Friday, September 27, 2013

The Simpsons and The Reality of Nuclear Power Plant Security

It looks like the folks at Fox are pulling out all of the stops when it comes to Sunday night's season premiere of The Simpsons. Look for guest voice appearances from Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live and Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss in the 25th season premiere entitled, "Homerland," a spoof of the hit cable drama, Homeland. In Sunday night's episode, terrorists brainwash Homer in an attempt to, you guessed it, blow up the Springfield nuclear power plant:

With the laughs out of the way (and when it comes to The Simpsons, believe us, we do laugh) I'd like to take advantage of this teachable moment and remind everyone that America's nuclear power plants are among the most secure and best defended industrial facilities in the world. So after you've spent 30 minutes laughing with Homer and company, why not just spare 6 minutes to watch this video that outlines the realities of nuclear plant security.

For more on nuclear power plant security, please visit our website. And congratulations to the team at The Simpsons for 25 seasons on Fox. It's an amazing achievement.

The Love of 1000 Razors: UCS on Small Reactors

UCS_logoOur friends over at the Union of Concerned Scientists have always had an interesting approach to nuclear energy. It claims to support it - if reactors could be, you  know, safer, less expensive and more secure. You could call it the love of 1000 razors, each cut inflicting another wound, but all for the benefit of nuclear energy.

So knowing that UCS has a new report on small reactors leads one to suspect that the conclusion will be that that these sub-350 megawatt reactors will not be safer, less expensive than their full size counterparts or more secure. And so it is.

Now, let’s allow that no small reactor has been deployed or even licensed, though interest runs high. The Department of Energy is working with Babcock & Wilcox on prototyping and licensing the B&W design, with other vendors to follow. The Tennessee Valley Authority has expressed interesting in using them at its Clinch River site. Still, early days. A lot could happen.

It also means that anything I could say about them beyond the basics would be conjecture. That’s equally true of UCS, but it certainly proceeds as though small reactors have already pulled loose from their moorings and run amuck through the countryside.

Well, alright, let’s be fair. UCS knows it is engaging in preemptive scaremongering (SMRs are small modular reactors):

certain safety regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could be relaxed for SMRs.

whatever intrinsic safety advantages are unique to SMRs could be lost if the NRC allows safety margins to be reduced in other respects.

mistakes on a production line can lead to generic defects that could propagate through an entire fleet of reactors and be costly to fix.

I did not count rigorously, but UCS must have used “could” at least 40 times in this short report. A small reactor could open a portal to the fifth dimension and bring forth a murderous glop monster. Anything goes in the world of “could.”

This one struck me as particularly funny:

For example, efficiencies associated with the economics of mass production could lower costs if SMRs are eventually built and sold in large numbers. Such factors are speculative at this point…

Pot, kettle, shake hands.

Now, here’s the thing beyond the thing: A lot of UCS’s worries are just extensions of their 1000 razors – because full size reactors are so problematic, surely small reactors will be more of the same, only, um, smaller.

But consider: the NRC’s most recent annual report to Congress on “abnormal occurrences” at full-scale reactors—unscheduled incidents or events that the agency determines to be significant from the standpoint of public health or safety – showed only one such occurrence at a U.S. facility (in 2011) during the past decade. (I should add that abnormal events do not actually endanger safety – they hold the potential to do so if unchecked.) Similarly, the latest report from the NRC’s Industry Trend Program identified no significant adverse trends in industry safety performance.

Let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with criticizing small reactors, their makers, government regulators or, heck, NEI. But UCS does not offer criticism. It extends a pile of bad assumptions about full-size reactors to small reactors with no proof offered at all to justify them.

Small reactors are not precisely new technology – submarines have used a variation for years without incident – and the earlier generation of full-size nuclear plants generated less electricity than they do – the first commercial reactor at Shippingport ran at 60 megawatts. None of that means criticism wouldn’t be useful. But this is useless criticism, a sop to the anti-nuclear gullible.  Even if I hated nuclear energy, I’d be insulted by it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Don’t Know How–Edison’s Craver on Nuclear Energy and Carbon Goals

271px-Edison_International_Logo.svgEdison International  CEO Ted Craver and Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good lately appeared at separate forums. They talked about the decisions to close the San Onofre (Edison) and Crystal River (Duke/Progress) facilities, describing them as economic in nature. We already understood that. Here’s the real takeaway:

Despite having taken a financial hit on capital-intensive nuclear power, both agreed that nuclear energy has a place in a low-carbon economy.

“I don’t know ultimately how you get to your goals on carbon without nuclear being a part of it,” Craver said.

Me, either. Neither company is what one would call a nuclear pure play. They have a decided interest in renewable energy, too, and Edison in particular is looking at distributed generation.

Craver said electric utilities would be mistaken to dismiss distributed generation as merely a “fringe” business in the future. The Edison chief said his company initially started in the field by supplying big solar arrays for “big box” stores.

“A lot of this is really experimental,” Craver said. Utility subsidiary Southern California Edison (SCE) used to rely on industrial customers for one-third of its load but that is now probably closer to 10 percent, Craver said.

The article at Electric Light and Power does not say whether that difference is due to increasing use of solar panels in industry, though Craver says that “it’s important to realize that manufacturers are looking to generate more of their own power.” Edison has a lot of information about this at its web site, though, so look around for more.

But the important point? “I don’t know ultimately how you get to your goals on carbon without nuclear being a part of it.” But Craver does know. You don’t get to those goals.

Former NNSA Deputy Administrator Blasts UT-Austin Nuclear Power Plant Security Study

Jerry Paul
Earlier this week, Jerry Paul, a former deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration, took aim at a study that came out of UT-Austin in August concerning nuclear power plant security.

The following passage comes from an op-ed that appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
These are dangerous times. Nuclear security is a serious topic. It calls for assessment by serious people willing to do the hard work of real research.

There is nothing wrong with an academician or anyone else, including political activists, raising questions about public topics including security and even nuclear security. But it should be done in a responsible way and should be based on facts.

If conclusions are to be marketed as university “research,” they should be backed by credible data, authoritative sources’ expertise and peer reviews by unbiased experts.

Merely using the word “nuclear” in a title should not qualify written work for a lower standard of academic or journalistic scrutiny.
Previously, NEI issued a statement critiquing the study, noting many of the same point. NEI's John Keeley wrote a blog post of his own on the day of the report's release:
[A] report like the NPPP's today also fails to acknowledge that the very type of terrorist attack alleged as a vulnerability necessarily represents an enemy of the state incursion within our country. It isn't the obligation of any electric utility to defend against that; that's a job for the highest levels of federal national security.
For more on plant security, please consult NEI's website.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Win Place Show of Nuclear Energy

horseThe Guardian’s latest story on nuclear energy is heavy on the industry’s perceived travails. A lot of its points depend on nuclear critics to make those travails palpable – which is a few strikes against it. Regardless, the story has a number of striking features that tilt it toward balance even if it doesn’t quite get there.

