Monday, April 30, 2012

Japan and the Impact of No Nuclear Power

tokyo-geceIt’s not hard to understand the reason why:

Kansai Electric Power said it incurred a net loss of 242.26 billion yen ($3 billion) turning around from a year-before profit of 123.14 billion yen.

This is in Japan. I mentioned last week that a nuclear plant can be very expensive to build but very inexpensive to run – both in absolute terms and relative to other power plants. That can make them quite profitable over time. But if Kansai and other electricity providers in Japan – Tepco is the one that owns Fukushima Daiichi – switch off the plants and begin depending on electricity imports or coal imports to fire up older plants, this is the result.

“Operating costs surged from the year before with the lower utilization rate of nuclear power plants and higher fuel prices pushing up costs of thermal power generation and of electricity purchases from other companies," it [Kansai] said.

How are the other electric companies doing?

Hokkaido Electric Power, which until it flicks the switch on May 5 is the only company with a reactor still working, reported a net loss of 72.07 billion yen, reversing a profit of 11.98 billion yen in the previous year.

Tohoku Electric Power, based in the nation's northeast devastated in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, said its net loss grew to 231.91 billion yen in the year to March 2012 from 33.71 billion yen in the previous year.

I don’t know how electricity rates are set in Japan – and coming off a gigantic natural disaster – and the accident at Fukushima Daiichi – I can imagine no one wants to contemplate raising rates.

And yet - here comes Summer.

Let’s not be too doomy. The Wall Street Journal says that production capacity has returned almost to normal, though not without sacrifice:

Then, there's the question of whether Japan will have enough electricity to power all production in July and August when electricity demand is at its peak. While many companies are taking conservation measures or setting up on-site power generation, shortages could force rationing like last year or even rolling blackouts, crimping output. 

I could be wrong, but that “on-site power generation” is more likely to be gas-driven generators rather than windmills. The Journal isn’t focused here on the electricity providers – but it is the pressure on those companies that will determine what happens next.

Tokyo. In Godzilla movies, Tokyo always seemed eminently stompable by the giant lizard. Things do change.

Friday, April 27, 2012

TVA Building Watts Bar 2 and Building Up the Tennessee Valley

220px-Watts_Bar_Nuclear_Generating_StationHere’s some good news:

The Tennessee Valley Authority board in the US has approved continuing with construction of the second generating unit at Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant located on the Tennessee River near Spring City following a revised estimate.

The estimate presented to TVA in early April, revealed the project requires an additional $1.5bn to $2bn to complete, bringing the total cost to complete the unit at nearly $4.5bn, with the most likely estimate of $4.2bn.

Now, it may seem counterintuitive to splash out that kind of money – one might call it the fixed cost issue. The fixed cost of building a large industrial plant – much less a nuclear facility – is fantastically high, at least if one is trying to raise the money for it in a fairly short time. But the variable costs of running the plant are relatively low. If the plant runs for 40 years – as the current generation has done – and then goes another 20 years – then that plant cost can generate electricity quite economically even given the fixed costs involved in building the plant.

Here’s a 2011 assessment of how that works out:

  • Advanced nuclear  - $113.90 per megawatt hour
  • Advanced coal with carbon capture and sequestration - $136.20 per megawatt hour
  • Solar PV - $210.70 per megawatt hour
  • Offshore wind - $243.20 per megawatt hour
  • Onshore wind - $97 per megawatt hour (though Southeastern states such as Tennessee are not good candidates for this.)
  • Solar thermal - $311.80 per megawatt hour.

And that takes into consideration that renewable energy sources have relatively low fixed costs. That’s not a case of putting the fix in for nuclear energy – there are economics plusses and minuses for any energy source.

Electric companies have to balance the need to make money with the more important need of providing electricity to everyone regardless of financial wherewithal. Nuclear energy and coal have always provided a strong argument here – expensive fixed costs, very low variable costs. If nuclear has an edge over coal, it’s that it doesn’t produce carbon emissions.

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To me, it is even more interesting that TVA continues to pursue economic development in the Tennessee Valley. This was one of its missions after its creation during the great depression and its seems only appropriate to build on its good work during the great recession:

In keeping with its economic development mission, TVA is enhancing the Valley Investment Initiative, an incentive program that rewards industries that commit to locate, stay and invest in the Valley region, Thomas said.

“Beginning in 2009, companies participating in the Valley Investment Initiative have announced five-year plans to invest a total of $8.2 billion in their operations, keep 55,000 jobs in the region and create another 17,000 jobs. Those jobs represent almost $16 billion in wages for Valley residents and communities.”

So if you have a business idea that requires a little light manufacturing, there you go. You provide the structure, TVA the infrastructure.

Watts Bar. Unit 1 has been on-line since 1996 and supplies electricity to about 750,000 people. Unit 2 is the one TVA will now be completing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Governor Whitman Answers Greenpeace

whitmanA few days ago, we wrote about big tech companies moving their data centers to nuclear friendly states and getting some grief for it for not being “green” enough. I take no credit for the following, but it’s nice not to be talking in a vacuum.

This a letter to the editor of the New York Times commenting on the same topic (same article actually):

Report Faults Online Services Over Reliance on Coal and Nuclear Power” (Business Day, April 18) discusses a Greenpeace report suggesting that emissions-free nuclear power and coal constitute “dirty energy.”

It’s true that by opening up new data centers in states like North Carolina, Virginia and Illinois, major Internet companies are using more nuclear energy — and at affordable prices. What’s untrue and insinuated in both your article and the Greenpeace report is that this reliance on nuclear somehow sullies a company’s environmental reputation, when nuclear is in fact playing an important role keeping the cloud clean.

Nuclear energy accounts for 70 percent of the clean electricity produced in the United States, and together with renewables like solar and wind is a vital part of any clean energy portfolio. Companies that rely on 24/7 baseload power to meet their electricity needs are contributing to emission-reduction goals by including nuclear in their energy mix.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN
Princeton, N.J., April 19, 2012

Ms. Whitman is former governor of New Jersey, EPA Administrator, and currently co-chair of the Clean and Safe (CASE) Energy Coalition.

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That Greenpeace report stirred up some interest in finding out how Greenpeace is doing with its own cloud  - another way to say this is: Can Greenpeace avoid the world it lives in in order to claim the purity it demands of others. Answer: No, largely because such issues aren’t entirely in its control:

But Greenpeace also has a number of servers in a colocation center in northern Virginia. “They’re using whatever the grid mix is in Virginia,” said Cook, who added that the colo deal was arranged about five years ago. “At that point in time, there weren’t providers that met our requirements (for renewable energy). We’re in the process of reworking some of our IT infrastructure, and we’ll clean that up.”

Virginia’s mix: coal and nuclear, with some renewable energy, much the same as is being used by Google, Facebook and the rest. Cook is Gary Cook, a Climate Policy Advisor for the Greenpeace CoolIT Campaign. The line that interested me was “”at that point in time, there weren’t providers that met our requirements.” True, if you wanted to remain in a state with relatively light electricity charges – due to the presence, or course, of nuclear plants.

Credit due to Rich Tripp of Data Center Knowledge for a great article – do read the whole thing –but let’s give props to Gary Cook, too: he didn’t try to evade the fact that Greenpeace, much like the rest of us, has to deal with the world as it is rather than the world it’d prefer. Maybe Greenpeace can learn enough generosity to extend that view to the companies about which it writes reports.

It might happen. But:

Is Greenpeace holding Facebook to a higher standard than it applies to its own Internet operations? Cook says the data center industry’s largest power users have a higher obligation to use renewable energy to power their servers.

