Monthly Archives: April 2011

Was Fukushima Rated Correctly on INES?

By Jeff Merrifield

On April 12, one month after the initiation of the tragedy at the Fukushima Daiichi I nuclear power plant, the Japanese government labeled the event a level seven accident—the most severe rating on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). This announcement heightened international concerns about the severity of the event and the potential for circumstances to worsen. This posting is intended to provide some clarification about these events in historical context.

Overview of INES system

In 1989, a group of nuclear safety experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency developed the seven-point INES system to classify the seriousness of nuclear events. Each step on the scale is designed to represent an event 10 times more severe than the previous step. INES has been adopted by the nuclear regulatory authorities of over 60 countries as a communication tool to ensure public safety during a nuclear event.

Using this scale, the Three Mile Island accident was identified as a level five and the Chernobyl accident was identified as a level seven. The seven levels on the INES are described below:

Events at Fukushima

On March 11, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake near the island of Honshu triggered a 46-foot-tall (14 meter) tsunami, which hit the Fukushima Daiichi I plant some 15 minutes later. The initial reports indicate the earthquake caused a loss of offsite power, triggering the startup of the emergency generators at the six-unit site. It appears that backup emergency systems were operating as intended at the time the tsunami occurred.

Unfortunately, the subsequent tsunami disabled the backup diesel generators and flooded the electrical systems at the site, causing the site to enter a station blackout. Emergency batteries powered the systems for eight hours. When the batteries failed, however, it caused the subsequent loss of cooling, triggering a series of explosions, partial meltdowns at the site, and a variety of problems at all six units.

On March 13, the day after the hydrogen explosion at unit 1, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency made an official statement that the event at unit 1 had reached a level four on the INES. The following day, after the hydrogen explosion at unit 3, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) argued the event should be rated a level five or six on the INES.

On March 18, Japanese authorities announced that the events at units 1, 2, and 3 were being categorized as INES level five accidents and the event at unit 4 would be categorized as a level three incident.

Before April 1, airborne releases of radioactive materials had already begun, individuals within 20 kilometers of the site had been evacuated, and health authorities had prevented the consumption of foods such as milk and spinach that were contaminated with radiation. In addition, on April 2, water from unit 2 was seen flowing into the sea and higher levels of radiation were being identified in seawater near the site.

Impact of the level seven rating

The Japanese government’s decision to rate the Fukushima incident as an INES level seven accident on April 12 raised questions about whether the incident was getting worse and if radiation dangers were equivalent to those of the Chernobyl accident. The chain of events leading up to April 12 indicates a higher INES score should have been issued a week or two sooner. The delayed rating announcement, which heightened concerns about worsening circumstances, was more likely a lagging indicator of events at the site.

As far as the assignment of a level seven rating, which placed Fukushima on the same level as Chernobyl, this may not be in line with reality. While I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the recent event, there are some clear distinctions from Chernobyl that need to be mentioned.

  • First, evidence suggests the level of radioactivity released from Chernobyl was 10 times greater.
  • Second, because debris from the graphite/uranium fuel fire at Chernobyl entered the jet stream, a significant amount of radioactive material was deposited over a much greater geographical area than the more localized radiation releases at Fukushima.
  • Third, during Chernobyl, individuals living near the site were not evacuated for days after the accident and continued to eat contaminated foods. Following the Fukushima event, Japanese authorities promptly evacuated local populations and took active measures to prevent contaminated food and water from being consumed by local populations.

While there have been significant releases of radioactive material at Fukushima through airborne and contaminated water dispersion, the overall impact on human and environmental exposure pathways appears to be meaningfully less than Chernobyl due to the comparatively lower levels of radioactive release, prompt evacuation orders, and the dilutive effects of the Pacific Ocean. These factors clearly justify the need for a distinction in ratings between the two accidents.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will have an even greater opportunity to analyze this accident and place it into proper historical context. Given the information currently available, it seems that the Japanese government’s INES ranking for Fukushima may be too high and the IAEA may need to consider revisiting the criteria used to classify nuclear events on the INES.



As a member of Shaw Power Group’s executive team, Jeff is focused on enhancing the group’s external relationships, including business development,marketing and communications, government and regulatory affairs, customer relations, and strategic planning. He has been particularly involved in supporting the group’s nuclear-related efforts. Prior to joining Shaw, Merrifield served two terms (1998 to 2007) as a commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In this role, he was one of five individuals overseeing this independent commission that regulates the safety and security of the 104 operating nuclear power plants in the United States.

States’ rights and the NRC

By Meredith Angwin

View from VermontIn March, Entergy’s Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant received a 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the NRC extension ends in 2032. Vermont’s legislature, however, voted last year to shut down the plant in 2012, when its state certificate runs out.

Last week, to keep the plant running, Entergy sued the State of Vermont in federal court. There are many contentions in the Entergy lawsuit. One of the most important arguments is that Vermont was attempting to judge plant safety, and therefore pre-empting the NRC’s federal role in safety assessments for nuclear plants.

Entergy also filed for an injunction to prevent the state from shutting down the plant while the legal process proceeds.

Pre-emption of the NRC

Vermont State House

A while back, the Vermont legislature set up a state-authorized “Public Oversight Panel” (POP) to make a technical determination on whether Vermont Yankee should continue to run or not. Since safety and radiological issues are the responsibility of the NRC, the POP supposedly dealt only with “reliability” issues. The panel called its report a Comprehensive Reliability Assessment.

The panel consisted of four part-time people, one of whom was a lawyer, not an engineer. (For a while, there were five members of the panel, but membership has varied.) The panel also had support from Nuclear Safety Associates (NSA), a nuclear consulting group that prepared a report for the POP and legislature.

After the POP and the NSA had submitted their reports to the state, Vermont Yankee’s tritium leak was discovered. The legislature then reconvened the panel for another investigation. The tritium leak was never a reliability issue: it never caused the plant to go off-line, for example. Still, the legislature wanted an investigation. So, the POP met again, wrote another report, and was particularly concerned with whether the plant had given it incorrect information about plant piping.

Reliability or safety?


The POP pretended to assess reliability, but in my opinion, however, it focused on safety. The POP quickly abandoned investigating service water issues (which can actually lead to reliability problems) to focus on the sexier work of tritium leaks, strontium in soil near the plant, piping diagrams, backlog of repairs, and “safety culture” assessments. My blog posts at the time were about the search for the piping diagrams. There also was a legal report on who-knew-what about the piping diagrams.

While the POP worked, the plant had a breaker-to-breaker 531-day run and became one of the most high-performing plants in the Entergy fleet. The POP gives a sentence to this “significant achievement” in its report. It doesn’t let it affect its “reliability” assessment much.

The safety assessment

In my opinion, the POP wasn’t doing a reliability assessment. The POP’s part-timers attempted to investigate all the things that the NRC sends teams of its own people to inspect, including safety culture, equipment aging process planning, etc. Then, the POP complained that the plant didn’t give it enough information, gave it wrong information once about piping, and that it didn’t have time to do a really good job.


Well, what did the panel expect? The legislature asked three engineers and a lawyer (Arnie Gundersen, William Sherman, C. Frederick Sears, and Peter Bradford) to do, in a few months of part-time, highly-paid work ($300/hour), what teams of NRC inspectors spend  person-years doing, every year.

