Friday, May 30, 2014

California, Carbon, Kewaunee and Nuclear Energy

Thanks to NEI's Ted Jones for passing this story to us from the New York Times about how California is investing in carbon mitigation technologies around the country. See if you can identify the elephant in the room from the story's first three paragraphs:

KEWAUNEE, Wis. — Bryan T. Pagel, a dairy farmer, watched as a glistening slurry of cow manure disappeared down a culvert. If recycling the waste on his family’s farm would help to save the world, he was happy to go along.

Out back, machinery was breaking down the manure and capturing a byproduct called methane, a potent greenhouse gas. A huge Caterpillar engine roared as it burned the methane to generate electricity, keeping it out of the atmosphere.

The $3.2 million system also reduces odors at Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, one of the largest in Wisconsin, but it would not have been built without a surprising source of funds: a California initiative that is investing in carefully chosen projects, even ones far beyond its borders, to reduce emissions as part of the battle against climate change.
Still stumped? Well, you shouldn't be. Kewaunee, Wisconsin is home to the now closed Kewaunee Power Station, a 556 MWe nuclear reactor. It was closed a little more than a year ago for economic reasons.
FWIW, I'd rather use Uranium
And while Mr. Pagel's innovative manure-fired generator apparently provides enough electricity to power 1,200 homes, we feel the need to point out that Kewaunee put out enough juice to power 380,000 homes. And according to NEI's David Bradish, in its last complete calendar year of operation (2012) Kewaunee helped prevent the emission of 4.4 million tons of carbon.

Now, please don't get us wrong. We're all for encouraging new and innovative methods to generate electricity that also help constrain carbon emissions (ridding the world of the odor of manure is a real plus too). But as our friends at Nuclear Matters are pointing out on a daily basis, it seems clear that nuclear-generated electricity isn't being properly priced and valued in the marketplace. Here's hoping that policymakers start paying attention, and soon.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The White House’s All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy

White_HouseThe White House has released an energy plan, which it calls The All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy as a Path to Sustainable Economic Growth. In it, nuclear energy is always grouped with renewable energy sources, clean coal and energy efficiency as a means of affecting climate change. And in no uncertain terms:

Nuclear energy provides zero-carbon baseload electricity, and through the Energy Department the Administration is supporting nuclear research and deployment. A high priority of the Department has been to help accelerate the timelines for the commercialization and deployment of small modular reactor (SMR) technologies through the SMR Licensing Technical Support program. Small modular reactors offer the advantage of lower initial capital investment, scalability, and siting flexibility at locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors. They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security, for example through built-in passive safety systems. In December 2013, the Energy Department announced an award to support a new project to design, certify and help commercialize SMRs.

And not just small reactors:

The Energy Department is also supporting deployment of advanced large-scale reactors. In February 2014, the Department of Energy issued $6.5 billion in loan guarantees to support the construction of the nation’s next generation of advanced nuclear reactors. The two new 1,100-megawatt reactors, which will be located in Georgia, feature advanced safety components and could provide a standardized design for the U.S. utilities market.

This is true of the two reactors in South Carolina, too, but SCANA did not apply for a loan guarantee to build them. It’s interesting to see that small reactors are established enough that the White House now refers to large-scale reactors. The need to differentiate them has developed.

The plan recognizes nuclear energy’s role in mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

The United States is further reducing its GHG emissions through improved energy efficiency, taking advantage of nonconventional natural gas as a transitional fuel, supporting renewable, nuclear, and clean coal energy sources, and regulation under the Clean Air Act.

The plan notes that combatting carbon emissions is an international issue, but might have gone a little further than that: that exporting U.S. nuclear energy technology has the potential to limit carbon emissions even in developing countries while further bolstering the economy.

Obviously, a plan with this name is not making the case for any particular energy source, but one could certainly quibble with how any single energy source is handled.

Looking further ahead, developing natural gas generation infrastructure now prepares for future widespread deployment of wind and solar generation.

Hey, where’s nuclear energy here? I’m not even sure how such an infrastructure sets the table for renewable energy – it seems like two vagrant thoughts mashed together. But the idea of natural gas as a transitional fuel for renewable energy already seems a bit careworn, something the natural gas people would like to hear for a long, long time. Anyway, where nuclear energy provides the lion’s share of electricity, there is no need for transition. It does exactly what renewable energy might do one day – and has done it for 50 years.

In a plan such as this one, the occasional odd thought or peculiar omission can easily be over parsed, as just demonstrated. What’s really important is the bottom line:

The All-of-the-Above energy strategy has three key elements: to support economic growth and job creation, to enhance energy security, and to deploy low-carbon energy technologies and lay the foundation for a clean energy future.

And nuclear energy has a high significance in all three goals.

