Monthly Archives: July 2011

63rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The heat is on across the United States. The nation’s 104 nuclear reactors are providing electricity to keep people cool without warming the planet.  Nuclear energy can help save habitat for polar bears.

The 63rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is online now at Next Big Future.

Scientists have found out that the polar bear is not descended from an Alaskan brown bear. Their DNA most closely resembles that of extinct brown bears in Ireland.

This post is the collective voice of the best pro-nuclear blogs in North America. 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 NEI Nuclear Notes, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Atomic Power Review, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, 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.

Is the NRC on target with its call to redefine nuclear safety?

A report by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff task force calls for sweeping regulatory change, but also acknowledges that information about the Fukushima accident is unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous. What should be the response in the United States to the events in Japan?

Editor: Dan Yurman

In the third of a continuing series, the ANS Nuclear Cafe explores a significant issue affecting nuclear science and engineering by asking a diverse group of nuclear energy professionals for their views on a high-profile issue.

On July 13, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 96-page reportRecommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century: The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident—calling for a redefinition of the level of protection “regarded as adequate” for safety at the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States.

The NRC’s task force wrote in the report that there is a need to “support appropriate requirements for increased capability to address events of low likelihood and high consequence, thus significantly enhancing safety.”

National Press Club speech

In a July 18 speech at the National Press Club, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said,

Gregory Jaczko, chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“In its review, the task force did not find any imminent risk to public health and safety from the continued operation of the nation’s nuclear power plants. The task force was clear, however, that any accident involving core damage and uncontrolled radioactive releases of the magnitude of Fukushima–even one without significant health consequences–is inherently unacceptable.”

The NRC published a series of recommendations including boosting defenses against flooding and earthquakes, and protecting reactors and used fuel pools when there is a complete loss of electricity.

Within the NRC, and in response to the report and Jacko’s speech, three commissioners—William Magwood, Kristine Svinicki, and William Ostendorff—signaled that they disagreed with the push by Jaczko to put these changes on a fast track.

Commissioner Ostendorff told the New York Times, “I personally do not believe that our existing regulatory framework is broken.”

Nuclear industry response

Industry reaction was swift. The Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo, said in a press statement that the NRC may be premature in calling for wide-ranging regulatory changes.

Tony Pietrangelo, NEI Chief Nuclear Officer

“The task force report does not cite significant data from the Fukushima accident to support many of its recommendations. Given the mammoth challenge it faced in gathering and evaluating the still-incomplete information from Japan, the agency should seek broader engagement with stakeholders on the task force report to ensure that its decisions are informed by the best information possible.”

Given the wide range of points of view about the NRC report, the ANS Nuclear Cafe asked some American Nuclear Society members to comment here on the task force’s report. Following are the responses. Your views on their brief responses or the task force report are welcome in the comments section of the blog.


Stakeholder dialog is important by James Malone

Jim Malone

The US NRC has issued Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century. As I reviewed the report, I found there to be an underlying attribute that is an important element of a strong nuclear safety culture, i. e., a questioning attitude. The task force, while formulating the report, did not let prior evaluations, regulations, or practices bias the conclusions that it reached with respect to reactor safety.

The task force concluded “… a more balanced application of the Commission’s defense-in-depth philosophy using risk insights would provide an enhanced regulatory framework that is logical, systematic, coherent, and better understood.”

The report recommends consolidating the various rules and guidelines into the regulatory framework to address “extended design basis requirements.” This is the lessons learned portion of the process. The learning, however, should not be based solely on Fukushima.

One of the most important lessons learned is related to the impact of events on multiple units at a single site. As has been pointed out, the scenarios considered in the past focused on one unit experiencing an event.

The learning from Fukushima is that multiple unit sites must be prepared to deal with off-normal events at any or all of the units. Reforming the regulatory framework to incorporate lessons learned from low-probability, high-consequence events should be completed as soon as possible. It is also important that there be a dialogue among the stakeholders such that the resulting framework provides the appropriate protection of public health and safety.

Jim Malone is chief nuclear fuel development officer at Lightbridge Corp.


Getting it right will not be easy or quick by Margaret Harding

Margaret Harding

The world should read this report with caution. It is a mixed bag of good and bad, as has been well stated by others. My early observation of this report and the presentations that preceded it was that this task force seems to have gotten into a soul-searching exercise based upon the apparent short-comings of the Japanese regulator. That opinion still holds.

While some of the findings are well founded and targeted to potential weaknesses at current facilities in the United States, much of the substance of this report was given over to recommending significant revisions to current regulation.

Reviews and comparisons of what the Japanese regulator did or did not do can provide valuable insight into potential shortcomings in the regulations here. This effort seems to have become an opportunity to make new regulation that has relatively little to do with the events in Japan and how well prepared the plants in the United States are for similar events. Sweeping statements calling current regulation a “patchwork” and stating that a significant overhaul is required seems to me to do the NRC a real disservice.

The regulations under which the U.S. nuclear industry operate are among the most stringent and thorough in the world. They have provided for safe operation of the plants in this county for 40 years. The sweeping reforms recommended here should be approached with great caution.

Ultimately, I am concerned with how the NRC implements this report. Done poorly, they could significantly increase costs in the current operating fleet without improving safety one iota. But if done well, the NRC will get at the real issues, eliminating vagueness in the regulation and improving safety. Getting it right will not be easy or quick.

Margaret Harding, president of 4 Factor Consulting, speaks about the nuclear industry and advises clients on quality, regulatory, and technical issues. On June 28, 2011, she was awarded an ANS Presidential Citation for her role in communicating about events at Fukushima.


Does the NRC report rest on a false dichotomy? by Robert Margolis

Robert Margolis, PE

While the NRC task force report provides many helpful specific recommendations (station blackout mitigation, better used fuel pool makeup), there is an over-arching theme of an assumed conflict between risk-informed regulation and defense-in-depth permeating the document.

This is a false dichotomy. Defense-in-depth has no meaning without a risk context to provide which barriers and the amount of redundancy that are needed to ensure public health and safety. Adding requirements or systems in isolation could merely add redundancy where it is not needed and actually miss real safety problems while chasing any particular “issue du jour.”

Public health and safety are not served by a useless debate on how to codify and promulgate obsolete concepts or artificial distinctions from the past.

The future belongs to those who develop and implement a coherent framework in which risk-informed models and defense-in-depth designs coalesce into a regulatory paradigm. It is one that provides strengthened public health and safety in addition to clearer guidance that the U.S. nuclear fleet can more easily interpret and successfully execute.

The NRC must realize that the concepts of risk-informed and defense-in-depth are not competing methods, but elements of the same methodology that will bring regulation of the US nuclear fleet into the 21st century.

Robert Margolis, PE, is a nuclear engineer with more than 24 years experience as a reactor engineer, startup test engineer, project engineer, and safety analyst.


Mixed response on the NRC report by Jack Gamble

Jack Gamble

The initial statement that all operating nuclear sites are safe is the most important line in the report. I was also happy to see recommendations on emergency plans addressing multi-unit sites. Taking another look at Station Blackout (SBO) equipment and especially the operation of hardened vents during SBO is another area where the industry can learn from Fukushima. Finally, I was pleased to see the report clearly state that licensing of the Westinghouse AP1000 and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s ESBWR reactors should not be delayed due to Fukushima.

