Friday, May 31, 2013

Taking a Closer Look at South Korea, Section 123 and the "Gold Standard" When it Comes to Nonproliferation

Ted Jones of NEI
The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

Global Security Newswire recently published an article that quotes Tom Moore, a well-regarded nonproliferation expert at CSIS, that South Korea is a “gold standard state.” Mr. Moore has graciously posted my response to this assessment of South Korea in a blog post at Arms Control Wonk. In my comment, I explain that while it may be correct that South Korea’s domestic development of enrichment or reprocessing technologies is inconsistent with the 1992 Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the pact between the Koreas is distinct from the “gold standard.” I argue that conflating the two commitments obscures a critical lesson that the case of South Korea can offer to U.S. policymakers about the “gold standard” as a universal policy:
The important lesson of U.S.-ROK nuclear cooperation is that a Section 123 agreement without the “gold standard” can nonetheless be an essential instrument of U.S. influence on international nuclear security and nonproliferation. The most powerful source of U.S. influence over South Korea’s E&R policies and activities is the U.S. consent right, contained in the current Section 123 agreement, over South Korea’s reprocessing of U.S.-origin fuel. The long-term successor agreement will extend this consent right to used fuel from non-U.S. reactors, and to South Korea’s enrichment and storage of plutonium or highly-enriched uranium. These consent rights, plus 8 other nonproliferation assurances and guarantees, are required in a “standard” Section 123 agreement. It is also important to note that the extensive U.S.-ROK commercial partnerships enabled by the agreement have significantly enhanced U.S. influence over nuclear energy both in South Korea and in markets, such as UAE, supplied by ROK in partnership with U.S. companies. 

As the United States resumes negotiations of the long-term successor agreement with South Korea, plus 6 other renewal agreements set to expire by 2015 and new agreements with Vietnam, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, it is crucial that the consequences of tying U.S. nuclear cooperation to acceptance of the gold standard are clearly understood. Among the 10 agreements, only Taiwan has indicated its willingness to forswear E&R in a Section 123 agreement. Given that Taiwan committed to the United States decades ago never to acquire E&R, its willingness to incorporate its existing commitment into a Section 123 agreement represents little change. Vietnam and Jordan have made clear that they are not interested in negotiating Section 123 agreements that would require them to forfeit E&R rights. Negotiations with both countries began in 2010. Talks with Saudi Arabia began last year, and it is doubtful whether Saudi Arabia will accept the U.S. request to forswear E&R.
The reporter of the Global Security Newswire articleElaine Grossman, also gives the misleading impression in writing that “other nations have gone in the opposite direction [on enrichment and reprocessing] – most notably the United Arab Emirates.” In fact, no other nation has followed UAE in accepting the “gold standard.” She mentions that Taiwan is “poised to offer a similar pledge,” but neglects to point out that Taiwan already has a decades-old commitment to the United States not to develop enrichment or reprocessing technologies. And Ms. Grossman omits that multiple negotiations of Section 123 agreements remain snagged on the “gold standard” issue. This leaves an impression of an emerging trend of countries forswearing enrichment and reprocessing rights, when in fact the opposite is the case.

Editor's Note: In June 2012, NEI recorded an interview with Dan Lipman of Westinghouse concerning the renewal of the 123 agreement with South Korea and why it was important to the bilateral relationship between the two countries. A few weeks later, Dan returned to the same topic when he was interviewed by Alan Ahn of the Global America Business Institute.

“In coming years, reaching [climate] goals can't be done without nuclear power.”

We never forget that nuclear energy has a lot to offer in climate change mitigation, a fact that can get lost in the enthusiasm for natural gas. So it never hurts to be reminded of it, especially when the one doing the reminding has some heat.

European Commissioner for Energy, Gunther Oettinger, Thursday said the European Union's goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and combat climate change can only be reached with an energy mix including nuclear power.

"Without a doubt nuclear energy belongs to the [mix]," Mr. Oettinger said. "In coming years reaching [climate] goals can't be done without nuclear power."

Oettinger, by the way, is German. His comments have a special tang that must cause heartburn in Berlin, even as closing the nuclear plants there causes unnecessary distress. But he has some solid reasons for taking this tack beyond emissions control.

Mr. Oettinger's comments come as Europe faces serious economic headwinds partly due to fast-rising electricity prices for industry and retail consumers despite wholesale energy prices at record lows.

Due to nuclear energy or even natural gas? Well, no.

This is largely due to the mass rollout of renewable power generation using technologies that are still unprofitable and require subsidies paid by end-users.

Oettinger doesn’t directly take a swipe at his own country, but he insists that each EU member be allowed to make its own decision about its energy choices. Writer Sean Carney finds that this idea (and support for nuclear energy) has fans at least in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Carney is covering a nuclear-centered conference in Prague).

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, speaking at the conference, said nuclear power is a "completely legitimate" source of power and can play a role in the decarbonization of the European economy.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the use of nuclear energy is a sovereign decision for each country.

Necas echoes Oettinger’s view that nuclear energy is key to “decarbonization.” And if that’s the goal, it’s an accurate observation. We’re fairly neutral on why a country might choose nuclear energy for electricity and/or process heat – there’s a laundry list of good reasons – and Oettinger seems focused on price as well as emissions.

In Eastern Europe (my views here are probably dated), it can do yeoman work in mitigating acid rain, too. But whatever the reasons Necas and Fico might have to implement nuclear energy (Slovakia has reactors in progress), good for them. Good for their countries.

Reversing the Nuclear Reversal of Fortune

Staggering, how fortune can reverse:

The change in nuclear's fortunes is staggering, given that the U.S. is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, according to the World Nuclear Association. The country's 104 reactors account for more than 30 percent of nuclear electricity generation worldwide.

Which to me reads as, “it’s amazing nuclear energy is so successful given what a rank failure it is.” Downright staggering, in fact.

The reversal of fortune, which has reared up is one article or another at least once a month since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, has always been about 80 percent rhetorical, essentially a way to render nuclear energy irrelevant even as it refuses to actually be irrelevant.

It can take a lot of forms, but variations on this one are frequent enough to note:

Decreased consumption, increased energy efficiency, wind and solar, with back up from geothermal, hydropower, and biomass will get us to zero coal, zero nuclear, minimal carbon dioxide.

Which sounds so very, very good, doesn’t it? In reality, though, it is the solution of a resource-wealthy people in a rich, industrialized country. It makes one feel justified in one’s choices, in the way choosing a salad instead of a pastrami sandwich for lunch can make one feel justified – because one has those choices. It gives a perceived deprivation a tang of the saintly.