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Be sure to check out NEO President and CEO' Marv Fertel’s comments on this plan. He zeroes in on the economic benefits of nuclear facilities, which are significant and answers powerfully to the first of the plan’s three elements:

The typical nuclear plant generates approximately $470 million in sales of goods and services locally and nearly $40 million in total labor income. Each nuclear plant generates almost $16 million in state and local tax revenue annually, and the average plant generates federal tax payments of approximately $67 million annually.

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And take a look at the whole report to see how everything fits together. We kept the focus pretty tightly on nuclear energy, but anyone interested in energy policy will want to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wind, Nuclear and Playing with Cars

This caused  a mathematical synapse to fire:

Wind energy reduced power sector emissions by more than 5 percent last year, saving the same amount of CO2 as taking 20 million cars off the road, according to a new report.

Well, if you don’t mind your car sputtering to a stop when the wind stops blowing. Okay, that’s not really fair. It’s a question of how many carbon emissions were displaced by wind power and that was 126.8 million tons or the equivalent of about 20 million cars. That’s fairbut consider:

Nuclear energy facilities avoided nearly 590 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2013 across the U.S. This is nearly as much carbon dioxide as is released from 113 million cars, which is more than all U.S. passenger cars. The U.S. produces more than five billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

That 113 million car figure seems right enough, but is that (or less, actually) really the number of passengers vehicles in the car crazy U.S? Seems too few.

Ace NEI statistician David Bradish said a fair number of things are excluded, including trucks, buses and other conveyances which might carry different emissions standards and outputs. So this works for that purpose. And impressive, too – we could probably scoop Canada’s cars into the emission-displaced hopper, too, especially if you counted the country’s six reactors.

We’re making fun, but really, good for the wind folks. It is a milestone, wind is emission free and it’s all to the good. The only conclusion to reach is that since nuclear energy has gotten all the cars off the road, let’s let wind have the flatbed trucks.

AWEA’s report is here.

"The Solar Industry Doesn't Need the Sierra Club."

The quote of the day that's getting passed around this morning at NEI comes from Suzzanne Shelton of the Shelton Group. She was in attendance last week at Fortune's Brainstorm Green 2014, and shared her top five takeaways from the conference on her blog before the start of the long holiday weekend.


Not surprisingly, this aside involved Mike Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute and his ongoing struggle to get other environmentalists to understand that constraining carbon emissions and keeping the lights on is going to mean relying on a diverse set of energy sources that includes nuclear energy:
The solar industry doesn't need the Sierra Club. There was a very interesting point/counterpoint discussion between Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute. It appears the two men are/were friends, and Shellenberger was practically doing an on-stage intervention with Brune, begging him to stop embarrassing himself by being so quixotically focused on supporting only solar and wind as the way forward, without consideration at all for natural gas in the short term and nuclear in the long term. Based on other panel discussions (and what we're seeing in market data), renewables are doing really, really well and will continue to do well. So perhaps it's time for the Sierra Club to focus its considerable energy on another fight.
As long-time readers of NEI Nuclear Notes know, this isn't the first time someone has petitioned the Sierra Club to come to the table to discuss practical solutions to environmental challenges. Nope, not at all.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jessica Lovering of The Breakthrough Institute, we've got the link to the video of the exchange between Shellenberger and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club:



For more, please visit The Breakthrough Institute.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Crowdsourcing and Fusion - Perfect Together

crowdsourcingA project on Indiegogo:

Scientists at LPP Fusion, led by Chief Scientist Eric Lerner, are just one step away from this groundbreaking technology and we need your help for the final push.

One step away! That’s pretty exciting, belying the fusion joke that a breakthrough is always five years away – unless of course that’s how long the step takes.

Rising energy costs and resource scarcity are concerns shared by the developed and developing world alike.  We need the ultimate renewable energy technology in the form of fusion energy, the source of energy for the Sun and stars.  If we can succeed, Focus Fusion's low cost and easily distributed electricity will eliminate both global energy poverty and global air pollution once and for all. 

Bold in original – and bold in concept.

One thing you should not do when selling fusion is rank on fission. Bad form.

Today, nuclear energy means nuclear fission, which raises issues like long-lived radioactive waste and catastrophes like that at Fukushima Daiichi. 

Fission energy, what is commonly called nuclear energy,  would be obsolete. There would be no more radioactive meltdowns spilling radiation onto our land and into our oceans.

But really, why think small? Among other utopic reasons for fusion:

Create peace

Nuclear fission technology, like uranium enrichment with its weapons applications, is another source of conflict in our world. 

With no use for civilian nuclear energy, we could lock up the uranium mines, making proliferation of nuclear weapons almost impossible.    

There’s a lot more on the page, including a description of the fusion technique that will change everything. Although I’m having fun here, I have no opinion about this one way or another. A thick sales pitch doesn’t make the project illegitimate. That said, throwing in cash to help out has to be a personal decision. A fool and his money is about as far as I’d want to go on advice.

