Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thailand and a Whimsical Energy Policy

The other day I mentioned that electricity seems more a human right than anything else and if it has to be generated by coal, natural gas or nuclear energy – or any other source – countries that want to electrify will do what they feel they have to do. But I wondered if I could offer a recent experience of this kind as an example – with a nuclear angle.

Yes, sort of. A better example would be about a place with a considerable number of people without electricity. That’s not true of Thailand. But let’s see where this takes us. It starts with a story in the Thai Times

The Thai National Shippers’ Council (TNSC) proposed nuclear power as an alternative energy solution to protect the country’s economy from future risk of power disruption.

Power disruption! Even countries with electricity cannot always rely  on it and not being able to rely on it is almost as bad as not having any. And to the Shipper’s Council, it’s clearly untenable. The story that follows doesn’t really explain this.

TNSC chief Paiboon Polsuwanna said the construction of nuclear plants is a viable option to cope with energy demand during the peak of the hottest season in the country. He added that there has been resistance to nuclear energy after a nuclear disaster in 2011 at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. However, following Vietnam’s recently announced plans to build 5 nuclear plants, Thailand's risk levels for a possible nuclear meltdown in close proximity to the country’s territory has already been heightened.

Let’s color this – bizarre. The argument seems to be that since Viet-Nam is now in a position to watch its numerous plants go pear shaped and pollute Thailand, the latter might as well do it themselves. I doubt the Vietnamese consider this very plausible – maybe it’s a cultural thing. Who knows? It’s pretty bizarre, though.

I looked for something to suggest how Thailand wants to build out its electricity profile to limit its shortages and found this very recent – and again rather bizarre – story.

Thailand is targeting the development of more coal-fired power plants as it struggles to meet surging demand for electricity.

The country’s energy minister, Mr Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn, believes Thailand has too much of a dependency on natural gas-fired power and says coal power offers a ‘viable alternative.’

Someone’s been dropped on his head and isn’t right anymore. This wouldn’t seem a good approach. But wait – Minister Pongsak is just getting going.

The minister said that 70 per cent of Thailand’s electricity generation comes from gas power, which he says is unhealthy. However he added that renewables and nuclear power sources were too expensive.

"Few energy sources are cheaper than natural gas — nuclear, hydro or coal. The so-called soft, alternative fuels such as wind or solar energy have a high price tag of 10 baht per unit," Mr Pongsak said. "Relying on these sources will add to the public's power bills while eroding the competitiveness of the industrial sector."

All of this seems topsy-turvy and ready to point Thailand in exactly the wrong direction. Leaving nuclear energy aside, as the Thais are doing, bailing on gas for coal due to the relative “safety” of the two of them seems – uninformed at best. And I’m not sure it solves the problem.

The only conclusion to come to here is that the Shippers Council isn’t going to get much satisfaction. I still think there are examples of sensible recent electrification projects, perhaps with a nuclear angle – perhaps Vietnam. But this isn’t it. This is the counter example. This is cloud cuckoo-land.

Guest Post: Oral Argument Set for Tomorrow in NEI Complaint on Mining in Arizona Strip

The following is a guest blog post submitted by Ellen Ginsberg, vice president, general counsel and secretary of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

On March 1, 2013, the federal District Court of Arizona will hear oral argument on the NEI’s pending motion for summary judgment in its challenge to the Secretary of Interior’s withdrawal of over one million acres of public lands in Northern Arizona, including promising uranium deposits, under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (“FLPMA”).

NEI, joined by the National Mining Association, has argued that the Secretary of Interior lacked authority for the withdrawal in light of an unconstitutional legislative veto in the provision of FLPMA relied upon by the Secretary in issuing the withdrawal. The government has already conceded that the provision’s legislative veto is unconstitutional, leaving to be decided whether or not the remainder of the provision and the Secretary’s authority to issue such large-scale withdrawals survives.

Map detail of the "Arizona Strip," courtesy of Arizona State University.
This week’s argument comes on the heels of the district court’s order earlier this year confirming NEI’s standing to raise its constitutional challenge, in addition to claims under FLPMA and the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). The case is National Mining Association v. Salazar, No. 12-8038, consolidated under lead case Yount v. Salazar, No. 11-8171.

Editor's Note: We expect to have some comments from NEI's counsel on the ground in Arizona. Please follow our twitter feed tomorrow for a live update.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No Tears, Please, for Nuclear Energy

crysmall190Natural gas is priced lower than ever, a fair number of nuclear reactors have been sidelined with extended outages – enough to bring the fleet’s total capacity down for the year – and a couple of plants are closing albeit for different reasons. Surely, we could be excused for being a little – lachrymose, yes?

Growing fearful that the nuclear energy industry will suddenly crater or more subtly wave a handkerchief goodbye as it gradually leaves the scene is not really backed up by facts.

Consider: Natural gas will increase in price; the carbon emission profile between natural gas and nuclear energy has become more apparent (as we’ll see as we go along); utilities loath putting all their energy eggs in a single basket; and nuclear energy, finally, is a mature and well understood technology. All these weigh in favor of hesitating before composing an epitaph. (“You glowed brightly, but too briefly.”) No one is going bankrupt running a nuclear facility, a majority of reactors will continue to operate over the next 20 or so years, and five more reactors will join the fleet in the next few years.

So, to quote the Cenobite leader in Hellraiser, No tears, please, it’s a waste of good suffering. Suffering isn’t happening.

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I was struck by  this blog post from The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer, which sheds some tears on the decline of nuclear energy:

So why is nuclear on the wane? Part of the story here is simply that America’s fleet of reactors is aging and are being taken offline more frequently for repairs. The San Onofre plant near San Diego, for instance, has been out since January 2012.

Because it goes on immediately:

Some of the big outages seen recently could just be a temporary blip.

Why, yes, quite possibly. Plus the problems at plants Plumer discusses are different from one another and, as far as I can tell, not age related. The facilities are aging, surely, but they are not static entities – the issue at San Onofre, for example, has to do with a new steam generator not working as advertised. No one has suggested that the plant is decrepit. The NRC and the utilities would not allow a falling-down plant to operate. The point, though, is that San Onofre put in new equipment and is keeping up to date with technology – as every facility does - that may have caused a problem in this instance.

Plumer is exploring not judging. So, a line like this might rankle a bit:

That could be the start of a trend: One energy analyst told Bloomberg that at least 4 of the 102 remaining U.S. reactors are now at risk of early retirement “due to new power market economics.”

Maybe, maybe not – we’ll have to see – but there are five more reactors being built. Lost capacity , if the energy analyst is correct, will be replaced and then some.

But Plumer also plays fair in ways somewhat unusual for the non-technical press:

Over at Scientific American, David Biello ponders the climate implications of this potential shift. As long as natural gas was edging out dirtier coal, the shale-gas boom was helping to drive down U.S. carbon emissions. (Natural gas emits about half the carbon that coal does when burned for electricity.) But if cheap shale gas is starting to elbow out carbon-free nuclear power as well, that makes the carbon story more complicated.

