Monthly Archives: November 2011

Another blogger for nuclear energy

A veteran of the nuclear industry provides timely updates about Fukushima as  he battles misconceptions about nuclear energy in general

Most misconceptions about nuclear energy can be tied back to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, says Leslie Corrice—who should know, since he spent an entire career dealing with misconceptions on behalf of a U.S. nuclear utility.

Now retired after a second career as a high school math and science teacher, he updates two web sites three times a week.

He said in a telephone interview that he started posting about 10 months before the events that took place at Fukushima in March 2011.

“At that point, blog traffic just went off the deep end,” he said. “Even after the U.S.started bombing Libya, and the mainstream news media moved on, interest remained strong about Fukushima.”

At the Hiroshima Syndrome, he writes in the tradition of the great American humorist Will Rogers, who said,

It ain’t what you don’t know that counts. It’s what you know that ain’t so.

Here are some examples:

Did you know…
…Mother Nature is totally nuclear.
…Uranium is not a natural explosive.
…Three Mile Island’s accident was a severe meltdown.
…Bomb fallout is very different from nuclear power plant radiation releases.

At his blog on Fukushima, he posts news and detailed updates three times a week.

Corrice also has the distinction of having been an early commenter on the ANS Nuclear Cafe in 2010.

Welcome to the nuclear blogsphere, Mr. Corrice! We’re glad you’re in it.

# # #

Shannon Bragg-Sitton of INL discusses nuclear space applications

Shannon Bragg-Sitton of Idaho National Laboratory discusses nuclear applications for space missions, including the Mars Curiosity rover launched last Saturday, and the upcoming American Nuclear Society Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space (NETS) topical meeting, on March 21-23, in The Woodlands, Tex., held in conjunction with the March 19-23 Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference. Please check the links above for more info.

These websites are loaded with beautiful pictures and launch videos, and packed with info about the Mars Science Laboratory mission:  Jet Propulsion Lab Mars Science Laboratory  &  JPL Curiosity Launch.


Solyndra, and its possible impacts on nuclear

By Jim Hopf

I’m sure everyone has heard all about the Solyndra “scandal” by now. There have been too many news stories to count on this subject (no need to provide links). So, instead of delving into the details, or giving a blow by blow account of all the events and the hearings in Congress, I will focus on the impacts this whole affair may have on government support for nuclear, and for clean energy in general.

A brief summary of the issue

As part of a general program to support clean/renewable energy sources, the federal government provided Solyndra, the maker of a certain type of solar panel, a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009. Soon after the loan guarantee was awarded, however, market conditions for the company deteriorated, rendering it unprofitable.

The price for solar panels has dropped significantly in the past year or two, primarily due to cheap solar panels produced in China, which heavily subsidizes its solar producers, in addition to having cheap labor. Also, China (and the world in general) appears to have ramped up solar cell production capacity too rapidly, resulting in a supply glut that has, at least temporarily, resulted in a dramatic price drop. It is unclear if most or all solar producers are currently selling at a loss (i.e., not recouping their investment in production capacity), but relatively high-cost producers like Solyndra are clearly being priced out of the market.

As a result, Solyndra recently shut down all operations and filed for bankruptcy. This in turn has resulted in the government losing the $535 million dollars it loaned the company.

The failure of the Solyndra loan has been highly publicized, and has led to congressional investigations and a significant amount of political controversy. Many have accused the Obama administration of incompetence, arguing that the company’s deteriorating prospects should have already been apparent when the loan guarantee was awarded. Others are using this issue to question the general idea of government providing assistance to specific energy sources or companies (i.e., government support of “clean” energy sources).

Nuclear loan guarantees questioned

New nuclear projects, such as at Vogtle, are also receiving federal loan guarantees. Some policymakers, including the Obama administration, would like to increase the nuclear loan guarantee volume.


Perhaps predictably, nuclear opponents such as Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), have suggested that nuclear loan guarantees should also be scrutinized, or perhaps eliminated, in light of Solyndra. That is, they should be given the same scrutiny/treatment as loan guarantees for renewables. There are significant flaws in this reasoning, however, given the substantial differences in terms between loans given to nuclear projects, and those given to renewable energy projects.

For nuclear project loan guarantees, the government requires that the utility pay a large sum of cash, up front, to the government. This cash payment (the “credit subsidy fee”) is essentially an insurance premium, which compensates the government for the risk of loan default. It is somewhat analogous to mortgage insurance that some homeowners pay. The amount of the cash payment is determined, on a project-specific basis, by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The required amount can vary significantly for different projects, based on various market factors like whether they are in a merchant or regulated market, if they have a long term power purchase agreement, etc.

The amount of the insurance payment is significant. It can be as much as $1 billion, i.e., a significant fraction of overall project cost; enough to significantly impact the project’s overall economics.

In fact, the cash payments that the OMB has requested have been enough to make a loan guarantee not worthwhile in some cases. Constellation Energy rejected the federal loan guarantee for the Calvert Cliffs-3 project. The government wanted a cash payment of $880 million, equal to 11.6 percent of the total loan amount. Constellation said that not only would those terms render the project non-viable, but that it could probably get better terms on the open market, with no government help. (Some “subsidy”, eh?) In other cases, such as for Vogtle, the calculated fee is much less, and the loan guarantee remains worthwhile.

With renewable project loan guarantees, the OMB also determines the “credit subsidy fee” that would be required to adequately compensate the government for the risk of loan default. As with nuclear loans, the amount of this fee can be very significant, enough to greatly impact the economics of the overall project. (In other words, the OMB has found renewable project risks to be similar to nuclear project risks.)