Still, fusion and crowdsourcing? Perfect together. When I last checked in, LPP Fusion has raised about $58,000 of the $200,000 it is looking for.

Nuclear Energy Assembly 2014

NEA-slider-homeDid you know that the Nuclear Energy Assembly is this week? NEA is the annual NEI conference and provides a good overview of the previous year’s accomplishments and a preview of what’s coming up next. The conference alternates between Washington DC and other locales, attracting nuclear leaders from around the world and across many related disciplines. This year’s assembly is in Scottsdale, Ariz. which means the heat is considerably drier.

The assembly is just about wrapping up now, but it doesn’t hurt to keep up. The twitter page and news wrap-up will provide you with a good sense of the state of the industry in 2014.

You can follow the doings on Twitter, hashtag #nea2014 – very busy account right now- and there are some news stories to peruse:

Ex-Cameco CEO Grandey Receives Nuclear Industry’s Leadership Award

Gerald “Jerry” Grandey, the former chief executive of Cameco Corp., was honored with the industry’s William S. Lee Award for Leadership at NEI’s annual conference this week.

While serving as Cameco’s president, CEO and director, the company played a central role in the implementation over a 20-year period of the highly successful Megatons to Megawatts program. The effort, which concluded last December, achieved the conversion of highly enriched uranium from 20,000 Russian warheads into low-enriched uranium that fueled commercial U.S. reactors and supplied as much as 10 percent of total U.S. electricity during that time.

NEI’s Incoming Chairman Cites Nuclear Energy’s Value to Electricity Diversity, Reliability

Nuclear energy’s importance in a diversified U.S. electricity portfolio makes it imperative that the industry build on 20 years of success by meeting three key challenges in the near term, NEI’s incoming chairman told industry leaders at the start of the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Scottsdale, Ariz.

More stories will be posted here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

316(b): Facts About Power Plant Cooling Water Use

The following post was submitted by William Skaff, NEI's director of policy analysis. Yesterday, the EPA issued a final rule implementing Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act for existing facilities. NEI is currently reviewing the rule to determine how closely it conforms to principles of sound environmental regulation. 

In this post, Skaff lays out the facts about water use at power plants in relation to 316(b). 

Cooling Towers Consume Twice as Much Water
Cooling towers consume twice as much water as once-through cooling systems. Climate change modeling predicts freshwater constraints across the country. Thus, consuming twice as much aquatic life habitat will not be protective of fish populations going forward. Clearly, the one-size-fits-all approach of a nationwide cooling-tower mandate is not environmentally responsible.

Site-Specific Approach to Fish Protection Technologies is Most Effective
There are 3,153 species of fish in the waters of the United States. All vary in susceptibility to mortality at the intake structure and in responsiveness to various fish-protection technologies. Each water body has a different mix of these species. Thus, a site-specific approach taking population diversity into account is most protective.

Power Plants Already Have Fish-Protection Technologies
According to the EPA, most plants regulated by the 316(b) rule already have installed and are operating effective fish-protection technologies.

Fish Population Studies at Power Plants Indicate No Environmental Impact
Studies of aquatic life population abundance at power plants with once-through cooling systems indicate no adverse environmental impact at the population level in the source water body. Ongoing reproduction readily replaces the one percent of the population, on average, lost at the cooling system intake structure.

A Technology-Based Standard Accommodates Site Ecological Diversity
A technology-based standard—such as traveling screens with a collection-return system—can accommodate site ecological diversity because it can be designed for the specific fish population of a given site.


Learn more about water use and holistic environmental management from NEI's fact sheet and website

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nothing Comes from Understating Nuclear

FTlogoHere’s an odd one. Edward Luce writes in The Financial Times that the drive for natural gas is pushing other energy types out of the way, risk be damned. So far, so good, if a bit overstated.

Then, this:

America has likewise turned away from nuclear power. In his first term Mr. Obama announced plans to revive a sector that had essentially been frozen since the Three Mile Island leakage of 1978. Nothing has come of it. Only one new US nuclear power plant is planned and that is years away.

When did he write this? The mention of Obama suggests it was more recently than 1995, but the content is bizarrely off. Five reactors are in progress and FPL is at least giving some thought to two more. That’s not nothing and it’s more than “only one new” plant.

Major fail – weird for this outlet.

So How Was Godzilla?

Although Godzilla crosses paths with nuclear energy twice during his current rampage, the use of it is fairly innocuous. In the first instance, a giant insect called a MUTO causes a nuclear plant to shake apart, but it expels no radiation because the creature absorbs it all while mutating in its cocoon. In the second, and cleverest, use, the mate of the first MUTO has been captured and stowed in Yucca Mountain. Although it’s said that the Nevada repository holds used fuel, it of course doesn’t – yet.

