Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: The Year After the Year

2013
2012 may fade away and 2013 arrive with undo chipperness, but It’s all a continuum. Last year’s narratives will continue into the new year, a few cameo players from 2012 will gain additional prominence in 2013 – I’m thinking small reactors here – and, to paraphrase the tagline of an old horror comic, always expect the unexpected.

So let’s not fill up a top ten list – that might be the expected thing to do on December 31; instead, let’s see if we can find some recent quotes that summarize (some of) the themes of the last year even if that is not exactly their purpose.
Take this, for example, from the Wall Street Journal:

But phasing out nuclear power, which helps meet nearly 75% of France's electricity needs and about 27% across the EU, could deprive the continent of a key source of energy and jobs, making it more dependent on fossil-fuel imports.
Higher fuel bills could also hurt European economies, economists warned. And closing nuclear reactors—which emit little to no greenhouse gas—could jeopardize the EU's efforts to address concerns about global warming.
We’ve written about this a lot in 2012, because the subject raises a lot of prickly questions. Countries should have a right to leave nuclear energy if they want to – no energy source is sacrosanct – but it has had and will continue to have consequences, most of them unintended. In Germany, the change is so precipitous that the transition promises to be incredibly expensive at best and truly terrible for the people at worst. And it’s an energy policy that solves no particular problem.

The Journal story is worth reading in full, though its focus on countries closing nuclear plants tells only part of the story, as we’ll see.
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There’s a flip side to leaving nuclear energy, as indicated in this story in Commodities Today, and it also provided a theme for 2012 (I guess uranium is the commodity, but the story does not directly refer to it):
The number of nuclear new build projects, despite Fukushima, is still higher now than across the last two decades – although Asia is leading in numbers, the US has approved its first new build since 1970. France, Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden have all reaffirmed their commitment to nuclear power. In Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic are also planning to push ahead with new units, following increased safety assessments.
I just saw a story about the Bulgarians holding a referendum to decide whether to build a second nuclear facility – we’ll see how that turns out. The United States has four new reactors (in Georgia and South Carolina) under construction and a fifth (in Alabama Tennessee) being revived and completed.

So nuclear energy is moving forward despite some handwringing – in the United States, in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, perhaps even Bulgaria.

Naturally, there is a reason to celebrate this continuing development. 2012 represents the year following the year of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s been a period for learning lessons from the accident and moving forward.

The industry unveiled FLEX early in 2012, its response to the accident that ensures that no nuclear plant will ever be an island in a sea of adversity. FLEX directs the facilities to stage new emergency equipment at each plant and it sets up regional centers to hold larger safety items that can be used by any facility.

Still, what about Fukushima Daiichi? Let’s be clear about the accident and its impact. The earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident killed almost 16,000 people. The accident killed no one (there were some industrial fatalities). About 340,000 people were put out of their homes, some by the disaster and some by the accident.

The lack of fatalities and the successful planning to keep people clear of radiation doesn’t excuse the accident at all – and cannot be used as exculpatory of it - but the truth of the matter is that the earthquake and tsunami created human devastation while the accident, unwelcome though it was, did not. That point sometimes gets overlooked or elided.

But the impact of the accident has been, as it should be, enormous. There’s still more to learn from the accident, which has already been and continues to be studied by every conceivable Japanese, American and international organization with an interest. There are still lessons to be learned, but a lot has been learned and even implemented – with IAEA help around the world and NRC and industry directives here.

This post-Fukushima work has been transparent enough that people can follow what’s going on and understand the implications for themselves and their families. In this country (and others, such as Great Britain), the result has been very positive. Nuclear energy is seen as safe by a majority of respondents and most people favor further expansion. Gallup puts public approval at about 57 percent, exactly the same as before the accident.

More about 2012 on Wednesday. Maybe we’ll know the outcome of that election in Bulgaria by then, too.

