Thursday, May 31, 2012

No Public Health Concern From Radiation Levels in Blue Fin Tuna

Over the Holiday weekend here in the U.S., the news wires were humming with reports that Blue Fin tuna caught off the coast of California had been found to contain radioactive cesium from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Before anyone thinks twice about eating tuna, there are a couple of facts that you should keep in mind.

As I wrote previously at our SafetyFirst microsite:
  • The report by the National Academy of Sciences did not conclude that there was any food safety or public health concern related to radiation from tuna of any kind. The trace amount of radiation found in the tuna is less than radiation that is found naturally in the Pacific Ocean from Potassium 40.
  • The species of tuna mentioned in the report, Blue Fin tuna, is not used in the canned tuna sold in your local supermarket. In fact, Blue Fin is only served as sushi, and most Americans don't eat much of it at all. According to the National Fisheries Institute, per capita, Americans only eat a few paper clips worth of Blue Fin every year.
  • According to Dr. Robert Emery of the University of Texas Health Science Center, a person would have to eat 2.5 to 4 tons of Blue Fin in a year to ingest enough cesium to cause a health problem.
"The finding should be reassuring to the public. As anticipated, the tuna contained only trace levels of radioactivity that originated from Japan," said Timothy J. Jorgensen, associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, told ABC News. These levels amounted to only a small fraction of the naturally occurring radioactivity in the tuna, and were much too small to have any impact on public health ... Thus, there is no human health threat posed by consuming migratory tuna caught off the west coast of the United States."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Princely Endorsement

Who said it?

“It’s a great pleasure to be back here again and a real pleasure to open something that’s going to have serious and important consequences in the years to come.

“Something is going to have to be done to supply the huge increase in the amount of energy we need. There has to be some part of the energy sector delivering nuclear. It’s not just about the UK. Nuclear will be used globally.”

Okay, we know he’s British and he gets invited to open things – in this case the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Give up?

The Duke of York said that it would make a significant difference to Britain in the future if it didn’t build up its own civil nuclear manufacturing capabilities.

“We must deliver at least some part of the supply chain. The ability to harness the knowledge, skills and innovation of the UK in a facility like this is hugely important,” he said.

Prince Andrew is currently fourth in line to the throne of England and is probably better known to Americans as the former husband of Sarah Ferguson. He has also been keenly interested in promoting British trade, which likely contributes to his interest in the workforce and supply chains.

So good for Prince Andrew. When I read something like this:

Anti-nuclear power campaigners dressed as “Radioactive Royals and nuclear guards” protested in front of Buckingham Palace on Thursday, 5 February as nuclear industry bigwigs were wined and dined by the Duke of York, Prince Andrew.

What I think is: Wine and dine away, Prince. He doesn’t have much political clout to invite corruption (plus he’s the one funding the wining and dining, not the industry) and he’s keenly interested in the nuclear industry and people will come around to eat with him. Wouldn’t work here, and to be honest, it limits the effectiveness of his pulpit, but you know, we lack princes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nuclear Energy, The Wheat and The Green

wheatThe British Green Party tried something interesting this weekend:

About 200 anti-GM activists have protested outside an agricultural research centre where a genetically modified wheat crop is being grown.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, had been concerned that members of campaigning group Take The Flour Back would attempt to destroy GM wheat crops.

GM in this case means genetically-modified. The wheat in Harpenden has been modified with a gene from the peppermint plant in the hope that the wheat can better resist aphids. The test crop is intended to test that idea. The Guardian provides some of the questions the scientists want to answer:

Does a crop that produces a steady waft of aphid alarm pheromone repel the pests? Or are the insects indifferent if the chemical is not released in bursts, as happens in nature? Does the pheromone attract aphid predators to the crops, as suspected? Can the wheat be grown with less pesticide? What are the knock-on effects on other organisms?

The protestors have their own concerns. Tom Fenton, from Take The Flour Back, said: :

“In reality we don't really know what the effects of GM are because there's not been adequate long-term testing.

"Safety tests that have taken place have indicated things that are concerning but that haven't been followed up.

"Also, we hear a lot about how GM is going to feed the world but the majority in the developing world don't want this technology as they can see it's not going to help to feed them."

That last is just a bald assertion. If the developing world doesn’t want them, it would be because the UK Greens are preventing a market to develop. And stopping a test that will help Fenton know “the effects of GM” seems rather short sighted.

Why this attention in a nuclear blog? Well, the Greens seem –awfully – anti-science, don’t they? – luddites, even. Genetically modified foods have been accepted in North and South America, among other places, and it hasn’t raised quite such a stink (The Guardian article mentions some clumsy statements from GM specialist Monsanto that didn’t help the case for GM at all.)

There’s always the possibility that this has an anti-commercial element – the cruel insensitivities of companies and all that – and perhaps even a Day of the Triffids-like fear that the wheat will sprout legs and go on a killing spree.

This 2004 Nature article explores the issue intelligently.

Still, for me, the Green Party attitude toward GM wheat explains this better:

The Green Party is fundamentally opposed to nuclear energy, which we consider to be expensive and dangerous. The technology is not carbon neutral, and being reliant on uranium it is not renewable. We consider its use, moreover, to be elitist and undemocratic. There is so far no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. To a degree unequalled by even the worst of other dangerous industries, the costs and dangers of nuclear energy and its waste will be passed on to future generations long after any benefits have been exhausted.

This is from the Green’s energy policy. Most of it is anti-nuclear blah-blah, but the part that’s striking is “elitist and undemocratic.” This has always seemed an inexplicable argument, false on its face. Kings and commoners both benefit from electricity – it’s as democratic and non-elite as can be – unless you mean that nuclear energy is an unholy creature of science exploited by business – the undemocratic elites. Whereas you can yourself put solar panels on your roof or a windmill in your yard.

So sinister, so silly – whether about wheat or nuclear energy.

It’s wheat.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Photos From NEA 2012

As promised, we've got additional content from NEA 2012 that I wanted to share with you before we started the Holiday weekend. NEI's Anna Gomez was our go to person behind the lens for the entire show, and we're in the midst of compiling photos and writing cutlines for our NEA 2012 Flickr Album even as I type this entry.

Please feel free to visit to take a look at the album, filled with images of conference participants, especially the many award winners who were able to join us this week in Charlotte. One of my favorite moments was getting to see Dr. Aris Candris, formerly of Westinghouse, receive the Henry DeWolf Smyth Nuclear Statesman Award. Here's a shot of Dr. Candris as he addresses the conference just moments after receiving the award.

More soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Looking Back at NEA 2012

After a whirlwind three days in Charlotte at NEA 2012, I'm back in Washington. And while I'm done unpacking my suitcase at home, we're not done unpacking all of the content we created during the conference.

