Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2014

Friendships and Lasting Lessons from Training at Palo Verde

The following post was submitted by John Keeley, NEI's Senior Manager of Media Relations. We posted a video featuring John back on January 10 when he was about to begin a training course at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station on nuclear power plant systems. John completed the course this week and submitted this summary. Against all odds – and certainly counter to any wagers my science instructors from my formal education would have made – I passed Palo Verde’s Plant Systems course this month. Michael Sexton and I shot another video about my odyssey, titled ‘Miracle in the Desert,’ and in it I attempt to articulate how powerfully meaningful success in the course is to me. I’m returning to NEI next week, Plant Systems diploma proudly in hand, and some time Monday morning I hope to walk into the office of my CEO, Marv Fertel , and thank him for making so significant an investment in my professional development. NEI's John Keeley Scott Bell, who led our instruction, is

What About Switzerland?

Switzerland will always be immortalized by a famous speech written by Graham Greene* and spoken by Orson Welles’ Harry Lime in the movie The Third Man : In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. Remember that this is spoken by a deeply cynical villain - it’s a pretty cynical view of world history – and one can allow the capper of the cuckoo clock despite it not being created in Switzerland but Bavaria. You get the point. But just because Harry Lime didn’t believe in anything doesn’t mean the Swiss don’t. The government there announced at about the same time that Germany did, in 2011 after the Fukushima Daiichi accident, that it would close its five reactors. Germany was responding to strong public opinion, but the Swiss did not wait

Germany: It’s All About the Capacity Factor

Over on Atomic Insights, former NuScale chief Paul Lorenzini takes a look at Germany’s situation and bats away at misconceptions about the nuclear shutdown, one of which we’ve promulgated here . First, the nuclear phase out did not result in an increase in coal plant construction. As noted in this study by Poyre , Germany’s coal construction plans predated the nuclear phase out and, if anything, has been cut back from previous plans. Second, they did not fill the deficit created by shutting down their nuclear plants with fossil fuels. … To summarize, the increased generation from wind (12.9 TWh), solar (14.7 TWh), and hydro/biomass (12.7 TWh) during the period (all together accounting for 40.3 TWh), was roughly equal to entire deficit created by shutting down the eight nuclear plants in 2011 (41.1 TWh). I don’t buy this completely because one can’t really assign a one-to-one correspondence between one kind of energy ramping up and another ramping down – though

Kadak, Meserve, Todreas and Wilson Endorse Call of Climate Scientists to Expand Use of Nuclear Energy

Richard Meserve Our readers will recall that last Fall, a group of scientists led by Dr. James Hansen of of Columbia University’s Earth Institute , issued an open letter endorsing an expansion of the use of nuclear energy in order to help combat climate change . Earlier today, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times published another open letter , this one signed by former NRC Chairman Dick Meserve, among others, applauding the actions of those four scientists and endorsing the same course of action on expanding nuclear energy. The energy needs of the world are large and growing. The one billion people that do not even have access to electricity cannot be denied the ability to improve their quality of life. Nuclear energy provides a scaleable, clean source of safe power which, with other clean energy sources, can meet the world's needs in a sustainable manner. We applaud and support the efforts of the climate scientist authors of the originally cited letter. Drs. Caldeira, Ema

Catfish, Swans – and Monticello Nuclear Plant

Uh-oh. Here’s a benefit of nuclear energy that falls under the heading of unintended consequences : The shutdown of Xcel Energy’s Monticello Nuclear Power Plant on Friday is hurting fish and wildlife along the Mississippi River. The flow of warm water from the plant stopped after the unplanned shutdown, and by Saturday the water temperature downstream had dropped from 75 degrees to just 35 degrees, said Joe Stewig, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries manager. Wait, what? The plant output raised the temperature of the water 40 degrees? That in itself would be deadly to all kinds of flora and fauna – it would seem – but … I asked NEI’s William Skaff, director of policy management, about this – NEI did some work on water policy awhile ago but did not address this particular aspect. Bill said that it’s unlikely the plant’s water discharge could cause a 40 degree difference, but that Monticello may well be permitted to discharge warmer water – if not that m