Correx: Thanks to our commenter for pointing out I meant Tennessee for the fifth reactor. You say Watts Bar, I say Bellefonte. Let's call the whole thing off (kidding - let's build both Watts Bar and Bellefonte. )

Friday, December 21, 2012

Inescapable Dilemmas: A Few Friday Nuclear Readings

From the end of a column in the Guardian by Neil Hirst of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change:

All in all, there is no simple answer to this question. If you believe strongly enough that we should phase out nuclear then with sufficiently strong political commitment around the world, this could be done consistently with tackling climate change. However, as a practical matter, we are far from being on course to limit carbon emissions to levels consistent with a 2C target. Ruling out one of the major low-carbon technology options currently available is bound to add to the difficulty and the risk of what is already looking like a very tough challenge. Balancing the problems of nuclear power against its contribution to climate mitigation (and other energy policy objectives) is an inescapable dilemma.

Hirst knows as well as we do that finding “sufficiently strong political commitment around the world” to shutter nuclear energy is as likely as finding sufficiently strong political commitment to do anything, notably about climate change. After all, that’s the “inescapable dilemma” he sees by shutting down the facilities.

Hirst has contributed an unusually sophisticated and nuanced argument, especially for a newspaper piece – worth a full read.

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From John P. Banks and Kevin Massy at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, a similar view, but a different angle:

While the developed world gets cold feet on nuclear power, its prospects in developing countries are different. The challenges of meeting electricity demand, reducing reliance on imported energy, and promoting economic growth while lowering carbon dioxide emissions, leave many emerging nations with no alternative but to consider nuclear energy as a key component of their economic development and energy security strategies.

I’m not as convinced the developed world is quite so chilly, but let’s give that to the authors. Or that the alternatives are so slender that nuclear energy is the only way to proceed. The reason for this doubt is that nuclear energy answers to more issues than just climate change – energy security and independence, the prospect of a very large amount of electricity for one admittedly large investment, etc. Still, the authors investigate the issue with due seriousness:

In our view, lack of stakeholder engagement is a major contributing factor. Governments that may not have a tradition of proactively explaining policy decisions and responding to questions and concerns in a timely and transparent manner are now confronting the reality that engaging in a dialog with all interested parties is essential, especially for an endeavor with such long-term and unique safety, environmental, cost, proliferation and strategic characteristics.

This is the gist of their piece and they provide examples of governments pursuing nuclear energy without buy in from their peoples, leading to protests borne of fear. Perhaps the idea is a bit oversold, but it seems a good topic with which to engage.

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From Dr. Dale Dewar, executive director of the group Physicians for Global Survival, in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix:

An industry born in the secrecy of the Manhattan Project, building the nuclear bomb in the 1940s, it has continued to operate largely behind closed doors. Power plant construction has been highly government subsidized, consistently subjected to lengthy technical delays and always massively overbudget.

Anti-nuclear advocates often try the history-of-secrecy approach to imagine the nuclear industry a kind of atomic star chamber, doling out energy justice as it sees fits and irradiating its enemies out of inborn vicious spite. It’s a pretty old fashioned attack – at least Dr. Dewar could cast herself as the van Helsing dragging the shrieking nucleus of evil out of the shadows before staking it.

I wondered about the doctor, whose full column is equally littered with, shall we call it, antispeak, that is, a collection of dire if bald and dubious assertions. Here’s a little about her, after winning a raffle held by  International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War:

Dr. Dewar lives on a cash-strapped struggling Land Trust in Saskatchewan. She and her husband are delighted with the raffle win and plan to put it to good use in their continued exploration of alternative energy and lifestyles. Part of the ticket was purchased by the PGS, administrative officer, Andrea Levy, who earmarked her win to visit and provide supportive care to a dear friend on the other side of the continent. There will be many people and projects who will benefit!

Which is great! We also learn that she is a family doctor, great, too, especially if she is providing service at that Land Trust. I wonder if there is a certain groupthink in these interlinking groups, but it does help explain the “industry born in secrecy” view if you’re determined to connect the Manhattan Project to domestic nuclear energy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Nuclear Energy and The Darkest Nightmare

Chernobyl-Diaries-posterI like the way the Sundance Film Festival tries to square a bunch of circles in selling its showings (beginning January 18) of Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise, his pro-nuclear energy documentary:

The atomic bomb, the specter of a global nuclear holocaust, and disasters like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the darkest nightmares of the modern world. But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong? What if people knew that there are reactors that are self-sustaining and fully controllable and ones that require no waste disposal? What if nuclear power is the only energy source that has the ability to stop climate change?

