Skip to main content

Nuclear Energy on the Wild River

6a01053656dea9970b01053656e68f970b The Tennessee Valley Authority is on the build:

Completion of a second reactor at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant — partially built for $1.7 billion, then abandoned in 1988 for lack of need — is under way.

TVA also has been studying the possibility of completing two reactors once under construction at its Bellefonte site in northern Alabama. And TVA has applied for a license that would allow two reactors of a new design — called an AP 1000 by Westinghouse — to be built and operated there.

The bulk of the piece is a q&a with TVA’s Ashok Bhatnagar. TVA had the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tenn. last year, so they’ve got a reasonably skittish customer base. Thus, we were interested to see how Bhatnagar dealt with the inevitable used fuel questions.  Here’s how:

We have a very good method right now for managing wastes. It's very safe, and we've done that for almost 30 to 40 years. We've stored them in our pools, and then we've found a way to store them outside in dry cask storage. And we have a good method that was established to put them in a repository. A particular repository needs to get licensed.

Pretty good. Safe where it is, would be nice to have a central repository.

And why won’t there be a nuclear version of the the coal ash spill?

Because it's well regulated. There's very well defined criteria for how you store the waste. It's a design concept that's built into the plant from the very beginning. The spent fuel pools are designed and reviewed and approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission per very strict regulations.

We’re undecided whether to sound the buzzer on this one. We’re reasonably sure there are regulations about coal ash now and we know more are coming – see here. Beyond this, it doesn’t raise confidence to think TVA only takes care when a regulator is breathing down its neck. Mightn’t it try to circumvent regulation for whatever reason (profit, malice) rather than protect its customers?

We don’t believe TVA has any malicious or avaricious motivation – TVA has been a good nuclear (and coal) neighbor for many years. While we might wish Bhatnagar had thought this statement through a little more, he does an excellent job altogether. Take a look.

---

We’re pleased to see some information about the Babcock & Wilcox mPower reactors (small, modular units) from the TVA side. Here’s Bhatnagar:

We have elected to start working with a company on this small reactor concept they have come up with, but it's at the very early stages. There is no detailed design yet. This is the 10-, 15-year kind of thinking that you have to have. You have to make sure your input is in early so the designs come out the way you want them, with the kinds of experience that you've gained over 30 years of operation.

Still in the loop, not far enough along to commit to it. About where we left it.

---

We were actually poking around a bit to see what explained this cartoon:

081409

This is from the Chattanooga Times Free Press (If we create a newspaper, we’ll name it the Constitution Free Journal Register Press in honor of merged newspapers.) Presumably this represents the editorial board’s nervousness about TVA’s plans. But it suggests the opposite, too: that it is the public’s nervousness (the sign painter probably not a plant worker) about nuclear energy that creates a problem, not the presence of the plant itself.

And we’ve looked at enough polls on this site to suggest that even this isn’t true. Our conclusion: an incoherent cartoon not reflective of any significant public attitude. As we said, TVA has been a good nuclear neighbor. Let’s just call it drive-by editorializing and be done with it.

Watts Bar nuclear plant.poster2-elia-kazan-wild-river-montgomery-clift-dvd-review 

Believe it or not, there’s a first rate movie about the work of the Tennessee Valley Authority – Elia Kazan’s Wild River (1960). TVA is a 1930s New Deal deal, one of two federal electricity outlets created during the Depression (the other is Bonneville in the Northwest).  TVA has economic development tasks as well as electricity generation.

As you might imagine, TVA’s virtually unique status engenders controversy: further valley authorities were blocked by Congress (Bonneville is a different kind of entity), with small government advocates having at it occasionally since then. Ronald Reagan, for example, famously took a swipe at it at the 1964 Republican convention as an example of big government. But neither Reagan nor any other President has privatized it. And so it is today much as it was created to be in 1933. Fascinating American story – start with TVA’s own version of its history for a baseline.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I remember visiting Chattanooga as a kid in the 1980's, back when the local paper was called the "Chattanooga News-Free Press." I was quite disappointed when I moved here a couple of years ago and found that an additional merger had given us a much less humorous title.

The local paper is generally pretty fair and unbiased in its coverage of TVA's nuclear programs. I wish I could say the same for other media outlets around the state. I did find myself scratching my head at that cartoon, since our plants haven't made much news lately.

Bill
DocForesight said…
Why is the spokesman playing into the public misunderstanding by calling it "waste" and not what it actually is, "Spent Nuclear Fuel"? And emphasize that storing the casks on-site is perfectly safe for short and long-term. Use the opportunity to inform the public that upcoming designs will use the SNF for additional energy generation.
GRLCowan said…
Doc Foresight, if you live up to your name, you probably don't, when moving into a new neighbourhood, take a few hours to get the word out about what sort of guy you are by walking around with a sandwich-board saying, "I'm a safe neighbour!"

The point I would stress is that while coal industry regulators do not live near coal ash heaps, some nuclear regulators are stationed within a few hundred yards of the spent fuel pools. I would guess they're there at least 35 hours a week, and their families are often within a few miles.

There is no difficulty filling these civil service positions because no-one has ever been injured by spent nuclear fuel.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…