Or renewable energy sources. I’ve rarely seen this simple reality expressed – natural gas has done such a good job selling itself as “clean” that people assume it’s the same as wind or nuclear in that regard. It’s not – and it does no harm to say so, as it at least provides more context for natural gas in policy discussions.

But you know, you’d expect me to say these sorts of things. (See name of blog.) We’re not disinterested spectators, are we? Though our views don’t just come from unyielding nuclear partisanship (a bit perhaps, but not all), let’s look at what’s happening out there in the real world.

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Here’s Tennessee Valley Authority’s CEO Bill Johnson. He’s not disinterested, either, but he does have a realistic, perhaps even hardnosed viewpoint on energy issues. TVA intends to finish up a reactor project at its Watts Bar facility and has committed to Babcock & Wilcox’s small reactor design at its Clinch River site near the Oak Ridge National Labs.

"I am a believer in nuclear power, but frankly our history is pretty spotty."

Wait, what?

"If you look back at the 1970s and '80s, the estimates on those plants and the actual completion costs varied greatly."

Okay, fair enough.

"We know a lot more today than we did then, and our project management tools are better, but it is still a tremendous challenge," said Johnson, a former CEO at Progress Energy and Duke Energy.

Also fair enough, and it shows that when the marketplace is amenable, then one of the more difficult aspects of contemplating a nuclear energy facility – the daunting cost of the physical plant – can be worthwhile. Unlike, say, France, Russia or China, where the government owns the facilities, individual companies have to pony up the cash in this country. Johnson would be a fool not to acknowledge the “challenge” of building nuclear facilities, which means he is cleared eyed and also, regardless, not deterred. (I should mention that TVA, as a government agency, is a special case but it still has to fund its projects itself.)

Back to the Post’s Plumer:

So is there any hope for new nukes? Perhaps. Construction is underway on two large new AP-1000 reactors at the Vogtle power plant near Augusta, Georgia — the first new reactors approved since the 1970s. Meanwhile, two other new nuclear units have been approved for the Virgil C. Summer plant in South Carolina.

Which is more hope than we’ve had in some years – and throw in the reactor at Watts Bar – plus TVA’s interest in small reactors – plus an expanding global marketplace.

I think Plumer almost finds his way through a difficult thicket, with vagrant incidents suggesting that something has gone awry with the nuclear energy industry. He does not quite depart from that thesis, yet he demonstrates that, tantalizing as the examples of decline seem (to him), there are too few swallows to make a spring – and the swallows that have shown up don’t even look like one another.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Why the Leaking Underground Tanks at Hanford Have Nothing to Do With Used Nuclear Fuel at US Nuclear Power Plants

Late on Friday night Washington Gov. Jay Insleee announced the following news:
Six underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington state were recently found to be leaking radioactive waste, but there is no immediate risk to human health, state and federal officials said on Friday.

The seeping waste adds to decades of soil contamination caused by leaking storage tanks at Hanford in the past and threatens to further taint groundwater below the site but poses no near-term danger of polluting the Columbia River, officials said.

The newly discovered leaks were revealed by Governor Jay Inslee a week after the U.S. Energy Department disclosed that radioactive waste was found to be escaping from one tank at Hanford.

Inslee said he was informed on Friday by outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu that a total of six of the aging, single-walled tanks were leaking radioactive waste.

"There is no immediate or near-term health risk associated with these newly discovered leaks, which are more than 5 miles from the Columbia River," Inslee said in a statement released by his office. "But nonetheless this is disturbing news for all Washingtonians."
While most of our readers understand that there's no connection between these tanks full of defense waste and the used nuclear fuel that's stored safely at plant sites around the country, that hasn't stopped some members of the media from coming to that conclusion -- something that James Conca at Forbes ably pointed out over the weekend.

To recap some quick takeaways:
  • Commercial reactor fuel is solid material, not liquid like the material at Hanford.
  • Commercial reactor fuel is securely stored in steel-lined concrete vaults or steel and concrete containers above ground.
  • Storage facilities at nuclear energy facilities are licensed and inspected by independent regulators.
In order to help dispel the confusion, we've published a fact sheet on the topic and made it available on our website a few minutes ago. Click here to read that document, "No Similarity Between Commercial Reactor Fuel Storage, Leaking Underground Waste Tanks at DOE’s Hanford Site."

For more on how the industry safely stores used nuclear fuel, please check out this interactive graphic.

Guest Post: Nuclear Energy and the Value of CWIP


Bottom of containment vessel for new reactor at Plant Vogtle
The following guest post was written by NEI's Mitch Singer.

Jeff McMahon bases his argument against nuclear cost recovery “Editors Rebel Against Ratepayer Financing For Nuclear Plants,” on the sole premise that because natural gas is inexpensive at this point in time it will remain so for decades. Therefore, energy companies should rely solely on one source of electricity generation. Ignoring the old adage of not putting your eggs in one basket is as relevant in generation choices as it is in financial investments.

Energy companies evaluate a variety of factors to determine their generating mix and plan not in years, but rather decades ahead. Public utility commissioners do the same. They conduct an extensive analysis of the state’s demand growth commonly known as a “determination of needs” that looks at all methods of generation to see which ones are most suitable. Commissioners are also obligated to make sure there is diversification in the state’s generating portfolio, balance economic and environmental concerns and try to keep costs down.

Florida, for example, receives 62 percent of its electricity from natural gas and an overall 86 percent from fossil fuels. Natural gas may be low now, but history has proven on many occasions that low natural gas prices in the U.S. are not sustainable. Within the last month we’ve seen the price of natural gas spike to more than $30 per million BTU on the spot market in New England due to frigid weather and a shortage of natural gas pipeline capacity. So what did New England do to mitigate the impact? It imported significant amounts of electricity from the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York.

Here in lies the value of nuclear energy as it provides a stable, low-operating cost baseload source of electricity that offers a myriad of economic and environmental benefits. Nuclear cost recovery, commonly known as construction work in progress (CWIP), allows a utility to recover financing costs and return on equity. By doing so, a utility avoids paying “interest on interest” that would occur if all costs are held until the plant goes into service. 

In Georgia, where Southern Co. and Georgia Power are building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle, just this past week the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the latest cost and schedule reports. One PSC staff member put the reasoning succinctly, saying the projectremains more economically viable than any other (fuel) resource, including a natural gas-fired alternative.”


In Georgia, CWIP is expected to save Southern Company’s ratepayers $300 million in financing costs during construction. CWIP also will reduce the in-service cost of the plant by $2 billion, saving customers additional financing costs over its expected 60-year life. The utility also has improved cash flows through CWIP that support stronger financial ratings, which result in lower interest costs for the project and all other utility investments over the long term. CWIP is allowed by public utilities and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to support the construction of baseload electricity plants and transmission lines for a simple reason: because it saves money for consumers and gets necessary infrastructure constructed.

