Monthly Archives: June 2011

Hall talk at ANS special session on Fukushima

Two people with long experience working with the nuclear industryone in Japan and one in the United Statesshare some “hall talk” with ANS Nuclear Cafe about Fukushima

By Dan Yurman

At its national meeting held during the last week in June in Hollywood, Fla., the American Nuclear Society conference included two back-to-back special sessions on Fukushima. ANS Nuclear Cafe had an opportunity to talk with two of the speakers in the halls.

Akira Omoto


Akira Omoto is currently a commissioner with the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. Previously, he was at the International Atomic Energy Ageny where he headed up the organization’s division of nuclear power. This week he was a speaking to the ANS national meeting in Hollywood.

ANS Nuclear Cafe had a chance to catch up with him at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima.

In response to informal questions after the session, he said that the first priority in terms of decommissioning the reactors is to remove the spent fuel from the reactor buildings. Next, it will be necessary to remove fuel and debris from reactors 1, 2, and 3.

Disposition paths for the spent fuel, heat deformed fuel, and debris from the reactor pressure vessels isn’t yet clear because Japan does not have a high level waste repository and is years away from establishing one.

Omoto said with uncharacteristic Western directness that Japan’s reaction to the announcement by U.S. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko calling for Americans to evacuate to 50 miles was “an embarrassment.”

He pointed out that Japan had not been consulted and was still working at the time to establish its own basis for evacuating its citizens from around the reactor.

See also Commisioner’s Omoto’s slides from the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima held Monday June 27 at the society’s national meeting in Hollywood, Fla.

Nuclear energy for sustainable development

I asked Commissioner Omoto to talk about conversations he’s had with ordinary people in Japan about the nuclear crisis at Fukushima. He responded that in talks with family members, he has consistently emphasized the need for nuclear energy in Japan.

“It is vitally needed to attain sustainable development. We cannot reach this result without it,” Omoto said.

Omoto added, “The shift to a low carbon economy while not abandoning base load electricity is essential to sustain and improve the performance of the Japanese economy.”

Mike Weber


Another speaker at the ANS President’s Special Session on Fukushima was Michael Weber, deputy executive director, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Weber spoke to the ANS national meeting on Tuesday, June 28, as part of a second panel discussion on the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

He told ANS Nuclear Cafe that he has been involved with the rapidly changing situation in Japan since March 11. One of the first things that struck Weber as the NRC mobilized its emergency operations center was the enormous amount of information coming in from government sources and the Japanese news media and the challenge to make sense of it.

Initially, the NRC sent three people to Japan to assist the Tokyo Electric Power Company, but this was not part of an effort to get the word out generally on what was happening at Fukushima. The White House decided that the U.S. government would not be a source of information on Fukushima. The thinking was that this was a task for the Japanese government.

Moments of anxiety stretch into hours and then days

In the first few days of the Fukushima crisis, Weber felt a strong sense of anxiety about what was going on with the boiling water reactors at the site. The NRC wanted to know the status of the reactors, the condition of safety equipment, and whether everything was under control or whether there were real problems.

“Fundamentally, we wanted to know how much damage there was,” Weber said.

“The NRC staff felt a real sense of frustration that we could not do more since this was a Japanese nuclear power station and not a U.S. licensee,” Weber said.

Weber, who was working a series of graveyard shifts at the NRC, said that by the third day of the crisis there was more reliable information coming in from Japan.

The NRC’s ongoing assessment of the conditions at the Fukushima site was augmented by remote sensing information from a variety of U.S. government sources.

“It was vitally important to know where the radioactivity being released from the plant would go given prevailing winds. DOE’s aerial surveys helped us understand what might happen. With over 100,000 U.S. citizens, including military personnel, in Japan, we had to know what was happening,” Weber said.

The biggest concern, Weber noted, was whether any of the radiation from Fukushima would reach the United State and at what level.

Human factors

A human factor for the NRC was that it had been a while since the NRC had stood up a ‘round-the-clock’ emergency response. The agency had staffed its emergency operations center with three shifts of 80 people each. Between March and mid-May there were the inevitable needs to replace people needed elsewhere in the agency or who had to stand down for other reasons.

Weber observed that the newer people had a hard time getting up to speed and were initially less adept working in the emergency operations center.

“To use a basketball term, we didn’t have as much bench strength as we thought going into it (Fukushima),” he said

Differences from a U.S. response scenario

Another difference is that in a U.S. incident, the NRC would be getting real time data on reactor temperature, pressure, and other important information. In the Fukushima crisis, the NRC got this information only after the fact, when TEPCO or Japanese government agencies released it.

Also, in a U.S. incident, the NRC would have resident inspectors on the ground acting as the NRC’s “eyes & ears” throughout. Initially, in Japan, TEPCO barred the NRC’s first three reactor specialists from entering the company’s emergency operations center in Tokyo.

Taken together, these factors created the anxiety that Weber referred to as the NRC came to realize that there was no power to run cooling systems or power instruments at any of the reactors.

Revising the NRC’s assessment of Fukushima spent fuel pool #4

In mid-March, based on simulation and scenarios, and the limited information available, NRC Chairman Jaczko testified before Congress that the spent fuel pool at reactor unit 4 had lost all of its water.

It took several months to verify that, despite a hydrogen explosion, the fuel assemblies at that location were intact, covered with water, had not been deformed by excessive heat, and that there was only a small amount of debris in the pool area.

Weber said that the condition of the fuel in the pool was verified by use of a video camera and by water chemistry analysis.

“The information we had at the time indicated that there was a significant drain down of the spent fuel pool.  As we are now receiving additional information, it appears that there may not have been a significant drain down based on the condition of the fuel and pool water chemistry data.”

Weber, who has been through a lot, retains a mostly cheerful disposition about the NRC’s continued assistance to Japan and monitoring of the situation. He says that even when he got home at all kinds of odd hours, his family was still there to support him, for which he is grateful.

“They knew when I was spending all this time at the office on a weekend that something was up,” he said with a wry smile.

# # #

Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog on nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

News you can’t use

In new media and old, time must be devoted to finding and conveying accurate information, no matter how short the news cycle.

By E. Michael Blake

(This editorial will be published on the “Nuclear Notes” page in the July 2011 Nuclear News magazine. It refers to news coverage on Severe Accident Management Guidelines and Nebraska reactors in the Power section of the July issue.)

To the extent possible, Nuclear News tries to avoid writing about other publications and what is published elsewhere. We believe that our readers have a limited amount of time, and that they look to NN to provide germane information on current events in the nuclear field, briefly and unambiguously. This is our opinion page, however, and recent coverage of nuclear topics in the wider world of journalism has spurred us to attempt to make a few things clear:

1) Severe Accident Management Guidelines (SAMG) are not Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements, and the NRC’s opinion of how they are carried out is not a judgment on a power reactor’s safety. The NRC has examined each licensee’s use of SAMGs as part of the agency’s post-Fukushima Daiichi study of how U.S. reactors might respond in a similar situation, with a widespread loss of infrastructure support resulting from a single initiating event. The NRC asked 11 questions about SAMGs, with “yes” being the preferred answer. To only one question—whether the SAMGs are covered by the plant’s procedure control and document management system—fewer than half of the respondents gave a yes answer. This has been spectacularly misinterpreted in some news reports to mean that more than half of the reactors in the United States are unsafe.

SAMGs were developed by the industry to address an issue that the NRC would otherwise have addressed by adding new regulatory requirements. In this case, the NRC held back and gave licensees a chance. Whether SAMGs will remain outside NRC regulation once all of the post-Fukushima Daiichi lessons are learned remains to be seen, but at this stage, the NRC’s position on how SAMGs are handled is advisory, and NRC staffers continue to assert that all plants are operated safely.

2) The NRC has not allowed power reactors to become unsafe by systematically weakening regulation. An Associated Press series that began publication in June strongly suggests that this has happened, but in fact, every reinterpretation of regulations as the industry has matured has been based on lessons learned from Three Mile Island-2 and the growing body of operating experience. Early power reactor regulation was extremely conservative and deterministic, and this may have been a valid approach to take during the introduction of nuclear power. Like all other rulemaking, the subsequent changes have gone through the public notice and comment process. The NRC has been receptive to industry initiatives in recent years, but safety cases must be made in detail and supported rigorously. The NRC is not a pushover.