One of the highlights of the conference had to be a roundtable discussion on industry safety and Fukushima that was moderated by NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo. Joining Tony were Chip Pardee of Exelon, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Bill Borchardt of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Luckily, we captured the entire discussion on video, and will be sharing it with you as soon as we're able to get the clip processed and uploaded to our YouTube Channel. In addition, we'll also be combing the questions that were submitted for the session that our panelists weren't able to answer due to time constraints.

Among my favorite moments from the conference had to be getting to see the pride and joy on the faces of our TIP Award winners. That was clearly the case when I got a chance to speak with the combined team from Duke Energy and AREVA that came home with the B. Ralph Sylvia Award, what's know in the industry as the "best of the best."

Click here to watch the video I shot with my iPhone just minutes after Preston Gillespie from Duke strode to the stage to claim the award. (Apologies ahead of time, as in my excitement I botched the name of the award.) For the total download on what won the award for the Duke/AREVA team, be sure to watch the video I embedded below.



We were also honored to be joined by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina's 1st District. He spoke on Tuesday morning and delivered the following address:


I promise more tomorrow, but for now, I'll refer you back to the NEA 2012 landing page that was set up on NEI.org for further details. Look for more video tomorrow.

Penn. Polls High on Nuclear Energy

286 verticalcapsfinalmodifiedWe don’t see a lot of polls on nuclear energy taken in individual states. Support nationally is usually above 50 and sometimes 60 percent in most big polls taken about it (this Gallup poll from March has it at 57 percent). But the states?

Well, The Pennsylvania Energy Alliance has tried a poll and found that nearly 90 percent “believe the use of nuclear power is an important part of meeting the United States' electricity needs.” That’s as close to a consensus as you can get.

"It's quite apparent that people recognize the benefits of nuclear power as a clean, safe and reliable source of energy," said PA Energy Alliance Executive Director Melissa Grimm. "The state needs to have a reliable source of electricity, especially now with summer approaching and our energy demands increasing." 

I’m not enough of a poll wonk to know how to determine the value of a poll taken by an interested party – but I am enough of one to know what to look for. The polls done by Bisconti and Associates for NEI, for example, are done to a high standard and transparent enough (which, in part, guarantees that high standard) that dyed-in-the-wool poll watchers can review the methodology and questions and llok for loaded and leading questions or sequences of questions.

I took a look over at the PEA (nice acronym there – I think it prefers PAEA). This is how it describes itself:

The Alliance promotes the use of nuclear energy as a clean, safe, reliable and affordable way to produce electricity.

The goal of the PA Energy Alliance is to increase public awareness of the environmental and economic benefits of nuclear energy and provide a forum through which members can express their support for the continued safe operation of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear energy plants.

So it is an interested party. The questions are available – you can download the report here. It’s a very straightforward poll:

How important is the use of nuclear power in terms of meeting our country’s electricity needs – very important, somewhat important or not at all important?

That solicits an opinion.

Nuclear power helps reduce the effects of global warming because it emits no emissions or greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

You agree or disagree with this one. This tests knowledge, I guess, so the alliance can determine what messages need more work. 59 percent knew that nuclear energy does not produce carbon emissions.

But - I probably would have rethought that “emit no emissions” phrase – because if there’s no emissions there’s no emitting – and because nuclear facilities do emit (steam, for example) – just not greenhouse gases.

The point is, you can do this with the poll – decide whether the questions work and are fair. So see what you think.

The results of the poll make sense to me, even with Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania’s background. That accident frightened people, of course, but it harmed no one and released no radiation. Many people now in the state were not alive at the time and many others have left the state one way or another.

So there’s that. There’s also the prevalence of nuclear energy’s contribution to the state – there are nine reactors at five sites arrayed pretty evenly across the bottom two-thirds of the state. That means a lot of Pennsylvanians work at nuclear plants or are aware of their presence. Bisconti’s polls have shown on a national level that neighbors of plants like them a lot – they provide good careers and contribute to their local communities materially and financially. That bolster, in my mind, the results of this poll.

So – as with any poll, view it with as many factors in mind as possible. But this one seems good – and it’d be great to see other states try the same thing.

The PAEA logo.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Your Chance to Ask Questions of Industry Executives at NEA 2012

This morning at around 10:00 a.m. U.S. EDT, NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, Tony Pietrangelo, will chair a panel session at the 2012 Nuclear Energy Assembly entitled, "Ensuring Operational Safety While Implementing Lessons Learned from Fukushima." Panelists for the session include:
  • Charles G. Pardee, Chief Operating Officer, Exelon Generation Company, LLC 
  • R. William Borchardt, Executive Director for Operations, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
  • David Lochbaum, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists 
As part of our effort to better leverage social media, we'll be taking questions for panel members from online audiences. You can submit your question either by sending an email to questions@nei.org or simply tweeting the question with the conference hashtag, #NEA2012. Here's hoping our readers can participate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nuclear Industry’s Emergency Preparedness Programs Fully and Adequately Test Response Capabilities

TVAConductsWattsBarEmergencyDrill_2The Associated Press published a misleading article in newspapers across the country last week in which it largely calls into question some of the nuclear energy industry’s emergency preparedness programs. The article suggests that new changes to federal regulations were passed behind closed doors and fail to adequately test evacuation procedures. This mischaracterization in reporting, not a far cry from its faulty four-part series that was critiqued by the Columbia Journalism Review last year, could not be further from the truth as it blatantly disregards the latest scientific evidence on how accident scenarios could potentially unfold at nuclear energy facilities and the rigorous drill cycles conducted annually at the nation’s nuclear plants.

At issue here are changes that were approved last August by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to enhance the nuclear industry’s emergency preparedness regulations. Sue Perkins-Grew, NEI’s director of emergency preparedness, provides us with a quick overview of the changes:

Nuclear plant licensees are required to enhance their drill and exercise programs by incorporating a wide range of scenario elements, including hostile action. Scenarios used in the biennial evaluated exercises must be sufficiently varied to prevent participants from “anticipating” a response. To accommodate the added scenario elements in biennial exercises, the cycle was expanded to eight years from six years.

The additional emergency drill scenarios are incorporated into the existing drill cycle. The eight-year cycle amounts to something that looks like this:

  • Four biennial exercises that include the following scenario variations (new scenarios denoted in blue):
    • Hostile action directed at the plant site involving the integration of offsite resources with onsite response
    • An initial classification of or rapid escalation to a “Site Area Emergency” or “General Emergency
    • No radiological release or an unplanned minimal radiological release that requires the site to declare a Site Area Emergency, but does not require the declaration of a General Emergency
    • Off-hours and an unannounced exercise
    • Demonstration of post-plume or ingestion pathway response
    • A radiological release and declaration of a General Emergency that results in protective actions for the general public
  • Additional drills and table top exercises that demonstrate a licensee’s ability to perform all key safety functions within an emergency response organization.

