Friday, March 30, 2012

The Summer Breeze: V.C. Summer 2 and 3 Approved

VC_SummerSouth Carolina Gas and Electric received its combined construction and operating license (COL) from the NRC for two new reactors at its V.C. Summer facility. Let’s let them tell you about it:

South Carolina Electric & Gas Company, principal subsidiary of SCANA Corporation , and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility, have received approval for combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for two new nuclear units at V. C. Summer Station in Jenkinsville, S.C.

“Receiving approval of our licenses to construct and operate units 2 and 3 at V.C. Summer is a significant event for our company and marks the culmination of an intense review by the NRC,” said Kevin Marsh, chairman and CEO of SCANA. “We look forward to building these two new nuclear units to enhance our ability to meet the energy needs of our customers.”

Lonnie Carter, president and CEO of Santee Cooper, said, “These new nuclear units are a critical component of Santee Cooper’s long-term plan to diversify our generation mix. Access to reliable and low-cost electricity will be key to job creation and economic development opportunities as we continue rebuilding our state’s economy and position South Carolina for the future.”

About 1,000 workers are currently engaged in early-site preparation work at the V.C. Summer construction site. The project will peak at about 3,000 construction craft workers over the course of three to four years. The two units, each with a capacity of 1,117 megawatts, will then add 600 to 800 permanent jobs when they start generating electricity.

Full steam ahead! We’ll look at some of the news and editorial comment about this next week.

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Gov. Jerry Brown of California may or may not be able to navigate the unusual world of his state’s politics – we certainly hope he can – but in his first term (1975-1983) or his second one (beginning last year), he has always been reliably straightforward in describing his thinking, yet he always sounds fantastically mellow for a chief executive. Let’s count it as a virtue, whether one agrees with his policies or not.

So were we were quite interested to see what he had to say about  energy. He didn’t disappoint.

Every Governor usually inherits a mess,” said Brown.  “I’m open, I’m curious, I like to try new things. So if we didn’t try something before [in terms of renewable energy], maybe we can try it now. And stuff we haven’t done, that’s what we gotta do.”

Well, that’s renewables. Fine.

“Just looking at stuff, sh*t happens,” said Brown. “Nuclear’s got issues, but it’s good for greenhouse gases, it’s pretty reliable. Our plant at Diablo Canyon is going at 98 percent reliability, which is a lot higher than it was 30 years ago.”

I’m not sure I’d put exactly like that, but true enough. Diablo Canyon is one of California’s two operating nuclear facilities. San Onofre is the other.

We poked around to see if Brown said more about nuclear – he’s been at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference this week - but really just snips and bits. Here’s one:

MR. THOMSON: How have your views on nuclear changed? Would you describe yourself as pronuclear now?

GOV. BROWN: Certainly I'm more skeptical of everything, even of my own ideas.

Nuclear's got issues, but it's good for greenhouse gases. It's pretty reliable. So, I'm open to it. I want to make stuff work. I want to deal with stuff. And you've got to try many paths, because a lot of them don't work.

I'd definitely say nuclear is a serious technology that serious people have to think about, and I certainly would include myself in that group.

This is a striking change. Brown ran in 1979 on an explicitly anti-nuclear platform (it was soon after the accident at Three Mile Island).

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I found this comment about fracking to be non-responsive, but pure Brown:

I called up one of our leading oil companies and said, "What's the story on fracking?" This was a week ago. He said, "Well, it's not as bad as the environmentalists say and it's not as safe as the oil companies say." I said, "Well, could I get a briefing on it?" He said, "Yeah." So sometime in the next two or three weeks I'm going to be able to answer your question better.

So, let’s see what he thinks in three weeks.

The view at Summer. This is actually from about a year ago. It’s probably not quite so pit-like now.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

NEI Questions Associated Press Reporting on Gundersen Radiation Claims

By now I'm sure most of you have seen the AP story that ran earlier this week that quoted Arnie Gundersen saying that soil samples he took in Tokyo would be classified as low level radioactive waste in the U.S. Yesterday, I published a short blog post on the subject after speaking with NEI's Chief Health Physicist, Ralph Andersen.

After discussing the situation further with our media relations staff, we decided to take our case directly to the AP. The following note was sent to AP Editors Karen Testa and Evan Berland in Philadelphia this afternoon. We'll provide updates once we hear back from them.

Dear Ms. Testa:

I am writing to you in reference to an unbylined Associated Press story that appeared in a number of newspapers earlier this week with the headline, "Vt. consultant Gundersen: Tokyo soil is N-waste." The claim made in this article by Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates that soil collected in Japan could be classified as radioactive waste does not seem to have been independently verified, and hence should not have been published by the AP in violation of long established journalism standards. I believe a correction is in order.

In order to classify an object or a substance as radioactive waste, it takes more than simply triggering a Geiger counter. In the United States, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has explicit guidelines. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensees who need to dispose of items that have become irradiated -- in the case of nuclear power plants this often means water purification filters and resins, tools, protective clothing and other plant hardware -- have two options. In the first case, you can ship the waste to a certified disposal site. However, there are cases where the levels of radioactivity are so low that you can actually petition the NRC to dispose of it in an alternate manner.

However, if someone who is not a regulated licensee finds materials that have been irradiated, different regulations come into play. In the case of Japan, the levels of radiation found beyond Fukushima Prefecture -- and that includes the Tokyo metropolitan area -- are so low that our resident health physicist says that there are no regulations that would require the soil there to be disposed of. Furthermore, without seeing the report from the lab that Gundersen used, it would be impossible for any radiation protection professional to completely evaluate his claims. If a radiation protection professional with 40 years of experience in our industry wasn’t able to verify Mr. Gundersen’s claims, then how was your reporter able to do that?

In none of the articles that I have seen in various newspapers is there any specificity provided to readers on radiation levels—simply broad claims attributed to Mr. Gundersen. Furthermore, there isn’t any evidence in the articles that your reporter attempted to verify Mr. Gundersen’s claims with any independent third parties. According to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, reporters should, "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error." In this case, it seems clear to us that the reporter failed to do either, which makes us wonder why it was ever published.

We would also dispute your characterization of Mr. Gundersen as merely a "consultant on nuclear issues." Mr. Gundersen has a long history of working as an anti-nuclear activist, and has a direct financial interest in seeing plants shut down, something he is already working actively to accomplish while in the employ of the state of Vermont as it seeks to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. According to an article that appeared in the Burlington Free Press in February 2010 and is featured prominently on Mr. Gundersen's own Web site, he and his wife Margaret have been paid up to $47,000 by the state to provide just these sorts of consulting services.

Failing to fully disclose this financial relationship is a failure of reporting, and reinforces the need to vet any statement by Mr. Gundersen with a credible third party before publication.

During a conversation earlier this week with one of your Philadelphia-based editors, I learned that this article was written by AP's Dave Gram. Steve Kerekes, NEI's Senior Director of Media Relations, contacted Mr. Gram directly by e-mail about the story earlier this week. Mr. Gram has yet to respond -- a reaction that is in direct contravention of the AP's own Statement of News Values and Principles. They read, "Any time a question is raised about any aspect of our work, it should be taken seriously."

If the AP truly stands by that statement, one that was first committed to paper by your organization in 1914, you should immediately review Mr. Gram’s reporting and issue a correction to every AP member newspaper that ran the story.

Sincerely,

Eric McErlain
Senior Manager, Web Communications
Nuclear Energy Institute
Please recall that this is not the first time that we've taken issue with the AP's reporting -- and that others have noticed. More later.

UPDATE: At 5:42 p.m. I received an email from Cara Rubinsky, the AP's New England News Editor, saying that they were looking into our questions. If and when they provide any answers, I'll share them with you here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why Arnie Gundersen’s Claims on Low Level Radioactive Waste Are Baffling

Over the past few days, plenty of folks have been asking questions about a claim anti-nuclear activist Arnie Gundersen made concerning some soil samples he took during a recent trip to Japan. Gundersen made his claims in a video he posted online last week, and the charge was repeated in an AP story that hit the national wire yesterday with a dateline out of Vermont (more on that later).

