Monthly Archives: June 2012

Hall Talk – ANS Chicago 6/27

ANS Social Media Meet Up

By Dan Yurman

About 20 people interested in developing the capabilities of nuclear energy bloggers to use video and YouTube met June 26 at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) national meeting in Chicago.

In an early morning session that began at 7 AM, the group addressed topics including story boarding, integration of stock video as well as Powerpoint and still photos, sound quality, and the overall production process.

Barry Brook, who operates the Brave New Climate blog, told the group that effective story boarding ahead of time is the key to getting ideas on paper and boiling them down to core elements. Brook’s advice includes writing a formal script.

And size matters. Brooks says that a 10 minute video on YouTube on a complex topic like nuclear energy may be good for technical folks, but it is too long for everyone else. One minute is not long enough to tell a complete story. He recommends limiting yourself to five minutes for a YouTube video.

In terms of promoting videos, several bloggers said they have specific pages on their blogs for them, but that they do not get much traffic. Having a video in YouTube generates more traffic.

One source of content are the already-existing videos about nuclear energy on YouTube. For instance, a participant suggested checking the video channels of the major reactor vendors and nuclear professional groups.

On this last point, a suggestion that was discussed was how to set up a nuclear energy video library with clips of reactor facilities, equipment, and related information.

Production values matter

Getting back to production values, there was a good discussion about the need to shoot video in high quality and to not skip over the issue of sound quality.

How serious should you be in the presentation of the material? Nuclear energy proponents tend to produce fact based videos with talking heads. This is boring.

On the other hand, animation is expensive and can cost thousands of dollars a minute in production time. Humor works, but don’t go overboard, as in the case of this spoof about a boy scout who tried to make a nuclear reactor in his backyard.

And defying conventional wisdom about “stuffy engineers” is sometimes helpful, though ridicule of bizarre statements by anti-nuclear groups at public hearings is not always effective as a tactic. Showing up is important to get the pro-nuclear message out because if you don’t, the other points of view will dominate the coverage of the event.

Not every video gets 12 million hits on YouTube

Many videos benefit from viral promotion because they hit a public sweet spot. A good example is the video “United Breaks Guitars” about a musician whose expensive musical instrument was smashed by baggage handlers, and the airline’s bureaucratic response to his complaint.

Over 12 million people have seen the video so far. The impact of the video on United was far-reaching and the airline changed its tune about compensating its frequent flyer for the damages.

ANS workshop in San Diego this Fall

In terms of what’s next, Laura Hermann of Potomac Communications told the group she is working on organizing a session on video story-telling for the ANS national meeting in San Diego this Fall. Hermann talked about the equipment and skills needed to produce effective videos and said her project is tied in with the agenda of the ANS Public Information Committee.

Most importantly, Hermann said, nuclear bloggers need to move beyond other nuclear professionals as the intended audience. Videos need to show they are relevant to topics of public concern like safety, costs, and transparency.

“You need to identify your audiences and pro-nuclear messages together,” she said.

The ANS workshop will focus on visual story telling, documentary film making techniques, and using cell phone video tools.

Story telling is important

Meredith Angwin, who publishes the blog Yes Vermont Yankee, said that personalized story telling is important.

“Telling the human side of the story is key. For instance, you can talk about how you got into the nuclear energy field in the first place.”

That said, it was noted that many nuclear engineers, by nature, are not good public speakers, so training and practice with video equipment and coaches are essential steps before going on YouTube.

An added comment is that when access can be arranged, visual tours of nuclear reactor facilities are excellent opportunities to tell the story of nuclear energy.

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Hall Talk – ANS Chicago 6/26

ATR Users Week

By Dan Yurman

ATR Core simulation image

University faculty and their students who want to conduct scientific work at the Idaho National Laboratory’s (INL) Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) Scientific User Facility get a unique opportunity each year to learn how to write intelligent proposals that win funding.

Todd Allen, Ph.D., Scientific Director of the ATR National User Facility, says the week long training session is now in its fourth year, with a good mix of U.S. and international participants.  Allen is attending the ANS meeting in Chicago and dropped by to talk about the program.

Earlier this month about 50 people came to Idaho Falls, ID, to learn how to write high quality statements of work for advanced fuel design scientific experiments using INL laboratory facilities. The program consists of two days of lectures and two days of hands-on work in INL labs. A fifth day reviews successful proposals.

Lecture topics include experiment design, advanced modeling of nuclear fuel, and post irradiation examination of experiments after they are taken out of the reactor.  The classes include a tour of the ATR and the MFC Hot Cells. Some participants also get a chance to work with some of the computer codes that support scientific work at the facility.