The added regulations complement the already comprehensive set of periodic drills that are conducted at the nation’s nuclear energy facilities. Some highlights of these drill programs are listed below.

  • Approximately six to eight times per year, operators are evaluated on their ability to respond to a variety of accident events presented in a plant simulator.
  • Operators are also tested by NRC inspectors on a biennial basis.
  • Each nuclear plant site conducts routing training and drills to help their Emergency Response Organization members develop and maintain proficiency with assigned functions.
  • Many training sessions and drills that include participation by state or local officials.
  • One biennial exercise integrated with offsite public safety organizations that is evaluated by NRC and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evaluators.

Given the already rigorous drill cycle and the additional scenario elements that have been incorporated as part of the NRC’s revised emergency preparedness rule, the nuclear energy industry believes that the new requirements further enhance the industry’s emergency response capabilities.

Perkins-Grew commented on the completeness of these reviews in a letter to the editor published over the weekend:

New requirements have been added to make these important integrated exercises less predictable. The new scenarios include: terrorist attacks; fires or explosions damaging large areas of a power plant; events that require activation of emergency responders but do not yield a significant radiological release, and events that escalate within 30 minutes to the highest emergency levels.

The new requirements build on existing emergency preparedness and response capabilities to add another layer of safety that is informed by the latest science.

Bottom line: Every U.S. nuclear energy facility has a comprehensive plan to respond to a wide range of scenarios.

Not only do the new NRC regulations require an increased frequency of drills on various challenging, high-risk scenarios, but they also layer in new scientific evidence that highly suggests that severe accidents at nuclear energy facilities will unfold more slowly than previously anticipated, resulting in a decreased potential for widespread dispersal of radioactive materials. The State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses (SOARCA) report, released in February, offers the following preliminary findings:

• Existing resources and procedures can stop an accident, slow it down or reduce its impact before it can affect the public;
• Even if accidents proceed uncontrolled, they take much longer to happen and release much less radioactive material than earlier analyses suggested; and
• The analyzed accidents would cause essentially zero immediate deaths and only a very, very small increase in the risk of long-term cancer deaths.

Given this new scientific evidence on the likely progression of a nuclear plant accident, the new NRC requirements call on emergency planners to focus on the two-mile radius where the public would most likely be impacted, an issue that The AP disagrees with.

Taking issue with the news report, the NRC published a “For the Record” last week that defended its approach:

Extensive research shows health risks from an accident would be greatest within two miles of a plant, so guidance for the new rule focuses on that close-in population. Getting the “two-mile” people relocated first is more effective than potentially clogging evacuation routes with people further away, and can ensure resources are available for protective actions within 10 miles of the plant. Other research, announced earlier this year, provides additional insight into how successful EP [emergency preparedness] procedures, combined with the slow-developing nature of a reactor accident, can keep the public safe.

This measured approach to evacuations ensures that responders can protect the health and safety of the public most at risk first in the unlikely event of an accident, while still monitoring for radiation and informing the public within a 10-mile emergency planning zone around the nuclear energy facility. In the event of a release of radiation, state and local governments will extend radiation monitoring and sampling out to a 50-mile radius to ensure that radioactive materials do not enter the food or drinking water supply.

Aside from the years of research and planning among the industry and federal regulators in testing, developing and implementing the new federal emergency preparedness requirements, The AP also wrongly asserts that the public was not involved in this thorough process. To this point, the NRC reinforced its commitment to transparency by explaining the many opportunities for which the public could comment:

The NRC discussed the proposed changes at public conferences in 2007 and 2008, and the agency issued draft rule language in early 2008. Additional public meetings on the draft language in 2008 were followed by a proposed rule published in the Federal Register for public comment in May 2009. The NRC took public input on the proposed rule for five months, holding a dozen public meetings and gathering several hundred comments. Staff from the NRC and FEMA briefed the Commission on Dec. 8, 2009, and May 3, 2011, both of which involved a panel of external stakeholders, regarding the proposed rule.

NEI also wanted to ensure that its key audiences were given the facts when it came to the nuclear energy industry’s exhaustive emergency preparedness procedures, which is why we videotaped the interview between Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s chief nuclear officer, and an AP TV producer.

The U.S. nuclear energy industry is trained, tested and held accountable to its emergency response procedures by one of the world’s most stringent nuclear regulators. Without a doubt, our nation’s nuclear energy facilities are prepared for the unthinkable, despite The AP’s example of selective and incomplete reporting.

For more information, see NEI’s fact sheet on emergency preparedness at nuclear energy facilities.

Photo credits: Times Free Press. Great article and video on the newspaper’s website on a recent emergency drill conducted at TVA’s Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

The British Energy Plan: Nuclear and Renewables

eddavey_0The U.K. government Tuesday published its long-awaited draft energy bill, which contains mechanisms and incentives designed to encourage around GBP110 billion investment in low-carbon energy such as offshore wind farms and new nuclear power stations.

That sounds good. The Nasdaq story shows that the government really wants to sell it:

"If we don't secure investment in our energy infrastructure, we could see the lights going out, consumers hit by spiraling energy prices and dangerous climate change," said U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey.

The story doesn’t really make a case for nuclear – except that it is absolutely necessary if the country wants to achieve its emission reduction goals:

The government needs to ramp up low-carbon power from offshore wind farms, nuclear power stations and gas and coal plants fitted with carbon capture technology to meet legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 from 1990 levels.

A recent report by our Energy Information Administration indicated that coal with ccs likely won’t be ready to contribute to carbon emission reduction by 2035 much less 2020, so this seems extremely optimistic. But we’ve seen with Japan that shutting down nuclear plants can make a dramatic difference rather quickly, so if Britain gets some plants built and windmills set up in the next eight years, it could at least make good progress toward its goal. Here’s how the report itself puts it:

The three families of low carbon electricity generation - Renewables, Fossil Fuels abated by Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and new Nuclear - could all play a role in our future energy mix, even though they each present their own challenges and have their own uncertainties. Yet our existing electricity market makes it more difficult for such low carbon technologies to develop and deploy, because they all have much higher upfront capital costs than unabated fossil fuel competitors like gas.

One has to grant that nuclear and coal plants are big projects, but wind mostly needs a land buy (or lease).

Around a fifth of existing capacity is expected to close over the next decade and more intermittent (wind) and less flexible (nuclear) generation will be built to replace it.

The draft doesn’t explain that odd description of nuclear – I think it is referring to the fact that nuclear reactors generally don’t ramp down once ramped up, making it a poor source to spell wind’s frequent failure to blow. In other words, there’s no benefit in pairing the two. “Less flexible” doesn’t seem to capture that, but there it is.