The AP report is actually the product of traditional media, with a team of people conducting interviews and sifting through records, and then taking time to produce the written text. Sadly, this did not alter what seems to have been the guiding principle from the start: that the reason for the easing of regulations was that licensees could not comply with the original requirements. Also, in the published text, there was a glaring mistake. A passage on the containments of U.S. reactors was followed with a statement on the hydrogen explosions at Fukushima Daiichi, incorrectly identifying the external structures of the Japanese boiling water reactors as containments.

3)  There are no nuclear disasters taking place in Nebraska. At this writing, the Missouri River has reached its crest level in the vicinity of the state’s two power reactors, Cooper and Fort Calhoun. The water level will remain high for several weeks. The crest is a few feet above grade level at Fort Calhoun, which has been in a refueling outage and was expected to remain in cold shutdown until the waters recede. Berms are keeping the waters away from significant plant facilities. Cooper has remained in power operation. The crest is a few feet below the plant’s grade level, but it has been high enough to overtop a sludge pond and cause an uncontrolled release (of nonradioactive material) into the river.
This is not the first time recently that spring runoff has been high enough to cause Omaha Public Power District to take special measures to keep the water away from Fort Calhoun. OPPD took some steps after NRC inspections in 2009, and it might be reasonable for OPPD to build larger, stronger, more permanent levees to prevent this year’s extra effort from becoming an annual event. A debate on this point, however, is a far cry from the wild, bizarre statements (mainly, it seems, on the Internet) alleging severe damage to the reactors.

Here at our sober, sedate, monthly NN publication, we can be accused of lacking sympathy for the dwindling ranks of working journalists, many of whom must now follow news cycles that seem to be measurable in milliseconds if they want to hang on to their jobs. It may also be unseemly for us to cluck our tongues at the feverish online effort to get the next viral video or must-click headline link, when most of our information distribution still comes at the expense of trees bound for pulp mills. And, you know what? We don’t care. No matter how new your medium is, if you’re not getting the facts straight, you’re wasting the reader’s time.



E. Michael Blake is a senior editor of the American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear News magazine.

ANS “Nuclear Statesman” Award to Dale Klein

Former NRC chairman is honored at American Nuclear Society national meeting

By Dan Yurman

Dale Klein, Ph.D.

Dale Klein, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), received the Henry DeWolf Smyth “Nuclear Statesman” award on June 27, 2011, at the national meeting of the American Nuclear Society (ANS).

The award, which is given jointly by ANS and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), recognizes Klein’s outstanding contributions to the nuclear energy field in the United States and around the world over the past 25 years. Klein, who has been a lifelong educator with the University of Texas, also served as an assistant secretary of Defense. He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Missouri.

In making the award, ANS President Joe Colvin said, “I am very honored to present this award to a distinguished member of our community, who is also a long -time friend of mine; Dale represents everything I admire about our colleagues: he’s committed to the future of nuclear energy, which he has demonstrated by his dedication and public service.”

“Nominees for this award exemplify the highest level of commitment to policy and statesmanlike conduct,” noted Colvin. He added, “We are fortunate to have such an extraordinary individual as a member and co-chair of ANS’s Special Committee on Fukushima, whose charter is to provide a clear and concise explanation of the events surrounding the accident to the general public and U.S. leaders. We’re confident that Dale’s experience and wisdom will be invaluable to the work of the Special Committee.”

Klein “humbled” by award


In his remarks accepting the award at the plenary session of the ANS national meeting, Klein said that he grew up on a farm in Missouri and that it was a long way from those humble beginnings to standing on the podium of the ANS meeting. Then Klein said that he was mindful of the comments of a prior recipient of the award, the NRC’s Ed McGaffigan, Jr., who received the same award in 2007 shortly before his untimely death.

Perhaps in a reference to the troubles afflicting the current NRC chairman, Klein said, Ed McGaffigan was noted for respectfully yet forcefully reminding NRC commissioners not to make decisions that could be perceived as political in nature.

“McGaffigan said at his award ceremony that he stood on the shoulders of giants like Smyth, whom the award is named after and I feel the same way,” Klein said.

Career highlights

ANS Nuclear Cafe talked with Klein on the occasion of his award and asked him about some of the highlights of his long career.

The first question is why does the NRC get involved in international nuclear issues, given its primary mandate to regulate the U.S. reactor fleet?

Klein said that the NRC staff and the other commissioners understand that nuclear energy is a global enterprise. A nation’s nuclear agency responsible for the safety of its reactors cannot work in a vacuum. The NRC works closely with the OECD Multi-National Design Evaluation Program (MDEP).

The MDEP program incorporates a broad range of activities including:

  • Enhanced multilateral cooperation within existing regulatory frameworks.
  • Multinational convergence of codes, standards, and safety goals.
  • Implementation of MDEP products to facilitate licensing of new reactors, including those being developed by the Generation IV International Forum.

Setting boundaries that matter

Klein says that it is important to remember that ultimately, the responsibility for the safety of a nuclear reactor rests with the plant operator. He doesn’t think a prescriptive international regulatory body, perhaps housed at the IAEA, would be a good idea.

As a practical matter, though Klein didn’t say so directly, this kind of international cooperation, which the NRC promotes, works to prevent developers of new and untried nuclear technologies from shopping around for the most promising venue.

What he does say is that boundaries matter. He thinks nations should cooperate especially where reactors are near each others’ borders. For instance, rivers divide international boundaries and reactors are often located on major waterways in Europe. For this reason, it makes sense for the nuclear regulatory agencies in both countries to be talking to each other.

Another area where Klein and the NRC saw value in engagement in international venues is with the International Nuclear Regulatory Association (INRA). The main purpose of the association is to influence and enhance nuclear safety, from the regulatory prospective, among its members and worldwide.

It was established in January 1997 and comprises the most senior officials of the nuclear regulatory authorities of the following countries: Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Fukushima focus?

The big question on everyone’s mind is what does Klein think of the evolving circumstances at Fukushima?

Klein’s observation is that the accident at Fukushima demonstrates that nuclear events are seen by the public differently than coal or natural gas. It’s a reminder that whatever happens at one nuclear power station has worldwide impacts.

Some of the issues that have to be dealt with coming out of Fukushima include:

  • Managing safety and security for multiple reactors at the same site
  • Knowing who is in charge in an emergency
  • Understanding what happens in a beyond design basis event

One of Klein’s observations is that we are early in the process of determining what is a lesson learned from Fukushima.

“We have too much data and not enough information,” Klein said.

However, he added that there are some changes already taking place in Japan that make sense.

“I support Japan’s plan to move the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency out from under the Trade Ministry to independent status. I support seeing its technical capability to carry out an independent oversight role as an important contribution to Japan’s future use of nuclear energy,” Klein said.


A good example of the NRC’s work with international regulatory issues is its technical assistance to the nuclear regulatory agency in Spain. The system there is different than the United States because the nuclear regulatory agency makes a technical recommendation to the central government, which then makes a policy decision on whether or not to grant or renew a license for a reactor.

That said, the NRC dispatched its most senior nuclear engineers to Spain while Klein was chairman, including the agency’s executive director who was fluent in Spanish. Klein says that this technical assistance made a difference in the quality of one utility’s efforts to present a strong case for relicensing.

Klein then offered some thoughts on the global nuclear energy renaissance by talking about the situation in several countries.

China: The NRC provided technical support to that country’s nuclear regulatory agency. However, the political environment has unknowns that are difficult to understand from an American perspective.

United Arab Emirates: Klein is the chair the UAE Nuclear Safety Review Board. Bill Travers, who used to hold a high level position at the NRC, leads the nuclear regulatory effort in the UAE. The country’s regulatory framework, with independence from the agency developing four new reactors, is seen as a model for other countries.