On the fifth day the participants get a briefing about ongoing projects and a review of successful proposals that received funding. A big project can cost upwards of $1 million and a small one can come in at about $50K. The grants cover reactor time and support, but not researcher salaries or travel.

An example of a recent project includes the testing of reactor pressure vessel materials. The objective of the test was to use a high rate of radiation over a short period of time to replicate long term residence of the same materials in a LWR pressure vessel. This is a work in progress with the results still to be determined.

Allen said, “This is the type of specialized analysis that is not available elsewhere.”

More recently, the Idaho lab collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), combining scientific work on materials with similarly complex work on fuels. Participants in the program spent a week in Tennessee, followed by a week in Idaho. Overall, 50 researchers were involved in the combined program.

Todd Allen,Ph.D.

Allen notes that skills in proposal writing for ATR helps with organization of applications for other grants. Right now, the ATR program is getting four good proposals for each one that it can fund.

The schedule for the next class involves applications being open from December 2012 to February 2013. The next class meetings are in June 2013.

For more information contact:

Todd Allen, Ph.D
Scientific Director
ATR National Scientific User Facility
Web: ATRNSUF Home Page

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Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer Receive American Nuclear Society Presidential Citations

American Nuclear Society (ANS) President Eric Loewen, PhD, presented ANS members Meredith J. Angwin and Howard C. Shaffer, III with Presidential Citations in recognition of their successful public information efforts in Vermont and elsewhere. Angwin and Shaffer received their award during the ANS President’s Special Session at the ANS Annual Conference: “Nuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events,” being held June 24-28 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer have inspired nuclear proponents across the country by shaping the public debate over nuclear energy using facts and technical credibility,” said Loewen.  “Their success in making sure that accurate information is shared in public venues will continue to benefit the nation moving forward.”

The Presidential Citations recognize the following achievements:


Meredith Angwin—For providing rational, reliable, and unbiased information about nuclear energy to the citizens of Vermont during the contentious re-licensing period for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.  By establishing the Energy Education Project, Meredith nourished a grassroots organization that changed the public debate about nuclear energy, lending a credible voice and a helping hand to ANS members and other nuclear advocates well beyond the borders of Vermont.


Howard Shaffer—For tireless efforts to provide accurate and credible nuclear energy information to the citizens of Vermont during the contentious re-licensing period for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Howard’s dedication to furthering public understanding and dispelling fear and uncertainty with facts, through a variety of forums, correctly focused the public debate about nuclear energy. He has inspired ANS members and other nuclear advocates across the country.

Angwin is founder of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute. The Energy Education Project is a non-profit with the mission of helping people in Vermont understand their energy options in terms of cost, reliability, environmental impact and government support. She was a Project Manager at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) with a yearly budget of a million to a million and a half dollars to fund research in geothermal and nuclear power generation. Angwin holds a BS in chemistry, with special honors in chemistry, from University of Chicago and an MS in physical chemistry from University of Chicago.  She founded Fourth Floor Databases in Palo Alto CA to continue making progress on issues in electricity generation, and she owns Carnot Communications, which specializes in effectively communicating technical issues.  She blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee and is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to the American Society for Mechanical Engineers and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section and served as 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 ANS Vermont Public Information Pilot Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

For more information about the conference, visit  For information about ANS Honors and Awards, visit

Hall Talk – ANS Chicago 6/25

Plenary views

By Dan Yurman

John Sloan “The City” an example of American Realism painting

This is the first of a series of brief “Hall Talk” blog posts on people and events at the ANS Chicago conference taking place this week. The Plenary session kicked off with an introduction by John Rowe, former chairman of Exelon (nyse:exc).

The firm operates 22 nuclear reactors in the U.S. In 2012 it completed the acquisition of Constellation which added several units to its fleet. So readers may wonder why Rowe is not bullish on the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. and why he thinks the “nuclear renaissance” is a decade or two away.

Rowe actually started out on a conventional note reminding the audience that 2012 is the 70th anniversary year of the first sustained nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago field house. Assembled under the direction of Enrico Fermi, the Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1) was the world’s first man-made nuclear reactor. It  was built under the abandoned west stands of the original Alonzo Stagg Field stadium at the University of Chicago. The first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated on December 2, 1942.

However, Rowe then switched gears talking about the need for the nuclear industry to face with unflinching realism the fact that cheap natural gas will be a very significant competitive factor in the U.S. and western Europe for at least this decade, if not longer. Add to that, Rowe said, the fact that “Fukushima was an accident that was not supposed to happen,” and you have a very challenging future facing the people in the audience.

How can the nuclear industry succeed, given these circumstances? Rowe says that passive safety features are a must, along with ease of construction and effective cost control.