A Glass of Wine with Your Thorium

This is minor beans no matter how you position it, but amusing anyway: Thorium Core is a commercial distribution of ReactOS, the Open Source Windows compatible operating system, targeted for cloud computing. Thorium Core is an attempt to build a commercial operating system and cloud services platform, based on ReactOS, which is an Open Source implementation of the NT architecture seen in modern versions of Windows. I couldn’t find anything at the Thorium Core site to explain the name, so I assume the brains behind it wanted to play off ReactOS and reaction, as in nuclear reaction. That’s obvious enough. It also speaks to the sheer coolness of the word thorium over uranium, though Uranium Core doesn’t sound that bad to me. Maybe the relative unfamiliarity of thorium makes its use for an operating system less ambiguous. If you follow the open source world, you know that groups of hackers will get together to do whatever can be done, however unlikely. Whether a thing should be

Nuclear Pros and Cons As Winter Returns

John Kemp, a Reuters market analyst, offers a negative view of nuclear energy. There's nothing in it that we haven't heard before, but it's interesting (I suppose) to hear the same arguments percolating as though they are new insights: But the promise of safe, clean and reasonably priced nuclear power seems as far away now as it was 60 years ago. We are still waiting for the safe, cheap and reliable reactor designs that were promised in 1956. Well, after watching a chemical spill send Charleston back to the 19th century - and beyond, since it could use the river then - I'd say safe and reliable is in the devil's eye. As for cheap: In the United States, the economics of nuclear power have been fatally disrupted by cheap gas, and in Western Europe as a result of cheap coal. This bit verges on the dishonest, especially the notion about coal - Kemp needed something to balance natural gas at home, but really? Coal? Eastern Europe in particular choked on coal in

A Baby Step for Small Reactors in Indiana

One of the benefits of small reactors is that they will (in all likelihood) cost less than full scale reactors. The admittedly enormous price of a new plant can be offset by their relatively low running costs, so new ones can be built – as in Georgia and South Carolina – but small reactors can be envisioned in places and by utilities that have shied away from nuclear energy due to cost – and maybe also a sense of overkill in less populous areas. At least, that’s a thought to turn over, but there hasn’t been that much evidence of it even as small reactors enter their prototyping and licensing phases. Until now : Indiana hasn't tried to build a nuclear power plant since two efforts fizzled in the 1980s over high costs, nearly bankrupting one of the companies in the process. But an influential state senator says it's time to encourage nuclear power again and has introduced a bill that would provide financial incentives to utilities to build nuclear plants. As a

No Nuclear Pork at the Trough

The New York Times takes a look at the, well, pork in the omnibus budget bill being fast tracked through Congress. (This legislation will set budget priorities and fund government operations through October, the end of fiscal year 2014.) Read the whole thing , of course, but here’s the relevant part for us, which kicks off the article: A cryptic reference turns up on Page 399 of a six-inch-thick piece of legislation that congressional appropriators unveiled Monday night, calling for an extra $155 million worth of financing for the Department of Energy to promote its nuclear projects. This is the same program — helping for-profit companies build a new generation of small nuclear reactors — that has been called a boondoggle by some spending watchdog groups. But lawmakers, including Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, pressed by industry lobbyists, opted to increase the program’s budget by 21 percent above the Obama administration’s request. “I’m very pleas

Germany’s Nuclear Fiasco and the Courts

Germany hasn’t done itself any favors by deciding to shut down its nuclear energy industry. It’s had to resort to coal , wrecked its climate change goals and tried to jumpstart renewables as a replacement way too early in their evolution. Other than that, though, spetzel ice cream, right ? The forced closure of RWE's Biblis nuclear power plant after the Fukushima accident was unlawful, the German Supreme Administrative Court has ruled. The utility is now likely to sue for considerable damages. This has a quality somewhat similar to the shutdown of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository in this country – similarly precipitous, largely political in nature and, ultimately, inspiring lawsuits that prevail over the government actions. There are differences, too. Yucca Mountain is inscribed as the repository in the Nuclear Waste Act, so closing it runs afoul of a federal law. In Germany, the laws of which I know next to nothing, the situation is different: Efforts t

