Monthly Archives: December 2010

External costs of energy technologies, part 3

by Art Wharton

Can renewables rescue us?

Part 2 of this article, which appeared here on December 29, made the point (in part) that the nuclear power industry sequesters its nuclear “waste,” while other power producing industries do not. This capturing of waste products matters when calculating the external costs of energy technologies.

Photovoltaic cell

Photovoltaic (solar) cells produce wastes not accounted for in its conventional cost calculations due to its comparatively high demand for steel, glass, cement, and sometimes even aluminum. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal contained in many solar cells, which presents health hazards to humans, as well.

ANS Position Statement 63 points out:

While some energy technologies may appear to have smaller environmental impacts than others, their external costs may be significant when the complete life cycle costs are taken into account. Particularly, an energy source that is inherently intermittent will require, for applications demanding reliable performance, either a backup energy supply or an energy storage facility, whose external costs are not negligible.

Since the sun doesn’t shine 24/7, and even if you wanted to cover a land mass equal to the size of West Virginia with solar panels to replace an estimated 768 billion kilowatt hours of annual nuclear energy output in the United States, you would incur external costs through load-following technologies such as methane-burning power plants, or energy storage facilities such as battery banks, flywheels, pumped hydro, compressed air, or even one large-scale storage solution that I recently became interested in that’s being developed with Charles Forsberg, an ANS Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wind power is an intermittent source, too. Both solar and wind have unimpressive power densities compared with other sources of energy that speak to environmental impact.

We’re not asking to dominate, we’re asking for balance

Nuclear energy is the only source of energy that has been obligated to account for all the costs to ensure that it is safe and secure, including waste management and disposal, into the cost of electricity. Even with this stacked deck, nuclear energy has remained competitive and profitable, with a phenomenal safety record. The physical density of nuclear energy enables solutions to these questions: How do we ensure that our technology does not harm society? How do we ensure that we are providing the maximum benefit to society?

When I took the oath of the engineer and began my career, I pledged an obligation to serve humanity and make the best of Earth’s precious wealth through my skill and knowledge. Nuclear energy holds that potential to benefit society through its energy density. Not only are we able to contain our waste because the volume is controllable, but we can ensure that we do not contribute to pollution.

Nuclear energy is large-scale baseload energy. Nuclear energy is demonstrably safe, even though it utilizes potentially harmful material. Men and women have dedicated careers and lives to gaining knowledge and skill in how to safely implement nuclear technology to the benefit of society, and when national energy policy decisions are being made, credit is due to those who made it so. At the end of the day, there is no denying it: We need nuclear energy.

(Part 1 of this three-part article appeared on the ANS Nuclear Cafe on December 28 and is available here. Part 2 appeared on December 29 and is available here. )

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The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC.

Wharton

Art Wharton is a senior project engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in the Nuclear Power Plants product line. He is a member of the ANS Planning committee, the Operations and Power Division Program committee,  is a Pittsburgh Local Section past chair, and is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

External costs of energy technologies, part 2

by Art Wharton

Where does waste = external costs?

Dry cask storage area (Photo: NRC)

Part 1 of this article, which appeared here on December 28, made the point that the nuclear power industry sequesters its nuclear “waste.” The same statement of high standard cannot be said for applications of combustion, whether it be from coal, petroleum products, or methane (ingeniously marketed as natural gas). This is where external costs come into play. External costs can come in many forms, including from public health impacts, environmental impacts, and reductions in people’s quality of life. As I’ve been writing this blog post, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper has been in the middle of publishing an eight-part series of articles titled “Mapping Mortality,” based on a year-long investigation. The articles describe the many external costs of the coal plants lining the Ohio River valley in western Pennsylvania.

Just as nuclear engineers can express their disappointment over what may be the final chapter in the 28-year history of the Yucca Mountain repository project, there is similar disappointment by others over the fate of Little Blue Lake, which was originally advertised decades ago by Penn Power as eventually becoming a recreation area with beauty matching the rest of western Pennsylvania’s picturesque landscape. Thirty-five years later, Little Blue Lake garners descriptions such as “moonscape,” which highlights its desolate wasteland feel. It currently contains 100 million tons of fly ash and calcium sulfate—the waste from coal power. The sheer volume of this 1000-acre site that crosses state lines dwarfs the volume of waste from the nuclear energy industry. Where are the boats and skiers that were supposed to enjoy Little Blue Lake? After all, it’s just ash, right? I use ashes in my compost for my home garden.

Fly ash is different, however, and a debate exists on whether it contains enough heavy metals such as arsenic and lead to be considered “hazardous waste” under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The environmental groups such as the Sierra Club claim that the ground water is contaminated around the Little Blue Lake site, but the company that maintains the site says that it has met all regulations imposed on it, with an emphasis on safety. Some people will feel as though this exchange of public positions is similar to the back-and-forth that goes on regarding tritium in groundwater around nuclear plants, so this example of one of the largest of 39 coal-ash dump sites in the United States may not be compelling enough for some people. Rather than describing why I’d be willing to drink the water contaminated with tritium that was found to have leaked from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant or anywhere else, I’ll move on and stay on topic.

Spent fuel shipping cask mounted on a railroad car

Non-nuclear industries have the luxury of not having to create indestructible containers in which to dispose of their waste, as does the nuclear power industry. Little Blue Lake is one example, and another clearer example is the smoke stacks at fossil fuel plants and refineries that spew their waste into the atmosphere. Western Pennsylvania is again an excellent example of the effects of this non-containment of waste, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has done a lot of legwork in describing the phenomenon through Mapping Mortality. It only confirms through statistically significant data what we all intuitively know as true: breathing polluted air is bad for us.

There are 32 facilities in Allegheny County (around Pittsburgh, Pa.) alone that the state of Pennyslvania’s Health Department labels as “major sources” of air pollution because annually these facilities emit 10 tons or more of a hazardous air pollutant, or 25 tons of what they define as “criteria pollutants” such as ozone, lead, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen dioxides, and carbon monoxide. Ten tons of hazardous air pollution times 32 qualifying polluters in Allegheny County equals 320 tons of airborne hazardous pollutants, separate from the sludge that the 32 facilities pour into waste sites.

When we consider how beautiful Pittsburgh looks today, versus how obvious the air pollution was in the early 1980s when the southside district was still lined with steel mills, the plainly observable fact that 320 tons per year is less severe than the pollution levels of 30 years ago (when many scrubbing technologies didn’t exist and were not required) indicate that the external costs of utilizing combustion of coal or even the less-polluting methane gas have affected the way our society operates. Clusters of death, respiratory problems, cancer, and other sicknesses related to these technologies’ ability to release massive amounts of waste into the atmosphere don’t enter into the equation on the cost of energy in conventional models. As the EPA adds regulations based on the Clean Air Act, pollutants are reduced, but from a technological standpoint, it’s not reasonable to suggest that they can be reduced to zero, or to some level that could even remotely compete with the nuclear energy industry’s ability to contain its “waste.”