Neat argument. Okay for me, not for thee.

Christine Todd Whitman.

American Nuclear Society Ready to Cover Pilgrim Meeting

Received the following in my email box concerning some American Nuclear Society work around a public meeting on the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant that will take place later tonight. If you're up on Twitter, please consider listening in to their feed and retweeting the best parts.

WHEN: Wednesday, April 25, 7-9 PM

WHAT: Freeze Pilgrim Forum. Plymouth, MA: http://freezepilgrim.org/news.html

WHERE: Plymouth South Middle School, Plymouth, MA

WHO: Russell Gocht, PhD student at UMASS Lowell and ANS student member, will be opposite David Lochbaum of UCS. Expect Mr. Lochbaum to discuss the Union of Concerned Scientists' report on the NRC’s post Fukushima actions (on the UCS website).

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Attend or Follow the ANS live twitter feed: @ans_org or https://twitter.com/ans_org

A Reader's Guide to the San Onofre Steam Generator Situation

For a number of weeks, we've been paying close attention to our colleagues at Southern California Edison (SCE) as they work to resolve a problem with the steam generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station or SONGS. Unit #2 and #3 at SONGS have been out of service for several weeks ever since leaks were detected in the steam generators of both units.

In a press briefing earlier this week, SCE's CNO delivered some good news, and said that there's a 50% chance that one or both of the plant's reactors will be back in operation by the Summer. The thing to remember here is that SCE and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission won't allow the plant's two reactors to restart until both parties are convinced that it is safe to do so.

For real time updates from SCE, please visit SONGSCommunity.com.

A number of outside observers, most notably Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates, have been commenting on the situation as well, with Gundersen publishing a pair of reports in conjunction with Friends of the Earth concerning the steam generators.

As the staff at SONGS continue to work on a solution, I thought it would be a good idea to collect a number of blog posts that taken together could serve as a rejoinder of sorts to Gundersen.

First, we should probably point to a post by Will Power at Atomic Power Review (APR) from last month that lays out the issue in very clear terms. Next, here's a post at NEI Nuclear Notes that Victoria Barq wrote after a conversation with Alex Marion, NEI's Vice President for Nuclear Operations. It covers the content of Gundersen's initial report.

More recently, Meredith Angwin, who normally blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee, provided a guest post at APR that dives a little deeper into the issue. To wrap things up, we should point to a blog post by Dan Yurman over at Idaho Samizdat that pulls on a couple of loose threads in Gundersen's reports.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Support Grows for Small Reactor Partnership in Missouri

imageAmeren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric Co. last week revealed a new partnership to compete for federal funds to develop and license a small reactor at the Callaway nuclear plant site in Missouri. The joint collaboration has the potential to open the doors for nuclear energy to play a more prominent role in the Midwestern state’s energy portfolio—a move that is being met with increasing enthusiasm by local leaders.

Given the previous challenges to new nuclear plant development in the state, it is exciting to see several notable people and institutions come forward to voice their support. Below is a sampling of some of the positive coverage we have come across so far.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on the day of the announcement:

Designing, developing and commercializing next-generation nuclear technology will create good jobs for Missourians, expand our global exports, and ensure that Missouri has affordable, abundant, safe and reliable power for generations to come.  Missouri offers Westinghouse an outstanding nuclear operator and workforce, world-class research universities, a strong foothold in the nuclear industry, and a central location to develop a worldwide manufacturing base. As Governor, I'm fully committed to working with Westinghouse, Ameren Missouri and all our electric energy providers to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.
The Joplin (Mo.) Globe in an editorial today:
We believe that spurring safe, economical, close to load power generation, while at the same time creating tens of thousands of good paying, stable jobs is a far better use of taxpayer funds than throwing hundreds of millions at politically connected Solyndras.
We applaud Nixon, Westinghouse, Ameren and the remaining utilities — including Joplin’s own Empire District — for joining forces on a practical energy plan for all Missourians.
The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune in an editorial posted yesterday:
Westinghouse and Ameren seem to be the best applicants in the United States for this new smaller unit approach, which has political as well as scientific advantages. Chances are good the grants will come through and the demonstration project at Callaway will be built, but it will take time — as long as 10 years before power will be generated. As long as progress is made, all hands should stay hitched to the wagon. Callaway II can provide a host of good jobs during construction and forever after as clean power is generated.
The Jefferson City (Mo.) News in a positive editorial yesterday:
If all goes right, it still might take until 2022 before any possible new reactors would come online in Missouri. But the potential for energy, jobs and development is impossible to ignore.
There's no such thing as a sure thing. But this proposal is a great prospect given the two businesses' community history, a solid base of technology education, and a stable, willing work force.
The same newspaper also featured an article on how the partnership will benefit the University of Missouri’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute, which almost dismantled earlier this year due to a decision by the graduate school’s dean.
Sudarshan Loyalka, a curators' professor of nuclear engineering, said Ameren and Westinghouse's partnership should emphasize the need to strengthen NSEI rather than trying to start a completely new program.
"We do have a strong nuclear engineering program, and the program should be strengthened further with this opportunity," he said.
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said after the announcement that he was still learning about the university's role. "We will be involved in the very beginning in the research and educational aspects of this," he said.
Local lawmakers, including State Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and State Rep. Mary Still (D-Columbia), agreed that the university will play a major support role in the project and has the potential to expand its research capabilities and boost its national profile in the area of nuclear science. To this point, Sen. Schaefer said:
This could make them the No. 1 research entity in the world based on their role in designing and training on these units.
While many state lawmakers, labor unions, local chambers of commerce, and others have come forward to show their support, there are still others that are skeptical of the project, demonstrating the need for continued dialogue and education on project’s benefits. However, given that members of both sides of the political aisle and groups who traditionally oppose each other were able to stand united during last' week’s announcement, it shows promise that Missourians are not ready to close the door on nuclear energy.

Photo: Image of the Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor design. To learn more about the reactor, see Westinghouse’s website.

Nuclear Energy Not Affected by French Election

2010_06_04Centrale_nucléaire_de_Fessenheim2We’ve followed the French election here a bit because we were interested to see whether challenger Francois Hollande would hold to his stand to close 30 nuclear plants – a promise he made to the Green party when it appeared he might need its help against incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy. He’d already broken away from his pledge, but let’s see how things are going.

In the round one voting, Sarkozy (conservative) won about 25% of the vote, Hollande (liberal) about 28% and Marine Le Pen (reactionary) about 20%. Le Pen and the other minor party candidates now drop out and it’s Sarkozy vs. Hollande on May 6.

Anyway, Hollande has backed away from his earlier negative view of nuclear energy (but see below – he’s basically returned to his original view):

He wants to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the power supply to 50% from 75% by 2025, and promises to close the ageing Fessenheim nuclear plant but complete work on the advanced Flamanville European pressurized reactor power station.

But by increasing renewable energy sources, not a wholesale reduction of the nuclear fleet.

And Sarkozy? From the same rundown:

Backs nuclear power but says renewable energy will make up 23% of power supply by 2020.

Guess we’ll have to wait a few years to see where the percentages land. Increasing energy diversity would be an advisable move – if France goes forward with renewable energy sources, as seems likely, it’s all good. For baseload energy, after all, it’s covered. All clear, all clean.

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If you want a broader view of French politics and nuclear energy, check out this article from last year – dated but very good.

While François Hollande sees nuclear power as an important part of the future of France’s energy landscape, Martine Aubry has declared that “France’s energy change should be characterized by phasing out nuclear in 20 or 30 years’ time”. France’s future energy supply would mainly come from renewable energy sources and the respective domestic industry would be subsidized through eco-taxes.