For example, NEI gets to add some useful context to the thesis that plant closures spell doom:

Officials at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, remain hopeful.

"It's certainly true that a handful of older, smaller nuclear power plants—like older, smaller coal-fired plants—are vulnerable to weak market conditions," NEI Vice President Richard Myers told a London audience earlier this month. "How many additional nuclear plants shut down, if any, will depend on a number of factors, all difficult to forecast with any confidence."

But Myers stressed that the U.S. industry has weathered tough times before. A similar combination of economic stresses led to the closure of ten reactors in the mid- to late-1990s, prompting the Department of Energy to predict that 50 reactors would be mothballed between 1995 and 2015, he said. Including the recent announcements, 15 reactors have been scrapped since 1995.

"Although the short-term picture is challenging, the long-term prospects for nuclear energy in America remain strong," Myers said, noting that there are many proposals for new reactors at the NRC that have not been cancelled. "No one expects construction on any of them to start anytime soon, and some may never be built," Myers conceded. "But post-2020, some surely will."

In much of the piece, writer Elizabeth Douglass creates a kind of fictive horse race with energy winners and losers. It’s like the weekly box office, which news sites use to determine who’s up and who’s down in the movie business. But just as such numbers tell you less than such sites tout, so does an insistence that a few plant closures portend doom. As Myers points outs, it portends less, even if Douglass describes this as merely “hopeful.”

Let’s also throw policy into the mix. Myers focuses on economics, but policy plays an important role, too. Douglass does her readers a service by insisting on that (though not in nuclear energy’s favor, wouldn’t you know):

Around that time [around 2005], there was growing concern about pollution and the climate-changing effects of carbon dioxide emissions, so industry advocates began touting nuclear energy as a cleaner way to power the economy. When lawmakers started backing the concept of putting a price on carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system, the clean energy argument seemed poised to turn into an economic advantage over natural gas and coal power plants.

But the good news didn't last. The cap-and-trade plan never materialized, and the concept of a carbon tax never got off the ground. In addition, the price of natural gas fell in late 2008  because of  the recession and an unexpected surge in U.S. production from shale formations. The flood of new supplies drove U.S. natural gas prices down to $1.91 per million Btu in April 2012, the commodity's lowest closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange since just after the September 2001 terrorist strikes.

Climate change is still a policy concern – which natural gas cannot help mitigate as effectively as nuclear energy – and the policy is still evolving – see here, for example, about the EPA’s proposed regulations on coal plant emissions. But let’s not play the horse race game ourselves – what might have an impact on coal should not encourage huzzahs from the nuclear faithful.

So, no, the lack of cap-and-trade is not a case of “good news” not lasting. It’s a case of businesses adjusting to the reality of current policies and to the ebb and flow of business. As Myers points out, the commercial nuclear energy industry has had economic ups and downs in its long history. Moreover, the last round of dire predictions about nuclear energy proved, shall we say, wrong. Douglass understands the current energy configuration is just that – current - and prone to change:

The price of natural gas is historically volatile, and there's no guarantee that gas costs will stay low. Any number of things—unsustainable production rates, soaring demand, robust exports or new drilling and fracking regulations, for example—could force natural gas prices to revert to previous levels.  

California just put a fracking regulation bill in place and France has banned the practice – though the latter decision is getting some constitutional scrutiny. Again, that’s policy (potentially) impacting electricity production.

Remember, though, this is the Guardian, not a noted friend of nuclear energy, so the tone of the piece can get rather breathless:

With the industry's survival hanging in the balance, nuclear power supporters and equipment makers have focused on overseas markets where growing energy demand is fueling power projects of all stripes.

Survival hanging in the balance? Really? Makes it sound like The Hunger Games, atomic edition.

No, Indian Point Unit 2's License Has Not Expired

Allow us a moment to clarify.
Over the past few weeks we've seen a lot of chatter over Indian Point Unit 2 as it enters an NRC-approved period of extended operation (PEO) beginning on September 28.

On Twitter, we're seeing a lot of statements like this one from Elizabeth Douglas of Inside Climate News. The tweet inspired NEI media manager Tom Kauffman to send Douglas the following email:
Dear Ms. Douglass,

Indian Point Unit 2’s license has not expired.

Because Entergy Corp. filed timely and comprehensive license renewal applications for both Indian Point Units 2 and 3 in April 2007, more than five years ahead of IP2’s original expiration date of Sept. 28, 2013, and more than seven years ahead of IP3’s original expiration date of Dec. 12, 2015. The early applications satisfy the requirements of the Timely Renewal Doctrine, a well-established federal law that extends the current operating license until the license renewal process is complete.

The Timely Renewal Doctrine is law under the federal Administrative Procedures Act that is generally applicable to regulatory and administrative federal agencies including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and is available to all nuclear energy facilities that apply for a 20-year license renewal at least five years before the expiration of their current license. Indian Point 2 will become the first nuclear energy facility to operate with a license extended by Timely Renewal Doctrine because of the unprecedented number of challenges to its license renewal application that must be addressed by the NRC.

Indian Point 2 will enter the period of timely renewal on September 28, 2013 and has met all of the federal requirements under the Timely Renewal Doctrine. The continued operation of Indian Point 2 under the Timely Renewal Doctrine in no way reduces the level of safety of the facility. Indian Point 2 currently meets all federal regulatory requirements, will continue to be thoroughly inspected, and must continue to adhere to all regulatory requirements. Both operating units at Indian Point are very safe and have earned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's highest safety ratings over the past nine years and have maintained operational reliability higher than the nuclear industry’s national average. And Indian Point’s owner, Entergy Corp., has invested more than $1 billion to upgrade and enhance both operating facilities for continued safe operation.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Tom Kauffman
For more on the work being done at Indian Point during the period of extended operations, see the Indian Point website. Here at NEI, our news team has been covering the story for several weeks, including a story detailing the $1 billion in upgrades the plant has implemented over the past decade to help make it one of the most efficient in the nation.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mothers in Nuclear: A Spoonful of Nuclear

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

Shannon Rafferty-Czincila is neither a doctor nor nurse. But she is a mother of three, a nuclear energy professional and a local leader who is supporting advanced health care in her community.

Shannon Rafferty-Czincila
Shannon works as the license renewal lead at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania and is the Chair of NEI’s License Renewal Implementation Working Group. Her job is to document how her company's nuclear power plants will continue to meet federal safety requirements if they are approved for continued operation beyond their original 40 year licenses. “Right now I believe that running our current plants is a good option to help support our growing need for energy,” said Rafferty-Czincila. “By obtaining a new license for a nuclear power plant we are ensuring that we will have clean, safe and reliable power for many more years.”