As a reminder of the principle of Conservation of Mass, note that any of that particulate that doesn’t end up in the air just becomes more waste for places like Little Blue Lake. Either way, there are significant external costs to the community.

(Part 3 of this three-part article will appear on December 30, on the ANS Nuclear Cafe. Part 1 appeared on December 28 and is available here.)

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The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC.

Wharton

Art Wharton is a senior project engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in the Nuclear Power Plants product line. He is a member of the ANS Planning committee, the Operations and Power Division Program committee,  is a Pittsburgh Local Section past chair, and is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

External costs of energy technologies, part 1

by Art Wharton

The often-ignored difference maker

There are numerous articles and analyses on the construction, operation, maintenance, and fuel costs of the various forms of energy that demonstrate that nuclear power is competitive with coal power generation. The articles and analyses reveal that nuclear and coal run neck-and-neck for the total cost of energy over the plant lifetimes. Buried among the numerous position statements of the American Nuclear Society is PS63, “External Costs of Energy Technologies,” which addresses an additional cost not often taken into account in the calculations—external costs.

ANS believes that decisions concerning national energy policy should appropriately take external costs into account. That’s how PS63 begins. It is innocuous enough, and it doesn’t provoke too much thought at the surface, because it seems so logical that “you should take all factors into account” when making important decisions.

If, for example, a nuclear engineer took one factor out of reactivity calculations, it could create catastrophic results. The 0.65 percent of neutrons borne delayed in uranium-235 fission—a comparatively small amount of neutrons—is exactly what makes fission controllable, and thus makes the peaceful applications of nuclear energy possible.

Understanding this logic, and the immense amount of energy that is needed to build baseload electricity capacity, I won’t buy an argument from someone who says, “External costs are only a minor part of the equation.” We’re not talking about nuclear physics anymore, so whatever is meant by “external costs” must be compelling.

It starts with waste

External costs can be directly linked to one of the most popular questions I get from people outside of the nuclear energy industry: “So, what about the waste?” Although the issue of nuclear waste generates the most questions, there are answers. Not everyone agrees on the “right” answers, of course, but people who are educated in nuclear waste disposal/storage techniques agree that one or many of those answers is technologically viable and is safe to the public.

One thing is for sure: The nuclear industry’s answer is assuredly not “the waste goes out of the smoke stack.” Unlike many other forms of energy production, the nuclear industry does have an answer to deal with the waste it generates. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ensures that all licensees under Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations know where their radioactive material is at all times. But not everyone has undying faith in the vigilance of the federal government to enforce laws and regulations—they haven’t met the NRC chairman, Gregory Jaczko—so we’ll talk technology here that is applicable worldwide.

The primary loop in nuclear reactors can be thought of as a closed system. No nuclear material gets added or taken out except during deliberate outages when power reactors are being serviced or refueled. When the partially-used fuel that is commonly referred to as “waste” is taken out of the reactor, it is stored. I put quotes around “waste” because there is a lot of value left in it—in fact, more than 98 percent of it remains usable after a “once-through” cycle.

La Hague

In France, the nuclear industry recycles the used fuel and vitrifies (encases it in glass) the remaining portion that some still insist on calling waste. One room in Areva’s La Hague reprocessing facility, in France, contains the entire French nuclear power fleet’s remaining waste after the used fuel is recycled. If you can gain access to this facility, you can slowly saunter across that room without having to worry about your health due to radiation risk, even though the vitrified waste is stored right under the floor on which you are walking.

Where else is used fuel reprocessed? Belgium, China, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom all reprocess, according to World Nuclear News.

In the United States, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA), as amended in 1987, declares Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the storage facility for the nation’s used fuel—and American electricity ratepayers have been paying for such  storage facility since September 1983. Regardless of what political outcome arises from the drama surrounding the NWPA or your opinion on how Yucca Mountain should be used, the nuclear energy industry is dedicated worldwide to ensuring that the public is not exposed to the used fuel that we call “waste.”

[Aside: When I’m in a particularly flippant mood and not in a situation where I represent any company or organization in a formal manner, I often reply to the “What about nuclear waste?” question with, “Why don’t you call your representative and senators? They’ve had you paying for that solution since 1983.” Through this provocation is how I often get the attention of the audience to address politics vs. technically feasible solutions. End Aside.]

Cohen

If you want to talk about mining operations, not only do we see a high death/accident rate among coal miners, but a paper written by legendary Dr. Bernard Cohen, Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that uranium mining operations actually SAVE lives by taking that uranium out of the earth and controlling it in industrial facilities, thus reducing the overall population’s exposure to radon gas.

(Part 2 of this three-part article will appear tomorrow, December 29, on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.)

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The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of Westinghouse Electric Company LLC.

Wharton

Art Wharton is a senior project engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in the Nuclear Power Plants product line. He is a member of the ANS Planning committee, the Operations and Power Division Program committee,  is a Pittsburgh Local Section past chair, and is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Looking backward, looking forward

The View from Vermont

By Meredith Angwin

It’s an odd time now, between the old year and the new. A time to look backward and assess, and a time to look forward and plan. That’s why the pagan god of January was Janus, who looks forward and backward at the same time. In honor of Janus, I’ll do the same.

Looking backward

On January 1, 2010, I started blogging at Yes Vermont Yankee. I was already in the Coalition for Energy Solutions and we were analyzing a report from the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) on replacing the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

But mostly, I was writing long e-mails to my friends and short letters to the editor. It didn’t seem like enough.

It wasn’t. About two weeks after I started blogging, a tritium leak was found at Vermont Yankee. Opponents were exuberant because “Vermont Yankee had lied about tritium.” They saw an inaccurate statement about underground pipes as a big stick, and they used it.

Within a short time, blogging wouldn’t seem like enough, either.

Crisis and allies

The wonderful thing about crisis is that your allies will also come forward. In this case, there were three groups that made further progress possible.

The first is the American Nuclear Society, which started its Vermont Pilot Project, with Howard Shaffer as liaison. ANS has knowledge and members. They shared their knowledge with us, and ANS has provided lists of experts when we need support. ANS has also provided phone coaching on media relations. It’s all been low cost and low key, but we have allies now.