Side note: There was a bit of wink-wink, nod-nod about this term “reliability.”  I sat in several hearings where a Vermont senator or representative would talk about the dangers the tritium leaks posed to the people of Vermont. Then the legislator would smile at the audience and remind them that “we can’t use the s-word (safety).”

The NRC safety assessment process

I decided I needed to know a bit more about the NRC process, so I emailed Diane Screnci, senior public affairs officer at the local branch of the NRC. I asked her how many person-years of inspections and related oversight the NRC did, per plant per year. She told me that each plant had at least two full-time inspectors assigned to it, as well as other NRC staff. Each plant has about 5000 person-hours per year of NRC inspections. At somewhat less than 2000 hours per person per year, that is between two and three person-years of inspection per plant.

Vermont was not going to be able to do an NRC-level inspection with the POP staff. In the long run, the POP was exactly what it was meant to be: a political tool of almost no technical credibility. The POP was a group of part-timers and a lawyer, attempting to do a safety inspection of a nuclear plant.

Individually, the panel members had varying degrees of credibility. As a panel, it had none. I am not attacking their backgrounds, though why a lawyer was on this panel remains a bit of a puzzle.

Appreciation for the NRC

Watching the POP at work, it was clear to me why the NRC has jurisdiction, and why nuclear regulation cannot be a state privilege. Nuclear energy cannot be regulated by a group of people who may be eager to please their legislative employers. There need to be objective criteria, assessed by full-time experts, in order to keep a plant working well.

Having the internal workings of the plant doubly-assessed, by a group of people chosen politically, could get in the way of plant operations. It could even possibly degrade safety. Part-time inspectors with political agendas? This is not the same as having the Occupational Safety and Health Administration come to the plant. Trained OSHA inspectors go to many industrial facilities.

The NRC catches a lot of guff in the nuclear industry: The NRC is slow to act. The NRC is an expensive, overgrown bureaucracy. The NRC is headed by political appointees.

But still, down in the trenches at the inspection level, the NRC knows what it is doing. The inspectors are trained and professional. They don’t have political agendas. They won’t accept a cup of coffee from the people they are inspecting.

After watching the POP activities, it is clear to me that nuclear regulation is the business of the federal government. The Atomic Energy Act was the precursor of the NRC, and kept the nuclear safety regulation at the federal level of the government. That is how it must remain.

Thank you, NRC, for your day-to-day professionalism.



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.

Chernobyl: 25 Years Later

By Joe Colvin

Now that the recent events at the nuclear plants at Fukushima are largely behind us and the stabilization is underway, we look to the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl and recognize that comparisons are inevitable.  But it’s vital that we keep these events in perspective as we face the challenges of developing our energy resources for our global future.

As more and more experts around the world consider the best solutions to our continuing need for new clean energy sources, nuclear energy is experiencing a world-wide renaissance.  As President Obama acknowledged in his State of the Union address, nuclear energy is essential in solving our energy problems.  The safety record of nuclear energy in the United States is excellent — in fact, no member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire history of commercial nuclear energy in the U.S.

Today, 25 years after the worst nuclear disaster in history occurred at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, we must examine what happened, why it happened, and why it cannot happen here in the U.S.  It’s also important to consider how Fukushima will teach additional lessons about nuclear energy.   Looking back and to the future, it is clear to see that better reactor designs, a strict regulatory process and an industry that embraces safety throughout all aspects of operations are all safeguards in place that create an environment where an accident like Chernobyl is simply not possible.


Chernobyl-4 reactor after the accident (center), its turbine building (lower left), and Chenobyl-3 (center right).

The accident at the Chernobyl 4 nuclear reactor occurred because of a confluence of events resulting in the worst nuclear disaster in history.  The tragedy was a result of a combination of design flaws that made the reactor dangerous to operate and lapses in safety procedures.  The result was an accident which destroyed the reactor in a fatal release of heat, fire and steam in a matter of seconds.

The Chernobyl reactors were a special design using highly enriched uranium in a graphite moderator—and as we learned from studying the event—the accident could only have happened with this type of design.   The reactors were created to produce weapons grade plutonium for the Soviet military forces along with electricity for commercial use.  They were difficult to operate and required constant adjustment to remain stable.  The officer in charge was an electrical engineer who was not a specialist in reactor plants. The sequence of events which caused the accident occurred when operators began an engineering procedure to test the main electrical generator, which was outside of the reactor building.  Delays in starting the test, and management pressure to meet the schedule, resulted in several crucial outcomes that combined to cause the accident.


The Fukushima reactor complex, before March 11, 2011, provided 10% of Japan's nuclear generated electricity.

At Fukushima, from what we know at this time, it’s also plain that situation arose, not from human error in design or operation, but rather from the most extraordinary and unprecedented natural disaster in human memory—and what’s more, it was the tsunami wave, not the earthquake, which occasioned the loss of power and therefore challenged the cooling of the reactors.  In fact, the reactors operated as designed and built – they shut down automatically when the earthquake occurred.

Further, it’s absolutely imperative that we recognize that no one died as a result of the incident and that all the safety steps undertaken were well planned and implemented in a transparent manner to avoid panic.  We also know that while the rating of the Fukushima incident, established by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is at the same level as Chernobyl, the rating includes three reactors in Japan, rather than just one.  More importantly, the radiation releases from Fukushima are just one-tenth compared to Chernobyl.

The designs of plants in the United States are such that a Chernobyl type accident simply could not occur; in addition, all plants in the US have been carefully tested seismically so that we may be assured that the American public is protected against a Fukushima type earthquake and tsunami.  And, even more importantly, because of the culture of safety among nuclear scientists and engineers—and indeed, the entire nuclear community—additional scrutiny, study, and, where necessary, modifications will be undertaken for further protection.  The same safety culture led to a similar process occurring after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, when all plants were analyzed for their ability to withstand a terrorist attack and changes were made.

Nuclear scientists world-wide have joined together in a host of professional organizations with a renewed commitment to the highest levels of safety throughout all aspects of the process, and there’s no question that safety regulations and culture are now worldwide features of the nuclear industry.  Around the world, safety improvements and best practices are continually monitored, enhanced, and then shared among all nuclear utilities through the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO). These factors are fundamental guarantees that insure the safe, reliable delivery of electricity from nuclear reactors.

Today worldwide 16% of all electricity generated comes from nuclear reactors, and China, India, and 30 other countries are committed to building dozens of new nuclear power stations as well, which demonstrates the vitality of the nuclear renaissance.  For our part, as we look to the future we need to think not only about our energy needs, but also about the planet Earth we will pass along to future generations.  Will we continue to rely on fossil fuels and force future generations to endure the consequences of a world suffering from the effects of global warming?  Or will we create a future that includes nuclear energy and a world that benefits as a result of the clean and efficient energy it delivers?

Life-Cycle Emissions

Source: "Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis," Paul J. Meier, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, Aug. 2002

Almost 50 people died in the Chernobyl disaster.  But even as we mourn those who lost their lives that fateful day 25 years ago, we must also acknowledge the important changes the industry has made around the world that ensure the safety of this energy source.  We also know, even at this early stage, that no one died as a result of the incident at Fukushima, and we’ll continue to study the events there in order to improve safety and reliability.  We honor the memory of those at Chernobyl and the bravery of those who worked to stabilize the Japanese plants, but we also recognize the important role nuclear energy can play in our future.