Need we note that domestic nuclear energy, the subject of the film, has nothing whatever to with the atomic bomb or “the specter of a global nuclear holocaust?” I hope not. If you allow that, “Darkest nightmares of the modern world” might seem a bit hyperbolic, yes?

But fine: if it inspires people to wander in and see the film, fine. They may get some of their preconceptions about nuclear energy, as represented by the blurb, shaken up, and that would be a good thing.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pro-Nuclear Party Wins Big in Japan

They have elections:

More than 20 months after a catastrophic nuclear disaster that triggered massive protests against atomic energy and fueled public opinion polls backing the phase-out of reactors, a pro-nuclear party won Japan’s parliamentary election.

The result left anti-nuclear proponents in shock Monday, struggling to understand how the Liberal Democratic Party not only won, but won in a landslide.

Japan has a parliamentary system. This election was for the lower chamber, like ours called the House of Representatives, and elected by direct vote. The upper chamber, the House of Councilors, has a rather complicated system for election (part proportional based on party, part direct based on candidate). The House of Representatives will select a new Prime Minister later this month.

In any event, you might wonder if this means that the accident at Fukushima Daiichi has receded as an issue. Probably not – the Japanese national paper the Asahi Shimbun, polled the attitudes of voters and came back with interesting if not very heartening results:

The Asahi Shimbun approached voters nationwide who had cast their ballots in the Dec. 16 Lower House election to find out if they supported "scrapping nuclear power immediately, "gradually phasing out nuclear power altogether" or "not pursuing zero nuclear power."

Fourteen percent chose scrapping nuclear power immediately, and 64 percent picked gradually phasing out nuclear power altogether.

Fifteen percent of the respondents said they do not want to pursue zero nuclear power.

An explicitly one-issue, anti-nuclear energy caucus, called the Tomorrow Party, fizzled almost completely, winning nine out of 480 seats. To me, that suggests that Japanese voters are not one-issue partisans – the economy no doubt weighs as heavily there as here, for example. Beyond that, despite a multi-party system, the Japanese tend to favor the centrist Liberal Democratic Party (the big winner this time and most of the time), with opposition coalitions sometimes taking the reins of power.

So this is what one might call a status quo election. The Prime Minister selection will be worth attending, as Japan burns through PMs alarmingly fast, whichever party is in charge. That can lead to a vacuum where policy should be.

“I really wonder if the people who voted for the Liberal Democrats really know what their policies are,” said Kawakami, who along with other skeptics fears the Liberal Democrats will boost hawkish nationalism, raise taxes and favor big business over the little guy.

That sounds like one of our Presidential elections, with different issues. The opposition party always thinks the winning party will destroy the nation and that the foolish electorate didn’t understand the foul villainy it unleashed with its votes.

Most of all, they fear the Liberal Democrats will restart the nation’s 48 working nuclear reactors that are still offline, except for two that are back up, since the disaster.

Well, that’s how it goes. Elections have consequences and all that. Not to be too airy: I cannot guess what Japan will do with its nuclear plants and it would be presumptuous to try. However much it would be good for Japan to bring them back online – and it would be - it’s something that has to be left to them. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nuclear Energy - Justified

A letter from Martha Gordon of Monmouth Oregon to the Statesman-Journal of Salem (Ore.), re-rendered as a poem:

As one survivor
of the Dust Bowl who
experienced the failure of one mistaken idea,
I am vitally afraid
of earth-shaking experiments.

Our experience with nukes,
you would think,
would rival that of
a child learning about fire
by getting burned.

Our wind power,
while not so fruitful
in this water-lush year,
is a “money in the bank” recourse
for the dry years predicted to come.

How can we justify more nukes
on our beautiful Columbia?

I was struck by Ms. Gordon’s (who must be well into her eighties if she remembers the dust bowl) artful arrangement of words in making her lyrical and somewhat mysterious statement about the vagaries of energy.

