahi Shimbun, polled the attitudes of voters and

Nuclear Energy - Justified

A letter from Martha Gordon of Monmouth Oregon to the Statesman-Journal of Salem (Ore.), re-rendered as a poem:As one survivor
of the Dust Bowl who
experienced the failure of one mistaken idea,
I am vitally afraid
of earth-shaking experiments.Our experience with nukes,
you would think,
would rival that of
a child learning about fire
by getting burned.Our wind power,
while not so fruitful
in this water-lush year,
is a “money in the bank” recourse
for the dry years predicted to come.How can we justify more nukes
on our beautiful Columbia?I was struck by Ms. Gordon’s (who must be well into her eighties if she remembers the dust bowl) artful arrangement of words in making her lyrical and somewhat mysterious statement about the vagaries of energy. So it’s not pro-nuclear – or is it?  Or is that even the point? Wind, nuclear, natural gas – she alludes to their power generating potential and, like the first person confronted with fire, finds them…

Where Used Nuclear Fuel Is Wanted

Sometimes, it just takes a little push. For example, The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (whew! – let’s call it the BRC) made a number of recommendations on how to proceed with used nuclear fuel without Yucca Mountain.

One recommendation still promoted the use of one or more permanent repositories just like Yucca Mountain, but the interest here – and the push - is on a second, related suggestion: interim storage sites. However many of these there would be, they would be many fewer than the nuclear facilities now holding used nuclear fuel – if the idea is to decrease the number of sites with used fuel, then this is an especially plausible idea.

Even better, the BRC said that communities could suggest themselves as hosts for these interim sites. The federal government could then negotiate terms with the communities, assuming there are viable locations to put the sites.

This idea arose from a visit the BRC members took to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation P…

A Little Now, A Lot Later–Florida and Cost Recovery

Michael Waldron, who is director of nuclear communications at Florida Power & Light, takes an unusually pugnacious tone in this op-ed in the Miami Sun-Sentinel. He is defending the concept of cost recovery, a process by which a company can levy a small surcharge on ratepayers to improve or build reactors. In this case, FPL is using this to upgrade their reactors at Turkey Point and do some early work on two more potential reactors there:
Over the past several years, Florida's nuclear cost recovery statute has allowed FPL to upgrade our existing nuclear plants and add over 500 new megawatts of clean, cost-effective power-generation to our fleet.  To put this in perspective, this is about the same amount of electricity generated by a medium-sized nuclear power plant without having to build one. Waldron says that FPL is saving a lot of money for its customers – for itself, too, of course, but that also benefits customers:
For example, the 400 new megawatts we have already added …

The Bohemian Nuclear Appeal

We know that nuclear energy gets a strong thumbs up from countries such as the United States and United Kingdom – France – and a few others. And a resolute thumbs down from Germany – Switzerland – Australia. That’s fine – you can’t be loved by everyone all the time.

But where we’re a little fuzzy is a lot of the other countries out there. There have been some international polls, but I find those a little suspect, not necessarily tuned to national temperament or custom. It just seems prone to skew one way or another.
So, this is interesting:
Two thirds of Czechs are for further development of nuclear energy in the Czech Republic, 4 percentage points more than in May, according to the latest poll of agency STEM. That’s on the low end of what’s found in the United States, but still pretty good. What’s more, this number is a bit depressed form its due to concerns about the Fukushima accident.
Despite that, the current support to nuclear energy has not yet reached the peak from 2009 when…

Fukushima Reactors Stable After 7.3 Magnitude Quke

A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Japan overnight, triggering tsunami warnings across the island nation, but fortunately the warnings were lifted soon after and the quakes caused very little damage.

Of course, we've got out eyes on the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and things there look quiet according to ABC News:
No damage has been reported at monitoring posts and water treatment facilities at the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the nuclear facility that was devastated by tsunami waters after the 2011 quake, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company. All the workers were moved to higher ground on the site and told to stay inside after the tsunami warning. For a look at what the U.S. nuclear industry has done in the wake of Fukushima, please consult our Safety First microsite.

Idaho Ponders Its Nuclear Future

Nuclear Notes highlighted Governor Butch Otter’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy commission when he formed it last February. Now, the group is beginning to issue reports.
Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter today encouraged the people of Idaho to review the progress of his Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission and to begin a public dialogue on critical questions facing the Idaho National Laboratory and their potential impact on Idaho’s economy. This might sound like an "uh-oh, maybe this isn’t going to go so well" sort of moment, but Governor Otter is actually quite the fan of INL:
“The timing was right for an extensive, external review of INL and nuclear-related activities in Idaho,” Governor Otter said. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory. There’s been significa…

STP Nuclear Generating Station Unit 1 Returns to Service After Safe, Successful Outage

The following was issued by the media team at the South Texas Project.
The South Texas Project (STP) Unit 1 reactor is back online and operating at full power after a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage. The unit returned to 100 percent power Friday, Nov. 30.

