Thursday, May 02, 2013

Fair and Unfair Nuclear Editorials

Two recent editorials grapple with nuclear energy issues relevant to their states. The York (Penn.) Record becomes disturbed about some corrosion discovered on used fuel containers.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report said that some of those casks could leak. It cited water-damaged containers that held spent fuel from both of our local nuke plants - TMI and Peach Bottom.

It's nothing to be too alarmed about right now.

No radiological material leaked.

The terse style is unusual – feels like someone on the board has internalized Hemingway. Anyway, its recommendation:

Leaving this radioactive material lying around at hundreds of sites across the country is just not an acceptable disposal solution.

Do we have leaders capable of making the tough political decisions to resolve this issue?

Well, it’s not exactly lying around and, of course, the problem with the containers was found and fixed without further incident. But, it’s true. Whether by following the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future or some other set of policy directives, the development of an integrated fuel cycle, one that would include end-to-end management of uranium-based fuel, is a needed thing. It feels closer to realization than I’ve ever seen it, but that’s a relative judgment. 

NEI has an interesting page on this topic. Many of the policy prescriptions on the page have been taken up by the federal government or mirror the commission’s findings.

But we shouldn’t leave the impression that York has an animus on for nuclear energy.

Nuclear power has some huge benefits. It can produce a tremendous amount of electricity - and it does not produce greenhouse gases, a huge benefit as we grapple with climate change.

It goes on to list perceived drawbacks, but it’s judicious all-in-all.


A short glimpse of an op-ed over at the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger, written by Joseph Mangano, the executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project. Get the idea this one might not be positive?

The reason given by [Exelon CEO Christopher] Crane and other executives for closing nuclear plants is that they are too expensive, and more costly than growing sources of power such as natural gas and wind. But nowhere can one find any explanation of why reactors are expensive. The reason — reactors are unsafe and dangerous.

It’s certainly true that natural gas has put price pressure on other types of generating facilities, but no nuclear facility has closed – or will close to date – for that reason. Could happen, I suppose, but nuclear facilities tend to be relatively inexpensive to run once they’re operational. I think Mangano just needs a way to get around to “unsafe and dangerous.” He’s smooth enough doing it, but of course, he doesn’t explain why his configuration of “expensive” has only now resulted in closed plants.

It gets worse:

Oyster Creek has had several near-miss meltdowns. Routine emissions may have raised local cancer rates; Ocean County experienced a child cancer cluster in the 1980s and 1990s, and still has the sixth-highest child-cancer incidence of the largest 306 counties nationwide.

Should we point out that this is New Jersey we’re talking about? Beautiful state in many places – even a garden state – but you can create correlations all over the place for increased incidents of illness. Nuclear energy facilities really don’t spew radiation all over the place in the course of operation and many, many studies have not found causal links. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a good page, though it’s a little dated.

Mangano’s an old hand at this kind of thing – see this earlier post about his antics. Hint: It’s about 14,000 deaths caused by the Fukushima Daiichi accident – here in the United States.


jimwg said...

Super article, Mark!

Now, is there any way NEI or any other nuclear professional organization which have reputations and credentials far above the ordinary lone newspaper feedback commenter can pronto deliver Mangano and these Penn and Jersey papers a little hard-hitting factual rebuttal before their poisonous seeds take anymore root in a doubting skittish public? They laugh off any comments by little guys like me, but they'd think twice knowing those as NEI & Co. are on their backs ready to pounce on FUD.

Again, good job!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Engineer-Poet said...

"no nuclear facility has closed – or will close to date – for that reason."

Kewaunee, in Wisconsin, is slated to close mere days from now for that very reason.  Insane, given that the price of natural gas is well below cost and the economics will reverse even if nothing is done... but people respond to incentives (such as the ability to tap decommissioning funds and count them as profits), however perverse.

Anonymous said...

People are really picking on Oyster Creek. This is the second article in the last couple of weeks that I have seen go after OCNGS. I don't understand why. That plant has been there for going on 45 years and has harmed absolutely no one. I'd have to say the the highway that runs along the front of the plant, Route 9, is notorious in NJ as a terribly dangerous and outdated roadway and poses much more of a hazard to the population than the power plant. From what I have read in the literature and NRC reports, that facility has never come close to a core accident situation. The most serious concern over the years has been inspections of the drywell liner condition and if there is significant corrosion occurring. Other than that, it has produced hundreds of millions of MW-hrs of electricity with no emissions, no harm to the environment. I wish these kooks would just take a hike and get off that plant's back.

Anonymous said...

"they'd think twice knowing those as NEI & Co. are on their backs"

I doubt that is really the case. Most people (even those who aren't anti-nuclear) will view statements by an industry lobbying group with a lot of skepticism. The support of average citizens is actually much more likely to sway people than paid lobbyists.