So it’s not pro-nuclear – or is it?  Or is that even the point? Wind, nuclear, natural gas – she alludes to their power generating potential and, like the first person confronted with fire, finds them fearful, potentially hurtful or incomprehensible (“not so fruitful”). Her letter seems less an anti-nuclear, pro-wind piece than a warning against accepting the promethean gift of energy hastily.

And she’s right in the particular case: if there are to be more nukes on the Columbia, they must be justified. I think it could be done – and it might be worth doing, worth justifying, though I haven’t heard of plans for nuclear build in Oregon (the Trojan plant there closed awhile ago). Regardless, Ms. Gordon’s words are wise and bracingly counterintuitive.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Where Used Nuclear Fuel Is Wanted

WIPP
The WIPP facility
Sometimes, it just takes a little push. For example, The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (whew! – let’s call it the BRC) made a number of recommendations on how to proceed with used nuclear fuel without Yucca Mountain.

One recommendation still promoted the use of one or more permanent repositories just like Yucca Mountain, but the interest here – and the push - is on a second, related suggestion: interim storage sites. However many of these there would be, they would be many fewer than the nuclear facilities now holding used nuclear fuel – if the idea is to decrease the number of sites with used fuel, then this is an especially plausible idea.

Even better, the BRC said that communities could suggest themselves as hosts for these interim sites. The federal government could then negotiate terms with the communities, assuming there are viable locations to put the sites.

This idea arose from a visit the BRC members took to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., where it held a hearing on how the site was determined and how the townspeople like having it there. WIPP stores defense-related transuranic waste, not domestic used fuel, but otherwise it is a model for a community-based storage site. And the community loves WIPP.
Offering the community’s insight, Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway told the BRC the Department of Energy’s openness has been essential to the project’s success.
"They have kept their promises. I can honestly say they have kept us informed from the very beginning,” he said.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez told the BRC the keys to WIPP’s success have been the area’s geological composition, sound science, transparency and citizen engagement.
“WIPP has been vital to the nation and is responsible for major, significant economic impact to the community,” she said. “WIPP’s local support has never wavered.”
And that’s the push – WIPP has been a boon to its community and the BRC recommendation put its success up for public review.
So
Local leaders here are polishing their pitch to attract a type of business most places would shun: storing the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.
They’ve already teamed up with an international nuclear company to get an edge on any competition. They’ve bought land and built a Web page. They’ve even met with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
It’s still New Mexico – in this case Eunice, which is near Carlsbad – but they’re really pushing to be considered. Here’s a little information about Eunice:
Today Eunice boasts an estimated population of 2,606 (in July of 2005) and growing currently with 9 choices of places to dine-in or carryout, 2 drinking establishments with one requiring membership, health clinic, an inn and motel, lumber yard, seasonal tax office, 1 convenience store, towing and auto service, a bank, a grocery store, a discount store, insurance shops, organizations and many more businesses are popping up. Things are growing and the future in Eunice is going to be something to behold.
Now, in Eunice’s case, or more properly, Lea and Eddy counties, there is a possibility that they can turn that part of the state into a used fuel megamall – their term, not mine:
The growing nuclear complex includes the $3 billion enrichment plant [run by URENCO], the federal nuclear-waste repository at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad and the new Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste site just over the New Mexico-Texas border, across the highway from the enrichment plant. In addition, federal regulators have just approved a depleted uranium de-conversion plant [run by International Isotopes in nearby Hobbs, N.M.].
Some of Eunice seems to poke into Texas, so this looks like a two-state effort.
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Eunice may be kind of an obvious place to host a site, given what its neighbors are up to. But others are at least poking their noses under the tent.
Although there are no formal proposals to create a nuclear waste facility in South Carolina, it is an issue that must be evaluated, said Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium unrelated to Areva’s presentation [about interim fuel sites] in Columbia.
“Right now, it’s just a topic that’s out there,” he said. “Everyone’s discussing what it could or could not be, and not just here. A lot of other communities are looking at it, too.”
So what’s AREVA up to?
The Thursday presentation is one of several signs that behind-the-scenes interest in the Palmetto state remains high as Congress and the U.S. Energy Department try to forge new solutions for spent fuel now stored in pools and casks at the nation’s 104 commercial power reactors.
And although McLeod is being cautious, his group has put serious money into exploring the issue:
McLeod’s group launched a $200,000 study in June to explore Savannah River Site’s potential role in spent nuclear fuel solutions and the role of surrounding counties.
I think there will be a lot more to say about this over the next year. Congress hasn’t really moved on the BRC recommendations, but they are likely to do so – and there are communities waiting for it to happen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little Now, A Lot Later–Florida and Cost Recovery