But that’s not true in much of the world, where deprivation – of energy and a lot else – is endemic. And it won’t really work. We can get to “minimal carbon dioxide” but not through feel-good solutions alone. And the rest of the world must be allowed to electrify and industrialize – the developed world can’t choose now to shut down progress in the developing world  (and couldn’t succeed at doing so anyhow.)

Really, a better way to trace the fortunes of nuclear energy is to depend on what is simply true – which is often pretty upbeat:

Exelon Generation said Wednesday that it has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 20-year license extensions at its Byron and Braidwood generating stations, which would allow the plants to operate into the middle of the century.

You’ll notice that Exelon doesn’t seem too staggered by nuclear energy’s reversal of fortune.

And this:

A recent poll of 2,034 people in the UK showed broad overall support for new nuclear plants, with more people in favor of public subsidies for reactor development than opposed to them.

And okay, there’s this too:

Hundreds of anti-nuke protesters rallied in the Taiwanese capital Taipei calling to vote down a referendum bill and terminate the launch of the island’s fourth nuclear power plant, amid mounting concerns since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

So not always upbeat. But not, in aggregate, indicating a slide into irrelevance.

Maybe we should just not see energy choices as having reversible fortunes, like champion dogs at the dog race. Some days are better than others, but most of them are pretty similar and not especially grim.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Nuclear Ingots from Canada, Pakistan, UAE

From Canada, the least unexpected news of the day:

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has completed a ground-breaking study on populations living near Ontario's three nuclear power plants (NPPs). The most important finding of this study is no evidence of childhood leukemia clusters in the communities within 25 km of the Pickering, Darlington and Bruce NPPs.

Fine for the kids. What about the rest of us?

Overall, the study found that all cancers are well within the natural variation of the disease and there is no consistent pattern across the three facilities studied. When looking at all age groups, some cancers were higher than expected and some cancers were lower than expected. The most likely causes of cancer in the communities are a number of known health risk factors.

There have been a fair number of these studies and the result has invariably been the same. We should wave these in front of the Cape Codders (in the post below) and do some unseemly crowing. A Canadian would never do something like that, though.

I was curious about those known health risks.

"Sixty percent of all cancers in Ontario are due to smoking, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity," said Rachel Lane, epidemiologist and lead researcher on the RADICON study.

Sounds like an unusually honest dating site profile, doesn’t it?

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Oddest comment of the day:

"It is sad that a nuclear power is without power for up to 20 hours (a day). Are other nuclear powers in the same state as Pakistan? We should look into the reasons why the country doesn't even have electricity," Sharif said while addressing a function here to commemorate "Youm-e-Takbeer", which marks the nuclear tests conducted by Pakistan in 1998.

Sharif is Nawaz Sharif, the next (and past, two terms in the 90s) Prime Minister of Pakistan. I agree – he should look into it and right away, too. If he were an American politician, I might read his reference to “nuclear power” as an oddly phrased endorsement of, well, nuclear power (Pakistan has three relatively small reactors, with the last opened in 2011), but the article suggests he is in favor of opening coal plants with any eye to switchgrass-style biomass down the road.

As long as Pakistan is a “nuclear power,” perhaps a megatons to megawatts program is called for.

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As long as we’re on the international beat, let’s mark a milestone:

With the construction of a second nuclear plant now under way, the UAE has reached another important milestone in its mission to generate safe, clean, reliable and efficient nuclear energy, a senior official said yesterday.

I think they mean reactor – it’s the second one at the Barakah facility. Some of the earlier builds (in other countries) had some delays, but more recent build seems to have learned the lessons and stamped out the issues. Barakah is going up exceptionally fast.

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We sometimes point you to the NEI Network, NEI’s YouTube channel – nicely curated and updated on a regular basis (not by me, so no self-back patting here). But there are other good videos lurking about: the Science Channel’s “How It’s Made” series is one such. It currently has a short segment up on the manufacturing of used nuclear fuel storage containers. Nicely done in 5 minutes or so – well worth a quick watch.

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From the Motley Fool:

Is Nuclear Energy's Lightbulb Dimming?

No, not even for the sake of nuclear link bait. Next question.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Snakes in a Nuclear Plant

We can settle issues of risk, but we cannot settle fear – at least, not without a great deal of effort. If you are afraid of snakes, you’re afraid of snakes – your snake loving friends won’t understand, but there it is. If you don’t live in a snaky area, the fear will never show itself, but if you do, it may cripple you socially. But in general, people recognize their fears without letting them guide their destiny. And don’t live in towns called Snakeville.

There’s a basis for the fear in reality – snakes bite and can be poisonous - but the risk of being bitten by a poisonous snake is exceedingly small.

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But there are other fears and though you could choose not to live in Nuclearville, why should you?:

The results are in and Cape Cod residents have spoken. Last night Falmouth, Yarmouth, Brewster, Orleans and Harwich voters passed a public advisory question to call on Governor Patrick to request the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uphold their mandate to close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station because the public safety of Cape Cod cannot be assured.

This was  a second vote. Other towns voted at a different time and the same way. The effort to kick out Pilgrim is spearheaded by a group called Cape Downwinders, who I guess have done an exceptionally good job of inducing fear in their neighbors.

The mission of Cape Downwinders is to take action to protect the lives and welfare of the residents of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket against the threat of death or injury resulting from the use of nuclear energy at Pilgrim and other locations.

There is no safe level of radiation.

That’ll be news to the local medical community, as we’ll see. But let’s stick to Pilgrim: How many people on Cape Cod have been harmed by radiation? You already know the answer to that one: none. Pilgrim has shut down to fix issues, but did any of these outages release radiation or cause other hardship? No.

Pilgrim, which is owned by Entergy Corp. of Louisiana, first lost power Friday night when three offsite power lines were knocked out of service during the storm, according to regulatory filings and the NRC. The plant was taken offline, and diesel generators powered its safety systems. Electricity temporarily returned to the plant on Sunday morning, but went out again when plant operators believe a transformer was struck by falling ice.

This was in February and was the worst I could find – and it’s a pretty big stretch. Did this cause hardship beyond what the storm did? Wouldn’t seem so; if power lines are getting knocked down and ice is raining down, there’s not much point in keeping the plant thrumming along.

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Interestingly, a recent report addresses the risks of exposure to ionizing radiation, issued by the Health Physics Society. This isn’t a group likely to be in the tank for dangerous, risky activities, so there’s credibility here.

This collection of papers, Radiation Risk: Expert Perspective, addresses the every- day role of radiation in energy and medicine, how we are exposed to it and how risk is managed and approached through science and responsible policy. The experts explain how we are constantly exposed to radiation from sources all around us, those man-made and those occurring naturally, from space to our food, and how much each contributes to our limited overall exposure.