New nuclear power plants also act as a macro-economic catalyst. The reliable, low-cost electricity provided by nuclear plants operates at close to 90 percent capacity. Thus, nuclear’s forward price and supply stability provide a high level of confidence in attracting capital formation to start new businesses and expand existing businesses, which results in job formation and expanded tax revenues. The Plant Vogtle project is about one-third completed and has already generated almost 5,000 jobs during the construction period and there will be about 700 permanent, high-paying jobs associated with the two new reactors when they’re completed by the end of this decade. In addition the average nuclear plant generates approximately $470 million a year in total output for the local community and about $40 million per year in total labor income. Nuclear also bring the environmental benefit of being the largest source of emission-free electricity.

Natural gas may be the preferred generation choice of today. But as Roman conquerors were warned during the celebrations of their triumphs; all glory is fleeting.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Nuclear Energy: In the Hands of Experts (And That’s a Bad Thing)

CyclopsYesterday, I highlighted a good list of reasons to use nuclear energy that worked its case a little too hard – why oversell when you can just sell, after all?

Anti-nuclear advocates almost always oversell. Some of the arguments are fact-based - the disposition of used nuclear fuel, proliferation, etc. These, at least, are debatable. But some root in what might be called deep dish ideology, with a soupcon of academic mumbo jumbo.

Take this list by Jim McCluskey of “10 urgent reasons to reject nuclear energy” for example:

6. They [nuclear energy plants] Epitomize the Centralization of Power.

There is a burgeoning awareness among citizens that they are more free and more in control of their lives if facilities and decision-making occur at the local level, that national government should only control those matters that cannot be dealt with locally. Nuclear power is the ultimate way of centralizing power, putting it in the hands of experts, multinational corporations and national - often distant - government. In complete contrast to this, benign methods of supplying power, such as wind and water turbines, solar energy and heat pumps can be in the control of local communities and even, for some provisions, households.

Distant government sounds like medieval Europe, doesn’t it, and the writer may well mean to evoke a time of serfdom. He who owns the windmill owns the mill, after all, though in this instance, windmills are “benign” and nuclear energy plants are run by sinister “experts” (?). This argument has a certain off-the-grid appeal, with perhaps a tea party love of the 10th amendment mixed in, but it’s not really an argument, it’s a personal statement. It sounds like hooey to me, but it’s manna to McCluskey. 

It’s true that nuclear plants are regulated on a national basis, but sited locally and usually considered a benefit locally. No, it’s not the same as setting up a little bundle of turbines in your backyard, but I can’t see anything inherently wrong with either approach. Either can be done well or badly.

But it does make this point intriguing:

Because of their potential of mass destruction, nuclear power stations are a major target for terrorists. The 9/11 atrocity would be tiny by comparison. If a large plane were flown into a nuclear power station, the disaster would be immeasurably worse than Chernobyl.

At least you can throw some facts back at this one. First, let’s dispose of the airplane argument:

The EPRI study found nuclear power plant containment buildings and used fuel storage pools would protect reactor fuel even if the structures were struck by a fully loaded Boeing 767-400 flying at approximately the same speed as the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon. The study also found that such an impact would not breach the used fuel storage containers used at many plants to store used nuclear fuel outside a used fuel pool. Such a crash certainly would cause a significant amount of collateral plant damage, and no doubt would shut down the plant. However, the EPRI study concluded that such an event would not cause a release of radiation because it would not result in a breach of reactor containment, nor would it cause the spent fuel pool to lose cooling water that shields the fuel from the environment.

EPRI Is the Electric Power Research Institute. It has no particular reason to be in the tank for the nuclear energy industry and has done a fair number of reports on this subject. Put “terrorist” in the EPRI search box and you’ll learn a lot.

But the interesting point here is that locally sourced electricity – solar arrays and wind farms would not be more safe from a terrorist attack and an attack could cripple a town quickly if exploited. Nuclear energy facilities have large and well-trained security forces, as does most essential infrastructure. (Some of this came about after the terrorist attacks. They weren’t taken lightly.)

In any event, one point – sourcing electricity locally - makes hash of the other point – that a solar array or wind farm would be safer from terrorist attack than a nuclear plant. It just doesn’t follow logically or factually.

One more point, rather more serious:

7. Poor countries are made dependent on rich ones.

Poor countries do not have the knowledge and facilities to design, build, maintain and run their own nuclear power stations. This puts them at the mercy of the rich and more technically advanced states if they go down the nuclear power route.Technically less advanced countries with nuclear power stations increase the safety risks.

First, I wouldn’t underestimate the intelligence and capability of local populations or their knowing when assistance (even “expert” assistance) is necessary. The UAE is getting up to speed with the help of the IAEA. Turkey will depend on the very experienced Russians to help run their plant and regulatory authority (I’m sure the IAEA is there somewhere, too.) 

Second, countries making a move toward electrification cannot and, I daresay, will not be fobbed off with intermittent energy sources because they have to avoid carbon emissions. Late to the party, no industrial revolution for you!

Nuclear energy is a real solution here because it is both a dessert topping and a floor wax. it provides potent baseload power and it’s free of carbon emission. Only hydro can claim anything similar. In a larger context, I think we can agree that access to electricity falls closer to being a human right, not a talking point. It’s not nuclear energy that’s key here, it’s electricity.

None of these arguments seem valid. They contradict each other, they promote a view of energy that is (almost) anti-science in nature, and they condescend to countries not already electrified – a sort of Whole Earth Catalog viewpoint that’s gone berserk. It all points backward, just as much of the world is surging forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Fool for Nuclear Energy

motley fool jokerThe Motley Fool offers a list of myths about nuclear energy, with an eye, as you might expect, to investing your hard-earned money into various projects. Writer Maxx Chatsko seems to really like TerraPower, which is fine, as long as we recognize that it is one of many projects out there. But we’re smart enough to figure that out, I think. What I found interesting about this list, which is useful and well-intentioned, is that it rather oversells nuclear energy.

We should  like that, yes? Well, maybe, but it can lead to cul-de-sacs, making more complex what should be quite simple to grasp. For example:

28. Radiation exposure from abandoned medical equipment, which kills two to four people each year, is more deadly than living or working at a nuclear plant. 

But here’s the point: contracting radiation sickness at or near a nuclear power plant isn’t just rare, it hasn’t happened. That’s all you really need to say.

Accidents at American plants are occupational in nature, and nuclear facilities have a very good record on that score. So do utilities in general. Take a look at page 12 of this pdf from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and you’ll see that occupational mishaps at all utilities is very low. While almost any human activity carries risk, working at or living near a nuclear facility is not by a long shot one of the riskier ones. Heck, candles are riskier propositions. That’s a point well worth making.

