Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What’s Hard to Grasp About Nuclear Energy

nyt_logoThe New York Times addresses nuclear energy as part of it Retro Report video series. The story by Clyde Haberman that accompanies the video fulfills the retro side of the agenda with a look at Three Mile Island, then continues:

Yet American attitudes on nuclear power, as measured by opinion polls, are far from irrevocably negative. As TMI faded in collective memory, the popularity of that energy source has waxed and waned, each rise tempered by a new cause for alarm, notably Chernobyl and Fukushima. Many power plants that had been on the drawing boards before 1979 were built. In the last few years, new ones have been proposed, encouraged by President Obama, who has described nuclear energy as necessary — along with renewable sources like wind and solar — in any plan to wean the country from fossil fuels. The need for swift action would seem greater than ever, given new warnings from a United Nations panel that time is running short for countries to adopt strategies to keep worldwide carbon emissions from reaching intolerable levels.

And the next paragraph begins:

It is hard to grasp how American reliance on nuclear energy could disappear soon, if ever.

This is so judicious that it just seems – well, not like a lot of what one sees online. Most of the video report will come as nothing new to anyone visiting this site, but Haberman’s story is worth close attention. He notes that nuclear energy can frighten people because cultural touchstones – he points to radiation-created monsters like Godzilla and The Amazing Colossal Man – have created a skewed view of it. I think it’s much more complicated than that, but Haberman doesn’t have that much space. It’s okay as far as it can go. Overall, it’s a superb piece.

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And right on schedule, note this headline form the International Business Times:

U.S. Nuclear Power Plant Closures Impede Climate Goals, According To Research Group

We’ll take a closer look at the report being referenced here later – it’s from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions aka the Former Pew climate change group. It’s an interesting paper – you can read it here – but for right now, just note the serendipitous collusion between the Times and IBT to figure out the same thing at the same time. May it be a rising tide.

Monday, April 28, 2014

“A growing fragility in the U.S. electricity system”

news-los-angeles-times-logoIn any large market, there are are trends that can be predicted and trends that cannot. For example, the loss of San Onofre (and some hydro plants) in California can be predicted to have an impact on the energy market, not least through an increase in carbon emissions. It would seem this is true, per this report from California ISO (the grid managers):

The generation gap caused by having less hydro-electric and nuclear generation was filled, in large part, by natural gas. Natural gas generators supplied about 40 percent of ISO energy in 2013, up from 39 percent in 2012 and 28 percent in 2011.

That’s not too bad – solar energy increased during the same period from 5 percent to 8 percent, so that helped stave off carbon emissions.

This is the unpredictable part, with no nuclear mention whatever and put as sunnily as possible:

While total wholesale electric costs increased by 31 percent in 2013, after controlling for the 30 percent in natural gas prices last year, costs rose by 5 percent, primarily because of implementing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program.

Another factor nudging prices higher in 2013 was a decrease in in-state hydroelectric generation, which was down about 40 percent in the fourth quarter from 2012.

In other words, everything would have been fine if we could just ignore natural gas - which provided most of the electricity. San Onofre was down during 2013, so it doesn’t really count in these calculations.

The Los Angeles Times does not directly address California ISO’s report, but treats the rising cost of electricity as a permanent condition:

A fifth of all power-generating capacity in a grid serving 60 million people went suddenly offline, as coal piles froze, sensitive electrical equipment went haywire and utility operators had trouble finding enough natural gas to keep power plants running. The wholesale price of electricity skyrocketed to nearly $2 per kilowatt hour, more than 40 times the normal rate. The price hikes cascaded quickly down to consumers. Robert Thompson, who lives in the suburbs of Allentown, Pa., got a $1,250 bill for January.

Now, we can milk the polar vortex as much as anyone – and have – but the Times explains why the vortex – a temporary condition –signaled the onset of a new reality:

But it exposed a more fundamental problem. There is a growing fragility in the U.S. electricity system, experts warn, the result of the shutdown of coal-fired plants, reductions in nuclear power, a shift to more expensive renewable energy and natural gas pipeline constraints. The result is likely to be future price shocks. And they may not be temporary.

It gets worse:

In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state's energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.

Let’s back up a moment and note that nuclear energy performed like a champ during the vortex.  Unlike coal, uranium doesn’t chunk up in cold piles or get stranded in frozen pipes as does natural gas. If it’s at the reactors, it’s running the reactors until a spring or fall outage.

Wind also picked up some plaudits, especially in Texas, but let’s let AWEA tell that story.

There’s a bit of nuclear presence in the story:

The mandate is just one market force. California has all but phased out coal-generated electricity. The state lost the output of San Onofre's two nuclear reactors and is facing the shutdown of 19 gas-fired power plants along the coast because of new state-imposed ocean water rules by 2020.

"Our rates are increasing because of all of these changes that are occurring and will continue to occur as far out as we can see," said Phil Leiber, chief financial officer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. "Renewable power has merit, but unfortunately it is more costly and is one of the drivers of our rates."

One story and a report – from a single state, albeit a large one – does not herald the coming of Mad Max-style dystopia. Here’s the thing: leaning on renewable energy and natural gas while discounting nuclear and hydro power is throwing California’s energy profile out of whack. I have more faith than writer Ralph Vatabedian in the capacity of energy mavens to correct course – they’d better, since that’s their jobs - but conflicting mandates likely make it harder than not for them to navigate to a solution.

The story ends this way:

"If power gets too expensive, there will be a revolt," Leupp [Alex Leupp, an executive with the Northern California Power Agency] said. "If the state pushes too fast on renewables before the technology is viable, it could set back the environmental goals we all believe in at the end of the day."

Or it may remind Mr. Leupp that nuclear energy is not only still around – not least at California’s Diablo Canyon facility – but can still do a lot for mitigating both carbon and cost issues. The whole article is worth a read, though you have to filter out some of the more panic-stricken overtones.

Nuclear energy feels like the solution to the California puzzle hiding in plain sight; I suspect others may come to that conclusion, too. Is nuclear energy a panacea? No, of course not, but it does answer to an exceptionally broad portfolio of energy issues.

Friday, April 25, 2014

What Else to Do with Nuclear Energy

phoenix logoNews from Wisconsin:

Phoenix Nuclear Labs (PNL), the Monona startup that has developed a particle accelerator-based neutron generator, announced a two-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department to design and build a “high current negative hydrogen ion source.”

That description at the end sounds a lot like fusion.

The project has applications for physics research, medical cyclotrons, semiconductor manufacturing, and—over the long term—trying to achieve “abundant, clean, nuclear fusion energy,” PNL said.