Joe Colvin is the 56th president of the American Nuclear Society. He has been an ANS member since 2001 and has worked to obtain senior nuclear utility expertise on ANS committees and the Board of Directors. Colvin is President Emeritus of the Nuclear Energy Institute, and he serves on the boards of Cameco Corporation, the world’s largest uranium company, and US Ecology, a hazardous and radioactive waste disposal company. He also is on the boards of non-profit organizations such as the Foundation for Nuclear Studies, which was set up by NEI to help provide the U.S. House and Senate with information on nuclear technology.

49th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Yes Vermont Yankee

Graphic by Susie Hobbs at PopAtomic Studios

The 49th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Yes Vermont Yankee. The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.

This week there is continuing news from Fukushima, but there are also a diverse set of posts on nuclear energy topics. If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.  Contrary to what the anti-nuclear crowd would like you to believe, the wheels have not come off the renaissance.

Past editions have been hosted at Brave New Future, NEI Nuclear Notes, ANS Nuclear Cafe, CoolHandNuke, and, Idaho Samizdat, as well as 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. # # #

Nominations for Seaborg Medal due June 1

Established in 1983, the American Nuclear Society’s Seaborg Medal recognizes an individual who has made outstanding scientific or engineering research contributions to the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Nominations for candidates for the award are invited from technical societies, heads of governments, and other appropriate individuals. The deadline for nomination to be received at ANS is June 1, 2011.

Nominees for the Seaborg Medal should reflect a high degree of scientific acumen, imagination,  and unusual talents in scientific research. Candidates should have made significant contributions to the scientific basis for a wide variety of peaceful applications of nuclear technology. Further, candidates should be held in high esteem by peers engaged in the important task of nuclear research.

Nominees need not be ANS members. The recipient must be living at the time he or she is selected. Nomination forms and further information are available from ANS headquarters and at the ANS website.

Why is there irrational fear of radiation?

Improvements are needed in explaining the significance of the numbers to the public

Editor for this multi-author blog post: Dan Yurman

The Fukushima reactor complex, before March 11, 2011, provided 10% of Japan’s nuclear generated electricity.

The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex in Japan, caused by a record earthquake and equally record shattering tsunami, has created a maelstrom of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) when it comes to radiation measurements.

For instance, the importance of distinctions between fast and slow decaying isotopes of iodine and cesium are sometimes lost on media and the public.

Worse, the differences between accounting for the sheer amount of radiation and giving an assessment of the potential health effects of uncontrolled releases takes place using different sets of measurement units. Is it any wonder that mainstream news media editors get headaches when their reporters file stories about radiation?

It hasn’t helped that Japanese and American nuclear experts have called for different distances for evacuation zones around the plant site. Can we fault the public for concluding that any report about radiation at a nuclear reactor is bad news?

Organizations with agendas that call for removing nuclear reactors from the energy mix have been known to exploit public fears of radiation. In doing so, they’ve sometimes failed to understand the scientific basis for the measurements.

In one case, a critic of a reactor relicensing application, writing in a political news magazine, said that a tritium release was 500 times more than expected, which was none. What he failed to realize is that the measured quantity was still 500 times less than the EPA drinking water standard.

Calling this type of mistake “junk science” misses an important point. What the public thinks is that regardless of how much radiation you are talking about, it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. FUD fosters fear.

On the other hand, people in the nuclear energy field, who routinely work with some of the most dangerous radioactive materials in the universe, are quite calm about it, citing and practicing the principles of time, distance, and shielding. In fact, some can’t understand what all the panic is about because they know, by the numbers, that the risk isn’t commensurate with the noise level.

Is it time for a change in the way radiation measurements are communicated and explained to the public? At the ANS Social Media list, I asked four contributors to share their views on this question.

These four people have deep insights into the world of nuclear energy, but they also have very different takes on the current systems of radiation measurement and how they are used to explain risk to the public and the press.  In this multi-author guest blog post, an ecologist, a chemist, an energy expert, and a public affairs consultant offer ideas about what to do about making radiation numbers more understandable and, in doing so, foster better public understanding about what they mean.

Is obfuscation deliberate?
~ Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand

The aversion to nuclear would be due to aversion to the uncertainty of radiation risk, itself a product of lack of familiarity with the weird units of measurement.

NO KIDDING! Sieverts, rems, rads, grays, becquerels, curies, and roentgens are reported in their densely confusable forms of milli, micro, and mega. None of them are calibrated around dimensions that might make intuitive sense concerning human safety, and they all obfuscate each other.

Listening to engineers debate about how many microcuries can dance on the head of a megabecquerel all by itself introduces profound dread in anyone listening in.

With its Babel of measurements, the nuclear power industry has guaranteed that all of its communications with the public are maddeningly confusing and frightening.

It is such conspicuously incompetent social engineering that observers understandably suspect that the nuclear engineering behind it is equally incompetent, and that nuclear engineers must hate people.

Stewart Brand, an ecologist, is the author of many books including, most recently, “The Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto” (Amazon) or see his home page.

Stick with health effects measurements
~ Cheryl Rofer

Cheryl Rofer

What people want to know about radiation is whether it’s a danger to them. What they get is numbers with funny units attached. These numbers may be presented as multiples of some standard. But that doesn’t say what the health risks are. Recent changes in the units themselves have provided more confusion, along with the prefixes indicating powers of ten.

Each unit has a use:

  • Monitoring instruments count disintegrations (counts per second, becquerel, curie); roentgens,
  • Rads and grays measure the absorbed energy from those disintegrations; and
  • Rems and sieverts measure the biological dose.

All of which moves toward health effects. But there is a big step missing.

That step is how the biological dose translates into disease, cancer in particular. That translation depends on many factors: the age and sex of the person exposed, the rapidity of the exposure, which part of the body is irradiated, and very likely the basic health of the person exposed and his or her genetic makeup. Even when all that is combined for an individual person, the result is a probability, not a certainty.

I don’t see an easy way to make these units more understandable. But it would help if regulators, engineers, and reporters would stick with sieverts or millisieverts. These are the units and the range most relevant to health effects.

Cheryl Rofer, a chemist, worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 37 years on a variety of projects, many of them related to the nuclear fuel cycle. Her blog is The Phronesisaical, covering politics, philosophy, and fruit



No one has died from radiation at Fukushima
~ Steve Aplin

Steve Aplin

Why do we fear radiation? Throughout the Fukushima emergency, media stories have reported radiation in terms of picocuries, becquerels, rads, grays, millirems, microsieverts. Few of us know what these units represent; they sound ominous, uncontrollable. They scares us. In the 21st century, with our digital TVs and smart phones, we humans are still afraid of the dark.

There is one measurement, however, that almost nobody has mentioned in the coverage of Fukushima. It is a familiar number—zero. It represents the number of people who have died, so far, from radiation at the plant. That’s right: after five weeks, thousands of hours of broadcast airtime, and millions of newspaper column-inches, zero people have died.