25. Entrepreneur Seth Goldin recently compiled historical World Health Organization, or WHO, data to determine the global death rates for various energy sources. For every terawatt hour of electricity generation, there were 161 coal-related deaths, four natural gas-related deaths, 0.15 wind-related deaths, and 0.04 nuclear-related deaths.

26. A 2011 study (link opens PDF) conducted by the WHO determined that environmental noise causes enough stress each year to shorten European lifetimes 3.376 million years. In other words, as Europeans worry about doomsday nuclear scenarios, they lose, on average, three days of life each year from the noise of their car engines.  

This could go on forever – it’s a morbid game, though, with little utility. Chatsko could say that playing with kittens is more dangerous than a nuclear power plant and stay on target,  even if you play with the kittens right beside a nuclear plant. (Not sure how this works if there’s a lot of noise near the plant.)

Nuclear energy facilities are incredibly safe. No one has contracted radiation sickness at or from them. The occupational accident record is extremely good.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Meteorite Over Russia–and Its Nuclear Facilities

When I think of a meteorite, it’s usually the one that hits Earth at the beginning of The War of the Worlds (1953). In that movie, you start with this:

meteor

And end up with this:

waroftheworlds

The meteorite that flew over Russia today provided some very striking videos itself, minus Martians and heat rays. This video shows both the tail and and the air burst, complete with shattering glass and a lot of car alarms going off:

The title means Explosion in Chelyabinsk. Naturally, we were curious about the nuclear plants in the region. The closest to where many of the videos were taken is also called Chelyabinsk, about 140 miles distant, but it looks as though Rosatom, the Russian nuclear authority, got more questions about Mayak, which is not a reactor but a reprocessing plant.

Russia’s state-run atomic agency, Rosatom, said there were no damage to the nuclear facilities in the region and all operations continued as usual. Mayak nuclear plant -- one of the largest nuclear facilities of Rosatom -- is located in the area that was hit by the meteorite.

“All facilities are working as usual. They haven’t been damaged by the meteorite strike,” a Rosatom source said.

We may say that the risk of a large meteorite striking a nuclear energy facility – or anything else – is vanishingly small. From the NRC’s Safety Regulations:

2.10 Extraterrestrial Activity (Meteorite Strikes, Satellite Falls) Extraterrestrial activity is considered to be natural satellites such as meteors or artificial satellites that enter the earth's atmosphere from space. Because the probability of a meteorite strike is very small (less than 10-9) (NUREG/CR-5042, Suppl. 2), it can be dismissed on the basis of its low initiating event frequency.

It would be more plausible as a SyFy channel movie than as a reality. There are different opinions as to whether this meteor struck the earth (meteorite) or did not (meteor) – the growing consensus is that it did, but I imagine we’ll find out for sure soon enough. In the meantime, the Washington Post has posted a bunch of information about meteor(ite)s

Q: How common are meteorite strikes?

A: Experts say smaller strikes happen five to 10 times a year. Large impacts such as the one Friday in Russia are rarer but still occur about every five years, according to Addi Bischoff, a mineralogist at the University of Muenster in Germany. Most of these strikes happen in uninhabited areas where they don’t injure humans.

I guess the Post has gone with meteorite on this. This has added considerable excitement to a Friday, not least because it’s the first large meteor(ite) caught on video by so many people, probably a gold mine for astronomers and definitely a exciting event for everyone all over – how else would we have a chance to see something like this? Good to know that Russian consumer society has grown to the point that so many folks have phone video devices.

But:

Let’s remember that this event has had a human toll, with glass blowing out from the air bursts and hurting people in its path. The current figure is more than 1000 injured and no casualties. Let’s hope that latter number remains zero.

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Now, that’s the meteor. What about the asteroid, DA14? Well, it’s coming upon us even as we speak. You can keep track of it as it passes as close as 17,000 miles. That puts it between the moon and the earth and there’s a slim possibility that it could smack into a satellite. But, let’s be clear, not the earth. The asteroid is about three times the size of the meteor.

Visit here for a dashboard that provides screens for Live Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video, Live NASA TV Channel - to carry fly by later today, Live Russian Television (Russia will be able to see it during their night), What the world is saying about the asteroid on social media (updated live) and What NASA is saying about the asteroid on social media (updated live).

What’s the difference between an asteroid and a meteor? An asteroid is a small object that orbits the sun. (Comets do, too, but generate a small atmosphere and tail; asteroids do not.) Meteors are space debris, smaller than asteroids, but otherwise similar. The Russian meteor(ite) did not chip off from DA14.

No nuclear connection I can find, but who cares? May we continue to live in interesting times.

UPDATE 2:30: That was fast. Asteroid back out to space. We can still see pictures and video of it as it speeds away.

Another Economist for Nuclear Energy

Tufts University Prof. Ujjayant Chakravorty
From the earliest days of the blog, we've tried to introduce our readers to personalities who support the expanded use of nuclear energy. That was the whole idea of a series of posts called, "Another Blogger for Nuclear Energy."

In the same vein, I'd like to present Ujjayant Chakravorty, an economic professor at Tufts University who specializes in resource and environmental economics.

A graduate of the prestigious IIT in Delhi, Prof. Chakravorty came to Tufts from the University of Alberta. For him, supporting the expansion of nuclear energy is all about helping the world transition to clean energy. Here's what he had to day in an interview with Phys.org:
What are the advantages of nuclear power?

If you look at where base load power comes from—the least amount of energy we need to provide power—you need a major source, something that is non-stop. Nuclear provides non-stop generation. It's not like depending on sun or wind. Nuclear plants are available day in and day out, and they don't emit greenhouse gases.
Click here to read the rest right now.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Super-Hot Nuclear Reactor–and the Hydrogen Cars that Love It

osuIt’s a good thing we learned young not to touch the stove:

This nuclear reactor’[s] the new approach is a "super-hot" type of nuclear reactor cooled by helium gas, not water, and can reach 2000 degrees. That's about three times hotter than existing reactors.

Something went sic in this Fox News Oregon story. It’s about a new approach to nuclear energy that will be demonstrated at Oregon State University.

Construction began today on the $4.8 million facility meant to test a new nuclear energy technology that could be safer, more efficient and produce less waste than existing approaches.

Researchers say it is a viable and versatile energy concept for the future.

[…]

Researchers say it could produce electricity, hydrogen to power automobiles, steam to heat a building complex, or provide a cheaper way to desalinate seawater.

I admit that “hydrogen to power automobiles,” puzzled me. Are there cars that do that now?

If they can make the cars, we could use this technology to make the hydrogen," said Brian Woods, an associate professor of nuclear engineering and director of this project. "One of the biggest attractions of the high-temperature reactors is their versatility. They could be used in so many ways.”

Oh, okay, so we may say this goal is aspirational. Of course, we could just skip a step and have cars outfitted with a flux capacitor. Those I think can break the time barrier, useful when you’re late to work.