I disagree with the recommendation to change the framework of the NRC Reactor Oversight Program because of a foreign disaster affecting a foreign regulator. Fukushima should not be considered a condemnation of the NRC. Knowing what we know now, it’s reasonable to argue that the NRC has better prepared plants in the United States, given changes made after 9/11 and the command structure that doesn’t allow chief executive officers and politicians to dictate control room operator actions.

It’s important to remember that the report was written by six individuals based on incomplete information. The recommendations should be reviewed by the entire NRC staff with input from the industry and the public before being written into law.

Jack Gamble is a nuclear engineer. He blogs at nuclearfissionary.

Falling Flat on Its Face by Paul Dickman

Paul Dickman

The report released by the NRC’s Fukushima task force fell flat on its face, but this has nothing to do with the report’s content. Rather, the effort by NRC Chairman Jaczko to control his fellow commissioners hit a buzz saw when the other commissioners objected to his efforts to direct the process for implementing the task force recommendations.

On July 18, Jaczko gave a speech at the National Press Club. This was the day before the NRC meeting to discuss the task force report. It was an obvious public relations ploy to try to capture the headlines and control the story lines. Some of his remarks and responses to questions, however, caused alarms in the industry, as he linked timely passage of the recommendations to new reactor licenses.

While some in the media saw this as a bit of grandstanding, for NRC staff and the industry this speech signaled a new and disturbing direction. As it turned out, however, Jaczko failed to note that he was not speaking for the NRC but only voicing his personal views.

The next day it was the turn of the full NRC commission and it was apparent that Jaczko had not kept his fellow commissioners informed, and was also unlikely to get their support for his proposed process.

In addition, to counteract the publicity blitz emanating from the chairman’s office, two other NRC commissioners—William Magwood and Kristine Svinicki—took the unusual step of providing public statements outlining their own approaches to the task force recommendations and reassured industry and the NRC staff that a careful and deliberative process would be followed.

Following the commission meeting, Jaczko also had to address reporters to clarify that it was not his intention to hold new reactor licensing hostage to passage of the task force recommendations.

This was not a good way for the NRC to launch what should be a serious and far-reaching deliberation on the future of reactor safety.

Paul Dickman was a career federal scientist and served as chief of staff to NRC Chairman Dale Klein.


What are the intrinsic and fundamental issues? by Will Davis

Will Davis

Having followed the situation in Japan very closely in order to serve the readers of my blog—the majority of which were, until about two months or so ago, decidedly non-nuclear people—and after having read the report, I wonder if the report itself really addresses any intrinsic, fundamental issues in Japan—even if all its recommendations are sensible, which they seem to be.

Following the development of the immediate post-accident recovery plans, various Japanese media began presenting—disguised—a number of people from various agencies and companies that appeared to claim that there was all too cozy a relationship between Japan’s large power companies and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

There were further implications made that since NISA was a branch of the trade ministry, it really didn’t have an unbiased position. Further, reports of retired private executives having positions in regulatory bodies didn’t help matters, and recently the Japanese government has proposed a restructuring of its overly complicated regulatory structure in order that it might be closer to the arrangement that we have here in the United States.

It was such reasoning that spelled the end of the Atomic Energy Commission here—how can you have an agency that both promotes and regulates? The final opinion was that we can’t. The Japanese find themselves facing a similar question while also asking why their regulatory structure did not adequately see to the public safety.

Were we to simply apply plant-specific lessons learned at Fukushima to all U.S. plants, we might thus miss the bigger picture explaining how a nation with almost entirely coastally–based nuclear plants didn’t expect worst-possible tsunami effects. The answer may be a lesson we’ve already learned.

Will Davis is a former U.S. Navy reactor operator qualified on S8G and S5W reactor plants. He writes and publishes the Atomic Power Review blog.


Closing thoughts

Reactions in the news media to the NRC report were mixed. The Washington Post, which has adopted a realistic approach to nuclear energy, said in its editorial pages on July 15 that the NRC should not throw the baby out with the bathwater:

“The NRC should use this review not merely to respond to a single event but to ensure that it is actively assessing low-probability but high-consequence risks. Polls show that Americans largely haven’t lost confidence in their nuclear plants. Government regulators should give them every reason not to.”

The New York Times editorial a week later on July 23 took an alarmist tone, asking if a Fukushima–type event could happen in the United States:

“The odds are remote that this country will confront a similarly powerful earthquake followed by an even more destructive tsunami—the twin blows that disabled Fukushima. But the possibility that something equally unexpected and unplanned for could exceed current defenses at American plants cannot be discounted.”

The Times, however, acknowledged NEI’s point that stakeholder engagement is needed to get the right regulatory approach in place. That said, the newspaper also called for the changes to regulation to be put on a fast track:

“There is no doubt that the commission would benefit from getting additional feedback from the industry, advocacy groups, the agency’s own experienced staff, and other experts to supplement the task force report. That could all be easily done in the next few months and must not be an excuse for delaying approval of the recommendations.”

The report calls for “redefining the level of protection that is regarded as adequate.” If that’s the case, just exactly what has the agency been doing up to now? This is not gratuitous skepticism. If a federal regulatory agency is moving the goal posts, then it’s necessary to take a close look at its reasons for doing so.

Yet, at the same time that the NRC calls for change, it acknowledges that the information it has on what happened at Fukushima is “unavailable, unreliable, or ambiguous.”

Even if more were known with certainty, there are lots of reasons why the 40-year-old design of the Japanese reactors at Fukushima would never be built in the current era. The task force report takes pains to point out that there is “no imminent risk” for U.S. nuclear reactors. The NRC needs to take care that it doesn’t overreact to problems in Japan that don’t and won’t affect the U.S. fleet.


Dan Yurman

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

New, strict rule on plant water intake targets nuclear

By Jim Hopf

Indian Point

A recent Reuters news article describes how New York State will require a reduction in cooling water intake for power plants and other industrial facilities, to reduce fish kills by 90 percent. The article goes on to say that the state is planning to use this rule to force the Indian Point nuclear power plant to install a $2-billion closed-cycle cooling system.

Some, including the plant owner (Entergy), argue that such a cooling system (which would probably involve large cooling towers) would be impractical or too expensive, and would result in the plant’s closure instead. The plant owner also doubts that the state would even grant the permits to build the cooling towers, if it decided to try to keep the plant open.

Gov. Cuomo

Since the current state government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have made it clear that they intend to close the plant (primarily for reasons unrelated to water intake), it is clear to many that this rule is being used as an avenue to get the plant closed, and not to get cooling towers installed.

If one assumes that this rule will lead to Indian Point’s closure, one must ask if the environmental benefit of the reduced water intake would offset the negative environmental impact of closing a large nuclear plant, and replacing its output with fossil fuel generation (i.e., increased air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention increased power costs). It’s almost as if the New York environmental agency promulgating this rule is choosing not to look at the broader picture.

Fossil plants given a pass

Hudson River

Actually, the situation is far worse, and more brazen, than that. The Reuters article goes on to state that the state environmental agency is planning to be “flexible”, and allow several fossil power plants on the Hudson River to modify their open-cycle cooling systems, instead of requiring the installation of a closed-cycle system. The article does not mention any facilities other than Indian Point for which a closed-cycle cooling system will be insisted upon.

Presumably, these alternative approaches would be more practical and far less expensive. Whether these alternatives would achieve the same result (i.e., a 90-percent reduction in fish kill) is not made clear in the article. I’m guessing not. Otherwise, why can’t Indian Point do that? In fact, the state has rejected alternative methods (such as mesh screens) that have been proposed by Indian Point.