Rafferty-Czincila volunteers her time with the Friends of Einstein Medical Center Montgomery auxiliary. "It is important to me that my neighbors and my family have access to the best medical facilities available," said Shannon. "Now that the company I work for has decided to extend the operation of our fleet of nuclear power plants, my family will be living in the area for a long time."

Shannon’s volunteer work with the Friends of Einstein Medical Center Montgomery has benefited from her leadership experiences in the nuclear energy industry. She has been recognized for her leadership capabilities with her recent election to vice president of the Friends of Einstein Medical Center Montgomery auxiliary. Einstein Medical Center Montgomery is a new hospital that's part of the Einstein Health Care network.

The auxiliary helps support the hospital through community outreach, special projects and fundraising. Shannon believes that the auxiliary has a responsibility to reach as many people as possible and she looks forward to improving the health and well-being of the region.

"I wanted to get more involved in the community and I wanted my children to know that they need to give back to the area that they live in. I believe that parents need to be positive role models for their children," said Rafferty-Czincila.

When describing why she enjoys working as a nuclear license renewal professional and volunteering with the local auxiliary Rafferty-Czincila said: “I like the fact that I am working on projects that positively impact others. I find my work in the nuclear industry and the auxiliary to be rewarding.”
Shannon is one of the Mothers in Nuclear dedicated to her community and to ensuring the safe and reliable operations of our country's nuclear plants.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Will NASA Run Out of Plutonium-238?

Here at NEI, we like to keep an ear to the ground when it comes to what's being discussed on Twitter and make sure to respond if/when folks direct reasonable questions our way.

Earlier this afternoon, Baltimore resident Dan Ewald posed the following question to us via Twitter:
"Y'all doing anything to help with the impending Plutonium-238 problem for @NASA?
Dan very helpfully included a link to a story from Wired describing the problem. To get an answer, I turned to Leslie Barbour of NEI:
We have long supported the DOE program for space exploration in appropriations, especially Cassini. The funding has always been provided by the Office of Nuclear Energy until this year when DOE and NASA agreed that space reactor funding be included in NASA budget. We can look at this again if needed.
For more information on how NASA spacecraft utilize radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) for the power they need, see our website.

5.3 Earthquake Hits Fukushima; TEPCO Reports No Problems

For about the past hour we've been monitoring news that a 5.3 magnitude earthquake has struck Japan. According to an Associated Press report, the U.S. Geological Service has reported that the earthquake originated 13 miles beneath Fukushima Prefecture about 110 miles Northeast of Tokyo.

The critical information now is the following:

The Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported that the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., observed no abnormality in radiation or equipment after the quake.
It's a little after 4:00 a.m. in Japan on Friday morning, so we can expect to see additional details being reported over the next few hours. If and when there are other details to report, we'll pass them along.

FRIDAY UPDATE: No new concerns at nation's nuclear facilities according to House of Japan:
A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck Fukushima in the northeast early Friday morning, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, but no abnormalities were observed at the region's nuclear power plants including the crippled Fukushima Daiichi, according to their operators.


No new abnormalities were observed in measurement data from the nuclear reactors and other equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station or from radioactivity monitoring posts there. Readings were also normal at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co. The Daiichi plant was crippled by the massive quake and tsunami in 2011.

Japan Atomic Power Co. said no abnormalities were confirmed at the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture.
NEI's Tom Kauffman, the member of NEI's media team that tracks events in Japan most closely, passed along this note:
There have been 2,740 earthquakes in Japan since March 11, 2011. That's unlike anything we know in the U.S. To put things in perspective, take a look at this interactive map that tracks earthquakes in Japan since Fukushima.

The map only shows earthquakes 3.0 and greater. There are thousands of small quakes every year (35 to 45 a day) that rarely cause significant damage.
Again, we'll provide additional updates as warranted.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

CNO Summit Diary: Peter Sena of First Energy Reflects on Lessons of Fukushima After Attending US-Japan CNO Summit

While the U.S.-Japan CNO Summit has ended and the American delegation has returned home, we're still seeing reports come in from their time in Japan. The latest is this video diary from Peter Sena, President and Chief Nuclear Officer of First Energy. In this video vignette, Sena reflect on the lessons he learned after visiting Fukushima Daiichi and meeting face to face with TEPCO employees who are working to clean up the site:

As always, please keep up to date with the latest content by following #CNOSummit on Twitter.

The Unofficial Guide to Pandora's Promise, a Documentary Film About Nuclear Energy by Robert Stone (Bumped)

Updated Editor's Note: The next big date on the Pandora's Promise calendar is November 7 at 9:00 p.m. U.S. EST. That's when the film will make it's cable television debut on CNN. A crew from the cable network visited NEI a few weeks ago, and we anticipate that you'll see a number of features about the future of the nuclear energy industry air over the next several weeks. Be sure to watch on November 7, and join us on Twitter as we participate in a real-time chat about the film using the #PandorasPromise hash tag.

Editor's Note: Here at NEI, we're keeping a close eye on Pandora's Promise, a documentary film by Academy Award-nominated director Robert Stone about how many prominent environmentalists have changed their minds about nuclear energy because of concerns about climate change.  The film was produced independently from the nuclear industry. Among the financial backers of Pandora's Promise are Richard Branson and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

As coverage of the film's debut around the world continues, I'll be collecting all of the online coverage about it in this space. Every time I make a major update to the content below, I'll bump this post back to the top of the blog. As always, our readers are an important part of this conversation, so please don't hesitate to send us links and suggestions as to how we might improve our coverage of the film.

In this guide you will find:
  • Synopsis
  • Official Trailer
  • Where to See Pandora's Promise
  • Videos
  • Social Media 
  • Bios of Film's Principals
  • Reviews and Other Coverage
Synopsis (from the official web site):
Impact Partners and CNN Films present PANDORA’S PROMISE, the groundbreaking new film by Academy-Award®-nominated director Robert Stone. The atomic bomb and meltdowns like Fukushima have made nuclear power synonymous with global disaster. But what if we’ve got nuclear power wrong? An audience favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, PANDORA’S PROMISE asks whether the one technology we fear most could save our planet from a climate catastrophe, while providing the energy needed to lift billions of people in the developing world out of poverty. 
Official Trailer:

Exclusive Clip:

In this exclusive clip from Indiewire, learn how U.S. nuclear reactors are powered by fuel converted from former Russian nuclear warheads. The program is called Megatons to Megawatts.

So Where Can You See Pandora's Promise?