There is an enormous difference, however. As part of the stimulus package, the federal government has been paying the credit subsidy fees for renewable projects. The fee was determined by the OMB, but then the government appropriated funds to pay that cost. (At least the subsidy is quantified and documented.)

Not only does this difference in terms have a huge impact on project economics, but it also probably has a significant impact on project risk. A nuclear project has to pay the (huge) credit subsidy fee, along with ~$100 million in licensing costs, before it can even start construction. Thus, it has a large investment at stake. With the government paying the credit subsidy fee, renewable projects have much less at stake financially. They don’t have to invest anything up front (or perhaps ever), and the government pays off the loan if the project fails. This, in theory, results in riskier, less viable renewable projects going forward, whereas nuclear companies will do much more in the way of “due diligence.”

Another reason why nuclear loan guarantees may be more justifiable than renewable loan guarantees is the issue of “sovereign risk.” That is, nuclear projects have a significant need to be protected FROM the government. Many in the nuclear industry, who remember the Shoreham debacle, view this as the main reason why government loan guarantees are necessary for new nuclear.

With a government loan guarantee, the government has “skin in the game” financially (even with a credit subsidy fee payment). As a result, it is much less likely that the government will act to kill a project just because it thinks that it may provide some short-term political benefit. For (motherhood and apple pie) renewables, this is not a significant issue.

To summarize all the above, renewable project loan guarantees are very clearly a subsidy, which (as currently structured) may encourage risky loans. It is much less clear whether nuclear project loan guarantees are a subsidy at all, and their current terms, which require large amount of money to be put at risk by the builder, are much less likely to encourage risky projects. Perhaps instead of calling for an end to loan guarantees, Congress should just require that all projects pay the credit subsidy fee determined by the OMB.

Let the “market” decide?

Attacks on the nuclear loan guarantee program, as a result of Solyndra, are not only coming from the (anti-nuclear) Left. They are also coming from the right side of the political spectrum. Many of the Republican presidential candidates were previously supportive of nuclear project loan guarantees, particularly if the project was in their state or district. Now, virtually all of them have come out in opposition to all energy project loan guarantees, including nuclear. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is one notable example.

The argument being presented by most (if not all) Republican candidates is that the government should not “pick winners and losers” in the energy industry (given how Solyndra went), and more generally that the government should not interfere with energy markets, to promote one form of energy over others. Instead, the “market should decide” what energy sources get used.

I have several problems with this line of reasoning. First of all, the notion of a “free” market with no government intervention is a complete myth. There has never been such a free and fair market. Not only is the market rife with subsidies of all kinds, given to all energy sources, but there are also huge differences in the level of regulatory requirements applied to various energy sources. The most notable example are the rigorous regulatory requirements that are applied to nuclear, which are orders of magnitude more strict than those applied to other (notably fossil) energy sources.

The second issue is that, under current policy and regulations, the enormous external (i.e., public health and environmental) costs associated with fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil, are not accounted for by the market, or reflected in their price. This represents a colossal market failure. Scientific studies estimate that accounting for external costs would roughly double the price of coal and oil derived energy.

Spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually to patrol the Persian Gulf (and fight wars in the Middle East) in order to secure oil supplies, but not having that cost paid for by a tax on oil or gasoline, represents an enormous government market intervention. Allowing coal plants to dump massive amounts of pollution into the atmosphere for free (resulting in ~20,000 deaths annually in the United States, along with global warming), is a massive market intervention. Giving shale gas drillers a blanket exemption from the Clean Water Act (while holding anything nuclear to impeccable standards) represents a huge market intervention.

In my September. 28 post, I discussed external costs, and the various options we have for addressing them. One can issue regulations that require reductions in air pollution, CO2 emissions, or oil imports. Alternatively, one can reflect these external costs in the market by imposing taxes on those things. Barring either of those (more enlightened) policies, one can support or subsidize clean energy sources that do not have the above negative impacts.

Conservatives have always been dead set against either the regulatory or financial disincentive (i.e., taxation) approaches, and now, after Solyndra, they are coming out against any type of support for clean, domestic energy sources. Thus, they are against any policies that would correct the enormous market failures discussed above. When they say that the market should decide, they really mean that the current (regulatory and policy) status quo should remain intact. These policies represent an enormously slanted playing field, with what effectively amounts to a large amount of government intervention on behalf of fossil fuels.

Renewable energy sources are also the beneficiary of huge government market interventions, mainly at the state level. In addition to very large subsidies, renewables benefit from portfolio standards that require a large market share for renewables, regardless of their cost or practicality. This is a huge (essentially infinite) subsidy.

Future slanted against nuclear?

As retiring Exelon chairman John Rowe recently pointed out, in the current political climate, renewable portfolio standards are probably going to be the only policies out there to support clean energy, in lieu of more intelligent policies that tax or limit pollution and let the market decide how to respond. That will be a shame, because (as he points out) such policies will result in emissions reductions being achieved in a more expensive way.

Such (renewable portfolio standards only) policies are bad news for nuclear. Under such a scenario, fossil fuels continue to benefit from having their huge external costs not counted, whereas renewables benefit from outright government mandates for their use. Nuclear is left out in the cold.

Nuclear’s external costs are tiny compared to fossil fuels and similar to renewables. It is more economical and practical than (intermittent) renewables in many if not most cases. Thus, it would do very well under any objective playing field where external costs are accounted for but the market is then left to decide.