Gundersen says that the soil samples he took in Japan were so irradiated, that they would be classified as low level radioactive waste in the U.S. Like a lot of folks, the claim struck me as rather odd given reported radiation levels in Japan, so I dialed up Ralph Andersen, NEI's resident health physicist for his take on Gundersen's claim. Here's what Andersen told me.

In order to classify anything as radioactive waste, it takes more than simply triggering a Geiger counter. When it comes to NRC licensees who need to dispose of items that have become irradiated -- in the case of nuclear power plants we're most often talking about water purification filters and resins, tools, protective clothing and other plant hardware -- there are two options. In the first case, you can ship the waste to a disposal site. However, there are cases where the levels of radioactivity are so low that you can actually petition the NRC to dispose of it in an alternate manner.

However, if someone finds materials that have been irradiated and they're not a licensee, all sorts of different regulations come into play. In the case of Japan, the levels of radiation found beyond Fukushima Prefecture -- and that includes the Tokyo metropolitan area -- are so low that Ralph told me that he can't imagine any criteria that would require the soil there to be disposed of. Furthermore, without seeing the report from the lab that Gundersen used, it would be impossible for any radiation protection professional to completely evaluate his claims.

When you look at it in those terms, it can be easy to see why the fact that the AP reported Gundersen's findings was so alarming. If an actual radiation professional can't properly evaluate Gundersen's statements unless the lab results are available for scrutiny, then how in the world could the reporter who wrote the story?

We'll write more if and when we get updates. In the meantime, click here to read more on our industry deals with low level radioactive waste.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Moving the Needle with Coal and the EPA

20091122_clinchThe Environmental Protection Agency has released a proposed rule that indicates, absent more progress (effective, scalable, reasonably economical progress) on carbon capture and sequestration, the days of coal are, perhaps, numbered:

The proposed rule — years in the making and approved by the White House after months of review — will require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per megawatt, meets that standard; coal plants emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt.

And nuclear energy? No carbon emissions at all. Natural gas will be the chief beneficiary here – you could say that the rule was crafted with that in mind - at least as long as gas prices stay low and fracking doesn’t shake up the landscape. Renewable energy sources should benefit, too.

All these point the way forward, with the coal industry now under pressure to get CCS working as it will need to work to keep coal relevant. I know, I know – but never say never – coal remains plentiful and works as advertised, so abandoning it without trying to make it plausible under this new scenario seems economically foolish.

There are about 20 coal plants now pursuing permits; two of them are federally subsidized and would meet the new standard with advanced pollution controls.

But:

The proposal does not cover existing plants, although utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation — nearly 13 percent of the nation’s coal-fired electricity — rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.

The story makes clear that natural gas is as responsible for this as regulation, but it’s just as clear that the electricity sector is moving the needle on carbon emissions in the absence of cap-and-trade. (They also built a fair number of coal plants in the interim – that is, between 2009 – after cap-and-trade failed in Congress – and last year – in anticipation of this rule. This is a countervailing force that one may now consider, er, vailed.)

At this point, though, it’s just a proposed rule. More to come.

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Here is Slate’s Matt Yglesias on this move:

The face of new fossil fuel based electricity will be gas (which is considerably cleaner than coal), and the alternative to gas in the event that the gas boom ends will be renewables.

He’s got quite the blind spot there, doesn’t he?

There are a surprising lot of nice shots of nuclear facilities, but surprisingly few of coal plants. They’re both big industrial structures, after all. I don’t know why that should be.

Nuclear Energy: Where the Green Jobs Are

I wanted to share a note I received yesterday from my colleague David Bradish:

Last week for the first time ever, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published a news release estimating the number of green jobs that existed in the country in 2010 – 3.1 million. Below is the golden nugget on nuclear from the release:

Utilities

In private industry, the utilities industry accounted for 65,700 GGS [Green Goods and Services] jobs, or 11.9 percent of total private utilities employment. Among the industries involved in private sector electric power generation, nuclear power had the highest GGS employment with 35,800 jobs in 2010. Hydroelectric power generation had 3,700 total private GGS jobs in 2010.

The other electric power generation industry, which includes electricity generated from biomass, sunlight, wind, and other renewable sources, had 4,700 GGS private sector jobs. Within this industry, electricity generated from wind had the highest employment with 2,200 jobs, followed by biomass with 1,100 jobs, geothermal with 600 jobs, and solar with 400 jobs.


To provide more background, there were a total of 52,082 jobs in the nuclear industry in 2010. Of this amount, BLS classified 35,800 as a green job (68% of nuclear’s total). For comparison, hydro employed 7,045 people in 2010 but only 53% counted as a green job. As well, wind, solar and other renewables employed 8,344 people in 2010 but only 56% counted as a green job. Below is how they describe their methodology:

BLS identified 333 industries from the 1,193 detailed industries in the 2007 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) that potentially provide goods and services that directly benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. These 333 industries, the GGS scope, consist of industries that may produce green goods and services within one or more of the following five groups:

1. Energy from renewable sources.
2. Energy efficiency equipment, appliances, buildings and vehicles,
and goods and services that improve the energy efficiency of buildings
and the efficiency of energy storage and distribution.
3. Pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction, and
recycling and reuse goods and services.
4. Organic agriculture; sustainable forestry; and soil, water, and
wildlife conservation.
5. Governmental and regulatory administration; and education,
training, and advocacy goods and services.

The GGS scope was identified by BLS after consultations with industry groups, government agencies, stakeholders, and the public, which helped BLS identify industries that potentially provide green goods or services. Not every activity or product in the industries within the GGS scope is considered green. An establishment classified in one of these 333 NAICS industries may produce only green goods, both green and non-green goods, or only non-green goods. Only the employment associated with the production of green goods and services within these selected industries is counted as GGS jobs.


For more on this release, see the links below.

Press Release: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ggqcew.nr0.htm
Tables: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ggqcew.t03.htm
Very, very cool stuff. So, if you're a college graduate and you want to get a job in green energy, the best place for you to start is probably in the nuclear energy business. Over at The Atlantic, Jordan Weissman took a look at the numbers and had this to say:
“More than half of the ‘green jobs’ in utilities actually belong to the nuclear power industry -- an important source of zero emissions electricity to be sure, but not exactly what most environmentalists picture when they think of a 21st century green job.”
If that's really the case, perhaps those environmentalists need to think a little more broadly about what green energy is really all about. Just ask President Obama. The following is a brief excerpt from his speech yesterday at Hankuk University in Seoul, South Korea:
[L]et’s never forget the astonishing benefits that nuclear technology has brought to our lives. Nuclear technology helps make our food safe. It prevents disease in the developing world. It’s the high-tech medicine that treats cancer and finds new cures. And, of course, it’s the energy—the clean energy—that helps cut the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. Here in South Korea, you know this. As a leader in nuclear energy, you’ve shown the progress and prosperity that can be achieved when nations embrace peaceful nuclear energy and reject the development of nuclear arms.

With rising oil prices and a warming climate, nuclear energy will only become more important. That’s why, in the United States, we’ve restarted our nuclear industry as part of a comprehensive strategy to develop every energy source. We’ve supported the first new nuclear power plant in three decades. We’re investing in innovative technologies so we can build the next generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants. And we’re training the next generation of scientists and engineers who are going to unlock new technologies to carry us forward.
Indeed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Summer Imminent; Nuclear Gallups Forward

imageMark your calendars:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to award Scana Corp. (SCG) a license to build two reactors in South Carolina, the second such action after a three-decade drought.