This is from before the Socialist party primary, obviously, and Hollande and Aubry mark out different views that remain consistent with the socialist ideology. We may say that the primary answered the question of the article: “Will the nuclear debate determine the French presidential election?” The answer: Non.

Fessenheim.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Radio Debate on Vermont Yankee Set for Tuesday Morning

Some folks in Vermont shared the following about a radio debate on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant that will take place on Tuesday morning.

WHEN: Tuesday, April 24, 8-10 AM

WHAT: Vermont Yankee Power Struggle: Radio Panel, Northhampton, MA

WHERE: WHMP Radio with frequencies at AM1400/1240/1600 and FM96.9, broadcasting from Sylvester's Restaurant in Northhampton, MA.

WHO: The Energy Education Project is sending Meredith Angwin (Yes Vermont Yankee) and Richard Schmidt to defend nuclear energy and provide factual information about Vermont Yankee. Two people will speak in opposition to Vermont Yankee and nuclear power: long-time activist Michael Daley and Jeff Napolitano, an anti-nuclear civil disobedience trainer with the American Friends Service Committee

WHAT YOU CAN DO:Listen, call in, attend in person! It will not stream on the web but will be podcast later.

Call-in number is 413-586-7140. Questions can also be posted in advance on the station's Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/WHMP/64219786132

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Meredith Angwin's blog post on this: http://yesvy.blogspot.com/2012/04/vermont-yankee-power-struggle-radio.html

From what we understand, Cavan Stone of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) will be providing live Twitter coverage of the program on the ANS Twitter Feed.

South Africa’s Nuclear Energy See-Saw

6406.koebergWords to live by:

Not only would a nuclear expansion create mining and construction jobs, it would also open opportunities in the scientific sphere. "We have sufficient local capacity in terms of scientists and scientific companies and we can capitalize from our own intellectual capacity instead of sourcing from abroad," she pointed out.

She is South African Energy Minister Dipuo Peters. The main thrust of the story is that she wants to reassure coal miners that their jobs will not disappear and, anyway, there are plenty of uranium mining jobs. But along the way, you get some interesting nuggets:

South Africa plans to generate 9.6 GW of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. The integrated resources plan also calls for 6.3 GW of new baseload coal capacity.

Really? Good for nuclear, but that’s a lot of new coal. When you look at the integrated resource plan and the studies that informed it, you find out why. 

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In the study that provides the engine underneath the plan, coal retains favor because – as in the United States – South Africa has a lot of it. Likewise, the country has a lot of uranium. So energy security and diversity are granted high positions among competing priorities and that benefits coal and nuclear. In fact, I noticed that that several pieces refer to the “beneficiation” of local natural resources.

Natural gas gets short shrift for the same reason -there is not a lot of it in South Africa.

The current euphoria (primarily on an environmental basis) regarding a potential shift to natural gas as a significant contributor to energy supply needs to be placed in the context of available local and regional gas reserves. The potential contribution that natural gas can make to the overall primary energy supply portfolio is currently limited as the energy content of natural gas reserves/resources is significantly lower than those of coal, even on an optimistic assessment of gas reserves.

There are other issues with natural gas brought up by the study, but they all root in its lack of abundance. In the integrated resource plan itself, natural gas virtually disappears from consideration.

Renewable energy sources get a somewhat cursory glance in the study, but another white paper done at the same time covered them in more detail.  Here is what South Africa wants to do with wind, solar, etc. per its Department of Energy:

The White Paper's target of 10,000GWh renewable energy contribution to final energy consumption by 2013 was confirmed to be economically viable with subsidies and carbon financing.

Here is what the SA DOE believes will be outcomes:

  • Add about 1.667MW new renewable energy capacity, with a net impact on GDP as high as R1.071-billion a year;
  • Create additional government revenue of R299-million;
  • Stimulate additional income that will flow to low-income households by as much as R128-million, creating just over 20 000 new jobs; and
  • contribute to water savings of 16.5-million kiloliters, which translates into a R26.6-million saving.

Nuclear energy gets a somewhat cooler hearing at the Department of Energy – but let’s wait on that one. That’s a whole other story.

And there are other signs of coolness, too. For example:

Speaking during a recent nuclear energy round table in Johannesburg [in 2010], Dr. Rob Adam said that, while modest, the fleet envisaged in the draft second integrated resource plan, or IRP2010, was sufficient in scale to facilitate the economic production of nuclear fuel assemblies in South Africa.

However, in recent years, the country, which is keen to increase the beneficiation of its natural resources, including uranium, has signaled its intention to possibly re-enter the nuclear-fuel cycle for “peaceful purposes”.

And this is the CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (or NECSA). It’s like watching a see-saw in action. (Adam is speaking before the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, so that is not contributing to his views.) Still, he does think that South Africa should reactivate its enrichment facilities.

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World Nuclear Association takes a crack at summarizing where South Africa wants to go:

After public consultation the IRP was revised early in 2011 and passed by cabinet in March. According to this scenario, South Africa’s generation mix by 2030 should include: 48% coal; 13.4% nuclear; 6.5% hydro, 14.5% other renewables; and 11% peaking open cycle gas turbine.

That, in sum, is a lot of coal, though also a lot more nuclear than today – when there is only one plant in South Africa - and less coal by percentage, even if it still seems high at the end point of a plan that purports to consider climate change.

You can see the Integrated resource plan itself here.

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One more thing to throw into the mix. The company Eskom supplies about 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity and 45 percent of the continent’s electricity, so it has more on its plate than one country’s energy plan. In 2007, Eskom announced a fairly ambitious nuclear agenda (this is also from the WNA):

[T]he Eskom board approved a plan to double generating capacity to 80 GWe by 2025, including construction of 20 GWe of new nuclear capacity so that nuclear contribution to power would rise from 5% to more than 25% and coal's contribution would fall from 87% to below 70%. 

That would be good. But:

[I]n December 2008, Eskom announced that it would not proceed with either of the bids [for new plants] from Areva and Westinghouse, due to lack of finance, and the government confirmed a delay of several years.

The economic downturn hit Eskom, too.

Here is how that reality meshes with the integrated plan:

Although the draft plan includes six new 1600 MWe reactors coming online in 18-month intervals from 2023, Eskom has said that it would be looking for lower-cost options than the earlier AP1000 or EPR proposals, and would consider Generation II designs from China (perhaps CPR-1000) or South Korea (perhaps OPR).

AREVA’s back in the mix, too, all to the good. (The story is not clear where the plants might be sited – all in South Africa is logical but not necessarily correct.)

So – after this – a conclusion? If I were a nuclear advocate in South Africa, I’d probably seem bipolar, as the country jumps from “Nuclear Is Required” to “Nuclear Is Nothing” to back again with startling rapidity.

Right now, it’s a needed thing, but even so, Energy Minister Peters can be surprisingly cagey about it:

Peters also did not acknowledge how many plants the country intends to build or the potential locations of the future plants, denying that one will be built at Thyspunt, a rocky stretch of coast in the Eastern Cape.

So you can rule out Thyspunt.

Really, it’s always been the case that nuclear energy has been seen as required if South Africa has any hope to chop away at its carbon emissions and still provide plentiful baseload energy. Interestingly, the integrated plan talks about wind power as a way to spell nuclear energy while plants are being built, a configuration I’ve never seen before. In any event, what Eskom will do with nuclear energy is still developing and will certainly have an impact on the integrated plan.