Michael Waldron, who is director of nuclear communications at Florida Power & Light, takes an unusually pugnacious tone in this op-ed in the Miami Sun-Sentinel. He is defending the concept of cost recovery, a process by which a company can levy a small surcharge on ratepayers to improve or build reactors. In this case, FPL is using this to upgrade their reactors at Turkey Point and do some early work on two more potential reactors there:
Over the past several years, Florida's nuclear cost recovery statute has allowed FPL to upgrade our existing nuclear plants and add over 500 new megawatts of clean, cost-effective power-generation to our fleet.  To put this in perspective, this is about the same amount of electricity generated by a medium-sized nuclear power plant without having to build one.
Waldron says that FPL is saving a lot of money for its customers – for itself, too, of course, but that also benefits customers:
For example, the 400 new megawatts we have already added will save our customers roughly $7.5 million a month on fuel costs going forward.  Over the lifetime of the units, these upgrades are expected to save customers approximately $3.8 billion. These projects would not have been possible without Florida's nuclear cost recovery statute.
Waldron is answering Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an anti-nuclear group. Smith’s argument is actually a – little – strange. Aside from just generally not thinking nuclear energy represents a worthwhile investment, Smith links cost recovery to socialism and rapacious capitalism. There’s a ton of risk associated with it and it’ll be a financial bonanza. His argument is actually kind of wacky.
But this law now socializes costs and all the risk of reactor construction by shifting it to customers. Meanwhile it privatizes all the reward to big power company shareholders, such as FPL — even though they shoulder no risk. FPL has recently requested an 11.25 percent return for its shareholders as part of a base rate increase. The FPL project, if ever completed, is estimated to cost upwards of $20 billion. Clearly an 11.25 percent return on $20 billion is a sweet return for FPL shareholders for a risk-free investment.
This might be the part that actually made Waldron put up his dukes, because it’s not exactly what is happening. He explains this:
Under the law, FPL is only reimbursed for amounts that we have already spent IF these expenses are deemed prudent through an independent evaluation by the Florida Public Service Commission.  In practice, this means that during the licensing phase, customers pay only for licensing activities; during construction, FPL must borrow the money and customers pay only for financing charges, not the construction itself; and, it is only after the plant is in operation that customers would pay for the charges incurred during construction.
Waldron doesn’t point out that paying interest charges early reduces the overall cost of the project – as when you double pay on your credit card. Cost recovery can be used for any large capital projects – it works especially when the outcome benefits the commonweal, as it does here.

Florida is always going to be a somewhat prickly environment when it comes to even small surcharges because so many people there live on fixed incomes. I cannot fault that – and maybe it’s a better angle from which to make an argument about cost recovery, especially in Florida. But Waldron’s aggressive response to Smith seems exactly correct – Smith isn’t giving cost recovery its due and Waldron says so.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Bohemian Nuclear Appeal

TEMELIN-czech-nuclear-007
Temelin - the Czech nuclear site
We know that nuclear energy gets a strong thumbs up from countries such as the United States and United Kingdom – France – and a few others. And a resolute thumbs down from Germany – Switzerland – Australia. That’s fine – you can’t be loved by everyone all the time.