The NRC will vote March 30 on the Cayce, South Carolina- based company’s proposal to build two units at its existing Virgil C. Summer plant, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) northwest of Columbia, the agency said today on its website.

This seemed likely to happen after the approval for two reactors at Vogtle in Georgia last month, but that didn’t happen. And even in this instance, the NRC calendar marks this event as tentative. So we’ll see.

These affirmation hearings take place after all issues have been advanced. This one is scheduled for 1:25 pm and will probably be done by 1:30. It’s basically a quick okay.

Bloomberg adds this detail:

The reactors may be among the last built in the U.S. this decade, as a glut of cheap natural gas has discouraged companies from investing in nuclear energy and other forms of generation.

So yes, something in the punch bowl does smell bad. There are a bunch of companies with license applications In the hopper, so we’ll see how this dour little prediction works out.

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Okay, Here’s the question from Gallup.

Overall, do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S.?

The answer in 1994, was 57 percent (combined favor). Closely after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, this withered to, well, 57 percent. Today it is – 57 percent. Now after the accident, some of the uncommitted vote moved to oppose territory. So nuclear energy wasn’t losing friends but it wasn’t winning them either. This is a bit of a problem, as strong opposers are as tough to dislodge from their position as strong partisans. So it isn’t all good news.

But it’s mostly good news. There’s more summary at the link.

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In an otherwise sour article in the New York Times, economist Nancy Fobre lets the mask slip just a little, especially in light of the Gallup survey:

Yet the industry has proved remarkably successful at garnering public support in the United States, ranging from public insurance against accident liability to loan guarantees.

Even this isn’t altogether fair, but the admission that nuclear energy has garnered “public support” is more than you’ll usually see from an anti-nuclear advocate. Crediting that support to the nuclear industry is probably something NEI should show its board of directors, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the facilities themselves.

People who live around them tend to like them even better than the general public. Not only are they literal powerhouses, but they are economic powerhouses, too, and do a lot of good for their communities.

I know Fobre likely means public financial support, but it’s been pretty good at plain old public support, too.

From Gallup. Click to enlarge.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Concentric Circles of Irony

San-Onofre-Nuclear-Generating-Station-1Almost too awful:

If a crisis over Iran curbs the supply of liquefied natural gas while Japan's nuclear fleet is shut, it could cause an economic impact greater than that from the March 2011 earthquake, the former executive director of the International Energy Agency said Thursday.

With 20% of its gas and 80% of its oil coming through the Strait of Hormuz, Japan would face a "disastrous impact" from a crisis in the Middle East, said Nobuo Tanaka, now a global associate at Japan's Institute of Energy Economics. He spoke at an event in Washington sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Obviously, this is highly speculative. It’s worth pointing out, too, that all those nuclear facilities sitting around over there don’t depend on the Strait of Hormuz to get up and running. But Tanaka is right to make the warning – it isn’t only Japan that would face an energy crunch and some of those countries have fewer options than Japan.

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Over in California:

In a report presented to the Independent System Operator board Thursday, staffers said that in a major heat wave or transmission line outage during the peak season, South Orange County and the San Diego and Los Angeles areas could face energy shortages without the 2,200 megawatts of power generated by San Onofre.

This one is due to a new steam generator that isn’t working quite right and will keep the facility shut until it is fixed.

It’s probably a little early to start worrying about the summer, but not too early to emphasize the importance of San Onofre to Southern California, especially as advocates gather petitions to try to close California’s two nuclear facilities (Diablo Canyon is the other) via a ballot measure. This is in part a response to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and in part a California thing – if a question can get onto the ballot, someone will get it there.

A state ballot initiative proposed for next fall would force California's two nuclear power plants to immediately shut down, causing rolling blackouts, spikes in electricity rates and billions of dollars in economic losses each year, a nonpartisan analyst has found.

Closing the plants this way is likely not possible, as only the NRC can close a nuclear facility and then only for safety reasons. That was reconfirmed in Vermont recently. But in any event, San Onofre is in an excellent, terrible position to demonstrate what doing without the plant can mean – and hopefully, that won’t happen.

Even more than in Japan, the situation in California feels a bit like watching concentric circles of irony intersect each other, doesn’t it?

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I guess another definition for this would be absurdity. But no – for that, we’ll always have Germany.

“After deciding to exit nuclear energy, it seems as if Ms. Merkel’s coalition stopped its work,” said Sigmar Gabriel, a former environment minister and the leader of the opposition Social Democrats. “There is great danger that this project will fail, with devastating economic and social consequences.”

Ms. Merkel conceded in her weekly podcast that, “of course, we need a lot of new investment” for the plan to be carried out. But she insisted that her decision was the right choice.

Because, really, what else can she do?

San Onofre Generating Station.

Better Sources on Fukushima than Helen Caldicott

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine passed some news onto me that Dr. Helen Caldicott is hitting the lecture circuit again, this time to talk about the health implications of the incident at Fukushima Daiichi. Her next event will take place tonight in Santa Barbara and will be sponsored by the Nuclear Peace Age Foundation.

Obviously, this blog has a long history debunking Dr. Caldicott's claims about commercial nuclear energy -- one that extends all the way back to 2005 when we disputed her claims about a USEC uranium enrichment facility in Kentucky.

We don't know what Dr. Caldicott will say tonight. However, when it comes to good science about the health effects of radiation, you'd probably be better off watching some video that was shot earlier this month by the Health Physics Society when they hosted a forum on Fukushima. Click here to watch those videos on our SafetyFirst microsite.

One of the individuals you'll see in the videos is Dr. Robert Peter Gale of Imperial College, London. He's worked as a consultant in the aftermath of both Chernobyl and Fukushima. Earlier this month in the LA Times, Dr. Gale wrote the following about the radiation releases at Fukushima and what they mean for the TEPCO employees at the plant as well as the Japanese public:

The kind of radiation was similar to Chernobyl, but about four to 10 times less was released. And there are other important differences. Most of the radiation released (about 80%) was blown offshore by winds, where it was diluted by air and sea. Consequently, exposures received by Fukushima workers and the public are quite low, including among the 20,000 or more workers decommissioning the facility and the approximately 100,000 evacuees. This doesn't mean there will be no future radiation-caused cancers, as some claim. But because there may be so few cancers, it is unlikely any epidemiological investigations will detect an increase in Japan or elsewhere that can be directly attributed to Fukushima.

What do the Fukushima exposures really mean? A rough estimate is that for a 50-year-old male working at the Fukushima nuclear facility, his lifetime risk of cancer might increase from 42% to 42.2%. The magnitude of this increased risk is comparable to the added risk of living in Denver (where background radiation is higher because of the altitude and radionuclides in the Rocky Mountains) versus New York City for 10 to 15 years, or smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for one to two years. The Japanese public will, of course, get far less radiation.
For more from Dr. Gale, click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Out of Zion; Into Small Reactors

zionNuclear Energy Insider has an interesting article up on the decommissioning of Illinois’ Zion facility outside Chicago. There are some details that suggest how this kind of work might be done relatively quickly:

The Zion decommissioning project will take considerably less time than originally planned because the cleanup will bypass one of the most laborious and time-consuming steps of taking down a nuclear plant. According to the New York Times, the project will bypass separating radioactive materials --  which must go to a licensed dump -- from nonradioactive materials, which can be deposited onto ordinary industrial landfills.
The NYT report says that the new strategy eliminates separating the two. Instead, anything that could include radioactive contamination will be treated as radioactive waste.
The article describes it as a 10-year project, which I assume includes moves like this one. There are 12 other shuttered plants in the United States that have not yet set decommissioning dates. It sounds like Zion may provide a model for developing ideas on how to decommission a facility more quickly and at less expense. The whole article is worth a read.
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Although comparing small reactors to iPads is a little silly, Margaret Ryan tries it out for a couple of paragraphs, then drops it in favor of a pretty good summary of the state of play for the, hmmm, tiny titans?
The Department of Energy has two cost-sharing programs, one that helps developed technology get licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and one to help newer technologies prove their concepts by building prototypes at DOE's Savannah River site. DOE just announced three partnerships for the latter program, with Hyperion Power Generation, Holtec International's SMR subsidiary, and NuScale Power.
The interesting thing about those prototypes is that they can be built without NRC licensing as demonstration projects. Small reactors, by the way, are those that produce 300 or fewer megawatts capacity.
Why have them?
Lyons said SMRs, generally under 300 MW, are the right size to replace coal plants being shut because of age and inability to meet modern pollution standards. However, under the Environmental Protection Agency's deadlines, most of those plants will be shut by 2017, and the SMRs that DOE will assist won't be ready to deploy before the early 2020s.
These timelines may or may not line up, but it isn’t only the older or dirtier coal plants these, um, mighty mites (?) can replace. Or the only niche for them.
TVA is already looking to move into the SMR niche. The company has an agreement with Generation mPower - a joint venture of Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel. Together they plan to install up to six of GmP's 125- to 180-MW modules at TVA's Clinch River site, said TVA Vice President of Nuclear Generation Jack Bailey at an NRC conference March 14.
Maybe the best way to see the potential here is to say that they have a good many plausible potential uses, as TVA shows – the marketplace for them just isn’t developed yet, though there seems a decided hunger for them in a number of potential areas. It’s way too early to even class them as niche items.
This NEI page offers that they would be good fits to provide “free electricity in remote locations where there is little to no access to the main power grid or … process heat to industrial applications.” The page has lots more good information on these, uh, diminutive dervishes? All right, maybe the iPad idea isn’t so bad.
The Zion facility.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nuclear Debate at the Daily Show

Yesterday, Bloomberg News wrote a story on NEI’s ad campaign and highlighted one TV spot that will air on, among other programs, Comedy Central’s ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.’ The Daily Show draws a younger, more liberal crowd, some of whom are skeptical of nuclear energy. Since the Bloomberg article appeared, there’s been a surge in commentary from all sides of the nuclear debate at the Daily Show’s Facebook page. If you haven’t been over to the page yet, stop by and add your two cents. The readers over there could use a different perspective on nuclear than from the usual crowd.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good News from Iowa and India

 Duane-Arnold2Out of Iowa:

A bill allowing MidAmerican Energy to seek permission from regulators to move forward with a nuclear power plant passed a Senate committee Tuesday night.
The panel approved the measure 8 to 7. It would allow MidAmerican to ask the Iowa Utilities Board for a rate increase from the company’s customers to fund the cost of permitting, licensing, and building a plant. Costs for such a project have been estimated at $2 billion.
This is good news, a move that, if it continues apace through the legislative process, will solve some notable problems with the Iowa energy mix.
He [state Sen. Matt McCoy(D)], said Iowa could lose as much as 40 percent of its electricity generation from coal plants in the coming years and the only other option would be to build natural gas plants, which he said would not offer stable future prices.
It’s a reasonable environmental choice. I’d be surprised, though, if MidAmerican isn’t looking at natural gas to spell some of those coal plants. That’s been happening in other states.
We did a post on this subject a few entries down. Still a lot more hurdles to clear. More to come on this.
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We’ve looked at the protests involving India’s Kudankulam facility that involved some rock throwing by some pro-plant political figures. Not cool – also not necessary.
The agitation against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant has fizzled out as the Tamil Nadu government gave the green signal for the commissioning of the first unit of the 2X1000 MW power plant.
Especially because it will provide considerable relief in Tamil Nadu:
Tamil Nadu is under the grip of a severe power crisis with a peak hour deficit of 4000 MW. The government has declared a power holiday for industrial units.
This would outstrip any effort to set up windmills – to solve, it requires a full scale energy facility, be it coal, natural gas or nuclear. The most responsible choice in a rapidly developing nation isn’t tough to make.
Other than Chennai, all districts undergo load shedding ranging from six to eight hours a day. The capital city itself goes without power for two hours daily.
Not a tough decision at all.
There is some more information about the protests, but nothing about the rock throwing. In any event, this is a good outcome.
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Sometimes, when one reads about the knock-on effect on employment from the building or collapse of an industrial sector, one might reasonably suspect the books are getting cooked.
The argument that industrial collapse has a reach beyond the immediately effected companies was especially prevalent during the car company rescue in 2007-2008, where it was a frequent talking point that losing the automobile manufacturing industry would also have a dire effect on a untold number of companies that service the industry.
The Center for Automotive Research (yes, its acronym is CAR), put it this way:
Should all of the Detroit Three’s U.S. operations cease in 2009, the first year total employment impact would be a loss of nearly 3.0 million jobs in the U.S. economy—comprised of 239,341 jobs at the Detroit Three, 973,969 indirect/supplier jobs and over 1.7 million spin-off (expenditure-induced) jobs.
Well, it’s true enough – though you cannot pin down numbers as precisely you might like – CAR’s study points out that international auto makers would move some its operations to the U.S., mitigating some of the employment impact - but true enough.
And it works the other way. Consider:
Graham Corporation, a designer and manufacturer of critical equipment for the oil refining, petrochemical and power industries, including the supply of components and raw materials to nuclear energy facilities, today announced that it has been awarded $9.5 million in orders for nuclear energy facilities and an oil sands upgrader.
Let’s leave the oil sands to the side. Westinghouse placed these orders and it’s not for nuclear facilities in China.
James R. Lines, Graham’s President and Chief Executive Officer, commented, “… We consider the orders awarded to us over the last two quarters for the new nuclear energy facilities under construction in the Southeastern United States to be an affirmation both of our reputation for consistently delivering high quality products as well as our exceptional customer service.
And consider that the two Westinghouse reactors at the V.C. Summer facility are in the hopper waiting for final NRC approval. No word from Graham on what this means for employment there, but we may assume it means something positive.
Congratulations to Graham in this instance, but congratulations to a reviving U.S. nuclear support industry especially.
Graham’s homepage is here.
Iowa’s Duane Arnold Energy Center.

NEI Unveils New Television Spot

Beginning tomorrow, NEI will be launching a new branding campaign centered around this 60-second television spot.




We'll be sharing additional elements of the campaign here over the coming days. Please check back for more.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

MIT Study on Managing Intermittent Renewables

On Monday, MIT released a study titled “Managing Large-Scale Penetration of Intermittent Renewables.” It’s 36 megabytes and 240 pages. Last April, MIT gathered more than 70 experts at a symposium to discuss how to manage the growth of wind and solar. The first 50 pages of the document is a summary of the studies and discussions that took place during the symposium. The following 190 pages are seven white papers that were presented.

After going through the document, the report would be a sobering read if I were in the renewables industry. The wind industry took part in the discussions but several of the conclusions contradicted the claims from the wind industry for its projected savings on costs and emissions from wind. There are five main areas of concern with wind and solar that emerged from the symposium (pasted below):

  • Emissions: While renewables can generate emissions-free electricity, the limited ability to store electricity, forecast renewable generation, and control the availability of intermittent renewables forces the rest of the electric power system to adapt with less efficient ramping and cycling operations. These operations potentially reduce the emissions benefits of renewables.
  • Unintended consequences: Many power systems operate under mandated renewable portfolio standards that change existing market structures. The combination of mandates, markets, and physical system requirements present technological, economic, and policy-related integration challenges with unintended consequences to system planners and market participants. For example, mandates requiring renewable dispatch may increase the total system cost of generating electricity.
  • Future generation mix: What does a well-adapted generation mix look like? How many gas peaking units and baseload plants does this mix require? What types of regulatory support are needed for units that contribute to reliability, but would likely have low-utilization rates? How will this generation be compensated? What regulatory structures are required to ensure adequate compensation? Spot prices may decline in the short term due to the fuel cost of  renewables, but will this lead to an economically efficient generation mix in the long term?
  • Electricity markets: The electricity market generally dispatches generation on a least-cost basis. Should the market treat renewables as any other generator, subject to scheduling penalties? For example, currently, renewable generators self-schedule their generation by declaring how much electricity they expect to generate in the next hour. The system operator takes these self-schedules into account when deciding which other plants to dispatch. If wind generators schedule themselves for 100 megawatts per hour (MWh) of electricity generation in the next hour, but are only able to generate 80 MWh, should the operator require that they purchase the remaining 20 MWh in the open market? Or, should the operator allow wind generators to exist independent from all, or a subset, of economic signals? Is priority dispatch justified?
  • Regulation: Traditional regulations of transmission, business models, cost allocations, and planning criteria may not properly address the needs of renewables. The current regulatory system encourages cost reduction and reliability, not innovation. This may be inadequate to incentivize the development of the new transmission and generation technologies required to fully enable large-scale renewable generation.