Much of the report’s nuclear content regards spinning off the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) as an independent regulator similar to our Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Japan is considering something similar.).

As a statutory body, the ONR will retain the best of current practice whilst creating a modern independent regulator based on the better regulation principles of transparency, accountability, proportionality and consistency. The ONR will build on its current strengths as a world-class regulator and will be better placed to respond quickly and flexibly to current and future regulatory challenges, while retaining its focus on the protection of people and society from the hazards of nuclear generation.

And there is some discussion of an incentives program that sounds a lot like cap-and-trade.

The bottom line is: the U.K. sees nuclear and renewable energy sources as the way forward (and all right, coal with ccs too). Davey notes that electricity rates will go up in the coming years regardless, but that this mix will keep that increase lower than it would otherwise be. That’s some comfort against the specter of “consumers hit by spiraling energy prices and dangerous climate change.” We’ll see how this legislation does.

Edward Davey. Hopefully, he’s not referring to carbon emission levels or the cost of electricity in this picture. Maybe he’s answer how much nuclear power will be put in use over the next few years.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Welcome to Charlotte for NEA 2012


Greetings from Charlotte, North Carolina, where I've decamped to attend the 2012 Nuclear Energy Assembly at The Westin Charlotte Hotel. Though the conference won't officially begin until tomorrow, participants have already started to arrive in town ahead of tomorrow's opening session.

Working with my colleague, John Keeley, I'll be doing my level best to give you some insight into what's happening here via NEI Nuclear Notes as well as our Twitter feeds (@N_E_I and @NEI_Media) and our Facebook page. We've also set up a dedicated page on our website, NEI.org. When you follow us on Twitter, please be on the lookout for our hashtag, #NEA2012.

That'll be especially important on Wednesday morning when we'll be covering a panel discussion chaired by NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo on lessons learned from Fukushima. If you'd like to ask a question of the panelists, send us an email at questions@nei.org or simply tweet them with the #NEA2012 hashtag.

So who's here? I've cut and pasted parts of our official media advisory into the space below to give you a better idea. So please stick around, we'll have plenty of great content to share over the next 72 hours.

Nuclear Energy Industry Leaders Will Hold Major Conference in Charlotte, N.C., May 21-23

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Hundreds of nuclear energy industry executives will convene May 21-23 in Charlotte, N.C., for business meetings and policy discussions associated with the Nuclear Energy Institute's major annual conference, the Nuclear Energy Assembly.

The conference takes place with five new reactors under construction in the Southeast, license extension applications for 15 operating reactors under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and 65 reactors being built worldwide. It also comes with Congress taking early steps to advance used nuclear fuel management recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, and with the industry implementing a "flexible and diverse" strategy to enhance the readiness of U.S. facilities to safely respond to extreme events based on key lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

NEA will be held at The Westin Charlotte, 601 S. College St. Several leading U.S. government officials will speak during the conference:

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)
NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko 
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue
Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner Scott O'Malia 

Other non-industry speakers include:

Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte
• Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
Sir Ken Robinson
• Philip Jones, vice president, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
• Dr. Susan Winsor, president, Aiken Technical College in South Carolina
Mark Mills, founder, Digital Power Group 
William Borchardt, NRC executive director for operations
• David Lochbaum, director, Union of Concerned Scientists

Industry leaders who will participate include:

William Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Progress Energy and chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute
Marvin Fertel, president and CEO, Nuclear Energy Institute
• Charles Pardee, chief operating officer, Exelon Generation Co.
Dennis Koehl, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Excel Energy
• Caroline Reda, president and CEO, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
Stephen Kuczynski, chairman, president and CEO, Southern Nuclear Operating Co.
Stephen Byrne, COO and president, generation and transmission, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.
• Clarence Ray Jr., CEO, Shaw Power Group
• Bob Willard, president and CEO, Institute of Nuclear Power Operations
• Steven Lau, first deputy general manager, Daya Bay Nuclear Power in China
Anthony Pietrangelo, senior vice president and CNO, Nuclear Energy Institute

Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of American electricity supplies, and 70 percent of the electricity generated by low-carbon sources. U.S. nuclear facilities produced nearly 800 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2011, with an industry-average production cost of about two cents per kilowatt-hour.

For news coverage visit our dedicated NEA Web page. During the Fukushima Daiichi panel discussion Wednesday morning, Pietrangelo and his fellow panelists will take questions submitted via email and Twitter. Interested parties can submit their questions to questions@nei.org, or simply publish their questions on Twitter with the conference's official hashtag, #NEA2012.

Friday, May 18, 2012

NEI Gears Up for Nuclear Energy Assembly 2012

NEI will be hosting its annual nuclear industry conference and supplier expo, Nuclear Energy Assembly (NEA), May 21-23 in Charlotte, N.C.
This year the conference focuses on “Setting the Agenda” and boasts an interesting lineup of speakers who will be discussing topics from workforce development to new plants to industry actions post-Fukushima. The coveted Top Industry Practice (TIP) awards, which recognize innovation to improve safety, efficiency, and plant performance, will also be awarded during this time.
As a sneak preview, I just sat down for two minutes with NEI’s Lisa Steward, senior director of member relations and corporate services, and asked her what we can expect to see next week. Here’s what she had to say:

In addition to the conference agenda, more than 30 utilities, suppliers and other industry organizations will be exhibiting at NEA, with booths including information on the latest work being performed in the nuclear energy industry and showcasing some of the award-winning TIP projects.
For those of you who cannot attend this year’s NEA, we will be posting all of the latest news, videos, photos and more on NEI’s website. You can also join the conversation on Twitter by using hashtag #NEA2012 or on NEI’s Facebook page. (bumped)

Green Party to Go Nuclear?

fin-nukeAs you may know, most European countries have a Green Party as part of the political mix. In most countries, they may pick up a few seats, but generally the goal is to keep their views front and center. Nuclear energy usually fares poorly. Here’s the British Green Party (from last year):

In elections campaigns this spring, for the Welsh Assembly and local elections in England, the Greens are the only political party opposed to nuclear power.

I find that – exceptionally good news, actually.

And here’s the Finnish Green League:

In addition, the party's policy on nuclear energy will be in the spotlight. According to Holopainen, a large proportion of voters who back the Greens, nowadays also back the use of nuclear power.

See? Fairly consistent – wait, what? I couldn’t find much more about this – the story is about the formation of the party platform and the speaker is Hanna Holopainen, a delegate. We’ll have to wait until after this weekend to see if the Green League goes nuclear.

Color me curious.

Where the energy is – the yellow labels show the two Finnish sites. The one labeled as TVO is usually called Olkiluoto.