India: It turns out that Klein was one of the first senior U.S. officials to travel to India after the signing of the 1-2-3 agreement that allows the country to acquire nuclear fuel for their civilian reactors. Klein notes that India has a well-established nuclear regulatory program that is technically competent.

Germany: Right now, Klein says, there is a lot of emotion coming out in response to the Fukushima crisis. It is not a good time to be making policy decisions. Germany and Switzerland have done exactly that, having made “emotional votes” on nuclear energy.

“These decisions to end their nuclear energy programs are unsustainable. The outcomes will not support meeting climate change objectives. Solar and wind will not support baseload demand,” Klein said.

“I see the Italian vote as a protest against the excesses of the Berlusconi regime and not directed specifically at nuclear energy. Yet, in 1987 when Italy first shut down their nuclear reactors, their energy minister told me it cost the country $50 billion in additional energy costs, something they could ill afford,” he said.

Meanwhile, getting back to Germany, Klein says that they will wind up importing energy to meet baseload demand. That will include gas from Russia and nuclear energy from France and the Czech Republic. When CEZ ramps up the Temelin project ib the Czech Republic, it could result in as many as five new reactors.

Russia: The Russians are pursuing exports of their VVER reactor design with deals in Turkey, India, China, and Vietnam.

“We need to pay more attention to their growing global market share,” Klein said.

Some of Klein’s remarks reported here were also made later in the day at an ANS  special President’s Session on Fukushima. Klein’s role and work as co-chair on the ANS Fukushima Commission will be reported in-depth by ANS Nuclear News.

Who was Henry DeWolf Smyth?


Henry DeWolf Smyth (1898-1986) was an American physicist and diplomat who had several key roles in the early development of nuclear energy. He was a commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1949-1954) and was the U.S. representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1961-1970. He was chairman of the Department of Physics at Princeton University from 1935-1949. His academic advisor for his Ph.D. was Ernest Rutherford.
Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

Welcome to the June 2011 ANS Conference!

By Eric Loewen

As President-Elect of the American Nuclear Society, I welcome my fellow ANS members and non-members to the 2011 June conference!

One of the great privileges of belonging to a professional society is the opportunity to transcend the limitations of your own place of work and rise above into the overarching global industry. Joining a professional society gives you the opportunity to interact with fellow professionals at all levels and in all disciplines all around the world, which is precisely what we will be doing in Florida over the coming days. In the aftermath of a globally known event like Fukushima-Daiichi, this coming-together of leading nuclear scientists and engineers takes on an added importance due to the tremendous public need for accurate and credible information about nuclear science and technology.

As a nuclear engineer, I was greatly bothered by how the media barely mentioned the many other horrors experienced by survivors of the quake and the resulting tsunami. The Japanese Police Agency has confirmed more than 15,000 deaths and over 9,000 people missing, mostly from drowning, as the tsunami swept away entire villages. Yet, despite the great human toll wreaked by the tsunami and earthquake, TV, radio and newspaper coverage keyed on Fukushima Daiichi. TV reports espoused the ills of nuclear power with the background showing a massive oil refinery fire. Where was the media blitz—or even a mention—of the pollution from those refinery fires containing products that have no half-lives?

Since the events at Fukushima unfolded, ANS has been very proactive in addressing a tremendous number of public and media inquiries. Many of you have worked tirelessly to provide accurate and informed perspectives on the Fukushima incidents to your communities—and we thank you for your efforts.  ANS’ cooperative efforts with other nuclear organizations demonstrate how the nuclear community comes together to share information, lend expertise, and provide a helping hand to our nuclear brothers and sisters in Japan.

The Japan Relief Fund, which was established by ANS in mid-March, embodies that same strong community spirit. Contributions have exceeded $150,000, and the funds have been designated to assist employees and the families of employees at the Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini, and Onagawa nuclear plants, all located on the damaged east coast of Japan. Contributions, which are tax deductible, are still being accepted at the ANS homepage.

To further the nuclear knowledge base, ANS has established the Special Committee on Fukushima. We are very fortunate to have the leadership of Michael Corradini, chair of the Department of Engineering Physics at the University of Wisconsin, and Dale Klein, former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in serving as committee co-chairs. During this June meeting, special sessions will be held on Monday and Tuesday, June 27 and 28, to discuss in detail the events at Fukushima. I urge you to attend these timely sessions.

As our knowledge and understanding of the events at Fukushima continues to grow, we must double our efforts to translate technical concepts into understandable terms and to counter those who would sow the seeds of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) among concerned audiences. Providing clear, correct, and positive information about nuclear science and technology is the responsibility of each ANS member. While you are here in Hollywood, Fla., I encourage you to

  • Attend the Special Sessions on Fukushima and learn about what did and what did not happen. You are the nuclear expert to your friends and families—share what you learn with them.
  • Explore the public information and communications sessions at the meeting. Always take advantage of communications training! The tips and techniques you learn are useful in classrooms and boardrooms as well as media stages.
  • Go to the Social Media Gathering on Tuesday evening to learn more about how nuclear professionals are using new communications methods to share clear, correct, and positive information about nuclear. Follow up by stopping by the Public Communications Workshop on Wednesday evening, and join the discussion about how to be effective when sharing those messages with Capitol Hill.

As ANS members, we are best positioned to share our informed perspective and communicate the value of nuclear in our communities. I look forward to seeing you in Hollywood and hearing your ideas on how we can move forward together, as a nuclear society.


Eric Loewen


Eric Loewen, PhD, is chief consulting engineer, Advanced Plants Technology, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, in Wilmington, NC. Loewen was the ANS 2005 Congressional Fellow, where he worked in the office of Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) and coordinated the Senator’s inclusion of America’s first legislation addressing global climate change policy into the Energy Act of 2005. Loewen is vice president/president elect of the American Nuclear Society and has been an ANS member since 1988. In November 2009, Esquire magazine profiled Loewen as The Man Who Could End Global Warming.

A mug your mother would love

Travel Mugs Available at June ANS Meeting

Don’t forget to get your ANS travel mug at the American Nuclear Society’s June meeting in Hollywood, Fla. The mug is durable and insulated, and perfect for holding a hot or cold beverage. It is attractive—blue, like the sky is blue (sort of), and white, like the clouds in the sky, and for only $1 it will be your constant companion for carrying coffee with a donut* or a refreshing drink on a steamy day. (*Travel mug does not come with donut.)

And, with its adorning logos of the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog site and Nuclear News magazine, the travel mug will let others know of your support for nuclear technology.

Supplies are limited, so get your travel mug now. The $1 mugs are available at various locations at the ANS meeting. Buy one for yourself, another for a friend, and a third for mom back at home. She’ll love it. Be advised that the mugs will be de rigueur at the Social Media gathering on June 28.

The role of nuclear professionals as public educators

By John Wheeler

The first light bulbs ever lit by electricity generated by nuclear power at EBR-1, what is now INL.

The history of the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy is accentuated by a number of significant emotional events. Some have been distinctly positive; the first man-made self-sustaining fission reaction, the first electricity generated by atomic energy, feats accomplished by the first nuclear powered naval vessels, the invention of life-saving nuclear medicine techniques, etc. During and following each of these milestones our collective understanding of the technology has continued to evolve and mature with increased knowledge and experience.

Smoke billowed from the No. 3 unit at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Other periods are defined by negative significant emotional events: reactor accidents at SL-1, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima Daiichi.  Following each of these accidents, the worldwide nuclear community has reacted by systematically dissecting the mechanical, natural, and human responses to the accident, then squeezing every drop of information and every lesson learned from the experience. Inevitably, oversight is enhanced, nuclear regulations evolve, reactor and power plant designs are updated, worker training adjusts, and operating practices improve. Together, these responses result in a prompt jump in our collective knowledge and understanding, and increases in safety margins.