So fusion is a misty dream of the future while more achievable goals come first.

I have no particular brief on Phoenix or its prospects, but sometimes we forget that what we call nuclear energy has applications that have nothing whatever to do with making electricity. Of course, there are medical applications (a field Phoenix also wants to be in), but I’d say an understanding of its potential and actual use beyond electricity and medicine is, for many people, not much broader. And that potential is immense – as Phoenix, founded in 2005, would like you to know.

It has put together a list right on its home page of what it wants to do with nuclear technology:

  • Domestic production of critical medical isotopes used in health care for the diagnosis and treatment of cancers, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Coronary Artery Disease, and other ailments. 
  • Neutron radiography for non-destructive testing of critical components. PNL provides neutron generator technology to the US Army. PNL’s ultra-high flux generators allow for extremely sensitive and rapid imaging of components used in air and spacecraft, munitions, power generation, and many other industrial and defense applications.
  • Detection of nuclear and explosive devices to prevent terrorist attacks domestically and abroad. PNL’s core technology provides unprecedented neutron flux levels that can be used to detect a wide variety of explosive devices in order to protect our ports and borders.
  • High voltage power supplies. Through the development of our core accelerator technology, we have partnered with Rockwell Automation to design and build high voltage power supplies that offer power levels and a suite of features that cannot be found elsewhere.

For some reason, that last one made me think of a nuclear robot – I mean a Robbie the Robot-type of animated being – because Robbie would need a potent power supply, right? I believe the the third is what motivated the formation of the company, but the first is proving to have more currency. See this interview with founder Greg Piefer for more.

Piefer plans to use his Madison company's nuclear fusion technology to make molybdenum-99. The substance, known as Mo-99, produces technetium-99m, an isotope that's critical for certain medical imaging tests that diagnose, monitor and treat some cancers, as well as heart and brain diseases.

This press release from February suggests where Phoenix is in commercializing its work.

To date, PNL has been funded primarily by government grants and private investment. This sale to Ultra Electronics [for a thermal neutron generation  system]  represents the first large -scale commercial contract for PNL. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to provide a state-of-the-art technology solution to an internationally respected company like Ultra Electronics,” said Evan Sengbusch, VP of Business Development at PNL.

In other words, fairly early days.  Who knows, if Phoenix has some kind of a breakthrough with fusion energy, it might rise, so to speak, to our sphere. In the meantime, good luck to them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Exelon’s Nuclear Deeds of (C)Omission

This is from an Exelon press release, but it’s the kind of thing nuclear advocate want because it’s a company touting the benefits of nuclear energy:

Continuing its progress toward a clean energy future, Exelon announced today that it reduced or avoided more than 18 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013, surpassing its goal of eliminating 17.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year by 2020.

And how did it do that?

  • Retirement of fossil plants and company energy efficiency and process improvement efforts that resulted in a reduction of more than 9.8 million metric tons of GHG emissions;

  • Addition of 316 megawatts (MW) of emission-free energy through uprates across the nuclear fleet;

There’s more bullet points – these are the top two.

More:

Exelon’s industry-leading fleet of nuclear power plants plays an important role in its low-emissions profile, avoiding 82 million metric tons of GHG emissions per year. At a time when nuclear power plants face a combination of economic challenges that threaten their continued operation, Crane noted that the Exelon fleet and nuclear power in general remain essential to meeting the nation’s climate goals.

“Our reliable, always-on nuclear fleet produces enough affordable, carbon-free energy to power 17 million homes annually,” Crane said. “It is part of a U.S. fleet that provides 64 percent of our nation’s carbon-free electricity, up to a quarter of which could be at risk for early retirement. Losing that generating capacity would forfeit more than half of the progress to date in meeting U.S. climate goals. Our energy policies must ensure that existing nuclear energy plants are preserved.”

Loud and proud, as they say. Let it ever be so.

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But look at it the other way. Nuclear power plants may do good via a structural absence – no greenhouse gas emissions- but where there is a deed of omission, there can still be a deed of commission:

Folks in the Clinton area have enjoyed an economic cushion the last 30 years or so, courtesy of Exelon Corp.'s Clinton Power Station.

The nuclear plant, which began commercial operation in 1987, employs 652 people and has an annual payroll of $54 million.

And that’s not all:

Last year, Exelon paid about $13 million in taxes to area governments, with the biggest chunk — $8.5 million of it — going to the Clinton school district.

During the last few decades, tax revenues from Exelon helped build a new courthouse for DeWitt County, a modern library in Clinton and new elementary and junior high schools in town.

Writer Don Dodson goes on to note that Exelon has said it may close facilities if the economy and electricity demand don’t improve and maybe both the press release and this story can be seen as part of a drive to show why that would be a bad idea. If that’s so, fine: it is a bad idea. It would be bad for greenhouse gas emissions and very bad for Clinton.

It’s worth Exelon fussing about it, if that’s what it’s doing and very much worth raising the stakes against the idea of closing nuclear plants

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Nuclear Battle Between Semiology and Dada

The IPCC report on climate change is scrupulously neutral when it comes to energy types, no more supportive (or non-supportive) of nuclear energy than coal with carbon capture or wind. But our friend Rod Adams at the Energy Collective has found an ingenious way around this:

Not only have I spent time smithing words for human consumption in intensely political environments, but I also have a fair understanding of Boolean logic. I admire what the IPCC authors have accomplished. In both human communications and computer programming, the operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ have important meanings. So do modifiers like ‘with’. (Fossil with CCS is a completely different animal than fossil without CCS.)

This is more funny than convincing – it turns the IPCC authors into Paul De Man-style semiologists, looking for signs pointing to meanings.

But here’s the thing: no coded message necessary. Just in stating facts and discussing energy types at all, the IPCC cannot avoid the truth. Let Adams tell it:

The only way to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentration at acceptably low levels is to nearly quadruple the output of renewables, nuclear, AND electricity generation from fossil or bioenergy with CCS. The ‘and’ means that all of the items on the list are needed, the program cannot pick and choose the one or two that it likes the best.

Read the whole post for Adams’ unique way with conjunctions (and it’s fun besides, deconstruction on the half-shell). To my mind, the IPCC is saying exactly what it means. If you think coal with carbon capture is plausible, well, okay. That’s up to you. But nuclear energy and the renewables are here now and can do the job now. In fact, the job can’t be done without them – most especially nuclear energy. But the IPCC doesn’t say that. It just gives you all the facts you need to draw your own conclusion. Maybe semiology isn’t what’s needed here, but constructivism. Hmmm – what might a dadaist climate change report look like?