Snark aside, hydrogen cars are on their way. Here’s a story about a hydrogen powered Toyota due in 2015.

Executives from Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Volkswagen see fuel-cell vehicles as being further out, and most have not said when they'll have vehicles on the market.

In other words, around 2020. The future (if this works out) may be closer than it appears in the rear view mirror.

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Let’s look at the source of the reactor project, Oregon State University. It certainly doesn’t undersell it:

Like any existing nuclear reactor, the high-temperature nuclear reactors could produce electricity – about 35-50 percent more efficiently than existing approaches. But they also create about half as much radioactive waste, by the nature of their design cannot melt down, and like all nuclear technologies produce no greenhouse gas emissions.

They could be cost-effectively built as small modular reactors, and produce super-heated steam that works well for powering large chemical companies or building complexes. As demand grows for fresh water in arid regions, they could offer a more cost-effective way to desalinate sea water.

And there’s more about the hydrogen cars:

And a promising potential is to produce hydrogen that could power the automobiles of the future, using efficient hydrogen fuel cells that leave only electricity and water as their byproducts. There are still obstacles to overcome in hydrogen transportation and storage, but a high-temperature nuclear reactor could directly split water, or H20, into hydrogen and oxygen, without emitting greenhouse gases.

The university seems less sure about them than Toyota and the other automakers.

The story says that the university expects this reactor approach could take hold commercially by the middle of the century, but that depends on it being able to scale successfully and for all the theoretical presumptions to work practically – and all that is before you hit the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It certainly could happen – we’re not gainsaying this project – but there will be a lot of milestones on the way to 2050. Well worth keeping an eye on, though. This is where the future of nuclear energy originates.

NEI CNO Disputes LA Times Editorial on San Onofre

Tony Pietrangelo
Earlier today, the Los Angeles Times ran a letter to the editor from NEI Chief Nuclear Officer Tony Pietrangelo disputing an earlier editorial by the newspaper concerning the potential restart of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station:
There is a comprehensive, deliberative process at work to resolve the steam generator challenge at San Onofre, one involving the independent federal regulatory and oversight body, the NRC. It's one that even lawmakers and activists with agendas should respect.

For more than 30 years, San Onofre has safely provided clean electricity, employed thousands of workers and become a bedrock community asset in generating millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Edison ought to be accorded due process in a regulatory framework, whose stringency and commitment to safety is second to none.
For more information on San Onofre, please visit SONGSCommunity.com.

Guest Post: Nuclear Energy’s Value Proposition Still Strong, Will Reassert Itself in Next Decade

J. Scott Peterson
The following guest post was written by J. Scott Peterson, NEI's senior vice president, communications.

NEW YORK CITY—Despite challenging electricity markets and natural gas prices at a 13-year low, industry leaders are confident in the long-term prospects for nuclear energy and its contributions to the electricity mix and U.S. economic growth.

On average, America’s 104 commercial reactors are the most efficient power producers on the grid—operating at 86 percent capacity factor. Capacity factor is a measure of efficiency, with a 100-percent rating equaling full power production 24/7, 365 days. Absent reactors in California, Florida and Nebraska that have been closed virtually all year for extended maintenance, the capacity factor at the other 100 reactors was just shy of 90 percent.

“We continue to invest in these facilities to preserve their asset value,” NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel told nearly 200 financial analysts and journalists at the Institute’s annual briefing in New York. “We want them in position to operate beyond 40 years—perhaps more than 60 years—and to incorporate new upgrades to maintain the highest possible level of safety.”

Depressed natural gas prices, which set electricity prices in many markets, and flat electricity demand are putting near-term pressure on some nuclear energy facilities in deregulated markets. But Fertel and industry leaders are focusing on nuclear energy’s role providing fuel diversity in the electric sector for the longer-term and the value chain of nuclear energy that extends beyond low-cost, reliable power production.

“Our plans must be flexible to adapt to high- and low-price markets and must balance short- and long-term views,” Entergy Corp. CEO Leo Denault told analysts Feb. 8. He added that Entergy, which operates 12 reactors, would continue to advocate for markets that value nuclear energy’s added value: “a source of clean energy with effectively zero emissions, grid reliability…fuel diversity, and jobs and other contributions to the regional economy.”

Fertel echoed Denault’s value chain for nuclear energy on Thursday. “Low-carbon, baseload electricity is a crucial element of sustainable development and it is why many nations are building or planning to build more nuclear energy facilities. The value proposition for nuclear energy is still strong and will reassert itself as we move beyond the near term.”

Recognition of this value chain is growing among policymakers, environmental leaders and consumers. Eighty-one percent of U.S. adults in a Feb. 8-10 survey by Bisconti Research/GfK said nuclear energy is important to America’s electricity mix.

That value chain includes:
  • Production of large quantities of electricity around the clock—nearly 770 billion kilowatt-hours in 2012;
  • Job creation, including thousands of jobs at new reactor projects in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee and a doubling of uranium enrichment production in New Mexico;
  • Providing clean air compliance, including the prevention of controlled emissions under the Clean Air Act and reducing the carbon compliance burden that would otherwise fall on natural gas and coal-fired power plant;
  • Providing voltage support to the grid;
  • Providing forward power price stability, particularly for large industrial users of electricity;
  • Contributing to fuel and technology diversity that is one of the foundations of America’s reliable and resilient electric sector.
“We continue to believe that our [nuclear] assets are some of the lowest-cost, most dispatchable baseload assets,” Exelon CEO Christopher Crane told The Chicago Tribune on Feb. 8.

Nuclear energy facilities are increasingly important for fuel diversity as natural gas use for electricity generation grows. In Florida, where more than 60 percent of electricity is produced by burning natural gas, Florida Power and Light recently completed uprates totaling 490 megawatts at its Turkey Point and St. Lucie reactors. Based on the FPL’s latest projected price of fuel and other factors, this investment is projected to save customers $3.8 billion on fossil fuel costs that otherwise would have been used over their operating lifetime.

“This value proposition will become increasingly self-evident and will drive a bright long-term future for nuclear energy,” said Fertel.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Partnerships and Information Sharing in President Obama's Executive Order on Cyber Security

President Obama at 2013 SOTU
Yesterday President Obama signed an Executive Order aimed at helping nation harden its critical infrastructure against cyber attacks, and introduced it to the nation as part of his State of the Union address.

The Order states, "We can achieve these goals through a partnership with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure to improve cybersecurity information sharing and collaboratively develop and implement risk-based standards."

The partnership model has a history of success, and it is prudent to continue and support this model.

The nuclear power industry has an active partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security specifically geared toward enhancing the security of commercial users of nuclear materials.

Under HSPD-7, the industry established the Nuclear Sector Coordinating Council (NSCC), and the government established the Government Coordinating Council (GCC).  These groups meet quarterly under the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC) framework.