Just a few years ago, it appeared that such enlightened policies, such as cap-and-trade and significantly more stringent air pollution requirements, were on the horizon. Now, cap-and-trade appears dead and there is enormous pressure to back down on air pollution rules. The possibility of passing (badly needed) limits on air pollution has even resulted in calls by some to eliminate or emasculate the Environmental Protection Agency. No such pressure on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

We’ve all been hearing about how the nuclear renaissance is diminished or dead, and how the reason is because (new) nuclear is no longer economical (due to the “shale gas miracle”, or whatever). My view is that much of this is due to government policies, and a market/regulatory playing field that is very slanted against nuclear. I hope the discussions above have illustrated some of the basis for this view.

In any event, the industry needs to aggressively defend the preservation/expansion of nuclear loan guarantees, as well as the formation of a Clean Energy Bank, and a CO2 tax or cap-and-trade system over the longer term. In terms of policy, things have gotten much worse for nuclear over just the last few years, with no CO2 limits, possibly no more loan guarantees, and possibly less strict air pollution requirements. The economic downturn and the gas glut aren’t helping either. Our current (political) course won’t cut it, if nuclear is to have much of a future.



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.

Harold C. Urey cooks up Deuterium for Thanksgiving!

And wins a Nobel Prize

By Paul Bowersox

During the busy and hectic holiday season, many of us sometimes have the unfortunate experience of being a bit late to important family events, including holiday affairs such as Thanksgiving dinner! But here is the story of an outstanding American scientist who had one of the better excuses in history.

Harold C. Urey


It would be ridiculous to attempt to quickly summarize the scientific achievements, or the admirable character of Harold C. Urey—for now, it will suffice that he was born in Indiana in 1893, and barely passed his entrance exams to attend high school (and he is not the only example like this among those who would, later in life, achieve world-class status in the sciences). While teaching in a Montana mining camp, he decided to attend college. From that point, Urey pursued a stellar scientific career, making fundamental contributions to human knowledge in numerous fields.

Oxygen isotopes

In 1931, a few years after Urey joined the faculty at Columbia University, the neutron had not yet been discovered. Rather, it was thought that isotopes were explained by additional protons (and electrons!) in the atomic nucleus. We now know that isotopes are atoms with the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons, in the atomic nucleus.

Additional isotopes of oxygen had been discovered in 1929, and this discovery had basically thrown the then-known table of elemental atomic weights slightly “out of whack.” The accepted table of atomic weights was based on the relation between the elements of oxygen and hydrogen—and assumed the existence of only one isotope of oxygen (16O, which we now know has 8 protons and 8 neutrons in its atoms), and only one isotope of hydrogen (1H with a single proton comprising its nucleus). Because of the new isotopes of oxygen (17O and 18O, which have an additional neutron and an additional two neutrons in the nucleus, respectively), it was postulated that previously unknown isotopes of hydrogen might also exist… albeit in miniscule ratios to “ordinary” hydrogen. But no such isotopes of hydrogen had ever been detected.

When Urey read of this work in 1931, he quickly decided on a method of detecting such rare isotopes of hydrogen—his hypothetical, calculated, predicted variations in the atomic spectrum of “ordinary” hydrogen. A 21-foot spectrograph had just been installed at Columbia University, which could provide the resolution that would be needed.

Atomic spectroscopy

A quick word on atomic spectroscopy is in order. The general idea of a spectrum is of course well-known to anyone who has seen white light pass through a prism. Atomic spectroscopy is a fundamental tool of chemical research, in which instead of a prism, one can substitute a pure sample of an element or molecule. Electrons in an atom exist in discrete energy states; when the outer electrons of an atom make a transition from a higher energy state to a lower state, they emit photons of a particular wavelength. This shows up in a spectrum as distinct “spectral lines.” Likewise, electrons making a transition from a lower to a higher energy state absorb a photon, and a

deuterium emission spectrum (Koch/Josey, Univ of New Mexico)

spectrum will show absorption lines at specific wavelengths. When radiation is applied to a sample to excite the electrons, these “spectral lines” can be used to identify which elements and molecules are present in a sample—and even in light from distant galaxies. An isotope of hydrogen would show a shift in some of these spectral lines, different from “ordinary” hydrogen, in the visible part of the spectrum—and Urey had calculated where they should be, and was counting on this to identify new isotopes of hydrogen.

 Liquid hydrogen in 1931

Almost everything was in order for Urey’s work. Urey also knew that the concentration of the hypothetical isotopes in hydrogen samples would need to be much greater than normal. He required starting with 4 liters of liquid hydrogen—at minus 423.17 °F—in the year 1931. One of the only two locations in the United States capable of producing such was a new laboratory at the National Bureau of Standards, in Washington, DC.

F.G. Brickwedde, at this new laboratory—using Urey’s calculations on how to distill the hypothetical new, heavier isotope of hydrogen into a concentrated, detectable fraction—evaporated 4000 milliliters of liquid hydrogen down to 1 ml and sent the sample back to Urey, who found nothing new in the spectrum. Another painstaking distillation, and another “null result”—but finally…

On Thanksgiving Day, 1931, Urey saw the expected increase in intensities of the “new” spectral lines, which had finally appeared in the concentrated sample—and deuterium had been discovered. We now know that while “ordinary” hydrogen consists of a proton and an electron, this new “deuterium” isotope of hydrogen was twice as massive, with a proton and a neutron in the nucleus. Urey returned to his home, late for Thanksgiving dinner, to inform his wife. Presumably, it was beneficial to have this good excuse. Also, the Nobel Prize awarded to him for this work, in 1934, hopefully helped make up for his tardiness!