“Our team safely and efficiently completed a large scope of work that included maintenance, testing, and inspection activities,” said STP President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Koehl. “The work completed prepares the unit to run continuously until its next refueling outage, about 18 months from now.”

The unit was taken offline on Saturday, Oct. 20 for scheduled refueling and maintenance. The beginning of this outage marked an STP record of 530 continuous days online for Unit 1. The previous STP record for consecutive days on-line – held by Unit 2 – was 525 days, completed in 2008.

STP mobilized approximately 1,100 contractors to assist with major and minor modifications that enhance equipment reliability. Numerous …

Meanwhile, In France … Losing the Nuclear Advantage

We’ve had a merry time showing that the German effort to close its nuclear plants has been ill-advised and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, in France, President Francois Hollande wants to reduce dependence on nuclear energy or at least, close the oldest of the plants:
“The Fessenheim plant which is the oldest in our country, will be closed at the end of 2016 in conditions that will guarantee the supply needs of the region... and safeguard all jobs,” say Hollande, as quoted in a French news outlet. The country operates 58 nuclear reactors. Twenty-four of them would be retired by 2025. What happens in 2025 is likely not under Hollande’s purview, so we’ll wait on that one. Closing Fessenheim seems more a symbolic gesture, so fine.

The article at Energy Central shows that the French may have missed a few tricks:
The new French president has painted himself in a corner: He has vowed to reduce the nation’s most plentiful resource, nuclear energy. But he has also declared that one of the most…

To Space and Beyond With Nuclear Energy

One of the things that you can do with nuclear energy is produce a lot of energy for a long length of time with an exceptionally small amount of uranium – or dilithium crystals, whichever is available. So if you need energy for an extended period of time – say, the time it takes to get from Earth to Mars, then nuclear energy has considerable utility – and you don’t have to worry about dust blocking the sun, as on some of the solar driven rovers. Now, a group of scientists are thinking bigger – sending astronauts to Mars and beyond and doing it in a way that could get them there and back successfully. This is a barrier that hasn’t been breached, so while this project is in early days, it’s very intriguing.A team of researchers, including engineers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this week reported their successful demonstration of a new concept that could provide reliable nuclear power for space exploration. The technology is still years away from the warp drive of Star Trek, …

Aliens or Nuclear Energy –That’s Your Choice

Fitting the quotidian into the eternal can be a heavy lift, as demonstrated by this article in the Huffington Post:He spoke about Fukushima and how we do not really know how much radiation has already or will in the future rain down on us. Fukushima is still unstable yet we hear very little about it anymore. Sungjand Rinpoche said, « Fukushima releases a lot of radioactivity in the sky and it can fall on America, Alaska, China, Russia and Europe. We should end all nuclear energy because even that can be like a nuclear bomb. It will kill everybody. The main point is in society we have to change the insatisfaction [sic?] and selfishness to Love ».Well, no, it isn’t releasing a lot of radioactivity in the sky and nuclear energy has no capacity to kill everybody. But you know, if you do believe that, you may as well set your cap on changing selfishness to love. That’s certainly a good goal.He repeated that we were destroying the future for our children, destroying the planet, and bringing…

Here Comes Thanksgiving

On TV:The Stivics' Thanksgiving visit is ruined when Archie finds out that the Meathead lost his job for marching against nuclear energy---in the nude. Mike: Rob Reiner. Edith: Jean Stapleton. Gloria: Sally Struthers. Murray: Martin Balsam. Stephanie: Danielle Brisebois. Barney: Allan Melvin. Ah, the 70s – where an awful lot happened in the nude. I’m not sure why they left out Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker.But surely nuclear energy must have something to contribute to the day:I assume that you all know how a nuclear reactor works. In the oven idea, instead of steam spinning a turbine, it flows around an open topped box which food may be placed in, and viola a nuclear oven! Viola! A perfect turkey in milliseconds.Something to contribute, for real. In Oswego County, N.Y.:Despite a downturn in donations, Catholic Charities’ food pantry will provide more than 250 families with all the fixings for a complete Thanksgiving meal. “It has been a very challenging year,” said Helen Hoefe…

“Easy to shut down a nuclear power plant, but…”

We’ve left Germany alone for awhile, you may have noticed. We perhaps overstressed the country’s difficulties in its projected transition from nuclear energy to (mostly) renewable energy sources. Maybe there was too much glee on our part at what is, after all, a terrible decision. The Germans have a word for that glee. It’s Schadenfreude, taking delight in other’s misery, and it’s not an attractive quality whatever motivates it.

