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Showing posts from January, 2013

The Swiss Turn Ever So Slightly Back to Nuclear

Switzerland’s energy profile is one of the cleanest in the world, with virtually no fossil fuel output in the production of electricity. About 55 percent is hydroelectric, 39 percent nuclear (from five reactors) and most of the remainder renewable energy. That profile also highlights problems going forward, as the Swiss would like to end their involvement with nuclear energy by 2034. There’s some more potential in their hydro resources, but shuttering the reactors will hurt. The decision to close the reactors is part of an energy policy and, as we’ve seen in Japan, those can change.

So whither the Swiss? Nuclear or no nuclear?
“It doesn’t make sense to burn one bridge when the other one does not yet exist or is not yet in the process of being built,” said Michael Schorer, spokesman for the Nuclear Forum Switzerland. “We reject the ban on building new nuclear power plants and urge the federal council to devise an additional scenario that includes nuclear energy.”
In this regard the Nu…

Taking the Nuclear Marbles and Going Home

So how did that vote in Bulgaria go? We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Bulgaria had a referendum coming up on whether to continue to build more nuclear facilities.
So how did the vote go? Well, you can’t win ‘em all even when you, um, win ‘em all.
60.5 percent of Bulgarians who took part in yesterday’s national referendum voted in support of the development of nuclear energy. Some 6.9 million people had had the right to vote, out of which a mere 1.5 million voters went to the booths. According to the estimates of the Central Election Commission the activity was almost 22%. Which to my mind means, nuclear energy won – by a lot. Even if 1.5 million qualifies as paltry, it’s still 1.5 million who cared enough about the issue to cast a vote. Everyone else could have voted and abdicated sharing their view by not doing so – insofar as the non-voters had any view at all. That’s how it should work, right? Well, no.
The rules of the election foiled it.
Constitutional rules mean that the …

NEI's Richard Myers on the Wall Street Journal Story on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

The following statement concerning today's story on nuclear energy and natural gas ("Can gas undo nuclear power?") that appeared in the Wall Street Journal can be attributed to Richard J. Myers, NEI's Vice President, Policy Development, Planning and Supplier Programs:
Electricity production issues are not quite as cut-and-dried as portrayed in the article, certainly not from the vantage point of energy companies who must evaluate an array of factors to determine what their future generating mix will and will not be. A nuclear energy facility produces benefits well beyond the electricity it generates. They include economic benefits like jobs, taxes and procurement; grid reliability benefits in the form of voltage support and ancillary services; the environmental benefit of avoided emissions; and the energy security benefits of an electricity source that adds diversity and forward price stability to the electricity supply portfolio.

It also bears noting that extremel…

Some Thoughts on the Wall Street Journal Story on Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

Yesterday evening, the Wall Street Journal published a story by Rebecca Smith that asked the question, "Can Gas Undo Nuclear Power?" It's a question that's been asked often, especially in the wake of the announced closing of the Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin by Dominion last October. Here's what NEI's Richard Myers had to say about it at the time:
In 2005, when Dominion bought the plant: (1) power prices in the Midwest were in the $40-50/MWhr range; wellhead gas prices were in the $6-10 per million Btu range; and U.S. electricity demand was growing.

Today: (1) power prices in the Midwest are in the $30/MWhr range: gas prices are in the $2-3 per million Btu range; and (3) the U.S. has had 5 years of no growth in electricity demand, thanks to the worst recession in 80 years. Near the close of 2012, NEI's President and CEO, Marv Fertel addressed the natural gas issue head on when it came to building new nuclear energy facilities. The following exchan…

Energy Plants: An Open and Closed Case

Our friends over at Coal Power have done a real service, taking a look at energy generation plants set to close over the next few decades. While the U.S. grapples with issues of infrastructure, notably roads and bridges, energy infrastructure is mostly the business of utilities.