The number zero may be familiar to us today, but it took thousands of years to enter our mathematical lexicon. That’s because as a concept, it is extremely elusive and complex.

Zero’s subtlety may be why “zero deaths by radiation” has so little effect on our gut-level imagination. Contrast that with lurid descriptions of something unknown, out beyond the edge of darkness, beyond our control: something measured in picocuries, microsieverts. That “something” grabs our imagination; its mystery scares us. “Zero deaths” does neither.

Well, when you step down into a dark basement, what’s the quickest way to turn off your fear? Turn on the light. Same with curies, rads, and microsieverts. The light of knowledge will help. Learn about radiation.

When you do, you’ll understand why there have been zero deaths because of radiation at Fukushima.

Steve Aplin is vice president of Energy and Environment at The HDP Group, an Ottawa-based management consultancy. He blogs at Canadian Energy Issues.

Say it simply and say it in English
~ Mimi Limbach


Mimi Limbach

The events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have brought many technical experts into contact with journalists who have little knowledge of nuclear energy, science, and technology.

Some of these experts are speaking a different language—jargon—than the journalists and the public. Environmentalist Stewart Brand said it better than anyone in a companion blog to this one. I showed his comment to a group attending last week’s ANS Student Conference, and it brought down the house with laughter. As my audience looked sheepishly at each other, it was clear that most people in the room were guilty of using jargon that would be incomprehensible to the public.

Risk communication research tells us that when people hear jargon, they believe the speaker is trying to mislead them. So when you use jargon, you’re also losing credibility with your audience.

Several years ago, I attended a community meeting in Jackson, Wyo., about a controversial facility that was to be built nearby. In the midst of a presentation, the woman sitting next to me said, “What are they hiding from us? Why can’t they just say it in simple English?” The facility was never built.

Jargon is a shortcut for technical professionals … or a very precise way of expressing concepts or measures. It works for technical audiences. But to most people, it is meaningless and insulting.

So, how should technical people make complex ideas meaningful to the public? Use examples and analogies that relate radiation measures to something we all live with in our everyday lives. Say it simply. And say it in English.

Mimi Limbach is a partner at Potomac Communications Group, Washington, DC. Her business blog is From the Potomac.

Last word from blog post editor

All four contributors, coming at the problem from very different perspectives, nevertheless find fault with the way current radiation measurement systems explain their results. The fault finding is not with the internationally accepted scientific measurement units, but rather in communication of the numbers to a skeptical and fearful public.

Until risk communication practice by nuclear regulatory agencies catches up with the public’s needs for understanding, the nuclear industry may paradoxically continue to find itself sliced and diced in the news media by its own measurement precision.


Dan Yurman

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy. From 1994 to 1999 he served as a citizen member of a Federal Advisory Committee to the Centers for Disease Control on radiation health effects studies at Department of Energy sites.

University of Chicago to hold public forum on Fukushima

The University of Chicago Alumni Association, in conjunction with Argonne National Laboratory and the Harris Energy Policy Institute, will hold a forum at 4:00 PM Central Time on Thursday, April 21, entitled “Beyond Fukushima: The Risks, Realities & Future of Nuclear Energy in the U.S.”  The forum will be held in the atrium of the university’s Gordon Center for Integrative Sciences in Chicago (click here for map) and can be viewed in real time online at University of Chicago-Live Facebook page.

A panel discussion will be held, including questions from the audience, from 4 PM until 5:30PM CT. The panel consists of:

  • Mark Peters, deputy director of Argonne National Laboratory
  • Hussein Khalil, director of the Nuclear Energy Division at Argonne National Laboratory and an ANS Fellow
  • Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences
  • Robert Topel, the Isidore Brown and Gladys J. Brown distinguished service professor in Urban and Labor Economics, Chicago Booth School of  Business, and director, University of Chicago Energy Initiative.

The discussions will be open to the public. From 5:30 PM until 6:00PM CT, the audience will be able to discuss issues one-to-one with  nuclear energy experts from Argonne.  Immediately following the event, there will be a poster session, during which some of the leading scientists from Argonne will share information on recent work on nuclear energy.

For more information, please visit the University of Chicago forum event page.

Going electric on the highway

By Jim Hopf

For this month’s perspective post, I’m going to give readers a break from all the negative things going on in Japan, and instead tell a positive story about progress being made toward solving the world’s problems. The story is about recent advances in the area of electric cars and, more specifically, my personal experiences purchasing and driving the new Chevy Volt.

Benefits of electric cars

Electric cars hold great promise with respect to reducing air pollution (especially in densely populated areas), reducing CO2 emissions, potentially reducing world oil prices, and reducing oil imports from unfriendly or unstable regions. They also are one mechanism by which nuclear power can help reduce oil imports (given that very little oil is used to generate electricity).

Unlike other options such as hydrogen, very little infrastructure investment will be required for electric cars, since the infrastructure for generating and delivering electricity is already in place. All one needs to do is plug in the car at home and charge overnight (the period of minimum electrical demand). A study by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory shows that up to 70 percent of vehicles could be electric powered before any new power plants or grid upgrades would be required, given that the vehicles are charged at off peak times.

Current hurdles

The Volt

The main hurdle limiting the use of electric cars is their higher cost, which is primarily due to the cost of the battery. For pure electric (as opposed to plug-in hybrid) cars, another issue is their limited range and the current lack of options for charging the car away from home. Plug-in cars, such as the Chevy Volt, have a backup conventional engine and just switch to gasoline if the battery gets drained. The U.S. government is trying to tackle these hurdles by investing in research that will increase the battery’s capacity and reduce the cost of batteries, and by giving a $7500 tax credit toward the purchase of an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicle. The tax credit will reduce the difference in price (between electric and conventional cars), which will greatly increase initial sales of electric vehicles and will result in increased production volumes, and (hopefully) will reduce costs. After a few years, many believe that the difference in cost between electric and conventional cars will be a small fraction of what it is now. At that point, reduced fuel (gasoline) costs may make up for the increased initial cost, and subsidies will no longer be necessary.

Current state of the electric car market

Unlike many other alternative transportation ideas, electric cars are actually happening. They are not merely being studied in government labs or in pilot projects. Private car companies are actually building and selling them to consumers. The number of companies planning to offer electric or plug-in models is increasing rapidly.

The Leaf

The response by the public (i.e., first adopters) has been enthusiastic, with demand greatly outstripping supply. For both General Motors (which sells the plug-in hybrid Volt) and Nissan (which sells the pure electric Leaf), sales are limited only by production volumes and how fast they can ramp up production, with each car being already spoken for by the time it’s built. To get these cars, you have to sign up early, and the waiting lists are long.

The Model S

GM plans to produce 15,000 Volts in 2011, and to raise production to as many as 60,000 in 2012. Nissan is planning to produce 150,000 Leafs in 2013. Toyota plans to release a plug-in Prius in 2012. And a newer car company, Tesla, will release its Model S sedan (about $57,000) in 2012 as well.

In addition to ramping up production of electric cars, charging stations are rapidly proliferating in many parts of the country. These stations are relatively simple devices that are showing up primarily in parking garages. Many garages offer charging for free (as part of the standard parking fee), but this may change after the initial promotional period.

An electric car recharging demonstration.