The second group was friends who introduced me to John McClaughry of  Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market think tank in Vermont. McClaughry is a well-respected former Vermont state senator. He is also a nuclear engineer. We hit it off immediately, and the Energy Education Project was born. Through this project, we have memberships, raise money for outside speakers on energy issues, and even print a few flyers without dipping into our own personal pockets. It has made a huge difference.

The third group was Areva and its outreach to bloggers. When Areva invited me to see the recycling facilities in France, it was a huge boost to my morale. Not only did I see fuel recycling with my own eyes, but I met fellow pro-nuclear bloggers. We chatted on long train trips and over excellent meals. It was the perfect way to make friends. Once again, I knew I was not alone.

Looking forward

The Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute and the Vermont Pilot Project of ANS  are changing the dialog about energy in Vermont. We are making support for nuclear energy acceptable!

Some recent and near-term events include:

  • I have been interviewed on a radio show that is usually anti-nuclear, Equal Time Radio.
  • Howard Shaffer and I have debated the VPIRG “clean energy” guru and an anti-VY senator on Public Access TV.
  • My blog and the ANS blog were the first to feature Dr. Robert Hargraves’ six-minute cartoon:  Vermont Yankee Explained. I have also arranged for the cartoon to appear on local cable TV
  • Howard and I are scheduled for at least six more appearances in January, including local groups, newspapers, and radio talk shows.

One of the reasons we have so many events scheduled is that we actually have a volunteer helping to schedule them! This is a real change for the better.

We’re bringing in the experts, also. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World will come to Vermont on January 20.

Click to Enlarge

Cravens will speak to a Legislative Round Table at noon, and she will also speak at the Sheraton in Burlington in the evening. At the Round Table, her books will be available to legislators free of charge. The Ethan Allen Institute has arranged significant media coverage for her visit.

In February, we will have Dr. Kathryn McCarthy of Idaho National Laboratory coming to Montpelier and Burlington. She will talk about Gen IV reactors. February 17 is the tentative date.

It’s hard to predict the future

There is no doubt that Peter Shumlin is the governor-elect of Vermont. Since he campaigned as “Vermont Yankee’s worst enemy” it didn’t feel like good news. Two recent blog posts have discussed this issue. Howard Shaffer’s blog, Vermont’s Nuclear Debate, continued, was named the “Best of the Blogs” by Nuclear Townhall.

Shumlin

Shaffer’s blog gives an important overview of the situation in Vermont. I also recommend Dan Yurman’s excellent post,  Why Peter Shumlin Will Save Vermont Yankee. As Yurman describes it, if Peter Shumlin saves Vermont Yankee, he will do  so in order to assure that Peter Shumlin is elected again.

We can’t predict the future, but we can influence it. Our job is to show everyone, including Shumlin, that nuclear and Vermont Yankee are best for Vermont. I do predict that we will be communicating our message through the ANS Vermont Pilot Project and the Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project. We will communicate effectively, with the help of our allies. We will continue to change and influence the debate!

Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to all!

Angwin

Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents. Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.

Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Food irradiation, explained

by Joseph Butterweck

Let’s talk about food irradiation, which has made some in the general public fearful simply because a form of the word “radiation” is involved. Irradiation is used to destroy harmful bacteria and parasites that might be inadvertently present in some food matter. Irradiation makes the food safer for human consumption and, at low levels, it extends food’s shelf life and can be used to control insects.

E. coli bacteria

Food irradiation starts with basic physics. Ionizing radiation converts an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions. In food irradiation, this ionization process results in the breakdown of the DNA ( deoxyribonucleic acid) of targeted food pathogens, such as the E. coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria.

This DNA breakdown kills the unwanted pathogens and sterilizes the food product.

Food irradiation is ‘cold pasteurization’

The food irradiation process uses energy from the wavelength of 10–10 to 10–12 meters on the electromagnetic spectrum, a frequency of 1018 to 1020 and energy levels of up to 10 megaelectronvolts. This amount of energy is so low that it has been called cold pasteurization. When we think of sterilization processes, we think commonly of milk pasteurization, which is a heat process. In heat pasteurization, however, the product is brought up to a temperature of more than 161 °F (72 °C).

Radura symbol

Don’t confuse food irradiation with ultra-violet radiation and irradiated milk, which use different processes. All food products treated with ionizing radiation are clearly labeled with the radura, an international symbol that indicates that a food product has been irradiated. The symbol’s graphical details and colors vary may vary from country to country.

Food irradiation kills microbes, but does not affect food products

The food product does not change when treated with food irradiation. While heat sterilization damages both the food and the microbe, cold sterilization selectively targets the microbe, or pathogen. Eliminating the offending microbe while preventing any changes to the food composition is a huge benefit to the food industry and to the consumer.

There are three sources of the energy used in food irradiation:  beta particles, gamma waves, and x-rays. All three sources have the same effect on the pathogens.

Common uses of food irradiation in the United States

In the United States, food irradiation is used as follows:

  • Disinfesting tropical fruit from Hawaii and other tropical agriculture areas (Low dose 0.1 to 1  KiloGray or KGy, a radation unit of measure). Hawaii, like most tropical climates, has vast amounts of agriculture pests. Agricultural interests in the continental United States do not want to risk introducing a pest that would damage domestic agriculture production and the export market so the pest must be eliminated. The only way to get tree-ripened papayas into the continental United States is to treat it with ionizing radiation. Consumers want tasty, tree- ripened fruit from tropical climates, and the average U.S. citizen needs to consume more fresh fruits and vegetable.
  • Pasteurizing meats and fish (Moderate dose 1 to 10 KGy). The cooking of meat kills pathogens. When consumers bring uncooked meat into their homes, the pathogens are hitchhikers. Various E. coli outbreaks in beef hamburger and Salmonella from poultry products make news headlines. Using food irradiation to pasteurize meats and fish, however, can help to eliminate these types of outbreaks. The poultry and beef industry have been very frustrated trying to control some bacteria pathogens. Some strains of E. coli bacteria are very pathogenic and of very low doses (i.e., the number of bacteria), which can result in kidney damage, especially in young children. This pathogen is especially troublesome in Canada and Argentina, where the treatment of beef with ionizing radiation has never been approved. Both of these countries rely on aggressive Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)–like inspections instead of other intervention technology, such as food irradiation.
  • Eliminating food spoilage to increase shelf life (Higher dose over 10 KGy). Spices and other ingredients are contaminated with many kinds of microbes. Most do not cause a problem unless the right microbe gets into the processed food. Spoilage may result in a shortened shelf life. When ingredients are mixed with the commercially prepared food product, the microbes may grow and result in off flavors. The food becomes unacceptable.