Two quotes from the article give the state’s rationale:

The [New York Department of Environmental Conservation] said it would be flexible because it recognizes that all existing facilities may not be able [to] install a closed-cycle cooling system like the one the state wants at Indian Point.

Closed-cycle cooling is not always an available technology for existing facilities as issues of space availability and compatibility of new technology with the facility’s original design frequently make it infeasible to implement.

Suffice it to say that I’m unconvinced. There are no fundamental reasons why an independent ultimate heat sink system couldn’t be hooked up to any thermal power plant. Expensive, yes. Technically impossible, no.

You would think that the state would be even less flexible (not more flexible) with old fossil plants, since their closure would have additional environmental benefits (on top of the benefits to fish), whereas closing a nuclear plant would have significant negative environmental (and economic) impacts that more than offset any aquatic benefits.

The article itself makes clear the real reason why the state is being inflexible only with Indian Point:

But New York’s top elected officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both want Indian Point shut because it is located in the heavily populated New York metropolitan area, home to more than 18 million people.

Equal protection clause violation?

To summarize, New York State passes a tough requirement on power plant water intake that has a stated purpose to protect fish. The state then largely shields the fossil power plants on the Hudson from the law’s impact, but is completely inflexible with Indian Point, requiring the maximum cost response.

As is made pretty clear in the linked article, the state is deliberately being inflexible with Indian Point, because it wants the plant closed. Its reason for wanting it closed, however, has nothing to do with fish, or the river (an important point). Thus, the state is using a requirement intended to protect fish as a vehicle to close Indian Point, for reasons that have nothing to do with fish. The state is also deliberately choosing to apply the law unevenly and arbitrarily.

In other words, this is a clear example of discrimination against a specific party (Indian Point), through the unequal application of laws. I’m not a legal scholar, but my impression is that this would (or should) be a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The equal protection clause is discussed here. A key excerpt is shown below:

…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Examination of the clause’s language, history, and application makes it pretty clear (admittedly) that it is focused on individuals, or groups/classes of individuals, as opposed to something like an industrial facility. Perhaps the plant owners could claim status as an affected group of individuals, even though they are a corporation. The tragedy here is that since the benefits of the plant are primarily societal, the plant may not be able to claim protection under the clause.

In any event, it seems clear to me that deliberately applying a law unequally, to serve an objective that has nothing to do with the subject or scope of the law in question, should be illegal or unconstitutional, for one reason or another. The article mentions further legal proceedings that will cover these water permit issues. Perhaps some of the issues I discuss above will be raised at these proceedings.



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.

Vermont Yankee, refueling, and solving the problem of intermittent energy sources

Vermont Yankee stays online

By Meredith Angwin

On July 25, Entergy announced that it is ordering fuel for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and will conduct the refueling in October. The state of Vermont has passed laws that supposedly give it the right to refuse to let Vermont Yankee operate past March 2012. Entergy’s decision to buy $60-million worth of fuel to be loaded in October was, therefore, no slam-dunk decision.

This saga has a long history. Entergy has sued Vermont, and part of its lawsuit was a request for an injunction against the state being allowed to shut down the plant while the suit was ongoing.

The story then got complicated. Judge J. Garvan Murtha of the federal court in Brattleboro, Vt., denied the injunction. In his ruling, Murtha said that “Entergy has failed to show that any irreparable harm it may incur between now and a decision on the merits would be, or is likely to be, ameliorated by a preliminary injunction in the short time before this court decides Entergy’s claims.” He also moved up the date of the full hearing to September 12.

Murtha said many things that sounded like he had acknowledged Entergy’s having a good case. On the other hand, he also turned down the injunction. This gave commentators lots of room to comment! (There’s never a “slow news day” around this trial.) I commented and some professors at Vermont Law School commented.

Opinions abound

Everybody had an opinion. In my post on the matter—titled “Half-Empty and Half-Full”— I tried to make the various arguments at least amusing.

But to a certain extent, it was all blather. The ball was in Entergy’s court and we commentators were just talking about what we thought might influence its decision. The whole thing was like sports commentary. Would Entergy bet on a favorable outcome to the lawsuit (buy fuel)? Would it hedge its bets and not buy fuel? Opinions varied.  (By the way, my own predictions were wrong. I thought that Entergy would hedge its bets and not buy fuel.)

Then, a few hours later, I had to explain why I was wrong. Now Entergy has made the decision to buy fuel, which means that, no matter what the court decides, Vermont Yankee will operate through March 2012. It will not be shut down at the next refueling outage, in October 2011. If the court decides in favor of Vermont Yankee, the plant will operate long past March 2012.  It has a 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and I hope it will operate until 2032.

I am very happy about this.

Looking east to Seabrook

Instead of yet-more-commentary on Entergy’s lawsuit, I thought I would talk about Vermont’s loss and New Hampshire’s gain for a moment. Specifically, I want to talk about the Seabrook nuclear plant.

In May, Green Mountain Power, a distribution company located in Vermont, decided to buy 60 MW of power from the Seabrook nuclear plant, located in New Hampshire. Vermont’s governor, Peter Shumlin, a fierce foe of Vermont Yankee, applauded this decision because, as he said, “cheap power makes a real difference” in creating jobs.

I wish that Shumlin felt that way about the inexpensive power from Vermont Yankee.

Meanwhile, back in the days when people were campaigning against Vermont Yankee by walking in midwinter to Montpelier (Vermont’s capital) to call for a shutdown of the plant, I met many of the walkers at a potluck dinner.

One of the walkers worked at SustainX, a company developing advanced energy storage using compressed air. Without energy storage, intermittent renewables are not useful on the grid.

I admired the walker from SustainX because he was not just waving his hands about what a great future renewables would have. He was actually doing something—working on energy storage. He was trying to address one of renewable’s major problems. But I wonder now if he is moving to the town of Seabrook, N.H.

My local paper, the Valley News (unfortunately not fully on-line), had a business section story on July 24: “SustainX Uproots From the Upper Valley.” Matt Clary at the Valley News interviewed Dax Kepshire, the cofounder of SustainX. Kepshire  explained that they were able to find only one building in the Upper Valley area that was suitable for the company’s expansion, and that they instead decided to move to Seabrook, N.H. (The company had been located in Lebanon, N.H., just across the Connecticut River from my house in Vermont.)

What was the draw of Seabrook? Let me quote the article: “In addition to providing more space, the new facility’s proximity to the Seabrook nuclear power plant provides the company with access to less expensive electricity as it tests its unit, Kepshire explained.”

In other words, even if you are dedicated to solving the major problems of renewable energy, you still need inexpensive reliable electricity. If Vermont Yankee stays online, we will have this in Vermont, and people won’t have to buy power from Seabrook, move to Seabrook, etc.

Nothing against Seabrook, you understand, but Vermont needs Vermont Yankee.



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.

62 Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The heat is on across the United States. The nation’s 104 nuclear reactors are providing electricity to keep people cool without warming the planet.

The 62nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is online now at Idaho Samizdat. This post is the collective voice of the best pro-nuclear blogs in North America. 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 NEI Nuclear Notes,  ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Atomic Power Review, and CoolHandNuke, 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.

Are India’s nuclear deals going south?