Anyway, since this is originating from Coal Power, let’s hear that part first:
Coal-fired generation units across the U.S. are an average age of 37 years old, while the average retirement age since 1999 is 48 years. Coal units are not the only fuel type approaching typical retirement age, with natural gas steam turbine (NGST) units possessing the second-oldest weighted average age. That’s surprisingly more like nuclear plants than one might expect, though it looks like a fair number of coal plants are being kept operational. Utilities are jittery about proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules that may cause some coal facilities to retire early. I think this could even be called the point of the article…

Dr. Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax Help Demystify Radiation

In the wake of the accident at Fukushima, the world once again got a chance to know Dr. Robert Peter Gale. One of the world's leading authorities on the biological effects of radaition, Dr. Gale first came to prominence in the late 1980s when he coordinated medical and relief efforts for victims of the accident at Chernobyl.

And in the wake of Fukushima, the world turned once again to Dr. Gale when it came to rationally gauging the immediate and long-term health effects of the accident in Japan. Perhaps we should be grateful then that Dr. Gale, along with co-author Eric Lax, has just written a new book aimed at demystifying radiation and its potential health effects. Radiation: What It Is. What You Need to Know, was just published by KnopfDoubleday and is available at Amazon.com and bookstores nationwide. Here's a thumbnail review that appeared earlier today in the New York Times:
Dr. Gale, a leukemia expert who advised governments in the wake of the nuclear disasters at Che…

V.C. Summer: “A major contributor to the local economy.”

Some happy news is always a good way to kick off the weekend.
Fairfield County officials gathered at the county treasurer’s office Jan. 15 to meet with representatives of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant – and receive a check for $23.4 million. If my local nuclear facility wanted to hand me a few million dollars, that would be a-ok, but this actually speaks to one of the major benefits of having a power plant in the neighborhood.
“We are very pleased that V.C. Summer Nuclear Station continues to be a major contributor to the local economy through property taxes that support schools, roads, and critical public services for the residents of Fairfield County,” said Dan Gatlin, vice president of Nuclear Operations at V.C. Summer. The article doesn’t say, but I wager Summer is one of the larger employers in Fairfield County, so it has value beyond paying property taxes. And beyond property taxes and employment opportunities, Summer also provides a economic root system for all kinds of offsh…

Remembering Aleksey Vayner: Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

I was sad to read of the death of Aleksey Vayner. He was a young Yale graduate who became a short lived and unintentional internet sensation in 2006 when his video job application to financial firm UBS emerged on YouTube and showed him as an unbelievably accomplished person. People who knew him at Yale recounted that his abilities ran even deeper than the resume showed. According to the New Yorker:
Acquaintances report hearing that he is one of four people licensed to handle nuclear waste in the state of Connecticut, that he must register his hands as lethal weapons at airports, and even that he has killed two dozen men in Tibetan gladiatorial contests. One imagines him wearing his gladiator garb, marching into the containment chamber at Millstone and pulling out fuel rods with his teeth.

Here’s the thing, though: that a man who wanted to be seen as a virtual superman thought handling used nuclear fuel would help get him there. Frankly, registering your hands as deadly weapons would…

Some Facts About Station Blackout That David Lochbaum Didn't Tell The New York Times

If you were concerned with the safety of America's nuclear energy facilities, I could understand why this blog post from Matt Wald at NY Times Green might cause you a bit of pause. In it, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists makes the claim that industry and the NRC ignored the possibility of a Fukushima-like incident in the U.S. for decades. His proof: a document published by an NRC analyst in 2007 that posited how a flood, earthquake or other extreme event could cause a loss of AC power at a nuclear energy facility that could lead to multiple reactor meltdowns.

Sounds scary, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the folks at UCS left out a couple of facts when they talked to Wald that might have spoiled that narrative. The fact is, NRC and the industry have been working on the issue for decades. Here's NEI's Steve Kerekes, who left the following in the comment string after the post:
The article fails to cite a number of relevant facts, including these: 1) The Nu…

The Weather Caused by Beaver Valley

In case you thought weather cannot be affected by human activity:
According to a post on the National Weather Service’s Facebook page, a small band of snow was generated by the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport.