Why should nuclear professionals be interested in food irradiation?

  • Healthy habits include eating fresh food, such as tree-ripened fruit. In the United States, more than half of the beef consumed is in the form of hamburger, which can be easily treated with irradiation to kill pathogens.
  • American Nuclear Society members should learn about their cousins involved with food irradiation, which is one of those “other” nuclear technologies.
  • As nuclear professionals, we must promote nuclear technologies that can help to save lives to a public that is not always comfortable with the technologies. Let’s share this information on how to better communicate the benefits of nuclear science.

Did you know? Other types of irradiation

Irradiation has been used to sterilize medical and personal hygiene products for more than 40 years. It is also used in the manufacture of plastic products.

Irradiation is used to sterilize about 40 percent of the single-use sterile medical devices currently manufactured in the United States, including bandages, blood plasma, burn ointments, catheters, eye ointment, hypodermic syringes, orthopedic implants, intravenous administration sets, surgical drapes, sponges, swabs, surgeons’ gloves, procedure packs, trays, and sutures.

Irradiation is also used for microbial reduction or sterilization of many personal hygiene products, such as aerosol saline solutions, baby bottle nipples, baby powder, bulk cotton bales, contact lens cleaning solutions, cosmetic ingredients, bar and liquid soap, detergents, polishes, shampoos, and hair cream.

Food packaging that often is irradiated to eliminate bacteria includes bulk food containers, cream cups and lids, dairy and juice cartons, plastic roll stock, heat shrinkable film, and laminated foil bags. Irradiation is also used on pet treats and various animal foods, including special diets for laboratory test animals. There are hundreds of other products that are irradiated that are not mentioned above.

For more information

For more information, please visit the Food Irradiators Processor Alliance’s Web site at www.fipa.us. FIPA is the commercial arm of the food irradiation industry. You can follow its links to obtain a vast amount of scientific and technical (S&T) information.

Food irradiation S&T has been studied extensive since the 1930s. The U.S. Army led the investigation through the 1960s, and Wikipedia has an excellent overview of food irradiation available here.

ANS offers A Day with the Atom, by Alan Waltar, which is available online. Waltar’s column traces the everyday uses of nuclear science and technology.

Bottom Line

Food irradiation can save lives. Why are food irradiation and nuclear technologies not more embraced in the U.S.? What do you think? Please post your comments.

Joseph Butterweck is an ANS member and the director of Environmental Medicine Services for the Aerospace & Environmental Medicine Group in Fresno, Calif.  Dr. Butterweck is a practicing veterinarian and became interested in food irradiation because it is the best option to control our major food pathogens.  He was consultant to General Atomics, both the U.S. and Canadian Governments and the private food industry including Merck & Co.  His work also included food safety in Argentina and Eastern Europe.  He is a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


American Nuclear Society 2011-2012 scholarships available

American Nuclear Society scholarship applications for the 2011-2012 academic year are now online! Since ANS was established in 1954, it has promoted the awareness and understanding of nuclear science and technology (NS&T). To further that mission, ANS administers scholarships each year that support the development and education of those who will research and implement future applications of NS&T.

More than 20 scholarships named after pioneers and leaders in NS&T are awarded each year by ANS, along with some general scholarships,to students with outstanding academic credentials. Special scholarships are also available to students in economic need.

Some scholarships are available for students entering their sophomore year and beyond in college, while others are for incoming freshmen.

The deadline for submitting scholarship applications is February 1, 2011 (April 1 for the Incoming Freshman Scholarship). Scholarship descriptions, guidelines, and requirements may be found here, and applications are available for downloading here.

PopAtomic Studios holiday fundraiser

It’s not too late to go nuclear for the holidays. PopAtomic Studios, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to arts-integrated outreach in support of nuclear energy, is raising funds to help complete its 501c3 federal tax exemption application. Make a donation to PopAtomic’s cause and receive a nuclear-themed gift, for you or to give to a family member or friend.

Click here to make a donation to PopAtomic’s holiday fund-raising effort.

Check out the cool gifts that are offered for your donation, including signed Thorium posters. Get the perfect gift for your favorite nuke, along with the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a cause that you care about!

Every donation will be rewarded with original artwork created by PopAtomic:

  • Donations of $1-$49 receive a signed holiday post card from the PopAtomic team.
  • Donations of $50-$100 receive a hand screen-printed PopAtomic t-shirt.
  • Donations of $101-$500 receive a signed, framed “Uranium: Not Just Another Rock” or “Thorium: The Smart Rock” poster.
  • Donations of $501 and up receive an original Chicago Pile-1 graphite sculpture.

Please spread the word about PopAtomic’s holiday fundraiser to friends and colleagues who are looking for the perfect gift for their favorite nuclear worker or supporter. Thank you, and Happy holidays!

32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Canadian Energy Issues.  The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.

This is the first time this leading Canadian energy blog has hosted the Carnival.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, this is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yes Vermont Yankee, Idaho Samizdat, and several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support. Please post a Tweet, a Facebook entry, or a link on your Web site or blog to support the carnival.

Thank  you.

Celebrate National Nuclear Science Week!

Click here for the National Nuclear Science Week flyer.

Green Business Blog Carnival 27

The 27th Carnival of Green Business blogs is up at Calfinder’s Residential Solar Blog! This week’s carnival is a roundup of featured content highlighting news, opinions, and insights on issues of interest to the green business community.

This week’s blog carnival includes Ulrich Decher’s entry—Fitting wind onto the electricity grid—about  the pros and cons associated with placing wind generation on the grid. He concludes that the reasons for having windmills on the grid are not very convincing when looking at both the advantages and the disadvantages.

Please visit the Blog Carnival to see the innovative coverage of sustainable business topics. If you have a blog that covers issues of interest to green businesses and would like to submit an article to the Carnival, please visit the Green Business Blog Carnival submission page. If you are interested in hosting a Green Business Blog Carnival, visit the Green Business Blog Carnival Calendar at sustainablog.

Thank you.

Exelon to close Oyster Creek early

Deal with New Jersey will let it operate for 10 more years without having to build cooling towers

By Dan Yurman

No one is happy with the decision by Exelon (NYSE:EXC) to close its 615-MW boiling water reactor at Oyster Creek in New Jersey. The company made the announcement on December 8 that it would shut down the plant in 2019, just halfway into its 20-year operating license issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2009. The company said in a statement that a “unique set of economic conditions and changing environmental regulations” make ending operations in 2019 “the best option.”