I’d prefer to believe that, in the movie’s terms, Yucca Mountain was created specifically and exclusively to contain the big bug. It would fit the secretive nature of the authorities in the film – which have already explained away nuclear test bombing in the 50s as a means of sealing giant creatures in their underwater world – so why not?

As for the movie itself, well, maybe it’s that I don’t see many summer blockbusters, but the screenplay is flat out awful – which wouldn’t matter much if the story didn’t spend its first hour with barely characterized human beings who spout reams of exposition. A lot of good actors racked up  nice paydays for not doing very much besides try out their concerned faces and unreel big blocks of text. I wonder why the production would spend the money when hungrier performers could have done as well and not effected the film’s promotion.

When the bugs and Godzilla – who is the good guy here, though he still causes a lot of property damage – show up, we realize that the beige, dusty look of many of the earlier scenes is a way to make the special effects look less cartoony when they take over the movie. It works well enough, though it gives the movie a polluted aura that doesn’t really fit it. This is one brown monster movie.

But really, it’s all about roaring and squashing people underfoot and monster tangles. If I was 13, I would have loved it – though I would have gotten plenty bored with the first hour and decamped for popcorn.

What did you think?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is Godzilla Your Favorite Radioactive Monster?

In honor, sort of, of the new Godzilla film*, we thought we’d ask our readers: which is your favorite movie beast with a nuclear energy or radiation connection? We’ll do this in the form of a poll, but if you have a better candidate, leave it in the comments. No awards or prizes, just the warm glow of knowing your nuclear monster history.
50footThe Fifty Foot Woman – From Attack of the … (1957) – Incredibly sleazy with the cheapest imaginable special effects (big things become transparent due to shabby fx), the fifty foot woman (the inimitable Allison Hayes) drinks too much, longs for her faithless husband and encounters an alien whose radiant being causes her to grow to – well, 50 feet – and go on a rampage. Remade a couple of times, but the original has the benefit of 50’s style scuzz (Director Nathan Juran sensibly used a pseudonym).
kronos-robotKronos(1957) – A bit higher brow (which almost anything would be), Kronos is a cube-like spacecraft that moves across the earth absorbing radiation for who knows what purpose. (The new Godzilla does this, too.) As it collects radiation, it gets larger and more sinister – and now it has its sights on a nuclear reactor. Actually pretty good, leading with its ideas about technology and letting the unknowable nature of the cube increase the fear factor. Director Kurt Neumann moved right on to The Fly (not radiation, sorry), then, sadly, died fairly young – of fright?!
ThemThem! (1954)– Posed as a mystery, something is rampaging through the southwest, wrecking houses, skeletonizing people with goop and sending little girls into stupefied states of shock. How atomic test bomb-derived gigantic ants could hide is a mystery in itself – maybe to keep their papier-mâché selves under wraps – but the film is actually quite spooky. Being hoisted by mandibles is pretty alarming and the sound effects accompanying the ants are eeriness incarnate. The movie can still cause nightmares if accepted in the right spirit.
hulkThe Incredible Hulk - In the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book, which started in 1962, scientist Bruce Banner finds himself at the epicenter of a “gamma bomb” blast while saving his foolish young assistant. This causes him to become the world’s worst rageaholic – and green, too, for no discernible reason. Basically a Jekyll-Hyde story, Hulk can destroy things but not kill people – he’s sort of sympathetic – though his fearsomeness could certainly induce heart attacks. Movie-wise, you can choose between Eric Bana, Edward Norton, and Mark Ruffalo, but I think we can all agree that the definitive screen Hulk is Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno from the 70-80s TV show. More massive then gigantic, but we’ll give him a pass.
amazing-colossal-manThe Amazing Colossal Man (1957) – This time, Lt. Col. Glenn Manning (40s Fox star Glenn Langan hitting career rock bottom) meets the business end of a plutonium bomb and grows, um, see title. If you know Las Vegas, it’s amusing to see him somehow hide himself while traversing the low-lying city - a trick he learned from Thems’ ants, I guess. At least he could literally raise the roof at the Sands to see Dean and Jerry perform. Ring-a-ding-ding! Made by Bert I. Gordon (note initials) whose entire 30-year career was spent growing and shrinking things using his home grown – and endearingly awful – travelling matte system. This movie was successful enough to spawn a BIG-helmed sequel.
night-of-the-living-deadThe zombies from Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Eric caught this one. Despite having seen this still effective sweat inducer many times, I’d forgotten that a crash-landed outer space probe spewed radiation that turned the dead into zombies. Creator George Romero considered them ghouls (flesh eaters), not zombies (ensorcelled slaves), but he’s probably accepted by now the term of art for his perambulating, pustulating pals. I don’t think anyone has ever commented (in the movies, that is) on their stench, probably because it raises the question of how they could ever sneak up on you. Dinner time!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Early reviews indicate that this version of Godzilla is unleashed upon the world via a nuclear power plant accident before he embarks on a global rampage. This might be a good time to mention that former NASA scientist James Hansen has made the case that nuclear energy has saved over 1 million lives in recent decades, with the potential to save millions more in the future.