To be honest, it’s unusual to see a report that treats radiation in medicine, food production and electricity production as part of a continuity of beneficial nuclear energy. It’s always been more convenient to yoke electricity production to weaponry because the former grew out of Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, which envisioned domestic nuclear energy as a counter to the, um, military-industrial complex (a famous but different Eisenhower locution used in a different context).

But of course, it is a more natural fit as HPS has it. These are key beneficial uses of nuclear energy, the poles of atoms for peace. The articles are genuinely interesting and written to be understood by a general audience. Here is Dr. Bernard Cohen, a long time radiation risk specialist on stowing used nuclear fuel:

Scientists know how rocks behave and there is every reason to expect this glass-rock container for high-level radioactive waste will behave similarly. All ordinary rocks contain radioactive materials, and analyses demonstrate that we can calculate the probability for an atom of these to find its way, via groundwater transport, into our food and water supplies. For rocks at the burial depth of glass-enclosed radioactive waste, this probability is about one chance in a trillion per year. From that we calculate that all the byproducts produced by America’s nuclear power plants will eventually cause less than one death per year in the U.S. population. Compare this with the many thousands of deaths per year caused by air pollution from burning coal to produce electricity.

That’s less risk than getting bitten by a snake (I think).

And here is Dr. Louis Wagner on medical radiation:

The American Cancer Society recently reported that cancer death rates in the United States have continued to decline over the past two decades (American Cancer Society 2012). The medical community will continue to refine its use of radiation in medical imaging and other nuclear medical technologies for diagnosis and treatment to improve health care and increase our life expectancy.

Increase, Cape Downwinders, not decrease.

It’s a terrific report and worth your attention if you’re interested in radiation and risk – it’s a large topic and this is a good primer. NEI has a useful page about this, too, that’s a nice supplement to the HPS report.

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The Cape Downwinders can go a little overboard in its opposition:

Entergy Corporation could be could be liable for up to $831,325,000.00 in civil penalties for polluting Cape Cod Bay at its Pilgrim nuclear reactor. According to a letter sent to the company and federal officials on October 5, 2012 by local residents, since 1996, there have been 33,253 violations of the federal Clean Water Act. Entergy could liable for a $25,000.00 civil penalty for each violation.

And Entergy could be liable for $1 billion trillion because it failed to chase away the snakes on Pilgrim’s grounds - more than once.

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Note: Only the NRC can close a nuclear plant for safety reasons and, of course, Entergy can shutter Pilgrim. Entergy may need to step up its outreach to Cape Codders to counteract the reign of fear from the downwinders, but that’s it.  Pilgrim is in no danger of closing, snakes or no snakes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Without Nuclear, A Rube Goldberg Energy Policy

Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group, so he likely has some tart things to say about nuclear energy. But that’s not his direct goal in his op-ed in the Buffalo News. His purpose is to synopsize and endorse a plan by Cornell Professor Robert Howarth to completely move New York state from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to renewable energy. Professor Howarth’s paper, published in the journal Energy Policy, is clearly a serious work. It has practical guidance as to how New York might proceed with his ideas, but is largely intended, I think, as an explication of its efficacy.

I was amused by a table he created of “plants or devices” needed to achieve his goal – about 16,000 windmills and almost 5 million residential PV systems all told. That’s a lot of windmills that all have moving parts to keep in order. And a lot of buy-in will be required to induce people too install PV systems on their roofs.

But I imagine it could be done.

The real fun comes in how to deal with the intermittency of renewable energy, because it sounds like Rube Goldberg gone berserk. There is no real way to stow significant levels of electricity, which sends Beahan (and Howarth) skittering across the possibilities.

He [Howarth] deals with the problem of variability of wind and sun by building over-capacity and storing the excess energy. It would be stored both where it is produced and where it is used, in batteries, thermal media, pumped water, compressed air, fly wheels, in the batteries of our new fleet of all electric vehicles and in the form of hydrogen for burning where high temperatures are needed.

In bathtubs, crock pots and fish tanks, where ever electricity can be stuffed. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with the electricity stored in an electric car except use it to power the car, but the other possibilities probably can not get you where you need to go – the technology is all over the place.

Here’s how Howarth presents the same issue:

A) combining geographically-dispersed WWS [wind water sunlight] resources as a bundled set of resources rather than separate resources and using hydroelectric or stored concentrated solar power to balance the remaining load; (B) using demand-response management to shift times of demand to better match the availability of WWS power; (C) over-sizing WWS peak generation capacity to minimize the times when available WWS power is less than demand and provide power to produce heat for air and water and hydrogen for transportation and heating when WWS power exceeds demand; (D) integrating weather forecasts into system operation; (E) storing energy in batteries or other storage media at the site of generation or use; and (F) storing energy in electric-vehicle batteries for later extraction (vehicle-to-grid).

So that’s how you’d use the cars – or perhaps just banks of their batteries. But it’s still an ungainly hodgepodge. Howarth doesn’t describe how all this would be mediated, but it’d be tough. I’d say when you include “integrating weather forecasts into system operation” as a suggestion, you’re not moving forward anymore.

The complete loss of baseload energy is a sort of utopia for a fair number of environmentalists and they should be cheered by Professor Howarth’s work. I’m going to trust that what he proposes can be done, even if in a Rube Goldberg kind of way and even if the main interest here is showing how it can be done not whether it should be done.

Howarth is off the hook, but his report is a trap for the dogmatic. It puts a carbon free utopia on a foundation of sand and fog. Nuclear energy gets you to a emissions free energy profile and you don’t have to put the electricity in a trunk – and renewable energy still has a significant role. It’s not either/or. Let’s call Professor Howarth’s paper a worthy exercise and leave it at that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Why Building Too Much Natural Gas Capacity to Generate Electricity Could Come Back to Haunt Florida

NEI VP Richard Myers
About a week ago, the Tampa Bay Times published an analysis by Ivan Penn claiming that ratepayers in Florida would be better served if Duke Energy built a natural gas plant in place of a proposed nuclear energy facility in Levy County. Over the weekend, that same paper published a letter to the editor by NEI's Richard Myers taking issue with that conclusion:
Nuclear plants offer benefits

The May 12 article "Levy nuclear plant more costly than a natural gas facility" fails to account for the economic and environmental benefits the two nuclear plants would bring to Florida. Progress Energy Florida, now Duke Energy Florida, determined in 2008 that the Levy nuclear plants would benefit the state by providing fuel diversity and price stability for consumers while avoiding air emissions.