The main difference between charging stations and the old gas station will not be cost or availability, but the time required to “refuel.” Most charging stations are 240V, which results in charging times of 4 or 10 hours for the Volt and Leaf, respectively. Thus, you will only be able to charge at destinations that you will be staying at for awhile, such as at work or at an evening event that will last for several hours. Faster charging stations, which could charge a Volt in less than 15 minutes, are under development.

My reasons for getting a Volt

For the reasons given earlier, I decided that moving the United States toward electric transportation was an important goal. I had also heard about how first adopters have played a key role in the development of other technologies like computers and plasma TVs, etc. Prices were high at first, and only a few  first adopters (the rich?) bought the products. Then, largely due to the support from first adopters, the cost of the technology dropped dramatically, putting it in the price range of most people.

I decided, for the first time, that I would act as a first adopter for this very important technology. I decided that I would buy the Volt even if it did not strictly make economic sense (i.e., even if gasoline savings did not fully offset the increased car payments). The purpose was not to save money; it was to play a role in the development of the technology.

Purchasing the car

In September 2010, after hearing that they were finally taking orders for Volts, I started looking into them. Some dealers wanted $7,500 over GM’s manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of  about $41,000. I responded to this by shopping around just a bit. In no time, I found another dealer who had a different philosophy, and was selling the car for MSRP.

I was told that I was no. 10 on the dealer’s waiting list. The first cars showed up in December 2010.  It was February 25 when my car finally showed up. It was fortunate that I looked into it as early as I did. After I reserved my car, GM started advertising the Volt, and awareness increased. This led to an avalanche of orders. The dealer told me in February that his waiting list was now up to 18 months, with new requests exceeding the rate at which he would get cars by more than a factor of 10.

I opted for the 36-month lease, which has a surprisingly low $350 monthly payment, given the car’s price. In addition to the low payment, I opted for the lease because there still may be bugs to be worked out with the technology. Also, I suspect that in three years, much better plug-ins will be available, due to the steep learning curve. Finally, I don’t want to have to worry about replacing the battery ($10,000?) after  about 100,000 miles.

Car’s features and performance

Volt interior

The car is a four-door sedan with a reasonably spacious back seat and room for four passengers. It is a hatchback, with a “trunk” (behind the back seats) that is a little small, but adequate. It has pretty sporty (wide, low-profile) wheels, and handles well as a result. (It doesn’t have thin, low-rolling-resistance tires like the Prius.) Acceleration is also pretty good. The fact that the car is dead quiet, and has perfectly smooth acceleration (no transmission or gears), makes for a different experience.

The car has been performing pretty much as advertised. I get about 40 miles before the battery runs out of charge. When in gasoline mode, I’m getting about 40 MPG. The car has a 9-10 gallon gas tank, which results in a range of over 350 miles. My daily commute is under 20 miles, and always under 40 even with lots of errands. So, I’ve been traveling in pure electric mode except for the rare long-distance trip.

The car is loaded with luxury features. It has a built-in GPS system. It has a built-in Bluetooth phone system, where I can dial a number and make a call with verbal commands only. It has a built-in 30-gigabyte Ipod. The car also came with five years of GM’s OnStar service and six months of XM radio. GM is offering a lot of goodies to market this car, and is treating initial Volt buyers like celebrities. We have a personal advisor who we can call at any time to ask questions or to get help. We’ve gotten several surveys asking for our input on the car. GM even sent us a flip video camera and a glossy hardbound book about the Volt’s history, for free.

Charging the car

The Volt can be charged with any normal 120-volt outlet. A charger comes with the car. No modifications to our home were necessary. The Volt takes 10 hours to charge with a normal (120V) socket. If one puts in a special 240V charging station (which does require some electrical mods to the house), charging takes only about four hours. Pure electric cars such as the Leaf will require this kind of charging station, which costs about $2,500.

I have the charging nozzle sitting on a table next to the car’s charging port (in front of the driver door). Plugging the nozzle into the port after I exit the car takes only a couple seconds, and soon becomes a matter of habit.

My local utility (Pacific Gas & Electric Company) has a special rate plan for electric car owners. The plan offers very low (about 6 cent/kW-hr) power rates at off-peak times (midnight to 7 AM). This translates into only about 2 cents per mile, as compared with about 10 cents per mile for a conventional car (based on 40 MPG and $4 gas). I can enter my utility’s time-dependent rate plan into the car, and then program the car to wait until off-peak times to begin charging.

To summarize it all, I’m very happy with the car, and love the fact that I rarely use gas. I would recommend the car to anyone.

Electric car politics

In some circles, such as political websites, I have found what I consider to be a surprising amount of resistance to the government tax credits and (apparently) the idea of electric cars in general. The cars are ridiculed as being something that will never make economic sense. It is also argued that if the cars were a good idea, then tax credits should not be required.

One of the objections that I find to be at least somewhat reasonable is that the tax credits take money from the general population and give it to the small group of relatively wealthy people who will be buying the cars. Thus, a working class person will pay (tax dollars) for the tax credits, but won’t benefit from them. Since the working class supposedly can’t afford a Volt (even with the tax credit), they will have to go on paying for gas and then watch the richer person not have to pay for gas.

My message to the working class person would be that while you may not be able to buy an electric or plug-in car now, if you allow a tiny amount of your tax dollars go toward supporting the purchases of electric cars now by other people, affordable electric cars will be available for you down the road. At that point, you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for gas.

More generally, what these opponents can’t seem to grasp is that the tax credits are a strategic investment that is in the interests of the United States. How can they not understand that a small investment in technology that would dramatically reduce our dependence on oil is a much better investment than the enormous government expenditures that go toward securing our oil supplies (i.e., patrolling the Gulf, Mideast wars, and bloated military budgets in general)?

And, these investments (tax credits) are likely to be needed for only a few years, whereas the expenditures required to secure oil supplies (read: gasoline subsidies) will likely only increase in the future. Government intervention in the “free market” on this issue is necessary because the free market does not account for all the costs associated with oil.

Initially, electric cars will not “make economic sense,” versus base (non-luxury) brand/model cars of similar size. But one must ask how much sense the purchase of conventional expensive (i.e., “luxury”) cars makes? I personally can’t see any real, tangible benefits of any “luxury” features above and beyond those I described above for the Volt. Having a car that can go 40 miles without gasoline, and playing a part in a technological revolution that will greatly help the United States, is much more “cool” than any features that a small BMW or Lexus, etc., could possibly have.

If a person of means wants to buy a status symbol car, I would humbly suggest that an electric or plug-in car would be a far better choice. You can say that you’re helping the country, and not just showing off your wealth. We need to redefine what is “cool” and what is a status symbol.


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.

Support the Japan Relief Fund!

It has been more than a month since the tragedy in Japan and the events at Fukushima have unfolded. So far, the Japan Relief Fund—established by the American Nuclear Society—has collected almost $50,000 in donations, but more is needed. That’s where you come in. Every dollar of your generous contribution will go toward nuclear plant workers and their families in Japan who have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

ANS members have been generous. “It does not take more than a few moments of television news to realize how vast the destruction is and the magnitude of the task facing the Japanese in reconstructing what remains of their lives,” said ANS member Jon Stouky, who has contributed to the fund. “Make no mistake when you see the stoic faces of these people; they are hurt deeply—and maybe for generations to come. I just try to comprehend what the reconstruction of my life might be like under similar circumstances and then give to the relief.”