A "Student Army" on the March for Nuclear Energy in Florida

Jitesh Kuntwala
The following is a guest post from Jitesh A. Kuntawala, a student at the University of Florida. He'll be graduating in 2015 with a Masters degree in nuclear engineering.

As a graduate student in nuclear engineering I recently had the opportunity, along with 8 other nuclear engineering students from the University of Florida, to become active in the public policy side of the nuclear industry.

On May 13, 2014 Florida Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet, sitting in their capacity as the Florida Power Plant Siting Board, held a final hearing for the determination of site selection for the proposed two new reactors to be known as Turkey Point units 6 & 7 at the existing Florida Power and Light (FPL) site near Miami.

We were initially contacted by Jerry Paul of the Energy Information Center (EIC) and invited to attend the hearing. We are thrilled we did. It was a wonderful, engaging, and educational glimpse into some of the decision making bodies behind the nuclear industry. The Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, and the Chief Financial officer all recognized our group in the audience. The paused the proceedings and called us to the dais for a group photograph were they commended us for our efforts. It was stimulating to see the interactions of opponents and proponents in this public governmental proceeding.

Gov. Scott and the "Student Army."
Our group of nine, including Madison Martin, Patrick Moo, Joseph Cashwell, Logan Blohm, Lucianne Behar, Jonathan Rosales, Nicolas Silva, Hernan Godoy, and myself, proudly stood together at the podium and provided comments in support of new nuclear generation. “Our generation is the future of clean energy and the future of our economy. New nuclear energy supply is essential to both. …Nuclear Energy means jobs. …This is attractive to students who graduate college and look for jobs that can help them get a start (especially those of us who have student loans to pay off!). These nuclear plants represent the future employment of engineers like us.”

Our input seemed to be very well-received by the cabinet and proponents of the new reactors. Following the public comment, the Siting Board voted unanimously to approve the proposed site.

The experience was part of an ongoing EIC initiative (called the “Student Army”) to help our fellow engineering students to become more engaged and visible in the increasingly important public policy debates that affect America’s ability to utilize clean nuclear energy as a reliable supply of electricity. We are hoping to curb the disconnect between policy makers and future engineers and scientists. For example, our group has also provided testimony in Orlando at the NRC hearings for the federal Waste Confidence rulemaking, and in front of the Florida Senate Committee on Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities in favor of Florida’s nuclear cost recovery law.

We hope other engineering students across the country engage in these opportunities. We as nuclear engineering students are studying everyday so that we can be a part of our nation’s safe, reliable, and zero emission energy future. To do so our generation must speak out and be heard.

Nuclear Waste Fee to Be Suspended on May 16, 2014

Here's a date we've been trying to fix on the calendar since last November - the official suspension of the nuclear waste fee.


Granted, the date has been something of a moving target, but now it's all official. As of 12:01 a.m. EDT tomorrow, the meter will stop running. Click here for additional details.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The 600 and the Economic Benefits of Duane Arnold

Duane_ArnoldOne of the things that nuclear energy plants do well is what factories and plants of all kinds have always done – facilitate a middle class. It’s more complex than that, of course, and we have to deal with the history of unions, the G.I. Bill, entrepreneurship and and a lot else before we get to all the factors that have contributed to the growth and maintenance of a thriving middle class. But let’s just focus on factories, because nuclear facilities are factories of a kind and because a new report focuses on the economic benefits of just one such facility: Iowa’s Duane Arnold Energy Center.

The whole report is worth a look, especially because it’s a quick, comprehensible read with a lot of tables to explore but also because it’s chalk full of good data for nuclear advocates. Duane Arnold, like any nuclear plant, is a virtual city of industry and its economic impacts are broad and comprehensive. Explore the press release and the report itself for lots of nuclear goodness. For this post, let’s zero in on employment At Duane Arnold.

Besides helping to stabilize electricity costs in Iowa, Duane Arnold has contributed significantly to job creation. The plant employs nearly 600 full-time workers, approximately 175 of whom reside within Benton County and nearly 400 within Linn County.

Jobs provided by the plant are also typically higher-paying than most jobs in the area. Full-time Duane Arnold employees who live in Benton County earn, on average, about $75,680 per year. This is substantially higher than the average earnings of workers in the county, which is about $32,060 per year.

Full-time plant employees who live in Linn County earn, on average, about $82,620 per year, compared to the average earnings of workers in the county, which is about $45,690 per year.