But where we’re a little fuzzy is a lot of the other countries out there. There have been some international polls, but I find those a little suspect, not necessarily tuned to national temperament or custom. It just seems prone to skew one way or another.
So, this is interesting:
Two thirds of Czechs are for further development of nuclear energy in the Czech Republic, 4 percentage points more than in May, according to the latest poll of agency STEM.
That’s on the low end of what’s found in the United States, but still pretty good. What’s more, this number is a bit depressed form its due to concerns about the Fukushima accident.
Despite that, the current support to nuclear energy has not yet reached the peak from 2009 when over 70 percent of Czechs were in favor of its development.
But if the Czechs are about 10 points down from their high, that’s not bad at all and suggests that the authority that oversees nuclear energy in the Czech Republic has done a good job providing information to the public.

Some of the other numbers expanded on these findings:
On the other hand, support to renewable energy sources is falling. The current poll shows that 44 percent of Czechs think that nuclear energy is replaceable. Still in May, 48 percent of Czechs voiced such opinion, after the Fukushima disaster it was 52 percent but in 2009 only 42 percent.
One of the arguments strongly in favor of support to nuclear energy is fear that energy dependence would pose a security risk for the country. Some three quarters of Czechs subscribe to this view in the long term.
The article doesn’t say so , but I wonder if Russian bad behavior with natural gas a few years ago weighs into the thinking. That’s what energy security means – being able to generate more electricity with one’s own resources. The Czechs have plenty of  uranium, though uranium mining appears to have fallen on hard times – until recently, at least. (This is from June of this year.)
The Czech government has approved extending the life of a uranium mine as it moves to grow the country's nuclear energy program, even though environmentalists object to the plans.
Prime Minister Petr Necas also said Thursday the government wants to identify other suitable locations for uranium mining.
The mine in Rozna, around 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Prague, produced some 224 metric tons of uranium last year and is the only such mine in Central Europe.
And this bolsters the argument for nuclear energy there and potentially provides jobs.
So now we know about the Czechs. Add the country to the plus column.
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How did artsy people get the term “bohemian” attached to them? Because starving artists in 19th century France settled into cheap housing otherwise occupied by gypsies- Romaniis – and the Romanii were generally believed to have come to France from the Bohemian section of Europe – what is now the western two-thirds of the Czech Republic. So there you go.

Fukushima Reactors Stable After 7.3 Magnitude Quke

Official points to affected area on map.
A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Japan overnight, triggering tsunami warnings across the island nation, but fortunately the warnings were lifted soon after and the quakes caused very little damage.

Of course, we've got out eyes on the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and things there look quiet according to ABC News:
No damage has been reported at monitoring posts and water treatment facilities at the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the nuclear facility that was devastated by tsunami waters after the 2011 quake, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company. All the workers were moved to higher ground on the site and told to stay inside after the tsunami warning.
For a look at what the U.S. nuclear industry has done in the wake of Fukushima, please consult our Safety First microsite.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Idaho Ponders Its Nuclear Future

butch_otter1
Idaho Governor Butch Otter
Nuclear Notes highlighted Governor Butch Otter’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy commission when he formed it last February. Now, the group is beginning to issue reports.
Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter today encouraged the people of Idaho to review the progress of his Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission and to begin a public dialogue on critical questions facing the Idaho National Laboratory and their potential impact on Idaho’s economy.
This might sound like an "uh-oh, maybe this isn’t going to go so well" sort of moment, but Governor Otter is actually quite the fan of INL:
“The timing was right for an extensive, external review of INL and nuclear-related activities in Idaho,” Governor Otter said. “I think this progress report clearly points out that the environmental cleanup envisioned by my predecessors has largely been realized while at the same time we’ve established INL as the nation’s preeminent nuclear research and development laboratory. There’s been significant economic benefit to the entire state. As we sustain and even try to build on that in the future, the Commission is working to answer some tough questions and I applaud its effort to involve the public in that discussion before making final recommendations.”
If you look at the news clips on his home page, you’ll see that Otter is very engaged with energy issues. This we already knew. The commission and its report are something else again and show the state really grappling with where it wants to go with nuclear energy, with INL representing an Idaho success story, Clearly, Otter wants to expand that success into related areas. The questions about INL and nuclear energy in Idaho that the commission was charged with reviewing are really worthwhile:
In its final report to the Governor, the Commission will use the subcommittee recommendations, input from the public and its own deliberations to finalize recommendations on the following questions:
  1. What strategic role can the INL and Idaho’s nuclear industry play in the country’s energy future?
  2. In light of reduced federal spending, what impacts may affect INL and what role can Idaho play to protect INL research and cleanup funding?
  3. What broad environmental risks are posed by nuclear technologies and what mitigating steps are reasonable to protect public health and the environment from current and future applications of nuclear technology in Idaho?
  4. Where is nuclear technology going and what role and/or opportunities exist for INL and Idaho companies in those technology developments?
  5. Given the Blue Ribbon Commission focus on consent-based siting and the suspension of the Yucca Mountain repository, in what way can Idaho’s 1995 Settlement Agreement protect the State’s interests to support and enhance research and development at INL and complete the cleanup mission?
  6. How can Idaho’s universities influence, support and participate in the future of nuclear energy, nuclear workforce development, and advancements in nuclear technologies?
  7. Following the impacts of the Fukushima tsunami and the recent market impact of natural gas, what future role will nuclear energy play in the nation’s energy policies and what can Idaho do to prepare for that future?
Some of the answers here may seem self-evident to nuclear advocates, but all are worth answering to create a meaningful report.