But – at least at present – I don’t think those coal miners have anything to worry about.

South Africa’s one operating nuclear facility, Koeberg.

Why the World Can't Afford to Phase Out Nuclear Energy

Today's Washington Post features an unsigned editorial that asks an important question:

CAN THE WORLD fight global warming without nuclear power? One major industrialized country — Germany — is determined to find out, and another — Japan — is debating whether to try. Both illustrate how hard it would be.
Give it a read right now.

101st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

This week's edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers has been posted at the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Please check it out.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The IBM Battery 500 Revs Up

us__en_us__energy__battery500_info2__748x443Although IBM is largely focused on computer science issues, it has labs all over the world that do all kinds of things – after all, IBM is also focused on making money. This page contains a good slice of what IBM is doing in the energy sphere.

But I was most interested in its battery technology project for electric cars.

IBM correctly notes drivers’ range anxiety, the fear that they’ll be in the middle of nowhere when the battery runs dry. Using today’s lithium-ion technology, electric cars can get about 100 miles on a charge – with the air conditioning blasting, 4 miles (kidding.)

So that’s the problem. Here’s the proposed solution:

Recognizing this [range anxiety], IBM started the Battery 500 project in 2009 to develop a new type of lithium-air battery technology that is expected to improve energy density tenfold, dramatically increasing the amount of energy these batteries can generate and store. Today, IBM researchers have successfully demonstrated the fundamental chemistry of the charge-and-recharge process for lithium-air batteries.

It’s even green beyond green.

During discharge (driving), oxygen from the air reacts with lithium ions, forming lithium peroxide on a carbon matrix. Upon recharge, the oxygen is given back to the atmosphere and the lithium goes back onto the anode.

Well, almost. I assume it is giving back less oxygen than it is taking, but if oxygen is your exhaust, that’s not bad. (There’s more to say on this. This part isn’t really working yet.)

And it gets (potentially) 500 hundred miles per charge.

I have no idea whether this can be scaled to work in cars or even work as advertised – on a corporate web site, you can’t expect much more than good news. Extreme Tech tries for a little more context:

Lithium-air batteries aren’t a new idea: They’ve been mooted since the 1970s, but the necessary tech was well beyond the capabilities of then-contemporary material science. Today, with graphene and carbon nanotubes and fancy membranes coming out of our ears, it seems IBM — with assistance from partners Asahi Kasei and Central Glass — now has the materials required to build a lithium-air battery. There is a video embedded below that details the electrochemical process of an li-air battery.

We should also note that the project utilizes IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer to work out the chemistry – so it is selling its computers as being able to do such things.

Mobile & Apps is a little clearer on the downsides of the technology – or at least the challenges it is presenting:

[IBM’s Winfried] Wickle reckoned that one of the challenges was the belief that lithium-air batteries are rechargeable, but that turned out to be false. "What was thought to be rechargeability was in fact confused with destruction of battery." In theory, upon recharge the battery was supposed to release pure oxygen to the air. Instead of the oxygen, however, it was releasing carbon dioxide, the very greenhouse gas that electric vehicles aim to reduce.

Oops. That wouldn’t be good. The story goes to say that the solution, as in Idiocracy, might be electrolytes. This paints the technology as maturing but still uncertain and the outlook hazy but clearing. It’s the classic wait-and-see, but it’s worth doing until the nascent electric car market collapses or as long as IBM’s patience (and money) holds out. This would be a big deal if it came to fruition.

The nuclear angle is the same as it always has been on this subject. Electric cars need electricity – it they get traction on their own or are mandated at some point, a lot of electricity. Some kinds of energy might seem to mitigate the benefits of an electric car – nuclear much less so. Benefit upon benefit, you might say.

How the battery works. Click for large or view at IBM’s site.

How to Stand Up to Helen Caldicott

Last week, I hinted that Dr. Helen Caldicott had gotten more than she had bargained for when she visited the University of South Carolina recently. Unfortunately, I failed to follow up and link to the following post at the Nuclear Literacy Project. The author is Kallie Metzger, a graduate fellow studying nuclear engineering at the University of South Carolina, and she deserves some applause for the way she conducted herself:

Ultimately, I hoped this presentation would provide a platform for discussion —And it did, but not nearly as peaceably as I envisioned. I imagined proponents of nuclear refuting the speaker’s false statements and exaggerations (respectfully, of course), the speaker conceding to our reasoning, and the whole night ending in a campfire kumbaya session between the opposing groups. Instead, Dr. Caldicott refused questions, became increasingly hostile and arrogant, and created a strained environment for everyone.
I could quote more, but that would be unfair to the team at Nuclear Literacy. Click here to read the rest right now.

Energy Northwest Employees Tout Benefits of Nuclear Energy in New PSA

In conjunction with Earth Day, our friends at Energy Northwest have issued a new public service announcement touting the benefits of nuclear energy. What's the twist? The message is deliverer by their own employees:

Here's a copy of the press release that the company issued in conjunction with the video:

In honor of Earth Month, Energy Northwest is releasing a new public service announcement, “Clean Energy.” It features employees from departments throughout the agency, including training, chemistry, security and engineering. The 30-second PSA will be aired on broadcast stations throughout Washington over the next several weeks.

The employees are spreading the message that nuclear energy is one of the cleanest baseload sources of energy, surpassed only by hydroelectric as a carbon-free source of full-time power.

“Energy Northwest and its employees want the region to understand that power from Columbia Generating Station is a vital part of the clean energy mix for the Northwest,” said Rochelle Olson, Public Affairs manager for Energy Northwest. “We believe conservation is the best way to meet the demand for additional power. After that, a diverse mix of carbon-free sources, including nuclear, is ideal.”

In fiscal year 2011, Columbia produced 7,247 gigawatt hours of electricity while keeping an average of 7.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear energy facilities provide nearly 70 percent of all of America’s clean-air electricity.

For more videos from Energy Northwest, please visit their YouTube channel.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

From Sweden to the Green River

green riverSort of a silly article from the New York Times:

Internet companies often cloak themselves in an image of environmental awareness. But some companies that essentially live on the Internet are moving facilities to North Carolina, Virginia, northeastern Illinois and other regions whose main sources of energy are coal and nuclear power, the report said.

Virginia generates 36 percent of its electricity from nuclear, 35 percent from coal; North Carolina, 56 percent coal, 31 percent nuclear; and Illinois, 47 percent nuclear, 46 percent coal. So, where clean energy is concerned, internet companies are doing reasonably well given the world we live in.

And some want to improve their profile further:

Apple immediately disputed the report’s findings, saying that the company planned to build two huge renewable energy projects at its recently opened data center in North Carolina that would eventually offset much of the coal-fired and nuclear energy use.

To me, this sounds like the wrong way around – the infrastructure seems plausible as is. Who are Apple and Google and others trying to please, anyway?

In the language of the Greenpeace report, those sources constitute “dirty energy,” meaning nonrenewable.

Oh, them – well, there’s nothing wrong with Greenpeace issuing reports, though I’m sure some of the appeal of moving the data centers to these states is the lure of plentiful and inexpensive electricity – thanks in part to nuclear energy. Apple’s “huge renewable energy projects” will nullify those benefits. (I couldn’t find anything on what Apple has in mind here.)