While the nuclear community’s knowledge and understanding has continued to grow, we’ve been less successful in helping our ultimate stakeholders—the public—understand our technology. Lack of information and knowledge can lead to mistrust and fear. In this era of instant communications, social media, and streaming video in every pocket, this shortcoming can be disastrous. For example, in Germany, opponents of nuclear energy have convinced the public that nuclear plants pose an unacceptable level of risk. This despite the fact that shutting down their nuclear plants will lead to significant increased air pollution, greenhouse gas production, and loss of energy independence.

Our mission in the Education, Training, and Workforce Development (ETWD) Division of ANS includes “educate the general public.” While there is great work being done to support and promote other aspects of our mission, this is an area where we need to do a better job. Let’s face it—our technology is not always easy to understand! Declining mathematics and science proficiency in our schools make the challenge of explaining nuclear science and technology tougher still.

I challenge every member of the ETWD Division (all 1,321 of us) to set aside time each month to do something to promote public education. Volunteer to speak in a classroom, tutor a student, contribute to online discussions and blogs, attend a career fair, organize a workshop for science teachers or guidance counselors, engage your local schools to improve curricula, or invite students and teachers to visit your workplace. Together we can make the “post-Fukushima era” remembered for a step change in public knowledge and understanding of nuclear science and technology, and increased awareness of the benefits that nuclear energy provides society.

We have a great program planned for the upcoming 2011 ANS Annual Conference in Hollywood, Fla. I hope to see you there!

This article first appeared on the ETWD website.



John Wheeler is an engineer, father, podcaster, triathlete, manager in the nuclear industry, and American Nuclear Society member. He is the chair of the ANS Education, Training and Workforce Development Professional Division. He regularly podcasts and blogs at This Week in Nuclear.

Nuclear professionals share facts about safety and aging

By Rod Adams

Some of us are old enough to remember when, in the 1970s, the US News and World Reports annual survey of careers with room for growth placed nuclear energy at or near the top of the list for several years in a row. I was in high school at the time, and had already decided that I was interested in energy production, nuclear in particular. The annual list publication reinforced my decision. My high school career lasted from 1973 to 1977, a period that coincided not only with the apogee of the first Nuclear Age, but that also was sandwiched between two significant oil-price-related recessions.

That era of optimism had come to a near standstill by 1986, the first time I could consider entering the civilian work force. Though there were many contributing factors, one influence that deflated the optimism was the repetitive media portrayal of the industry as risky, inept, and expensive. From the point of view available to most Americans (and we had little access to international news sources at the time), nuclear energy looked like an industry collapsing after an extended bubble.

That was a time in our history when information sources were far more limited and much more controlled. There was only a limited capability for people who knew more about technical reality than professional journalists to engage, respond, and debate. Even though there is still a mismatch between the reach of money-amplified speech and knowledge-based speech, the situation is slowly improving, but there are still major challenges.

Unless you have been too busy working this week to visit your favorite online news aggregation site, pick up a newspaper, or watch television, you will know that the Associated Press has released the first two installments of a planned four-part series about the nuclear industry.

The wire service invested more than a year’s worth of research into the effort, which must have involved a considerable expense. As a former businessman who understands a little bit about how the news business makes money, I am confident that the wire service’s goal from making such an investment included releasing sensational stories that attract a wide audience—that is the best way to obtain a substantial financial return on investment (ROI).

Surprise, surprise. When the first report was released, it weaved an impressionistic tapestry of the industry out of raw Nuclear Regulatory Commission event reports, input from disgruntled former nuclear industry employees, and quotes from professional antinuclear celebrities in an attempt to show that the big bad nuclear industry had developed an excessively cozy relationship with a compliant regulator.

According to the portrayal by the AP reporter, that alliance had conspired to reduce safety standards in order to allow nuclear plants to continue operating past their initial 40-year license period. That was not even the most inaccurate part of the picture—according to the AP reporter and the people he chose to quote as experts, the initial designers, builders, and regulators expected that the plants would have been replaced by the end of their “designed” 40-year lifetimes.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was no established way for nuclear professionals to respond to such a slanted story. There is now, however, a growing network of writers that happens to also have nuclear training and its own established voice. Some members of that network frequently communicate with other nuclear professionals with a broad range of technical expertise on a mailing list hosted by the American Nuclear Society (ANS). That established “social media” network of people who know and trust each other swung into action.

One of the members of the group, Dr. John Bickel, has deep experience in the issues associated with aging nuclear plants. He shared a letter that he had written to the AP, calling them out for a misinformed report that ignored a number of key facts.

Within minutes of sharing his lengthy letter, Dr. Bickel received several offers from experienced bloggers to work together to produce a response article. As the bloggers realized, there was little chance of a long letter to the editor actually appearing in the press. Even if a shortened version did make it through the screening process, there would also be enough of a time delay to allow the story to experience the amplification of positive feedback to become a deafening screech.

Dan Yurman, who produces the well-respected Idaho Samizdat, got together with Dr. Bickel for a detailed interview. The product of that effort, titled Associated Press Nukes the NRC on Reactor Safety, was published on June 20, 2011, the same day that the AP report was released in the advertiser-supported media. Of course, coming from a wire service that has a world-wide reach, the AP report had a significant head start, but by day two, it no longer stood alone.

In addition to Dan’s response, the Nuclear Energy Institute produced a formal press release, a communication to its members, and a post on the NEI Nuclear Notes blog titled The AP Trawls for Nuclear Wickedness.

Now comes the hard part. These technically accurate, well-written responses need some amplification to give them a chance at competing with the reach of a wire service. We need the help of that often silent majority of people that support nuclear energy development to get involved and to use available tools (Facebook, Twitter, their own blogs, other social networks) to share better information. It would help the effort to add links back to Dan Yurman’s piece.

The second installment of the AP report pulled together incidents that have occurred over several decades to try to paint a picture of an industry that is plagued by leaking pipes, most of which carry water that contains incredibly tiny quantities of tritium. I took on that article with an Atomic Insights piece titled Buried pipes versus buried pipelines – hype versus hazard that quoted the findings of a year-long U.S. Government Accountability Office report titled NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: Oversight of Underground Piping Systems Commensurate with Risk, but Proactive Measures Could Help Address Future Leaks.

What GAO Found

While experts in our public health discussion group generally agreed that radioactive leaks at the three nuclear power plants in our case studies of actual events had no discernible impact on the public’s health, these experts noted that additional information could enhance the identification of the leaks and the characterization of their impacts. The experts in our environmental impact discussion group concluded that environmental resources beyond the plant site have not been impacted discernibly(emphasis added)

There are two more planned AP releases. There is no reason to expect that the AP will praise the industry’s exceptional record of 10 years in a row of capacity factors that have hovered at 90 percent, its incredibly cost effective power that has a marginal cost of about 2 cents per kilowatt hour, or the fact that the operating plants produce virtually zero pollution of any kind. As ANS members gather in sunny South Florida, I hope they talk about real efforts to take advantage of our technical skills to spread the truth and work to overcome the well-marketed hype.


Rod Adams is a pro-nuclear advocate with extensive small nuclear plant operating experience. Adams is a former engineer officer, USS Von Steuben. He is founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., and host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. Adams has been an ANS member since 2005. He writes about nuclear technology at his own blog, Atomic Insights.

Thoughts on a Chart

By Meredith Angwin

Vermont’s Department of Public Service (DPS) is holding local meetings about a proposed Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk in October.

On June 7, I went to the DPS meeting in Springfield, Vt. Three of us from the Hartford Energy Commission carpooled down and listened to a very good presentation by the new commissioner, Elizabeth Miller. Ms. Miller was appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin, a man who is a fervent opponent of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. I was pleased to see, however, that Ms. Miller is thoughtful and articulate. I liked her presentation on Vermont’s Energy Future. (Note: the Web site for the Comprehensive Energy Plan is very good, but does not yet include the June 7 presentations.)

Why did I like her presentation so much? One reason is that she used the same chart I use in many of my talks about Vermont Yankee. The chart is from a presentation given by Dave Lamont of the DPS in March of this year.

The chart shows Committed Electric Resources—that is, contracts signed between Vermont’s utilities and electricity generators. The chart tracks 10 years (not a very long time, actually), starting in 2010 and ending in 2020. Here it is:

Click to enlarge

The chart assumes that Vermont Yankee closes in March 2012. You can see all the empty space (electricity demand) not filled with electricity contracts, starting in 2012.