The NSCC/GCC provides an instrumental forum for organizations engaging in civilian uses of nuclear materials in the U.S. to discuss security issues and work together with our federal partners to enhance security and resilience.

The order also discusses the importance of information sharing. I could not agree more. The nuclear power industry in the U.S. has a proven record of responding in a timely manner to identified threats to the safe operations of our facilities.


Information sharing is integral to establishing a robust cyber security program. As I discussed in a previous blog post on nuclear power plant cybersecurity, our plants have been actively addressing the cyber threat for over 10 years.

The first questions that must be answered when establishing a security program are:
  1. What must be protected?
  2. What must it be protected from?
Information sharing has been instrumental in helping us stay on top of what we must be prepared to defend against.

Under the NSCC/GCC framework, the nuclear sector receives quarterly threat briefings at the SECRET level. The DHS also conducts monthly sector-specific unclassified threat briefings.

So, at a high level, the EO is moving in the right direction. But we cannot lose sight of good work already done.

This new emphasis on the adoption of cyber security practices must consider the existing regulatory frameworks and voluntary initiatives that are already in place.Complexity is the enemy of security. Streamlining and minimizing burden on private entities ensures that resources remain available to respond to real threats.

Ensuring that any new cyber security guidance, practices, or policies does not overlap or duplicate existing practices is essential. For addition details, please consult the NEI backgrounder on Cyber Security.

POSTSCRIPT: The Nuclear Energy Institute’s chief nuclear officer and senior vice president, Anthony R. (Tony) Pietrangelo, made the following comment about the cyber security executive order signed Tuesday by President Obama.

Tony Pietrangelo
“Commercial nuclear energy facilities are well protected from possible cyber threats. The nuclear energy industry has been implementing and improving cyber security controls since 2002, and the federal agency that oversees the nation’s nuclear energy facilities—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—has established regulations that thoroughly monitor and inspect cyber security at all U.S. reactors.

“To ensure our constant readiness, the industry participates with government agencies to be aware of and assess its readiness for emerging cyber threats. Our facilities are essentially cyber islands, in that safety and control systems are not connected to business networks or the Internet. Unlike industries for which two-way data flow is critical, nuclear power plants do not require incoming data flow.

“Nuclear plants also are protected from grid instability, with multiple backup power supplies that provide for safe shutdown of a reactor in the event of a power blackout. Given that the NRC appropriately exercises authority over the protection of nuclear plant systems from potential cyber threats, it would be counterproductive to have dual oversight of these facilities.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nuclear Energy Institute Comments on President Obama’s State of Union Address

Alex Flint
Alex Flint, Nuclear Energy Institute senior vice president of governmental affairs, made the following comment in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress.

“As the President and Congress work to return the economy to sound footing, it is worth remembering that sustained economic growth will require affordable, reliable energy supplies. For decades now, nuclear energy—with its added advantage of being the nation’s leading low-carbon source of electricity—has been one of the pillars of our electric sector. It is imperative that nuclear energy facilities continue to play a key role in the mix of electricity sources for U.S. energy, environmental and economic goals to be achieved.

“Beyond the massive amounts of electricity they generate, nuclear energy facilities create hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect revenue for state and local economies. With five reactors being built in the United States and nearly 70 more under construction internationally, it’s important that American energy companies have a fair chance to compete in a global nuclear market that could be as large as $750 billion over the next 10 years. Every $1 billion of exports represents 5,000 to 10,000 American jobs.

“Because America’s leadership in this market provides strategic value well beyond the purely business aspects, the Nuclear Energy Institute will work with the administration and Congress to foster a high level of government agency coordination that is needed for success in the international markets. Among the issues that Congress and the administration should support are approval of bilateral trade agreements on nuclear energy technology and prompt review of export licenses by the Department of Energy for the sale of U.S. nuclear energy technology abroad.”

“The Nuclear Option is Still There”

MidAmerican-Energy-Logo_mw6gPThis comment makes sense only if Crystal River’s closing can be seen to have wider application:

Despite increasing demand for carbon-free power generation, the future of nuclear plants is clouded by the abundance of domestic natural gas, which has led many utilities to embrace that fuel for power generators. That has eased the pressure on operators to keep nuclear plants open, especially if there are questions about their safety.

“There is more of a feeling that because you have very low natural gas prices, there is another alternative out there,” Mr. Dean said.

“This has eased the pressure on operators to keep nuclear plants open.” Pressure? If there are questions about their safety? Mr. Dean is John Dean, president of JD Energy, an energy and environmental forecasting firm based in Frederick, Md.

In this instance, the main reason Mr. Dean can say this is because Duke’s plan to close Crystal River provides a basis for saying it. As we explained a couple of days ago, it’s awkward to use Crystal River for this purpose. One particular closing doesn’t portend anything in itself unless it really is the leading edge of a trend – which Crystal River does not seem likely to be.

The Times’ Jon Hurdle tries a different version of this approach and has greater success with it. That’s because he casts his net wider and does not let Dean become the sole voice of authority.

The 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant has led to more stringent safety testing at nuclear plants in the United States under changes adopted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “It increased the level of scrutiny,” said Dave McIntyre, a commission spokesman.

This is unassailably true. But it doesn’t close the circle – the facilities passed their post-Fukushima stress tests and are currently working through a list of additional NRC safety measures. That counts for something.

---

And to be honest, the Times’ post isn’t trying to make hay out of Crystal River – it’s exploring a topic, not trend hunting. Facilities have closed for various reasons over the years. That’s one thing. These days, natural gas is the “natural” way to replace a nuclear facility closing during the tens. That’s another. It says something about the economics of energy today – so does the downturn that began in 2007 and so does the drop in electricity use that accompanied it. This is not a permanent state of affairs (though sometimes it may feel like it is.)

There are countervailing forces, too, with utilities taking different views based on the market forces they consider important. Take, for example, energy security, which is enhanced by maintaining a diverse portfolio.

“I’m agnostic on the fuel issue,” Fehrman said. “But what we need is a diverse mix. It’s not a good idea to put too many eggs in one basket.”

Fehrman is MidAmerican President William Fehrman. He goes on to say:

“We may propose nuclear at one of the sites or we may propose natural gas,” he said.

The article in the Des Moines Register points out that the trend is to natural gas, so what the heck is up with MidAmerican that it wants to consider new nuclear?

First, the natural gas angle:

Fehrman has been less eager to turn to natural gas. His reasoning: Natural gas looks good now when it sells for less than $3.50 per thousand cubic feet. But five years ago, gas sold for $10 per thousand cubic feet, and Fehrman said he has been unable to persuade natural gas companies to offer him long-term contracts.

Which would seem to mean that natural gas companies are not sure enough yet of the future to ensure they’ll make money under such contracts. Fair enough.