In 2012, Florida generated 68 percent of its electricity from natural gas, a significant increase from 47 percent in 2008. Floridians may recall that in 2008 and 2009, the state endured its highest-ever electricity costs when natural gas prices were hitting all-time highs. Five years later, Florida relies even more on natural gas.

Just like a diversified financial portfolio is important for investors, so is a diversified energy portfolio for consumers. By relying ever more heavily on natural gas, Florida is putting itself in an increasingly vulnerable position if and when natural gas prices change.

Further, if natural gas plants are built instead of the two Levy nuclear plants, the gas plants will consume nearly 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and emit more than 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 60 years.

The Levy nuclear plants will help Florida manage and balance any future that includes changes in carbon regulations and natural gas fuel costs, and an overreliance on any one form of electricity generation.

Richard Myers
Vice President
Nuclear Energy Institute
This isn't the first time Richard has addressed this issue. Back in January, he took issue with a piece in the Wall Street Journal that concluded that the natural gas boomlet we're currently experiencing might undo nuclear energy. The key takeaway here: nothing is forever, and that goes double for natural gas prices.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Boy and His Nuclear Reactor

Taylor Wilson built a fusion reactor at age 14 and remains interested in nuclear technology. So, at 19, he has presented his idea for a small reactor concept that uses molten salt to make the smaller reactor both more powerful and more efficient than their cousins.

Wilson's fission reactor operates at 600 to 700 degrees Celsius. And because the laws of thermodynamics say that high temperatures lead to high efficiencies, this reactor is 45 to 50 percent efficient.

Traditional steam turbine systems are only 30 to 35 percent efficient because their reactors run at low temperatures of about 200 to 300 degrees Celsius.

And Wilson's reactor isn't just hot, it's also powerful. Despite its small size, the reactor generates between 50 and 100 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 homes, according to Wilson.

Okay, that’s the hot and powerful part.

And unlike traditional nuclear power plants, Wilson's miniature power plants would be buried below ground, making them a boon for security advocates.

According to Wilson, his reactor only needs to be refueled every 30 years, compared to the 18-month fuel cycle of most power plants. This means they can be sealed up underground for a long time, decreasing the risk of proliferation.

And that’s the small reactor part. Listening to Wilson at the TED conference and reading the details of his idea, I expected to find – more – that is, where this idea departs from earlier ideations of small, molten salt reactors.

For example, here is more-or-less (more, I’d say) the same thing from Transatomic Power.

Enter Transatomic’s molten salt reactor (MSR). …

The safety advantages of this project are mostly features of molten salt reactors in general. Using high boiling-point coolants like fluoride or chloride salts in place of light or heavy water negates the need to pressurize the system and instantly reduces the dangers associated with super-heated, pressurized liquids.

And the article from ExtremeTech points out that molten salt reactors have been contemplated since the 60s.

Researchers have actually had working models of the MSRs since the ’60s [even the 1950s – see here], but they’ve never been used for commercial purposes. One reason is that much of nuclear’s research capital comes from the military, and bulky MSR technology has traditionally been less desirable for submarines and aircraft carriers than their relatively slim light-water cousins. Another is that the plants require a separate facility to filter their core mixture.

So we can allow that Wilson may have some new ideas about the molten salt reactor – how to make it workable at a smaller size, maybe - but it’s hard at present to pin down what they are. Or what would cause the technology to gain traction at this particular time – which I imagine Transatomic would like to do, too.

But none of this is to say that the idea shouldn’t gain traction, or that Taylor has simply reinvented the molten wheel, or that Transtomic and Taylor shouldn’t pursue their ideas – well, to the extent that patents don’t play a role. Right now, it’s all just a curiosity. And that is the point of TED, right?

Guest Post: College Champions Debate Nuclear Energy

Bob Bishop
The following guest post comes from Bob Bishop, nuclear guru and former general counsel at NEI:
Each year, hundreds of university students from around the country participate in local, regional and national debate tournaments. In addition to their regular studies, they spend countless hours researching the topic and how best they can argue their position. The topic for this past year concerned U.S. energy policy with regard to domestic energy production. The precise wording was as follows: “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce restrictions on and/or substantially increase financial incentives for energy production in the United States of one or more of the following: coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power.”

At each debate, the two-person team arguing in the affirmative chooses where to focus the argument based on the year’s topic. Under debate rules, the team arguing in the affirmative makes its case, the team arguing the negative makes its case, each team questions the other, and then each team makes its closing statements. It is an hour of focused intellects trying to win the judges’ votes based on their research, presentation skills, and mastery of the topic. Debates at the collegiate level, at least now, are not among nerds mumbling into their notes, but rather bright, intelligent, articulate young men and women happily and forcefully engaging in a battle of wits.

Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff
Last week, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a debate on one narrow aspect of the broader issue of the use of nuclear energy: whether the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy should fund the development and use of new small modular reactors (SMRs) to power their facilities. Under the rules, that was the sole topic under discussion. It was fascinating to watch two teams ranked among the very best in the nation, a team from Georgetown University opposed a team from Northwestern University, go at it. Teammates Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff represented Georgetown arguing in the affirmative, and Northwestern’s team consisted of Peyton Lee and Arjun Vellayappan arguing in the negative. During the course of the give and take in the closely timed segments, each team had to address issues such as the design features of SMRs, the impact of the current sequestration of funds affecting government agencies, the NRC licensingprocess, high-level radioactive waste issues, security at government facilities, terrorist threats, micro-electric grids, and disaster planning. All as they might relate to the government’s potential use of SMRs.

Arjun Vellayappan and Peyton Lee
These are college students. Two juniors, a sophomore, and a senior, and not one of them even an engineering student. Yet their knowledge of the physical, engineering and political environments in which decisions will be made, and facets of the issue far beyond the assigned topic, was remarkable. I’ve had the benefit of almost fifty years of being involved in nuclear energy, first in submarines, then state energy policy, then a major utility, and then the broader nuclear energy industry. I was impressed. 

And don’t even ask about what they know compared to what I knew as a college senior.
I echo Mr. Bishop’s praise for the students. I was impressed by how knowledgeable both teams were. It was heartening that the arguments went beyond the why question, as it signals that these bright minds and future leaders recognize that nuclear has a place in America’s energy mix.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Can You Make an Ethical Case for Nuclear Energy?

Over the course of the history of NEI Nuclear Notes, I've assiduously avoided sharing coverage from the financial press for a variety of reasons, foremost of which is the fact that we shouldn't be in the business of providing investment advice.

But this morning I'm compelled to share a clip from a U.K. publication called Financial Reporter after I read the following passage in a story by James Howard titled, "Ten reasons to go with ethical investments."