The economic challenges faced by the small reactor are 1) the lower demand for electricity brought on by the deep and seemingly intractable recession and 2) the costly maintenance. The environmental challenge is the one that has created the most controversy. At the state level, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had decided to push the requirement that the reactor be told to build expensive cooling towers as a condition of its water pollution control permit.

At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a rule under Section 316 of the Clean Water Act to require power plants to reduce their thermal discharges into the nation’s waterways. Draft regulations are expected in early 2011.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Perhaps the most dramatic item in the news is that just prior to Exelon’s announcement, Gov. Christie told a group of editors at a media roundtable that he thought the company was bluffing over the cooling towers issue. For more than a year, Exelon has been telling the state of New Jersey that it would be too expensive to build the cooling towers. The company said that if the state moved ahead with the requirement, it would close the plant. According to various estimates, the cooling towers could cost between $200 million-$800 million.

Reactions swift to reactor closing

In Washington, Rep. Fred Upton (R.,Mich.) issued a statement in which he called the news that Oyster Creek was closing early “a wake-up call that rampant regulations are shutting down power plants and costing jobs.”

“Oyster Creek is a foreboding sign of what awaits the nuclear power industry if federal and state regulators continue to promulgate rules and regulations with no cost-benefit analysis. We cannot allow bureaucrats to regulate the nuclear energy sector out of business—nuclear is a reliable, inexpensive, and emissions-free source of power. It is the citizens of New Jersey who will pay the price, as Oyster Creek powers 600 000 homes and employs 700 folks,” Upton said.

Upton, who will chair a House Committee that oversees the NRC, told the New York Times that the news the reactor will close is “the first domino” of what could be a slew of forced nuclear and coal plant closings. Upton’s comment is a reference to the Cold War “domino theory” of nations that might fall to communist aggression.

MorningStar, an investment advisory and financial news wire service, said that there might be more to the economics of the plant closing than just the cost of cooling towers. In a December 9 message to subscribers, the wire service called Oyster Creek the “lowest margin plant” for Exelon, and said that it had been plagued by “relatively high operating costs.”

Chris Crane, Exelon chief executive officer, told the New York Times on December 8 that if maintenance expenses run up too quickly, the firm might close the reactor even earlier than 2019. Coincidentally, on December 10, one of the plant’s two main transformers—a $16-million unit—failed and now requires a replacement. In addition, since 2009, Exelon has spent $13 million cleaning up leaks of radioactive tritium from underground pipes.

MorningStar also said that the closing of Oyster Creek could have an upside for other power generators in the region. Removing 6 percent-8 percent of the electricity generation capacity in the New York-Philadelphia region would boost the value of the remaining plants owned by Public Service Enterprise Group (NYSE:PEG), among others. The plants includes 2300 MW at the two-unit Salem nuclear plant and the 1160-MW Hope Creek plant, both located in southwest New Jersey on the banks of the Delaware River.

Exelon’s Eddystone Generating Station, just across the Delaware River from the reactors in New Jersey, generates power from two coal-fired power units and two more natural gas fuel-powered units. In 2009, Exelon announced that the coal units will be retired by 2012, leaving a combined total of 820 MW of fossil-fueled power that will be more valuable to the region once Oyster Creek shuts down in 2019.

The NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been trying to close the Oyster Creek reactor for years, was not pleased with the deal that Exelon struck to keep the plant open for another nine years without having to build the cooling towers.

Sierra Club chapter director Jeff Tittel told the Trenton Times on December 8, “Exelon gets to operate the plant for 10 years, then walk away with a pile of cash at the expense of the bay.”

Bob Martin, a New Jersey environmental official, told the Wall Street Journal on December 10 that the agreement with Exelon gives the utility “predictability,” and it saves the state from the delay and expense of protracted litigation. Negotiations took almost a year to complete to seal the deal for early closure as a price for not having to build the cooling towers.

Regardless of when the reactor closes, it will take Exelon at least two years to transition it from an active, operating reactor to a site made ready for decommissioning. It could be at least 10 years before the decontamination and decommissioning process gets underway, but when it does Exelon has $750 million in a decommissioning fund to pay for the work.

It could be even longer before the used nuclear fuel now stored at the reactor site goes anywhere, as the United States has no long-term plan for management of it from any reactor. A Department of Energy Blue Ribbon Commission, which includes Exelon CEO John Rowe as a member, is expected to make draft recommendations for national policy changes in 2011.

Thermal pollution and cost benefits

The EPA won’t release draft regulations under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act until sometime in 2011. Final regulations could be several years away. One of the key areas of contention will be the possible use of cost-benefit analysis to assess the costs of new pollution control technologies for older power plants against the benefits of protecting fish and other aquatic wildlife. In April 2009 ,the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EPA can conduct such an analysis as part of its efforts to regulate power plants that draw water from rivers and then discharge it back to them.

The lawsuit that was the basis for the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling was brought by Riverkeeper, a New York environmental group that has been trying to impose cooling towers on the Indian Point Energy Center, located on the Hudson River in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Riverkeeper wanted to prevent the EPA from using cost-benefit analysis methods to evaluate permit conditions to control thermal pollution. As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, in July 2010 the EPA asked for public comment on the use of cost-benefit analysis in preparing the new Sec. 316 regulations. The EPA still hasn’t conducted the survey.

Indian Point’s cooling tower controversy

Indian Point is owned and operated by Entergy (NYSE:ETR). The 2200 MW of power supplied by the twin reactors are a major source of electricity for the New York metro area. It includes all the electricity used to power the city’s subways that carry 5.1 million riders a week.

On April 2, 2010, the state of New York denied a water quality permit under the Clean Water Act to Indian Point. The state said that the permit was denied because the plant harms certain fish—shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon, which are endangered species—when they are pulled against intake screens for the cooling system that uses 2.5 billion gallons of water a day. The water is returned to the Hudson 20 degrees to 30 degrees warmer. In its letter, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation wrote that because Indian Point is causing “fish mortality,” the plant is “not in compliance.”

The denial of the permit is a potential roadblock to relicensing the two reactors at the Indian Point plant. The NRC requires all state environmental permits to be in place, and the plant in compliance, before it will extend the licenses for the two reactors for another 20 years. The plant licenses expire in 2013 and 2015.

Cost of cooling towers

The state of New York has called for Entergy to build cooling towers and has rejected its plan for better screens on intake pipes. For its part, the utility has said that the cooling towers are too expensive and that it will close the reactors rather than build them. The permit issue is now before an administrative law judge.

Entergy said in a statement that new cooling towers, which would support a closed-loop system, would cost $1 billion and take the plant out of operation for as long as 42 weeks. Permit approvals could take years before the first shovel of dirt was moved to build them.

