Thursday, January 05, 2012

French Frack Fried

World Nuclear News Has up a story on how the French nuclear energy industry is responding to the accident in Japan:

In an accident situation the ASN [Autorité De Sûreté Nucléaire, essentially the French NRC] wants French reactors to be able to rely on what it calls a 'hard core' set of safety requirements. These arrangements would protect safety-critical structures and equipment to ensure that vital functions can be maintained in the face of demands beyond the design basis of the plant, such as earthquakes, fires, or the prolonged loss of power or emergency cooling. Among the 'hard core' set-up would be robust emergency centers, improved communication and hardened supplies of water, diesel generators and dosimetry supplies for workers.

The whole story is worth a read, but what struck me is that this sound much like the American industry’s FLEX approach (this is from NEI’s member newsletter):

In a series of meetings with NRC staff last week, the industry put forward its diverse and flexible (FLEX) approach to implementing the NRC’s directives on its staff’s Fukushima task force recommendations. FLEX is a comprehensive and integrated plan to mitigate the effects of severe natural phenomena at nuclear energy facilities while expediting the attainment of safety benefits.

And here’s what the FLEX approach includes:

    • Provides portable equipment to assure that multiple means of obtaining power and cooling water are available to support key safety functions for all reactors at a site. Equipment includes portable pumps, generators, batteries, battery chargers, compressors, hoses, couplings, tools, debris clearing equipment and other materials.
    • Provides reasonable protection of portable equipment to guard it from the severe natural phenomena predicted for that site by locating the equipment at diverse locations.
    • Creates procedures and provides guidance for emergency response personnel for the use of FLEX equipment and capabilities.
    • Provides for program controls to ensure regular maintenance and testing of FLEX equipment.
    • Trains personnel in FLEX capability and response.

And perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the French and Americans are moving in parallel – the French have been keeping tabs on what is happening over here:

The focus of additional safety in response to previous accidents was to develop universal excellence in nuclear operation, first across the USA as facilitated by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and then globally through its sister, the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO).

WANO talked a bit earlier this year of taking a stronger regulatory hand in international nuclear safety (as did the IAEA), but issues of national sovereignty make that difficult to pull off. What seems more useful (at least, more likely to be widely accepted) is for WANO to further develop its standards for operational excellence and allow countries to apply them. That’s still the goal:

At the eleventh WANO Biennial General Meeting (BGM), the world’s nuclear operators approved a series of wide-ranging new commitments to nuclear safety, as WANO’s General Assembly unanimously approved a series of recommendations put forward by its Governing Board.

And these include:

  1. Expanding the scope of WANO’s activities
  2. Developing a world-wide integrated event response strategy
  3. Improving WANO’s credibility, including important changes to WANO’s peer review process
  4. Improving visibility
  5. Improving the quality of all WANO products and services

There’s that word “integrated” again, as in “FLEX is a comprehensive and integrated plan.” It’s less a quirk or a nod  to current thinking about accident mitigation than a simple recognition that everything that goes into mitigation should be thought about together so as to press out redundancies – to make a tight and austere yet thorough plan. It’s good to see that WANO is sharing that approach with the French, if that’s what’s happening.

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A cautionary tale"?

Barbara Scott had 21 solar panels installed last March on her house in Media, Pa. Scott's family was the first in the community, and she was prepared to evangelize, "We can have open houses and write newsletter articles and promote the idea of solar," she said. But that was before the economics changed.

With government rebates and tax incentives, Scott says, her family spent $21,000 to install the system. She figured it would take eight years to recoup that investment.

Barbara Scott and Mac Given in Media, Pa., had 21 solar panels installed last March. With government rebates and tax incentives, Scott says, her family spent $21,000 to install the system.

A lot of other people had the same idea at the same time, which sent the price of solar energy credits down sharply in Pennsylvania. Scott says that added another seven years to the payback period.

On top of that, Scott says, electricity rates aren't going up as quickly as she thought they would, thanks in part to low natural gas prices.

The idea here was to sell back unused electricity, which would defray the cost of the investment. And I imagine folks might hit three cherries if the timing is right – but for these folks right now, not so much. Well, it’s a long term investment and there are reasons to do this that do not include profit. Take your chances, take your risks.

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On the other hand:

The Northstar No. 1 disposal well stopped injecting brine and fracking fluids from natural-gas wells in Pennsylvania on Friday, about a day before a 4.0-magnitude quake shook Youngstown. It was the 11th such quake recorded in that area last year and the strongest to date.

The original injection pressure should force the brine back out of the well into 12 storage tanks, said Andy Ware, a deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Ohio’s oil and gas industry. The hope is that will help stop the ground from shaking.

Imagine if a nuclear energy facility spontaneously generated earthquakes as well as electricity and one can see the problem here.

In case you thought nuclear energy was the one that carried risk.

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