Rowe has been frequently cited as a critic of his own industry. He was widely quoted last Fall as saying it is “inconceivable” that a third reactor would be built at Calvert Cliffs, given current economic and market conditions, but in this sense he is misunderstood. He’s just calling the shots as he sees them.  If Rowe had been a painter instead of a businessman, his work might have drawn on the influence of the school of American realism.

Simpson on nuclear R&D

Stack of $100 bills

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), now in his seventh term representing the district that is home to the Idaho National Laboratory, told the ANS Plenary Session that his view is the public backlash from the Fukushima accident is less than he expected. That’s good news, but like Rowe, Simpson sees challenges ahead.

He says the Department of Energy lacks a clear vision of what decision framework it will use to develop policies on the generation and use of power. Without clear priorities, Congress struggles with the question of what to fund in terms of nuclear R&D and why.

On Yucca Mountain, Simpson said the Blue Ribbon Commission has pointed out that we still need a geologic repository and has called for “interim storage.” The question is, Simpson asks, “how long is ‘interim’”?

Moving on to more general issues, Simpson said the annual federal deficit is so large that you could “eliminate most of the government as we know it” and still have a deficit from interest alone.

“We are talking about spending 24% of GDP and taking in the equivalent of 14% of GDP. This is not sustainable.”

Using a visual metaphor, Simpson said that if the deficit was composed of $100 bills, the stack of them would be 690 miles high or about three times the low earth orbit attained by the Space Shuttle.

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ANS Names Three New Fellows

Three members of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) have been named ANS Fellows, ANS President Eric Loewen, PhD, announced today.  The status of Fellow is the highest honor bestowed by the Society.  Dr. Loewen will present the awards to the new ANS Fellows today, during the opening session of the ANS Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois, in recognition of their significant achievements and contributions to nuclear science and technology.

In making the announcement, Loewen said, “As scientific society members, we are proud to be associated with these individuals who have done so much to advance nuclear science and technology by sharing their contributions so enthusiastically with their colleagues.”

The prestigious designation of ANS Fellow was awarded to:


Ahmad Hassanein, Head of Nuclear Engineering, Purdue University—For his significant development of comprehensive models and computer simulation packages for plasma material interactions for fusion energy applications in both magnetic and inertial confinement as well as other plasma science applications.



Pradip Saha, Principal Engineer, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy—For his outstanding original research and publications in the fields of two-phase flow in thermal non-equilibrium, density wave flow instability in subcritical and supercritical pressures, core power-feedwater temperature operating domain for natural circulation BWR, scaling methodology for BWRs, mixed convection heat transfer in gas-cooled reactors, and reactor safety code assessment and improvement.


Mark L. Williams, Distinguished Research Scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratory—For his significant contributions to nuclear engineering modeling and simulation through unique breakthrough developments in sensitivity/uncertainty (S/U) methods.



Loewen concluded, “Nuclear science and technology continues to expand and provide benefits to humanity as our knowledge grows within this new field of study. These three ANS Fellows are at the boundary of this knowledge expansion and are thought leaders who have significantly helped to advance nuclear science.”

Welcome to the 2012 ANS Annual Meeting — President Eric Loewen

110th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 110th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at  Atomic Power Review

The Carnival is the collective voice of blogs by legendary names that emerge each week to tell the story of nuclear energy.

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 Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Idaho Samizdat, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, 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 to speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy.

While we each have our own points 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.

ANS Nuclear Matinee: Fukushima and Chernobyl: Myth versus Reality

Facts vs. myths about the health effects of Fukushima and Chernobyl.  The conclusions of scientists studying health consequences may be startling to those exposed only to commonly held beliefs and traditional media (and Chernobyl Diaries!)

Also see the excellent article and discussion about the video at the Atomic Insights website.


UC-Berkeley NE department receives ANS Presidential Citation

The University of California–Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Department has been awarded an American Nuclear Society Presidential Citation, ANS President Eric Loewen announced today. Loewen will present the award to UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department representatives during the President’s Session of the ANS Annual ConferenceNuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events, being held June 24–28 in Chicago, Ill.

“The efforts by UC-Berkeley nuclear engineering faculty and students to provide accurate and authoritative information to the public following Fukushima were outstanding and serve as a model to emulate,” said Loewen.

The Presidential Citation recognizes the following achievements:

Nuclear Engineering Department, UC–Berkeley: For serving at the leading edge of communication to educate California and the nation about radiological impact to the United States from the Fukushima incident. By collecting atmospheric-transported radiation samples from Japan, explaining the significance to the public via public forums and the UC–Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Air Monitoring Station website, the UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department gained national recognition as a trusted source for rational, accurate and authoritative information about radioactivity and its potential impacts on the U.S. population.