Update: Added the link to Rod’s post. That’s an oops.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Electric Grid on Earth Day: Then and Now

Happy Earth Day 2014 to all of our readers. While there are a variety of events going on all around the world, we'd like visitors to NEI Nuclear Notes to focus on what the electric grid looked like back in 1970 when the late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson celebrated the very first Earth Day. Take a moment to consider the graphic below:

It's pretty easy to see how nuclear has grown to account for almost 20% of the electricity generated in the U.S. since that first Earth Day. At the same time, it's impossible not to notice that the use of oil to generate electricity has virtually disappeared, clearly displaced by the incredible growth in the use of nuclear energy over the same period of time. Nuclear didn't do it alone, helped tremendously by the steady growth in the use of natural gas.

The combined impact of nuclear and natural gas has been a real winner for the environment, something that The Breakthrough Institute pointed out in a study it released last September. According to Breakthrough, these two energy sources prevented 54 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 1950. By comparison, in 2012, the entire world emitted 35 billion tons.

That's a lot of carbon and one heck of an impact. The next time anyone asks you how nuclear energy supports a healthy environment, be sure to pass those numbers along.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Years of Living Impatiently with Showtime Series

nytimesNuclear energy plays a minor role in a minor online kerfluffle.

In the New York Times, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute (an environmental think tank with an interest in nuclear energy) complain that Showtime’s climate change series Years of Living Dangerously does not include solutions to climate change, only depictions of possible or real disaster. For them, it’s exactly the wrong message:

Still, environmental groups have known since 2000 that efforts to link climate change to natural disasters could backfire, after researchers at the Frameworks Institute studied public attitudes for its report “How to Talk About Global Warming.” Messages focused on extreme weather events, they found, made many Americans more likely to view climate change as an act of God — something to be weathered, not prevented.

Messaging is valuable, of course, but when it starts to diverge from the truth, then it becomes a hindrance to communication. Climate change has caused natural disasters, at least in the show’s reckoning. This is what the authors would prefer:

What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy.

This is where the duo suggests nuclear energy can play a role, because “the rejection of technologies like nuclear and natural gas by environmental groups is most likely feeding the perception among many that climate change is being exaggerated.” 

bloombergWriter Eric Roston responded to this piece in Bloomberg with an almost willfully silly riposte:

The piece reads as if, say, when someone sneezes, the authors say gesundheit and then make the case for nuclear power.

I read Roston’s piece before the op-ed and was really surprised that the latter was so nuclear-lite. Roston also puts on a political monocle that seems notably unhelpful:

The problem on the left isn’t that some environmentalists oppose nuclear; it’s that they oppose nuclear, coal, oil and gas without explaining how all the refrigerators and air conditioning will still work (see blogs where environmentalists talk to themselves).

Let’s just note that if someone says gesundheit, Roston replies “politics.” Nordhaus and Shellenberger (and the TV show) avoid partisan labels. 

Roston does say this, which is true enough:

Not everyone is an alarmist because they talk about things that are alarming. And not everything is irresponsible because it’s good television.

Speaking of tautologies, no good television is irresponsible and no irresponsible television is good, so there’s that. Roston is right that disasters are more entertaining than solutions, but anything can be made interesting. Most disaster movies focus on solutions because finding them provides the drama.

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But it’s all for naught. Roston incorporates comments that throw all these issues into irrelevance, at least for now:

Actually, solutions are on their way, said Joe Romm, one of two chief scientific advisors who worked on the project. Romm is founding editor of the influential blog, ClimateProgress.org. Upcoming episodes will show advances being made across a broad spectrum of topics -- carbon policy, renewable energy, deforestation, climate adaptation, the decline of U.S. coal, and big business, where young people are working with companies to increase clean energy and energy efficiency.

Roston, Shellenberg and Nordhaus must all be guys who want to know who killed Colonel Mustard in the first episode of a mystery series. Sometimes the pleasure is in the waiting, so let’s wait and see how Showtime does with climate change solutions before commenting further on it. Maybe someone will say gesundheit.

Oh, and “young people?” Thank goodness for that – oldsters have no role in big business, apparently.

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Be sure to take a look at Tara’s review of Years of Living Dangerously a few posts below. She makes some of the same points as Shellenberg and Nordhaus (and cites their op-ed), but is not quite so sure something nuclear won’t happen in the remaining eight parts of the series. She even offers some useful advice to the producers.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why First Energy is Interested in SMRs

Greg Halnon
The following guest post was submitted by Greg Halnon, Director of Regulatory Affairs at First Energy.

The SMR market is just emerging. We see it as an essential technology for future baseload generation. Greenhouse gas reduction goals cannot be met with renewables alone. In order to achieve the goals, as well as maintain the integrity of the reliable grid we so enjoy in our country, the nuclear option is paramount. Over the next decade, the country needs to internalize the need for SMRs through regulation reform targeted at a streamlined operation that provides for and compliments the enhanced safety the SMR technology offers.

Much of the present-day thinking of potential safety issues needs a paradigm shift given that many of the theoretical accidents are simply not credible for SMRs. Additionally, applying the lessons from recent and historical events through ground-up design features assures a safe, reliable and diverse energy option. Utilities should prepare their staff’s intellectual capital, engage in the development of designs and engage in regulatory reform. The U.S. government needs to lead in this reform and share the economic risks of getting the first wave of SMRs in operation. There will be a time in the next decade that we will wish we did.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ethical Nuclear Solution and the IPCC Report

WGIII_AR5_Cover_webThe IPCC report on mitigating climate change is now out and, it is, as you’d expect, a bone dry read considering how alarming it is. 

But one section that probably won’t get much attention is on ethical considerations when considering a world response to climate change. This is something that it would be good to see in legislation in general – it might forestall at least some obnoxiously partisan bills from emerging. This part of the report, is, if nothing else, a fascinating read, and nuclear energy, which is never mentioned, seems corrected fitted to such issues

The report says that some developed countries with heavy carbon emission output are expected to suffer relatively modest physical damage from projected climate change and some may even benefit from it. But some developing countries could experience significant physical damage from climate change while having no or little causal responsibility. How does policy develop that responds to this disparity? It’s not an easy question.

The report talks about moral justice, which strikes me as exceptionally tricky territory. We can think of instances in which the attitudes of modern society were applied to past events in order to achieve moral justice, but these often involved revised cultural norms that were highly contentious in their day – slavery, for example. But man-made climate change, as defined in the report, started occurring when the entire concept was unimaginable. If it has had consequences, they were unintended. And one intended consequence was the industrial revolution and the formation of modern societies.