Deuterium has been fundamental in innumerable ways in answering questions about the Earth, the solar system, and the universe. Deuterium is not produced significantly in nature, and the fraction of deuterium observed in hydrogen (about 26 atoms of deuterium per one million total hydrogen atoms) seems constant wherever observed in the universe. This supports the idea of the Big Bang formation of the universe, in which all deuterium would have been formed at one place and time 13.7 billion years ago.

Meanwhile, Earth’s own ratio of deuterium [156 atoms per million hydrogen atoms (ppm)] differs from that on Jupiter (the usual 26 ppm) but matches the ratio found in comets—supporting the idea that Earth’s water has its origin from ancient comets. A quick example of deuterium’s usefulness in planetary science: Hydrogen molecules with a deuterium atom are heavier and tend to stay lower in a planetary atmosphere, where they are less likely to be broken up by solar ultraviolet radition and escape into space. So, the higher deuterium ratio measured in water in Venus’s atmosphere indicates that the planet once had much more water than at present. Deuterium has provided innumerable clues in astronomical research, and in answering questions about Earth’s past climate as well.

The Canadian CANDU nuclear fission reactor uses “heavy water” (D20) as a neutron moderator, while deuterium is (in)famously useful in fusion reactions, especially in combination with its heavier cousin tritium, the *other* isotope of hydrogen—and one day soon this will hopefully be a source of useful energy.

As deuterium reacts similarly to normal hydrogen in most chemical reactions, it is also very useful as a tracer to determine the pathways by which those reactions occur. The examples of benefits from knowledge using deuterium gained in this method are innumerable.

To close, one piece of advice: Do not attempt to explain your late arrival at family events by claiming the discovery of an unknown isotope of the most abundant element in the universe—this excuse already has been used.


Paul Bowersox feels like a heavier isotope of Paul Bowersox after Thanksgiving Dinner, and is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

80th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 80th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Next Big Future

This post is the collective voice of the best pro-nuclear blogs in North America.

The Nuclear Renaissance ~ Image source: What is Nuclear

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 Next Big Future. Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Deregulate the Atom,  Canadian Energy Issues, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

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.

Gas and Nuclear: A Comparison of Two Local Plants

By Meredith Angwin

Many recent speeches (and blog posts) have compared nuclear and gas as sources of electricity generation for our future.  In this post, I will bring the comparisons closer to home, describing some of the similarities and differences between the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vt., and the Granite Ridge Combined Cycle power plant near Manchester, N.H. Which technology is the future: gas or nuclear? Or are they both the future?

Overview of the plants

Vermont Yankee is a 620-MW boiling water reactor nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy Corporation. It was commissioned in 1972. Entergy owns more than 40 power plants in the United States (natural gas, nuclear, coal, and oil), as well as an extensive distribution system.

Granite Ridge is a modern combined cycle gas turbine plant (CCGT) whose maximum output varies between 660 MW and 790 MW, depending on the season. It went online in 2003. The plant was built by AES, a multi-national company that owns 34 power plants and an extensive distribution system in the U.S., and further holdings in 27 countries.

The ILEAD Energy Safari course visited Granite Ridge on November 8.  Bob Hargraves wrote an excellent blog post about that visit, including many pictures.

The public face of the two plants

Everyone in New England knows that Vermont Yankee exists:  It is always in the news. The plant also operates several websites, including:

In contrast, few people know that the Granite Ridge plant exists.  It is seldom in the news, and does not have its own website.

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant


Vermont Yankee is located on the Connecticut River near Vernon Dam. It gets its cooling water from Vernon Pond (the lake behind the dam).



Granite Ridge gas power plant

Granite Ridge is tucked away in an industrial park. It gets its cooling water from the Manchester sewage treatment plant. The round object near the forefront of the Granite Ridge picture is a tank of yogurt from the StonyField Farms yogurt factory next door.

In the picture, you can also see that Granite Ridge has relatively low stacks. The plant does an excellent job of cleaning NOx, so the stacks emit only carbon dioxide and water. They do not need to be very high. Also, the plant is located in an industrial park on the flight path to the Manchester airport, which necessitates building height restrictions at the site.

Plant economics

Vermont Yankee is a major employer in its region, employing 650 people.

In contrast, a shift of four people can operate Granite Ridge. My guess is that Granite Ridge employs less than 100 people.

Working principle of a combined cycle power plant (Legend: 1-Electric generators, 2-Steam turbine, 3-Condenser, 4-Pump, 5-Boiler/heat exchanger, 6-Gas turbine)

Granite Ridge has 50-percent thermal efficiency, higher than any coal or nuclear plant. Though the plant is efficient and the price of natural gas is at historic lows, natural gas remains a high-end fuel. This means that natural gas plants are dropped from the mix when the grid doesn’t need much power. Power prices on the grid are frequently below Granite Ridge’s break-even point. The Energy Safari group was told that the plant does not operate as steadily as it would like to operate.

Granite Ridge is not a “peaker” plant, but it can easily move output up or down 5 MW a minute. It is frequently instructed to “load-follow” by the grid operator. Vermont Yankee is a “base load” plant, and thus usually runs at 100 percent. Both are very reliable plants.