This is exactly the type of fulcrum for political leverage that environmental groups such as Riverkeeper have sought for years. The group’s objective, which now appears to be reaching its intended conclusion, is to impose regulatory burdens on the plant that make it too expensive to operate, forcing Entergy to shut down the plant rather than pass along the costs to stockholders.

Is this really about fish?

New York Governor Elect Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo won his office in November 2010 with the support of environmental groups because of his stand against relicensing of Indian Point. Cuomo has made a point of courting Riverkeeper and other environmental groups with his aggressive campaign against the reactor.

Cuomo has not answered questions about where replacement power would come from if the reactors would be closed or the trade-offs between saving fish and the additional greenhouse gases that would be released from replacement fossil-fueled power plants.

Alex Matthiessen, president of Riverkeeper, said that the power generated from Indian Point “is replaceable,” but he did not say from what sources. In a more telling comment to the New York Times, he said, “For all we know, this is it—the beginning of the end (of Indian Point).”

Entergy may yet prevail, either as a result of an administrative ruling, or in court, citing evidence that improved fish screens are far more cost effective than a $1-billion set of cooling towers. The Clean Water Act was never intended to be a bludgeon to be used in defense of sturgeon. Stay tuned.

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Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy. He is a contributing reporter at Fuel Cycle Week and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

2011 ANS Student Conference at Georgia Tech

The Georgia Tech Student Section of the American Nuclear Society will host the 2011 ANS Student Conference on April 14-17, 2011, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

The conference is the nation’s premier venue for student professional development in nuclear science and technology. Students working in these disciplines gather with industry professionals to share and exchange research and ideas that are critical to the growth of the industry. The conference is an ideal occasion for students to interact with professionals, hear world-class speakers, network with recruiters, and gain real-world perspectives.

Conference participation by students and professionals has surged in recent years. In fact, the 2010 Student Conference at the University of Michigan had a record-setting 665 attendees. This increasing interest in the conferences provides unique opportunities for industry and academic collaboration and partnership. Integrating the successes of previous conferences with the opportunities available to Georgia Tech, the 2011 conference’s officers plan to take it one step further.

Below is a preview of the 2011 conference:

  • Seminars and workshops – A variety of technical and non-technical sessions focusing on unique topics will be offered throughout the conference.
  • Exhibit fair – The best recruitment and advertising opportunity is the student conference exhibit fair. Interact with more than 500 of the brightest students in the nation.
  • Student research presentations – Students will be showcasing their research through a variety of topic tracks mirroring the ANS divisions.
  • Professional keynote addresses – Talks and presentations from prominent industry professionals and scientists will bring distinct perspectives to the conference.
  • Second-annual public forum on nuclear energy – Expanding on the success of the University of Michigan’s conference, a public town-hall style meeting will be held with a panel of leading industry professionals to answer questions about and encourage the support of the nuclear industry.
  • Nuclear facility tours – Come see the nuclear renaissance at work!  Tours will include the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Technical Training Center, the Vogtle nuclear power plant, and the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility.
  • “Nuclear in the Arts” night – A gallery showing of nuclear-themed art and a special performance of “Manya: A Living History of Marie Curie.”
  • Closing awards ceremony and banquet - Join us on Saturday night for a truly unforgettable experience at the Georgia Aquarium’s Oceans Ballroom.

For more information, visit the ANS Student Conference Web site. Student abstract submission is currently open. Registration will begin in early January.  We look forward to seeing you in April.

The conference committee chairs are:

Cahill

Tim Cahill, General Conference co-chair, is a first-semester graduate student who became interested in nuclear science during his freshman year of high school after participating in a career research project.  Currently, Tim works in Dr. Nolan Hertel’s research group at Georgia Tech, and he would like to get involved in nuclear detection and nonproliferation upon graduation.

Varallo

Amy Varallo, General Conference co-chair, is currently in her fourth undergraduate year at Georgia Tech. Her interest in nuclear engineering was born when she attended a lecture her sophomore year of high school given by Dr. Alan Waltar, about his book Radiation and Modern Life: Fulfilling Marie Curie’s Dream. Upon graduation this spring, she will remain at Georgia Tech for her Master’s degree in Medical Physics. One day she hopes to enter the field of operational nuclear forensics and non-proliferation studies.

Dextraze

Katherine Dextraze, Finance Committee chair,  got involved in nuclear engineering when she enrolled at Georgia Tech. Her interests turned to nuclear medicine when she took the Diagnostic Imaging Physics class. After finishing her undergraduate degree in NRE, she plans to enroll in a Medical Physics program with special interest in nuclear medicine for diagnostic imaging.

Dyke

Brian Dyke, Publicity Committee chair, is a fourth-year undergraduate. Much of his interest in nuclear science can be attributed to growing up in South Carolina, where many of his neighbors worked at the Savannah River Site. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in the power generation side of the nuclear industry.

Ferguson

Briana Ferguson, Web Media chair, became interested in engineering in eighth grade after attending an “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” presentation at Georgia Tech, and was later inspired to focus on nuclear engineering by her calculus professor. After graduation, she aims to work for the NRC.

Tripp Jones, Technical Chair, received his B.S. in Nuclear Engineering at Georgia Tech in 2007, and is a Ph.D. candidate in Medical Physics. His research focuses on applications of gold nanoparticles to radiation-based therapy and imaging, and he is developing a fluorescence-based imaging modality to detect high-Z substances in small animals.  He hopes to find a job doing clinical research in radiation therapy.

Richard Meshell, Transportation chair, became interested in the nuclear field while he was studying physics and engineering at Auburn University. While his interests were mainly in nuclear physics, he also enjoyed the engineering aspects of his studies. He then decided to finish out his undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech in nuclear engineering. After graduation, Richard plans to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D in nuclear engineering.

Neesen

Christina Neesen, Social Committee chair, has been interested in nuclear science since 8th grade when her class did a project on the pros and cons of nuclear power. After she gets her undergraduate degree, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in public policy and work with law makers to help increase the presence of nuclear power in the United States.

Alexandria Stephenson, Hospitality chair, was enticed by nuclear engineering after electing to take a physics class—and immediately switched out of her management major. Alexandria still has no idea what she wants to do with her life but is sure she’ll be happy as long as it involves the nuclear industry.

Clean Energy Standard gains traction at Nuclear Energy Summit

by Jim Hopf

In a previous post on the ANS Nuclear Cafe, I discussed how a Clean Energy Standard (CES) that included nuclear energy would be more effective (as well as more fair) than a portfolio standard that includes only “renewable” energy sources. There have been encouraging signs recently that this CES concept is gaining traction in Washington.