UC–Berkeley nuclear engineering department

Smoke but no fire in nuclear news from India

Really very little has changed

By Dan Yurman

A flurry of media stories last week about Westinghouse having a nuclear reactor deal at Gujarat is insubstantial proof that there is any change in opportunities for American firms to enter India’s energy markets. Things got rolling with a press release on June 13 from Westinghouse that it had agreed to negotiate an “Early Works Agreement” supporting construction of up to six 1,150-MW AP1000 nuclear reactors at the Mithivirdi site in Gujarat. Work scope includes preliminary licensing and site development activities.

AP1000 Nuclear Reactor concept image

Separately, Areva announced last week it would sign a contract by December to build the first two of six planned 1,650-MW EPR reactors for Nuclear Power Company of India Ltd. (NPCIL) at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.

Then on June 15 in Washington, D.C., with Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna standing next to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the media headlines followed saying that the AP1000 deal represents “a significant step toward the fulfillment of the landmark U.S. India agreement.”

Under questioning from the DC press corps, Clinton acknowledged that “there was still a lot of work to be done.”

The sticking point, which has been evident all along, is India’s nuclear liability law that was passed by parliament in 2010. Its assignment of supplier liability, long after components have been installed and are operating in a plant, creates unreasonable risks for U.S. firms. Really nothing has changed because it is politically impossible for Indian Prime Minister Singh to revise the liability law.

India has signed the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, but the international agreement is not in force for diplomatic and legal reasons. The U.S. government has since complained that India’s nuclear liability law is not compliant with the IAEA convention. The U.S. is said to have held its fire on further criticism of the Indian statute in hopes that implementation measures domestically can be developed that will open the door to U.S. firms. Sequestering U.S. built reactors in NPCIL special “nuclear parks” may be part of the answer.

Westinghouse dreams of success at Gujarat

On June 13, Westinghouse and NPCIL signed a memorandum of understanding that sets up a process to negotiate an Early Works Agreement supporting future construction of multiple 1,150-MW AP1000 nuclear reactors at the Mithivirdi site in Gujarat. The statement goes on to say that the agreement will include licensing and site development work.

Westinghouse spokesman Scott Shaw told the Pittsburgh Tribune that work could begin as early as this fall. He also cautioned, however, that the U.S. and Indian governments must address the current supplier liability law that is an impediment to an agreement to build a nuclear reactor. As a result, this agreement cannot be interpreted as a deal to deliver a reactor.

The announcement got a fair amount of press coverage in the U.S. and India. Anyone who has followed development of India’s nuclear program, however, knows that some of the pieces are already in place. The site in Gujarat has been on NPCIL’s list for some time, with the process of acquiring the land for the reactor started last March.

The announcement, however positive it may sound, is, in effect, an agreement to develop an agreement. It is not a breakthrough in the civil liability law impasse. It could be at least a decade before a U.S.-made reactor powers the Indian electrical grid.

While Westinghouse was promoting its latest dialog with NPCIL, G.E. Hitachi (GEH) told Platts on June 13 that it was also negotiating a similar Early Works Agreement with NPCIL for a nuclear plant near Kovvada in Andhra Praqdesh. GEH said that the site would eventually host six of its 1,500-MW ESBWR reactors. Like the Westinghouse announcement, this one has been in the works for a while. One change is the reference to the larger ESBWR rather than the 1,350-MW ABWR that G.E. Hitachi has built for other customers.

The Westinghouse reactor received its safety certification from the NRC in December 2011. The ESBWR is still in the process of completing that milestone. The Areva EPR is also in the process of fulfilling the requirements for NRC safety certification.  The NRC regularly updates the schedule for projected completion of these activities. Other nations look to the NRC review as a de facto “gold standard” for review which is why it is so important to vendors.

Areva advances at Jaitapur

French state-owned nuclear giant Areva said on June 14 that it hopes to sign a contract in December for two of a planned six pack of 1,600-MW EPR nuclear reactors to be built at Jaitapur in Maharashtra on India’s western coastline. It has been the site of contentious anti-nuclear demonstrations, but not solely over safety issues. Displaced farmers are demanding supplemental compensation for being relocated from the reactor site. The government has promised to address their claims.

Arthur Montalembert, the head of Areva’s Indian operations, told financial wire services that if the contract is signed by the end of 2012, the first reactor could enter revenue service as soon as 2020 and the second one a year later.

Areva itself is unlikely to provide the capital to build the plant. Montalembert said that the firm would approach French banks for financing. Last December, Areva slashed capital spending as part of a global review of its commitments in various markets, most notably in uranium enrichment.