Linn County has about 211,00 people in it, largely due to Cedar Rapids and its suburbs. Benton County is more typical of Iowa. It’s about the same size as Linn County but has 26,000 people in it.

Clearly, the Duane Arnold workers are not numerous enough to overwhelm their communities with their presence, but they add considerably to the tax base – especially since many have no doubt bought homes and are raising families – and of course, spend money.

This is attractive to Linn County and likely very attractive to less populous Benton County. The report talks about these economic “ripple” effects, but more in relation to the facility than its workers.

It’s a important concept because it broadens the economic impact beyond just a direct layout of cash for salaries and service.

The economic investment of Duane Arnold in the local community has a multiplier effect across nearly every sector of its economy. While the plant’s direct output value was $200 million, the study found the total impact on the local region was $246 million. That puts the output multiplier at 1.23, so for every dollar of output from Duane Arnold, the local economy produced $1.23.

The report expands this focus to Iowa and the country. It’s all valuable information. For this post, though, I wanted to make sure that one of the most positive social benefits of nuclear energy – and, honestly, of any large industrial endeavor – is not overlooked. That’s the value of those 600 employees – the fact that they live in Linn and Benton Counties out in the middle (well, in the northeast quadrant anyway) of Iowa means that the state has a strong energy profile and is more than doing its part to generate clean electricity.

“Duane Arnold continues to reliably deliver tremendous value for Eastern Iowa and our entire state,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “The plant is a key asset as Iowa strives to become more energy independent. I have long been a supporter of the facility and the hundreds of Iowans who work here.”

As well he should be.

And that’s just one plant in one state. Imagine all the multipliers at work across the whole fleet.

I haven’t really seen a cost comparison of different electricity generators in the terms discussed in this report, so it’s sheer gall of me to suggest that the nature of nuclear energy plants make them better and more beneficial participants in the lives of their communities than other sources. I wouldn’t be too upset if solar or coal came out a little better – we’re all friends after all – but let’s be nuclear chauvinists just this once. 

* We like the sound of the 600, but Duane Arnold also brings in about 1500 workers for outages, so the plant can be quite a beehive of activity. The 2100, though, doesn’t have quite the same Spartan ring to it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bad (Nuclear) and Worse (Hydro) in Sweden

At first, it may seem ominous:

Swedes are becoming increasingly skeptical of nuclear power with a new survey showing 50 percent of respondents want the controversial power source phased out.

The report from the SOM Institute at the University of Gothenburg found support falling for nuclear power since a meltdown at Japanese power plant. With other European nations moving away from nuclear power, Swedes are also growing leery.

Swedes have always been leery of nuclear energy – sometimes in favor, sometimes not. The country voted to close the facilities in 1980 and the government said it would do so by 1990. It then reversed the shutdown in 2010, since nothing had actually closed (well, three of thirteen reactors shut down, but not due to the referendum.). One could call the attitude of both public and government muddled – but realistic.

So a mixed reaction by this population on this energy source isn’t that surprising. This is, though:

A unique court case in northern Sweden starting on Friday could decide the fate of many small waterpower stations.

Government agencies and the local council want to close a hydro station in an environmentally protected area. Environmentalists and anglers want it shut down because they say it is bad for the environment. The agencies agree, saying the dam has collapsed and is not in use, indicating the power company has not lived up to its responsibilities.

The writer calls this unique because hydro plants have not been challenged before on environmental grounds. If the suit succeeds on that basis, it sets up a method to shutter other hydro plants. Why one would want to do that absent a collapsed dam, I’m not sure, but there we are.

Care to guess the two major sources of electricity in Sweden - and, by major, I mean almost all of it? Our lingonberry scented friends certainly like to create problems when there aren’t any.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Return of Air Quality

eiffel_towerAside from China, which got quite a showcase during the Olympics, the topic of air quality has percolated quietly in the background for years. It was the environmental issue during the late 1960s and concerns about it led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) and the first revisions to the 1962 Clean Air Act (in 1970 and 1977). The Clean Water Act followed in 1972 – not about air quality, of course, but part of this wave of environmental consciousness.

These issues have never gone away, though they did slide into neglect as rain forests, recycling and climate change captured the public imagination. With a number of new reports focusing on the dire impacts of climate change, it would seem of a piece if heightened concern about air quality should return to the fore.

But if it is going to return, it needs a spur - a book, a movie – maybe a database.

Because that’s what it got. The World Health Organization has chosen this moment to update (and promote) its urban ambient air quality database.

The WHO database covers 1600 cities across 91 countries – 500 more cities than the previous database (2011), revealing that more cities worldwide are monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of air pollution’s health risks.

According to the database, only 12 per cent of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities where that air quality complied with WHO guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends - putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.