1. They can avoid the negatives. Ethical investment ensures their money isn’t supporting companies which engage in activities they might disapprove of, such as animal testing, deforestation, arms manufacture, or nuclear energy.
Now, I don't want to tell folks who have a beef with nuclear energy how to invest their own money, but I do have a real problem with anyone who tries to make the case that investing -- and by extension working in the nuclear energy industry -- isn't an ethical endeavor. In fact, it's impossible not to feel downright insulted at the suggestion.

Better still. thanks to climate scientist James Hansen, I've got the numbers to back up the emotion (thanks to our friends at Energy Northwest for the cool graphic):

And that's just the start. According to Hansen's projections, the widespread adoption of nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels could save up to 7 million more lives in the next four decades. If that's not an ethical energy choice, I don't know what possibly could be.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Low Carbon Emissions? Look to Nuclear, Hydro

Ceres has produced a new report called Benchmarking Air Emissions, which shows that the electric generating business has done a significant job in reducing a variety of greenhouse gases, notably nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy does not weigh heavily into the report because new nuclear power is still a few years away, so only uprates can have contributed to the report’s profile. Still:

Among the top 100 power producers, Exelon had the eighth lowest CO2 emissions rate in 2011, largely due to its large nuclear and renewable energy fleet, as well as its investments in nuclear uprates.  Even with a low level of emissions, Exelon reduced its total CO2 emissions by 32 percent and its CO2 emission rate by 40 percent between 2000 and 2011.

It’s the “even with a low level of emissions” bit I want to focus on here, because it recognizes that nuclear energy has made a significant contribution.

Southern Company reduced total SO2 emissions by 63 percent while increasing overall generation by 8 percent between 2000 and 2011 by bringing online approximately 14,000 megawatts of natural gas-fired capacity during the same period.

Those numbers will become even more impressive when the two reactors at Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia go online.

This struck me as interesting, although not in the least counterintuitive:

Based on the latest available data, the report also reveals that Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and North Dakota had the highest CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour of power produced, while Idaho, Vermont, Washington, Oregon, and Maine had the lowest CO2 emissions rates.

Of the five with the lowest emissions, Vermont and Washington have nuclear energy facilities, the others do not. Maine, Idaho and Oregon are three of the highest users of renewable energy at about 52 percent, 80 percent and 80.6 percent respectively. (Think hydro here, with wind and/or solar helping out.)

I may have expected nuclear to be a bit more determinative in these rankings, but it’s silly not to realize the prevalence of hydro in some states and regions, notably the Pacific Northwest. Call it an unattractive blind spot. Still, the results are what you want and the great thing about nuclear and hydro both is that they are “elder” technologies, doing the good they do for many years (many, many years in the case of hydro.)

The highest emitters – well, they do not need too much explication. Let give the devil his due, though, and allow that Kentucky, at least, is willing to consider nuclear energy more seriously.

The report itself (you have to provide your email to get it, so caveat emptor) is written in layman’s language and it’s fairly brief at 50 pages.

Here’s how Ceres describes itself:

Ceres is an advocate for sustainability leadership. Ceres mobilizes a powerful network of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy.

Not the most provocative report, but fair and free of cant – even the light nuclear pickup seems right in this context. Ceres performed a good service for its constituency.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Leveling the Board for Nuclear Trade

A letter in the Baltimore Sun suggests the paper  had featured an interesting op-ed recently. First, the letter:

Dan Ervin's commentary on lifting restrictions on U.S. companies supplying nuclear power equipment abroad is completely misleading ("A nuclear opportunity," May 6).

Nuclear energy is not, as Mr. Ervin says, pollutant free or carbon free. Government regulations allow nuclear power plants to deliberately' and routinely emit hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and other radioactive elements into the environment every day. Radiation cannot be seen, felt or tasted, so I'm wondering if this is why Mr. Ervin feels he can credibly say that nuclear power is pollution free.

Hundreds of thousands – every day? Radiation as pollution? Well, they write letters, don’t they?

But what about Ervin’s editorial?

Companies supplying components for the nuclear power industry are located throughout the United States, including a number in Maryland. These manufacturing firms have developed businesses providing components and equipment required for the maintenance and upkeep of the 104 operating reactors in the U.S. Unfortunately for them, the domestic market is expanding at a very low rate. Currently in the U.S., ground has been broken for five new reactors.

These supplying firms would benefit if allowed to participate in the growing international market. However, presently they have difficulty engaging in the growing international market for nuclear power — and part of the problem lies within our own government.

This really is a topic that has engaged the industry, particularly the segment of it that manufactures parts. Nationalized or semi-nationalized nuclear energy industries – France and Russia are examples - can move quickly to secure contracts to build reactors and supply parts and services. The United States, meanwhile, is hamstrung by the welter of agencies that have to sign off on any attempt by private industry to do so.

It’s not just nationalized industries that get this leg up. For example, South Korea has had considerable success exporting its technology, building the Barakah facility in UAE.

U.S. nuclear export licensing procedures can be needlessly difficult. They are increasingly complex, restrictive and time-consuming for companies to navigate. The U.S. process for getting the appropriate export licenses is divided among three departments (State, Commerce and Energy). Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission administers four different sets of associated regulations. By contrast, comparable export licensing in most other countries is handled by one agency.

One runs the risk of sounding like a poor loser, because it sounds as though the nuclear industry is trying to tilt the board to its advantage. But you have to get the board level before you can tilt it – there’s little question that America can be competitive in terms of technology. In terms of all the other elements that make up trade, well, who knows? It would be nice to find out.

Ervin’s conclusion is pretty close to NEI’s.

A faster, straightforward licensing process would give American nuclear companies a chance to compete for this rapidly growing international business. It is not too late to make a change, but something needs to be done now. The potential reward (in economic value, job creation and protection, and tax revenue) makes the international nuclear power business too important to U.S. vital interests to neglect.

Terrific op-ed on a somewhat inside nuclear baseball topic. It inspired a reader to complain, after all.

NEI has some pages that go into more detail on nuclear trade. Go here to get started.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Experts Weigh In: Joseph Mangano Study Hopelessly Flawed

For the nuclear industry, safety is the top priority, and it goes to great lengths to minimize radiation exposure to the public and employees. So exhaustive are these measures that nuclear power plants only account for .1% of the annual radiation that a typical American is exposed to. Nearly half come from medical exposures.