The film's initial theatrical run ended in June 2013. However, if you still want to see it, you can schedule a screening of your own using Tugg, a business that's a cross between Kickstarter and If you can convince 100 friends to pay for a screening up front, Tugg will help you get the film into a participating theater. See the Pandora's Promise Tugg page for more. CNN Films announced that it had acquired cable television broadcast rights to the film. It will air on November 7, 2013 at 9:00 p.m. U.S. EST.  For the latest dates and times for screenings, consult the Pandora's Promise website.

To download a copy of the film, you'll have to wait until December 3, 2013, when Pandora's Promise will be made available on iTunes. If and when you see the film, be sure to tweet about it and include the #PandorasPromise hash tag and the official handle, @PandorasPromise.


Q&A with Michael Moore at the Traverse City Film Festival:

Q&A at the IFC Center's Stranger Than Fiction Series (click here for additional interview):

Interview With Ondi Timoner of Bring Your Own Doc:

Robert Stone Interview with GenConnect:

BMI Sundance Composer/Director Roundtable:

Robert Stone and Mark Lynas Interviewed by Tara Hunnewell:

Mark Lynas Interview with Hedgerly Wood Trust:


Social Media:

Follow Pandora's Promise on Twitter and Facebook. Folks on Twitter seem to be using #PandorasPromise to organize conversations around the film. You can also subscribe to the film's YouTube Channel. If you've seen the film already, consider posting your review at the Internet Movie Database. In response to critiques of the film by anti-nuclear activists, Stone has posted his own FAQ on the film. Nick Touran, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the nuclear engineering program at the University of Michigan published a defense of the film. Here at NEI Nuclear Notes, we've created a category label for all of our coverage of the film.


Robert Stone, Director:
Robert Stone is a multi-award-winning, Oscar-nominated and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. Born in England in 1958, he grew up in both Europe and America. After graduating with a degree in history from the University of Wisconsin/Madison, he moved to New York City in 1983 determined to pursue a career in filmmaking. He gained considerable recognition for his first film, “RADIO BIKINI” (1987) which premiered at Sundance and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. Multi-tasking as a producer, director, writer, editor and cameraman, he has over the last 25 years developed a steady international reputation with a range of unique and critically acclaimed feature-documentaries about American history, pop-culture, the mass media and the environment.
Michael Shellenberger, The Breakthrough Institute:
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are leading global thinkers on energy, climate, security, human development, and politics. Their 2007 book Break Through was called "prescient" by Time and "the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring" by Wired. (An excerpt in The New Republic can be read here.) Their 2004 essay, "The Death of Environmentalism," was featured on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, sparked a national debate, and inspired a generation of young environmentalists ...
Stewart Brand, Editor, The Whole Earth Catalog and Co-Chair and President of The Long Now Foundation:
Stewart Brand is co-founder and president of The Long Now Foundation and co-founder of Global Business Network. He created and edited the Whole Earth Catalog (National Book Award), and co-founded the Hackers Conference and The WELL. His books include The Clock of the Long Now; How Buildings Learn; and The Media Lab. His most recent book, titled Whole Earth Discipline, is published by Viking in the US and Atlantic in the UK. He graduated in Biology from Stanford and served as an Infantry officer.
Richard Rhodes, Author, The Making of the Atomic Bomb:
RICHARD RHODES is the author or editor of twenty-four books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award ...
Gwyneth Cravens, Author, The Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy:
[H]as contributed articles and op-eds on science and other topics to Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. She has published five novels. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, where she also worked as a fiction editor, and in Harper’s Magazine, where she was an associate editor. She grew up in New Mexico and now lives on eastern Long Island.
Mark Lynas, Environmentalist and Climate Change Activist (also writing a companion book to the film):
[A] frequent speaker around the world on climate change science and policy, focusing in particular on how carbon neutral targets can break the international logjam on climate mitigation, and how emissions reduction should be seen as an opportunity not a sacrifice. He is also a Visiting Research Associate at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment.
Reviews and Other Coverage:

Tim Wu, Slate:
A good, politically charged documentary often seizes on what the audience already believes and throws fuel on the fire (see, e.g., the work of Michael Moore). A better such documentary tries to convince its audience that what it takes for granted is flat-out wrong. Pandora’s Promise, which premiered at Sundance, does just that. It makes the utterly convincing case that anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist or takes climate change seriously should favor more nuclear power.
Kate Briemann, Rolling Stone:
After sifting through the anti-nuclear choruses and the considerably smaller pro-nuclear groups in an attempt to find the truth about the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy, Stone found his answer with Michael Shellberger, the president and co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute: "We can have a world living modern lives without killing the climate."
John Anderson, Variety:
Can one be committed to the environment, and still be against nuclear power? Most issue docs are propaganda, and Robert Stone’s latest is a formidable sales pitch for nukes, yet the film’s points are well reasoned and urgent, and should attract viewers who have been drawn to the director’s earlier work(such as “Earth Days,” a history of the environmentalist movement).
Kyle Smith, New York Post:
New York City filmmaker Robert Stone, like the five experts who are the principal subjects of his documentary, began with the same impeccable environment-first attitude they did. Stone was nominated for an Oscar for his 1988 anti-nukes documentary “Radio Bikini,” about the dire consequences of American bomb testing on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. Now Stone, who will be debating Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on nuclear power at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY, tomorrow night at 7:30, sheepishly admits that he confused what nuclear bombs do with what nuclear energy does. So many of our ideas about fallout and cancer rates are tied to the former, not the latter.
David Biello, Scientific American:
What has cracked that catholic opposition for Brand and others is the invisible and invidious challenge of climate change. Simply put: nuclear power is one of the few technologies available today that can produce a lot of electricity, a lot of the time without a lot of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.
James Conca, Forbes:
Is considering nuclear energy politically dangerous for environmentalists? Does it prevent normally-smart public servants from considering the best path forward on climate change? Indeed it is, and explains the swift and nasty response to Pandora’s Promise from anti-nuclear groups and the expected rants from professional fear-mongerers. They make some interesting fictional points, but provide no real information, using the word science like a mythological sword whose power they recognize but don’t understand.
Craig Bowron, Minneapolis Star Tribune:
As the director, Robert Stone, writes, “The almost theological adherence to a set of unquestionable beliefs [solar and wind power alone will save us] by most liberals and environmentalists has likely contributed as much or more to prolonging our addiction to fossil fuels as the equally appalling state of denial among many conservatives when it comes to climate change.”
John Gibbons, Irish Times:
What’s most likely to get us into trouble, Mark Twain observed, is not what we don’t know “it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so”. There are few subjects on which so many people, from politicians to rock stars, NGOs and environmentalists, passionately and confidently espouse views that are so completely at variance with observed reality as nuclear energy.
Maxine Segarnick, Poughkeepsie Journal:
The film strives to debunk several nuclear myths, such as the reportedly high radiation level and death toll caused by the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Environmental activists continue to use Chernobyl as an example of the potential danger of nuclear development. However, the film shows a radioactivity monitor at Chernobyl, as well as at other sites in America and Europe, and demonstrates that the level of radioactivity in Chernobyl in 2012 is nearly identical to that of Central Park in New York City.
Natalie Rooney, VoxTalk:
In a world where most people think nuclear plants are dangerous, Pandora’s Promise challenges viewers to see the benefits of nuclear energy. Despite this daunting challenge, the most admirable aspect of Pandora’s Promise is director Robert Stone’s commitment to presenting both sides of the nuclear energy argument.
Lenka Kollar, ANS Nuclear Cafe:
[T]he most compelling part of the documentary is illustrating how those who actually protested against nuclear power have come to now speak in favor of it. Admitting you were wrong takes some humility and can even cost you your professional career.
Joe Bendel, Libertas:
Stone made his name with the anti-nuclear doc Radio Bikini and would further burnish his green credentials with Earth Days. Very concerned about global warming, Stone could no longer accept the environmental movement’s unrealistic claims about solar and wind power. As his primary POV experts argue, any power plan with a significant wind or solar component will by necessity be heavily dependent on big, dirty fossil fuel plants as a back-up. The simple truth is that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow, but coal burns 24-7.
Stephanie Novak:
Pandora’s Promise has the immensely difficult task of changing people’s mindsets about nuclear energy—a task that became extraordinarily more difficult after the nuclear explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Knowing that the film was in favor of nuclear energy, I was surprised that during the beginning of the documentary, arguments against nuclear energy were explained—I almost thought that I was wrong and that the film might be anti-nuclear energy. But in my opinion, this was one of the strongest points of the film. I thought that by clearly laying out reasons why people would be against nuclear energy ultimately made the film’s pro-nuclear stance stronger, as I understood arguments on both sides of the debate by the time the film finished.
Tiffany Ujiye:
Stone’s narrative includes personal stories from environmentalists and energy experts, including Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Craven, Mark Lynas, Richard Rhodes and Michael Shellenberger to speak about their journey in supporting nuclear energy. “This film is about hope,” Stone said, “but it can’t be done without nuclear power.”
Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit:
Sure, it seems pretty strange for a devout environmentalist to take a pro-nuclear energy stance; but after seeing Robert Stone’s documentary Pandora’s Promise, it seems like a perfectly logical switch.
Additional Reviews:

CLEAR-EYED AND BALANCED… director Robert Stone introduces a cast of unlikely defenders of this awesome source of energy: environmentalists."

- Ashutosh Jogalekar, Scientific American


- Nick Schrager, Village Voice


- Kimberly Chun, SF Bay Guardian

Stone’s worldly feature-length report is sure to raise eyebrows, but it paints a convincing picture.

- Kelly Vance, East Bay Express

INTELLIGENT AND RELATABLE… you may find yourself thoroughly surprised with an about-face view on the energy issue.

- Lori Huck,

COMPELLING… A debate worth revisiting, and only the most dogmatic will resist it.

- Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

OPEN, EARNEST, UNABASHED… it makes a persuasive case… To any viewer with an open mind, ‘Pandora’s Promise’ may help encourage fresh thinking about the huge pros, as well as the better known cons, of this important, if controversial, source of clean energy.

- David Ropeik, Scientific American

PROVOCATIVE and IMPORTANT… ‘Pandora’s Promise’ is essential viewing.

- Andrew Revkin, The New York Times


- Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune


- Anthony Kaufman, Indiewire

ESSENTIAL VIEWING… A full dose of strong opinion – and also some much-needed facts."

- Anne Michaud, Newsday

Monday, September 16, 2013

CNO Summit Diary: Why FLEX Is The Right Response to Fukushima

Maria Korsnick
Constellation Energy Chief Nuclear Officer Maria Korsnick was in Japan last week touring the country’s nuclear facilities with a prominent group of U.S. chief nuclear officers. 

This is the second in a series of travel logs that Maria recorded. You can read an earlier diary entry from Maria, here. Additional coverage of the CNO Summit is on Twitter at #CNOSummit.

Earlier this week I toured Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini. The stations are only 7.5 miles apart but the contrast is remarkable. When approaching Daiichi, we were stopped at a village 12 miles from the station. The area was previously used as a training facility for Japan's soccer team, but today it serves as temporary housing for site workers and a plant access checkpoint. Each of us received a whole body count before boarding a bus to Daiichi.

The view from the bus window will stay with me forever. It looked like a war zone. The earthquake and the force of the tsunami were evident everywhere. The town was empty, the houses are decaying and the storefronts are damaged. You are surrounded by broken glass, twisted metal and overturned vehicles. Large storage tanks have been torn from their mounting plates and pushed aside. Pieces of the reactor building serve as constant reminders of the hydrogen explosion.

When we arrived at the site we were issued paper face masks, anti-contamination clothing and shoe covers. We dressed out and boarded another bus to tour the station grounds. The seats are covered in pink plastic herculite sheets to further protect us from contamination. As we drove the site, I could see that many buildings were still uninhabitable. Others had been converted to shift worker resting areas or additional checkpoints.

There are six reactors on this site. Units 1, 2 and 3 have damaged cores. Units 4, 5 and 6 do not, but they will never operate again. Decommissioning the entire site will take 30+ years. The biggest challenge right now is water: too much of it in the wrong place to be exact. Rows and rows of large tanks, similar to our condensate storage tanks, are being used to hold contaminated groundwater. The earthquake collapsed the underground drainage system, so the groundwater is collecting around the buildings and leaking in. The reactor building is contaminated from the accident, so the water becomes contaminated, too. They pump the water into the tanks to clean it, but keeping up with the volume of water is very challenging and they can't discharge anything. Even water clean enough to meet U.S. EPA standards cannot be discharged.

Currently they are clearing more land and installing more tanks, but a better solution is needed. Making matters worse, many of the original tanks were bolted together, not welded, and prone to leakage. Cleaning up water and fixing leaks continues 24/7 while they seek a viable long-term solution. It's a massive challenge but it’s evident that they are working very hard to get their arms around it.

The following day we toured Fukushima Daini and its four reactors. The station is only 7.5 miles from Daiichi, so it experienced the same earthquake and tsunami. They also lost power and their emergency diesels and electrical cabinets were affected by flooding. Damage is evident in a few places but, for the most part, the station has been cleaned up and repaired. They fought the same storm, but with the benefit of a few design and response differences, they won.