What’s sad is that the reason this may bring the issue back to the fore is that the news embedded in that database is alarming. And alarming always plays better, doesn’t it?

From The Times of India:

A day after World Health Organization's latest urban air quality database showed that Delhi has the worst air quality among 1,600 cities in 91 countries, government officials chose to split hairs over the published numbers while environmentalists stressed that the country should get on with addressing air quality concerns urgently.

From The Guardian:

British towns and cities have been named and shamed by the World Health Organization for breaching safety levels for air pollution.

Nine urban areas in the UK have been named by the global health body for breaching safe health levels of air quality.

From The New Zealand Herald:

A new global report on air quality has featured 17 New Zealand centers among 1600 worldwide cities, with Timaru, Christchurch and Rotorua turning in the poorest national results for air pollution. [New Zealand actually did pretty well.]

This is where we should be talking about the manifest contribution nuclear energy can make to mitigate bad air – and it’s true, it can. It doesn’t burn fossil fuel and has no negative impact on air quality at all. The same can be said of renewable energy and hydro power. Still, while this is a problem on which nuclear energy can have an impact, it’s not enough in itself.

From Le Monde:

Le seuil maximum fixé par l'OMS est de 20 microgrammes par mètre cube (µg/m3) pour la concentration moyenne annuelle de particules fines PM10 (d'un diamètre égal ou inférieur à 10 micromètres) dans l'air. Il est largement dépassé dans de nombreuses grandes métropoles. Avec des records beaucoup plus élevés que ceux enregistrés, par exemple, lors des récents pics de pollution à Paris, en mars 2014 (100 µg/m3).

Rough translation (by me –very rough indeed):

The maximum threshold set by WHO is 20 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) for an average annual concentration of PM10 (diameter less than or equal to 10 micrometers) in the air. It is widely exceeded in many major cities. Much higher numbers were reached locally, for example, during recent pollution peaks in Paris in March 2014 (100 ug/m3).

Paris banned cars every other day during a couple of weeks last year. Nuclear energy makes a real difference, but in “driving” cities like Paris, you wouldn’t know it. We’ve mentioned before that nuclear energy and electric/hybrid cars are a killer combination and this is why.

The U.N. makes a few mild comments on potential solutions:

Some cities are making notable improvements - demonstrating that air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using renewable or “clean” fuels for electricity production, and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.

“We can win the fight against air pollution and reduce the number of people suffering from respiratory and heart disease, as well as lung cancer,” said Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

And that means air quality may become a generally discussable issue again. That would be for the good – for nuclear energy, certainly, and for the world.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Fukushima Radiation Report: A Tonic for Fear

unscearThe report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation on the radiation impacts of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident came out a few weeks ago. A lot of it is a dense, heavy read, but the introduction – essentially the executive summary - is  much easier going.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the report, except that it was unlikely to be alarming or disturbing. The Japanese did a good job of keeping people out of harm’s way – more harm’s way, actually, as the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the nuclear accident killed over 20,000 people - and the report more-or-less confirms that, if largely by implication.

The best section to see this is Health Effects, starting on page 17.

The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.

This next bit is interesting: it essentially explains why non-Japanese commentary on  reopening the facilities can seem glib:

The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation.

It is a stigma and not rational, but that’s how it is. Nuclear energy got entangled in – and contributed to – a nationally traumatic event. It may not have been the most traumatizing aspect, but given the circumstances, it was plenty enough. One has to give Japan room to weigh in factors that we can barely imagine – what it decides to do is up to the government and the people, whatever we may think of it.

Still, given the hysteria expressed over here, the actual impact on health has been exceptionally small:

For adults in Fukushima Prefecture, the Committee estimates average lifetime effective doses to be of the order of 10 mSv or less, and first-year doses to be one third to one half of that. While risk models by inference suggest increased cancer risk, cancers induced by radiation are indistinguishable at present from other cancers. Thus, a discernible increase in cancer incidence in this population that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident is not expected.

All children in Fukushima Prefecture were scanned for evidence of thyroid abnormalities due to exposure to radioactive iodine. This can lead to thyroid cancer later on.

Increased rates of detection of nodules, cysts and cancers have been observed during the first round of screening; however, these are to be expected in view of the high detection efficiency.

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the next sentence clarifies it.

Data from similar screening protocols in areas not affected by the accident imply that the apparent increased rates of detection among children in Fukushima Prefecture are unrelated to radiation exposure.

And if you’ve seen Chernobyl Diaries, this will act as the tonic:

There have been many studies of possible heritable effects following radiation exposure; such studies were reviewed by the Committee in 2001. It has been generally concluded that no heritable effects in humans due to radiation exposure have been explicitly identified (specifically in studies of offspring of survivors of the atomic bombings).

