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New NEI White Paper: Making Safe Nuclear Energy Safer

With the anniversary of the incident at Fukushima Daiichi almost upon us, it's only natural for the public and other stakeholders to be asking questions about the safety of America's nuclear energy facilities. To answer those questions, NEI has published a white paper entitled, "Making Safe Nuclear Energy Safer."

The following passage is from the document's Executive Summary:
The nuclear energy industry’s primary and constant goal is to make safe nuclear energy facilities even safer. A decades-long commitment to safety and continuous learning is reflected in the operational focus and safety culture at our facilities. Companies that operate 104 U.S. reactors review safety procedures continually and update their facilities and training programs with lessons learned from those reviews.

The industry has a commitment to safety because nuclear energy is a vital part of America’s electricity portfolio. It helps achieve greater energy independence for America and produces a…

PBS to Air Second Fukushima Documentary Tonight

Tonight at 10:00 p.m. EST, PBS will be airing another FRONTLINE documentary about the incident at Fukushima Daiichi entitled, "Inside Japan's Nuclear Meltdown." Unlike the "Nuclear Aftershocks" report that aired in January, tonight's program will focus exclusively on brave TEPCO employees and first responders who worked to contain the damage at the stricken reactor.

During the program, PBS will be offering live commentary from the FRONTLINE Twitter feed (@frontlinepbs). We'll be watching the program in real time as well, tweeting from our own feed, @N_E_I. To participate in the conversation, please be sure to use the #frontline and #fukushima hash tags so others can follow along.

Breakers in the Solar Wave

Although Germany has become something of a whipping post on this blog, it’s hard not to look at its energy profile since it decided to close its nuclear facilities and not see something like chaos. But a lot of that chaos is incipient, so there’s time – not a lot, but still some time – to figure out how to proceed. For Germany, one of those ways has been encouraging the uptake of renewable energy. But now, the plummeting price of solar panels has unleashed a new round of, how shall we put it, chaos.Germany plans to reduce government subsidies supporting solar power by up to 30 percent within a year because higher-than-expected demand has made the scheme far more costly than authorities initially expected. At first glance, that seems a boon to the solar business and a vindication of those subsidies – they seeded the market and now the market can proceed on its own. But not so.German companies producing solar panels, already under pressure from stiff competition from new manufacturers i…

Thorium Faces the Hurdles on the Course

The Indians are looking to build a nuclear reactor based on thorium rather than uranium, offering the first chance in some years to see if the thorium fuel cycle is scalable enough to establish it as a viable element to use in future nuclear energy plants. Thorium was used in early American facilities such as Fort St. Vrain in Colorado and Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania. it’s not exactly an earlier Beta-VHS feud, though standardization doubtless had something to do with the decision to use uranium. Also, thorium has a somewhat more complex fuel cycle: it has no fissile isotopes, so must always be seeded by uranium or plutonium to be useful – they convert the thorium to uranium-233, which is fissile.But why use thorium at all, especially since using it does not foreclose the use of uranium?The Washington Post takes a stab at it:[Thorium] is less radioactive than the uranium that has always powered U.S. plants, and advocates say that not only does it produce less waste, it also is more di…

How Safe is Vermont Yankee? Ask the NRC, Not CNN.

Another colleague of mine here at NEI forwarded me a copy of the 4Q2011 Performance Summary at Vermont Yankee conducted by the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Open it up and what will you find? Nothing but the color green.

For more details, click here. Bottom line, this plant is operating safely and efficiently.

Some Facts on Vermont Yankee That Didn't Make the CNN Report

My colleague Tom Kaufmann shared a couple of data points with me that didn't make it into the excerpt of the CNN report by Amber Lyon that we watched today -- facts that demonstrate just how important the plant is to the state, its environment and economy.
VY makes 73.3% of the electricity generated in Vermont and accounts for 79% of the state’s emission-free energy.VY’s three-year average capacity factor is 92.2% - above the industry average.VY avoided the emission of 2.7 million metric tons of CO2 last year.VY’s output could charge over 800,000 all-electric automobiles in one night / 2.4 million in a day. There are less than 300,000 cars registered in the state of Vermont.