Unlike Daiichi, Daini retained power to some of the instrumentation in the control room, so they could assess the status of key systems. They were able to rally their site team and find creative solutions. They ran over six miles of heavy electrical cable, in about a day, to bring in offsite power to support their safety systems. Over 500 employees stayed for weeks to support the site. It's an amazing story of an engaged team, under extreme stress, with strong leadership that brought amazing results.

It's clear that the negative outcome of Daiichi overshadowed Daini's remarkable performance. As nuclear professionals, we can learn as much from what went right as we can from what didn't. They proved that our portable, diverse equipment strategy know as FLEX can be successful in protecting their plant and their people. Back home, we need to continue to prepare for and defend against beyond design events. With pre-staged, portable equipment, we can give our team options. The equipment is in place now, but additional training and procedural guidance over the next several months will make us even better prepared for the unimaginable.

Standing here at Fukushima Daini, I'm confident that our FLEX strategy is the right approach for our stations and the industry as a whole. I'm comforted to know that it worked here, and very thankful to our Japanese colleagues for their dedication, hard work and many successes.

Friday, September 13, 2013

CNO Summit Diary: PG&E's Ed Halpin on the Lessons From Fukushima

Ed Halpin, SVP & CNO of PG&E
Ed Halpin, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer at PG&E, was in Japan this week with virtually all of his American colleagues as part of the U.S.-Japan CNO Summit. He shared this diary entry with us after reflecting on what he saw at Fukushima Daiichi earlier this week. Be sure to follow all the updates from Japan on Twitter using the #CNOSummit hash tag.

As nuclear operators, we have earned a special trust from the communities we serve. My time here reaffirms my belief that the U.S. nuclear industry must always maintain its strong focus on safe operations, intensive training programs, effective peer-review processes, and the continued sharing of lessons-learned across the nation and throughout the world. The U.S. industry has always relied on redundant layers of safety in operating its facilities and is making exceptional gains in implementing a program known as "FLEX" to further enhance safety in the face of extreme natural events.

"FLEX" addresses the major challenges encountered at the Fukushima Daiichi power station following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami: the loss of power to maintain effective reactor fuel cooling. The strategy focuses on providing an uninterrupted supply of electricity and cooling water to protect critical plant safety systems at all times and ensuring that every U.S. nuclear energy facility can respond safely to extreme events, no matter what the cause.

My belief is that mandating more modifications or changing our design requirements based on the worst potential natural disasters and assuming conditions that are highly improbable will only complicate our response to such an event. Certainly we need to close out the more important issues that are currently on the table and in keeping with our industry "Path to Excellence." Even more importantly, we need to continue to emphasize a strong operational focus with rigorous, realistic training. We must be able to implement our FLEX strategies blindfolded across every operating crew and our emergency response teams and training have got to be exemplary. These actions honor the trust we have earned from our communities and customers and keep us focused on our primary goal - safety.

CNO Summit Diary: Indelibile Impressions From a Historic Week

Editor's Note: For the past week, NEI's John Keeley has been accompanying a delegation of American chief nuclear officers on a tour of Japan. This is his last blog entry he'll make before returning home to the U.S. 

To find all of the content related to this week's trip from NEI Nuclear Notes, click here. And for all of the chatter about the trip on Twitter, check out the #CNOSummit hash tag. Thanks to John for a job well done. 

(Tokyo, September 13) I won't miss jet-lag-induced risings at 3 a.m.each and every day -- and apparently I was joined in those by each and every American chief nuclear officer and communicator -- but just about everything else on this trip created a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. So I thought I'd share those moments that stood out most to me: 
  • At every formal engagement between U.S. and Japanese nuclear officers this week our hosts started the proceedings with a formal apology "for the concern and difficulty and confusion we have caused."  
  • Takeyuki Inagaki had the closest and worst seat to the history made at Fukushima Daiichi, stationed in the unit 1 control room and later in the site's Emergency Response Center during the first 100 hours of the accident. The reflections he offered our CNOs about his experience were subdued, poignant, and commendably frank. If you asked him I'm sure he'd tell you he regards his English as poor, but he held our room in rapt attention -- and empathy -- while he spoke. I also thought he was surprisingly composed. My eyes teared up each and every time he uttered this haunting refrain, which he said accompanied each and every instance he had to order one of the Fukushima 50 back into harm's way for inspections: 'Am I [going to be] a murderer?'   
  • We toured the Daini and Daiichi sites in the Fukushima prefecture because, while they endured virtually identical trauma circumstances on March 11, 2011, the outcomes between the sites were dramatically different, and the way the sites responded to the conditions offered a stark contrast as well -- particularly from the vantage of leadership.  
  • Daini had recovery tools at its disposal that Daiichi did not, but there was a spirit of innovation, too, that guided Daini personnel. It's fair and accurate to say that U.S. CNOs very much applied learnings from the Daini experience into their formulation for the U.S. FLEX strategy
  • Pete Sena, CNO for FirstEnergy, to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday: "Daini's story hasn't been told. The workers at Daini are national heroes." In the Journal he was quoted thusly: “The takeaway for me personally is internalizing what I saw with my own eyes to make sure this never, ever, ever happens within the U.S.,” he said. “That’s the message I want to get across to my entire workforce, and to the folks on the outside: What we do — it’s not a business; it’s personal.”  
  • Naohiro Masuda, Vice Head, TEPCO Nuclear Safety Oversight Office, and Daini station leader on 3/11, very early in his briefing remarks to the U.S. CNOs: "As children, we were always told to hide under our desks at the arrival of an earthquake, but we never did. On 3/11, for the first time in my life, I did."  
  • Some 500 employees remained at the Daini station for upwards of a month, returning not once to their homes -- if they even had homes to return to -- and working as a trauma team in circumstances our industry had never even considered, let alone encountered. Many slept on floors, subsisted on rudimentary nutrition, and went weeks without changing clothing.  
  • Busing through the ghost towns of Fukushima, wherein storefronts bore the identical staples they did on March 11, 2011. 
  • Chief Nuclear Officers in the United States are First Safety Officers at their sites. It's a designation they hold sacred.     
  • They are also a special fraternity. They are, in Randy Edington's words, "Hostages of each other." One need only be in their company a few hours to notice the special bond they've forged. They are collegial and clique-free, and quietly and discretely they adhere to a rigid honor code: one which promulgates a culture demanding that they lead in a manner that ever serves the best interests of the nuclear industry, even, if need be, at the expense of their own utility. That code is neither theory nor supposition.   
  • Working in the nuclear industry is a source of immense pride for me. I'm returning home bearing a good deal more.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Milestone Alert: 10,000 Young Professionals in Nuclear and Counting

Major news, nukes! In less than 15 years of existence, NAYGN has registered 10,000 members. That means thousands of young, energized and influential nuclear professionals dedicated to shaping our industry's future. Exciting stuff, I know. Take a look at the press release below:

The North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN) is celebrating a milestone achievement –the organization has registered over 10,000 unique members since its inception.