Domestic liability laws and international issues may put limits on the country’s ambitious plans to build new reactors

By Dan Yurman

U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton meets with India Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna on July 26, 2011.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is in India this week to pressure India to open its nuclear energy markets by changing its domestic supplier liability laws.

If she is successful, it would give American vendors hunting licenses to bid for massive nuclear reactor contracts said to be worth $150 billion over the next several decades.

In a joint news conference July 20 with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, Clinton said that differences over trade and nuclear legislation must be resolved if the benefits of U.S. support for India’s civilian nuclear program three years ago is to accrue to U.S. companies.

Under then President George W. Bush, the United States successfully pushed the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow India to buy uranium for its civil nuclear program. In return, India pledged in return to open its markets to U.S. vendors.

Political opposition forces in the Indian parliament, however, saw an opportunity to give Prime Minister Monahan Singh a black eye and imposed a draconian supplier liability law on nuclear energy projects. The parliament has locked out American firms, but not French and Russian state-owned nuclear agencies that now have significant commitments for the bulk of foreign supplied reactors.

Clinton was characteristically straightforward in her remarks. She said, “We need to resolve those issues that still remain so that we can reap the rewards of the extraordinary work that both of our governments have done.”

Enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group

Since then, the United States has been working to bring pressure on India through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). While neither nation will openly admit it, the United States may be seeking leverage to get India to reconsider its liability law by squeezing in another area.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group supports non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of Guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear related exports.

In June 2011, the NSG adopted new rules that ban the sales of key technologies and equipment that have primarily civilian applications, but are considered “dual use,” e.g., also can be used to make nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, the U.S. relationship with India with regard to nuclear energy matters is in a downward spiral. Ashley Tellis, an expert on U.S.–India relations at the Carnegie Endowment, told the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) on July 19 that, “The Americans have reasons to be peeved about how [the NSG agreement] has worked out.”

Others accuse the United States of using the NSG as leverage to open India’s markets to U.S. firms. This is one of those obvious moments that illuminate the gamesmanship involved in the high stakes outcomes.

Bharat Karnad, a foreign policy expert in New Dehli, also told the CSM that the “NSG is being used by the U.S. as a tool to advance reactor sales.”

India is a nuclear state, but has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation agreement. Its stance kept it from accessing world markets for uranium for more than three decades. The Bush administration helped push the NSG to make a special exception for India. The new rules, however—also supported by Russian and France—address uranium enrichment and used fuel reprocessing technologies.

The intent is to prevent the proliferation of technologies that can be used to make highly enriched uranium or extract plutonium from used fuel. Instead, the United States, Russia, France, and other nations are offering access to international fuel banks. These programs would essentially lease nuclear fuel to other countries and retrograde the used fuel back to the fuel bank. This way, nations could be assured of reliable fuel services without having to build their own fuel cycle facilities.

Will India blacklist suppliers?

Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary

India isn’t buying it and, what’s more, is officially annoyed at these latest developments. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao implied that India would blacklist any nation that supported the new rules by denying them new nuclear contracts.

“We will defend ourselves to the hilt,” she said, but added diplomatically, “I think the latest NSG decision is not the end of the road.”

A move to “blacklist” American firms would be more or less pointless and ineffective since the liability law already does this. The French and the Russians, however, have significant skin in the game and are much more vulnerable to this kind of pressure.

France has contracts with India to build two 1600-MW EPR reactors, and Russia has built two and is completing two more 1000-MW VVER reactors, with options to build as many as eight more 1000-MW units and six 1200-MW units.

In a preemptive move, the Russians said in early June that they had dealt with the liability law by simply adding insurance for the future costs of compensation to the delivered price of the two new units at Kudankulam. In effect, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. will be paying a risk premium for its country’s liability law.

Japan exports at risk?

Life is getting more complicated for India since it plans to also have a civil nuclear agreement with Japan. That nation’s nuclear exports are very significant and also represent a major piece of its domestic steel industry. Key firms including Toshiba, Hitachi, and Mistubishi all want the two countries to sign off on the agreement.

The banana peel on the negotiating room floor is a statement by Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who said that as part of Japan’s retreat from nuclear energy, it would also suspend its exports to India, Brazil, and several other countries.

This statement set off howls of protest from the business sector. The Japan Times quoted business think tanks as estimating a half a million people could lose their jobs. Kan has subsequently backed off, claiming that he meant the nation would reduce its nuclear sector “eventually,” but not right away.

The key issue is that Japan Steel Works provides the large forgings for reactor pressure vessels. If Japan stops exporting these components, the whole global nuclear industry is facing a significant delay.

India and the United Kingdom have plans to build new forging plants, but production is years away. South Korea has a contract with the United Arab Emirates, which would take priority for its output from Doosan.

All of the Japanese nuclear firms that export their reactors also sell components, including turbines, steam systems, and generators. The Japanese prime minister’s comments may be the stuff of political opportunism of the moment, but the rock he threw in the pond made waves that washed up on India’s shore.

If India decides to “blacklist” Russian, French, and U.S. firms over NSG policies in terms of sales of nuclear components, it needs to think carefully about where it will get reactors for its ambitious nuclear energy program.


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

Nuclear energy? Show me!

By Suzy Hobbs

The author, Geiger counter in hand, at the Oconee nuclear power plant in 1999.

In high school one day I learned that nuclear energy is dangerous to people and the environment. After school that day I confronted my dad, a nuclear engineer, and luckily he was attentive enough to know that I am a visual learner and proceeded to “show” me the ways that nuclear is safe. The whole story can be found here, if you haven’t already heard it.

I am so thankful to my dad, who introduced me to the facts about nuclear through a visit to the Oconee nuclear power plant. As a visual learner, I am not alone, or even an anomaly, in this form of comprehending. In fact, about 65 percent of people are visual learners, while only 25 percent respond primarily to auditory learning. Experiential learning, as I have learned in my experience as an educator, is the most potent way to share information, in that it allows students to gain primary experience and discover new things for themselves. This kind learning tends to stay with a person.

I have also been reading a lot lately about the power of storytelling. Oral narrative is ingrained in human beings in a visceral way, since it is the way we have shared information for most of our existence. If you cannot provide someone with primary experience, perhaps you can put the important information into a narrative. I know several nukes who are particularly skilled at this, and their stories always stay with me, including the facts that are integrated into the story.

I want to highlight a few existing projects that are doing this effectively, and encourage others to take note. The Michael Krupinski Memorial Foundation is dedicated to workforce development in nuclear science. The foundation’s “Real Time Reactor Program” brings kids into the University of Wisconsin research reactor, without leaving the comfort of their own classroom.

The Michael Krupinski Memorial Foundation Education Fund was established in 2006 with the mission of expanding the pipeline of individuals entering the science, technology, and engineering fields to support our nation’s growing energy needs.

Another great hands on experience is the Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 at the Idaho National Laboratory. This former reactor site has been turned into a museum complete with interactive robots and exact replicas of the inner workings of the reactor. The museum serves to take the mystery out of the whole fission process., and it also puts the history of nuclear energy into an engaging narrative that is sure to stick with anyone who stops by.

AlloSphere exterior

Another exciting program that is blurring the lines between art and science is called AlloSphere, at the University of California Santa Barbara. Although it is not specific to nuclear energy, it is a great example of how to get visual, non-technical people interested in learning about science through the arts.