India’s nuclear market reconsidered

India does a lot to promote new nuclear construction. The government buys the land, does the initial site environmental assessments, and prepares the site for construction. Once a plant is built, the reactor operator sells electricity to NPCIL at government rates and not market-driven prices relative to other fuels, e.g., coal. That said, NPCIL also manages all aspects of nuclear plant development and determines the allocation of electricity in each state.

Between now and 2022, India plans to build 39 reactors for a total of 45 Gwe. U.S. firms may wind up building about 10-12 GWe of the market in that timeframe as part of India’s massive new build.

The market will be divided up between U.S. firms, Areva, Russia’s Rosatom, and India’s drive to technology self-sufficiency with a 700-MW PHWR. Also, India claims it will start work in 2013 on two 500-MW fast reactors.

There are conflicting reports that India’s targets by 2022 have been reduced to as little as 14 Gwe. The economy is slowing down. India’s bureaucratic government, endemic corruption, and localized opposition could present huge frustrations, and costs, to American firms. Whether the market share they seek will be worth the price remains to be seen.


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

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The NRC chair and Yucca Mountain

By Jim Hopf

Several important events have recently occurred involving the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and the interactions between the two.

New NRC chairman

Last month, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko stated that he would resign as soon as his replacement was appointed. His resignation was likely the result of political pressure and questions raised regarding his management of the NRC (which I’ve discussed in an earlier post).

Soon afterward, the Obama administration nominated Allison Macfarlane as a replacement for Jaczko. Macfarlane has a PhD in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is an associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University. She also served as a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

Based on past statements she’s made and publications she’s authored, it is clear that Macfarlane is an opponent of the Yucca Mountain repository. She had referred to it as seismically and volcanically unstable, and said that its selection “broke the covenant with the states that the siting process would be fair and the best site would be selected.” Her views may be reflected in the conclusions of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which recommended the long-term dry storage of used nuclear fuel, and a new “consent-based” repository siting process. Macfarlane is also on record as supporting the idea of moving used fuel into dry storage as soon as possible to reduce fuel pool-related risks.

Nonetheless, it appears that opposition to Macfarlane’s appointment as chairman has been relatively muted. There appears to be a (political) understanding that Macfarlane would be accepted as chairman, as long as Kristine Svinicki is also reappointed to another term as a commissioner (Svinicki’s term expires on June 30). Republican (pro-Yucca) senators have stated that they will not block Macfarlane’s nomination, and their questioning during Senate confirmation hearings was relatively mild. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has also not opposed her nomination. On the flip side, Democratic senators have made it clear that they will, in turn, accept Svinicki’s reappointment.

Based on the above, it appears clear that Macfarlane will soon be appointed as NRC chairman and Svinicki will reappointed for another term as commissioner.

Court decisions on waste program

There have also been important recent court decisions pertaining to the U.S. nuclear waste program.

In a unanimous decision, a federal appeals court has given the US Department of Energy six months to explain/justify continuing to collect a 0.1 cent/kW-hr waste disposal fee from nuclear utilities, given that there is no plan on the table for permanent disposal (with the abandonment of Yucca Mountain). The plaintiffs were seeking a halt or suspension of the fee. In six months, the court will rule on whether the DOE has given sufficient justification for continued collection of the waste fee. The plaintiffs and other observers are confident that the DOE will not be able to come up with a sufficient justification at that time.

Another recent federal appeals court decision threw out the NRC’s waste confidence ruling, which had concluded that waste could be safely stored on (plant) site for as long as 60 years after plant closure, and that a repository would become available when necessary. The court said that the NRC’s evaluation failed to consider the impact if a repository doesn’t become available, and did not adequately assess the risks of long term on-site storage. The chief judge wrote that “the commission’s evaluation of the risks of spent nuclear fuel is deficient,” and that spent fuel “poses a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk.”

Opinion on the impact of this second ruling varied widely. Anti-nuclear groups (including some of the plaintiffs) hailed the decision and hoped that it would eventually block the NRC from granting new reactor licenses or reactor life extensions.


Others—including former NRC Chairman Dale Klein—believe that the impact will be relatively small, and that it will simply be a matter of the NRC doing additional work, such as allowing more public comment (some of the court decision text appears to support this view as well.) The NRC could also perform site specific (as opposed to generic) evaluations of long-term fuel storage risks. Others in the industry actually view the ruling in a positive light, thinking that it will put pressure on the government to move forward with solutions to the waste problem, such as centralized storage or licensing a repository (e.g., Yucca). NEI disagreed with the ruling, and urged the NRC to quickly address the court’s concerns.