Yet Joseph Mangano seems intent on repeatedly and falsely stating otherwise. Most recently, Mangano published a study that suggests a correlation exists between the closing of Rancho Seco and the decline in cancer rates in the surrounding area. We responded by reminding the media to consider Mangano's lack of credibility when it comes to "scientific findings" before distributing the study to their readers. This week, local Pennsylvania experts came to the same conclusion about his bogus work. An especially compelling statement comes from the state's director of the Bureau of Radiation Protection:

David J. Allard, director of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Radiation Protection, oversees nine active nuclear power plants on five sites throughout the state. DEP also oversees licensing for medical, academic, industrial type of sources of radiation including nearly 30,000 pieces of x-ray equipment in facilities, half of which are used by dentists.

“The technical reality with these nuclear power plants is that under the federal regulations, Title 10, Part 50, in the code of federal regulations, these power plants can’t emit liquid and airborne radiation that cause greater than three millirem of radiation,” says Allard.

“We see lots of background (radiation) and it’s only when you have Chernobyl or Fukushima where you actually see material on our samples other than the natural background and some residual fallout from the 50s and 60s. We monitor this and quite honestly at those kinds of levels, it’s really, really difficult to measure.”

According to Allard, radon, chemical exposures, genetics and lifestyles may have more impact on the prevalence of cancer rates.

“The problem is that correlation does not mean causation just because people live next to a power plant,” he says. “People are moving in and out. There are other major sources of radiation exposure that the public gets that really swamp whatever little radiation does come from the nuclear plant. The big one is the medical screenings…In these studies, whether by the NRC or Mr. Mangano, you have to control for those other sources of exposure.”
If his word isn't good enough, check out our past coverage of Mangano's sloppy research (a generous phrase for his work). The fact remains that America's nuclear plants are proven to be safe and continue to operate according to rigorous and comprehensive safety standards.

The State-of-Play of Nuclear Safety After Fukushima

If anything set the table for the American nuclear industry’s response to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, it was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. After that event, the security of all essential infrastructure was rethought. For all kinds of power plants, an important issue was keeping them functional after a devastating attack.

What happened at Fukushima was a devastating attack, albeit one without human agency. Because of the 2001 terrorist attack, the American industry was in many ways much better prepared for such an episode than the Japanese industry; still, Fukushima presented new lessons to be learned and new ways to enhance safety. The first lesson: never let a disaster go to waste. It has a lot to teach you.

The industry and the NRC are in broad agreement on the high-priority actions that should be taken at America's reactors. The industry's Fukushima response priority has been to identify those activities that provide maximum tangible safety benefits in the shortest time and implement them first.

That’s Anthony Pietrangelo, NEI’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, and he gets right to plant and public safety – “provide maximum tangible safety benefits in the shortest time.” The earthquake in Japan was unpredicted, but the workers at Fukushima Daiichi were already working to bring the reactors offline when the tsunami hit. That swept away the emergency generators and other emergency equipment.

The greatest safety improvement to protect against extreme events, regardless of their cause, comes from the FLEX response strategy that the industry began implementing last year. The heart of this effort is adding more portable, backup safety equipment at each reactor. More than 1,500 pieces of equipment have been acquired or ordered, including portable generators, diesel-driven pumps and satellite phones. The additional portable equipment will provide power and water to maintain key safety functions in the absence of AC power and heat transfer capability from permanently installed safety systems. These functions are reactor core cooling, used fuel pool cooling and containment integrity.

We may say, though, that the Fukushima workers didn’t expect emergency gear to wash away. Though the FLEX equipment is stowed at the facilities in order to prevent being destroyed, what if it were anyway? How do the plant workers deal with that?

In addition to new equipment being placed at all U.S. reactors, the industry is developing regional response centers in Memphis and Phoenix that will serve as dispatch points for additional equipment and resources. The regional response centers will be capable of delivering another full set of portable safety equipment, radiation protection equipment, electrical generators, pumps and other emergency response equipment to an affected site within 24 hours after an extreme event.

Of course, the world came together to offer help to the Japanese as needed and requested. Why not formalize that effort to respond to emergencies here and internationally?

In addition, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations has upgraded its emergency response center, and the facility is operational. This center will facilitate the sharing of equipment and technical expertise whenever and wherever it is needed. Thus, between the equipment available via the regional response centers and the equipment purchased by each site, the industry will have significantly enhanced its capability to assist any site in an emergency.

INPO is the right venue for this because it already maintains a database of parts available at the various facilities.

Pietrangelo also addresses what the industry and NRC have done to deal with the most frightening aspect of a nuclear energy accident, the potential release of radiation. It is potential rather than inevitable; the goal is to keep it in the former category. The best answer is to install a filtering option well suited to the nature of each facility and the potential threats it faces, but the NRC and regulators in general tend to prefer singular solutions.

One prominent area of industry/NRC interactions of late is the NRC staff recommendation for external, filtered containment vents for boiling water reactors with Mark I and II containments. The Electric Power Research Institute concluded after intensive analysis that filtered vents aren't necessarily the most effective way to filter potential radioactive releases from fuel damage. The industry believes the optimal filtration method should be determined on a plant-specific basis. The NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards shares that view. The five-member Commission ultimately will decide the future course of action in this area.

If it were just the industry wanting this flexibility, one might conclude that it smells cynically of an industry wanting to go cheap, safety be damned. But no: the approach is probably not, in aggregate, the least expensive way to address filtering, but it acknowledges that a large country provides a range of potential disaster scenarios that are not the same from one to another region. That’s one thing – well, two things. More importantly, other regulatory bodies and watchdogs believe it is the correct approach, too. I’m not sure this quite rises to the level of a contention. We’ll see how it goes.

Pietrangelo makes a simple, strong case for nuclear energy.

Because the long-term fundamentals show a continued, if not growing, need for nuclear energy around the globe, it is paramount that existing facilities are operated safely even as advanced-design reactors are brought to market in the years ahead. Innovation, knowledge transfer, training, and strong safety cultures are among the elements that will define the future ability of nuclear energy technologies to help meet societal needs.

There are a lot of moving parts to this piece, written for Power Engineering. I’ve focused on some key safety points here, but there’s more, including a section on industrial preparedness and another on regulation. The whole thing is worth a careful read if you’re interested in the state of play of post-Fukushima safety planning.

For a little more background, here is NEI’s video on FLEX:

A detailed overview of the nuclear industry's FLEX approach to enhancing safety post Fukushima.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

“So many mothers against nuclear energy!”–And For It, Too.

A photographer named Nonoko Kameyama decided to take pictures of mothers (with their children) who are against reopening the nuclear facilities in Japan.

Kameyama is unquestionably moved to use her craft to support her views.

In 2006 I took a break and travelled to Nepal.  That was a turning point for me - my passion came back right away. I was taking pictures - capturing the joy on the faces of the people in Nepal; it was extraordinary.