That makes ideas like this tough to swallow:

The duty to make compensatory payments may fall on those who emit or benefit from wrongful emissions or who belong to a  community that produced such emissions.

Wrongful emissions? Since when? To whom? Now, remember, the report is summarizing the literature on the subject, not making specific recommendations (or accusations). The amount of time it spends on reparations suggests the weight the authors give it, but it is not explicit. (You could say it reflects the view of some impacted countries, but the report doesn’t address it from that angle.)

In any event, it would be a tough lift politically. And it creates a victim class in a way that seems unhelpful in addressing the issues. But the report does include much tougher lifts than reparation. Here’s a bit from its discussion of ethical methodologies:

The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted an index of GNH [Gross National Happiness] as a tool for assessing national welfare and planning development. According to this concept, happiness does not derive from consumption, but  rather from factors such as  the ability to live in harmony with nature. Thus, GNH is both a critique of, and an alternative to, the conventional global development model.

Bhutan is a landlocked country between India and China with a population of about 750,000. The Gross National Happiness index was devised in 1972 and is rooted in the Buddhist religion. Its elements, as developed over time, measure physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance between work and leisure; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.

Appealing approach to balancing national interests or utter hooey? You decide. The IPCC certainly won’t. You can see how big a net was cast over ethical issues, but that it raises them at all is fascinating in itself.

The  IPCC aims to provide information that can be used by  governments and other agents when they are considering what they should do about climate change. The question of what they should do is a normative one, so the answer(s) rests implicitly or explicitly on ethical judgments. What will work for Bhutan may not work for the Czech Republic – or the United States – or Vanuatu. Here’s how the report puts it:

Many different analytic methods are available for evaluating policies. Methods may be quantitative (for example, cost‐benefit analysis, integrated assessment modeling, and multi‐criteria analysis) or qualitative (for example, sociological and participatory approaches). However, no single‐best method can provide a comprehensive analysis of policies. A mix of methods is often needed to understand the broad effects, attributes, trade‐offs, and complexities of policy choices; moreover, policies often address multiple objectives.

Which is why the United Nations is often better at describing issues than resolving them. Luckily, this is all description, and luckily, too, nuclear energy seems a good fit for what’s being described – it promotes development while not adding greenhouse gas emissions and it’s an area where developed countries can take a positive and proactive role in helping developing nations, well, develop. It’s not reparations, it’s resource development, but you can define it however you will.

This section of the IPCC report completely ignores energy types, but it seems to me key to the case for nuclear energy, especially in the developing world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mangano Accused of Manipulating Data in Diablo Canyon Study

Another public health department has taken a closer look at Joe Mangano's work and determined it's fatally flawed. This time it's the Public Health Department of San Luis Obispo County, Califoria.

You'll recall that Mangano most recently released a study claiming all sorts of ailments arose around Diablo Canyon in the wake of its opening.

From the press release (our emphasis in bold):
“As the Health Officer for San Luis Obispo County, I take the health of our residents very seriously, and when a claim was made that excess cancer and infant mortality was occurring in our County, I made it an immediate priority to investigate further. However, upon examination of the report issued by the World Business Academy (WBA) of Santa Barbara, it became evident that flawed methodology and selective exclusion of populations of interest were used to achieve a result not consistent with standard scientific investigation and practice” states Dr. Penny Borenstein, Health Officer of San Luis Obispo County.

The Health Department report shows that selective inclusion and exclusion of zip codes in the analysis contributed to the alleged effects on birth weights claimed in the World Business Academy report. When the analysis was re-run to include excluded zip codes, the effect lessened or disappeared entirely.

As cancer is reported to the State of California, and not the local Health Department, the help of the State Cancer Registry was requested for review of the report findings. The State Cancer Registry examined the report, and found that the use of crude rates in analyzing cancer cases in the County distorted the true change in rates over time. In fact, age adjusted cancer rates have remained unchanged or declined.
Click here to read the entire report.

It was in 2011 that Mike Moyer at Scientific American leveled the same charge at another Mangano study. Wrote Moyer: "[A] check reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths ... Only by explicitly excluding data from January and February were Sherman and Mangano able to froth up their specious statistical scaremongering." Popular Mechanics more recently took a closer look at Mangano's research and called it, "junk science."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nuclear Energy in the IPCC Climate Change Report

WGIII_AR5_Cover_webThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the third volume of its 2014 report tomorrow. Subtitled Mitigation of Climate Change, it will present a set of scenarios to show the impact various sets of policy decisions can have on reducing carbon emissions. Naturally, this gets into energy types and the IPCC is notably non-selective. This is from the Summary for Policymakers, which is available now.

At the global level, scenarios reaching 450 ppm CO2eq are also characterized by more rapid improvements of energy efficiency, a tripling to nearly a quadrupling of the share of zero ‐ and low ‐ carbon energy supply from renewables, nuclear energy and fossil energy with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS), or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) by the year 2050 (Figure SPM.4, lower panel).

This is a scenario that keeps temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade – in fact, it overreaches if we take the following as the goal.

Mitigation scenarios reaching concentration levels of about 500 ppm CO2eq by 2100 are more likely than not to limit temperature change to less than 2°C relative to pre‐industrial levels, unless they temporarily ‘overshoot’ concentration levels of roughly 530 ppm CO2eq before 2100, in which case they are about as likely as not to achieve that goal.

That’s a lot of caveats, but clear enough. Strikingly, nuclear energy is always a part of the solution to achieve carbon emission goals, yet the report is not remotely partisan in its discussion of energy types. It simply looks at what’s there and what could be there (coal with ccs, for example). The idea, I think, is that policymakers will take it from there. This makes sense, as the United Nations needs to keep in mind an extraordinarily broad set of policy options across its membership.

This is how the report puts it:

Well‐designed systemic and cross-sectoral mitigation strategies are more cost-effective in cutting emissions than a focus on individual technologies and sectors. At the energy system level these include reductions in the GHG emission intensity of the energy supply sector, a switch to low carbon energy carriers (including low‐carbon electricity) and reductions in energy demand in the end‐use sectors without compromising development.

That last bit seems especially important, as it will be the developing world that makes these goals plausible, for while the developed world has numerous energy options, the developing world has significantly fewer type of energy it can implement – at least with current resources – and without help from the developed world.

But none of this means the report isn’t fairly explicit on what not using nuclear energy entails. Look at Table SPM.2 on page 18 of the summary. The orange section details the implication of not having a particular energy type available has on reduction goals (as a percent change.) Obviously, not having carbon capture is huge, but a nuclear phase-out is also shown as having a sizeable negative impact. Again, remember that the report is not taking any view on no CCS or no nuclear – it is saying that doing without would lead to poor outcomes.