Below are a number of informative paragraphs and charts from the report worth highlighting.

Backup Capacity Needed

P. 21 - Participants discussed and disagreed about creating a “rule of thumb” for the amount of capacity that would be necessary to provide backup generation from intermittent resources. Several participants noted that a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) study provides the only numbers available for planning future systems with large amounts of wind generation. Taking a resource level view, the CMU study assumes that 3 MW of [natural gas combined cycle] will be required for every 4 MW of wind. There was strong resistance from some participants to the use of the CMU numbers.

Levelized cost of electricity

P. 31 - LCOE comparisons frequently rely on the assumption that different generation technologies will operate at specific capacity factors and do not consider operational issues, such as cycling and ramping capabilities. These assumptions lead to higher LCOEs for technologies that have lower assumed capacity factors. Figure 9 shows the LCOE for NGCC, subcritical coal plants, and supercritical coal plants with and without dispatch considerations. At equal capacity factors of 85%, the LCOEs are essentially the same for all three technologies. However, when the expected dispatch considerations are included, the cost of NGCC plants increases significantly compared to the coal technologies. Figure 9 provides an extreme result by choosing a very low NGCC capacity factor for illustration, in addition to using high natural gas and low coal prices relative to today’s prices. Planning for future power systems will require modeling based on the assets in place today and a realistic understanding of actual dispatch considerations and practices. Several participants urged that economic dispatch be included in the future as an essential feature of any system modeling in order to ensure more accurate results. System-wide modeling using a unit commitment dispatch model was also highlighted as important for accurate and useful data and information for decision making.

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Value of Nuclear

P. 32 - The business model of a nuclear plant relies on high-capacity factors to recoup the initial investment costs and to establish reasonable rates of return; nuclear plants serve baseload demand for economic reasons. In effect, because capital costs dominate the LCOE for nuclear power, the LCOE is nearly inversely proportional to capacity factor. Given these risks and the high upfront costs for nuclear technology in today’s economic environment, there was general consensus among participants that investors today prefer natural gas-fired power plants.

Unlike nuclear, the operational costs for natural gas plants mostly involve fuel costs, and investors can pass fuel price volatility on to consumers. In liberalized power systems where gas-fueled mid-range and peaking units frequently set the marginal price for electricity, prices for natural gas and electricity are highly correlated. Simulations presented in the Nuttall white paper [p. 140 of 240 in the pdf] show that under scenarios with tightly correlated gas and electricity prices, the net present value of a combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) matches the net present value of a nuclear plant. In these cases, nuclear’s primary value is its ability to serve as a hedge against gas prices (in addition to providing emissions-free electricity).

Participants noted that natural gas prices and technologies currently set the benchmark for investment. Discoveries of new sources of natural gas are likely to keep gas prices relatively low for the near future, and most participants felt that over the next decade, investors are unlikely to take on new nuclear projects in the US (beyond those investors that have benefited from substantial “first mover” federal subsidies).

CO2 Reduction

P. 20 - Nationally, the abatement of one ton of CO2 requires between 1 and 12 MWh of wind generation depending on the power system and its generation mix. MISO, because of its coal-heavy generation mix, can save one ton of CO2 by replacing approximately one megawatt (MW) of its generation with wind. BPA, because of its gas- and hydro-heavy generation mix, however, needs to replace slightly more than 12 MW of its generation to save one ton of CO2. The current production tax credit for wind in the US is $22/MWh, and the pretax value of this subsidy is $34/MWh. Using a “first order” estimation based on the pretax subsidy value, the per ton mitigation costs of CO2 are $33 in MISO and $420 in BPA. The nation’s average abatement cost for one ton of CO2 is $56. [Chart below from page 108.]

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Renewable Portfolio Standards

P. 38 - Currently, 29 states have some form of RPS. Most state RPS mandates have 15%–25% renewable generation by 2015–2025. When combined, these state mandates would require the installation of 60,000 MW of renewable energy by 2025. Texas has the largest installed capacity of wind generation with over 10 GW installed, and Iowa has the highest percentage of renewables in its system at 25% of installed capacity.

Renewable Incentives

P. 39 - The PTC provides a 2.2¢/kWh tax credit for electricity produced from wind and 1.1¢/kWh tax credit for electricity produced from solar for the first ten years the plants are in service. The PTC for wind will expire in December 2012, and the PTC for solar will expire in December 2013. The ITC allows solar and small wind projects to receive a tax credit equal to 30% of investment costs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 provides taxpayers who are eligible for the PTC and ITC with a one-time cash grant in lieu of the tax credits. In total, it is projected that the cost of these credits is $5.1 billion per year. [Chart below from page 102.]

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Peak/Off-Peak Generation

P. 39 - Discussions about issues with wind capacity frequently focus on not having enough power during periods of peak load. However, often the largest operational challenge associated with intermittent renewables is having too much generation. For example, on a typical spring night with high wind and low electricity demand, wind generation dispatched to comply with a mandate may unintentionally force baseload technologies (such as nuclear and coal) to ramp down. “Must-run” requirements associated with mandates do not correlate with peak wind generation (normally overnight) and peak electricity demand (normally during the day and early evening hours). As noted earlier, this translates into increased fuel requirements and higher O&M costs and emissions.

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European Union’s Struggles

P. 44 - As currently implemented, however, the GHG and RPS policies in the EU both overlap. Under the current 20-20-20 policy, a change in the market price for GHGs does not move the RPS target for total energy use. Regardless of how many nuclear plants the EU builds to help reduce GHG emissions, it will still have to build renewable generation facilities to meet the RPS goal.

In addition, in the EU, the public has been told that the renewables policy will reduce GHGs. In reality, because the GHG emissions level is set independently from the level of renewables deployment, newly installed wind turbines do not directly lower the emissions cap for GHGs. Consider the fictional case of the EU securing 100% of its electricity from wind generation. If, in this scenario, the EU does nothing with the GHG cap, then other sectors (such as transportation) can emit more GHGs to take advantage of the electricity sector’s savings. Acting independently of the GHG requirement, the RPS target places downward pressure on carbon prices, depressing the development of non-renewable low-carbon and carbon-free technologies. Low carbon prices, however, do little to discourage coal and gas generation.

Technology mandates appear to be in conflict in a decision environment driven by economic efficiency. Compounding the economic conflicts, the electricity sector will pay proportionally more than other sectors for these policies. In order to help the EU reach its 20% renewables goal by 2020, the UK, for example, has committed to acquiring 15% of its total energy from renewable resources. For the electricity sector, the RPS target binds more tightly than the GHG goal because renewables cost less to implement in the electricity sector than in the transport sector. To meet the total renewables target of 20%, countries like the UK will need to lean heavily on their electricity sectors. Current estimates suggest that the UK’s electricity sector will need to acquire at least 30% of its electricity generation by 2020 from renewables to meet the RPS goal.