Vermont Yankee is running steadily after 40 years, operating under a power purchase agreement put in place in 2002. This agreement gives Vermont Yankee about 4.5 cents per kWh. Granite Ridge is trying to be profitable and keep running while having the advantage of historically low gas prices. I believe that Granite Ridge sells at the market price, which goes above and below 4.5 cents quite regularly. For example, at late afternoon Friday, November 18, the local grid day-ahead market was 3.7 cents per kWh, while the real-time market was 5.1 cents per kWh.

Which is the future?

In my opinion, the future balance between gas and nuclear will basically be determined by whether or not Americans consider carbon dioxide to be important. Americans are quite willing to do small personal things to lower emissions (e.g., replacing light bulbs). We do not, however, tend to take carbon dioxide seriously when it comes to choices about power plants.

Granite Ridge is an impressive plant, with excellent control of NOx, and high thermal efficiency. It can load-follow, and it is using sewage treatment effluent as cooling water. Plants like this will be part of the future.

But the whole future? First, all fossil fuels carry carbon dioxide and climate change concerns. Second, grid operators do not like to see the grid overly dependent on a single fuel source, especially one like natural gas with major price volatility. The grid needs a mix of plants. Nuclear and natural gas must both be part of that mix.



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.

ANS Students and Young Professionals Visit Capitol Hill

By Lenka Kollar

During the American Nuclear Society’s 2011 Winter Meeting in November, about 90 ANS members visited lawmakers to promote nuclear energy and technology as part of the ANS/Young Professionals Congress visit to Capitol Hill. As a student at Purdue University, which is located in Indiana, I met with legislative assistants from the offices of Indiana senators Richard Lugar (R.) and Dan Coats (R.) and Congressman Todd Rokita (R.).

Jeff Terry, a physics professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a resident of northwest Indiana, joined me at these meetings.


During the meetings, we discussed the importance of nuclear energy and technology in America’s future, and how continued funding for a few key programs would make a large impact. I highlighted the importance of nuclear engineering student programs in providing a future workforce in the nuclear field. Specifically, funding has been unstable for the Integrated University Program (IUP), which provides scholarships and fellowships through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy. As chair of the Advanced Test Reactor Users Organization, Terry stressed the importance of an adequate and stable funding base for the ATR so that more universities, such as Purdue, could become partner organizations.


The legislative assistants in each lawmaker’s office were very receptive to talking about our issues. These Indiana lawmakers have been traditionally pro-nuclear and supportive of science and technology funding. Still, it was important for us to visit them and further promote nuclear energy and technology so that they will keep us in mind for future legislative decisions.

This visit to the Hill was not my first. For the past three years, I’ve been involved in the Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation, which is a group of students that travels to Washington every summer to advocate for nuclear engineering education. Through this experience, I was able to bring up nuclear issues as a constituent of Indiana and Florida (where I grew up) and form relationships with the legislative assistants. I now serve as a resource for them when it comes to nuclear energy and education legislation.


Students and professionals both should become more involved in policymaking by simply reaching out to their legislators. The first time that I advocated on the Hill, it surprised me how easy it was and how willing my representatives were to listen to me. We elect our lawmakers, and thus they have a stake in addressing our concerns, especially when they affect the home district or state. For example, in my congressional meetings, I stressed that cutting the IUP in fiscal year 2011 directly affected me and the state of Indiana, because I had applied for funding and was unable to get it. When talking to policymakers, be sure to stick to the point, leave out the technical details, and relate to issues at home. Also remember that you represent yourself, and not your institution.

Reaching out to your representative is easy; simply visit their office, write them a letter, or give them a call. You can find out who your lawmakers are on the House and Senate websites, and all of them have offices in both their home state/district and in Washington, D.C. Also, be sure to visit the ANS and Nuclear Energy Institute websites for information and position statements on current issues.


Lenka  Kollar is a master’s student in nuclear engineering at Purdue University. She has been involved in Purdue’s ANS student chapter since 2006, and has been a national ANS member since 2009. At Purdue, Lenka established an extensive local nuclear science outreach program, including visits to high schools and a teacher workshop. She is also a member of the ANS Student Sections Committee. Lenka plans to graduate in May 2012 and is looking to start a career in nuclear energy policy and communications, preferably in the Chicago area.

Young nuclear professionals visit Capitol Hill

One of the most exciting and important events at the American Nuclear Society’s Winter Meeting in Washington, DC, this year was the “Capitol Hill Day” visit held on November 4.  This event allowed society members the opportunity to go to Capitol Hill to meet with congress persons and staffs, and to offer unique expertise as the world’s foremost experts in nuclear technologies.


“This year, a new standard of success was set for future Capitol Hill Day visits,” said Craig Piercy, ANS Washington representative. “About 90 members participated, visiting congress persons and their staffs from 22 states and the District of Columbia. Given the events in Japan [beginning last March], it’s more important now than ever to have ANS members willing to engage their senators and representatives as sources of the most accurate and reliable information and expertise.”

Capitol Hill Day participants gather for an orientation session.

The event was the penultimate session of the highly successful ANS/NA-YGN Young Professionals Congress. “The central purpose of the Young Professionals Congress is to help prepare for the future of the nuclear industry,” said Peter Caracappa, general chair. “The Capitol Hill Day visit serves to remind policy makers that the nuclear industry has a future, and an important one, in this country.”

Mimi Limbach (Potomac Communications) hosts the Public Information Workshop panel on communicating with policy makers. Seated are Jarrett Adams, AREVA, and Craig Piercy, ANS DC rep.