About an inch of snow fell in the Gibsonia and Wexford area between 4 and 7 p.m.

It’s believed the steam from the plant interacted with the cold, which then caused it to snow. This is all in Pennsylvania. It's a new one on me. The Washington Post has more on the story and a video explaining the (rather straightforward) science behind the weather generating nuclear facility.

Forbes Fumbles Nuclear Football Analogy

Author Peter Kelly-Detwiler published a post for Forbes yesterday making an illogical comparison of sunk costs from nuclear plants to Mark Sanchez (the New York Jets QB). Despite providing a definition of sunk costs, the author doesn’t seem to understand what sunk costs really are.

The article references several examples of new nuclear projects going over budget, but going over budget doesn’t mean the costs are sunk. According to the article, sunk costs are “unrecoverable past expenditures.” Nowhere in the piece does the author give an example of a nuclear plant that hasn’t been able to recover its past expenditures.When nuclear plants were built in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the US, state public utility commissions (PUCs) determined whether all or some of the costs of power plants could be recovered from ratepayers based on whether the costs were spent “prudently” or not. In some cases, the PUCs found that some costs were not prudent and therefore were not recoverable from ratepayers. Yet …

Pruning Hooks Not Spears

This is from Darryl Wellington of the Progressive Media Project, writing in the Deseret News:
But the nuclear age is a suicidal age. We've had several near misses, the Cuban Missile Crisis being the most obvious. And we've almost had accidental nuclear war when our radar systems (and Russia's) have thought they were seeing incoming nuclear weapons and have prepared to launch nuclear weapons in response. At some point, we won't be able to avert the catastrophe.

Similarly, nuclear power plants may seem to provide part of the solution to our energy crisis. But Fukushima highlighted the dangers of accidents, and nuclear waste can never be truly safely stored. The incident he’s referring to is the so-called “Norwegian Rocket Incident,” in which Russia prepared to launch its nuclear arsenal at the United States after a Norwegian rocket spooked Russia into thinking that the Americans had fired a missile from a submarine. It was indeed a near thing.

But that transition, “Simi…

A Call for Civility and Rationality in Environmental Discourse from the Nature Conservancy

Earlier this month, UK-based environmental activist Mark Lynas kicked off something of a firestorm when he gave a speech where he apologized for his previous opposition to genetically-modified foods (GMO). It isn't his first high-profile conversion, as I'm sure many of our readers recall how Lynas changed his mind about nuclear energy.

While NEI obviously doesn't have a position on the GMO issue, we couldn't help but notice that the row stoked by the Lynas speech helped elicit a very level-headed blog post from Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek calling for civility and rationality in environmental debates.

You can find the post at the Nature Conservancy's blog,  Cool Green Science:
Since I have become CEO of The Nature Conservancy I have learned that it is our passion and the passion of our supporters that make us effective. But sometimes that passion can be our undoing. So many of us, and others who are not associated with The Nature Conservancy or c…

Not Stooges of the Nuclear Industry

Here’s a line to perk up a Friday:
These are not corporate stooges of the nuclear industry. Because heaven knows there are a lot of those out there trying to look legitimate.
To a person, their embrace of nuclear power is motivated by a deep concern about climate change and the conviction that no other carbon-free source of energy is sufficient (and safe) enough to replace coal and gas. Write Keith Kloor’s story is on a strong topic – the embrace by some environmentalists of nuclear energy. Kloor talks to an impressive number of them, starting with NASA’s lead climate scientist James Hansen and moving on from there:
He’s not the only environmental luminary who is bullish on nuclear power. Last year, Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, echoed Hansen’s argument. A number of other champions of nuclear power have stepped forward in recent years, from Australian climate scientist Barry Brookto American writer Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the …