Cost of Grid Integration

P. 40 - The costs of wind integration have been studied by NERC, CAISO, New England ISO (ISO-NE), ERCOT, New York ISO (NYISO) and the states of Minnesota, Colorado, and Idaho. Although these discrete studies vary in scope and methodology, in general, they find that intermittent renewable generation will increase the need for regulation, load-following capacity, and ancillary services with a cost to the system ranging from $5–$20/MWh.

… some participants expressed concern that the costs of wind and its impacts on thermal generation are more highly scrutinized because, as one participant put it, wind is the “new kid on the block.”

The report is quite a useful assessment of understanding the challenges with relying on nature. If you have the time, there are many more informative nuggets and charts in the pdf on this issue.

Monday, March 12, 2012

UCS Channels Goldilocks In Response to Fukushima

NEI's Senior Vice President of Communications, Scott Peterson, passed along the following note concerning last week's report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, "U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima."

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has weighed in on the U.S. response to Fukushima and their conclusion is clear: We’re moving too slowly….No, wait, we’re moving too fast!...Check that, too slow!

Taking a page from Goldilocks, who couldn’t seem to find the right size chair, UCS can’t seem to find the right speed for applying lessons learned in the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan a year ago.

After first praising the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for reacting quickly to the events in Japan, a new UCS report prods the agency to move faster. Then report declares that “speed is not always a virtue.” In the most remarkable twist of logic, UCS criticizes the nuclear energy industry for “acting too hastily by launching a voluntary program” to improve safety.

Really? Moving too quickly to improve safety?


At least the UCS report got something right. The industry is not waiting for orders from the NRC to act. Our FLEX strategy protects against the two main safety issues at Fukushima¬—the loss of electrical power and the loss of cooling capability—by stationing emergency backup equipment in multiple locations, including regional centers.

Every U.S. nuclear operator has committed to order additional equipment by the end of the month, and more than 300 pieces of backup emergency equipment has already been delivered or ordered. Rather than applauding these proactive safety measures, UCS complains that the industry is “jumping the gun” by getting ahead of the NRC.

The industry and the NRC are in general agreement on the issues that need to be addressed, but the regulatory process takes time. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the NRC fast-tracked the industry’s safety response by issuing a series of orders, with a deadline of October 2004.

After the industry met that deadline, the NRC began a rulemaking process to codify the orders and essentially get its procedural/bureaucratic house in order. Along the way, it added a few more requirements that weren’t finalized until close to the end of the decade. In that case, UCS distorts the facts to complain that the industry’s response was too slow.

Now that we are moving even more quickly to respond to Fukushima, UCS says we are going too fast. Does UCS seriously believe we should just sit and wait while the NRC process unfolds? We see ways to strengthen our defenses against extreme events now, and we are acting. To do otherwise would be an abrogation of our responsibility.

The NRC will oversee our safety enhancements, and will not hesitate tell us to do something more or something different—backed by the agency’s full enforcement authority—as the regulatory process plays out.

That approach might not satisfy Goldilocks or UCS, but we think it is juuuuust right to ensure that lessons learned from Japan are applied as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Scott also contributes on occasion to the Huffington Post.

The Number 22

22Nuclear energy generation supplies 20 percent of the electricity in the United States. It’s been that way for years, as reported by the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy.

But a number of factors, according to the EIA, has pushed the relative percentages of several energy sources up because one went down rather dramatically, both statistically and practically.

That would be coal, which dropped from 46 percent in December 2010 to 39 percent in December 2011. The EIA says that the main driver of this decrease is the increased use of natural gas, which increased its share from 22 percent to 26 percent.

Electricity use itself declined 7 percent, so that in itself makes percentage increases and decreases a little chimerical – that is, nuclear generated roughly the same amount of electricity as last December but in a smaller marketplace – as did hydro, which advanced from 6 to 7 percent.

But the decline of coal in favor of natural gas is quite real: coal generation fell 21 percent compared to a 12 percent rise in natural gas generation. The last time coal fell below 40 percent in these surveys was in 1978.

So the news about nuclear energy might seem a numerical blip. But it’s not a trick, and it’s legitimate to note because it speaks to the steadiness of nuclear energy. We’ll have to keep an eye on the monthly report to see what happens when electricity usage returns to its former levels.

One Year Later

Japan-disaster-anniversar-007Yesterday was the anniversary of an earthquake of unimaginable intensity rapidly followed by an inexorable tsunami – in Japan – near a nuclear facility. That’s the context of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

Two people died in industrial accidents at Fukushima Daiichi during or directly after the catastrophe. Japan’s National Police Agency currently counts 15,848 people dead and 3,305 people missing as a result of the twin disasters. That’s 19,153, a number that has risen and fallen during the last year.

We’ve talked about the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and its consequences often at this site and will continue to talk about it. But not today.

On the occasion of this anniversary, we should memorialize what the Japanese people will not forget. Nothing can replace loved ones, but surely the country will insist on a continuity of purpose and resolve. The Japanese people will reconstruct what was wrecked materially and we may hope that it will help salve what was damaged spiritually.

The News Observer has a roundup of pictures and captions that show the Japanese marking the anniversary and Talking Points Memo shows truly remarkable before-and-after photos of various locations directly after the earthquake and tsunami and today (including a shot of Fukushima Daiichi).

A boy lights a candle at a memorial service in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. See here for more.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Good Time to Speed Up – Vietnam, Iowa, FOE

Not getting respect:

“We also have a good chance in Vietnam,” the minister added. “The United States, France, Canada, Russia, Japan and Korea can build nuclear power plants, but the U.S. lags behind in technology as it hasn’t built one for 20 to 30 years. This is a good time for us to speed up (atomic power plant construction).”

Ouch! That stung a little.

This is South Korea’s Knowledge Economy Minister Hong Suk-woo. He’s not exactly right – falling behind in construction and in technological advance are two different things and the U.S. has not fallen behind – at all – in technology. But Hong is selling Korean capacity in both, so fine. Still – ouch!

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Land of corn and plenty:

Dueling videos debuted Wednesday on possible nuclear power expansion in Iowa.

A group that opposes nuclear power launched a television ad on the eve of today’s Senate committee hearing on a proposed compromise that advocates hope will push the bill ahead.

And minutes later, MidAmerican Energy released its own Web video, featuring Bill Fehrman, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

The opposing ad is from Friends of the Earth, our old FOEs. I generally find anti-nuclear advocates interesting if not always on target, but not FOE. It’s notably fact free.

But the pleasant surprise is that MidAmerican isn’t standing for it and has put its own ad in response. It’s simply done but that means there’s no manipulation or appeals to emotion. It’s simply Fehrman providing the company’s viewpoint:

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Hey, South Korea was talking about Vietnam above, wasn’t it? Care to know just what Vietnam is up to these days?

"The consistent view of Vietnam is to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in a responsible manner while ensuring safety and security," [Le Dinh Tien, deputy minister of the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology, which] is responsible for overseeing the country's nuclear power, said in January.

By 2030, Vietnam aims to build 10 reactors and, by 2050, it hopes to generate enough nuclear power to account for 20-25 percent of its energy consumption.

Now you know.

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NEI’s main site and the Safety First site have been doing a good job of keeping you up to date on post-Fukushima information and updates (Safety First has a great infographic up right now showing how FLEX, the industry’s response to Fukushima, will work – poster worthy – really), but we’d be remiss not to note good work done by some of the nuclear companies out there.

If you have a few minutes, check out these pages by FPL (Florida Light & Power) and NextEra Energy to see how they are presenting nuclear energy, the accident in Japan and the drive to apply the lessons learned to their fleets. Both are very nicely done – corporate speak kept to a minimum, little to no attempt at spin. (We noticed FPL redid its nuclear energy launch page, too – a lot less text heavy and more inviting.)