Still … Still … there are things to say about this that are genuinely germane and instructive. Along these lines, I was very impressed by an interview Der Spiegel had with the German Energy Agency’s President, Stephan Kohler. Their chat contains a notably balanced look at the difficulties the country has set for itself. Here’s a sampler:
It's easy to shut down a nuclear power plant, but that doesn't mean you have something to replace it with. We know today, for example, that we don't have enough reliable power plant capacity in southern Germany to…

Indifferent to Nuclear Energy, Against Wind Power

Former Vice President Al Gore has never been the biggest advocate of nuclear energy:In 2009, he said he saw it playing "a somewhat larger role" in the energy mix because of climate change and efforts to cut carbon emissions. "I'm not a reflexive opponent of nuclear. I used to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm now skeptical about it," he told the Guardian at the time.But at least three years ago, not it biggest detractor, either. I think it’s fair to say that he is currently indifferent to it."It will play a role, but probably a limited role. I think the waste issue can probably be solved, and Fukushima notwithstanding, the safety of operation issue can probably be solved. But the cost is absurdly high and still rising," he wrote during a question and answer session on Reddit to promote his 24-hour Climate Reality webcast on the links between fossil fuels and extreme weather.That happened Wednesday into Thursday. If the webcast fit your interest, y…

A First Look at the World Energy Outlook

The International Energy Agency released its key annual report, World Energy Outlook, today and in it, makes a number of striking forecasts about the profile of energy. And forecast is the right word – the IEA takes the pulse of energy markets as they stand today and projects them out to about 2035. These are not Nostradamus-like predictions of the future. The forecasts vary in detail from year to year, but are useful to policymakers and to those interested in energy-related issues.This year, the IEA report has stirred some controversy.In an indication how “fracking” is reshaping the global energy picture, the International Energy Agency today projected that the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.And within just three years, the United States will unseat Russia as the largest producer of natural gas.The response to this assertion has been mixed. Rob Wile at Business Insider polled his sources and found a decided lack of support:But Man…

Mobilizing across many miles for mutual assistance

No doubt you know that thousands upon thousands of utility workers are battling extraordinary conditions around the clock to try and restore power for hundreds of thousands of people along the Mid-Atlantic coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and then this week's Nor'easter. Some portions of the Northeast this week received a foot of snow on top of downed power lines and flooded out neighborhoods from last week. What you may not fully appreciate is the range and breadth of dedicated help that arrives when significant storms overwhelm local utilities and their power restoration efforts.

Electric companies impacted by significant outages routinely call on sister utilities to help speed power restoration. Men and women from utilities from all corners of the country have descended most particularly upon New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in an all-hands mission known as Mutual Assistance. The Edison Electric Institute formally established its Mutual Assistance Program in 1…

The IAEA Annual Report

The International Atomic Energy Agency is important, in part, because it encourages, supports and helps organize the regulatory and safety regimes necessary to have a viable domestic nuclear energy industry. Countries with mature industries – the United States, France, Russia, etc. – may not need that kind of assistance, but they all participate in the IAEA’s activities to support it. The IAEA is like the engine that allows the nuclear energy industry to motor ahead globally. (Terrible analogy – I don’t think countries want to be seen as cogs.)

So, I’m always keenly interested in the IAEA’s annual report to its home base, the United Nations. A lot of the report is routine speech filler, but it’s always intriguing to see how the organization characterizes the world of nuclear energy and nuclear energy in the world. To an extent, it informs how nuclear energy will be discussed over the next year and the issues that may gain prominence.

You can read IAEA Director Yukiya Amano’s statemen…

The Pitfalls of Arguing Against Nuclear Energy

There’s little to agree with in Lucy Birmingham’s editorial against nuclear energy in Time, but I must admit, I enjoyed it. She argues her points with reasonable data points, not as common as one might hope, even if the conclusion she comes to doesn’t really follow the data.As Sandy made landfall on Atlantic City, Oyster Creek nuclear power plant nearby was fortunately on a scheduled outage. But Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y., Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J., all experienced shutdowns because of high water levels or electrical disruption. This is all factual – a nuclear facility will also shut down if winds heading toward it surpass 75 miles per hour. This happened at Waterford 3 in the face of Hurricane Isaac. This is what you want to happen. Birmingham, however, sees this and harsh weather in general as dangerous to nuclear energy plants.Equally dangerous are drought and record heat conditions the U.S. experienced last summer. In August…

The Hurricane This Time

It’s so annoying when things don’t go your way. Take Hurricane Sandy:
Critics of U.S. nuclear-safety requirements said a few breaks, including that reactors such as Oyster Creek were idled for refueling, prevented a disaster, and that plants need stiffer government standards to cope with a likely increase in the number and severity of storms. This is akin to a losing politician saying that he would have won if only his competitor had committed adultery (murder, treason, take your pick). If only Oyster Creek had run into major problems, it would have proven how dangerous it is – ah, if only. 

This amusing example of  negative wish fulfillment comes from a Bloomberg story about nuclear energy facilities weathering Hurricane Sandy quite well. Even if there was no reason to expect any of the 34 reactors in the storm’s path to develop major problems, the post-Fukushima environment in which the storm took place means that we must expect stories like this – though the actual content is now…