Stouky said that it is an obligation to reach out to nuclear compatriots in Japan at what ever level is appropriate. “As important as financial generosity is, the showing of solidarity expressed in numbers of people that recognize this need is just as important,” he said.

Another ANS member, Robert Margolis, noted that he contributed to the fund for two reasons. “The first,” he said, “is that I am confident of the strong administrative skills of the ANS staff, and that they will ensure the monies are properly put to use in Japan to aid in its daunting task of recovery. Second, while we in the nuclear profession are considering the profound implications and lessons to be learned from the Fukushima accident, this is but one component of the huge catastrophe that was the earthquake and tsunami, which shattered so many lives and communities in Japan.”

Margolis added that ANS members must respond to the catastrophe not only as nuclear professionals, but as people of generosity and compassion. “I urge my fellow ANS members and the nuclear community at large to contribute to this vital fund so that we can have an immediate positive impact on the people of Japan as they recover from this horrible tragedy,” he said.

ANS has made a $15,000 contribution to the fund, and the amount has been matched by an equal donation from the Nuclear Energy Institute, according to Christian Krapp, ANS controller. Krapp said that 100 percent of the funds will go to Japan’s nuclear workers and their families. Two groups—the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and the Japan Electrical Manufacturers Association—will serve as the fund’s administrative arm in Japan.

Please continue to contribute generously to the fund using the online donation form. A monetary goal has not been set for the fund, and so donations will continue to be accepted for as long as people are contributing. As Stouky remarked, “Let’s all get behind the fund and give generously.”

Questions about the fund may be directed to Krapp or to Sharon Kerrick, ANS Outreach manager.

(ANS is a 501(c)3 organization under IRS guidelines. Donations to ANS are tax deductible as allowed by law. Please consult your tax advisor.)

48th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

This week discontinuous events evolving from the impact of an  earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima continue to get focus of the nuclear energy blogsphere. TEPCO reported that post event inspections reveal that the wave breached the seawall at a height of 15 meters.

About the Carnival

The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.  This is the 48th weekly publication in the series. It is a collaborative effort.

Past editions have been hosted at Brave New Future, NEI Nuclear Notes, 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.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Carnival time starts here

Atomic Insights – Rod Adams

As Fukushima gets moved from 5 to 7 remember that 0 (deaths) is still an applicable number.  A few prominent people with questioning attitudes have looked at the reality of the consequences and compared that reality to all of the horror stories they have heard over the years about meltdowns.

At Fukushima, there were three reactors whose cores have apparently melted and there is at least one used fuel pool that contains significantly damaged fuel. The reality is so different from the dire predictions that people like George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stewart Brand, have provided public commentary indicating that Fukushima has actually improved their view of the utility of nuclear energy.

NuclearGreen – Charles Barton

Two American reviews of graphite safety following the Chernobyl fire, raise unresolved questions about the claimed role of graphite in the Chernobyl fire.  An NRC study suggests that nuclear graphite will burn under a very limited set of core conditions.  It appears impossible for those conditions to ever be meet in the core of a malten salt reactor.  Thus core graphite would be inherently safe in the core of a Molten Salt Reactor.

Idaho Samizdat – Dan Yurman

Decommissioning plans at Fukushima must wait for stable reactor conditions, The world’s biggest nuclear energy firms are lining up with proposals to clean up a historically huge radioactive mess at the Fukushima, Japan, reactor site. There six reactors in various degrees of damaged condition are presenting new engineering challenges on a daily basis punctuated by earthquake aftershocks and the continuing threat of new tsunamis.

At the same time, the Japanese and U.S. news media are publishing stories about the early stages of the crisis which may partially explain why NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko issued a call for Americans to evacuate to a distance of 50 miles from the site.

Idaho Samizdat – guest blog post by Jacques Besnainou, CEO, Areva Inc.

I am writing this essay today as a frustrated and fed up reader of nuclear-related stories originated by anti-nuclear organizations. While most recent reporting on the Fukushima reactors has been fair, some quite admirable, the coverage of MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel has been mostly inaccurate and filled with half-truths.

As you may know, one of the reactors at Fukushima used MOX fuel. So what? The situation in Japan was not related to MOX fuel nor has its presence worsened the situation.

Next Big Future – Brian Wang

No deaths from radiation at Fukushima

The Register UK – The total non-story of the Fukushima nuclear power plant “disaster” – which has seen and will see no deaths or measurable health consequences for anyone anywhere – has received a shot in the arm today with the news that Japanese authorities have upgraded the incident to a Level 7 on the nuclear accident scale.

Fukushima at Level 7 on INES scale

Fukushima was raised to level 7 the same category as Chernobyl but Chernobyl had10 to 100 times more radiation. Japan raised the severity rating at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to level 7, the most serious on the international scale and the same rating that was given 25 years ago to Chernobyl, as aftershocks close to the facility heighten safety concerns.

The level 7 designation was made “provisionally,” and a final level won’t be set until the disaster is over and a more detailed investigation has been conducted. The previous event level of 5, equal to the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, was also a provisional designation.

NEI Nuclear Notes

Nuclear Energy Workers in Japan and the U.S.

“First things first: nuclear workers in the United States, both employed by the plants and by contractors, are highly trained for their duties – no farmers plucked from their fields, no gangster-hires. Additionally, the safety culture implemented at plants applies to all workers, so any safety issue that arises can (really, must) be reported.”

Advances in nuclear safety – video from Idaho National Laboratory

Idaho National Laboratory’s Director John Grossenbacher explains how the U.S. nuclear industry has boosted its safety procedures as a result of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in 1979 and how the industry plans to use current events at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants to further enhance safety.

Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

If I can find anything positive coming out of the events in Japan in the last few weeks, it is the number of articles I have seen in a variety of media that continue to speak of nuclear power in a balanced way. Surely, we all believe there are lessons to be learned and we can’t be complacent, but increasing numbers of journalists and others appear to recognize that:

  1. The options for a reliable energy supply to meet current and future needs are limited,
  2. All forms of energy supply carry certain risks, and
  3. Nuclear power is better than a lot of other options.

Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

Fukushima Oversimplified and Simplified – This Yes Vermont Yankee post tracks the evolution of our understanding of radiation sources and levels/ The journey took us from chaos, to oversimplification, and finally, at this point, to some level of clarity.

ANS Nuclear Cafe

The use of social media in the Fukushima crisis – Margaret Harding

An ANS mailing list serves as a sounding board for ideas, information gathering as there are many technical experts in various areas of nuclear energy, and support for those who are out in the larger world communicating about nuclear. The Social Media list became the heart of a huge effort to get the facts out there with the media.

At the act of creation – Susie Hobbs

The nuclear crisis in Japan will undoubtedly change the nuclear industry forever. Due to the ongoing efforts of so many nuclear professionals and supporters, I am beginning to think that it will be a change for the better. Innovative technologies and creative outreach are already positively impacting the way we think about energy in America and around the world.