“One objective of the ANS Young Members Group includes facilitating young professionals’ involvement in the society’s work and in the nuclear community,” said Jennifer Varnedoe, chair of the ANS Young Members Group. “The YPC Capitol Hill visit gave young professionals the opportunity to educate lawmakers, express our passion for nuclear science and technology to them, and network with both young professionals and more experienced members of the society.”


Varnedoe continued, “In my group alone, we had three young professionals and two more experienced members. Each of us represented different areas of expertise, but combining our efforts toward one common goal we were able to convey our sincere belief that nuclear science and technology holds the answers to many challenges facing America, including energy supply, food safety, medical applications, and many other areas.”

ANS President Eric Loewen said, “As a former ANS Congressional Fellow, I can attest to how vital it is that ANS Young Members engage their elected representatives on nuclear science and technology issues. A successful future of progress in nuclear science and technology truly depends on it.”


Feedback from participants in the ANS/YPC 2011 Capitol Hill Day visit has been uniformly positive and enthusiastic. “Many people worked behind the scenes for the Young Members Group and ANS to make sure this event ran smoothly,” said Laura Scheele, ANS Communications Manager.  “A big ‘thank-you’ is in order to all the participants and everyone who contributed to making this event a success!”

For more coverage, visit NA-YGN’s  Clean Energy Insights blog, and be sure to visit the ANS Nuclear Cafe tomorrow for a first-hand perspective on Capitol Hill Day 2011!


79th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers

Voices with legendary names emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy

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 Next Big Future. Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Deregulate the Atom,  Canadian Energy Issues, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

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 Carnival

Brian Wang – Next Big Future

Two ACP100 reactor modules have been ordered in China. These 100 to 150 MWe reactors can be built in about 30 months, which is about half the time of larger reactors in China. These first of kind units will each cost a bit less than $400 million if budgets are not overrun.

Lightbridge has expanded the nuclear fuels they have under development from thorium-uranium fuels to new fuels that will enable uprating of 17 to 30% of pressure water reactors.

Gail Marcus – Nuke Power Talk

Gail Marcus notes that Russia’s stated intention of joining the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency is a move in the right direction.  It will be the culmination of long period of growing cooperation between Russia and the agency.  She notes with pleasure that she had a role in one step in that process.

Marcus, a former president of ANS, also has some positive comments on a subject a bit off her usual path. A cartoon about Vermont Yankee captures her attention.  See the note below about it for more details.

Meredith Angwin  – Yes Vermont Yankee

Meredith Angwin of Yes Vermont Yankee is fond of this post because it
includes a great cartoon from a local paper. The cartoon is about
Vermont Yankee, and about energy choices in general.

Rod Adams – Atomic Insights

Fukushima media visit – USA Today slants positive news into source of worry . . . On November 12, 2011, USA Today published an article titled Media allowed in tsunami-hit nuke plant that contained some classic elements of slant by selectively highlighting certain facts while ignoring others.

The situation was a good news story. Tepco, the electric power utility company that owns the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station has reached a stage in their recovery efforts where they could comfortably allow the news media to come into the station and have a first hand look around.

Dan Yurman – ANS Nuclear Cafe

Dan Yurman at ANS Nuclear Cafe provides a report and analysis of the latest news, events, and commentary concerning recent nuclear energy protests in  India. He explains the source of the protests and what the Indian nuclear establishment is doing to respond top them. The head Russian nuclear engineer at the twin VVER reactor facility at Koondankulam weighs in with a comment on media coverage.

Dan Yurman – Idaho Samizdat

The next generation of nuclear engineers will be raised on games.  Massive multi-player experiences, and social media, are formative experiences the nuclear industry should leverage to recruit new talent.

The virtual game environments, and the social media networks that surround them, are as much a part of the “reality” of the players as their families, jobs, and relationships with society.

The question is why hasn’t the nuclear energy industry harnessed these technologies as a way to motivate young people to seek a career in the field?

Charles Barton – Nuclear Green

This week on Nuclear Green, he offers a three-part interview with Sherrell Greene a recently retired senior ORNL reactor researcher.  In the first part of the interview, Greene discusses his ORNL accomplishments, and his contributions to nuclear safety.

The second part of the Greene Interview, Sherrell Greene discusses Fluoride Salt Reactors including AHTRs, SmAHTRs, and MSRs,

Finally in the third part of his interview, Dr. Greene discusses Liquid Chloride Reactors, the problem that “business as usual” will pose for the future of the nuclear industry, and the possibility of a new Manhattan Project.

Steve Aplin – Canadian Nuclear Issues

What lights up Occupy Ottawa? It could and should be clean energy, but it’s not”

The site of Occupy Ottawa has a grid connection but the site owner cut off the power two days into the occupation. The occupiers felt forced to use a gasoline-powered generator to provide electricity at night. The gasoline generator produces electricity that is dirtier by at least an order of magnitude than electricity from the Ontario grid.

Even though they’ve been cut off, the Occupiers could still use clean grid electricity, by employing a technology that has been around for more than a century. In a series of three articles, Steve Aplin asks Shouldn’t they use this technology, especially since there is a sign at the site saying ‘Protect the Environment’?”

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Protests delay India’s nuclear renaissance

Projects in Koodankulam and Jaitapur will be set back

By Dan Yurman

Protest at Jaitapur over planned construction of two new nuclear reactors.

A series of protests that began in October have delayed the hot start of two Russian 1000- MW VVER reactors in the Tamil Nadu state on India’s southernmost coastline. Additional protests, some of them violent, have set back the start of construction of two French 1650-MW EPR reactors in the Maharashtra state on India’s west coast some 400 km (250 miles) south of Mumbai.

In Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, the provincial governor has supported protests by local villagers over perceived safety issues following the Fukushima crisis in Japan and also focused on the hot water discharge from the plant into shoreline fishing waters. In Jaitapur, area villagers have complained about what they say is inadequate compensation for land to be taken for the plant and displacement of their farms without having a new way to make a living.

In both locations, minority political parties have made common cause with the protesting villagers. The national government, however, has charged that anti-nuclear organizers from Greenpeace have been seen in Tamil Nadu.

Hot start-up stopped

The net effect of the protests is that all work has stopped on hot startup of the two Russian VVERs. Both reactors were to have entered revenue service in December 2011. Now the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. (NPCIL) says that the startup will be postponed to March 2012. At Jaitapur, the commissioning date for the first of two Areva EPRs has been set back by at least a year, to 2019.

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who is the Indian government spokesman for dealing with protests over construction of new nuclear reactors at Koondankulam.

The national government has been caught by surprise by the protests. In early November, it engaged former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who is from Tamil Nadu and is a former defense official, to meet with the provincial governor and representatives of protest groups. Kalam toured the Russian built plant site and pronounced it safe, much to the disappointment of the protest groups.

The chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, Srikumar Banerjee, said that the local protests would not be resolved with scientific facts. He said that one-on-one contacts between nuclear officials and the villagers were needed to calm everyone down.

Whatever gains might have been derived from the confidence building effort from Kalam’s public relations tour were dashed, however, when India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board called for additional safety measures for the two reactors.

The agency head, Shri S.S. Bajaj, said that based on review of events that took place at Fukushima last March, the board wants the two VVERs to have a better system to deal with loss of external electrical power and a larger supply of fresh water for emergency cooling.

A typical emergency diesel generator at a nuclear power plant.

While this announcement might have provided new political fuel for the protests, the NPCIL plant project manager, Kashinath Balaji, said that it was a no brainer to acquire more emergency diesel generators and to arrange for more fresh water supplies.

Meanwhile, the lead Russian engineer at the plant said that the protests would require some of the commissioning work to be redone. Kvasa Alexander told NDTV (video) on November 13 that the water in the core was now stagnant and would have to be replaced and that all the electrical circuits and pipe valves would have to be checked to make sure that they are in the right configuration. Also, he complained that Indian technicians who were working on the plant had gone home and refused to return until the protests ended.  Update 11/17/11:  Mr. Kvasa clarifies some of the media coverage in a comment below.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Another element that has roiled protestors in Tamil Nadu is an evacuation drill that was perceived as a real emergency. The Indian Express newspaper reported on October 29 that the drill produced panic among the locals because they heard sirens and saw plant personnel streaming out of the site. Apparently, it never occurred to the Russians to consult with local authorities before running the drill.

German nationals participating in anti-nuclear protests at Koondankulam.

NPCIL Chief S.K. Jain said that the uproar on October 29 was made worse by foreign nationals who were stirring up trouble. He told the Indian Express newspaper that “greens from the U.S., Finland, France, Australia, and Germany are backing the local protests.”

And in Jaitapur, a senior provincial government official, Prithviraj Chevan, told the newspaper that “foreign powers,” including people from Greenpeace in Finland, were working with local protest groups. For their part, the protest groups at both Jaitapur and Kudankalm denied the allegations.

Pro-and-con views of India’s nuclear future

The former chief of India’s Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), Anil Kalodkar, said on November 13 that the government and the media “were reading too much into the situation at Koodankulam.”

He went on to observe that the Russian reactors are safe and are a victim of “hysteria” related to Fukushima.

And there’s more commentary from India’s nuclear establishment. Annaswamy Prasad, the former head of BARC, told the blog of the science journal Nature on October 6 that India should halt all imports of foreign reactor technology and build out 60 GWe of electrical generating capacity with an indigenous design, a 700-MW PHWR based on AECL’s CANDU design.

Schematic of a proposed Russian-designed sodium cooled fast breeder reactor for India.

He also called for speeding up development of fast breeder reactors to make nuclear fuel and to convert thorium into U-233.

This development, he said, would eliminate the need for India to be dependent on world supplies of uranium.  Russia is working with India to develop a fast reactor that uses the thorium fuel cycle.

This provoked a response from Subhas Sukhatme, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, that this vision, and a parallel call for more investment in renewable energy, was an unrealistic path.

In the end it is likely that both the Russian reactors at Koodankulam and the French units at Jaitapur will be built. C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Dehli energy security expert, told the Bloomberg wire service that while some delays “are inevitable” due to the protests, “India cannot afford to abandon its nuclear energy program.”

He added that “neither can it afford to ignore the public mood.”



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

Radwaste Solutions: Products, materials, services

The November/December issue of Radwaste Solutions is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center).

The issue is the “2012 Products, Materials, and Services Directory,” with almost 400 companies listed in more than 150 categories.

The issue also contains the feature article, “The Benefits of International Cooperation on Decommissioning: U.S. and U.K. Contributions to the Decommissioning of Kazakhstan’s BN-350 Reactor,” along with other industry news.

Past issues of Radwaste Solutions are available here.