Chu

On December 7, Third Way and the Idaho National Laboratory organized a high-profile “nuclear energy summit” in Washington, D.C.  Energy Secretary Steven Chu, White House Energy Czar Carol Browner, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Gregory Jaczko, Senators George Voinovich (R., Ohio) and Thomas Carper (D., Del.), and the chief executive officers of several large nuclear utilities were among the summit participants. At this meeting, Chu announced the Obama administration’s support for a CES that includes nuclear energy as an alternative to a portfolio standard that includes only “renewables.” Department of Energy deputies were instructed to investigate the concept of a CES more thoroughly, and report back in a few months.

With new Congress, a new energy perspective

Earlier this year, the dynamic was that a CES might be offered instead of a renewables-only standard in order to attract a few moderate Republicans in the Senate in support of the cap-and-trade law, or some other comprehensive energy policy.  U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) and others maintained hope that a renewables-only standard could still be passed, perhaps in the lame duck session of Congress. With several high-profile non-energy issues dominating the agenda for the lame duck session, any type of portfolio standard policy has a meager chance of passing  before the new Congress begins next year.

Upton

With the new Republican House, there is small chance that a renewables-only standard will pass in the new Congress. A broader CES that includes nuclear—and perhaps coal with sequestration—will have much better prospects, especially given that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.), the new chair of the House Energy committee, is a strong nuclear supporter.

A CES should also do well in the new U.S. Senate, with several moderate senators in support, including Sens. Carper, Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).  Now that the Obama administration has gone on record in support of a CES, it is likely that the new Congress will pursue it in lieu of a renewables-only standard. Following Chu’s announcement during the nuclear energy summit, Graham pledged to revive his effort to pass a CES.

The main risk now is that no standard will pass due to the influence of the Tea Party caucus and other conservatives who are strongly focused on reducing government spending and regulation. They may oppose the CES over concerns that it will raise electricity prices. Yet, many argue that a CES would give utilities clarity that allows them to make longer-term investments that hold costs down, reduce price volatility, and improve overall energy security.

Nuclear advocates hope that the leadership of Upton and Graham, along with the support of the administration and moderates in both parties, will lead to passage of a CES that includes nuclear energy. One argument for action is that the American public does want Congress to do something in the area of energy, in order to address energy security, if not global warming.

“25 by 25, 50 by 50”

At the nuclear energy summit, Chu proposed a standard that would require “clean” sources to generate 25 percent of our electricity by 2025, and 50 percent of our electricity by 2050. Presumably, such a standard would include new nuclear energy facilities, but not existing ones, since existing nuclear energy already provides about 20 percent of the electricity in the United States.

If such a standard were passed, it would have a profound effect on nuclear, leading to the deployment of large numbers of new plants and a significantly increased share of total generation. Under a policy where nuclear can compete with renewable sources on a level playing field, nuclear should do quite well and capture a large fraction of the non-emitting market share.

Summit spotlights Small Modular Reactors

Nuclear energy summit participants also devoted significant attention to Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). One idea that was discussed would be to initially deploy some SMRs on a federal nuclear site, such as the DOE’s Savannah River Site, in South Carolina. A private operator would run the SMRs.

Under this scenario, the federal government would execute a long-term power purchase agreement with the SMR operator in lieu of offering loan guarantees. Browner mentioned that government policy on power purchase agreements requires that the entire cost of the power over the entire (multi-year/decade) agreement period be “scored” against the government budget in the single, initial year that the agreement is signed. This would be a significant impediment for any such approach, especially during times of high deficits, when many are eager to control government spending.

Bureaucratic policies impede new nuclear construction

Other low-profile bureaucratic-level policies that have hampered new nuclear construction involve the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In addition to taking a very long time to approve loan guarantees, the OMB has required very high up-front payments to cover the loan guarantee’s “credit subsidy cost” for some reactor projects (most notably, Calvert Cliffs-3). These payments are akin to paying an insurance premium to cover the loan default risk (e.g., mortgage insurance). Of note is the fact that these payments are NOT required for renewable projects, regardless of their default risk.

Licensing time and cost affect new nuclear construction

In addition to issues at the OMB, there is the fact that it is taking several years, and costing hundreds of millions of dollars, just to get regulatory approval to build new reactors. For follow-on reactor projects that are virtually a carbon copy of a “reference” reactor project that has gone through the entire approval process, this may be excessive.

Legislation to address some of these bureaucratic obstacles may be something that a more conservative Congress could pursue, in lieu of—or perhaps in addition to—a CES. Laws, or agency direction, could be put in place to reduce, or perhaps eliminate, the large credit subsidy fees placed on reactor projects, thus making nuclear’s loan terms more in line with those given to renewable energy projects. The overall nuclear loan guarantee volume could be significantly increased. Finally, requirements could be placed on the NRC to expedite the licensing process for follow-on reactor projects that use previously licensed reactor designs.

Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer at EnergySolutions, with 20 years’ experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10 years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Vermont’s nuclear debate, continued

By Howard Shaffer

With Vermont’s governor-elect, Peter Shumlin (D.)—the self-described number one opponent of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant—picking his cabinet and maintaining a high profile, the struggle continues unabated by the plant’s proponents who want to keep it from being shut down.

Vermont Energy and the Climate Action Conference

On Saturday, December 4, Meredith Angwin—with whom I share the enjoyable task of writing these “View from Vermont” columns—and I attended the third Vermont Energy and Climate Action conference, at Lake Morey, Vt. We wore our “VY4VT” pins. At lunch, the person next to me, an opponent of the plant, asked how we liked working for Entergy. We get asked this question a lot. Opponents assume that because we advocate for the plant and nuclear energy, we are being paid to do so. But we don’t work for Entergy and we’re not being paid, by anyone. Perhaps the opponents can’t fathom that someone could be just as passionate a volunteer as they are, but hold the opposite viewpoint. But it is true, and Meredith and I are two examples of it.

Shumlin

During the conference, Gov.-elect Shumlin spoke about his energy plan. The first item he mentioned was shutting down the Vermont Yankee plant, which drew an ovation from the audience. The local newspaper on its Sunday edition’s front page had an article on the conference, but in its Tuesday editorial the newspaper characterized Shumlin as “preaching to the choir,” with his “green energy evangelism.”

All the rest of the conference was about conserving energy and being more efficient. Much is being done in this regard through town and regional committees of volunteers. Several committees reported during the conference about street light surveys that have ultimately resulted in local governments removing excess lights and converting the rest to LEDs. In addition, much money has been saved by weatherizing old municipal buildings.