“We have now become the premier leadership development activity for the nuclear energy industry. With so many opportunities at the local, regional and continental level, we provide some of the first opportunities for young professionals to practice their leadership skills,” says Past President Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides. NAYGN started with seven members who were passionate about nuclear science and technology, and it continues now with 10,000 members who share their same passion. The organization remains a strong pro-nuclear voice, and has now become a respected place for young employees to develop their professional skills.

NAYGN was created in 1999, at a time when utilities were looking towards license renewal of existing facilities. With the prospect of extended plant operation, the nuclear industry recognized the need to expand the workforce demographic to include more young professionals. Many of the pioneers who helped develop the industry were retiring and a new generation was needed in the workforce.

Enthusiasm is one of the defining characteristics of NAYGN members, and enthusiasm has certainly aided the rapid growth of the organization. Past NAYGN Officer Michael Stuart reflected the early years of NAYGN, “During the time when I was Public Information Officer, NAYGN was leading the charge in putting a youthful and enthusiastic face on the re-emergence of nuclear power in the United States. For the first time in a generation, we were holding pro-nuclear rallies all over the United States - in Virginia, Illinois, and on the capitol steps of Jackson, Mississippi… We were the voice of a new generation in nuclear and we were being heard and well-received.”

NAYGN was established in 1999 and now has 110 local chapters with more than 10,000 members. For more information about NAYGN, please visit
Congratulations to NAYGN and all of its members. I look forward to seeing the positive impact their advocacy and leadership will have on our industry.

CNO Summit Diary: Dressing Out to be Witnesses to History

At one point Wednesday, while within a few hundred yards of the three melted down reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, I was outfitted in three layers of gloves (two rubber, one cotton), plastic covers over my shoes, a very hot and very insulating Tyvek jumpsuit, and a respirator mask. The interior of our tour bus was fantastically shielded in plastic, and when, while maneuvering on a road between the ocean that sent the monstrous March 2011 tsunami and Daiichi's turbine buildings, our driver dramatically increased our speed as we arrived in front of unit 3, where the dose rate was highest on the site, to limit our exposure.

Storefront in an abandoned village.
All week the chief nuclear officers on this trip have regularly referenced their collective need to experience, first-hand, conditions in Japan that all but only a few have only read about. Our bus' movements, and our in-person engagements with shift managers and control room operators on duty the afternoon of March 11, 2011, at both Daini and Daiichi have ensured that they have.  

One of the many things I've learned this week is how marvelously our industry manages radiological protection. Each day our tour groups were on the Daiichi site (Tuesday and Wednesday) for upwards of 5 hours; our total dose each day, with negligible variation, was 2 millirem -- nothing compared to the 300 millirem we Americans naturally receive in background radiation each and every year.

Randy Edington, CNO at Palo Verde, has made a point of distinguishing the conditions he encountered on a visit he made to Daiichi in December 2012 with those our group is witnessing this week. Last December, Edington told me, his tour bus couldn't even approach the access road in back of unit 4, as we did Wednesday. There was late last year an enormous debris field still blocking access, and the dose was too high.

This week Edington has observed the removal of a dramatic volume of debris from numerous areas around the site, most particularly a massive mass of twisted steel that ominously cluttered the top of units 3 and 4. Additionally, there's a new building constructed next to and over unit 4 so that used fuel can be offloaded, perhaps later this year. Significant progress is being made here, without question, but of course one can't ignore some small practical matters whose disposition serves as an exclamation point for the consequences of what happened here 30 months ago: Every plastic bottle of water consumed by site workers and visitors necessarily will never leave the site -- it's radiological waste.

"Three-eleven is not over," one CNO told our assembly Thursday morning, while meeting in downtown Tokyo. "And it won't be for a long time." Another lesson necessarily learned from our visit. 

* * * * *

We were on Tuesday and Wednesday witnesses to history. There are memorial markers about Daiichi's turbine buildings chronicling the levels the tsunami water rose within. One set of floodlights in one turbine building corner still had tsunami water within its glass facings.

A field used to store contaminated soil.
A tsunami is a marvel of malevolent nature, a wall of water wider than our eyes' periphery, moving at times faster than 500 miles per hour. At Daiichi it took industrial strength steel -- and concrete -- and twisted it like Twizzler sticks. We saw just offshore a fantastically reconstituted and fortified seawall-breaker, but within the repaired line of defense a sobering reminder of the force that struck: pickup truck-sized chunks of concrete churned into a wide debris field. Daiichi's seawall was shredded by this monster.

"Nature, sometimes without mercy, comes and attacks us," one Daiichi reactor operator told our CNO's at a briefing Wednesday afternoon.           

* * * * *

The American CNOs have been changed this week by their engagements with site supervisers, shift managers and operators who were on duty that fateful 2011 afternoon. It's freshly searing to hear first-hand accounts from TEPCO personnel of how little they knew -- sometimes for weeks -- of the fate of their families, as first a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and then a historic 15-meter wall of water ravaged their land. The CNOs are having robust discussions trying to figure out protocols by which American nuclear utilities can communicate family status to site personnel who are on duty during notably destructive, but not adequately forecast, events. Industry already has such a protocol for hurricane conditions, for instance, but almost always sophisticated meteorological capabilities assure us of enough advance warning with which to account for family. As a consequence of what happened in Japan, and hearing of its impact first-hand, our CNOs want even more protective measures in place for our site personnel.        

And if the horror of March 2011 wasn't enough for Daini and Daiichi families, some relayed this to the American CNOs this week: in some communities, the children and spouses of some Fukushima personnel are regularly harassed and bullied by their embittered neighbors. 

* * * * *

At both Daini and Daiichi officers, operators and managers desperately wanted to know what more in safety strategy they ought to consider, and they looked to the Americans to tell them. In an especially poignant moment, Randy Edington stood up in a crowded conference room, held up his smart phone, pointed to the entirety of his traveling CNO contingency, and said, "In a crisis, I have each and every one of them on speed-dial." There aren't merely two Emergency Response Centers now in the United States, Edington added. There have long been 63 -- the location of every commercial nuclear power plant -- and at every one a CNO poised to aid when most needed to.    

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CNO Summit Diary: Entergy Nuclear CNO Calls Visiting Fukushima Daiichi 'Life-Altering'

The past two days in Japan, U.S. chief nuclear officers have toured Fukushima Daini and Daiichi, and with respect to the latter, left the experience appreciably changed. We've made a point each day of inviting the CNOs to the very back of our tour bus and asking them to share their experiences on camera with us.