But at the same time I was confronted by the poverty of people and the problems that they were facing, so I started to wonder what I could do. When I came back to Japan I joined two groups, one that tries to rescue children, Stop Child Trafficking, and the other group which promotes fair trade between Japan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They asked me to help them make a catalogue to sell Fair Trade goods.  This is the first time I got connected with a social cause. 

I wonder if she also took pictures of the poverty in Nepal to support her social effort – I’m going to assume she did, but it’s curious she doesn’t say so. As we’ll see, she likes to take pictures of happy people. In any event, I can’t imagine anyone questioning the value of what she did as a response to her Nepal visit.

Then the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened and she decided she did not want the nuclear facilities in Japan to reopen.

I started taking pictures of these mothers, and joining demonstrations. One after another I kept photographing these mothers - suddenly I realized that I had taken photos of 100 mothers. So many mothers against nuclear energy!  To me, a hundred is like every mother. A hundred is a symbol because, no matter where they live - Fukushima or Tokyo, or Nepal, or India - mothers would protect their children.

Again, one cannot doubt her sincerity or desire to portray that some who are against nuclear energy are women and some of those women have children. Such is the case with Women in Nuclear, too, I daresay, and if the group hired a good photographer such as Kameyama to take pictures of them and their children, they would look almost precisely like the women she did photograph – that is to say, varied and interesting.

I have to admit that at the beginning I was worried that if I made a book there would be lots of stern, angry, and depressed faces. I was afraid that I might end up with a depressing book; but soon I realized that mothers with children are always joyful, and there’s a dignity and a beauty. They are soft, but strong and powerful.  This tenderness, love, and compassion will open people’s hearts.

Let’s let this pass. There are a lot of reasons mother are not “always joyful” and genuinely fretful for their children. But wait – open people’s hearts to what?

What I can do is connect with other mothers and men too, through photography; and build a movement for renewable energy which is safe for our children.

That’s a pretty specific goal for a book of lovely photographs of mothers and their children. If Kameyama does a good job, one might want the book for its aesthetic qualities. A book of Women in Nuclear – maybe of Japan’s branch of the organization - would probably include text explaining why the participants value their work, what they think of nuclear energy, what their hopes are for their own and their children’s futures. Voices and thoughts. Maybe we could include some women who are not mothers, though I guess we want to stay in parallel with the rival project.

Would it be more likely to change minds than Kameyama’s project? Probably not, but it would show that women have professional and industrial aspirations, perhaps a little more unexpected than showing them exclusively in their maternal role and described as fearful. Even Kameyana’s project could show and tell more.

Here are some of Kameyama’s photographs – they are quite lovely – some include non-explicit nudity, so take that into account.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sensible Nuclear Outcomes in Florida and India

The processes may have been a little sloppy, but if the outcomes are good, so be it.

First, in Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court rejected on Thursday the challenge to a controversial law that allows electric utilities to collect money from their customers for nuclear-power plants that won't be built for years — if ever.

The unanimous ruling, in a challenge filed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, found that the 2006 law did not violate the Florida Constitution by shifting too much decision-making power to the state Public Service Commission. Also, it upheld PSC decisions that allowed Florida Power & Light and what was then known as Progress Energy Florida to collect $282 million in nuclear-project charges from their customers in 2012 alone.

Reporter Jim Saunders sounds a little unhappy with the court ruling himself, doesn’t he? But so what if He gets the facts right. This is another case where anti-nuclear types took a grain of possibility (that the state breached the constitution by ceding authority to the Public Service Commission) and built it into a boulder. Unfortunately, it’s still a grain. The court also said that since the legislature wrote the law, it is up to that body to determine the PSC’s authority, not the courts.

That’s one good Florida outcome. At the same time, the legislature contemplated repealing the bill, but instead made a couple of minor adjustments:

In the short term, Duke Energy can keep collecting the "advance fee" money already approved for the Levy County nuclear plant.

But, in the future, it will get a little harder for the utility to charge customers more.

The Florida Senate with a 40-0 vote Thursday gave final approval to a bill that adds tougher guidelines for use of the advance fee. The bill, SB 1472, now goes to the governor.

Those final guidelines:

In particular, the bill lawmakers passed states that if a utility cannot demonstrate that it plans to complete the construction of the nuclear plant, it will no longer be allowed to collect money. The utility has 10 years after it gets its federal license to begin construction or lose access to the fee.

And it must prove the plant is both economically "feasible" and "reasonable" to continue moving forward with the projects. The existing law required only that the plants be "feasible."

I guess that qualifies as a “little harder.” This is unalloyed good news for Florida Gas & Light and Progress Energy Florida (now Duke Energy). And the Southern Alliance?

"Today is kind of a mixed day for us," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy[.]

Ah well. They’ll try another way another day. Why is cost recovery important? It allows expensive projects to proceed by lowering interest rates on needed loans (because the collected money reduces risk to a lender). In the end, that savings is passed along to ratepayers.

(To be fair, Duke is not happy with the legislative result, either.

Additionally, our position on (the legislation) has not changed," Sterling Ivey, a Duke spokesman, said. "We remain opposed to the bill, even as amended and passed. The process in current law is working and additional legislation or state requirements are not needed, which was confirmed today by the Florida Supreme Court."

It was working fine as is, though the outcome this time might have been much worse. Ivey is right, though; the better approach would have been to leave the original legislation alone.)

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In India, the seemingly endless haggling to get the Kudankulum facility up and running. Though the court case is quite different, it also involves litigating fear, not actual harm:

Opponents of a nuclear reactor in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu received a setback Monday when the Supreme Court rejected a petition to halt the commissioning of the plant over safety concerns.

But the protest groups are holding out hope that the judgment, which hasn’t yet been published in full, will enable them to continue their campaign against the Kudankulum Nuclear Power Plant.

Protesters had asked the Supreme Court to close the plant until extra safety measures had been put in place, saying that its technology was out of date and it would jeopardize the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people living in its vicinity.

But the court dismissed the petition and cleared the reactor for operation, more than two decades since it was first conceived in an Indo-Russian pact in 1988. The court said sufficient safeguards were in place at Kudankulam and that it was in the national interest to have the plant operational.

I’ve followed this case a bit and can only say that from an American perspective, it was built on a foundation of sand and powered by  fear of an Indian Fukushima Daiichi. Also from an American perspectives, bits like this are puzzling:

“Ideally we wanted them to stop the commissioning but they have gone ahead with a conditional order,” said G. Sunderrajan, an environmentalist who brought the petition to the Supreme Court in September 2012.