Michelle Kearney – via Cam Abernethy’s Nuclear Street

Photos of the tsumani water line at Fukushima

# # #


Effect of the ANS Social Media List on the Reporting at Fukushima

By Margaret Harding

As many of you know, there is a group of 160 or so people that participates in a sort of online party discussion about nuclear. Basically, anyone in the list can send an e-mail that goes to everyone on the list. Anyone can respond and everyone can see it. It works a bit like a huge cocktail party in that you can participate—or not—in any given conversation. This list serves as a sounding board for ideas, information gathering as there are many technical experts in various areas of nuclear energy, and support for those who are out in the larger world communicating about nuclear.


On March 12, 2011, as it was becoming clear that the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power site in Japan were having issues, the group starting having more conversations about these events. Many on the list were complaining that the air waves and print media were being dominated by wild speculation of people with a strong anti-nuclear agenda. Finally, one member of the list, my friend, Dan Yurman, put out a challenge to the rest of us. He said, in part:

“IMHO, the nuclear industry needs to be more proactive in getting on the short list rolodex of newspapers like the NYT, WSJ, WP, LAT, USAT, etc. and not carp so much about who reporters talk to.

If nukes want to be heard, they need to speak up.”

My answer back was:

“I hereby volunteer my services. How do we go about getting on the ‘who to call’ list?”

Don’t ask me why I did that. I was plenty busy with clients and proposals. I guess that I had to put my money where my mouth was. I had lamented for years while employed at a large corporation that we nuclear people needed to be out there talking more, especially in the bad times when large corporations are most prone to silence. Now that I am no longer so fettered, I needed to stand up and speak.

Others did the same. The first calls came directly from reporters who reached out to others who passed them on. Then ANS asked Clark Communications to put ANS members in touch with media folks. Fritz Schneider at Clark coordinated the efforts helping match people to venues, getting regional ANS members to talk to the media in their region, as well as making sure people who were comfortable talking in larger venues were available to the right people at the right time.


The Social Media list became the heart of a huge effort to get the facts out there with the media. Gwyneth Cravens did a number of interviews including National Public Radio. Dan Yurman did talk radio interviews with a Toronto station. Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer continued to keep the facts straight in the New England area. I ended up on a number of venues, including FOX, CBS, CNN, and NBC. Many more of us did interviews (both background and quoted) for print media reporters including national publications like the NY Times, LA Times, and the Washington Post. Here’s a link to the list of interviews that ANS members participated on. It is an impressive list of more than 270 interviews and contacts across the country and it continues to grow.


None of us were paid for these interviews, except perhaps some transportation costs. Most of us took time from our businesses, jobs, and schools to do these outreach efforts and never, ever did anyone tell us what to say. Our words were our own and we talked about what each of us thought was important to say.

Those who could not speak out publicly from the list provided invaluable support to the rest of us with research, facts, figures, and insights into actual plant operations that allowed those of us in the spotlight to speak with confidence, to answer the tough questions, and to make sure the truth was presented to reporters. We didn’t always get the right message on the air or into the print articles, but each time we connected with a reporter, a journalist, or an interviewer, we injected truth into the situation, we left that person a little more educated about nuclear power, and perhaps a little more thoughtful and a little less fearful.


This is a powerful presence out there in the land of sound bites and instant gratification. We were talking to people at the most influential papers and news outlets in the country, places like CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, NY Times, and the Washington Post. We spoke to people at all points on the political spectrum. By speaking the truth in verifiable ways, demonstrating expertise, and having our statements born out in the events in Japan, we changed the way these outlets reported this event. The reporters we talked with and influenced reported more factually, with more balance, with less hysteria.

The conversation has already started about how the future should look for nuclear and whether Fukushima should be the end or the beginning of a true nuclear renaissance in the United States. The answer to that question is not yet known, but rest assured, the American Nuclear Society and the coterie of folks on the Social Media list will be a part of the conversation and will continue to make a difference.


Margaret Harding has almost 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry in technical design, licensing, and quality issues.  She worked for GE-Hitachi for 27 years with positions of increasing responsibility, leading to vice president of Engineering Quality. Two years ago, she left GE-Hitachi to start her own consulting business to help companies with business ventures in the nuclear industry. She is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


To the Future

By Suzy Hobbs

The image above  is from the “Atomic Energy” edition of the “Standard Treasury of Learning Dictionary for Young People,” circa 1960. Some of the chapters related to nuclear energy are titled “Unlimited Power” and “Food Enough for Everyone.” It is good to be reminded that the nuclear energy industry has always had noble ambitions. This book has served as an inspiration recently, as I find myself wondering, “What will the future look like?”

Much of our energy future depends on how the industry handles outreach and education in a post-Fukushima world. The more that people know about nuclear energy, the less scary it is. In the modern world, however, useful information is in constant battle with sensationalized reporting and false conclusions. The scariest part about this situation for me is that our energy future directly affects the future of our economy, food supplies, medical technologies, and pretty much every other aspect of our lives.

The possibility of another stall by the industry simply isn’t acceptable. Providing the tools to recognize and analyze data, conflicting media reports, and speculation related to energy is important both for children and adults, and technical and non-technical people. These skills are imperative in ensuring that we all have access to abundant, clean energy in future.

Reaching students

Inspired by the educational materials of the past, I wanted to see what is available today. I did an experiment last week to get a grip on what resources are out there, from the perspective of a school teacher, who might want to address the nuclear issue in the classroom. I started by using simple search engine terms like “nuclear energy education” and sifted through loads of information. Through this exercise, I’ve indentified several barriers in getting information to students, while compiling a list of what I found to be the most useful web resources.

There are viable ways to reach kids in the classroom, but due to the structured nature of the federal “No Child Left Behind” act, it is difficult for teachers to work in new curriculum in response to current events. According to several friends who are teachers, resources distributed by federal agencies are more likely to fit within these constraints. After this realization, I narrowed my search to Department of Education–endorsed materials.

Based on a review of design, content, functionality, and most importantly the ease of use in the classroom, here are my top three suggestions for web-based nuclear energy resources for parents and teachers:

  1. The Energy Information Administration has colorful and interactive web resources for all ages, useful for parents as well as for teachers. This is a good website to let a child of middle school age or older explore on their own. Click here for the EIA website.
  2. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers separate resources for teachers and students, and successfully covers a large range of information in accessible ways, including comprehensive lesson plans. For teachers, click here. For students, click here.
  3. The Department of Energy offers fun in-class activities that will stick with kids as they continue to build on their science knowledge. Some DOE links are under development and or in clumsy PDF format, so stick with the activities available by clicking here.

Reaching the public

Beyond supporting teachers and parents to educate children about nuclear energy, I also recognize a need for increased public outreach for all Americans. Many members of the American Nuclear Society have taken huge strides to work with the media, and I encourage nuclear professionals and communicators to continue to develop these relationships. Prior to the events at Fukushima, several members of green groups had already managed to become the first names on Rolodexes for media outlets when a nuclear “expert” was needed. We are changing that dynamic.

The nuclear industry is beginning to think of the media as a friend rather than foe in terms of sharing contextualized information with the public, which is a wonderful thing. Both the American media and the nuclear industry are setting a new framework for how news stations can work with qualified experts to serve the public. These newfound relationships will be beneficial in sharing information about new technologies as we move forward.