Finally, there is a federal appeals court decision due sometime this summer as to whether the NRC is legally required to finish the Yucca Mountain license application. While the Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the NRC to evaluate the application, the NRC is arguing that since Congress has not appropriated any more money to the NRC to complete the task, it “cannot” do so. Yucca supporters have pointed to $10 million that the NRC has at its disposal for the task, but the NRC maintains that $10 million is not nearly enough money to finish the task. Meanwhile, the House recently approved an additional $10 million for the NRC to complete the licensing review. The fate of this funding in the Senate is unclear (of course).

In addition to disagreeing with the lack of funding argument in general, Yucca supporters point out that while $10 million may not be enough to get through the legal hearings phase of the process, the NRC could certainly release the safety evaluation reports (SERs), which give the scientific/technical conclusions of NRC staff (which almost everyone believes concluded that Yucca Mountain met the requirements).

Perspective on Macfarlane’s appointment


As for the NRC chairman position, the selection of Macfarlane was clearly political, as was the selection of her predecessor. It is clear that one of the primary, if not the primary, basis for her selection was her opposition to Yucca Mountain. It’s clear that opposition to Yucca was a requirement (i.e., a litmus test) for being considered for NRC chairman; a testament to the power of Senate Majority Leader Reid. Macfarlane’s background is in geology and public policy, with some experience in nuclear waste issues. She has very little background or experience in the area of nuclear power or nuclear reactor technology. (Then again, neither did her predecessor.)

NEI’s acquiescence to Macfarlane’s selection as chairman is either a sign that they know that they won’t be able to get anything better, or that they are more focused on reactor issues and are willing to let Yucca go by the wayside. (It is true that, frankly, long term on-site storage of used fuel does not represent a significant cost, in the grand scheme of things.)

Jaczko’s conditioning his leaving on the appointment of a successor was politically shrewd, in that it gave the advantage to Reid and Obama. Refusal to accept anti-Yucca nominees by Yucca supporters in Congress would have simply led to Jaczko staying on indefinitely. Thus, the choice was clearly between Jaczko or another Yucca opponent. My only question is, couldn’t NEI, and other industry supporters (in Congress, etc..), have held out for a Yucca opponent who also knows a thing or two about nuclear power/reactors?

Macfarlane may be right that Yucca may not be the very best repository site anywhere in the country, and yes it would be ideal to have both local and state consent for a repository (note that Yucca DOES have local consent). But that’s not the point, at least as far as the Yucca license application is concerned. The question is whether Yucca is good enough to meet the requirements (impeccable requirements that far exceed those applied to any other waste stream). After spending billions on Yucca analysis, the American public deserves to at least know if Yucca would have met the requirements, and if it remains a viable disposal option (if we ever decided to use it).

All indications are, however, that Macfarlane will continue to do what Jaczko has done, which is to use administrative tricks and the lack of funding excuse to effectively halt the licensing process. She will probably also try to prevent the release of the SERs (which show that the repository passed the NRC staff’s objective, scientific evaluations). Whatever you believe about policy, whether or not Yucca passed the specified technical requirements is a matter of simple fact/truth. How can anyone in good conscience favor the suppression of the truth? I find the actions of Jaczko (along with Reid, possibly Obama, and soon to be Macfarlane) in this specific area to be unconscionable.

Yucca Mountain's north crest

I’ve always believed that the release of the SERs, or having Yucca pass the NRC licensing review, would be of significant value even if a political/policy decision were made to not proceed with the repository. A significant fraction of the public is laboring under the false notion that there is no practical or technical solution to the waste problem (i.e., they don’t understand that it is purely a political problem that has been technically solved). This is a significant source of opposition to nuclear. If we go back to the drawing board (in a quest to find a “consent-based” repository), without getting it on record that Yucca passed the (impeccable) technical requirements and is a technically viable solution, the public will go on believing the false premise that there is not (and may never be) an acceptable technical solution to the waste problem. This will have a negative impact on public support for new reactors going forward.

With Macfarlane at the helm, and any funding for completing the licensing review likely to be blocked by Reid, the only hope for completing the licensing review may be in the courts. Let’s hope that the courts understand that the political will of one man (Reid) does NOT represent the will of Congress. Many votes have already made clear that large bipartisan majorities in both houses support Yucca, and that it is only the power of one man, over both legislation and appropriations, that is causing the current situation. Given that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed into law (making Congress’ intent at that time clear), and that finishing the application still reflects the will of the great majority of legislators, the court should see that finishing the application is the clear “will of Congress”, one senator’s undue influence over the budget and appropriations process notwithstanding.

Perspective on court decision

As for the court decision throwing out the NRC’s waste confidence ruling, all I can say is that I hope the optimists are right (i.e., that it’s just a matter of doing some more work or that the ruling is a means by which the government will be pressured to move a waste solution forward). Personally, the decision makes me a bit nervous. The anti-nukes seem to believe that it will lead to blockage or shutdown of reactors.