I was struck by a detail in this PCWorld story that Facebook, in pursuit of renewable energy for its data center, went to Sweden to find it – the center is using solar arrays, which it could have done here as easily if it wanted to. Sweden is already fully covered on the clean energy scale: 46 percent hydro and 43 percent nuclear. Anyway: Good for Facebook and Sweden – since the baseload energy is still half nuclear and all clean. (I recognize that Facebook has an international profile – Google has one of its data centers in neighboring Finland – and just to keep the circle squared, Finland is mostly clean energy, too – 28 percent nuclear, 16 percent hydro and 13 percent coal.)

It’s a little disappointing that the Times decided to gin up one of Greenpeace’s hectoring reports – it’s doing it again today. Feh.

---

One of the problems with building a power plant is that it needs water, so if you want to build such a plant in a barren part of the country, you have to locate near whatever source exists. In Utah, that’s the Green River, described as a “robust tributary of the Colorado River.”

The problem is that the Green River cannot guarantee enough water to operate a plant year-round and there has to be an alternative source when that happens.

A company called Blue Castle, which wants to build a nuclear facility on the Green River, has settled on a reservoir:

The news release added that Blue Castle would have to have contingency plans if, for some reason, less water is available. The company plans to solve that problem by building an onsite reservoir that would hold a 30-day supply of water.

Blue Castle's chief executive officer is Aaron Tilton, who sat on the legislature's utilities committee, where he was an outspoken proponent of nuclear energy. While he was still in office, Tilton formed a nuclear energy development company, a forerunner to Blue Castle.

Blue Castle has permission to use the Green River water when it can be used and Tilton makes the case for it.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Tilton acknowledged that "water is everything" in the West. But he also pointed out that the nuclear facility will use less than one percent of Utah's water allotment while increasing the state's electricity production by 50 percent.

Blue Castle has worked through issues diligently, as it should (and must), showing that its project will not harm fish and turning to the reservoir to cover drier spots (the river’s water has to give primacy to farming and drinking.) Environmentalists have kicked up a bit of a fuss, but Tilton seems fairly sure Blue Castle will prevail – as far as Utah is concerned, has prevailed.

There’s a lot more information in the story by David Hasemyer and it’s well worth reading for an exceptionally balanced view of the project. Whether Blue Castle can really get a facility built depends on a lot of factors – money not least among them – but so far, so good.

Correx: Made a better stab at the Finnish electricity mix. Still pretty good.

The Green River from the Deso Overlook. Not where the plant would go – but pretty none-the-less.

Governor May Announce Plans for New Nuclear Reactor in Missouri

From the Associated Press:

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and energy officials are to announce plans Thursday that could include the development of another nuclear reactor in the state.

The Democratic governor's office called the plans significant for energy development and economic growth in Missouri. Nixon and officials from Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric are scheduled to make the formal announcement Thursday afternoon at the Missouri Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City.

A Nixon spokesman declined to provide further details Wednesday before the planned announcement.
We'll keep an eye on this today.

UPDATE: Hold on a second. Ameren just pushed out the following press release clarifying the situation about today's announcement:
Recent press reports speculating that Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Electric Company will be announcing a definitive plan to build a new nuclear reactor at Ameren Missouri's Callaway Energy Center site are inaccurate.

Details surrounding a potential transformative economic development opportunity for the state of Missouri will be provided during a press conference (see advisory below) at 1:30 pm today.

Ameren Missouri has been providing electric and gas service for more than a century, and our electric rates are among the lowest in the nation. We serve 1.2 million electric and 126,000 natural gas customers in central and eastern Missouri. Our mission is to meet their energy needs in a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally responsible manner. Our service area covers 63 counties and more than 500 towns, including the greater St. Louis area. For more information, visit AmerenMissouri.com.

Advisory: Gov. Nixon, Ameren Missouri, Westinghouse, to make major announcement regarding energy, economic growth in Missouri

On Thursday, April 19, Gov. Jay Nixon will join senior executives from Westinghouse Electric Corporation and Ameren Missouri for a major announcement about energy development and economic growth in Missouri. This transformative announcement will take place at 1:30 p.m. on the lawn of the Missouri Governor's Mansion, 100 Madison St., Jefferson City.
Again, we'll keep an eye on things.

LATE UPDATE: Here's the official word from Westinghouse:
Westinghouse Electric Company and Ameren Missouri have entered into an agreement to respond collaboratively to the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for developing and licensing the Westinghouse Small Modular Reactor (SMR).

Under the terms of the agreement, Ameren Missouri will become part of and co-chair a Westinghouse-led Utility Participation Group (UPG) made up of Missouri utilities, non-Missouri utilities and industrial firms interested in seeking the DOE funds to develop and license the Westinghouse SMR technology, which includes a phased economic development approach associated with the SMR program for the State of Missouri.

Upon securing DOE support, Westinghouse and Ameren Missouri will then work collectively to seek Design Certification of the Westinghouse SMR and a combined construction and operating license with the U.S. NRC for the Westinghouse SMR at Ameren Missouri's Callaway site.
Click here for more from our friends at Ameren Missouri.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Minnesota Senate Passes Resolution Urging Federal Government to Act on Consolidated storage

Earlier today, the Minnesota State Senate passed a resolution urging President Obama and the U.S. Congress to carry out the recommendations of Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, especially with regard to consolidated storage of used nuclear fuel.

The resolution passed by a vote of 63-0.

We like to think of it as a great example of bipartisan cooperation that ought to be emulated nationwide. We'll have more later if events warrant.

How Do You Haiku?

Did you know that yesterday, April 17, was National Haiku Poetry Day? Well, we sure did—and to have a little fun, we decided to launch a contest on our Facebook page to see who could write the best nuclear energy-related haiku. Not sure how the contest would go over with our fans, I was surprised to see that people came out of the woodwork to share some of the most creative haikus I have ever seen, making this the start of more fun contests to come on our page!

To select a winner, we asked our Facebook friends and Twitter followers to ‘like’ their favorite haiku. This morning, we announced that the winning entry came from Southern Co.’s Leah Burch:

Energy we need,
for society to feed,
Nuclear indeed.

She won a “Nuclear. Clean Air Energy” water bottle, which I will be putting in the mail to her later this afternoon.

imageNow, if you recall from your 9th grade English classes, haikus follow a 5-7-5 format, meaning five syllables on the first and third lines, and seven syllables on the middle line. I spent most of the day yesterday counting to five or seven and also checking Merriam Webster’s dictionary on occasion to verify the number of syllables in a word.

Something I learned from one of our Facebook followers Chris Kolar is that the word “nuclear” has three syllables. Some say “nu-clear” or “nuke-U-lar” (remind you of a Bushism?), but Webster’s has it at “nu-cle-ar.” This came in handy for some folks, as a few had to re-submit their entries. But all in all, it was a fun activity for our Facebook friends and we hope to do this kind of thing more often (especially now that we know all of the hidden talent out there!).

Below is a sampling of the haiku entries, but visit our Facebook page (and LIKE us if you haven’t already!) to see the complete list. It’s good stuff!

From Mary Beth Ginder:

Leading the way to,
Energy independence,
Nuclear is key.

From Eric Phillips:

Nuclear fission
Green energy, no carbon
Electricity

From Lori Kasserman:

Nuclear is key,
to our energy future,
Clean, safe, effective.

From Tedd T.J. Mulholland Weitzman:

Safety first provides,
energy to serve our world.
Southern Nuclear.

From Matt Williams:

Nuclear power
Clean, safe and reliable
Big part of the mix.

From John Dobken:

Nuclear is green,
To the eye it is unseen
And certainly clean.

From AREVA’s Facebook page:

Energy hungry
Carbon dinosaur revenge
Fresh breath. Nuclear.