The commission’s progress report Otter refers to above is here. It’s worth a complete read, though the agreements between Idaho and INL to safeguard nuclear materials on the INL site and clean up waste takes up a lot of pages. (Long story short: the effort has been very successful. Still, it’s very specific where most of the report is concerned with more general – and, from my perspective, more broadly applicable – topics.)

I liked this bit about the post Fukushima environment for nuclear energy (page 28):
Outside of Europe and Japan, the concerns raised by Fukushima are not diminishing this long-term international interest and demand for nuclear energy. Regulators in the U.S. and in other leading nuclear nations are responding prudently and putting necessary changes in place to deal with extreme external events and improve public confidence. While the safety of the global nuclear enterprise should become even better as result of these efforts, many of post-Fukushima recommendations had already been implemented in the U.S. after 9/11.
This is quite true – no doubt why I like it – and very straightforwardly expressed – not as common as it should be. I’ll just highlight one more thing before leaving the rest to you – the recommendation that Idaho host an interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel, as first promoted by the President’s blue ribbon commission (page 36):
As the lead US Regional Interim Storage facility, demonstrate full scale technology, licensing, and operations for the nation’s regional used fuel storage facilities.
• Considerable investments (100s of million dollar) into RD&D infrastructure at the site with additional jobs
• Investments into fuel cycle options demonstrations at engineering scale (100s of jobs)
• Spinoffs commercializing innovative technologies
Jobs, good salaries, the potential to seed commercial activity: Idaho sees the possibilities. This is part of a strong list of nuclear-related activities that the commission recommends Idaho consider.
This is one of the most thorough looks at nuclear energy and its potential that I’ve seen from a state. Other states could easily use it as a model if they are similarly interested.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

STP Nuclear Generating Station Unit 1 Returns to Service After Safe, Successful Outage

The South Texas Project.
The following was issued by the media team at the South Texas Project.
The South Texas Project (STP) Unit 1 reactor is back online and operating at full power after a scheduled refueling and maintenance outage. The unit returned to 100 percent power Friday, Nov. 30.

“Our team safely and efficiently completed a large scope of work that included maintenance, testing, and inspection activities,” said STP President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Koehl. “The work completed prepares the unit to run continuously until its next refueling outage, about 18 months from now.”

The unit was taken offline on Saturday, Oct. 20 for scheduled refueling and maintenance. The beginning of this outage marked an STP record of 530 continuous days online for Unit 1. The previous STP record for consecutive days on-line – held by Unit 2 – was 525 days, completed in 2008.

STP mobilized approximately 1,100 contractors to assist with major and minor modifications that enhance equipment reliability. Numerous plant systems and components were tested and inspected, and about one-third of the reactor’s fuel assemblies were replaced with new ones.

More than 11,000 maintenance, testing, and inspection tasks were completed. Major projects included inspections and repairs to a 530,000-gallon refueling water storage tank and replacement of a 50-ton reactor coolant pump motor.