Nuclear Power Plant Response to the Cyber Threat

Our nation’s commercial nuclear power plants take the cyber threat seriously.  Our industry has been developing and implementing cyber security programs since shortly after the events of September 11, 2001.  The industry’s efforts culminated in a binding industry initiative to implement a cyber security program consistent with the guidance in a document endorsed by the NRC as an acceptable method for establishing a cyber security program.  All plants implemented this program by mid-2008.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a strong regulator in this area.  The NRC’s efforts to create a cyber security regulatory framework for the plants began shortly after September 11, 2001.  The NRC issued orders after September 11 that required power reactor licensees to implement interim compensatory measures to enhance cyber security at their sites. These security measures required an assessment sufficient to provide protection against the cyber threats at the time of the orders. Subs…

YouTubing Nuclear Energy From Congress

Here’s something that works exceptionally well: Congressman Erik Paulsen [R-Minn.] answered constituent questions in his first installment of Erik's Correspondence Corner of 2013. This week, Paulsen answered questions sent in from Eden Prairie and Bloomington. Ben, a student at Eden Prairie High School, sent in a letter explaining his thoughts on nuclear energy. Tracey in Bloomington e-mailed in this week with her thoughts on recent legislation to continue the Congressional pay freeze. Congress folk answer questions from constituents all the time, of course, but Rep. Paulsen puts together a weekly video cast on YouTube, posting a new episode every week answering a couple of the questions he’s been asked. The straightforward video work and Paulsen’s modest manner makes it very charming and even persuasive – old fashioned retail politicking brought up to date. It’s very effective.Oh, but what about Ben and his question? Ben, it turns out, is not favorable to nuclear energy, though h…

Thanks Patrick Moore

Earlier today we got the news that the original "sensible environmentalist," Dr. Patrick Moore, was stepping down as co-chair of the CASEnergy Coalition in order to begin enjoying a well-deserved retirement. The following letter was posted  at the CASEnergy Coalition website:
Dear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition Members:

With more than 3,000 influential members across the nation, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition has become an important voice in conversations about our country’s energy future. We know that nuclear energy must continue to be part of a solution – not just to our energy challenges, but to our economic and environmental challenges – and the coalition continues to make great strides toward making sure that Americans understand why.

The mission endures, and the coalition is stronger than ever, so it is with mixed emotions that I share with you today my decision to retire as Co-Chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. I will remain an active member, but am at…

All Aboard for the Neutron Express!

Nuclear energy would be perfect for electric/hybrid cars, a potentially gigantic market for electricity that is well-suited to an energy source with a 24/7-profile. We’ve got the nuclear facilities, all we need now are more cars. I haven’t given up on the possibility, and there has been some traction in the kilowatt mobile business, but it’s been a bit of a slog.Still, a good idea is a good idea, so it’s interesting to see Great Britain explicitly tie their electric trains to nuclear energy.The majority of Britain's trains will be indirectly running on nuclear power for the next 10 years following Network Rail's agreement to a £3bn deal with EDF to supply electricity to the railways.“Indirectly running.” That sounds like a nice way of saying, “We cannot know where the electricity is coming from,” which is true, “but a lot of it is nuclear energy,” which is also true. What it really means is that only 50 percent of the train service is electric, though that is expected to incre…

Nuclear: On Which the Nation’s Fate Rests

We’ve kept an eye on the English versions of some of Japan’s national newspapers to see if they have thawed the nuclear energy deep freeze there. It’s more an issue of curiosity than an overtly partisan pro-nuclear view, because whether Japan begins to feel comfortable with nuclear energy after it implements post-Fukushima safety measures or it doesn’t is something no amount of partisanship can change. If the Japanese ultimately decide to leave nuclear energy, that’s that – if you lived through something harrowing, far be it from others to to tell you to get over it. The advocate in me might say, well, the danger was minimal and no one died as a result of the accident. That’s an exceptionally low bar to clear when people have been scared badly. There’s an understanding that there is only so much one can do about nature’s vicissitudes – which did kill many in this instance – but nuclear energy facilities? Turn the lights out – done!But the recent election went strongly for the pro-nucl…

The FLEX Solution: America's Nuclear Industry Responds to Fukushima

Earlier today, the Nuclear Energy Institute released a five-minute video explaining the comprehensive and tailored response strategy that it is implementing across the industry to enhance nuclear plant safety in the face of extreme natural events.