From Lori Smith-Nielsen:

Nuclear power
Renaissance is here to stay
Clean is good for all

From Lynnmarie P. Kinney:

Nuclear power
Mini, but mighty atom
Energize my world.

Thank you to all who participated in our contest!

Image credits: From the “Haiku and Happiness” blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our Question for UCS: Why not charge your car with nuclear-generated electricity?

Yesterday the Union of Concerned Scientists published a new study about how using electric vehicles could help the U.S. cut fuel costs and reduce emissions. When auto companies begin manufacturing electric vehicles in larger numbers, the nation's 104 nuclear reactors (and counting) will be standing by to supply that zero emission electricity that UCS loves so much.

Unfortunately, the press team at UCS apparently forgot how to spell the word nuclear (I know you're shocked) when they put together their report. From the press release:

[T]o fully realize the benefits of EVs will require changing not just the kind of vehicles people drive, but also the power that drives them. Electric drive vehicles can be zero emission today, when powered by renewables like solar and wind. But it will take continued steps to ramp down coal and ramp up renewables so that every region can enjoy clean energy and the best benefits EVs have to offer.
Given that wind and solar only generated about 3% of U.S. electricity in 2011, we've got a long way to go before those two sources produce enough juice to contribute a significant portion of normal U.S. demand, never mind being able to provide electricity for millions of vehicles. Right now, when it comes to zero emissions electricity, nuclear is the only source of baseload power that's available.

The New York Times produced its own map as a companion to their story on the study. I've posted a portion of the map below. Take a good look the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.


According to the key, an electric vehicle driven in Montpelier, Concord, Boston or Hartford all clock in at an impressive 67 mpg. And in New York City, the figure is 74 mpg. Buffalo* clocks in at an amazing 86 mpg. What do these cities have in common? They're all on a regional electric grid that's served extensively by nuclear power plants.

In contrast, take a look at the figure for Hempstead, a town on Long Island just a few miles outside New York City. The figure there is a comparitively unimpressive 39 mpg. Why is that figure so low for a town that's only a short drive from New York City? It's because a good portion of New York City's electricity comes from Indian Point Energy Center, home to a pair of nuclear reactors. Meanwhile, the only nuclear reactor ever built on Long Island, Shoreham, was decommissioned in the 1980s before it could ever supply electricity to the grid.

The bottom line here: UCS neglecting to mention nuclear energy in the press materials for this report was one heck of an oversight. It's almost as if they didn't want anyone to know that nuclear energy was emission free. But don't forget, UCS says they aren't anti-nuclear, right?

*We should note that Buffalo gets lots of power from hydroelectric too.

Some Questions About AP's Pulitzer Nominee

Yesterday the winners of the 2012 Pulitzer Prizes in journalism and the arts were announced. Though it failed to win a Pulitzer, a series by the Associated Press (AP) on safety at American nuclear plants was nominated in the national reporting category. We were a little taken aback by the news considering some of the criticism that was directed at the series by the Columbia Journalism Review earlier this year:

[T]he AP series, while it tackles a critically important public policy issue, suffers from lapses in organization, narrative exposition, and basic material selection, what to leave in and what to leave out. Too much is left to rest on inconclusive he-said-she-said exchanges that end up more confusing than illuminating for readers.
CJR's Irene M. Wielawski also concluded: "Reading it was, for me, a hugely frustrating experience." One wonders whether the Pulitzer committee might have come to the same conclusion.

POSTSCRIPT: Click here for the formal response to the AP series from NEI's media team. Click here for additional material we published on NEI Nuclear Notes, including links to other third party sources that found the AP's work less than convincing. NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, outlined his objections to the skewed portrayal of plant safety in a video report that can be found here.

UPDATE: Craig Nesbit, Vice President of Communications with Exelon Generation passed along this note:
Nice blog post on the AP. You may not be aware that any news piece can be nominated. Pulitzer nominations are submitted by the organization that owns the publication, not by the Pulitzer panel or some other third party. What's meaningful in the Pulitzer competition is being named a finalist (there are three for each category) and, of course, winning. It is, indeed, unfortunate that AP chose to nominate one of the most factually flawed, confusing and thinly evidenced pieces it has ever run, and I say that as a former chairman of Virginia Associated Press Newspapers and current nuclear industry spokesman.
Indeed, Craig is correct in that the piece in question was named a finalist. Thanks for the clarification.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The State of Play

vogtleHarvard professor David Ropeik takes a look at radiation and the concept of risk and find a number of linkages that inculcate a fear of radiation beyond the actual risk from it.

Particularly among baby boomers, our nuclear fears are rooted in existential Cold War worries about nuclear weapons, which transitioned into fear of nuclear fallout from weapons testing , which transitioned into environmental concerns. Beyond that stigmatizing past, nuclear radiation bears many of the psychological characteristics that research has found make any risk scarier.

We're more afraid of risks imposed on us than those we choose, which is why medical radiation is accepted but nuclear power radiation isn't.

A sign of a good article is that it is not afraid to tread into uncomfortable areas.

The more pain and suffering they cause, the more afraid we are of risks, and nuclear radiation is associated with cancer, even though studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have firmly established that this form of radiation is a much weaker carcinogen than most people realize. The high doses and prolonged exposures from those explosions raised the cancer death toll among survivors who were within two miles of the explosions by only about half of 1%, according to the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, which coordinates the now 65-year-long epidemiological study of these survivors.

It is fear of radiation that put advocates all over the American airwaves after the Fukushima accident to talk about an imminent radiological apocalypse. Actual risk can be far outstripped by perceived risk – and  exploited accordingly.

Admittedly, Ropeik goes further than I think the subject can sustain. For example:

On top of those "risk perception factors," nuclear energy is associated with industry and capitalism and institutions of economic and political power that some feel are responsible for an unfair society, one in which a few have most of the control and the rest are stuck lower on an economic and social class hierarchy too rigid to give everyone a fair shot.

Really? Polls have shown that the nearer one lives to a nuclear facility, the more one likes it – because it is an economic engine in the area – and because plant workers in the neighborhood act as de factor advocates, helping to get actual and perceived risk into balance. On several levels, a nuclear energy plant is like a factory – it provides jobs to workers and an economic boon to its county and state.

(It’s not unusual for social studies academics to explore a topic via the perils and pitfalls of capitalism, and such a perspective can be useful. This time, though, Ropeik applies a fairly standard critique of industrial endeavor where it really doesn’t fit – The China Syndrome tried the same approach, blaming the faults of that movie’s fictional nuclear facility on rapacious owners.)

Quibbles aside, the overall point is solid and Ropeik states it exceptionally well. Well worth the read.

---

Interesting if very dated video from the Atoms for Peace era. It’s 1952 and Fred MacMurray is your host. Father James Keller, who wraps things up in the last section, is well spoken but seems to have been brought aboard to provide extra spiritual ballast. Even when it makes you cringe a bit, the history is the history:

Yes, it’s true. We never get tired of showing the Vogtle plant in Georgia -  clearing land or pouring cement or whatever the workers are up to - It’s been a long time coming.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Challenging Helen Caldicott

Yesterday, we made sure to note that Dr. Helen Caldicott was set to appear at the University of South Carolina to talk about the health effects of the incident at Fukushima -- all in an effort to point folks to more reliable sources of information on radiation and public health.

In today's edition of The State, there's a profile of Caldicott based on an interview that was done before last night's event. Curiously, the reporter didn't attend the lecture in person, but rather interviewed a local anti-nuclear activist about the event after the fact. And there I found an interesting morsel of information that was found encouraging.