“Safety is our highest priority,” said Koehl. “Through preparation and planning, our team safely worked more than 250,000 man-hours to complete the scheduled work and bring Unit 1 back online."

For eight consecutive years, STP has safely produced more energy than any other two-unit facility in the nation.

The plant is managed by the STP Nuclear Operating Company and owned by Austin Energy, CPS Energy and NRG Energy. STP's twin reactors produce 2,700 megawatts of carbon-free electricity, enough to power two million homes.
Congrats to the entire team at STP for a job well done.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Meanwhile, In France … Losing the Nuclear Advantage

FrancoisHollande
President Francois Hollande
We’ve had a merry time showing that the German effort to close its nuclear plants has been ill-advised and counterproductive.

Meanwhile, in France, President Francois Hollande wants to reduce dependence on nuclear energy or at least, close the oldest of the plants:
“The Fessenheim plant which is the oldest in our country, will be closed at the end of 2016 in conditions that will guarantee the supply needs of the region... and safeguard all jobs,” say Hollande, as quoted in a French news outlet. The country operates 58 nuclear reactors. Twenty-four of them would be retired by 2025.
What happens in 2025 is likely not under Hollande’s purview, so we’ll wait on that one. Closing Fessenheim seems more a symbolic gesture, so fine.

The article at Energy Central shows that the French may have missed a few tricks:
The new French president has painted himself in a corner: He has vowed to reduce the nation’s most plentiful resource, nuclear energy. But he has also declared that one of the most critical fuels there will be off-limits, shale gas. The most promising road ahead, he insists, is the development of renewable energy.

Will it work? No, given that the French nuclear sector employs a reported 400,000 union workers and that nuclear energy helps provide an enviable standard of living there.
The article has more to say and altogether makes a pretty good case for taking care not to make hasty energy choices.
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We can always find examples favorable to our cause. France seems at least moderately serious about finding a way to supplement nuclear energy – and really, there’s nothing wrong with that. And maybe it will will find a way to unblock its options.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said then the group was to develop a "road map" for the implementation of the energy transition, which would include a sharp focus on renewable energy.

"The profound crisis that we are experiencing is not just financial and economic one, but an environmental one as well," he said, adding the government would launch a new tender for the construction of two offshore wind farms located off Le Treport and Noirmoutier by the end of December, France24 reported.
The group mentioned above is a gathering of leaders from different spheres.
The debate process will be led by seven "colleges" comprised of representatives of trade unions, employers, environmental non-governmental organizations, consumer associations, chambers of commerce, local elected officials, parliamentarians and government ministers.
French energy types are annoyed by this process, but that’s to be expected.
French energy industry leaders have blasted Hollande's move from nuclear power, citing current energy costs that are among the lowest in Europe as well as the country's low levels of carbon emissions.
Which brings us back around to where we started. France already has enviably low-cost, low-emission electricity generation.

Hmmm - This attempt to find something more critical of nuclear energy isn’t coming to much. It may be that nuclear energy isn’t the issue here. It may be that, lacking a problem to solve, France has set out to solve one anyway – even if the outcome creates the problem you were purporting to solve.
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This doesn’t help the effort to be even-handed, either, but at least it shows that renewable energy can bring about positive if expensive outcomes:
France’s power grid will have to invest about 15 billion euros ($19 billion) by the end of the decade to add and refurbish electricity transmission lines as the country plans to lower its reliance on nuclear energy.

Spending could rise to 35 billion to 50 billion euros by 2030, Reseau de Transport d’Electricite said in a report published today. The range depends on the proportion of nuclear and renewable energies produced in France in the coming years.
The reason for this is because nuclear energy produces electricity 24/7 while renewable energy source do not and require, for lack of a better term, more precise metering. Building a so-called “smart grid” to do this is not at all a bad goal – it’s a long overdue infrastructure program in this country, too – and it could provide France with more options among its energy choices.

Still, it is $19 billion and that’s likely to hit the ratepayers bottom line fairly significantly. But maybe that’s just the cost of progress – if this does seem like progress – which it doesn’t to me.