Finland has four nuclear reactors, producing about 30 percent of its electricity, the most of any source. Coal handles most of the rest, with hydro bringing up the rear (and causing electricity shortages in dry years.) The country is currently building a fifth reactor. More here.

The Ex-Im Bank and Nuclear Energy

exim-logoThe Senate approved reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank this week. This made the first page of the Washington Post, but largely because it showed a level of comity not always seen in the Senate. As a subject, the Ex-Im bank is a little dry for many.

So what does the bank do?

The bank, which takes no money from taxpayers, last year provided export-financing support for about 2 percent of U.S. exports, about $32 billion in loans, loan guarantees and credit financing. Some $11 billion of that supported Boeing sales of large commercial aircrafts.

Countering critics who say it is “Boeing’s bank,” the bank says that 87 percent of its transactions last year directly benefited small businesses and that its financing supported 290,000 jobs, including 85,000 in the aerospace industry.

I’ll let you read about the Boeing-Delta dustup at the link – not really our brief – but the bottom line is that bank can enhance, well, the bottom line by easing the financial aspects of exporting goods and services. One can argue about the bank’s efficacy, but consider: all countries that maintain a global presence have the equivalent of an export-import bank.

So the news that it won reauthorization – and by a lot, 78-20 – in the face of some opposition, won exceptionally broad praise and some sighs of relief.

National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons said that “the Senate stood up for jobs” by passing the legislation:

“Manufacturers  have been at the forefront of this debate, meeting with lawmakers and sharing how important the Bank is to growing exports, especially for small and medium-sized manufacturers.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue on the importance of the bank:

“When other countries are providing their own exporters with an estimated $1 trillion in export finance—often on terms more generous than Ex-Im can provide—failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament and cost tens of thousands of American jobs.”

More locally, NEI added its support. “The Senate’s reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank will yield positive policy and economic impacts for many years to come,” said Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president for policy development, planning and supplier programs.

Myers explained the importance of the bank to the industry.

Absolutely critical for U.S.-based suppliers of commercial reactors and components,” Myers said, “the Ex-Im Bank enhances the position of U.S. suppliers competing for international business by offsetting the advantage provided by other countries’ export credit agencies.”

The global nuclear energy business could provide as much as $740 billion in potential business over the next ten years, Myers said, and that by capturing a share of this growing market, the United States can extend its influence over nonproliferation policy and nuclear plant safety.”

I suspect many ignored this particular story, but it got outsized attention – as it should have – from industry and its representatives – and from many individual industries – such as nuclear – and its representatives.

And all for a good outcome.

Setting the Record Straight on the Spent Fuel Pool at Fukushima Daiichi Unit #4

At the end of April, former Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez sounded the alarm about the safety of the spent fuel pool at Fukushima Daiichi Unit #4 (click here for his piece from the Huffington Post). Here at NEI, we've long been familiar with Alvarez's position on the disposition of  used nuclear fuel, and it's safe to say that not only do we disagree with his assessment, we also believe that it is needlessly alarmist.

We're not the only ones who have said that, something that's become abundantly clear in recent weeks as independent bloggers have decided to take on Alvarez on their own initiative. The first to step to the plate was Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat:

One of his (Alvarez's) favorite rhetorical strategies is to total up the mass of material at a nuclear site and then make the assumption that all of it will blow up through some mysterious and unspecified mechanism spewing its contents far and wide. This is a great stuff for a B- movie on the SciFi channel, like an imaginative idea for a script of Mega-Shark meets Atomic Octopus, but it doesn't match reality.
Yurman was quickly followed by Rod Adams over at Atomic Insights. Rod even went so far as to record his own video rebuttal:
But the crescendo came earlier this week on Wednesday when a group of bloggers, headed by Will Davis at Atomic Power Review, debunked Alvarez's claims very thoroughly over at the ANS Nuclear Cafe:
These articles are highly deceptive. The occurrence of a cataclysmic release of radioactive material as surmised is hinged upon the occurrence of so many statistically impossible events that it is certain to be a practical impossibility. Since the assertions continue to gain a wider audience, however, it is necessary to examine them and make a realistic assessment of their likelihood.
Please take the time to read the rest right now. Once you finish that, be sure to stop by The Neutron Economy for a great followup piece.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ironies in Germany and Japan – and Reopening Ohi

JAPAN-DISASTER-ACCIDENT-NUCLEARA little irony – and a touch of tunnel vision:

With audacious hypocrisy, American pro-nuclear pundits have been indulging in the familiar sport of losers – the relentless bashing of the more successful.

This should pique our interest. Bashing the more successful is a regular sport over here.

With nuclear energy rapidly losing favor around the globe, the industry’s boosters have taken to blaming countries that have rejected it for worsening climate change. Top of the target list? Germany, which has vowed to generate 80-100% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050; and Japan, which chose this month not to restart the last of its 54 nuclear reactors.

Of course, Germany still has some functioning nuclear plants. Japan does not currently.

The accusation that these countries are worsening climate change is pretty rich coming from US commentators.  By any measure – whether calculating total CO2 emissions or per capita – the US is one of the worst offenders on the planet.

Oh, that’s it. The tunnel vision part comes in here, as the assumption is that it’s all about electricity generation. It’s not – cars and animals do an awful lot of emitting and we have a lot of both in the United States. It’s not always about the electricity.

And the irony? Germany is currently replacing lost nuclear energy with – nuclear energy. France made about $400 million from Germany in the last nine months by selling it electricity – generated largely by nuclear energy.

And Japan? Well, it is importing a lot of fossil fuels now and hoping it can keep the lights on this summer. But really, while pundits may have dinged them on carbon emissions – the real problem is the economic impact.

Shutting down nuclear power permanently would reduce economic output by 2.5 percent per year -- equivalent of over 14 trillion yen -- over the next decade.

Factory output would probably fall 2.4 percent on month-on-month in July 2012 and 1.2 percent in August.

I’m cherry picking here – there are mitigating factors – but there are no mitigating factors to this one:

Power generation costs would rise by over 3 trillion yen ($38 billion) per year if Japan replaced nuclear energy with thermal power generation. Higher electricity costs would lift production costs by 7.6 trillion yen per year. The ministry did not provide estimates of how such an increase in costs would affect economic output.

Yoshito Sengoku, the president of the ruling party in Japan, called ending all nuclear power production the equivalent of “mass suicide.”

That’s not a pundit talking.

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Oh, and:

The local assembly in the Japanese town of Ohi that hosts Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi nuclear plant agreed on Monday it was necessary to restart two offline reactors, its chairman said.

Power shortages are a concern as all 50 of Japan's nuclear power plants have been shut down following routine maintenance checks in the wake of Fukushima, with the country's last operating reactor going offline on May 4th.

Well, there’s a mitigating factor.