“You had better adopt nuclear energy”

BiblisRep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) wants you (or, really, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whom he was addressing at a hearing) to know:

“Fifty percent of our electricity is produced by coal, 20 percent by nuclear power. Yet, when I look at your budget, I look at huge increases in renewable energy funding, which makes up only a small portion of our energy portfolio and cuts in the other area that’s producing most the electricity and frankly I’m disappointed,” Simpson said. “Seems to me like there is an agenda of trying to push green technology, when I think nuclear energy is green technology … you’re really going to address global climate change, you had better adopt nuclear energy and it doesn’t seem like we’re doing that in this budget. This is the first time I’ve seen a retrenchment in this administration in advancing nuclear energy. The talk is all there, but the budget doesn’t reflect that.”

Like Rep. Simpson, the industry was disappointed with the 2013 budget request for nuclear energy. Even if one thinks that nuclear energy should take a financial hit as a result of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the response will largely be directed by the industry and regulators. The United States remains committed to nuclear energy and its technological advancement, so imposing a kind of slowdown doesn’t help the country achieve its long term energy goals – Simpson’s main point.

And Simpson’s right – achieving carbon reduction goals on renewables alone would go far more slowly than with nuclear energy in the mix. Though no one is threatening to shutter the American nuclear industry – just the opposite, in fact - slowing progress makes no real sense. What’s that? Did someone say Germany?

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Germany's abrupt change in nuclear policy has put a dent of €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) in RWE's results for FY2011. It also boosted power prices and raised carbon dioxide emissions, the company said in its annual report to shareholders.

That’s from World Nuclear News. The story is largely about RWE’s earnings report, but there were a few telling tidbits. For example:

Among the figures moving upwards was the amount of carbon dioxide produced by RWE for each unit of electricity. This went up 8.2% from 0.732 to 0.787 tons per MWh "mainly because our Biblis nuclear power station stopped operating," it said.

Rep. Simpson, take note.

RWE linked the nuclear shutdown and a general rise in the cost of fuel to a hike in wholesale power prices. It said that the price of base-load power on the EEX Energy Exchange in 2011 had averaged €51 ($66) per MWh and peaked at around €61 ($80) per MWh. These figures represent increases of 16% and 10% on 2010 figures of €44 and €55 ($57 and $72) per MWh.

And the energy outlook is grim:

Looking ahead, RWE is focusing research and development efforts on carbon capture and storage techniques because, "by the end of 2022, all German nuclear power stations will be offline and the gap they leave cannot be closed by renewable energy and increased electricity imports alone."

Well, maybe CCS will be ready to roll by 2022 – cost and scalability questions still abound - but RWE is really betting the farm on it. And if it’s wrong? Then what does it do?

Germany is shaping up to be quite the case study.

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Scotland would like to shut its two nuclear facilities in favor of CCS, too, and renewables. How? Apparently, by sheer force of will:

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing acknowledged that the government's 100% renewables target has been met with "doubt and skepticism," but said Scotland would rise to these challenges. "I want to debate, engage and co-operate with every knowledgeable, interested and concerned party to ensure we achieve our goals," he said.

To doubt and skepticism, I’d add mirthless laughter.

Germany’s Biblis nuclear energy facility.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Must See: New Film by Heritage Foundation on Nuclear Energy in America

D.C.-based think tank The Heritage Foundation will release starting this Sunday, March 11, a new 38-minute documentary on the benefits of nuclear energy in America. The film, “Powering America,” is told by plant employees and residents in close proximity to existing U.S. nuclear energy facilities who discuss a variety of issues, including: nuclear plant safety, economics, fuel cycle and radiation protection. The documentary also explains how the industry has improved plant safety measures based on lessons learned from the accidents at Three Mile Island and Fukushima Daiichi.

The film will be broadcast on the Documentary Channel over the next few weeks. Check the foundation’s website for show times.

In addition, The Heritage Foundation will be hosting a special, private screening for the film this Thursday, March 8, at 6 p.m. at its offices in Washington D.C. If you are interested in attending, contact Pamela Hughes (Pamela.Hughes@heritage.org) to see if there is space available.

Below is a link to the 3.5-minute trailer.

Powering America Trailer from Steve Weyrich on Vimeo.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Small Reactors at Savannah River

hyperion power moduleThe Department of Energy proposed a couple of years ago spurring the development of small nuclear reactors by entering public-private partnerships with several vendors to foster the building of prototypes and, eventually, generate NRC license applications for the designs.
Now, the first fruit of this program has budded:

Hyperion Power Generation Inc., the Department of Energy – Savannah River, and Savannah River National Laboratory have announced their commitment to deploy a privately-funded first-of-a-kind Hyperion reactor at the DOE Savannah River Site.
Hyperion doesn’t need a license to pursue its work, as it could sell its reactor technology overseas if it chose and go through whatever processes are established in other countries. But it recognizes the value of the NRC’s license procedure as a kind of gold standard:
“It is important that we achieve NRC licensing to provide worldwide confidence in the technology and design of our advanced Generation 4 reactor,” said Dave Carlson, COO and Chief Nuclear Officer with HPG.
Let’s back up over the news a little bit.
Hyperion joins NuScale and Holtec International among the companies included in the DOE program. The work by all three companies will be done at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site. NuScale and Hyperion have small reactor designs.
So does Holtec, which I’ve generally regarded as a parts fabrication company. Holtec’s HI-SMUR 140 is a 140-megawatt reactor with an underground core. The design requires no reactor coolant pump or off-site power to cool the reactor core.
A little more about what the announcements mean:
The agreements will allow these private companies to gain information on SMR reactor deployment at SRS and offer a framework to develop land use and site services contracts to promote these initiatives. The MOUs help to leverage Savannah River’s nuclear expertise, energy facilities and land assets that support private sectors to develop, test and license prototype SMR technologies.
That’s a chunk of acronyms – MOU is memorandum of understanding, the agreements between Savannah River Site and the companies, presumably to be followed by contracts.
World Nuclear News expands on this a bit:
However, the DoE stressed that the new agreements "do not constitute a federal funding commitment." It said that it envisages private sector funding to be used to develop these technologies and support deployment plans. The DoE added that the agreements are unrelated to its funding opportunity announcement for SMR cost-share projects announced in January.
This forward-looking projects will be interesting to follow, something I’m sure the three companies and DOE will be eager to help us do.
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A speech given about the Canadian response to the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi site is an interesting echo of the American response, with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in the role of the NRC and the World Association of Nuclear Operators playing INPO (and INPO playing INPO, too.)
The speaker is Tom Mitchell, the President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation. The following excerpts are adapted from notes he put together for the speech. You can read the whole thing here. (I like that the Canadians use the term learnings for lessons learned,too.)
Much has been written about Fukushima – some of it critical of our industry. Yet as I look back at events over the past year, I believe our reaction to Fukushima was timely, appropriate and effective.
Right from the start, here in Canada we moved quickly to give people as many facts as possible about the event – and assure them of the safety of our nuclear units. The CNA was very active during this period. So was OPG as well as our nuclear colleagues.
At OPG, we communicated quickly and across a number of fronts --- with local communities and on regional, national and international level. We dedicated a portion of our website to the event – providing fact-based information about the event and our stations. We made our executives available for speeches and interviews. We did extensive outreach in our nuclear site communities. We published information pieces in local and regional newspapers. And we established regular and ongoing communications with nuclear organizations from around the world – including WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators), INPO (Institute of Nuclear Power Operations) and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
Our message was clear.
The geology at our sites was stable and our nuclear safety systems were robust – with redundant back-up power so that we were not vulnerable to Fukushima-type acts of nature.
The CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) was also active.
Shortly after the event, it asked Canadian nuclear operators to provide verification their reactors were safe. The CNSC also provided information on its website that was useful to both the industry and the general public. In response to the CNSC’s request, OPG and other operators launched a thorough assessment of their operations to confirm their safety.
We also committed to a number of specific actions based on lessons learned from Fukushima. By April, we had reconfirmed that our stations were indeed safe and the systems in place at OPG’s nuclear facilities were robust enough to withstand significant emergencies. In July we issued another report in which we outlined the steps we were taking to address the key learnings coming out of Fukushima. These learnings included the absolute necessity to guard against external events – specifically those that threaten to overwhelm the design basis of the plant’s systems and equipment.
I’m not sure of the CNSC’s role – it may not carry the same regulatory heft of the NRC or perhaps Sullivan just wanted to stress his company’s activities. 
There’s a section of the speech about the CANDU (which stands for Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactor, the country’s home-grown variation on a pressurized heavy water reactor. Canada has 18 operating reactors, 16 in Ontario, one in Quebec and one in New Brunswick. All are CANDUs. Canada has also sold about 32 CANDUs to other countries. None are in the United States. You can read more about the CANDU reactor here.
Nuclear energy provides about 15 per cent of the country’s electricity and 50 percent of Ontario’s electricity.
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Well:
Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cadres hurled stones on anti-nuclear energy protesters here on Saturday. A police constable, Murugesan (45), suffered head injuries in the incident.
The story in The Hindu offers more details but not enough context to understand why government pelting occurred here. Apparently, the protest involves the building of the Kudankulum facility in Tamil Nadu, which has indeed become contentious, but that’s all I can figure out. Let’s file this one away until more information surfaces. In the meantime: no pelting.
The Hyperion Power Module is actually the little pellet-like element indicated by the arrow in this conceptual drawing.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