Thoughts on the chart

The chart is quite dramatic. Vermont Yankee’s contribution goes down to zero by 2013, and the existing Hydro-Québec (HQ) contracts go to zero by 2016. There are new, widely-celebrated HQ contracts, but they do not fill in as much as what was provided under the old HQ contracts. (HQ is selling us less power in the future.) Granted, the chart does not include 60 MW from Seabrook, recently announced.

On the other hand, you may note that wind energy—providing almost nothing right now (light-blue near the top)—is supposed to be a significant contributor to Vermont by 2016. Indeed, Vermont utilities have announced purchases of wind power from New Hampshire and Vermont, and these “committed resources” are on the chart. The problem, however, is that the actual wind turbines are not on the ridgelines yet. People are fighting them tooth and nail for various reasons. So, I don’t think that wind will provide much power to Vermont very quickly.

Thoughts on the meeting

I was at the June 7 meeting with two of my fellow Energy commissioners. These people are devoted to energy savings, and they know quite a lot about houses, street lights (we’re all very proud of our street light project), and so forth. As typical Vermont Democrats, however, they are against Vermont Yankee (and they do not read my blog). One of them said that he had never seen the chart before, and he was surprised by it. My fellow commissioners are devoted and hardworking in their roles on the town’s Energy Commission, but they are also devoted to Vermont Yankee closing.

From my point of view, this chart is all over the place:

Also, I show the chart at Rotary presentations, and the DPS commissioner shows the chart at planning meetings. Yet, at least one of my fellow commissioners had never seen it before.

Thoughts on Ms. Merkel and Miss Marple


When I get discouraged, I sometimes look at the Big Picture. In this case, it doesn’t help. I look at Germany, and at Prime Minister Merkel saying that Germany will have to build more coal plants to help with the “transition” from nuclear to renewables. These coal plants are likely to stay around awhile, I think.

Then I thought of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s senior-citizen detective. Miss Marple understands the world because, after all, “everything happens in a village,” she said. The motivations are the same in the microcosm of a village and in the larger world. In other words, the people of Vermont have a chart of future electricity sources, yet many people are ignoring it (despite my best efforts). The people of Germany will build coal plants—they aren’t ignoring their chart, perhaps. But they are deluded if they think that a coal plant won’t run for at least 20 to 40 years, once built. Those plants will not quietly fade away in 10 years in honor of wind turbines. As Miss Marple says, everything happens in a village. In this case, everything happens in Vermont. But with any luck, we will keep our nuclear plant, and Vermont will show the big world (including Germany) that nuclear, not fossil, is the proper bridge to a renewable future.



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.

Small Modular Reactors and Current Policy Initiatives—Part 2

by Jim Hopf

Continued from Monday, June 20

Legislative Initiatives

Two bills concerning small modular reactors (SMRs) have been introduced recently in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


The first bill, S. 512, instructs the Department of Energy (along with private partners) to develop two standardized SMR designs. The intent is to obtain final Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification of the two designs by 2018, and to have an NRC construction and operating license (COL) for two actual plants by 2021. ANS president Joe Colvin testified before the committee in support of the bill.

The other bill, S. 1067, provides $250 million in funding over the next five years for research and development on how to reduce fabrication and construction costs for SMRs.

Perspective on SMR Legislation

R&D toward reducing construction costs for SMRs (or nuclear plants in general) could be very productive, with up-front capital cost being the most significant impediment to the growth of nuclear power. Thus, S. 1067 should be beneficial, the only question being how much. My personal view is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Current policies provide financial incentives (such as tax credits and loan guarantees) to utilities to build and operate new nuclear plants. The main reason, however, for the recent escalation in new nuclear plant cost is the lack of a sufficient supply chain for large and/or nuclear-grade components.  Therefore, it is possible that financial incentives to develop the supply chain would be an even more strategic investment than direct plant construction incentives, with respect to getting new nuclear deployed. How about tax credits or loan guarantees for fabrication plants and/or assembly lines to build whole reactors (in the case of SMRs) or large plant components (in the case of large reactors)? This should result in a significant drop in nuclear plant construction costs, which could make direct utility construction incentives unnecessary, at least over the longer term.

As for S. 512, some believe that the choice of (only) two standard designs to promote will stifle competition and innovation. There’s probably some truth to that. For me, the bigger issue is the schedule (i.e., a COL by 2021). This seems to be rather slow. In fact, it appears that industry may achieve a shorter schedule all on its own, without any government support at all.

For the two SMR designs that are simply scaled-down light-water reactors (i.e., NuScale and mPower), I believe that the companies in question are planning to file COL applications in the near future. I certainly hope that the COL application will not take about 9 years! My understanding is that the (private) companies’ timelines corresponded to having the first modules actually in operation by about 2020. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which plans to deploy (mPower) SMR(s) at one of its existing nuclear sites, is planning on forgoing the COL process, and opting for the old reactor licensing process, so it they can get started on SMR construction even earlier. If the government is (supposedly) helping, why is its timeline (i.e., merely having a reactor licensed by 2021) even longer?

A Real SMR/Nuclear Wish List

To really help SMRs, what the congress needs to do is reduce the regulatory red tape involved with bringing each SMR module (or any reactor) on line.

As discussed yesterday, SMRs may not make economic sense if the financial burden associated with security and emergency planning is no smaller than it is for large reactors. The much smaller potential release from these reactors should be considered when determining such requirements. At a minimum, SMRs deployed at existing plant sites should be able to just make use of the existing emergency plans, and be able to mostly just make use of existing site security. If the NRC does not take the initiative here, legislation may have to be an option.

Dry cask storage system

Another (aggressive) approach would be to have an SMR licensing process similar to that used for used fuel dry storage casks. With casks, once the NRC grants a license for a specific cask design, they can be fabricated and deployed from that point forward, without having to obtain any kind of license for each individual unit. (The NRC can and does have inspectors overseeing cask construction, but further license applications are not required.) Casks of a given design can even be deployed at different sites without additional licensing action. The only requirement is that the utility document all important site-specific parameters (such as maximum seismic accelerations) and show that they are bounded by the design’s generic licensing analyses.

I see no reason why a similar approach could not be used for SMRs. Such a change would be significant, because having to go through an NRC licensing process for each individual reactor module may add substantially to the overall cost of the unit, given its small size. At a minimum, a utility should be able to get a license to deploy a specific SMR design at a specific site, and then be able to add units without further license applications.

For nuclear in general, I think an effort should be made to reign in the cost and time associated with NRC licensing, particularly for follow-on COL applications for an already-licensed reactor design. A telling example of how onerous things are at present is the fact that one of the main legislative issues in Missouri this year was on the question of whether the utility should be able to charge customers in advance for just the cost of licensing (not building!) a new nuclear plant in the state. Even though this plant will merely be a copy of a licensed reactor (Calvert Cliffs would be the lead application for the design in question), the licensing process is expected to take several years and cost on the order of a hundred million dollars; a burden so great that it requires the attention of the state legislature. The NRC simply must do better than this.

I personally think that a COL application for a copy of an existing design (which supposedly is mainly about site characterization issues) should take no more than two years, and not cost anything close to $100 million. I also think that this is something that legislation can, and should, require.


Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of 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.

Small Modular Reactors and Current Policy Initiatives

by Jim Hopf

Over the past year or so, there has been a lot of buzz about small modular reactors (SMRs). These are reactors whose electrical output ranges anywhere from ~25 MW to ~300 MW, as compared with over 1000 MW for large “conventional” nuclear power plants. With SMRs, the entire reactor (or possibly the entire nuclear island—NSSS) could be built in a factory and shipped to the site. Any site construction would be much more limited, and would only involve the (non-nuclear) balance of plant. Descriptions of some proposed SMRs can be found herehere and here.