A Preview of CNN's Report on Vermont Yankee

For a number of weeks, we've been waiting for CNN to air an extended piece concerning the fight to keep Entergy's Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant operating -- a battle that's been thoroughly chronicled at the excellent blog, Yes Vermont Yankee. CNN has just posted a 4:40 teaser on their Web site, and if this snippet is any indication, we're in for more of the sort of alarmist reporting that's helped send the former cable news giant's ratings spinning into oblivion.

Case in point, this on-screen graphic that CNN's Amber Lyon calls the "damage area," around Vermont Yankee.


In the nuclear industry, this is actually known as the emergency planning zone or EPZ, drawn in a 10-mile radius around every nuclear power plant in America. As NEI notes in one of its fact sheets on emergency planning:
Within the 10-mile EPZ, the main immediate protective actions for the public include instructions for sheltering in place or evacuation. The slow pace at which …

Japanese Government: No Plans to Re-Start Fukushima Daini

Earlier this week, a Japanese government official said that there were no plans to restart any of the reactors at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant.

Fukushima Daini was a textbook example of how things can go right at a nuclear power plant in the face of an extreme event, something we noted at our SafetyFirst microsite in December:
When the earthquake struck, the Fukushima Daini facility automatically shut down safely as designed. However, it went into a state of emergency following the tsunami when water damage disrupted heat removal systems in three of the four reactors.

TEPCO reactor operators were able to quickly bring reactor 3, which had retained its heat removal function, into stable condition in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, other employees worked feverishly around-the-clock to reestablish heat removal capability in the other three reactors and finished stabilizing them by March 15.

A key distinction between the post-disaster conditions at Fukushima Daini and Fukushima Daiic…

You Say Tomato, I Say Tow-MAH-toe

On February 9, the Commissioners held a briefing on the status of implementation of the NRC's Safety Culture Policy Statement (an archived webcast of the briefing is available here). In a nearly three-hour briefing, the Commissioners heard from a panel of industry and public stakeholders and a panel of NRC program managers. In the first panel, NEI's Janet Schlueter spoke for the community of fuel cycle facilities; Lee Cox spoke for the Organization of Agreement States and the interests of the state regulators who are employing the SCPS with the radioactive materials users licensed by Agreement States. Ed Halpin, President and CEO of South Texas Nuclear Operating Company, spoke about his experience in cultural transformation at STP and his passion in the pursuit of a healthy and robust safety culture. Attorney Billie Garde, long-time advocate for employee concerns, provided her perspective on the NRC's success with the SCPS and the work that she sees as the next step i…

Resurgence in American Nuclear Industry To Start in Ga., Says Energy Chief

In case you missed the tweets from @SouthernCompany or @EnergyPressSec yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu  toured the site where two new reactors are being built at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Ga. Reconfirming his commitment to nuclear energy, the Nobel Laureate spoke to the more than 500 workers already on site on the need to build new nuclear plants to create jobs for American workers and boost U.S. competitiveness.“In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a blueprint for an American economy that is built to last and develops every available source of American energy,” said Secretary Chu. “Nuclear power is an important part of that blueprint. The work being done in Georgia and at research organizations like Oak Ridge National Laboratory is helping restore American leadership in the global race for the nuclear energy jobs of tomorrow.”Just how many new jobs is Secretary Chu talking about? Business Week says:About 1,700 workers are already on the job site and pl…

NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer Appears on PBS News Hour

Last night, NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, appeared on the PBS News Hour to discuss the future of the industry in the wake of the awarding of a COL to Plant Vogtle.


Nuclear Fact Check: Jamie Reno and the Daily Beast

Earlier this week, Jamie Reno, a reporter for Tina Brown's Daily Beast wrote a story about San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and the situation there concerning excessive wear in the steam generators. For an update on that situation, click here.

In any case, Reno's story attempted to tie the operating difficulties at San Onofre to Fukushima, and efforts by anti-nuclear activists in California to shut it and the state's other nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon.
The anti-nuclear power movement in the United States peaked in 1979, with widespread protests, the “No Nukes” concert in New York City, and the release of The China Syndrome, the gripping film about a near-meltdown at a fictional California facility that foreshadowed a real-life accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania just weeks after the movie’s premiere.