And nuclear:

“The nuclear option is still there,” said MidAmerican President William Fehrman, who said the Des Moines-based utility will add more color to its future generating plans in a report to the Iowa Utilities Board this summer.

All right, I admit that doesn’t sound incredibly enthusiastic, but MidAmerican needs the Iowa legislature to go along with a CWIP plan – which would allow the company to add a small upcharge to ratepayers to keep interest rates for the nuclear facility low - so far, no go. I cannot predict that MidAmerican will try again in the next session – but it may. Stay tuned.

The conclusion here is that one writes off nuclear energy at one’s own peril. The world isn’t participating in such a write-off and really, neither is the United States. You could argue, as the Times does, that nuclear energy is being scrutinized more closely on economic and even philosophical grounds. That’s something, but not the same as looking for excuses to write it off, whatever the future of natural gas and whatever the disposition of Crystal River.

---

Then again, from Power Engineering Magazine:

Is Crystal River a harbinger of nuclear power's future?

No. Clear enough?

Note: Thanks to friend Steve Skutnick for noting my replacement of CWIP with WIPP. One’s a concept, the other a place and don’t have much to do with each other. We could probably find a joke here, but it would probably be pretty saucy. Too many WIP’Ps.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Guest Post: Alex Flint Introduces NEI's Congressional Resource Guide

Alex Flint
The following guest post was submitted by Alex Flint, NEI's senior vice president, governmental affairs. 

One of NEI’s most important roles is ensuring that policymakers and their staffs have access to information they want about our industry. We pride ourselves in having on hand the technical expertise to answer any and all questions, and we are always willing to bring to Washington the experts with first-hand knowledge from our facilities.

But today, just having the information isn’t enough; we are also working to ensure that it is available whenever and however members and their staff want it. In past years, we would spend the first few months of each Congress delivering detailed three-ring binders to House and Senate offices. Those binders were crammed full of information about how reactors work, the uranium fuel cycle, and radiation, and included jobs and economic data broken down by state and district.
NEI President and CEO Marv Fertel

That's not how information works today. Members and their staffs don’t want information on our schedule; they want it on their schedule, and then they want it instantly. It is a Google world.

NEI's Congressional Resource Guide is our effort to respond to the new way Members and staff want information. We have organized it so that the issues we think policymakers may want are at their fingertips, and we will keep it constantly updated.

We’re not sure how this is going to be received. Some people appreciated the individual attention associated with sitting down to thumb through a binder, but we also know the majority of those binders were, shall we say, 'recycled.'


Let us know if the information we have posted is the right stuff – we’ve got plenty more where it came from – and let us know if making this information available on the web is enough. We want to meet your needs in this era of information overload, and your feedback is always appreciated.

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Alex for drafting this note to help us introduce our readers to the Guide. Below is a bulleted list of the main sections.

Finally, we also put together this short video with NEI's Staci Wheeler and Derrick Freeman to introduce the guide:

If you have any questions or comments about the Guide and its contents, please click here.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Nuclear Facilities and “Whatever Wicked Weather Comes Their Way”

Little_nemo_bigThe storm bearing down on the northeast – not Washington, D.C. this time, for a change – has sent our friends at the Weather Channel into a tizzy. When I visit the channel on TV, it’s usually quite placid and useful for sleepy time.
Not lately: a tone of impending doom hovers over the reports and the channel has even named the storm Nemo. I don’t know if this is the fish or Winsor McCay’s dreamy little boy, but since the latter is one of the finest comic strips ever done, I pick that Nemo.
I like that an NRC public affairs officer has decided to address the preparation undertaken by nuclear energy plants in the path of the storm – it sort of forestalls the more sensational approach sometimes taken by newspapers.

NRC inspectors stationed at all operating plants on a full-time basis will likewise be busy, as they independently verify the facilities – particularly the Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts and the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire — are positioned for whatever wicked weather comes their way. To help guide those evaluations, the inspectors will follow a procedure and checklist focused on adverse weather protection.
It’s not snow itself that might cause a plant to go offline, but wind and water.
Once the storm arrives, plant operators have plans that guide their responses. For instance, if sustained wind speeds exceed a certain level, a plant would have to shut down. Also, if flooding were to be greater than pre-determined thresholds, an emergency declaration would have to be made and a shutdown may be necessary.
Also, of course, the grid into which the facility supplies electricity may be damaged – as happened during Hurricane Sandy – and make a shutdown prudent even if not strictly necessary.
Neil Sheehan, a public affairs officer from NRC's Region I,  does a good job explaining all this and it’s welcome.
---
But you know what? The panicked stories about nuclear energy plants have almost completely vanished. I saw some during Sandy, but really nothing in conjunction with this storm. There may be a couple of nuclear-plant-survives-Nemo type stories afterward, but I’d be surprised. If the storm as big as the Weather Channel predicts, people will have other things to worry about – including a quick restoration of electricity – from their local nuclear energy plant, if that’s where it comes from - if it is lost.
In that vein, here’s some perfectly obvious – and useful - advice from New York Newsday.
Newsday has the right spirit altogether. In addition to sensible lists of items to stock:
Grab your sled, skis, snowshoes or snowman-making kit and head outdoors. A garbage can lid or tray will always work in a pinch ... or just stick to making snow angels and pelting one another with snowballs. When the roads are cleared, head to one of six nearby ski destinations.
I’d add this. Some college friends made this mistake and landed in the hospital:
Never use your gas oven, range or outdoor barbecue to heat your home. They weren’t designed for that purpose. Using them as a source of heat can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up in your home.
That’s from SCE&G. And here’s a lot of practical storm advice from Con Edison.
---
From oldtimers talking about the flood of 1947 to snowpocalypse a couple of years ago, weather events mark high points – or at least important reference points - in many people’s lives. My Georgia hometown was once caught in an ice storm and froze solid for five days – no electricity – we heard the transformers and wires crashing from the weight of the ice, as well as tree branches and entire trees, all very eerie at night  – it was impossible to move around – too slippery - and it was very cold, especially for Georgia. Days were spent reading comic books wrapped in blankets – nights huddled together in the living room, taking advantage of each other’s personal heat generators under big quilts.
A nightmare? Funnest week of my life, probably – but that’s because we were safe. So – stay safe.
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Oh, and just to cross all the t’s, don’t think the idea of naming storms isn’t controversial. It is – The Weather Channel sees a commercial advantage in doing so – they’ll name storms based on public interest not potential intensity; that can leave a sour taste in some mouths, and it has.
NOAA or AMS might have been better candidates for naming storms with some rigor, but if they were so inclined, they haven’t shown it. There wouldn’t seem any harm in The Weather Channel taking the initiative unless it started charging others for using them – copyrighting them, in other words – or only did so for storms that hit areas with lots of cable-ready televisions. It could get crass really fast. Look here for more on the controversy.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Crystal River: End Days of Nuclear Energy?