We’ll take a look at the full report and some of the press coverage of it later this week.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 'Years of Living Dangerously' Team Needs to Pay Attention to Nuclear

Showtime premieres its nine-part documentary series Years of Living Dangerously tonight at 10 p.m. U.S. EDT. The series uses some of the biggest names in Hollywood to draw attention to the impacts of climate change. James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on the team of executive producers, while celebrities noted for their environmental advocacy appear on camera including Don Cheadle, Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Ian Somerhalder and Jessica Alba. 

What are they hoping to accomplish with this series? Executive producer David Gelber summed it up: 
The goal of Years of Living Dangerously is to galvanize a national conversation on the realities of climate change and inspire people to share their own stories and empower them to get involved in solutions.
I watched the first episode, available early and for free on YouTube, and understand why the reviews are extremely positive. It is a beautiful piece from a filmmaking standpoint, but then of course these folks aren’t awards darlings for nothing. During the first hour, viewers follow Ford, Cheadle and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to three countries filled with stark shots of droughts, job loss, burnt forests and civil war. The creators’ meaning is clear: climate change is real and wreaking havoc in myriad ways across the world.

Climate scientist and Evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe provided the only thing close to a call to action in the episode, saying we need “policies in place to actually start curbing our carbon emissions.” At that point I thought, “Here comes nuclear.” Yet there was no mention of policies favoring nuclear, or any energy policy solutions for that matter. I didn’t really expect solutions to be presented at length during the first episode. Hints would have been nice though.

Don Cheadle, Katharine Hayhoe and
Andrew Farley
I found myself repeatedly wondering if the series would offer realistic policy solutions and, more importantly, if these stories were compelling in a way that moves governments toward those solutions. Because that is the scale we are talking about here. Sure, average viewers can do their part, embracing energy efficiency and sharing their stories. But what does the series propose for curbing emissions on a global scale while still meeting energy demand for a growing population? That remains to be seen.

Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute recently shared their concern in a New York Times op-ed that the series’ approach will not result in meaningful change, and that “turning down the rhetoric and embracing solutions like nuclear energy” would have been more effective. I want to reserve judgment until I’ve seen the remaining episodes, though their initial concern does seem warranted. The series’ website hints that they will call for a halt to burning fossil fuels and a ramp up of renewables, while nuclear energy gets no mention. 

I do have some hope, and that’s because there are also two powerful pro-nuclear voices behind the series: Paul Allen and James Hansen. Co-producer Paul Allen previously put his money behind the pro-nuclear documentary film Pandora’s Promise. Allen said this about the film and nuclear:
Even before Pandora’s Promise was made, I’d become convinced that nuclear energy should be part of the climate change solution. Once I saw Pandora’s Promise, I knew the film would get people thinking about nuclear in a whole new way. I like that the film lays out the facts and then viewers can make up their own minds about nuclear power based on the facts and information presented. Documentaries like this open people’s minds and lead to informed decision-making, which is critical if we want to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.
Science advisor James Hansen, formerly NASA’s chief climate scientist, came out in favor of nuclear energy last year and has been grabbing headlines since. Last March, he published a paper demonstrating that nuclear saved 1.8 million lives by replacing fossil fuels. In November, he joined three other noted climate scientists in issuing an open letter that urged environmentalists and politicians to support nuclear energy as a primary way to reduce carbon emissions.

James Hansen
Hopefully the involvement of Allen and Hansen means that the Years team will acknowledge nuclear energy’s key role in curbing carbon emissions. Because as compelling as the stories of cause and effect are, the story of nuclear’s clean air benefits as part of the solution can compel policymakers to take realistic actions.

Here are the key points the Years team needs to consider: 

  • Clean-air electricity sources—nuclear, hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar—are important to America’s diverse energy mix, because they do not produce greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy is the largest of these sources generating 64 percent of America’s clean air electricity.

  • Renewables like wind and solar are part of the answer, but have limitations such as intermittent power production. While renewables are growing fast, they are nowhere close to producing the 770 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity that America’s nuclear energy facilities generated in 2012. Notably, Hansen once told the Associated Press, “They’re cheating themselves [environmentalists] if they keep believing this fiction that all we need is renewable energy.”

  • A nuclear power plant’s byproduct consists of used uranium fuel rods safely stored in pools or concrete containers rather than CO2 or air pollution associated with acid rain or urban smog.

  • By using nuclear energy to produce electricity, America prevents the emission of 570 million metric tons of CO2 per year. That’s the same as preventing the emissions produced by 110 million cars—the vast majority of U.S. cars on the road today.

  • Mainstream analyses conducted by independent organizations have shown that reducing carbon emissions will require a diverse energy portfolio and that nuclear energy is the only low-carbon option to help meet forecasted global electricity demand. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Are Reporters Challenging Mangano's "Junk Science"?

The story in the April 2014 issue of Popular Mechanics that debunks Joe Mangano's anti-nuclear research has just been published online and has gotten some additional attention -- including a link from UT-Knoxville law professor Glenn Reynolds, better known as Instapundit.

There are plenty of great quotes in the Popular Mechanics piece, but this passage really sticks out:
The Mangano and Sherman paper is a prime example of a troubling new trend in which junk science is becoming harder to distinguish from rigorous research. It is an example of activists using the trappings of science to influence public opinion and policy. Today there are cottage industries that produce and disseminate skewed research in publications that masquerade as legitimate science journals. Celebrities and mainstream media outlets then tout the results, so that even retracted or clearly biased research can reach larger audiences than ever before. These studies cause real harm—for instance, by denouncing lifesaving vaccines and vilifying foods that could ease famine in developing countries.

People who produce junk science often come from outside the scientific mainstream, and they bend the rules of research in an attempt to legitimize their personal beliefs, says Mark Hoofnagle, a surgery resident at the University of Maryland who runs the science-monitoring blog Denialism.com. "What if your ideology is simply not supported by the evidence?" he says. "You can change your mind or you can hijack the system."
But while it's nice to see others picking up on the fact that Mangano's research has more than a few holes, I'd like to see more reporters follow the advice that Reporting on Health, a blog published by the USC-Annenberg School of Communications, gave about Mangano back in 2011. Two separate contributors there warned reporters to "proceed with caution," regarding Mangano's studies and that they should "demand details," when interviewing him. As it turns out, there are more than a few indications that's actually happening.