To produce the high-definition video, NEI acquired first-of-its kind footage of the deployment of new emergency response equipment at U.S. nuclear energy facilities. The video also features animation and interviews with industry leaders and technical staff discussing nuclear plant safety.


The diverse and flexible (“FLEX”) response strategy developed by industry addresses the major challenges encountered at the Fukushima Daiichi power station following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami: the loss of power to maintain effective reactor fuel cooling.

Additional on-site portable equipment is being acquired to help ensure that every U.S. nuclear energy facility can respond safely to extreme events, no matter what the cause. The equipment …

Going to Mars – and Quickly – With Nuclear Energy

The White House’s petition site, called We the People, has gained some attention over the last couple of months because – well, let’s just say that a wide-open web site that invites citizens to put together petition drives is likely to attract a fair number of cranky malcontents – and that makes for fun news stories.

But there’s some genuinely interesting petition topics, too. Take this one, for example:
Harness the full intellectual and industrial strength of our universities, national laboratories and private enterprise to rapidly develop and deploy a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) adaptable to both manned and un-manned space missions. A NTR (which would only operate in outer space) will jump-start our manned space exploration program by reducing inner solar system flight times from months to weeks. This is not new technology; NTRs were tested in the 1960s (President Kennedy was a guest at one test). The physics and engineering are sound. In addition to inspiring young Americans to c…

How Nuclear Energy Helps Canada Snag Data Center Business

Over the holidays, the Globe and Mail, Canada's major national newspaper, took note of a positive business trend for our neighbors to the North -- namely, how more and more companies were locating computer data centers in the country. The trend is becoming so pronounced, that some are openly speculating that the greater Toronto metropolitan area could become a global hub for data center operations.

Among the reasons why: Canada's cool climate means that data centers operating there don't have to spend nearly as much money on energy in order to keep cool. And it doesn't hurt that the nation has access to plenty of affordable and reliable electricity:
Information technology services company Fujitsu Canada is planning to open a facility to take advantage of what Canada has to offer. Free cooling, however, is only part of the picture. Access to cheap, clean, reliable energy is also a magnet for investors looking to build these power-hungry facilities, some of which consu…

Good Nuclear News by the Numbers

Sometimes, among the little controversies and tidbits of news, it’s nice to have a reminder now and then as to what we’re getting newsy about. Nuclear energy is a really strong provider of electricity – “really strong” because it delivers 24/7, often runs at or near 100 percent capacity (take that, renewable slackers) and is very inexpensive to operate.And in a way, facilities can run higher than 100 percent capacity. Operators achieve uprates by swapping in new equipment or modifying existing equipment (along with maximizing efficiency) with the goal to increase capacity. The NRC determines if a potential uprate might compromised safety, but it’s generally a incidental function of how long lived a facility can be. Uprates are common enough.I don’t have the number right in front of me, but I believe the capacity increase over the years due to uprates is about the equivalent of six new nuclear reactors. Pretty good for not having to break ground with spade.Bloomberg spends a whole arti…

An Authentic Replica of a Closed Nuclear Plant

This affects Germany, too, and I suppose any country with a democratic form of government:One of the first policy victims of Japan's incoming Liberal Democratic Party is likely to be the commitment to phasing out nuclear power. The promise made after Fukushima does not sit well with the pro-business party.Get it? Every few years, the party in control changes and everything that was certain becomes  uncertain. Can you be sure that the next time the government changes in Japan, the nuclear facilities will not be heading into mothballs?Now to be fair – and to ding this story a bit – the previous prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, did not get as far as pledging a shut down of the nuclear facilities. He was, if anything, frustratingly vague on that subject.Abe, who has been in power since December 26, has not said directly what he intends to do with the plants. All but two reactors are currently idled and have been since the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. He has been trying out a few…