About 50 people, mostly students, attended the talk, said Clements, a long-time anti-nuclear activist who is now with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability. One student challenged some of Caldicott’s assertions, he said.
Indeed. In fact, we're hearing that there were some rather tense moments last night, details of which will be revealed elsewhere later in the week. Good to see that Caldicott's assertions aren't going unchallenged. Please stand by.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eating Peppo

lesvertsWe’ve written a bit about the upcoming French election and the fact that one of the candidates, Francois Hollande, is less nuclear friendly than incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy.

Hollande has said he would like to knock nuclear energy down from 80 percent to 50 percent of electricity generation, though I ‘m not sure why. One could guess a desire for energy diversity, which would be defensible, but it could be a knee-jerk reaction to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, not so defensible.

Electricite de France SA, at the center of a debate over the future of nuclear power in France, may not fare as badly as feared if presidential hopeful Francois Hollande is elected because the Socialist candidate will discard promises to scale back atomic energy, HSBC Holdings Plc said.

“We expect backtracking,” HSBC analysts wrote today in a report. Hollande’s pledge to lower France’s dependence on nuclear power is “unworkable” and lacks union as well as public support, they said.

Note, EDF isn’t saying this. HSBC’s analysts, however, are so sure, they have raised their recommendation on EDF stock. HBSC admits that nuclear energy would likely have a rougher time of it with any socialist president (such as Hollande), but nothing as dire as multiple plant closings.

In the meantime, Hollande has been a little skittish (according to HSBC) around the Greens (Les Verts? Les Branches? – it used to be the first – it’s now Europe Écologie–Les Verts – see picture).

Hollande wouldn’t push ahead with closing nuclear reactors, HSBC said. He has already watered down an earlier commitment reached last year with the Greens to shut 24 reactors by 2025, declining to specify which plants and how many would be closed, other than the Fessenheim reactor, EDF’s oldest. He has pledged to close that plant within five years if he’s elected.

I suspect this issue just isn’t a big winner and becoming less of one as time passes. We can’t really know what will happen until after Hollande wins the election – he’s ahead, but Sarkozy is a strong competitor with a bully pulpit – still, it’s striking that such strong doubts have percolated to the surface so close to the election.

Voting will be in two rounds. The third party candidates will be cleared away after the April 29 first round and then it’s Hollande versus Sarkozy (probably – never bet against an upset) in the big bout on May 5.

I have no preference – French elections are for French voters, and I wager few of them will be single issue nuclear energy voters. But we can watch with keen interest, oui?

---

If you’ve read comic books for any length of time, you know that radiation has taken a outsized role in creating superheroes, from the Hulk (gamma rays), the Fantastic Four (cosmic rays) and Spider-Man (radioactive spider bit him). But that’s not all (click for larger)?

tta4044goofy3_thumb[1]

This is from an early issue of Strange Tales (about 1964) featuring Ant-Man. The artist is Don Heck. I suspect Jason will use his power to persuade bank tellers to give him lots of money, thus bringing Ant Man onto the scene. But I prefer to believe he started a new culinary fashion for dog food and leave it at that. Thinking big in comics invariably meets with sorrow.

Radiation – it’s all around you all the time. Why, you might be able to convince people to eat Peppo.

What can I say? If you’re going to call yourself Les Verts, your logo had better be heavy with vert. Mission accomplished.

A Reminder Ahead of Helen Caldicott's Apperance Tonight at the University of South Carolina

Over the weekend, I got a note from a friend that Dr. Helen Caldicott is scheduled to give a lecture tonight at the University of South Carolina on the medical implications of Fukushima. A little less than a month ago, Caldicott made a similar appearance in Santa Barbara. At the time, I posted the following information, and given tonight's event, it seemed prudent to reprint it in its entirety.
------------------------------------------------------
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.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Japan and The Summer Heat

ohiGermany is exhibit A for the economic havoc that turning off nuclear facilities can wreak if care and planning aren’t taken. No energy source should be seen as an economic trap or be allowed to become one – it’s one reason the term “energy diversity” is bandied about – and countries should be able to respond to price spikes in, say, the cost of natural gas, uranium or coal without the cost of electricity likewise going haywire. That’s another reason for energy diversity. But if a country makes too precipitous a change, without adequate planning, well, you’ve got Germany.
Japan, of course, is a different case. If it were to allow a similar outcome, it would be especially distressing because Japan has so few other options.

With some of its reactors running, Japan’s gross domestic product in 2012 would grow 1.9 percent, according to the first scenario. Industrial production would rise 5 percent from the previous year, and the country would have a trade surplus — its standard for three decades, before a deficit in 2011.
Without its reactors running, though, Japan’s GDP would grow just 0.1 percent. The country would be 12 percent short on electricity during the hottest months, forcing a reduction in factory production and further encouraging corporations to relocate overseas. Just as important, the country would log another trade deficit — projected at $57 billion. Much of this will be directly attributable to fossil fuel imports, which will account for about $21.1 trillion, or 30 percent of Japan’s total imports, according to the report.
It’s a tough situation, much more so for resource-poor Japan than for Germany. The story says that Japan’s new energy policy, due this summer, is likely to retain nuclear energy in some measure – let’s hope enough of it to stave off some of the more dire predictions.
In the meantime:
Japan's economy minister said Monday two nuclear reactors tentatively met government safety standards even though completing improvements will take several years, paving the way for final approval for their startup soon.
And that’s because:
Kansai Electric said Monday that its service area, including Osaka and Kyoto, will face up to 20 percent of power shortage during the summer if the reactors stayed offline.
All but one of Japan’s 54 reactors are off-line for inspection and it’s fair to guess they won’t remain that way as the summer heat arrives.
There can be no second-guessing the national reaction caused by the accident at Fukushima Daiichi. This is something that has to be left to Japan’s people and government. Culture and history will play their parts, too, in how the Japanese will proceed. But there are practical issues, too, and those, right now, are pressing down hard.
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Speaking of Germany:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has underlined Iran's right to develop its nuclear energy program as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
On the one hand, chalk it up to the strange ways of international diplomacy; on the other hand, huh? This comes from an Iranian news source, so there is plenty of reason to doubt that this is the whole story.
I looked at Bild, which the story cited, and of course Westerwelle hoped Iran would resolve any issues about weapons building.
Wir setzen uns für eine atomwaffenfreie Zone im gesamten Nahen und Mittleren Osten ein.
Iran hat das Recht auf eine zivile Nutzung der Atomenergie. Es hat nicht das Recht auf atomare Bewaffnung.
Approximately (my translation - buyer beware):
We are committed to a nuclear-free zone in the entire Middle East.
Iran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. It does not have the right to a nuclear weapon.
A little more:
Ein Iran mit Atomwaffen hätte schwerwiegende Folgen: Die ohnehin gefährdete, prekäre Stabilität der Region wäre endgültig dahin. Es würde ein kaum kontrollierbares Wettrüsten einsetzen. Auch die globale Sicherheitsarchitektur käme ins Wanken.
Or:
A nuclear Iran would have serious consequences: the already vulnerable, precarious stability of the region would be permanently gone. It would cause an uncontrollable arms race. The global security architecture would falter.
So there you go. What do you think Westerwelle is “underlining?”
The Ohi nuclear facility. This has the two reactors which may be allowed to operate again.

99th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Welcome to the 99th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers, a get together that we at NEI Nuclear Notes have been honored to host from time to time since its inception. This week, we've got selections from seven of the best blogs the online nuclear energy community has to offer. If you would like to host a future edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang of Next Big Future to get on the rotation. And please, don't ask to host the 100th edition of the carnival, as that honor has already been parceled out to a well-deserving blogger.