“Before commissioning, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India needs to satisfy [for] the court about 17 safety areas,” Mr. Sunderrajan said, adding that there he’s confident that campaigners would get another chance in court. “There is always a tab to pull the decision back,” he said. It wasn’t immediately clear what the 17 safety conditions were or how they would be policed.

If there are 17 safety conditions, one would expect them to be known to someone. I wonder if Sunderrajan got the number wrong or the Wall street Journal bloggers (Joanna Sugden and Aditi Malhotra)  just threw their hands up and went with it. I expect there are many more safety issues than seventeen and that the utility worked through them. Also, 17 or no, it appears the court doesn’t need them satisfied or is satisfied.

The problem with filing a court case charging that nuclear energy facilities are unsafe is that they are never inherently unsafe. What you end up litigating are your own fears, which are tough to set down in a fact set.

Bottom line: nuclear energy proceeds in India.

Guest Post: Mom Responds To Nuclear Emergency

The following guest post comes from Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, senior manager of workforce policy and programs at NEI:

Anne Shatara is a single, working mother who in addition to her regular job at a nuclear energy facility has an intriguing third job. She is part of the facility’s emergency response organization (ERO).

"I hold the position of dose assessor," said Anne. "In the event of an emergency, this position is responsible for gathering data and determining if radiation is leaking from the facility."

Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides
Many wonder who is eligible to serve on an emergency response team.  The answer is almost any nuclear power plant employee.  Once eligible, employees receive specialized qualification training; they participate in numerous drills and annual re-qualify for their assigned position.

Anne's position requires her to report to her assigned emergency response facility within 60 minutes of a declared emergency. She said she held an emergency response position before having a child and has continued to hold it since her child was born five years ago.

"Personally, I did not ask to be removed from the ERO after his birth," said Anne. "During my maternity leave, other ERO members qualified for the same position were responsible for covering for me while I recovered."

As a single mother, being on call to respond to an emergency does create logistical challenges. "When my son was younger and I was on-call, I always made sure there was an emergency bag in the car with us," Anne said. "That way, in the event I had to respond during non-work hours, I would have snacks, toys, diapers, and extra clothes for him."

This preplanning paid off for Anne. Two years ago she had to take her son with her when her facility scheduled an off-duty ERO drill. Anne said, "I was making dinner when my pager went off. I had to drop what I was doing and report to my ERO location as soon as possible. "

Many have asked Anne if she reconsidered her position on the ERO after the tragedy in Fukushima. Her response was unequivocal. "I never question participating on the ERO. I feel it is part of my responsibility as a nuclear energy facility employee."

Many worry that ERO members will respond differently in a real situation than they do during a drill. Anne rejects this claim and explained, "We frequently conduct drills in order to prepare for an event if one was to take place. As any high performing team practices before a game, we practice like it’s a real event so we know what to expect and gain proficiency on our emergency response procedures and protocols."

Ann said she's seen this preparedness put into practice the one time she had to respond to an Alert at her facility. An alert is the second lowest level of emergency.

"It happened during work and my son was at childcare," said Anne. "I responded to my facility as required but my first phone call was to the preschool followed by a friend to ensure my son would be picked up and cared for until I was released."

The Alert ended after seven hours, and Anne was able to pick her son up from her friend. "Knowing my child was cared for and safe allowed me to focus on my task at hand as an ERO member."
Anne is just one example of many Mothers in Nuclear who also serve on an emergency response team. They are all smart, organized women who are dedicated to keeping us safe.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Nazis, Soviets and Chatham House

Generally, you know you’ve lost an argument, especially one with a political dimension,  when you bring in Nazism to bolster your point. What Nazism means is up to the ears of the listener as long as it boils down to “really bad.”

It’s an effective argument killer, but unfortunately, if you bring up Hitler, you lose, because your arguments have gone bankrupt and you’re spewing nonsense.

The use of Nazism in debates is largely an American thing. We didn’t suffer under Nazi rule, so it can be trotted out to mean any abstract thing we want, as long as it’s, well, really bad and we don’t mind losing debates.

But Europeans did experience it directly, so they have had an experience of it and don’t treat it lightly. The difference between two opposing views doesn’t portend murderous racist dictatorship.

Now, “Soviet,” on the other hand:

A prominent clean energy campaigner has been banned from the European Energy Forum after tweeting remarks made by the EU's energy commissioner describing the UK's plan to hand out long-term contracts to nuclear companies as "Soviet".

Why not “French,” I wonder? Not the same evil frisson, one gathers.  “Soviet” is something not even the former Soviets want to be called.

Now, you may be wondering why this fellow got banned for tweeting – accurately – a term someone else used.

'Chatham House rules' are assumed at such meetings, although they are neither advertised nor announced.

The Chatham House rule, which is often used in press briefings, protects the anonymity of speakers, while allowing the information they impart to be reported.

And Chatham House, an international think tank, is around to define the Chatham House rule quite precisely.

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

So I guess environmentalist Mark Johnston could say someone called the contracts Soviet, just not who said it – which he did. It was EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. Oettinger’s comments distressed others just as Nazi comments do and he later tweeted that he was joking.

It was a jokey reference, made in the context of the UK wanting to introduce capacity mechanisms.

I’ve spent some time in Germany and find this believable – what the Germans consider a joke is completely up to them, because you’ll never get it. Germans have impenetrable senses of humor.

Okay, so the deal is, Oettinger may not like what the British are doing, but he realized that “Soviet,” like “Nazi,” loses the argument, so he walked it back. Mark Johnston has to pay 7000 Euro for a membership to the European Energy Forum or he isn’t getting back into their meetings. And the British are doing what the British are doing.

And what is that? Well, it really is kind of arcane.

The French company EDF is currently bidding to run two nuclear plants in Hinkley, Somerset, under a 'Contract for Difference' (CfD) which guarantees a long-term fixed price for low-carbon electricity generators.

At just under £100 per megawatt hour, the minimum price reportedly being discussed with the French energy giant would be nearly double the current market rate, and 19% higher than onshore wind turbines.

But the deal has been held up by an ongoing review of European Commission state aid rules, which limit the amount of public subsidies offered by governments to energy utilities.

See? This’ll get sorted out one way or another and if it hampers British nuclear energy, we’ll talk about that then. (Short sneak preview: the British are after energy diversity/security and are willing to pay for it.) Until then, it’s a British-EU haggle and who wants to get too deeply into that?

For now the lessons are: using “Soviet” to trump an argument is the European equivalent of using “Nazi” here. You use it, you lose. And don’t mess with the Chatham House rule. It will only cause tears and cost money.

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.

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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.