Ohi – reopening.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Gets Done with $47 Million – DOE’s Educational Grants

Here comes tomorrow:

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced, The Department of Energy will be giving more than $47 million in scholarships, fellowships, research grants and university research reactor upgrades to train and educate the next generation of leaders in America's nuclear industry.

There are 143 of these awards. What’s interesting is that there are potentially 143 stories for reporters to track down. What will the money be used for? This story comes from Washington state, so:

Washington State University in Pullman received a little under $2 million in funds.  Ken Nash,  a radioactive chemistry professor says he'll use the money for a project to help them find a better way to deal with nuclear waste that comes from a power plant.

Illinois:

At Northwestern University, researchers will receive $1.6 million for two research projects on advanced nuclear fuel and fuel cycle technologies. Researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of chalcogenide-based materials and design novel metal sulfides to effectively capture and store radioisotopes released during reprocessing of used nuclear fuel as well as provide tools that will help predict the reliability and safety of concrete structures in dry cask storage systems.

Utah:

At the Utah State University, researchers will receive $690,000 to conduct experiments that generate data on natural convection through a fuel assembly. The data will be used to validate the computational models being developed for nuclear safety and design.

Michigan:

Part of the money for the Ann Arbor school will go to a research project aimed at developing new and advanced reactor designs and technologies.

Well, okay, some are more specific than others. But most put the lie to the idea that nuclear energy is anywhere near the end of its innovative life. As long as budding scientists can figure out new things to do with chalcogenide-based materials, nuclear energy technology will continue to advance.

600 Acres and a Solar Project

imagesA posting on the Nevada Wilderness Project blog about the Silver State North Solar Project:

In the case of Silver State North, we dubbed this 600-acre project 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas “smart” because the developer was willing to gather environmental input early on to avoid complications during the formal review process. From where we sat at the review table, that was a good sign.

Well, it is a good sign – the desert tortoise was a particular concern. But I focused more on that 600 acres – that’s a lot of acres! Surely the project is producing an impressive amount of electricity.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was in Nevada today to flip the switch on Nevada’ original “fast-tracked,” utility-scale solar power project – a 50 megawatt photovoltaic plant in the Ivanpah Valley.

You have to start somewhere. 50 megawatts is the rated capacity, so actual production is less than half that amount – but solar power doesn’t require turbines or water, so arrays can be situated in very remote areas, as here. Pluses and minuses - The minuses cannot turn into pluses without projects like this.

Still -

That’s a lot of acres.

You can read a fact sheet on this project here.

Panels from the Silver State North Solar Project.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What Happens During a Refueling Outage?

Looking down inside Cook Nuclear Plant’s reactor as fuel assemblies are being moved.You may have noticed over the past few weeks that a number of nuclear plants are shut down for refueling outages or are resuming operations after just returning from one. This type of routine outage usually occurs in the spring or fall when electricity demand is low so that nuclear reactors can replace about one-third of the spent fuel rods with new fuel and conduct other routine maintenance and repairs at the plant.

To get a better sense of how refueling works at a nuclear energy facility, I spoke with Marcus Nichol, NEI’s senior project manager for used fuel storage and transportation, and asked him to explain the basics.

Why does a nuclear plant need to replace one-third of its fuel?

Nichol:

The main purpose of a refueling outage is to replace older fuel that is depleted—meaning it can no longer efficiently produce energy from nuclear fission reactions—with new fuel. This “used fuel” has typically been used in the reactor for four-and-a-half to six years before it is permanently removed. Although the used fuel still contains useable material within it, meaning it could potentially be reused as fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors, it would need to be reprocessed in a different type of facility before this could occur. The United States currently does not reprocess used nuclear fuel, but some countries like France do this already.

How often does a reactor need to refuel?

Nichol:

Employees inspect the new fuel assembly that will be used during refueling at Comanche Peak nuclear plant.Nuclear plants are usually on an 18-month or 24-month cycle, meaning every 18 or 24 months they must refuel, depending on the particular plant. In the early days in the U.S. nuclear energy industry, most plants were on 12-month cycles, but over the years with better designs and higher enriched fuel, these cycle times have been extended. Also, with reactor design improvements, some nuclear energy facilities are able to harness more energy from the fuel, which leads to more efficiency in the technology. In 2011, the average time it took a facility to conduct a refueling outage was 43 days.

What is the process for refueling?

Nichol:

As you might expect, the process for refueling is different for pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs). In a PWR, typically all of the fuel is removed from the core and placed in a used fuel pool, making it easier to conduct maintenance on the reactor core itself. This process occurs when the fuel assembly is turned on its side and then moved through an underwater canal to the fuel pool, which is usually located in a different building from the reactor. Once all of the fuel is in the fuel pool, the plant workers will remove one-third of the fuel and replace it with the new fuel. They will also conduct what’s called a “core shuffle,” which means the new fuel is intermixed with older fuel—that will continue to power the reactor—in order to ensure efficient use of the fuel.

Panoramic shot of a reactor core reload from above Comanche Peak nuclear plant. In a BWR, the reactor operators typically do not remove all of the fuel—only the used fuel. This saves time, especially since BWRs have more fuel assemblies than PWRs. During the refueling process, the used fuel is pulled out of the reactor from the top and is placed in the spent fuel pool, which in most BWRs is located next to the reactor. The operators then conduct the core shuffle and insert the new fuel.

Throughout the entire refueling process at a nuclear energy facility, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s resident inspectors on site monitor all activities to ensure that they are safely being performed as part of their normal oversight functions.

Where does the new fuel come from?

Nichol:

The new fuel is ordered from the fuel vendor before the reactor goes into its outage. Once it arrives at the facility, it is stored safely on site in new fuel vaults or in pools.

What maintenance is conducted on the nuclear plant during the refueling outage?

Nichol:

Picture of employees performing maintenance during a 2008 refueling outage at Palo Verde nuclear station.During a refueling outage, plant workers have greater access to many areas of the plant that are sometimes difficult to access during normal operations, such as areas close to the reactor core. This lends itself to being a great opportunity to conduct routine inspections and maintenance and perform any necessary repairs.

The type of maintenance that is conducted varies by plant, but an example includes inspecting or testing pumps and valves to ensure that they are working properly. The utility will place many of these routine maintenance activities on a schedule so that certain equipment and instrumentation is evaluated each refueling outage, whereas others may only need to be inspected every other outage or less frequently depending on their functions.

If a nuclear energy facility has two reactors on site, will they perform refueling on both reactors during an outage?

Nichol:

Although a utility could potentially perform refueling on two reactors at a time, it is generally not done for two reasons. First, a refueling outage requires a large amount of resources. Typically, about 2,000 contract workers are brought on site to support the outage, allowing the utility to work continuously 24/7 until the outage is complete.