I am sure that there are many more examples of interactive, inspiring outreach that “shows” the ins and outs of nuclear science, and I invite folks to use the comments section to share. As we continue work on the Nuclear Literacy Project, we will create a list of all of these great resources for the new Web site.



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. Hobbs is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.

July 2011 Nuclear News is online

The July issue of Nuclear News has been published and mailed to American Nuclear Society members, and is available electronically to members. The issue contains a President’s Profile feature on ANS President Eric Loewen. Features include:

  • NRC Chairman Jaczko: A regulator’s perspective on the challenges of today and tomorrow (prepared remarks presented on May 11, 2011, during the Nuclear Energy Institute’s Nuclear Energy Assembly)
  • NRC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG): Inspection consistency needed for independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSI) safety
  • Waste Management: OIG issues report on investigation into closeout of Yucca Mountain Project
  • Isotopes & Radiation: NRC advises more frequent shutter closure checks
  • Education, Training & Workforce: For budgeting purposes, NRC asks utilities for numbers of applicants planning to take operator licensing examinations
  • Standards: ANS answers inquiry on N271-1976, Containment Isolation Provisions for Fluid Systems (redesignated ANS-56.2)
  • Standards: ANS approves ANS-5.4—2011, Method for Calculating the Fractional Release of Volatile Fission Products from Oxide Fuel (new standard to supercede ANSI/ANS-5.4—1982)
  • Standards: ANS publishes ANSI/ANS-2.3—2011, Estimating Tornado, Hurricane, and Extreme Straight Line Wind Characteristics at Nuclear Facility Sites (new standard to supersede ANSI/ANS-2.3—1983)

The July 2011 Nuclear News also contains news briefs on developments in nuclear power, international nuclear projects, the nuclear industry, and nuclear fuel.

Past issues of Nuclear News are available here (the left menu includes a link to full issues for ANS members and Nuclear News subscribers).

Don’t judge a book by its cover: Getting to the bottom of EIA monthly data

By Paul Wilson

Earlier this month, a number of sources drew attention to the Energy Information Administration’s report on energy (published in June), with headlines suggesting a landmark accomplishment: “Domestic Renewable Energy Production Surpasses Nuclear.” Even Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, got in on the act, proclaiming that “The real energy renaissance happening in America is from the flourishing of renewable energy.”

I should warn you that the EIA’s spreadsheets are a real treat for people such as me who like numbers, and I offer many different views of these numbers below.

The EIA’s  claim focused on the fact that in the first quarter of 2011, total renewable energy production—2.24 quads (quadrillion BTUs)—outpaced nuclear energy production (2.12 quads [See footnote on unit conversion]), which, on the surface, is an interesting change. But dig a little deeper and there are a couple of caveats that should be clarified.

First, it is important to recognize that the renewable energy here includes all hydro power and biomass combining to be more than 83 percent of this total production. Recognizing this, it should come as no suprise that it’s not the first time that renewables have surpassed nuclear generation. In fact, until 1988, this was always the case (when assessed on an annual basis), when more than 98 percent of generation came from these sources. Since then, improved nuclear performance (and modest new construction) has kept nuclear ahead of total renewable generation, as hydro has fluctuated and wind energy has seen large growth rates.

Second, it is important to recognize that “total renewable energy production” includes non-electric applications. When we look at the the first quarter of 2011 in the electricity sector alone, we find that

  1. renewables produce only 13 percent of electricity, compared with 20 percent for nuclear,
  2. conventional hydro power is responsible for more than 63 percent of the generation, and
  3. conventional hydro power is responsible for more than 68 percent of the growth compared with last year.

Since there has not been a 28-percent growth in installed hydro capacity, this change can be attributed largely to the climate and a wet spring. The contribution of all renewable energy to the electricity sector is dominated by annual fluctations in hydro power more than any other factor. Total renewable electricity generation peaked in 1997 and is finally approaching those numbers again, while nuclear electricity generation has grown by more than 28 percent.

So, what is the real headline? Markey and others missed a chance to point out a large relative growth in wind energy production—40 percent—compared with the first quarter of 2010. While some may scoff at the small magnitude, these 0.083 quads represent more than 4 percent of the total nuclear generation in that same period. This is good news for the wind energy industry and consistent with its year-over-year growth rates between 30percent and 60 percent over the past few years. Nevertheless, wind energy is still less than 3 percent of total generation.

[unit conversion footnote] The EIA converts nuclear electricity to BTUs based on the average thermal efficiency of the nuclear fleet. This is clearly an appropriate converstion for fossil fuels, because all of their chemical potential energy is converted to heat and, in turn, to electricity. For nuclear energy, while this does measure how much heat is generated, it ignores the large quantities of remaining nuclear potential energy in the used fuel. For renewable energy sources that don’t rely on thermal energy conversion, the EIA uses a simple unit conversion from kWh to BTU. Ultimately, this means comparing apples to oranges on a total energy production basis.



Paul P.H. Wilson is an associate professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the chair of the Energy Analysis and Policy graduate certificate program. Part of his research focuses on addressing policy-driven questions about the adoption of advanced nuclear fuel cycles.

61st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Moving beyond Fukushima – the renaissance continues

Alchemists were actually seeking to tinker with nuclear physics.

This is the collective voice of the best pro-nuclear blogs in North America. 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 NEI Nuclear Notes, Idaho Samizdat, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NuclearGreen, Atomic Power Review,and CoolHandNuke, 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.

This week’s entries

Next Big Future reports the Russia is preparing to start Kalinan 4 reactor in Sept, 2011. Also, Brian Wang has news that China has built the foundation of the Pebble bed reactor and ordered over 90% of the components.

  • A 600 MWe Multi-Module HTR-PM Super- critical Steam Turbine Plant, (6 250 MWt
  • HTR-PM module+ 1 660 MWe steam turbine)
  • Standardize the reactor module, is inherently safe and competitive, and usable for co-generation.

Kirk Sorenson is interviewed by Sander Olson for Nextbigfuture about Thorium reactors and Kirk’s company Flibe Energy. Kirk Sorensen indicates that he is confident to have sufficient funding to have a prototype thorium reactor by 2016.

Atomic Insights has an opinion piece “Fighting for Nuclear Energy” by publisher Rod Adams.  He writes . . .

“From my point of view, neither the industry nor the government bodies are doing enough to share accurate information about nuclear energy. If they were doing their job and telling the real story about the technology, their efforts would inevitably provide a far more hopeful picture about nuclear energy and its demonstrated potential for making the world a richer and cleaner place – especially compared to continuing addiction to competitive fossil fuels.”

Atomic Power Review by Will Davis writes that nuclear energy finds itself at a brink in almost every nuclear nation in the world.  APR presents a look at the situation, including a few comments on the NRC panel 90-day report.

NEI Nuclear Notes in a post written by Dave Bradish explains that there is continuing online dialog about the Associated Press four-part series on the nuclear energy industry, and not all of it is intelligent or original.

He writes that NEI’s Media Relations Manager, John Keeley, went after Boing Boing’s post which rehashed AP’s shoddy series on nuclear energy.

“It’s one thing for a single newspaper to get something wrong in a single print file; quite another when a global news wire service devotes more than a year and notable resources to an ‘investigative’ series characterized by shoddy reporting throughout.

And if there is ever a doubt in nuclear power safety, remember this fact: there have been zero “abnormal occurrences” [the NRC’s term] throughout the U.S. nuclear energy industry over the past eight years (2003-10).”