Sen. Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) called in to the conference and said that if the rest of the country were half as successful in the next 10 years as Vermont has been in trimming electric power use, then building 190 medium-sized coal plants across the United States would not be needed.

The Senator never mentioned nuclear energy. Afterward, when I pointed this out in an e-mail to a reporter of the local newspaper, she called me back a day later, after the editorial about the state’s energy and the conference had already appeared on Tuesday. I closed our cordial call by saying that Vermont Yankee opponents want to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Community Access TV debate

A few days before the conference was held, Meredith and I were in a recorded debate on December 1 for a Community Access TV (CATV) program called “Walking Through Life.”

State Senator Dick McCormack (D.), along with Jim Moore of Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), represented the opposition to Vermont Yankee. McCormack at one time had been on the VPIRG board, so it was no surprise during the debate to hear him push the group’s talking point: “A deal is a deal—40 years.” He added that the plant must make its case to operate beyond 40 years. The question is, make the case to whom? This question is bound to come up in the state’s new legislature.

Afterward, Meredith and I were invited back to appear on more CATV shows, because the network is anxious to get more of our viewpoint. That’s because CATV has had many anti-VY speakers appear, but not so many of us from the pro side of the argument.

As I see it

Vermont Yankee

Vermonters say that they live in the “greenest state in the union.” The state gets over half of its electric energy from Hydro Quebec and in-state renewables, and a third from Vermont Yankee. Shutting down VY makes no sense from a climate change perspective.

It has never been about that, however. The New England Coalition, originally The New England Coalition Against Nuclear Pollution, was founded to intervene in Vermont Yankee’s original licensing, and it has continued on to this day. It has also intervened in proceedings for other plants in the region. As new issues involving nuclear plants have arisen, it has seized upon them. It’s all about the great international Greenpeace campaign against nuclear energy. Greenpeace believes that the world must do away with nuclear weapons—and do away with nuclear energy to prevent weapons.

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 34 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS commitees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in Nuclear Public Outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermot Pilot Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


31st Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs

This is the weekly Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers with contributions from the leading pro-nuclear blogs in North America.

The blog posts here are selected by the bloggers themselves as the best posts for the past week.

If you are looking for the voice of the nuclear renaissance, you will find it here.

Nuclear Summit draws a high-level crowd

We have two reports of the meeting held in Washington, D.C., last week on the future of the nuclear renaissance in the United States. There has been some doubt of late, with suggestions that it is slipping back into the dark ages.

At Atomic Insights, Rod Adams says it ain’t so Joe. He writes that it was encouraging to hear a group of serious and committed people talking candidly about the potential for atomic energy to contribute substantially to a cleaner and more secure energy production system and that does not sacrifice the reliability that Americans assume almost as a birthright.

A number of the speakers were quite clear in their judgment that wind and solar energy were not adequate replacements for fossil fuel. Overcoming obstacles in the path of successfully building new nuclear power plants, however, is still going to require steady, sustained effort

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman writes that one would think that such a gathering would be catnip for the media. He point outs, however, that the New York Times reported, in one of its blogs, that the meeting was long on high-level talk about the obvious and short on innovative solutions . . . “there were few truly new ideas or even new laments.”

In a telephone interview published at Idaho Samizdat, John Grossenbacher, director of the Idaho National Laboratory, who facilitated discussions during the summit, praised Energy Secretary Chu for focusing on three key areas.

  • Developing public/private partnerships to build reactors
  • Finding ways to assure financing and certainty in the marketplace for utilities and investors
  • Rebuilding America’s nuclear energy infrastructure to manufacture components

Grossenbacher

Grossenbacher noted, “If you just let market forces drive energy policy, you will get natural gas plants being built as long as it is plentiful and cheap, but it may not always be that way.”

The Idaho lab co-sponsored the event with Third Way, a DC-based think tank.

Solar vs. nuclear

At Next Big Future, Brain Wang digs into levelized costs per kilowatt for solar, wind, nuclear, and fossil energy. He turns over piles of energy statistics that show that nuclear as a non-carbon energy source is very cost effective.

“My summation of energy price comparison information is from the OECD, DOE, and California Energy, “ Wang noted.

For nuclear, $43-54 /MWH for the main Asian (China and South Korea) countries that are building most of the new reactors (10 percent discount rate) and $68/MWH for Russia.

New nuclear build in South Korea and China and Russia is very cheap. That is where most of the reactors (nuclear and other new power) will be built. China will also build almost twice as much hydro from 2010-2020 (almost 200 GWe of hydro and a lot of coal).

IAEA fuel bank

Warren Buffett

At Cool Hand Nuke we learn that America’s best known philanthropist billionaire, Warren Buffett, (right) has given $50 million to launch the IAEA fuel bank. It will help nations peacefully develop nuclear energy

The fuel bank will be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Buffett told the NY Times that he made the contribution because “the spread of nuclear weapons of incredible destructive capability is the No. 1 problem facing mankind.”

Buffett made the $50-million commitment in September 2006, contingent on the IAEA receiving an additional $100 million in funding to jump-start the fuel bank, a condition that was met in 2009 when Kuwait donated $10 million to put the total over the goal.

Other backers of the fuel bank include the United.States, the European Union, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates. Total funding for the fuel bank is now at $157 million, enough to buy the first fuel load for a new nuclear reactor, about 60-80 tons of uranium.

Nonproliferation experts say that the implementation of a fuel bank creates opportunities for nations to develop nuclear energy without the threat of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear export controls mired in red tape

Kadak (Photo: Donna Coveney)

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Andrew Kadak, a nuclear energy expert and MIT-based scientist, writes that having recently attended a Pillsbury and Nuclear Energy Institute seminar on “Export Controls for the Nuclear Renaissance,” it became clear to him why the United States is losing its leadership position in nuclear energy:  The bureaucracy is winning the war over effectiveness of policy and nonproliferation.

It is a familiar story in Washington, but Kadak has some ideas on how to fix things. Check it out.

Shumlin’s inconsistent energy policy

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin writes that in terms of renewables, Governor-elect Shumlin loves geothermal heating and doesn’t like biomass.  Does he know that geothermal heating is really earth-based heat pump heating? In other words, geothermal heating is electrical heating, the kind of heat that depends on Vermont Yankee.

Wind farm footprints

Speaking of inconsistencies, Gail Marcus writes at Nuke Power Talk that “talk” about the footprint of wind farms misses important measures of access roads, transmission lines, and other mechanisms and facilities that make them work.

Adjusting for the generation per acre makes nuclear reactors much more land efficient—up to about a factor of 10 or more, depending on which end of the stated range is used for each.

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