Crystal-River-Plant
Crystal River
When you hear that a nuclear power facility is closing, you may wonder if the end is nigh and all other facilities will close willy-nilly in rapid succession. Well, it could happen, just as anything could happen, but it seems far more likely that other factors play a role and are unique to the plant itself.
Following a comprehensive analysis, Progress Energy Florida, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, announced today that it will retire the Crystal River Nuclear Plant (CR3) in Citrus County, Fla. The plant has been safely shut down and offline since late 2009.
There’s no question this is not happy news. But Progress Energy Florida has been pretty straightforward about the whys and wherefores of it:
The company’s decision comes after a comprehensive, months-long engineering analysis of the damaged [Crystal River] containment structure. The nuclear unit, which began operating in 1977, had been shut down in the fall of 2009 for refueling and replacement of its steam generators when a delamination, or crack, occurred in the outer layer of the containment building’s concrete wall.

The process of repairing the damage and restoring the unit to service resulted in additional delaminations in other sections of the containment structure in 2011.

During the ensuing months, Progress Energy – and, more recently, Duke Energy – evaluated the ability to successfully repair the unit, the risks associated with any repair and the repair scope as well as the likely costs and schedule.

A report completed in late 2012 confirmed that repairing the plant was a viable option but that the nature and potential scope of repairs brought increased risks that could raise the cost dramatically and extend the schedule.
Of course, it’s regrettable. The press release notes that Progress will build a new gas-fired plant and has four coal units in the same county as Crystal River. That’s not as good a carbon emissions profile as there was with Crystal River running, but that’s how it goes. The economics of energy currently favors natural gas facilities, which at least better than building a new coal facility.
---
And Crystal River will never reopen, right? Sometimes, to paraphrase Stephen King, they come back.
The company intends to use the SAFSTOR option for decommissioning. Generally, this involves placing the facility into a safe storage configuration, requiring limited staffing to monitor plant conditions, until the eventual dismantling and decontamination activities occur, usually in 40 to 60 years.
That’s a lot of years, in which many decisions will be made down in Florida. Admittedly, it is more likely that a uncompleted reactor, such as TVA’s Bellefonte in Alabama, will be revived for completion than that Crystal River will be fully repaired and switched back on. But the future holds surprises, as it always has, and it doesn’t hurt to have alternative energy options at the ready.
---
But, what we know for sure:

Crystal River is closing, the reasons are easy to grasp, and they are unique to the plant. Even San Onofre, which has also been closed for technical reasons (steam generator problems there), is quite different in specifics and probable outcome. So – unfortunate, yes; a dire pox upon the industry, not so much.
---
PS: this post is based on Duke’s own press release, which we tend to avoid here (this one had some corp-speak in it, not a lot), but boy, has the Florida press been having fun with this news – and not very responsibly, I must say.


For example, here is the Tampa Bay Times’ view of Crystal River prior to the announcement of its closing:
It's time for Duke Energy to acknowledge that the broken Crystal River nuclear plant is not worth fixing and announce plans to permanently shut it down.
With Duke/Progress having decided to do this, the response from the newspaper?
On Tuesday came the announcement that [Crystal River] will never reopen.
The 1.6 million customers the plant once served will pay dearly for their utility's mistake, maybe $3 billion when the cost of building a new power plant is included. So will Citrus County and the city of Crystal River. Those governments, and their local economies, will take a thumping. Some of the 600 workers at the plant may lose their jobs.
I won’t go into the specifics offered here except to say they seem grossly oversimplified – there will be some insurance consideration here. I think we can let the finger pointing – Duke can take care of itself – remain a local issue. You really can’t win for losing in Tampa Bay, though. Yeesh!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Guest Post: Mothers in Nuclear Support CORE Education

Ginger Jones
The following guest post was submitted by Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, NEI's Senior Manager, Workforce Policy and Programs.

Educating the next generation of nuclear professionals begins early. How early? According to North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) member and fellow Mother in Nuclear Ginger Jones it begins in kindergarten. Jones, a chemist by training, full time nuclear utility employee and mother of three, is volunteering her time to serve on her local school board.

"I had always been a really active volunteer especially at my oldest son’s school," Jones said. "I had been the president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Saratoga School [Morris, IL.] for nearly three years when four school board seats came up for election."

The Saratoga school board has a strong track record for attracting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) professionals, but this is not a normal occurrence across the United States. According to the National School Boards Association, 27.1 percent of school board members are fellow educators and STEM professionals are so rare they aren’t even tracked in the national survey.

“This is disappointing”, Jones said. “School boards need to be comprised of a diverse committee of professionals to ensure students are being provided a well-rounded education. We need to see more engineers, technicians and scientists participating in these important community activities.”

Jones was elected to the Saratoga school board District 60c in April of 2009 and has served as the chair of the Education and Curriculum Committee of the school board for the past two years. In her role as chair, she has been focusing much of her time on the Common Core Initiative, a state-led initiative to standardize curriculum for K-12 students nationwide.

“In recent years, we have seen the United States fall further and further behind other countries in the areas of mathematics and science,” Jones said. “We had not adapted our curriculum to fit in to our current technology-filled world. I think that the Common Core Initiative is trying to fill in those existing gaps.”

Advocates of the Common Core Initiative will provide students with a robust and relevant education that will help prepare them to compete in the global economy. “As a mother, I think the Common Core Initiative is a good step in the right direction to better prepare children for college and for entering the workforce,” Jones said. “But as a board member, it has been a bit of a struggle this year because some of the curriculum is significantly more challenging that it was last year and funding is scarce to support improvements.”

Jones is helping her district stretch itself by implementing the new curricula an entire year earlier than their state’s 2014-2015 mandate.

“We have ordered new reading and math texts that align with the standards and have provided extensive training for teachers on the implementation of these standards,” Jones said “We did this to allow students and teachers a period of adjustment as we want them to be successful.”

Jones believes she has derived a great deal of satisfaction as a result of volunteering for this position. “I would highly recommend getting involved in your school board. This is a position where you can directly see the impact that you’re making,” Jones said. And it has helped me with my responsibilities at the nuclear power plant because it has provided me opportunities to help plan, negotiate and budget.”

Resource on the Common Core Initiative
With 46 states having adopted the Common Core Standards, many have questions about this initiative. You can learn more about the Common Core Initiative by visiting these resources:

Proponents of the Common Core
• Common Core State Standards Initiative: http://www.corestandards.org/
• National Governors Association: http://www.nga.org/cms/home/nga-center-for-best-practices/center-issues/page-edu-issues/col2-content/main-content-list/common-core-state-standards.html

Opponents of the Common Core
• Heritage Foundation: http://blog.heritage.org/2012/04/23/why-states-should-hop-off-the-national-standards-bandwagon/
• Home School League Defense Council: http://www.utahnsagainstcommoncore.com/hslda-speaks-out-against-common-core/