Second, nuclear energy facilities provide baseload electricity—meaning they pump out electricity around-the-clock—and when they are not operating, it is difficult and costly for the utility to purchase electricity from other sources, sometimes in other states. This is another reason why utilities conduct refueling in the spring or fall when electricity demand is generally low, so that it minimizes the impact to the electricity grid.

When the contract workers come to the site to support the refueling outage, how are they trained?

Nichol:

In general, the contract workers are highly trained and go from plant site to plant site to assist in refueling outages. Once they come to a nuclear energy facility, they are also trained on any site-specific requirements and must adhere to all of the same processes and procedures as the plant’s full-time workers. They are closely monitored to ensure that they are safe and adhere to all NRC regulations.

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Thanks to Marc, I think the mystery on how nuclear plants refuel is now solved! Hopefully this Q&A helps others to understand this process a bit more, but feel free to submit a question if you have any other follow-up questions. 

For more information on how nuclear fuel is produced, used and stored, see NEI’s interactive graphic.

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Photo Captions: Image #1 looks down inside Cook Nuclear Plant’s reactor as fuel assemblies are being moved. Photo from Cook Nuclear Plant’s Facebook page.

Image #2 is a picture of employees inspecting the new fuel assembly that will be used during refueling at Comanche Peak nuclear plant.

Image #3 is a panoramic shot of a reactor core reload from above Comanche Peak nuclear plant.

Image #4 is a picture of employees performing maintenance during a 2008 refueling outage at Palo Verde nuclear station.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Nuclear Energy Goes Dark in Japan

For now, anyway, Japan is doing without nuclear energy:

Over the weekend, Japan's last remaining nuclear reactor shut down for regular maintenance. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, reactors have not been allowed back on. Japan is now the first major economy to see the modern era without nuclear power.

Tomari Nuclear Power Plant's reactor 3 in Hokkaido shut down Saturday evening in a much-watched move by government, industry and environmentalists, who are waged in a public battle over the future of Japan's energy policy.

This is especially tough as Japan enters one of its sweltering summers, but really, that’s the least of it:

The party's deputy policy chief, Yoshito Sengoku, bluntly said without nuclear energy the world's third-largest economy would suffer. "We must think ahead to the impact on Japan's economy and people's lives, if all nuclear reactors are stopped. Japan could, in some sense, be committing mass suicide," Sengoku said.

The party in question here is the ruling Democratic Party (similar to our Democrats – the main conservative party is – yes – The Liberal Democrats). Japan has 50 operable nuclear plants – the four at Fukushima, of course, excluded – but that’s a lot of workers in a twilight zone.

Right now, most of the facilities are in refueling or maintenance mode. But a lot of the talk is what will happen if Japan doesn’t proceed with nuclear energy.

Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, joined the plea in an April press conference. "We cannot possibly agree to do the kind of energy saving yet again this year, or every year from now on," he said, referring to the country's efforts to turn off air conditioners and shift operation of production lines to weekends. "The government must bring the nuclear power stations back into operation."

And:

Some also warn of the long-term fallout as the rising cost of electricity, coupled with a strong yen, hits production and could prompt companies to shift operations overseas.

"Depending on the weather, power supply could constrain output during the summer," the Bank of Japan said.

"But we must be mindful not just of such short-term effects but the chance (the power shortages) could hurt Japan's medium- and long-term growth expectations," the central bank said in a twice-yearly report on the economy issued on April 27.

We shouldn’t be hypocrites about this. If Japan chooses a different direction for energy, that’s its right. Government and industry and business seem to understand the possible consequences and if they can live with them – or a find a way around them - so be it.

With the loss of nuclear energy, the Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it did in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress in reducing emissions. In fiscal 2010, Japan's actual emissions were close to 1990 levels. It also raises doubts about whether it will be able to meet a pledge made in Copenhagen in 2009 to slash emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

But that doesn’t mean you can reasonably think it a good outcome. Japan is working with communities to turn the facilities on – Japanese society is exceptionally consensus based – and that may prove successful for at least some of the plants before summer kicks in.

So it’s not all grumbles and hrumphs. But it’s mostly so.

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I paid some attention to the French presidential election because it looked for a time that it would be consequential for nuclear energy. But that seemed to fade.

We should at least finish the story:

Francois Hollande became France's first socialist president in 17 years on Sunday, ousting conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in what one observer called an "earth-shaking" election.

With 95 per cent of the ballots counted, official results showed Hollande with 51.6 per cent of the vote compared with Sarkozy's 48.4 per cent. More than 80 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the run-off election.

It is a consequential election. Hollande is, I believe, only the second socialist president since the founding of the fifth republic in 1959 (though Francois Mitterand, the first socialist president, did hold on for 15 years). But you can explore what that might mean on your own – for our purposes, Hollande is not anti-nuclear energy and has no plans to close any plant aside from an older one due to retire.

So, um, anyone else having an election soon?

Friday, May 04, 2012

Simona De Silvestro Donates Signed Wing of Her Car to Children's Burn Foundation

Simona De Silvestro, fan and a wing
NEI's favorite race car driver, Simona De Silvestro, has just debuted a brand new Web page. We urge you to stop by and check out simonadesilvestro.com. While you're there, you'll notice that Simona is urging her fans to support the Children's Burn Foundation. Recently, Simona donated an autographed wing from her car that the charity will auction at a future event -- a wing that features the NEI logo (see above).

Choisis le Nucleaire

Cute and only somewhat cringe worthy, this anthemic pro-nuclear song by a French group called ACDC (les Artistes Chanteurs de la Droite Conservatrice – Singers of the Conservative Right) may be an intervention into the Presidential election (the YouTube page says no) that will wrap up this weekend after the second round of voting or may just be a gesture at this juncture in time.

Or who knows? It could be an anti-nuclear parody. The lyrics are certainly weird enough in spots.

I started transcribing and translating the lyrics when I saw the YouTube page already has this. Lucky you – and me.

Song lyrics, like poems and jokes are murder to get from one language to another because they contain a lot of local knowledge and metaphors; it makes translation tough.

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Sometimes, the effort to make a rhyme in the original foils interpretation:

Comme un oeuf dans un micro-ondes
Nous allons changer le monde...

or:

Like an egg in a microwave
We will change the world

Song lyrics don’t have to make literal sense, but yikes!

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Other parts are just a bit clumsy to translate:

Au pays des éoliennes, on a besoin de vent
Au pays des barrages, on a besoin de l'eau
Au pays du pétrole, on a besoin d'argent
Et moi dans ma centrale, j'ai tout ce qu'il me faut

or:

In the land of wind farms, they need wind
In the land of dams, they need water
In the land of oil, they need money
But in my power plant, I've got everything I need

That’s literally right. I’d probably go with something closer to “When you have wind farms, you need wind.” And the last line, “And me, I have everything I need.”