It's true that every CNO we spoke with identified the Daiichi visit as life-altering, but no reaction seemed better representative of the CNOs than that of Jeff Forbes, Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer for Entergy Nuclear. Just watch.

Please remember to follow our updates on Twitter using the #CNOSummit hash tag.

CNO Summit Diary: Maria Korsnick's Reflections from Japan

Maria Korsnick
Maria Korsnick is Chief Nuclear Offiicer (CNO) of Constellation Energy. In the aftermath of Fukushima, Maria appeared in a series of videos for NEI explaining exactly what changes the industry was effecting in the wake of Fukushima

She's in Japan this week as part of a delegation of American CNOs touring the country’s nuclear facilities as part of the U.S.-Japan CNO Summit. This is the first in a series of travel logs that Maria recorded to share her experiences. Please remember to follow our updates on Twitter using the #CNOSummit hash tag.

As I boarded the plane for Japan, I wondered what it was going to be like to experience our business in a completely different culture. Once I arrived, it didn’t take long to generate some first impressions. My hosts were welcoming and polite, surroundings were neat and orderly and properties were well-cared for. It’s abundantly clear that the Japanese people take pride in their surroundings.

Japan has only one-third the population of the United States; however the entire country is roughly the size of California and only 27% of their land is habitable. That means lots of people in a small space. For perspective, greater Tokyo is home to a staggering 30 million people. Despite its population density, Japan doesn't exude the chaos of a crowd. Trains arrive and depart precisely on schedule, the cars are clean and you better be in line to board or it will leave without you. Thousands of people move around quietly and in orderly fashion. There’s no trace of graffiti, trash or cigarette butts anywhere.  It’s quite unlike anything you would see in any large American city.

Tokyo at night.
On our first day, we took a train and a bus to a plant known as “KK”, three hours outside Tokyo. There are seven reactors on the site but none are currently operating. They are in the process of updating their tsunami counter measures. We were warmly welcomed by our hosts. American and Japanese flags were displayed side by side. We had a good discussion on their learnings from the 2007 NCO earthquake. They have since built upon their already strong design and made enhancements to add margin.

The plant tour was quite impressive. Inside the Unit 7 control room (it’s an advanced BWR design) operators use digital controls and operate plant equipment from computer screens. A member of the Japanese regulatory body was present in the control room, much like NRC residents tour our plants and ask us follow up questions. A banner in the room read, “World Class Nuclear Plant: Resilient to Natural Disasters.” I wish them well on their journey to re-start the units. 

At the end of day one, I remember thinking that the world of nuclear translates well. Regardless of what language was being spoken, attentive operators worked in pristine conditions and focused intently on effective communications and procedure adherence to ensure safety. Sounds like us!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

America’s STEM Crisis Is No Conspiracy Theory

I can attest that the STEM crisis is real and is causing challenges for the nuclear energy industry. My experiences contradict the conclusions of the newly published IEEE article by Robert N. Charette that declared The Stem Crisis Is a Myth.” According to Charette, industry and government are conspiring to help depress salaries for STEM workers. “Clearly powerful forces must be at work to perpetuate this cycle.”

Unfortunately for industries like ours, the STEM crisis isn’t a crackpot conspiracy theory. In fact, it’s all too real. In the nuclear energy business, we have an aging workforce that is rapidly approaching retirement age. We’re facing a significant demographic challenge with 38 percent of our workforce eligible to retire by 2016.

Here are some disturbing trends I’ve identified over the last five years that have helped lead me and other workforce professionals to conclude we are facing a real -- and not a manufactured -- crisis:

·         Students entering our colleges and universities are woefully unprepared to study STEM subjects;
·         Because U.S. colleges and universities enroll so many international students in STEM fields (anywhere between 40 and 70 percent in graduate schools depending on courses of study), American citizens are not earning enough STEM degrees; and hence …
·         There is a shortage of Americans with the right skills to fill STEM jobs in the U.S.

I am not alone in my observations; these trends have been measured and documented by representatives of other industries who are equally alarmed like the National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Remodeling Industry, American Hospital Association and Health Physics Society.  Ironically, while Charette claims that the STEM crisis is a myth, he engaged in plenty of myth-making of his own in his IEEE article. A closer look at the numbers he uses reveals why:

This is an example of comparing apples to oranges. The only way this could be true is if you assume that all STEM degrees are interchangeable. A nurse and a computer engineer cannot be swapped in an org chart. Even though it is not a perfect science, workforce planning analyses used to forecast the supply and demand for graduates are critical. Higher education institutions, workforce systems, government and industry must continue to improve them so that students and parents can make educated decisions about which fields hold the most career potential.

As I mentioned previously, 40 to 70 percent of STEM graduates from American universities are international citizens. Some American industries, like nuclear energy, cannot employ these graduates in many of our positions because of security reasons. Once you subtract STEM graduates with a mismatched education focus, and those who choose to work in other fields, the applicant pool shrinks significantly.

Myth #3: If there was a STEM workforce shortage, “You would see these companies really training their incumbent workers.
Our industry invests in our workforce. Around 6 percent of the nuclear utility workers are full-time training professionals. Their only focus is to train and re-train the other 60,000 incumbent workers. In 2012, industry spent more than $330 million to train our employees. This does not account for the tens of millions of dollars spent to send employees to the training programs instead of working in the plant.
Our edits.
The nuclear energy industry is dedicated to ensuring that we have a knowledgeable and skilled workforce to operate safely and securely. The industry devotes a significant amount of effort and resources to counteract current demographic trends. That includes nearly $40 million donated to universities and community colleges in the past three years to support nuclear science programs.  Some other industry initiatives include:

·         Developing the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program to educate the next generation of nuclear power plant workers. In the past five years the program has grown to involve 35 schools, and enrolled 1,400 students. The program graduates nearly 500 students each year.
·         Co-sponsoring the Center for Energy Workforce Development and supporting its mission to create a national workforce for the energy sector. This group has created many resources, including the Energy Industry Fundamentals course, which provides an online curriculum to prepare students for the rigors of energy-related training and education programs.
·         Supporting diversity organizations like North American Young Generation in Nuclear and U.S. Women in Nuclear. These organizations provide support and professional development opportunities for 15,000 women and young professionals who are working in our industry.

So while I might agree with Charette that “powerful forces” are at work here, I’ll have to disagree with him about what’s actually happening. What we have here is the combination of an aging workforce, a flawed public education system and a broken H-1B visa system working together to harm many of America’s critical industries. So while Charette worries about conspiracy theories, the rest of us in STEM fields will get back to work fixing things.