Since then, no new nuclear plants have been built in the U.S.That's incorrect. 50 more reactors were built after Three Mile Island a…

The French Choice; The Iowan Misapprehension

Even in the context of a political contest, it’s nice to be reminded how nuclear energy benefits people in the nickel-and-dime sense:France's electricity bills will rise less over the next two decades if it continues to rely on nuclear power for its energy needs, a government-commissioned report showed on Monday, two months ahead of the country's upcoming presidential election.Neither President Nicholas Sarkozy (the conservative more-or-less) nor his main opponent in the upcoming election, Francois Hollande (the liberal give or take), wants to shut down the nuclear plants. Hollande wants to close an older facility and reduce the dependence on nuclear energy from 80 to about 50 percent. I’m not sure why, but there it is.Still, French users could pay around one quarter less at the end of the next decade if the country decides to keep relying on nuclear power for at least 70 percent of its power instead of boosting renewable energy's role and lowering nuclear output to 20 per…

Running Out of Road in Belgium

Germany is a big country with a big problem when it  comes to closing its nuclear plants. Belgium is a smaller country with the same problem and somehow it’s still a pretty big one:With just three years to go before Belgium is due to begin phasing out nuclear power, the country is still grappling with basic questions about its plans, including whether the 2015 deadline has to be adjusted to ensure electricity supplies remain reliable. To be honest, if you want to close nuclear plants, you have to prepare for the loss of a lot of electricity and the very real possibility that the price to customers will go up, in some cases considerably. Belgium hasn’t prepared for any of this.Melchior Wathelet, the country's new state secretary for energy, said in an interview that a study currently being prepared, for presentation by July, will assess whether there is "an alternative that would guarantee the security of supply at an acceptable price and respecting the environment." If i…

Faulty Thermometer Likely Cause of Fukushima Temperature Rise

Last week, we alerted our readers to reports out of Japan that the temperatures inside Unit #2 at Fukushima Daiichi were rising. At the time, we noted that some of the reports of the news were, "rather breathless." That judgment has been borne out, as we received the following welcome news from Japan overnight:
A faulty thermometer is likely to blame for rising temperatures inside a stricken nuclear reactor at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, authorities said Monday, as Japan prepares to mark one year since a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown.

[...]

A nuclear expert agreed that a faulty temperature gauge inside the Unit 2 reactor is the most likely cause for the higher heat reading.

Tokyo mega-quake prediction Inside the Japan nuclear exclusion zone Japan considers restarting two reactors Japan exclusion zone's lone resident
Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at U.S. nuclear power plants, told CNN that the prospect of another catastrophic…

Adorable Little Death Throes

This ad, from the British company Ecotricity, tries to make the case that Britain should dump other kinds of energy in favor of windmills. It seems to me adorable and a complete misfire because it is adorable. The benign cartoon cooling towers that collapse into dust, waving their cartoon hands in dismay, is pretty disturbing and would seem to cast the windmills shown at the end into the role of malignant usurpers. This has to be the opposite of what Ecotricity wants to portray. Judge for yourself:

On Vogtle: Reaction and News Coverage

The importance of the license granted (or virtually so, as the Commission technically authorized issuance of the license, but did not issue the license itself) to Southern Co. to build two reactors on its  Plant Vogtle site in Georgia is quite real – I noticed that the New York Times and Washington Post put on their first pages that it might happen today. That’s anticipation for you.Well, it did happen today – well, the NRC authorized it to happen. A little confusing, but as we’ll see, it’s largely treated as the big event.Here is NEI’s President and CEO Marv Fertel:This is a historic day. Today’s licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security. The Nuclear Energy Institute congratulates Southern Company, the Shaw Group, Westinghouse Electric and other project participants …

On An Historic Occasion

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it has approved Southern Nuclear's combined construction and operating license (COL) for the two-reactor Plant Vogtle expansion in Georgia. Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, will build two Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 reactors at the site near Augusta, Ga. In the following video, Southern Co.'s Tom Fanning discusses the historic approval of its license - the first since 1978 - to build and operate two new reactors:

In a Land of Wolves

In the short surrealist documentary Land Without Bread (1933), Luis Bunuel makes a point that has always stuck with me: good intentions can lead to terrible outcomes. In the film, the church tries to help the people of Las Hurdas, who live in grueling poverty. But the would-be recipients of this charity don’t want it, misuse through ignorance largesse or advice given to them and make their overall situation manifestly worse. (The title refers to the church’s effort to improve nutrition in the area by giving out loaves of bread, but the people don’t understand what bread is and throw it out.) None of this is literally true – Bunuel made it all up – yet it feels true, a description of the misery that can result from what anyone would consider the best intentions. (And the actual people of Las Hurdas spent years living down the dreadful image of them shown in the film.)In attempting to maintain an economic recovery and help the caribou herd that is fast disappearing as a result, Canada m…

Got Nuclear Waste? We’ll Take It!

Over the past few weeks, the people of Carlsbad, N.M., have been busy making one thing known: they want the United States’ nuclear waste and they want it bad.

Their support is being driven by recommendations released last week from the Obama administration’s blue ribbon commission on how to fix the nation’s nuclear waste management program. Most noteworthy for the people of Carlsbad is the recommendation by the commission that the United States pursue a “consent-based approach,” where local communities are engaged in the project from the beginning so that they avoid a situation where politics later trump progress on a much-needed repository (*cough* Yucca Mountain *cough*). My colleague Mark Flanagan explained this approach and the reasoning behind it on the blog last week.

Carlsbad is unique from any other area of the country because it is home to salt beds, an ideal burial place for transuranic waste because of its self-sealing qualities, which is why the U.S. Department of Energy

On the Temperature Increase at Fukushima Daiichi Unit #2

Over the past 24 hours we've seen a number of account concerning rising temperatures inside reactor #2 at Fukushima Daiichi. While we noted this item over at SafetyFirst.nei.org yesterday morning, some accounts of the news have been rather breathless.

If you'd like a sober account of what's actually happening there right now, I'd suggest reading the following account from World Nuclear News. Here's the relevant passage:
This stability of unit 2 was disturbed for a few days, however, when Tepco tried to improve cooling further by tuning the rates of water injection.

[...]

After making this change, Tepco noted a tendency for increasing temperature at the bottom of the reactor vessel. Within a matter of hours the company decided to reverse the change and restore the previous injection rates, but the temperature continued to slowly rise.

Two of the three temperature sensors at the bottom of the reactor vessel edged up by about 2 degrees C. The third, however, rose by around…

When 51 Percent Say Yes

From the department of unlikely mind changes, India division:An anti-nuclear forum spearheading the stir against Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant today said they would withdraw their protest if most locals favored the project and demanded that the state government constituted panel visit all villages and towns affected by KNPP. NEI will close its doors as soon as a majority of Americans decide nuclear energy is not for them. The President will resign his position if his approval rating slips below 50 percent. My chance of surviving this disease is slightly less that 50/50. Time to reach for the bottle.Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. But it’s called the  People's Movement Against Nuclear Energy for a reason. So even if what it will win will be a pyrrhic victory, with the taste of ashes on its tongue, I hope it doesn’t quit on the prospect of 51 percent going against its views. We wouldn’t. But it can make you think.---So shrill you almost have to be a dog to hear it:With …

SOARCA and the Decreasing Risk of Death

How likely is it that a major accident at a nuclear energy facility would kill you? Japan just had such a major accident and no one died due to radiological exposure – there were industrial accidents at Fukushima that led to worker death but those were specific to occurring at a physical plant. The general public, while suffering displacement and its attendants stresses – not to mention those caused by the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident – has been fatality free.The NRC has been investigating the risk of death from a nuclear facility accident and has an answer: your risk is vanishingly small.The study found there was "essentially zero risk" to the public of early fatalities due to radiation exposure following a severe accident. The long-term risk of dying from cancer due to radiation exposure after an accident was less than one in a billion and less than the U.S. average risk of dying from other causes of cancer, which is about two in one thousand. Anot…