Advantages of SMRs

NuScale's containment vessel showing the reactor pressure vessel (Graphic: NuScale Power)

Whereas SMRs start off with an apparent disadvantage due to lack of economy of scale, it is hoped that with volume production, assembly-line-produced reactors could wind up being cheaper than site-constructed large reactors. Performing the fabrication of the reactor and all other nuclear safety related components at a single, dedicated factory site may also result in a higher level of quality control and minimize construction defects.

In addition to the raw cost, SMRs may have less difficulty in obtaining financing than large reactors, and may enjoy lower financing costs (interest rates). This is due to several factors. The cost of each reactor would be much smaller compared with the overall financial assets of the utility, which lowers the risk of default. The construction period (i.e., the delay between borrowing the money and the generation of cash flow) would be significantly shorter for an SMR. In fact, down the road it may even be possible (particularly for the smaller SMRs) that the factory would have an inventory of reactors, allowing a reactor to be simply ordered and put into place. Finally, there would be a much lower risk of construction delays with an SMR, due to the very limited amount of on-site construction.

In addition to the economic benefits, SMRs may allow nuclear to be used in places where it otherwise wouldn’t. This would include in remote locations that don’t have enough demand for a large reactor, by utilities that are not large enough to take on a large reactor, or in regions where electricity demand is growing very slowly and large increments of new generation are not needed.

Potential SMR Drawbacks

Hyperion Power's SMR (Graphic: Hyperion Power)

Many of the potential drawbacks of SMRs revolve around the economy of scale issue mentioned earlier. In addition to the question of whether small reactors can achieve the same per-kW construction cost as large reactors, some requirements for running a nuclear plant, such as having sufficient in-house engineering expertise, plant site security, and emergency planning procedures, do not necessarily (or obviously) scale down with plant size. One of the main questions on the table is the extent to which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will consider the fact that the potential source term (radioactivity release) from an SMR is much smaller than that of a large reactor, when determining the requirements for things like security and emergency planning.

Some of the above drawbacks may be minimized by deploying SMRs at existing reactor sites that already have security and emergency planning procedures in place. It’s not clear (in the continental United States, anyway) that there is any real need to increase the number of nuclear power sites, at least for now. That may also address the concerns, of some critics, that an increased number of nuclear sites would increase security risks. In any event, employing a large number of SMRs at a given site will certainly reduce these costs.

Continued in Part 2 on Tuesday, June 21, with perspectives on recently-introduced SMR legislation.


Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of 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.

57th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Perhaps one of the more enduring cartoons that relates to the quality of information on the Internet is the one that states, “On the Internet no one knows you are a dog.” It shows a drawing of two dogs sitting in front of a computer terminal. Unfortunately, the cartoon is copyrighted material so it can’t be reposted here, but you can see it here along with many variations. The point of the cartoon is that words and images on the screen can come from anywhere and anyone.Clearing up misconceptions and outright falsehoods about nuclear energy since the March 11 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami is getting more attention these days. Problems range from not mainstream journalists not understanding the technical issues to people who are publicity crazed fear mongers out to get their face on a video.

For instance, during a telephone interview a reporter at a newspaper not to be named confused the plutonium content of mixed oxide fuel on Fukushima reactor #3 with weapons-grade plutonium ejected into the atmosphere from cold war atomic bomb testing.

In other instances, anti-nuclear groups have said that radiation levels in the water in Philadelphia are responsible for a spike in infant mortality. (FOX news TV report) These kinds of bogus news stories scare parents and the truth rarely catches up with fiction. Fox news has reportedly removed the video from its website, but, as is often the case with bogus content, it has gone viral and appears in numerous places on the Internet.

Is debunking nonsense likely to be successful?

Nuclear bloggers have been responding to these types of stories. For all their efforts, the more things evolve at Fukushima, the more nonsense appears on the Internet. Still, responding to it was the major preoccupation this week.

Yes Vermont Yankee

For starters, in her post Fuel Pools, Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee quotes Arnie Gundersen predicting that fuel pools at Fukushima went critical. Actually, there were hydrogen explosions, but no nuclear explosions. Gundesen’s explanation of deflagration and detonation notwithstanding, hydrogen can and did explode. In other words, worrying that the fuel pools are about to become nuclear bombs is not a reasonable scenario.


Cheryl Rofer debunks a video (at her blog Phronesisaical) that has been flying around the Internet, claiming to show an explosion at a Fukushima fuel pool, when in fact it’s just steam and fog. She provides some reliable links with information about the Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, reactor that is withstanding Missouri River flooding ,and points out how Richard Bernstein has been begging the question of Iran’s intentions at the New York Review of Books.

NEI Nuclear Notes

Dave Bradish of the Nuclear Energy Institute takes on Grist’s anti-nuclear campaign. In Bradish’s last part of the three part series at NEI Nuclear Notes, he takes to town Grist’s bogus cost and insurance claims. For example, based on a study cited by Grist’s own author, Paul Gipe, the insurance cost for nuclear is lower than solar. If nuclear is “uninsurable” as the critics proclaim, then solar is catastrophic (at least if we go by their characterizations).

Atomic Power Review

In a blog post titled “How the Misinformation Superhighway Affects Nuclear Energy,” Will Davis writes at Atomic Power Review that the speed at which information travels on the Internet is exceeded only by the speed at which misinformation travels on it.For example, just a few days ago, a compressed video showing an hour’s worth of the Fukuichi Live Camera at the Fukushima Daiichi site, and which clearly shows a fog bank rolling in to the site, was widely circulated on anti-nuclear sites and deliberately mislabeled as having depicted some sort of explosion on the site

Davis attempts to obtain some focus on the position that the pro-nuclear crowd finds itself in, and the positions and hurdles it finds itself facing, in a blog-oriented not-yet-post-Fukushima world where anyone can write anything… but usually leaves a comment feature available.

Idaho Samizdat

At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman posts his view on the conspiracy theories surrounding the flooding of the Missouri River near the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant. In addition to pointing out reasons, based on facts, why the plant is safe, he also notes the FAA “no fly” zone was set up primarily to keep news helicopters buzzing the plant at low altitudes from crashing into power lines or each other.

Atomic Insights

For those who think Germany’s retreat from nuclear energy will spark a revolution in renewables, think again, says Rod Adams.

Two articles that appear in the New York Times on June 15, 2011, should help to make it more clear to more thinking people—Russia, the world’s largest natural gas exporter, stands to gain the most money by an illogical, politically driven shift away from nuclear energy.

It baffles me why there is so much reluctance among even my friends and colleagues to accept my assertion that there is a relationship between that monetary gain and the strength of the antinuclear movement that is pushing the ill-considered policies.

Finally, here at ANS Nuclear Cafe, Ted Rockwell debunks myths about how radiation works and why and why not you may be harmed if exposed to it.

Jaczko – Will he stay or will he go?

Like the mascot in a famous advertising contest for the restaurant chain Bob’s Big Boy, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko has succeeded in raising questions of whether he’s to stay or go. The reason is his controversial management decisions.

At Next Big Future Brian Wang comments on an article at the National Review by Robert Zubrin calling for Jaczko to be fired. At the heart of the matter, Zubrin says, is the question of honest dealing in policy matters.

Far from being “fair and objective” in dealing with Yucca Mountain, in 2010 Jaczko issued a directive stopping an NRC staff evaluation of the project, precisely because the study would have shown that the project was sound. He then used the resulting lack of safety data as an excuse to order work on the Yucca Mountain project to be stopped altogether.

Breaking his promise to consult other members of the commission on Yucca Mountain matters, according to a report made public by NRC inspector general Hubert Bell last week, Jaczko “strategically withheld” information from the other commissioners and “was not forthcoming” about his intention to use his arbitrary directive to stop the project.

Will Jaczko be thrown under a bus by the White House? It’s not likely, says Margaret Harding, who writes at Four Factor Consulting that he is “untouchable” due to political air cover from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)

The Inspector General of the NRC’s report has been leaked to various agencies and paints a portrait of a leader who is more concerned with his political calculus than leading the agency with which he is charged. Republicans in Congress have been incensed by his actions claiming he has “politicized” the process.