Yes Vermont Yankee published by Meredith Angwin reports that opponents of nuclear energy “are outraged” that a proprietary document from a utility was not made available to them.  Angwin notes that the NRC reviewed a proprietary document from Vermont Yankee, and did not share this document with intervenors or the press.  A newspaper article implied that this secrecy was typical NRC devious behavior. However, most regulatory agencies need to review proprietary documents in order to regulate.

NukePowerTalk by Gail Marcus highlights two recent Japan Times articles about the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The Fukushima reactor complex prior to March 11, 2011

First, the hill on which the plant was built was originally higher, and was cut down in an effort to build the plant on bedrock to make it more secure against earthquakes!

The second revelation is that some employees are now coming forward and saying that they had concerns about the placement of the diesel generators–however, to date the press reports are unclear on whether they voiced these concerns at the time.

In a second blog post Gail Marcus talks about ways of instilling a culture that encourages employees to raise concerns, particularly in an environment like Japan, where children are taught that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

She writes that having specific [whistleblower] provisions in place does encourage some people to step up with concerns and put pressure on organizations to address them.  Further development of such measures may be a necessary step at in Japan, and training regarding their provisions, could help change the culture in the organizations building, operating and regulating nuclear power plants in Japan.

Neutron Economy has notes prepared by Steve Skutnik about a recently attended talk by Randy Beatty of the IAEA, who gave the Agency’s perspective on the Fukushima disaster.

He wrote up my notes from his presentation, along with some of the visual materials here provided over at The Neutron Economy.

– The IAEA believes the hydrogen explosion in Unit 4 may have been due to a joint exhaust from Unit 3

– No evidence of fuel uncovering was found in physical examinations or the water chemistry of Unit 4

– Estimates for the total time the fuel was uncovered was generally only a few hours – i.e., we had gaps in cooling of anywhere between 6-12 hours, but fuel uncovering only seems to have occurred for a few of those. Still, pretty remarkable at how fast things progressed once this happened

– While TRU was reported being found, evidence has been scarce and inconsistent.

-The 50-mile evacuation order by Jaczko was complete crap. (Everyone already knows this, but the presentation had some numbers to prove this.) A 20-30 km radius implemented by the Japanese was completely appropriate.

Idaho Samizdat published by Dan Yurman reports that the SEC has taken a second swing at AEHI.  The agency alleges company officers used private placements to mislead investors.

According to wire service reports, the Securities & Exchange Commission has amended the agency’s claims against would-be Idaho nuclear plant developer Don Gillispie, alleging in a new complaint that the company’s leaders defrauded investors.

In the new filing, SEC attorneys are emphasizing their claims that Chief Executive Officer Don Gillispie misled investors, lied about paying stock promoters and didn’t accurately disclose his or his employees’ pay.

Yurman notes that readers should be aware that he has posted articles on the blog since 2007 calling into question the technical feasibility and financial basis for AEHI’s project.

In June 2007 this blog described the “no bozos” paradigm of then NRC chairman Dale Klein who said the nuclear energy industry has no room for amateurs. In October 2007 this blog published its now world famous “baloney test for new nuclear builds” directed at evaluating the AEHI project. It failed.

# # #

Can California meet its Renewable Energy Portfolio? Part II

By Ulrich Decher

Part I of this article presented the in-state electricity generation in California as well as imports required to meet California’s electricity requirements. This Part II section will present how the use of Renewable Energy Credits may be used to meet California’s renewable energy portfolio.

Renewable Energy Credits

Renewable Energy Credits are the power generation credits that a distribution system can use to meet its renewable portfolio. These RECs come in two flavors—bundled and unbundled. The bundled RECs are the credits that are bought and used within the same distribution system. The unbundled RECs are those bought by one distribution system but used in another. These RECs are managed by the Center for Resource Solutions, which also prevents double counting of credits.

The unbundled RECs are particularly interesting, because it means that a distribution system doesn’t need to build renewable energy power plants because the distribution system can simply buy the renewable power that is generated in another distribution system.

This creates significant problems for the exporting distribution system. For example, the Bonneville Power Administration is currently negotiating with California and is “concerned about potentially significant negative consequences for Northwest and California consumers if decisions about the use of unbundled RECs are made without full consideration of the infrastructure requirements associated with the delivering a reliable, least cost supply of renewable energy to California.”

So, what are the consequences? The use of unbundled RECs seems to mean that California could purchase all the renewable power generated by all the windmills that are connected to the California grid.

This is happening right now as California is contracting for wind energy from places as far away as Alberta, Canada. The electricity generated in Alberta, however, will not arrive in California. It is too far away. The only thing that is happening is that Californians are paying for it to meet their renewable portfolio. This seems pretty strange, that Californians are required to pay for a benefit that they don’t get.

The fact that 15 percent of its imports in 2009 are “unspecified” probably means that California intends to purchase enough renewable energy credits to meet its goal. This would mean that it would not need to build any more renewable power generators. It just needs to purchase the power from its neighbors (at the expense of the rate payers in California).

There are problems

Problem #1

What happens to the 15 percent energy imports that California actually uses but now “disowns”? Does this conventional energy remain on the books of the exporting grids or does this energy magically disappear from everyone’s books?

It would be interesting to see the accounting of credits in the neighboring grids to see if this is actually happening. It is difficult to imagine that a neighboring distribution system with thousands of windmills would not be able credit any of it because California bought all of it.

Problem #2

Neighboring grids that are required to accept the power from wind turbines also need to build backup power plants to compensate for the intermittent wind and to keep the power on the grid stable. If these power plants are required only for wind power going to California, should not California also be required to pay for them as well? I don’t believe that this is happening. The penalty for the intermittency is paid by consumers on the neighboring grid.

Problem #3

If the maximum renewable energy that can be placed on an isolated grid is about 15 percent, what happens if all the distribution systems have renewable goals that are much higher (such as California’s 33 percent)? The result will be a bidding war for a scarce commodity, pushing prices ever higher.

This all seems a bit unfair. Who gave the wind industry the power to shift all the benefits of renewable energy out of state and import all the negative impacts, while reaping all the profits? One would think that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would not allow such an imbalance between states to occur. From all that I have read, however, FERC is all for it.

The impact of unbundled RECs is that it raises electricity prices as governmental organizations, utilities, and individual businesses bid for renewable credits. The electric rates will increase for customers, which either import or export RECs (in other words, all customers are penalized).

This has already occurred in Lewis County in Washington State, for example, which had to raise overall electricity rates. The rates would have decreased without the REC accounting system.

California electricity generation trends

So, to answer the question: Can California meet its renewable energy portfolio?  The answer is “probably,” but not by building more renewable sources. Rather, the answer is by buying credits for sources that are built elsewhere. As long as California is the high bidder for these credits and can gather enough contracts with renewable generators, it could meet its goal.

The down side, however, is that other distribution systems must deal with intermittency and environmental disadvantages associated with the renewable sources, and may not be able to credit the renewable sources in their own distribution systems. This is an unfair redistribution of renewable energy credits, which FERC should stop.

So, while California pays a lot of attention to meeting the renewable portfolio, the actual trend is to shift the generation out of state. This generation is drifting in a direction that is not in the interest of consumers. California seems to be playing shell games with the bookkeeping of renewable credits rather than paying attention to meeting the needs of consumers to provide an adequate, affordable, and environmentally acceptable supply of electricity.