Mangano has most recently been active in and around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on California's Central Coast. Working with the World Business Academy, Mangano is claiming that cancer rates have increased in the vicinity of the plant since it opened, but reporters now seem to be on to his game. Here's George Lauer at California Healthline:
State and county epidemiologists said the study's author "cherry-picked" statistics and ignored standard scientific procedure to get desired results.

Ann McDowell, epidemiologist for the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, said the county is preparing a written response to Mangano's study, which she said is "fundamentally flawed."

"This study used inappropriate measures to make its point," McDowell said. "It was designed in a particular way to get a desired result. We refer to it as cherry picking."

John Morgan, epidemiologist with the California Cancer Registry, agreed.

"The author of this study did not adjust for changes in age distribution and did not take into account other factors, so his conclusions are not supported," Morgan said.
Let's hope this is a trend. Want other tips for spotting bad science? Check out this infographic.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Energy Northwest is Interested in SMRs

Dale Atkinson
Earlier this week, we published a post by NEI's Marv Fertel on why the Department of Energy needed to support development of small modular reactors. In response to that post, Dale Atkinson, an executive at Energy Northwest, left the following comment. We thought it deserved to be seen by a wider audience.

Energy Northwest is a Washington state, not-for-profit joint operating agency that comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. Public utilities in the Northwest and elsewhere are looking for a carbon or fossil fuel hedge. Nuclear generation provides that hedge, and SMR technologies incorporate lessons learned over several decades of operating similar sized U.S. Navy reactors as well as traditional sized commercial reactors. In fact, the American Public Power Association (APPA) recently passed a resolution calling for the federal government to accelerate SMR development and commercialization.

We know that all credible analyses of carbon reduction issues – by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Information Administration and independent international institutions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency – have demonstrated unequivocally that the United States and the world cannot achieve meaningful reductions in carbon emissions without preservation of our existing nuclear energy assets and construction of new nuclear generation, including SMRs. An additional benefit of SMR technology is to integrate intermittent renewable sources into the grid more smoothly.

It is expected to take $1 billion to complete NRC design certification. Energy Northwest was pleased that the Department of Energy selected the NuScale Power design for innovative technology funding (matching funds). It is also good to recognize that Fluor Corp., the majority owner of NuScale Power, has the money and commitment to see the design certification process through to completion – but this is a lengthy and expensive process, and, like most innovative technologies, requires investment by partners with shared interests in that technology’s benefits and uses. It should be noted that a substantial portion of the DOE matching funds are expected to be consumed by NRC review fees alone.

Nuclear energy can – and according to all credible experts, must – play a major role in any serious strategy to reduce carbon emissions. As policymakers invest in innovative energy technologies that promise to create job opportunities and new job sectors and reduce carbon emissions, maintaining funding for the promising small modular reactor designs is key to our shared clean energy future.

Energy Northwest has joined a teaming partnership with NuScale Power and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Services under which Energy Northwest would have first right of offer to operate a NuScale SMR. We remain very positive about the potential of SMRs to contribute to the low-carbon energy mix in the Pacific Northwest. We are looking at the 2023 time frame, realistically, for generating electricity from an SMR.

What Are The Threats to America's Electric Supply?

Tony Alexander
On Tuesday, Anthony J. Alexander, President and CEO of FirstEnergy Corporation, addressed a standing-room only gathering at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Part of the 2014 "CEO Luncheons" sponsored by the Chamber, Mr. Alexander spoke frankly about the enormous threats to the reliability and affordability of the nation's electricity supply.  The majority of these threats arise from government policies that distort electricity markets to force uneconomical energy sources into the mix and drive proven sources out.  He described these policies as replacing what works with what "sounds good."

The full text of Mr. Alexander's speech is available from FirstEnergy.  A video recording of Mr. Alexander's speech is available on the Chamber web site.  His remarks begin at 1:03:43 in the recording.  Introductory comments of Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) precede Mr. Alexander's remarks.  The Chamber's blog post also provides some highlights.

Among the key points that struck us as significant were the following:
  • Germany offers a vivid picture of what lies ahead if U.S. policies continue.  There electricity prices have doubled to more than 37 cents per kilowatt-hour, as compared with a U.S. average of 10 cents per kwh. 
  • As government mandates and subsidies drive renewables into the market, our electric system is relying more on intermittent sources of generation, such as wind and solar.  These resources require back-up generation and substantial investments in transmission (i.e., hidden costs) to maintain reliability.
  • Production tax credits and other subsidies encourage developers to build new capacity whether or not the output is needed.  This unneeded capacity puts additional pressure on baseload coal and nuclear assets that are essential to grid stability and affordable energy prices.
  • In competitive electricity markets, if market rules don't change to reflect the true value of baseload generation, additional coal and nuclear units may be shut down.
  • While the supply of natural gas today is abundant, substantial changes will be needed in the natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure to make it match the just-in-time nature of the electric system.  That is a long way off.
  • With its current approach to electricity markets, government is, in effect, using private sector balance sheets to pay for social policies.
Mr. Alexander ended on an optimistic note, recognizing the challenges but expressing hope that we can establish a long-term energy policy that favors diversity of supply and reliance on the market instead of government picking winners and losers among technologies.  For those of you eager to gain a sense of how a utility CEO thinks about energy policy, listen to the end of the video recording for Mr. Alexander's responses to audience questions.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Top 5 Reasons to Support Ex-Im Bank Reauthorization

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

For decades, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im) has quietly enabled U.S. exporters to win foreign tenders and create American jobs by financing and insuring foreign purchases of U.S. goods. Ex-Im’s benefits to the U.S. economy have been tremendous. By providing financing and guarantees for about $50 billion in U.S. exports in 2012, Ex-Im supported a total of more than 250,000 jobs. In the process, Ex-Im’s fees reduced the federal deficit by hundreds of millions of dollars. In the fiscal year ended September 30, 2012, Ex-Im returned more than $803.7 million in revenue to the U.S. Treasury.

For these reasons and others, the Bank long enjoyed consensus support. Only during the Bank’s most recent reauthorization, in 2011, did ideological groups decide to make it a target for a campaign against “corporate welfare” and “socialism.” These misguided attacks ignore the realities of today’s international markets, and put at grave risk billions in U.S. exports and hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

1. It's more important now than ever before

Although Ex-Im’s ideological opponents deride it as an obsolete “New Deal-era” institution, today’s competitive global market makes Ex-Im more critical than ever for U.S. competitiveness. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 60 official export credit agencies (ECAs) worldwide have extended more than $1 trillion in trade finance in recent years. Eliminating Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament, with disastrous results for U.S. exporters.