Congress can investigate him every which way they want, could even demonstrate that Dr. Jaczko has abused his position to further the agenda of his former bosses, Senator Reid and Congressman Markey. What they cannot do is to fire him from the position.

Beefing up nuclear safety

Gail Marcus, a former president of the American Nuclear Society, has some ideas at her blog Nuke Power Talk about beefing up nuclear safety regulation in Japan.

She points out that the IAEA preliminary report on the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan calls for independence for the Japan Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (JNISA) which until now has been housed in the Trade Ministry. While it has long been apparent in the U.S. that you can’t promote and regulate an industry from the same government organization, Japan appears to be getting the news for the first time.

Marcus says that finding the right regulatory balance in an independent agency is just as important. She note that the reorganization of JNSIA is only the first step in a continuing process of regulatory evolution.

At Nuclear Green, Charles Barton writes that technology may provide some answers about safety in future reactor designs. Barton writes that although nuclear power is already the safest form of energy production, public fear of the release of radioactive materials, as evinced by the Fukushima reactor accidents, has led Germany and Italy to reject nuclear power.

While this response is irrational, safer reactors may be required to satisfy a fearful public. It is possible to build fluid fuel reactors that produce no plutonium, and to extract volatile fission product from their cores. Coupled with underground reactor placement, an extremely high level of nuclear safety is possible.

Some good news for a change

Brian Wang at Next Big Future does not disappoint with two posts that show that a sound mind and a self-assured approach to analysis can lead to good things all around.The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) sees a decade of growth for nuclear power, with only a marginal impact from the Fukushima accident. The EIU reduced its expectations for global nuclear capacity in 2020, but the figure still grows by 27 percent compared with 2010.

Also, Wang writes that he made a series of three bets with Michael Dittmar at the Oil Drum, who had four papers in Arxiv and had a bunch of coverage at the Technology Review, Economist, and newspapers. He predicted a failure to mine more uranium per year and a reduction in nuclear power generation from lack of sufficient uranium.

1. World Uranium production (official win for 2010)
2. World Nuclear power generation bets going to 2018 (official win for 2010)
3. Uranium production in Kazakhstan (official win for 2010)

Wang won the bets

Europe’s retreat from nuclear has unintended consequences

Rick Maltese writes at his blog on nuclear deregulation that the growing list of “cop out” countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and maybe now Japan to increase their renewable energy supply and decrease nuclear energy calls for some honest assessment of the energy situation.

He notes that Japan’s Fukushima events affected Switzerland, Germany, and Italy to the point that they are likely going to need to sacrifice valuable land for wind and solar energy if they stick to their plan of going with so-called “renewable” energy.

A bright star on the horizon

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues writes that nothing is more exciting and inspiring than working with bright, motivated people in solving the great problems of our time.

Aplin reports on his daily interactions with people in the fields of chemical and nuclear engineering—two fields that, combined, will create the new energy of North America and the world.

# # #

What’s in the June 2011 issue of Nuclear News?

The June issue of Nuclear News has been published and is available in hard copy and electronically to American Nuclear Society members (click here—log-in required).

The issue contains a 32-page special section on New Construction.  Feature articles include:

  • Renaissance watch: Is it still happening? by E. Michael Blake
  • Supplying the United Kingdom’s new-build program, by Dick Kovan
  • The NNSA’s MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility moves along, by Rick Michal
  • Mandatory hearings ahead for the first new reactor licenses, by E. Michael Blake

Other features include a report on the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2011 conference and a review of INPO’s performance indicators for 2010 for the U.S. nuclear power industry.

Additional news items of note in the June issue:  TEPCO’s plan to cover the Fukushima Daiichi-1 reactor building to prevent the continued release of radioactive material into the environment; the draft recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future; Exelon and Constellation announcing plans to merge; NRC commissioners question sufficiency of station blackout rule for battery power duration; Point Beach-1 and -2 approved for 17-percent power uprates; three reactors rise, three fall in the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process action matrix; NRC issues red finding for valve failure at Browns Ferry-1; Dominion announces plans to sell Kewaunee; GE Hitachi asks NRC to suspend design certification rulemaking for Toshiba ABWR; Areva CEO Besnainou criticizes reporting on MOX fuel; more capacity planned for uranium-bearing copper at Olympic Dam Project in Australia; MIT report says centralized storage is key, but siting problematic; India to establish independent nuclear regulatory agency; Japan’s prime minister forces shutdown of Hamaoka nuclear plant; workers make first entry into Fukushima Daiichi-1 reactor building; Italy abandons new nuclear program; and much more.

Past issues of Nuclear News, including the May issue, are available here.

This post first appeared on the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Social media and nuclear energy

It’s not the same as selling donuts, cars, or promoting sports entertainment

By Dan Yurman

EBR-1 chalkboard ~ the 1st known nuclear energy blog post 12/21/51 on the Arco desert of eastern Idaho

As blogger on nuclear energy for the past five years, I realize I’m writing on a niche subject that isn’t going to pull in millions of readers. Unlike some entertainment blogs, a site on nuclear energy is never going to be able to link the words “reactor pressure vessel” with the antics of a Hollywood celebrity at a New York night club. So, what can be said about the use of social media and how it has evolved as a new communication tool in a mature industry?

Evidence of acceptance of social media is widespread, with the most recent example being the launch of the Nuclear Information Center, a social media presence by Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK). Content written for the Nuclear Information Center by a team of the utility’s employees is clearly designed to reach out to the general public. This effort goes beyond the usual scope of a utility Web site, which includes things like how to pay your bill online, where to call when the lights go out, and so forth.

The Nuclear Information Center announces right at the top that “In this online space, you will find educational information on the nuclear industry and the nuclear stations operated by Duke Energy. We will feature insights into radiation, new nuclear, emergency planning and more . . . allowing readers to get an inside view of the industry.”

That’s a big step for a nuclear utility. The reason is that like many publicly traded electric utilities, it generates electricity from several fuel sources, including coal, natural gas, solar, wind, and nuclear. Because these utilities have huge customer rate bases and supply chains, they are inherently conservative about the information they publish on their Web sites. Also, there are significant legal and financial reasons why a utility might or might not put information out there for public consumption. Press releases receive scrutiny from the general counsel and chief financial officer for very important reasons having to do with regulatory oversight and shareholder value.

Different approaches to blog rolls

Blogging the nuclear fuel cycle has little in common with news about Hollywood celebrities

Duke’s Web site is a completely modern effort set up like a blog, with new entries on a frequent basis. On the right column, the site has a list of other places to get nuclear energy information, including the American Nuclear Society (ANS), the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

While even the NRC now has a blog, going beyond information about its operations in terms of content may be a stretch for the same reasons that Duke is cautious about links on its site. It is probably too much to expect Duke, or any other nuclear utility, to list any of the nuclear energy blogs.

Most nuclear blogs have a “blog roll”which list other publishers of information on the nuclear energy field.  Areva has done this on its North American blog. Areva handles the issue of avoiding any appearance of endorsement by noting that the list with more than two dozen entries is one of “blogs we read.” Areva also has several years of experience reaching out to the nuclear blogger community with monthly conference calls.

The blog of the Nuclear Energy Institute, NEI Nuclear Notes,  lists a wide range of nuclear blogs including this one as well as the blogs published by independent analysts.

Who reads nuclear energy blogs?

So, who is reading nuclear blogs? On the ANS Social Media listserv, I asked this question recently and got some interesting results for the month of May 2011. Here’s a sample of the replies:

  • Michele Kearny, at the Nuclear Wire, a news service, reports for the month of May 18,812 page views. Michele’s blog is a fast-moving series of news links that keeps readers coming back for updates.
  • Will Davis, at Atomic Power Review, who has been publishing high quality, in-depth technical updates about Fukushima, reports 31,613 page views for the same month.
  • Rod Adams, who recently updated the template at his blog at Atomic Insights, reported his numbers in terms of absolute visitors. He cites Google Analytics as reporting 10,583 unique visitors for May. Rod emphasizes commentary and analysis across a wide range of nuclear subjects.
  • At my blog Idaho Samizdat, I can report 6,945 visitors and 24,938 page views for May 2011. The blog covers economic and political news about nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues.
  • At ANS Nuclear Cafe, this blog uses WordPress to track readers, reporting 24,476 page views for the same four-week period as the other blogs. During the height of the Fukushima crisis on a single day, March 14, 2011, the blog attained over 55,000 page views as people poured on to the Internet in search of information about the situation in Japan.