“Waste Management” in Nuclear News

The November issue of Nuclear News magazine, which contains a special section on waste management, is available in hard copy and electronically for American Nuclear Society members (must enter ANS user name and password in Member Center). The special section contains the following stories:

  • What will we do with it all? by Ed Batts
  • Coupling repositories with fuel cycles, by Charles Forsberg
  • What does 1 million years mean to a regulator? by Edward D. Blandford, Robert J. Budnitz, and Rodney C. Ewing
  • Robert Sindelar: Extended spent fuel storage, interview by Rick Michal

The issue also contains a feature article on the inaugural ANS “live” webinar, with Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko as guest; and a report on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 55th General Conference.

Other news in the November issue: A Government Accountability Office report states that United States has limited ability to secure nuclear material overseas; the world’s largest open-air nuclear storage pool moves toward decommissioning; a site is chosen for Finland’s seventh power reactor; startup testing for Argentina’s Atucha-2 power reactor. is launched; Vietnam awards contract for power reactor feasibility study to Japan Atomic Power Company; Fluor, GE Hitachi sign memorandum of understanding for proposed power reactors in Poland; Cameco signs mining, milling deal; Areva’s Eagle Rock enrichment plant receives NRC license; the Department of Energy gives grants for nuclear-related university research and development, infrastructure.; Areva launches “learning tour” for partner and customer company employees; NRC commissioners conduct mandatory hearing for Vogtle-3 and -4; spent fuel pool instrumentation, Mark II containment venting added to NRC staff’s near-term post-Fukushima actions; NRC finds no vital quake damage at North Anna, but shutdown continues; public support for nuclear power lower than before Fukushima, but a majority still in favor; foreign control contention added to South Texas-3 and -4 hearing process; and more.

Past issues of Nuclear News are available here.


78th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The latest edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Next Big Future

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 ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yes Vermont Yankee, NuclearGreen, Deregulate the Atom,  Canadian Energy Issues, Idaho Samizdat, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

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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NCEES seeks volunteers for Fundamentals of Engineering exam content review

NCEES is seeking engineering professionals to participate in a content review for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The results of this survey will be used to update the test specifications for the exam, which is typically the first step in the process leading to professional engineering licensure.

NCEES requires a cross section of professionals—including licensed professional engineers, academics teaching engineering courses, and engineer interns—from all engineering disciplines to complete an online survey about the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for an engineer intern to work in a manner that safeguards the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

“These studies help NCEES ensure its licensing exams remain relevant to current professional practice,” said Tim Miller, P.E. , director of exam services. “The value of this content review depends on the number of people who participate, so NCEES is eager to get input from as many engineering professionals as possible.”

The survey can be completed in 30–45 minutes. Responses must be received no later than December 5, 2011. For more information, e-mail

Click here for the online survey for FE exam content review.

NCEES is a national nonprofit organization composed of engineering and surveying licensing boards representing all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. An accredited standards developer with the American National Standards Institute, NCEES develops, scores, and administers the examinations used for engineering and surveying licensure throughout the United States. NCEES also provides services facilitating professional mobility for licensed engineers and surveyors. Its headquarters is located in Clemson, S.C.  Click here to learn more about NCEES.


Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works!

By Suzy Hobbs Baker

I originally wrote this post as a book review, but after three or four edits, I realized that I couldn’t mask my biased opinion about the new children’s book, Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! Simply put, I adore this book, as well as author Amelia Frahm, and have something of an emotional stake in its success. So, I decided it would be better to just share the reasons I love this book without trying to hide my enthusiasm.

Amelia Frahm has a gift for shedding light and humor on some of the most difficult issues we face as individuals and as a society. Her pathway for sharing her gift is as an educator and writer of children’s books. She also happens to have considerable professional experience in the realm of nuclear public relations.

A little over a year ago, Amelia contacted me about her latest book, which was to cover the daunting subject of nuclear power.  I was very excited at the prospect of a nuclear energy children’s book, but knew too well the challenges of taking on such a complex subject.

We spoke about our past outreach efforts and it turns out that we had a great deal of overlap—myself as an art teacher to children suffering from chronic and terminal illnesses, and Amelia as a cancer survivor turned cancer educator. In her book,  Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy! Frahm makes understanding cancer possible, even fun for kids. She tells the story from a young girl’s perspective, and delves into the upheaval of the entire family after her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Somehow she covers this difficult subject with honesty, humor, and humility, perhaps due to the autobiographical nature of the book.


I quickly realized that if anyone could take information about nuclear physics, grid transmission, and probable risk assessment and make it fun for kids, it was Amelia. And that is exactly what she did.

I was lucky to watch the book grow over time, to see the text and images slowly come together on the pages. It was an exciting and inspiring process to witness. When she would send me drafts requesting feedback, I struggled to give her any helpful thoughts, because she was doing such a phenomenal job.

Immediately after the events at the Fukushima Diiachi power plant, Amelia and I both distraught at the misinformation flying around, agreed that she had to finish the book, to publish it as soon as possible. It was needed more than ever, and thankfully now this wonderful resource is available to the public.

Nuclear Power: How a Nuclear Power Plant Really Works! has already been recognized with an Independent Publisher’s Book Award and a Mom’s Choice Award. Parents, teachers, and most importantly, kids love this book. To be perfectly honest, after reading several (actual) reviews of the book, I think the parents and teachers are getting a lot of new information from this book as well!

I want to share this new resource with the nuclear community in hopes that you will add it to your tool belt of outreach materials. The next time that someone asks for a good resource about nuclear energy for kids, you don’t have to scratch your head and think, “someone really should write a children’s book about this,” because that book is finally here.


Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director ofPopAtomic Studios, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of visual and liberal arts to enrich the discussion on nuclear energy. Hobbs Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.