94th Carnival of Nuclear Energy – Old Battles, New Technologies and One Scandal

Last week was another busy week in social media. Today we’re hosting the 94th carnival and highlighting 21 posts from 14 blogs.

To start, Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk discusses her concerns about the zeroing of funds for nuclear engineering education programs in the 2013 budget request. It’s been an annual battle to maintain the nuclear education programs at the NRC and DOE and this year was no different. From Gail:

It seems to me that in general, it is penny-wise and pound-foolish for a nation to skimp on education. I know the budget is tight and I know there are many other important programs, but we really can't stop looking ahead.

The case for nuclear engineering education is particularly important. The current workforce of nuclear engineers is rapidly retiring. … One hopes that some of the supporters of nuclear energy on the Hill will notice this cut and restore the funding. I would encourage those who share my concern to contact your members of Congress and ask for their help in restoring funding for educational programs.

Hear, hear!

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee wrote a guest post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe describing the controversies around VY. She notes that “putting Vermont Yankee issues in context is like facing a huge mountain range. There is always another set of hills beyond this one.”

Also at her own blog, she announced the March 17 community rally in support of the plant.

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues commented on the different risk perceptions between nuclear materials and chemicals. Fear of the 'Dirty Bomb' recently led to a campaign to phase out the use of cesium-137 in hospital irradiators. Those machines sterilize blood prior to transfusion and prevent transfusion-associated diseases. Steve pointed out that there have not been similar campaigns to phase out other useful chemicals, like chlorine, ammonium nitrate and gasoline, which are much easier to obtain and put to evil purposes than cesium. Many people fear nuclear materials but forget that chemicals, fuel and fertilizers can cause much greater damage.

Atomic Power Review has a two-part contribution this week concerning the Palisades nuclear station and reactor pressure vessel embrittlement. In the two posts, Will Davis addressed media claims of vessel embrittlement. Part 1 was a background on Palisades with a link to a past APR article on the topic and part 2 provided great detail on embrittlement from a number of print sources and A. David Rossin (former President of ANS).

Filling in for Charles Barton at Nuclear Green, NNadir shares his thoughts on the first nuclear reactors in the world that naturally fissioned a few billion years ago. Although there is a lot of squabbling about burying nuclear waste, nature proves it can be contained. From NNadir:

Over two billion years, most of the fission products in porous sandstone at Oklo didn't even migrate as far as Tom Brady can throw an errant football in a "Hail Mary" pass at the end of a Superbowl as a last ditch attempt to avoid a losing effort.

His post is humorous and dense but definitely worth the read on Oklo.

Steve Skutnik from the Neutron Economy describes how small modular reactors can help displace Iowa's coal-heavy energy portfolio. SMRs can provide an economical, "right-sized" solution for smaller, rural electrical grids like Iowa’s. Of course, not everyone is convinced of the benefits. Skutnik also blasted some of the specious arguments against the technology.

Over at Energy From Thorium, Kirk Sorensen is working hard to push for thorium all around the world. Kirk was in London last year to help launch the Weinberg Foundation which promotes thorium. On Thursday, Kirk highlighted the Foundation’s press release on the formation of an “All-Party Parliamentary Group” in London with members of both the House of Commons and House of Lords to consider the potential of thorium as an energy source. Well done.

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights discusses how and why we should combine domestic coal with nuclear energy to make oil.

My pitch to the coal industry would be to use cheap, clean nuclear heat to convert H2O and their carbon rich fuel into a refined hydrocarbon that could compete with petroleum products.

No, it’s not a new concept. Technologies exist to achieve this, check out Rod’s post on how.

How close did Japan really get to a widespread nuclear disaster? At Brave New Climate, Barry Brook highlights a post at Slate.com by two authors at the Breakthrough Institute who put Fukushima into a proper context. Barry adds:

Much of the post-accident speculation was constrained only by people’s imagination (which can be pretty wide ranging), and utterly failed to resolve the fact that RISK is probability X impact. Instead, anti-nuclear types typically choose a huge, speculative impact, and then try to attach a large probability (often near certainty) to it. For truly catastrophic outcomes, both numbers are very small, and multiplied, vanishingly so.

Can’t add to that.

We have two posts to mention from the ANS Nuclear Café. Wesley Deason launched his series on the uses of nuclear fission to enable human space exploration beyond earth’s orbit:

Nuclear reactors, due to their ability to produce large amounts of energy at any location, will be the required energy source for future human space travel outside of earth’s orbit.

Make sure to follow the Café for more of his series.

A file photo of Koodankulam nuclear power plant.Also at the Café, Dan Yurman reveals a dispute over the start of two new nuclear plants in India. To the right, months of protests have delayed the Kudankulam nuclear project in southern India. Some people (including India’s sitting prime minister) allege that American NGOs are funding the protests. If true, it sounds like a scandalous story.

Dan Yurman at his own blog, Idaho Samizdat, also reported several positive news items for the week including the good news that North Korea is suspending its nuclear weapons program and opening more dialogue with the U.S. Of course, some aren’t holding their breath.

Dan also reported that Iran is having a tough time with its uranium enrichment program, how the U.K. is consuming its surplus plutonium, and how South Africa is taking another shot at bids for new reactors in the country.

Brian Wang at Nextbigfuture looked at detailed levelized cost comparisons of nuclear, solar and coal. Brian notes that two-thirds of the cost of coal energy is determined by future commodity prices while nuclear and solar costs are dominated by construction costs and financing.

Brian also highlights a World Nuclear News story on GE’s laser uranium enrichment plant. The NRC just issued its final technical Safety Evaluation Report (SER) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed enrichment plant.

The GLE plant would use a laser-based process to enrich uranium up to 8% uranium-235 by weight (although nuclear power reactors normally require 3%-5% enriched uranium), with an initial planned maximum target production of six million separative work units (SWU) per year. … Laser enrichment could be 2 to 20 times more efficient than other enrichment processes.

Sweet.

And here at NEI Nuclear Notes, various contributors generated a lot of action – covering PBS’ documentary of Fukushima, Senator Bingaman’s proposed Clean Energy Standard, tornadoes in the South, and NEI’s next social media call on the industry’s FLEX strategy.

Be sure to stop by everyone’s pages for these great articles and new reporting. Stay tuned for other carnivals at Yes Vermont Yankee, ANS Café, Next Big Future and Atomic Power Review!