Taken together, the four blogs that reported monthly page views represent 100,000 visits to online information pages on nuclear energy or an effective rate of well over 1 million page views per year. These are real numbers and the data are just for a small sample of the more than two dozen blogs on nuclear energy that update at least once a week.

Another interesting set of statistics is who reads North American blogs overseas? It turns out that the international readership is concentrated in a small group of countries. They include, in alphabetical order for the same sample of blogs, the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Japan
  • United Kingdom

Who else invests in social media?

The importance of social media has been recognized for several years by investments in it by organizations such as the Idaho National Laboratory, Areva, and recruiter CoolHandNuke.

A huge group of more than 5,000 people interact on LinkedIn, moderated by nuclear industry consultant Ed Kee. It is called “Nuclear Power Next Generation” and is one of dozens of such groups related to nuclear energy on the professional networking site.

Facebook anyone?

Nuclear energy is not so widely represented on Facebook as on LinkedIn, despite its enormous popularity, and isn’t conducive to the kinds of technical dialogs that populate other nuclear social media sites. While the Facebook format is attractive to lifestyle information such as dating and the promotion of entertainment, sports, and consumer packaged goods, it doesn’t seem to work as well for business and engineering topics.

It turns out Facebook is a good way to offer a “soft sell” for recruitment purposes to drive traffic to nuclear energy organization recruitment pages. It can answer the questions of what’s it like to work for an organization and the attractive amenities of life in the employer’s home town. Videos and photos can help deliver these messages.

Everyone is on Twitter

On the other hand, Twitter, even with its limits of 140 characters, is enormously useful for the nuclear energy field. Twitter users who follow the output of nuclear bloggers number in the tens of thousands, and many nuclear energy organizations, including the major utilities such as Entergy, have invested in a Twitter account to have a presence on the service. The American Nuclear Society “tweets” under @ans_org and posts updates daily on the situation at Fukushima

Traditional media meets social media

The mainstream news media has taken notice of the use of social media in the nuclear industry by reading the nuclear blogs and also by following them on Twitter. Has it made a difference in how the media covers the industry? To some extent, there is evidence that the national dialog on Fukushima and the future of nuclear energy, as covered by the media, was better than if social media was not used by the nuclear industry.

Web sites maintained by NEI and the World Nuclear Organization had to make fast upgrades to their computer servers to handle millions of inquires from the media and the public and on a global scale. Getting out the facts of the situation to respond to these inquiries was facilitated by this online presence at an unprecedented scale.

Even so, newspapers often had anti-nuclear groups on speed dial early in the crisis and their voices reached an unsettled public with messages of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In response, ANS used technical experts on its social media listserv to information media engagements, which reached millions of views on network television and major newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post.

This useful mix of free form communication on the listserv and excellent outreach by Clark Communications, working for ANS, made a difference in getting the facts about Fukushima to an understandably anxious public.

Margaret Harding, a consulting nuclear engineer with deep experience with boiling water reactor fuels, was one of the people tapped by ANS to be a spokesperson for the society. She wrote to me in a personal e-mail that social media made a difference for her in many ways.

In summary, she said that it would have been impossible for her to fulfill this role without many hands helping her from various quarters at ANS.

She pointed out that the ANS Social Media listserv group “provided invaluable background information . . that helped me keep up-to-date and ready for the question from the next reporter.”

In fact, she said, she might not have even started down this road if the listserv hadn’t already proven itself as a source of information and expertise.

Another take on the news media’s shift into anti-nuclear skepticism following Fukushima comes from Andrea Jennetta, publisher of Fuel Cycle Week.  Writing in the March 17 issue, she said that this time the “bunker mentality” that has characterized communications in prior years by the nuclear industry gave way to something new.

But instead of rolling over, the nuclear community for once is mobilizing and fighting back. I am impressed at the efforts of various pronuclear activists, bloggers, advocates and professional organizations.

In the U.S., I have to commend the Nuclear Energy Institute and American Nuclear Society, as well as a dedicated band of individuals first connected by social media and now forever bonded like soldiers in war, for being proactive in offering up an antidote to the poison spewed by the mainstream media and the antinuclear lobbyists.”

Engineers need soft skills

Engineers aren’t always comfortable with the soft skills of dealing with the news media. Blogs and other forms of social media, however, are the medium of information exchange for the next generation of leadership in the nuclear industry.

For instance, North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) told a group of nuclear energy bloggers just last week that it recorded 80,000 hours of volunteer time for its members in the past 12 months, and of that number, 36,000 hours were related to public information outreach. NA-YGN has a formal program to train its 7,000 members in 90 chapters how to talk to the public and the news media.

Recruitment and retention of the next generation of nuclear energy leaders to participate in its future will require the industry to clearly demonstrate it has mastered and integrated these technologies into its operations. It appears from the use of social media in the response to Fukushima that the nuclear field is rising to the occasion.


Dan Yurman publishes Idaho Samizdat, a blog about nuclear energy, and is a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe

How does radiation damage work?

By Ted Rockwell

A typical description of what happens when you’re “exposed to radiation” sounds scary—a gamma ray slams into a cell! Sounds like something you wouldn’t want to have happen very often.

But we are, in fact, exposed to natural radiation all the time, and about 1 percent of our body’s 100 million million cells are damaged by natural radiation and repaired every day. Any virginal, undamaged cells in our bodies don’t stay that way very long.

Radiation is the least of a cell’s problems, however. The process of metabolism—breathing in oxygen to digest our food—causes each cell to be damaged and repaired a million times a day.

Damage by a gamma ray is somewhat different than metabolic damage, but the nature of that difference is understood. Even after accounting for that difference, there is about a million times more damage from the metabolic process than from natural radiation.

A lethal amount of radiation does its job, not so much by directly damaging the cells, but by inhibiting the body’s defenses—its damage prevention, repair, and removal processes. But an important implication of this radiobiological phenomenon is that when an organism receives a small gamma dose—e.g., 1 mSv—its damage-control processes are stimulated, not only to repair or remove most of the radiation-damaged cells, but also to repair/remove the much greater number of cells that were altered by metabolism and other causes (including cancer metastases). This is the source of hormesis, the process whereby small amounts of a stressor—whether it is radiation, sunshine, exercise, heat, vaccination, or poison—actually cause beneficial effects.

There is a lot more that could be said about radiation damage. You are invited to contribute your thoughts and concerns on the subject.

For additional information on radiation and uses of radiation, see:



Ted Rockwell wrote his first published article on nuclear technology, “Frontier Life Among the Atom Splitters,” for the December 1, 1945, Saturday Evening Post. He was Adm. Rickover’s technical director during the first 15 years of the naval propulsion program, while Rickover served as director of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program.  Rockwell then co-founded the international engineering firm, MPR Associates, and the public interest organization, Radiation, Science and Health. He was the first recipient of ANS’s Lifetime Achievement Award, subsequently called The Rockwell Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the author and/or editor of several books, papers, and patents, including the “Reactor Shielding Design Manual” in 1956,  which is still used as a standard textbook. Rockwell is a guest contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

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Travel Mugs Available at June ANS Meeting

Nuclear energy may power your computer or mobile device, but what powers you during your adventures in social media?  If caffeine is the answer, ANS has the solution:  an insulated ANS Travel Mug branded with the ANS Nuclear Cafe and Nuclear News logos! The travel mug is a handy reminder that your nuclear friends are only a wifi connection away.

Limited quantities will be available at the upcoming ANS June meeting in Hollywood, Floridaplan now to pick one up free of shipping costs!  Be advised that ANS travel mugs will be de rigueur at the Social Media gathering on June 28.