Nuclear Power Talk: What's Good for the Goose. Gail Marcus takes a hard look at Mark Cooper's claims about the economics of nuclear energy.

The Nuclear Green Revolution: The Clinch River Reactor Failure, Lessons Unlearned. Did AEC make a mistake by pursuing the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor over other designs? Read and find out.

Yes, Vermont Yankee: Green Jobs and Taxes. In this guest post, Guy Page of the Vermont Energy Partnership talks about how the plant provides green jobs and how the state's plan to levy punitive taxes on the plant threatens them. In a second post, Meredith Angwin explains why Vermont Yankee Isn't Fukushima.

ANS Nuclear Cafe: NAS Study of Cancer Risks Near Nuclear Facilities. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released phase one of a study titled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities. The release officially opened a 60-day public comment period in which stakeholders can provide their inputs to help guide the next phases of the study. Kudankulam Hot Start Within Reach. The provincial government of Tamil Nadu, India’s southern-most state, has dropped its opposition to hot start of twin 1,000-MW VVER reactors at Kudankulam and withdrawn support from local anti-nuclear protests. The long-running controversy over the start of NPCIL’s Russian-built twin 1,000-MW VVER reactors at Kudankulam *may* be coming to an end.

Idaho Samizdat: NRC Sets Conditions for San Onofre Restart. Our man Dan Yurman takes a look at the situation at San Onofre concerning the current situation with the plant's two steam generators. For more on this issue from NEI Nuclear Notes, click here. It would also be worth your time to view a video message from Southern California Edison. Later on Friday, Dan took another look at the SONGS situation in the wake of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko's visit to the plant on Friday afternoon.

Atomic Power Review: Catching Up on Developments. Leslie Corrice's new book is out; also, APR addresses the new competitive situation in the SMR market with some small / portable reactor background (and the usual obscure illustrations) as well as links to descriptions of the present products for comparison.

Next Big Future: Brian Wang was awfully busy this week ... GE Continues Pushing Prism Reactor ... iRobot Warrior, Packbot To Be Used in Nuclear Plants in the U.S. ... South Korea Makes Big Overseas Nuclear Energy Push ... Transatomic Power's Waste-Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Arnie Gundersen Authors Another Shoddy Report

Nuclear consultants Fairewinds Associates and anti-nuclear activists Friends of the Earth are at it again with a new “report” that seeks to create concern, with little to no substance, over steam generator tube leaks at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The report, “Steam Generator Failures at San Onofre,” claims that without a thorough root cause analysis of why the plant’s recently installed steam generator tubes have become worn, that:

“…radioactive releases might be significantly larger than those that occurred after the January 2012 tube leak. Such an accident would cause implementation of the California emergency evacuation plan and closing of the San Clemente beach and Interstate I-5, potentially for an extended period of time.”

Fairewinds’ opinion misleads the general public to believe that the plant already released a large amount of radiation, which in fact, it has not. In a February 17 press release, Southern California Edison (SCE) clarified:

The radioactivity released to the atmosphere during the steam generator tube leak was barely measurable – 4E-5 millirems or 0.00004 millirems -- which is 200 times less than you would receive by having a smoke detector in your home for a year.

The steam generator tube wear leads to very minor leakage within the steam generator, which is something that can easily be detected by sophisticated monitors (as proven in this case) before any significant release of radiation would occur.

imageIn addition, the statement implies that Southern California Edison (SCE), the plant’s owner, is putting Californians at risk, which is an even more egregious stretch of the truth. Not only does the nuclear industry make safety its top priority, but the people who work at the plant also live in close proximity and have a personal stake in the plant’s safe operation.

Given the fact that some news articles have already referenced the misleading Fairewinds report and other activist organizations are using it to push their anti-nuclear campaigns, I decided to get further analysis on this report with NEI’s Alex Marion, an electrical engineer who sits on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Board on Nuclear Codes & Standards. In a nutshell, here’s what he had to say:

The issue at SONGS demonstrates the stringent safety practices in the U.S. nuclear energy industry. SONGS detected there was an issue with the steam generator tubes while implementing its rigorous inspection program, which has been accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This involves examining the steam generator tubes and if degradation is found, then a more comprehensive examination is conducted that may include pressure testing of the tubes or sending samples of tubing to a metallurgical laboratory for independent evaluations. Once a root cause for the problem is discovered, the plant can fix the problem and restart. However, the plant will not continue operations until this analysis has been completed.

Why is a “root cause analysis” important?

Marion:

Basically, what you have is a large heat exchanger that uses heat from the primary reactor cooling water that flows within the thousands of tubes to transfer heat to a separate flow of water that surrounds the tubes. The water that flows outside of the tubes is converted to steam, which is used to drive turbine generators and make electricity. Because of vibrations that result from the water flow during plant operations, the tubes may rub against supporting structures resulting in “wear,” or thinning of the tube wall. This is a known form of wear that occasionally occurs, however, it was not expected to have occurred on as many tubes as had been found at San Onofre. A root cause analysis will determine what caused this unanticipated wear and how it can be minimized.

The Gundersen report suggests that the tube degradation is an anomaly and that the plant should continue to be shut down indefinitely. Is there a technical basis for this?

Marion:

We agree that the extent of wear in recently installed steam generator tubes is unusual. This is why we believe that you cannot effectively address the issue until a root cause analysis is completed, which is exactly what SCE is doing now, in close coordination with Mitsubishi and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The report also calls into question SCE’s “like-for-like replacement” of its steam generators recently, suggesting that had the replacements been duplicates, “the problems that San Onofre is currently experiencing would have been dramatically reduced or entirely eliminated.” What does he mean by this?

Marion:

Utilities are allowed to replace equipment without prior NRC review and approval if certain criteria are satisfied. The criteria ensures that the replacement equipment still fulfills all safety requirements and does not deviate from the original plant design in a way that could compromise safe operation. Key features of the replacement steam generators at SONGS were modeled or tested to confirm their performance capability and structural integrity to demonstrate that they satisfied the design requirements.

In terms of “like-for-like” replacement, SONGS focused on the principle of form, fit and function. The new steam generator included a new, improved tube alloy versus the one which was previously used. They were able to demonstrate that with improved materials and enhanced design features, the steam generators could be installed and operate within the plant design limits with minimal modifications to the plant systems, instrumentation and controls.

Besides the fact that this report includes misleading claims for the general public, what is your overall conclusion about it?

Marion:

The report calls for Southern California Edison to keep SONGS shutdown until a thorough and systematic root cause analysis has been completed. That is precisely what is occurring now. The plant will remain shut down until the root cause is established and addressed and the NRC deems it can safely restart.

Once again, Fairewinds and its counterparts at Friends of the Earth have created a report that does little other than advance their anti-nuclear agenda. Their tactics, which unfortunately are picked up in news media and further disseminated by flights of television advertisements, do a disservice to the public by mischaracterizing the strong safety record of the U.S. nuclear industry.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has documented actions that must be taken before SCE is permitted to restart the San Onofre reactors. The company must demonstrate to the NRC that 1) the cause of the tube wear in both steam generators is well understood and 2) it will appropriately address the issue in order to ensure safe operation. Elmo Collins, the head of the NRC’s West region office, said:

Until we are satisfied that has been done, the plant will not be permitted to restart.

San Onofre is a safe nuclear plant and is a vital contributor to California’s electricity supply. Learn more about how Southern California Edison is working diligently to identify and fix the problem with its steam generator tubes in a new video with the company’s president Ron Litzinger.