Ulrich Decher holds a PhD in nuclear engineering. He is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


Can California meet its Renewable Energy Portfolio?

By Ulrich Decher

California has recently adopted a renewable energy portfolio with the goal to provide 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small hydroelectric facilities by 2020.

Can this portfolio succeed? It is an ambitious goal, but it takes more than legislative action for such a program to go forward. It takes an actual plan that can be met with actual engineering accomplishments.

In order to determine the probability of success, we can look at California’s renewable energy sources in prior years. These are available on the Internet and are presented in the following graph.

The plot shows the actual renewable sources of electricity generated in California from 2005 to 2009 and shows the projected increase required to achieve the goal of 33 percent by 2020. Notice that the renewable contribution has been rather constant over the previous years and requires a dramatic increase to achieve the goal. This implies that something different needs to be done than what has been done it the past, otherwise the projection line will be ever steeper and eventually needs to be abandoned.

So, exactly which of the renewable energy sources can be increased to reach the goal? It is generally accepted that biomass, geothermal, and small hydro cannot be increased significantly, which leaves the intermittent sources of solar and wind to do the job. Is it reasonable to expect that solar and wind can accomplish the task? The gap that must be closed by 2020 is 21 percent of the total electricity consumption.

Solar currently contributes only 0.3 percent (2009) of the electricity used in California. This contribution is too small to expect a significant contribution by 2020. It might be doubled by 2020, but this is still a small amount.

The wind contribution is 2.7 percent (2009), which is a bit larger. The expectation that it will close the 21-percent renewable gap is unrealistic, however, for the following reasons:

  1. Meeting the goal would require adding about 2-percent wind generation every year for 10 years. This yearly increase is about equal to the total wind generation in California today. It is unreasonable that many wind turbines (tens of thousands) could be built and installed somewhere in California every year.
  2. Another reason is that the California grid (or any grid) cannot handle 20-percent generation from wind energy. It is generally accepted that 20-percent wind capacity is the limit that an isolated grid can handle. (Capacity is quite different from generation for wind turbines. For each unit of capacity addition, there is only ¼ of a unit for generation addition because of wind intermittency).

So. if California is able to add the maximum amount of capacity (20 percent), it would only translate to generation of about 5 percent. California, therefore, already has about half the wind energy that the grid could ever handle. With a crash program to build all the wind turbines that California could handle, the total renewable contribution might increase to 15 percent by 2020 (11.6 percent current contribution, which includes 2.7 percent wind plus 2.3 percent maximum potential wind increase). This is still a long way from 33 percent.

So, the question still is how California expects to reach its 33 percent renewable goal. To shed some light on that question, we must examine California electricity imports.

California electricity imports

California does not generate all the electricity used in the state. The plot below shows the historical imports into California.

The plot shows that in some years, the electricity imports have exceeded 30 percent. The large increase in 2006–2007 has come as a result of the virtual elimination of in-state electricity generation using coal. This reduction in in-state generation needed to be compensated by an increase in imports (largely from imported coal generation).  So far, the net effect of California’s desire to go green is to shift the coal generation to other states.

The reduction of in-state coal generation is shown in the next plot, which shows all the in-state generation. (Both of these plots are normalized to the total 2009 energy consumption because of my desire to use the units of % and, at the same time, show real generation trends that are not confused by changes in electricity demand.)

One of the interesting aspects of the imports graph is the “unspecified” portion of the imports in 2009, which is thusly explained:

Due to legislative changes required by Assembly Bill 162 (2009), the California Air Resources Board is currently undertaking the task of identifying the fuel sources associated with all imported power entering into California.

This unspecified portion of the imports is about 15 percent of the total generation.

If we compare the 2009 imports to the 2008 imports, it is clear that much of this “unspecified” portion actually comes from imported coal generation, with a smaller amount from hydro and natural gas.

If California can reclassify this “unspecified” portion of its energy mix as “renewable,” then a good portion of the renewable portfolio could be met. That appears to be the plan, as will be explained further in tomorrow’s post.

Imported wind generation

There has been a substantial increase in the use of wind-generated electricity in California, as shown in the plot below. Most of the increase since 2005 has come from imports.

One might think that a few percent of intermittent wind on the grid would not cause problems, but this amount is an average over a whole year.  This amount is, in fact, a problem at times during the year when demand for electricity is low and the wind generation is high. At those times, electricity distribution systems find themselves in a no-win situation, where they have to break wind generation contracts in order not to violate existing electricity distribution laws. This has already resulted in lawsuits brought against BPA by the wind industry.

These lawsuits need to be defeated. We can’t make laws giving a privilege to one industry, such as a mandated market for wind, which requires other entities to break existing laws. Furthermore, the wind industry should not be compensated for not producing power at those times. It should be a risk of doing business. Such risks are normally accepted by other industries.

The wind generation that is discussed above is generation that is actually used in California. There also exists wind generation that is not used in California, but is credited to the state. This is discussed in Part II of this article, which will appear tomorrow.



Ulrich Decher holds a PhD in nuclear engineering. He is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee and a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Two antinuclear activists become pro-nuclear technology communicators

By Rod Adams

Two British environmental writers who were bitterly opposed to nuclear energy development just a few years ago decided to do some homework. Their questioning attitude and fact seeking minds have led them to the inescapable conclusion that most of the arguments against nuclear energy repeatedly offered by the opposition have been pure fabrications. George Monbiot and Mark Lynas both bring assets to the battle for hearts and minds in the energy source debate that are hard to match – they are recent converts to a pro-nuclear technology position with deep credentials in the environmental community. In addition, they are professional communicators with stories to tell.

Last Friday, Lynas’s publisher launched his new book titled The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans. Within hours, customers who tried to access the book via received a message stating that the book was not currently being offered because it was under review/investigation. Since Lynas had taken some aggressively controversial positions in the book, several of his fans offered conspiratorial explanations for Amazon’s decision to pull the book off of the virtual shelves.

After a flurry of Twitter tweets and blog posts, the issue was resolved and access to the book was restored. Apparently someone thought that the book would be a hardcover and complained to Amazon when they received it in a trade paperback format. As someone in the entertainment business once said – no publicity is bad publicity as long as they spell your name right. I bought the book for my Kindle partially based on the attention that the implications of possible censorship generated in the social media world.

The primary theme of the book is that man is now so influential in the planet’s systems that it is time to taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions; we cannot claim those consequences are merely unintended and unpredictable. Lynas wrote that he “began to think less like an ideologue and more like an engineer.” He believes it is time to use the knowledge and technology that society has developed in order to purposely remain on the right side of nine recognized “planetary boundaries” including climate change, biodiversity loss, water use, reactive nitrogen in the biosphere, land use, aerosols, toxins, ocean acidification and the ozone layer.

After years of faithful adherence to the creed of his colleagues in green organizations, Lynas has begun to recognize that nuclear fission is a powerful tool that can help mankind to prosper while still remaining on the right side of several different planetary boundaries including those related to climate change, aerosols, and ocean acidification. His education is not yet complete, however, since he apparently has not realized that nuclear energy has a role to play in transportation – particularly large, fast ships that could help to replace air travel, a larger that realized role to play in land use, a larger than recognized role in distributed power systems in remote locations and a larger than realized role to play in fresh water production.