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James Conca over at Forbes has much the same response as we do to the report:

But if you want to continue feeling afraid, and want to make sure others keep being afraid, by all means ignore this report on Fukushima. But then you really can’t keep quoting previous UNSCEAR policy and application of LNT (the Linear No-Threshold dose hypothesis) to support more fear.

Conca spends a few paragraphs on LNT (which basically says that all levels of radiation carry health risks), which Conca and many others consider unsupported by evidence. He also summarizes findings I missed:

All of the foods produced within Fukushima Prefecture show radioactivity a hundred times less than the low limits set by the Japanese government after the accident, and a thousand times lower than limits in the United States.

I found Conca’s conclusion about relative risk especially germane:

During the writing of this post, five people were killed, a hundred injured and an entire building destroyed in a natural gas explosion in Florida (Gas Explosion In Jail), continuing the trend of a gas explosion a week in America. In addition, a crude-oil-carrying train derailed and burst into flames in downtown Lynchburg (Virginia Crude Train Explodes), spilling thousands of gallons of oil and catching the James River on fire. No one was killed, but the crash was the sixth fiery derailment to occur in North America since a runaway train in Quebec derailed and exploded, killing 47 people last July and destroying a major portion of the town.

These kinds of stories – and Fukushima Daiichi, too - are catnip to renewable energy advocates, so it can be a double edged turbine blade. Playing the “you’re more likely to die driving a car” game only gets you so far – almost every human activity carries risk. The point is, nuclear energy is exceptionally low on the risk thermometer, which the UNSCEAR report makes abundantly clear.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Welcome to Vernon, Lawless Without Nuclear

entering-town-of-vernonIn the news:

Voters in the Vermont town of Vernon have once again approved getting rid of the local police force.

Why?

Budget cuts have been in the works since the August announcement that Entergy would shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant by the end of this year. Yankee accounts for about half of the town's municipal tax base.

Now, we should note that Vernon has about 2200 people in it, so turning police services over to the county will not cause pandemonium and murder sprees. It’s not Gotham City.

Still, when we say that nuclear energy facilities have an economic impact on their communities, we’re not fooling. Closing Vermont Yankee is what the state wanted – is the state going to step up and replace the lost revenue? All eyes on Montpelier.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Germany: Nuclear Back Pay and the Return of Coal

lightningHere in the United States, the government has imposed a tax on nuclear facilities to pay for a used fuel repository. But there isn’t one and the courts have made it clear that until one is at least on the drawing boards, no more waste fee. That’s supposed to take effect in May.

In Germany, the government has also run afoul of the courts:

he Hamburg Financial Court has ordered authorities in Germany to refund German utilities more than EUR2.2bn (USD3bn) in nuclear fuel taxes. The refund is to be paid to five energy companies, including E.ON and RWE.

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Courts in Hamburg and Munich have both opined that they believe the tax to be unconstitutional, and have requested instruction from Germany's Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice.

That last part can lead us to believe that this would have happened even if the nuclear facilities continued to operate. But it does seem like garish exploitation to keep the fee, like getting hospital bills after the patient has expired. It doesn’t smell right.

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So that’s one thing. Here’s another:

What’s a beleaguered utility to do when forced by the government to close its profitable nuclear power plants?

It turns to lignite, a cheap, soft, muddy-brown colored form of sedimentary rock that spews more greenhouse gases than any other fossil fuel.

Lignite! That makes my head shake unbidden, as in, No you can’t be doing that.

You can guess how this turns out.

The result: RWE now generates 52 percent of its power in Germany from lignite, up from 45 percent in 2011. And RWE isn’t alone. Utilities all over Germany have ramped up coal use as the nation has watched the mix of coal-generated electricity rise to 45 percent last year, the highest level since 2007.

The story goes on to say that RWE and its colleagues can’t count on lignite continuing to be plausible, thus mandating a change to renewable energy, like it or not. You sometimes see complaints about American legislators choosing energy winners and losers. Without wading too deeply into that issue, this is what that is really like.

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A little expansion on these points from CNN:

For German consumers who ultimately foot the bill, the tab for renewable subsidies comes to $32 billion this year, and soaring electricity bills are hitting households and businesses hard. The Energiewende [switch to renewable energy] also requires construction of a costly and extensive new infrastructure of high-voltage transmission lines to carry power from northern wind farms to the industrial south. The spreading visual blight has sparked local outbreaks of Nimbyism.

“Germany’s electricity prices are already the highest in Europe, 40 to 50 percent higher than the EU average and twice as much as in the U.S.,” notes Jurgen Kronig, a prominent Energiewende critic who writes for the German weekly Die Zeit.

Nimbyism certainly didn’t do nuclear energy any favors in Germany. Pretty soon they’ll be complaining that their neighbors’ candles are too bright.