2. There are high economic stakes in international nuclear energy market

With 71 new nuclear energy facilities are under construction worldwide, and an additional 172 in the licensing and advanced planning stages, the economic stakes for the United States are tremendous. The U.S Commerce Department values the global nuclear energy market at up to $740 billion over the next decade. Achieving just a modest share of this market would enable the United States to create and sustain tens of thousands of high-paying American jobs.

3. It's a prerequisite for U.S. companies to compete in export markets

Export credit agency support is almost always a prerequisite for participation in foreign nuclear power plant tenders, even though many foreign customers ultimately choose not to use Ex-Im financing. Without Ex-Im Bank, U.S. commercial nuclear vendors would be precluded from competition.

Due to the large capital costs of nuclear power and the relatively long construction period before revenue is returned, financing is often the critical factor in awarding a tender. Competitive financing is especially important in emerging markets where global commercial opportunities in nuclear energy are concentrated.

4. We need to level the playing field with Russia and other nuclear energy suppliers

Leading supplier nations such as Russia provide their national nuclear energy suppliers with multiple forms of support, including strong trade finance. Russia has sought a larger share of the global nuclear energy market both as a source of export revenue and as part of a larger plan to increase its geopolitical influence. Financing has played a key role in Russia’s success. Hungary recently cited below-market interest rates to explain its award of a tender for two new nuclear plants to Rosatom. In the Czech Republic, where the national utility CEZ is weighing bids from Russia’s Rosatom and U.S.-based Westinghouse, Ex-Im is providing instrumental support for the U.S. bid.

5. Ex-Im supports small business

Small business accounts for more than 85 percent of Ex-Im’s transactions, and this figure does not include the tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that supply goods and services to large exporters. In FY 2011, Ex-Im provided more than $6 billion in financing and insurance for U.S. small businesses—an increase of nearly 90 percent since FY 2008.

In 2012, Ex-Im Bank authorized $2 billion in financing for U.S. exports to the Barakah One Nuclear Power Plant in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Small- and medium-sized companies in the U.S. nuclear energy supply chain benefit directly and indirectly from Ex-Im support. Ex-Im’s financing of the Barakah One project in the UAE will support thousands of U.S. jobs in California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and other states home to Westinghouse sub-suppliers.

Ex-Im has been operating under a series of short-term authorizations with only a modest increase to its lending cap. Doubts about Ex-Im’s future are seized upon by foreign competitors to urge international customers not to procure from U.S. suppliers.

For the sake of U.S. competitiveness in export markets – and particularly the lucrative market for nuclear energy – ideological attacks on Ex-Im must end. Congress should provide the Bank with a long-term reauthorization, with terms that enable Ex-Im to compete effectively with other ECAs. With help from Ex-Im, U.S. nuclear suppliers can compete on a more level playing field, and win.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why DOE Should Back SMR Development

Marv Fertel
The following guest post was written by NEI's President and CEO, Marv Fertel.

Nuclear energy is an essential source of base-load electricity and 64 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas-free electricity production.  Without it, the United States cannot meet either its energy requirements or the goals established in the President’s Climate Action Plan.

In the decades to come, we predict that the country’s nuclear fleet will evolve to include not only large, advanced light water reactors like those operating today and under construction in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, but also a complementary set of smaller, modular reactors.

Those reactors are under development today by companies like Babcock &Wilcox (B&W), NuScale and others that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop next-generation reactor concepts.  Those companies have innovative designs and are prepared to absorb the lion’s share of design and development costs, but the federal government should also play a significant role given the enormous promise of small modular reactor technology for commercial and other purposes.  Most important, partnerships between government and the private sector will enable the full promise of this technology to be available in time to ensure U.S. leadership in energy, the environment, and the global nuclear market.

The Department of Energy’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) program is built on the successful Nuclear Power 2010 program that supported design certification of the Westinghouse AP-1000 and General Electric ESBWR designs.  Today, Southern Co. and South Carolina Electric & Gas are building four AP-1000s for which they submitted license applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1998.  Ten years earlier, in the early years of the Nuclear Power 2010 program, it was clear that there would be a market for the AP-1000 and ESBWR in the United States and overseas, but it would have been impossible to predict which companies would build the first ones, or where they would be built, and it was even more difficult to predict the robust international market for that technology.

The SMR program is off to a promising start.  To date, B&W’s Generation mPower joint venture has invested $400 million in developing its mPower design; NuScale approximately $200 million in its design.  Those companies have made those investments knowing they will not see revenue for approximately 10 years.  That is laudable for a private company, but, in order to prepare SMRs for early deployment in the United States and to ensure U.S. leadership worldwide, investment by the federal government as a cost-sharing partner is both necessary and prudent.

Some have expressed concern about the potential market and customers for SMR technology given Babcock & Wilcox’s recent announcement that it will reduce its level of investment in the mPower technology, and thus the pace of development.  This decision reflects B&W’s revised market assessment, particularly the slower-than-expected growth in electricity demand in the United States following the recession.  But that demand will eventually occur, and the American people are best-served – in terms of cost and reliability of service – when the electric power industry maintains a diverse portfolio of electricity generating technologies.

The industry will need new, low-carbon electricity options like SMRs because America’s electric generating technology options are becoming more challenging.  For example:
  • While coal-fired generation is a significant part of our base-load generation, coal-fired generation faces increasing environmental restrictions, including the likelihood of controls on carbon and uncertainty over the commercial feasibility of carbon capture and sequestration.  The U.S. has about 300,000 MW of coal-fired capacity, and the consensus is that about one-fifth of that will shut down by 2020 because of environmental requirements.  In addition, development of coal-fired projects has stalled:  Less than 1,000 megawatts of new coal-fired capacity is under construction.
  • Natural gas-fired generation is a growing and important component of our generation portfolio and will continue to do so given our abundant natural gas resources.  However, prudence requires that we do not become overly dependent on any given energy source particularly in order to maintain long-term stable pricing as natural gas demand grows in the industrial sector and for LNG exports.
  • Renewables will play an increasingly large role but, as intermittent sources, cannot displace the need for large-scale, 24/7 power options.
Given this challenging environment, the electric industry needs as many electric generating options as possible, particularly zero-carbon options.  Even at less-than-one-percent annual growth in electricity demand, the Energy Information Administration forecasts a need for 28 percent more power by 2040.  That’s the equivalent of 300 one-thousand-megawatt power plants.

America’s 100 nuclear plants will begin to reach 60 years of operation toward the end of the next decade.  In the five years between 2029 and 2034, over 29,000 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity will reach 60 years.  Unless those licenses are extended for a second 20-year period, that capacity must be replaced. If the United States hopes to contain carbon emissions from the electric sector, it must be replaced with new nuclear capacity.