Energy industry collaborations

In response to the crisis at Fukushima, many are calling for “lessons learned” and comprehensive review of worldwide nuclear technologies. There has also been an unprecedented push for renewable energy technology. I want to suggest that these two efforts are not necessarily at odds. I received a painting (below) from Amani Tahat, a Jordanian physicist and radiological scholar, who is very concerned about how her country will move forward with both its nuclear and renewable energy initiatives. In the painting, the atom wonders, “What will become of nuclear energy?”

Amani suggests that “people can read the picture by using their own taste and way.” She further explains that for her, “The idea of the picture has been designed based on the ongoing disaster in Japan, once Jordan announces plans to build nuclear power plant by 2015. The picture can be used as a nuclear art that can tell the future of such nuclear power plant in the case of an unexpected earthquake in Jordan.”

My personal interpretation of the painting is that new nuclear technologies can be implemented in collaboration with the other energy technologies, especially in places at risk for natural disasters. I am not an engineer, but it seems that joint measures can help provide everyday power generation, as well as the strength and durability to provide electricity during emergency situations. Nuclear/renewable collaborations may prove effective for appealing to a broad range of views and goals concerning energy.

I hope that the impending regulatory reform reflects the need for cooperation. The Idaho National Laboratory held a conference last month to explore the role of public and private sector collaboration in the near future. Creative thinking is one of the best tools we have for responding to the events at Fukushima, and several public/private partnerships are already underway.

The nuclear crisis in Japan will undoubtedly change the nuclear industry forever. Due to the ongoing efforts of so many nuclear professionals and supporters, I am beginning to think that it will be a change for the better. Innovative technologies and creative outreach are already positively impacting the way we think about energy in America and around the world. Judging by the strides made in nuclear related communications and outreach in the past few weeks, I think the future looks promising.


Suzy Hobbs is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy.



The more things change, the more they stay the same

The View from Vermont

By Howard Shaffer

Since the last post by Meredith on February 21, our nuclear world has been changed forever by the tragedy in Japan and the events at Fukushima.  Many of us in the ANS devoted untold hours to following events and communicating with the media, including local media here in Vermont.  Still, some in Vermont seemed unaffected by the crisis.

Still the Same

On March 29 Meredith participated in a debate at a central Vermont high school.  I accompanied to assist.  Her opponent was James Moore of VPIRG.  The debate was the end of a high school class project, and students, faculty, parents, and community members attended.  In her opening statements, Meredith spent some time on Fukushima.  In his opening statements, Mr. Moore tried to link Fukushima to Vermont Yankee and last years Tritium leaks.  In the question period, not only were there no questions on Japan, but one adult commented to Meredith afterward that too much time had been spent on Japan:  “It’s not here.”  I spoke to two women where concerned about the functioning of Vermont Yankee’s containment.

On April 4, I spoke at a mid state Rotary club, prepared to talk about issues affecting Vermont and Fukushima.  There were no questions on it.  There was interest in state events.  There was interest in Vermont Yankee.  In addition, there was a question about high-level waste, which the local opponents have been harping on for years.

The opponents have always looked for opportunities to organize an event, and seized on Fukushima.  On Sunday, March 20, several anti organizations held a “vigil” in sympathy for Japan outside the Vermont Yankee gate.  It was publicized as silent, dress in black.  Caven Stone, a Dartmouth graduate student, and I attended.  About 600 from several states came to the vigil.  Many were in costume, some wearing death masks.

We were directed to line up silently on the sidewalk, extending from the gate.  After an hour, the vigil was ended and the crowd crossed the road to the Elementary School parking lot, to gather around for a few speeches and statements.  All the speeches and statements were about Vermont Yankee and the Fukushima plants.  There was not one word about the devastating loss of life due to the earthquake and tsunami.

The flurry of local media interest has died down.  The opponents are keeping up their drumbeat of letters and op-eds.


On March 10, the NRC Commissioners voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license for 20 years, after a five year review.  The next day the tsunami hit Japan and the plants at Fukushima.  Of course, the plant opponents immediately said the license extension should be delayed.  (Did we expect anything less?)  The license letter was received after a few days delay due to NRC staff involvement with the Fukushima.

The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel held its first meeting under the new administration, chaired by the new Department of Public Service Commissioner, appointed by the new Governor, Peter Shumlin.  They met February 22 in Vernon, across the road from the plant.  It was a highly disciplined meeting, unlike some past circuses.  The two Legislative members of the panel that had disrupted past meetings had been reappointed.  They did not disrupt the meeting of Shumlin’s new appointee the way they had disrupted meetings chaired by the previous governor’s appointee.

Entergy announced a tentative contract for 20 MW with the Vermont Electric cooperative.

There is now discussion in the media about how VY may be able to operate on its renewed license without State approval, through court action, or otherwise.

Now the Governor is in favor of a natural gas pipeline into the state!

Stay tuned for more policy based on political expediency!


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.

47th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Discontinuous events at Fukushima continue to get focus of the nuclear energy blogsphere

The 47th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Cool Hand Nuke. The carnival features blog posts from the leading U.S. nuclear bloggers and is a roundup of featured content from them.

This week there is continuing news from Fukushima, but there are also a diverse set of posts on nuclear energy topics.

If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Brave New Future, NEI Nuclear Notes, 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.

# # #

2011 ANS Student Conference: April 14-17

By Brian Dyke

The 2011 ANS Student Conference, hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, is only a week away! We’re building upon the successes of previous years, and it’s already shaping up to be the best conference to
date. If you’ve never been to an ANS Student Conference, I’d like to offer you some great reasons to attend.

If you’re looking for a full-time job, internship, co-op, or even a grad
school, we will have a nuclear-specific Exhibit Fair with dozens of
companies, organizations, and universities specifically looking to recruit
students in the nuclear field. Many companies will be conducting on-site
interviews, so there’s a chance you could leave Atlanta with a new job! The
Student Conference is also a great opportunity to hear talks and view
posters of cutting-edge research undertaken by your student colleagues from around the nation.

Gwyneth Cravens

We’ll also be hosting the 2nd annual public forum on nuclear energy, a new student conference tradition started last year by the University of Michigan. A broad panel of nuclear experts representing specific areas of interest to the industry (utilities, regulation, nonproliferation, Department of Energy national labs, public advocacy) will answer questions posed by you and other members of the public. ANS Vice President/President Elect Dr. Eric Loewen will serve as moderator for the forum, and the keynote will be delivered by prominent nuclear energy advocate and author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy,  Gwyneth Cravens.

Ocean Ballroom at the Georgia Aquarium

Be sure also to catch our “Nuclear in the Arts” night on Thursday with a nuclear-themed gallery opening by PopAtomic Studios and a special performance of “Manya: A Living History of Marie Curie.” To top things off, our Saturday night awards banquet will be held in the Ocean Ballroom of the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium, and will be catered by Wolfgang Puck.

With most of your meals being covered by your registration and travel
reimbursement available, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t come enjoy
Atlanta with us this April. The conference will take place from April 14-17
at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta. For more information, please visit

Thank you and we hope to see you next week!

Brian Dyke

Brian Dyke is the Publicity Committee chair for the 2011 ANS Student Conference. He is a fourth-year undergraduate in Nuclear and Radiological Engineering. 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.