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Then there’s this:

If you want to save the Earth
Choose Nuclear Power
By sea and sky,
Spread it into the atmosphere

The original for that fourth line, which struck me as a bit sinister, is:

Répands-le dans l'atmosphère

So it’s literally right. But it might really mean something like “Spread the news.” – a lot less sinister.

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And of course pop songs are pop songs:

Little child, little child
Tonight you will sleep
My power plant is taking care of you

Which no mother ever sang to any child.

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Then, you’d have to make it all work as English lyrics. And figure out what to with “like an egg in a microwave.”

Give a listen, read the lyrics, see what you think.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Patrick Moore’s Economic Justice

hanglidingPatrick Moore, ex-Greenpeace, sees in nuclear energy an interesting argument for what he terms “environmental justice,” which is true enough, and economic justice, used in the headline, works as well:

African-American and Hispanic advocacy groups have historically been focused on civil rights, but they're "morphing into economic development," Moore said, and looking at energy policy for the first time.
Unlike many other big industrial facilities, he noted, polls show nuclear power plants have increasing popular support the closer people live to them. Nuclear plants are "wealth creating machines," Moore said, with no pollution, better roads and schools financed by the plants' property taxes, and large payrolls.
Moore is right about this. Nuclear energy facilities are also often union shops, which offers a good path to the middle class and out of economic uncertainty. A city of industry can be a world of opportunity and nuclear energy plants have the added benefit of not turning communities into pollution laden sump holes. A cooling tower is not a smoke stack.
Moore told AOL Energy that he is reaching out to African-American and Hispanic business and labor groups, telling them that nuclear plants, in contrast to projects like coal plants, are long-term community assets.
I’m sure the coal industry might say a few words about that, but Moore has a point.
[N]uclear not only needs thousands of skilled workers when plants are built new but generations of skilled workers to keep the units running for 60 or more years.
Moore addresses other issues, too, including natural gas and small reactors – and his comments on these are interesting – but his comments on the economic value of nuclear plants seems particularly germane at this moment in time. Visit the Clean and Safe (CASE) Energy Coalition for more on his current activities.
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And Greenpeace? Constructive as always:
"A Greenpeace activist arrived with a motorized paraglider around 7:40 am (0540 GMT). He flew over the plant, threw a smoke bomb and landed inside, where he was detained," police near the Bugey plant in southeastern France told AFP.
See blog post below for more information on the paragliding story.


Hangliding over Le Bugey. The idea was to show a security breach, but it may well be the French decided not to kill a nitwit (or a regular joe, er, pierre who went drastically off course). In any event, he couldn’t have hurt the containment structure even if he had been explosives laden and blew up against it – something the plant workers also would have known. But zut alors! The workers would sure have a nasty job hosing off the structure afterward.

Wanted: New Stunt Men for Greenpeace

imageThe French arm of Greenpeace is probably searching for a few new recruits after two of its activists were arrested today by French authorities for paragliding onto the grounds of the Bugey nuclear energy facility and dropping a smoke bomb. The stunt is nothing more than a political ploy by the organization to expose what it calls, “gaps,” in nuclear plant security ahead of the French presidential election. However, plant owner EDF assures the public that no such security gaps exist and that the plant remained safe and secure despite today’s criminal activity:

Safety at the installation was never called into question. Safety measures put in place at the end of 2011 allowed the detection and immediate arrest of the intruder.

But, some people still wrongly believe that the criminal activity proves just how easily someone could intrude a nuclear plant and wreak havoc. To their false notions, I’d like to point out a few facts about nuclear plant security.

First, simply landing at a nuclear energy facility via a paraglider is about the same as watching a feather land on a bucket of water. Nuclear energy facilities are highly fortified structures with many built-in, redundant safety measures, making it nearly impossible to penetrate the reactor and cause a radiation release.

The reactor is protected by roughly 4 feet of steel-reinforced concrete with a thick steel liner and the reactor vessel is made of steel about 6 inches thick. The steel-reinforced concrete containment structures are designed to withstand the impact of natural disasters as well as airborne objects with a substantial force.

Research by the Electric Power Research Institute after 9/11 confirmed the latter part of these scenarios in a 2002 study on the impact of an unexpected jetliner attack. The study results found that the structures that house reactor fuel can adequately guard against a release of radiation in the event of a terrorist strike by a large, fully fueled Boeing 767-400. The state-of-the-art computer modeling techniques used in the study determined that the areas of the plant most vulnerable to radiation release—including used fuel storage pools or the nuclear reactor—could withstand the impact forces despite concrete crushing and bent steel on the containment structures.

NEI has a video that shows the different layers of protection in a reactor containment structure and also the impact to a jetliner if it were to strike one of these elaborate structures (around the 1:30-mark).

image

As you can see in the video, a jetliner that strikes a nuclear energy facility at roughly 350 miles per hour (about the same speed as the aircraft that struck the Pentagon on September 11) does more harm to the plane than the structure. One can only imagine what dire consequences would come to a paraglider if he or she were to strike a nuclear energy facility at the same force!

Second, if the paraglider actually was a terrorist who had attempted to fly into a reactor and cause damage, he would have had a lot more to worry about—including the French military.

Threats of aerial attack are serious scenarios that are handled with great care by the military and air traffic control. These types of attacks are not something that government authorities, or nuclear energy facilities, take lightly and given such a scenario, there are provisions in place to “neutralize” the attacker. In fact, after the Greenpeace stunt, EDF’s head of the nuclear division Dominique Miniere confirmed this point.

The case of aircraft approaching nuclear plants is handled with great care and the French air force intervenes to divert airplanes violating--generally by mistake--the no-fly zone around nuclear plants, he said. "Sometimes airplanes get lost and they get the scare of their life," Miniere said.

This type of high-level, interagency security is mirrored in the United States, making U.S. nuclear energy facilities some of the best-defended facilities among the nation’s critical infrastructure. The utilities that operate the plant monitor the airspace around the nuclear energy facility and the government and the Transportation Security Administration protect the area.

After talking to NEI’s Security Director Dave Kline this morning about the Greenpeace stunt, he reassured me that U.S. nuclear plants are very secure facilities:

I am very confident that the U.S. plants would identify and neutralize any threats related to paragliders.

Put that way, I think Kline fully captures the ridiculousness of stunts by Greenpeace activists to show the “threat of aerial attack.” It only begs the question…what’s next? Hot air balloooning over a facility?

In the French case, officials were able to make the determination that the paraglider and his accomplice were not trying to cause harm, but rather, to make a political statement. This is why they arrested the activists immediately after the demonstration. In the future, I’d hate to hear about the copycat stuntman who meets a different fate and learns firsthand what the word “neutralize” means…

Photo: AFP/Greenpeace