Can we be sure that the government (or courts) will not take such a (drastic) step? What will be sufficient to satisfy the court? Will centralized long-term storage facilities be enough, or will we need a repository (or at least tangible progress in that regard)? Or will further analysis into technical issues of very-long-term dry storage be sufficient? Again, this is an area where having a licensed repository would be of value, even if the political/policy decision (at present) is not to pursue it.

I personally take issue with the court’s characterization of stored nuclear fuel as “a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk”. As someone who works in the dry used fuel storage field, I’m confident that the risks of long-term storage are negligible. The issue of whether fuel is stored in pools or in dry storage casks is independent of the issue of how long it takes to establish a repository. The result of a lack of (or delay in) a repository is increased dry fuel storage (not pool storage) especially given that confidence ruling considered the period after the plants are closed/decommissioned (where all fuel is in dry storage). There are few, if any, conceivable mechanisms that would cause a significant release from dry storage casks. Tangible or significant public health impacts are all but inconceivable. Also, inspections of casks, which have been loaded for ~20 years, are not showing significant degradation of the cask materials.

In addition, one must ask the question, “dangerous compared to what”? The (obvious) fact is that the risks associated with long-term dry fuel storage are negligible compared to the public health and environmental risks associated with the fossil fuel plants that would be used in lieu of nuclear plants, if nuclear plants were closed (or not built) over the lack of a waste confidence rule. One would hope that the NRC would mention such issues (risk comparisons that look at the bigger picture) in the revised waste confidence evaluations required by the court. But alas, I wouldn’t hold my breath . . .

I’ve been advocating looking at the bigger picture (i.e., the risks of nuclear compared to the fossil fuel alternatives) for some time now, with respect to a lot of things, such as deciding nuclear regulations and how strict they should be. I’d love to see a cost vs. public health risk benefit analysis for the Vogtle basemat rebar issue. Any remotely reasonable evaluation would conclude: “use as is”. But, of course, no such evaluation will be done (“verbatim compliance!”).

There’s one positive development in this area, however. The American Nuclear Sociery has taken a courageous stand in its Fukushima Committee Report, where it suggests that the federal government quantitatively assess the relative risks/impacts between nuclear and other energy sources. Hopefully, the conclusions of such an evaluation would be considered when making decisions on future requirements for nuclear plants. It may perhaps lead to recognition that if such requirements were to result in nuclear plant closures, public health risks and environmental impacts would increase due to the use of fossil fuels instead.



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.

Margaret Harding wins ANS Special Award

Special to ANS Nuclear Cafe

Margaret Harding

American Nuclear Society member Margaret Harding won the ANS Special Award for excellence in media and communications for her work following the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, on March 11, 2011.

ANS President Eric Loewen will present Harding with the award during the opening session of the ANS Annual Conference “Nuclear Science and Technology: Managing the Global Impact of Economic and Natural Events,” being held June 24-28 in Chicago, Ill.

In making the announcement, Loewen said, “This award symbolizes Margaret’s dedication, both behind and in front of the television cameras, to combating FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. We in the nuclear science community all thank her for her leadership and for shining the light of science during the dark days of misinformation following Fukushima.”

Harding has 30 years of experience in the nuclear industry. She spent many of those years at GE Nuclear Energy, departing as vice president-Engineering Quality. She is now president of 4 Factor Consulting, LLC, where she advises clients on nuclear quality assurance, regulatory processes, and technical consulting for nuclear technology issues.

When asked about the award, ANS Public Information Committee Chair Dave Pointer said, “Margaret’s efforts were decisive in dispelling myths about nuclear science and technology for the media, decision makers, and the general public.”

“She responded to over 400 media inquiries to help members of the media understand reports from the field in Japan and to separate broadcasts based on fact from those echoing unfounded speculation,” Pointer added. “Margaret is an incoming member of the ANS Public Information Committee, and, as chair, I am delighted to welcome someone with her dedication and expertise to join our cause.”

An interview with Margaret Harding

ANS Nuclear Cafe talked with Harding about her award. During the interview, she focused on the intense experience of communicating with the national mainstream media in the middle of a rapidly developing situation on the other side of the world.

Question: What motivated you to get involved in media and communications work following the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami?

Harding: I was frustrated by the hysteria that was hitting the airwaves as facts. The nuclear industry had gone into lockdown. Few knowledgeable people were in a position to talk facts. I had said for many years that “somebody should do something” about communicating nuclear to the masses. I had to put my money where my mouth had been.

At first, I was willing to talk to print reporters, or do background, but wasn’t comfortable with going on air because I hate cameras. I also knew that live interviews could be disastrous. I can be somewhat “colorful” and was worried that I would blow it on air.