The runway to replace that capacity is approximately 10 years long, so decisions to replace that capacity with either large, advanced light-water reactors or SMRs  must be taken starting in 2019 and 2020 – approximately the time that the first SMR designs should be certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The electricity markets are in a period of profound change. New energy sources are becoming available, new fossil, renewable, demand-side and nuclear technologies are preparing to enter the market. The very structure of the markets themselves is changing. Nuclear energy, because it runs 24/7 without producing greenhouse gas, will play an important part in that market. SMR technology, in particular, needs to be developed sooner rather than later. That way, in about 10 years, we can answer the questions about which companies will build those plants and where.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

TEPCO Reaches Agreement with Fishermen on Groundwater Discharge

On Friday, the Tokyo Electric Power Company released the following statement:

After nearly two years of discussions, the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have reached an important agreement that will allow implementation of a plan to allow clean groundwater to bypass the Fukushima Daiichi plant and flow in a controlled manner into the sea, subject to stringent safety and environmental controls.

[...]

Once in operation, the groundwater bypass system will divert the flow of naturally occurring groundwater between the hilltop and the contaminated building basements built on lower ground. This will reduce the amount flowing into the building basements by a maximum of 100 tons from the current amount of around 400 tons/day to 300 tons/day.

Diverting this groundwater will reduce the volume of water that becomes contaminated and then needs to be cleaned and stored on site. This, in turn, is expected to reduce the burdens on the storage facility by slowing the pace of contaminated water accumulation.
Here's NEI's Steve Kraft on the significance of this agreement:
Steven Kraft
The agreement with the Fukushima Fishermen's Association -- now in full force -- will allow TEPCO to reduce the inflow of ground water (about 400 tonnes/day - over 100,000 gals) to the contaminated water they have to deal with and store in the tank farm that is rapidly filling.

While the standards for discharge (1Bq/l Cs-134 and Cs-137) is a tenth of the World Heath Association standard for drinking water (and you cannot drink seawater), it is appropriate in these circumstances as is the continued compensation of the fishermen.

This type of agreement and discharge has been recommended by many organizations and individuals, including NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane during her last visit to the site.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated. It will pave the way for future agreements that will allow TEPCO to make progress in site clean-up. We look forward to the day that a similar agreement will allow the discharge of clean water from the tank farm and reduce the challenges of storing such water over the near and long term.
For a detailed explanation about the problem of groundwater contamination at Fukushima Daiichi, watch this video from TEPCO.

Friday, April 04, 2014

From Monkeys to Nuclear Energy in Rhea County

We often talk about the economic boon that nuclear energy plants bring the counties and towns in which they are located. This is true of many types of big industrial structures, of course, which tend to locate in relatively out-of-the-way places – they are, however you cut it, big structures and need room to spread out. (well, wind farms aren’t big per se, but they certainly do spread out.)

So you could say that what is true of a nuclear energy plant is also true of a coal plant or gas works. Workers like to be in their vicinity. Why?

The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant has turned into one of East Tennessee's biggest employers with 5,000 TVA and contractor employees working around the clock to build a new reactor and refuel another.

"These workers are eating in our restaurants, shopping in our stores and staying at area hotels and campgrounds and that is putting a lot of needed money into our economy," said Rhea County Mayor George Thacker, who built the 42-room Howard Johnson hotel in Spring City seven years ago to help house Watts Bar workers. "Watts Bar is a great asset for our region."

Outage workers – that’s unique to nuclear energy. I wouldn’t have guessed that outages happen frequently enough to justify a Holiday Inn, but business there will only increase when Watts Bar has two reactors (Unit 2 will start up next year) rather than one. And at all the other businesses in Rhea County, too.

Writer Dave Flessner allows for a bit of trolling:

"There's more than providing jobs in the here and now," said Garry Morgan, an anti-nuclear activist for BEST (Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team). "In the long term, we have no solution for the storage of the radioactive wastes from these plants and ratepayers eventually have to pay the enormous expense of these facilities. There are far more jobs at much less cost from energy conservation and efficiency."

I’m not sure there are “far more jobs” from using less energy  – the arguments for energy efficiency are strong but the jobs picture isn’t the strongest one. But you’ve got to have something to say. It’s also worth pointing out that having nuclear energy in the mix makes electricity less expensive not more.

In any event, Flessner’s story may well have been motivated by the co-chair of the Clean and Safe (CASE) Energy Coalition dropping by for a visit.

[Ron] Kirk, who also is a former mayor of Dallas, visited Watts Bar this week and said Friday he was impressed by the size of the workforce and the workers commitment to safety.

"I spend most of my time highlighting the clean air advantages and reliability of nuclear power, but as a former mayor who worked a lot of economic development I was struck by seeing 5,000 workers at that plant," Kirk said. "Watts Bar is the real economic lifeblood of that community. They've had more than 23 million work hours without an accident, which really shows the professionalism of those workers and their commitment to safety."

The other co-chair, by the way, is former New Jersey governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman.

One thing you can say about nuclear advocates, they don’t make wispy statements. They don’t have to – the benefits of the plant are manifest and Kirk just says them out loud. He almost doesn’t need to say anything – Rhea County is clearly well aware of the value of Watts Bar.

---

Rhea County (which is about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville) is most notable outside its locality for hosting the Scopes “monkey” trial in 1925, which became a bonanza for the yellow journalists of its day (and early radio – it was the first broadcast trial). It was so sensational that it attracted the services of two very highly regarded men, William Jennings Bryant. the former U.S. Secretary of State, and Clarence Darrow, the most famous attorney of his time and an early civil libertarian (as we understand the term now), to argue for the county and for teacher John Scopes respectively.

Obviously, the topic is much too big for a couple of paragraphs and way, way outside the brief of this blog. So you can research it further on your own.

But that’s Rhea County – which has a Scopes Trial Trail for you to follow if you’re so inclined.

60 Minutes Visits Fukushima

60 Minutes will air a report on Fukushima Daiichi during its broadcast this Sunday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT.

If you're watching on Sunday, we have a number of online resources you can consult for additional information about the accident, the clean up of the site and how the U.S. nuclear industry is applying lessons learned from Fukushima to improve safety at its own plant sites.

Over the past three years, we've shared much of this coverage here at NEI Nuclear Notes:
 

Additionally, it's worthwhile to note the December 2013 Bloomberg piece in which NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane states, “The highest amount of radiation that will reach the U.S. is two orders of magnitude -- 100 times -- less than the drinking water standard. So, if you could drink the salt water, which you won’t be able to do, it’s still fairly low.”