The important news for nuclear advocates, however, is that Lynas’s book has already encouraged critical thinking and additional homework in places that are hard for nuclear professionals to reach. It was reviewed favorably by Scotland’s Renewable Energy Blog who said the following:

The science and arithmetic behind these boundaries is delivered in a straightforward and entertaining way. The book is extremely easy to read in spite of the huge sweep of scientific ground it covers. Sprinkled throughout are the ‘magic bullets’ that the author is currently promoting as key tools in our planetary management armoury. These include lots of nuclear power, genetically modified crops, the privatisation of water management and the continuing movement of population from the country to the city. ‘Conventional’ environmental groups such as Greenpeace come in for some pretty harsh criticism for their opposition to some of these remedies, and are presented almost as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Ray Mears Extreme Housewifery made the following comment:

The arguments he puts forward are new to me, however the evidence he provides appears to be well researched, referenced and compelling. It has certainly led me to reconsider my opinion – and to desire to obtain further information to help me clarify my thoughts on the subject. I would never have thought that I could turn into an advocate for the use of nuclear power, but already the paradigm shift has begun in my brain. Interestingly too, Lynas is not shy about admitting to past errors of judgement, or misreading the evidence to suit an ideological position.

On July 7, 2011 the UK Royal Society of Chemistry sponsored a public debate featuring four people who took opposing sides of the following proposition:

New carbon targets requires reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 50% for 2030. This house believes that it will be impossible to meet the emissions reductions required to fulfil these obligations without the use of nuclear power.

George Monbiot and Malcolm Grimston, a Senior Research Fellow from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, spoke in favor of the resolution; Doug Parr, the Chief Scientist at Greenpeace and Roger Levett, an independent energy consultant, were opposed. The pro-nuclear side won 63-9. Below is a brief sample of the debate.

The full debate remains available on the RSC website.

Though Monbiot has become a nuclear technology fan who recognizes the potential for both current and future possibilities like molten salt reactors fueled with thorium and integral fast reactors that burn both U-235 and U-238, he holds a negative opinion of the industry itself. Perhaps that is strictly due to his experiences with the British nuclear industry, but there might be some lessons in his observations that are worth consideration.

Monbiot and Lynas are just the sort of thinking communicators that can take solid information about nuclear energy into new areas; I am glad they have decided to question the antinuclear catechism that they have heard from their green colleagues for so many years.


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 the 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.


A Tale of Two Nuclear Opponents

By Howard Shaffer

So many people oppose nuclear power that it becomes easy to lump them all together as “the opponents.” Like any other group, however, the opponents actually have  various depths of commitment. The extremes are the Professional Opponent and the Concerned But Reachable Volunteer.

The Professional Opponent

A colleague once asked me, “Who is X?”  (X is used to conceal name.) The colleague had heard X introduced as a “scientist” at nuclear power plant public review meeting. My colleague looked on X’s organizational Web site, but could not find X’s qualifications. “Does anyone know anything about X? Does X actually have any technical background at all?” the colleague asked.

Yes, I explained, I know something about X, and no, X has no technical background.

Seabrook nuclear plant

I first met X sometime after I began working at the Seabrook plant in 1984. The Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear group, was holding public meetings and staging protests against the plant, and some of us from the plant attended the meetings. We always identified ourselves as plant employees, so as not to give ammunition to the charge that the plant was spying.  Of course, if we had been asked to leave, then it wouldn’t have been a public meeting! We held conversations, and always tried to be polite (which is often not easy), regardless of how we were treated (I must admit that my politeness sometimes slipped).

Even at that time, X had a usual-form activist history: Studied philosophy in college and dropped out, counseled draft resistors during the Vietnam War, joined the anti-nuclear protest movement shortly afterward.

Kent State protest

While I was working at Seabrook, after 1986, the protesters’ plans included scaling the fence around the plant site. I had met X by then, and knew that security regulations had expanded the specific rights of security guards. I wrote to X, who was active in the Clamshell Alliance, and included a copy of the guards’ rights, which specified the right to shoot in self-defense. I asked, “Please, no more Kent States,” referring to the Vietnam War college campus protest tragedy, where several students were shot, and one or more killed, the aftermath of a large crowd of students surrounding a small band of National Guard troops.

Thankfully, the Seabrook protest ritual had evolved to the point where the police would be on board, the media would be called, those protesters picked ahead of time would scale the fence and be arrested, and all would then go safely home. The media would have its footage and nobody would be hurt.

Vermont Yankee nuclear plant

I met X many times after that, as he moved from positions in one anti-nuclear organization to another. I saw him testify in Washington, D.C., and in Montpelier, Vt. Our last meeting was when he came to present to legislative committees on the Vermont Yankee tritium leak. He and his colleague egregiously said that the leak was unmonitored, and that this was not allowed! Shortly thereafter, we were on a plane together from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C. We sat together and talked.

X firmly believes that nuclear power must be done away with to ensure elimination of nuclear weapons. Of course, X also believes that “any amount of radiation is harmful.” X and his organization don’t have a transition plan, for how the United States and the world would keep going while we convert to their proposal of a nuclear-free existence.

X is a professional “anti-nuke,” making a full-time living at opposing nuclear plants. He represents a very few who are the hard core. One can learn how to counter his arguments, but one cannot hope to change his mind.

The Concerned But Reachable Volunteer

At the other end of the opponents’ spectrum is Y, an anti-nuclear volunteer. Several years ago, Y arranged a debate about nuclear energy and I was a panel member. Y had retired from urban life to live in the hills of the Connecticut River Valley. Once, we both happened to be at Vermont’s State House, in Montpelier, at the same time. Y came over to me to say hello.

Angwin at Vermont Yankee demonstration

I saw her again just a few days ago. On June 23, the Safe and Green Coalition held a demonstration in Brattleboro, Vt., outside the Post Office building, where the federal court was holding an injunction hearing, in the suit by Vermont Yankee against the State of Vermont. Meredith Angwin (who also writes blog posts under the View From Vermont banner) and I attended. Meredith had a poster with a picture of a child using a breathing mask, saying “Save the Children (from asthma). Yes Vermont Yankee.” Y was there on the sidewalk with a sign, along with 60 others. Y called to me as I walked along, and we again had a cordial conversation.

I could see in Y’s eyes some genuine concern about nuclear and a sense of doubt. There were no strident words, and no bubbling up of anger as with some of the others there. Y truly wants to do well by the children, and she sees nuclear as a major danger. In my opinion, she is not entirely dedicated to that belief.

Different strokes

Opponents are a mixture of people with a range of feelings. These feelings go from fear, anger, and “lie down in front of the bus” determination, to questioning and apprehension about nuclear power. Some such as Y appear to be unsure about the depth of their opposition.

The challenge for nuclear advocates is to find ways to communicate—that is, address the fears and concerns of those who are reachable. By doing so, we will bolster our supporters and convince the wavering middle ground in the electorate.

We do not have an easy job, because we are in an arena with the loud voices of the professional opponents. These professionals can be cordial, but will never be swayed.  Still, we can convince the concerned citizens.  Some high-profile former opponents have been able to see the light.

We must challenge the false statements of the professional, and we must keep working to engage concerned citizens by providing correct information,  acknowledging their fears, and speaking to reasons that matter to them.



Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, 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 Vermont Pilot Project.

Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

60th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Tag cloud for Atomic Power Review 2011 07 09

The 60th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Atomic Power Review. This is the first time this blog is participating in the carnival.

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 NEI Nuclear Notes, Idaho Samizdat, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NuclearGreen, and CoolHandNuke, 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.

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