The Nuclear Systems Training Program at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station

One of our colleagues, NEI's John Keeley, is spending most of the month of January in a classroom at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station attending a training course on nuclear power plant systems. Late last night, he filed this video report from Arizona: Many of our readers will recall that John accompanied a delegation of Chief Nuclear Officers on their historic visit to Japan last year to tour Fukushima Daiichi . We'll have additional updates from John throughout the month about his progress.

Industry Eager for Renewal of U.S.-Taiwan Nuclear Cooperation Pact

Richard Myers The following post was submitted by Richard Myers, NEI’s vice president of policy development, planning and supplier programs. It addresses the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan submitted to Congress for review on Jan. 7. The agreement was signed by the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office. The agreement will be reviewed by Congress for 90 days of continuous session before entering into force.  The U.S. nuclear energy industry thanks the Obama Administration for concluding negotiation of an agreement to continue nuclear energy cooperation between the United States and Taiwan. The industry is eager for the renewal of the agreement for cooperation with this longstanding strategic partner. U.S. exports of nuclear technology, equipment and services to Taiwan support thousands of U.S. jobs. Two General Electric nuclear energy facilities are under construction in Taiwan at Lungmen, and other U.S. compa

Nuclear Fleet Shrugs Off the Polar Vortex Like a Comfy Old Coat

This really may seem kind of a nothing from a nuclear energy standpoint, but it’s not. It got cold – really, really cold – in much of the United States this week. Several sections of the electricity grid got pretty close to meeting their winter demand records , and some facilities – non-nuclear facilities – got knocked out by the cold. In fact, nuclear energy became the primary provider of electricity in New England, as natural gas choked up. Actually, the total impact, while good for nuclear, wasn’t all it could be : The decrease in natural gas electricity generation forced regional grid administrator ISO New England to call on costlier and dirtier coal and oil plants to make up the difference. Oil? That’s awful. Let’s be thankful this event didn’t go on for a week or more. At least, ISO used this as a teaching moment on the value of energy diversity: ISO had warned the region about the increasing dependence on natural gas as both electricity generator and home heati

“A dependable and clean energy”–India PM on Nuclear Energy

In our year end wrap up, we more-or-less ignored international doings to stick with the domestic industry. That makes sense given NEI’s interests, but it does undersell the larger context of nuclear energy’s value. We can argue about the costs of building new facilities or the impact of natural gas all we want – and they’re important issues – but for much of the rest of the world, such as India, the reaction is a big “meh.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday strongly advocated nuclear power as a 'viable and clean option' for emerging India's growing energy needs. Addressing a gathering at Jassaur Kheri village of Jhajjar district after laying foundation stones of four projects, including Global Centre for Nuclear Energy and Nation Cancer Institute, Singh said the country was aiming to generate more than 27,000 MW of nuclear power in the next 10 years. The juxtaposition of nuclear energy and cancer is awkward, but both centers are certainly excellent undert

The Rest of The Best Nuclear Energy News of 2013

Well, you know, not all the rest, but a few more items. This could go on all day: 1. Small Reactors – In December, The Department of Energy selected NuScale Power as the winner of up to $226 million in funding support for a cost-shared public-private partnership to develop innovative small reactor technology. The award will be disbursed over five years and will help the company design, certify and achieve commercial operation of its 45-megawatt NuScale Power Module small reactor design by 2025. DOE’s selection criteria for this award focused on reactor technologies that have unique and innovative safety features to mitigate the consequences of severe natural events similar to those at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. NuScale’s press statement noted that its design’s “unique and proprietary break-through technology” using natural forces of gravity, convection and conduction will allow “safe and simpler operations and safe shutdown.” DOE’s first award in 2012 focused on small reactor de