The ANS Social Media Listserv and Fritz Schneider, from Clark Communications, kept telling me I would be great, that I was expressive, passionate, and knew my stuff.

I was still afraid of getting caught in an interview not knowing the answer to a question. Fritz kept telling me that I knew more than 99 percent of the audience and 100 percent of the reporters. Finally, I realized that too many interviews were being done by people with a FUD agenda. I had to step out on air.

Question: How did you translate the most difficult technical issues into plain English?

Harding: Most important was avoiding industry jargon and acronyms and translating those that were in press releases from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Also important was relating complex concepts to everyday equivalents, like the coast down of heat from an electric range to decay heat. Teapots and pressure cookers are objects that people understand and can reflect the problems on a smaller scale.

Question: How did the mainstream media receive your efforts?

Harding: Most of the time, reporters reached out to me. If they came to me, they were looking for someone who could provide some specific expertise. Usually, they also wanted someone besides Greenpeace or the Union of Concerned Scientists who had some legitimate expertise.

With my years of experience, most of which is specific to boiling water reactors (BWRs), and having independence from any large nuclear vendor or utility, I had some credibility. It helped to start out being quoted in the New York Times as an expert on BWRs.

I also maintained a sense of humor about the whole media frenzy. That made me more human to the producers who control the interviews with the reporters. More than one of the producers really appreciated my patience with some of the oddities of remote interviews.

A few times, Clark Communications asked me to reach out to reporters who seemed to be overly influenced by antinuclear folks with a FUD agenda. Those conversations tended to be more difficult.

Question: If you could identify the one or two most significant interviews you did for the media, which ones would they be?

Harding: Most likely the most important talks were with Robert Bazell, the chief science and health correspondent for NBC News. He wanted facts and interpretation of the press conferences and rumors that he was hearing. Having him listen to me and then provide rational reporting on NBC and MSNBC was huge.

More than once, he pulled me up short and said, Don’t speculate. I need you to interpret the facts for me. We want to stick with the truth. I’ll let you know when I need speculation.”

Also, there were a series of interviews, starting with the Washington Post, about the workers on site from TEPCO. I had a friend who knew many people at TEPCO, and he had passed me messages talking about how many of the workers knew that their families were washed away, or didn’t know where their families were, but they stayed on that site because they knew how important their work was.

I wanted the world to know that these men and women were heroes and to be respected for their bravery, and that every nuclear worker in the United States would go in heartbeat to help out, if they could. I repeated that message to a number of other reporters and ultimately got it into the Discovery Channel special.

I compared these workers to the firemen in New York who went into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Helping to change the image of nuclear workers from Homer Simpson to caring professionals is a proud moment for me.

Question: Were you able to rely on other ANS members for help on technical issues that were outside your experience?

Harding: Absolutely! Many people on the listserv have far more knowledge of emergency procedures than I do. And they were more knowledgeable about some of the key issues from Three Mile Island regarding hydrogen.

I could take that information and talk to reporters and help them understand the real risks and what was happening on the Fukushima site. In addition, Fritz and Jackie at Clark Communications would chase down experts in radiation and contamination.

Question: What advice would you give to other nuclear engineers about talking to the news media in a crisis atmosphere?

Harding: First, don’t be afraid to get out there. The reporters will trust you more when they know you won’t speculate. Figure out what your message is and where you will get your facts early on.

Start developing contacts with local reporters (TV, newspaper, radio) BEFORE the next emergency happens, and they will come to you first when something does happen. People read local papers and trust them sometimes above national press.

Besides, these local reporters may someday be on a national circuit and YOU will be influencing them instead of people spouting FUD. A powerful presence. If each person who reads this will just reach out to ONE reporter in their community, consider how powerful the message will be.

Question: Anything else?

Harding: There are some acknowledgements I have to make. Any impact I had, any success in changing the conversation, was in no small part because of some incredible help from some dedicated people.

The Social Media network in ANS, championed by Dan Yurman and Laura Scheele, provided expert technical advice, coaching, and moral support during what was a very wild ride.

Clark Communications (and Fritz Schneider in particular), which had been hired by ANS to help with media outreach and to develop a communication plan, jumped into the fray and provided interview coaching, cheerleading, and outstanding media acumen.

Last but not least, my husband, Mark, who answered phones, took messages, coordinated with Fritz, and whatever else I needed. He kept me almost sane.

# # #

ANS Young Members Group has active schedule at ANS Annual Meeting

Attention ANS Young Members:
If you are attending the ANS Annual meeting, June 24–June 28, 2012 , at the Hyatt Regency Chicago,  consider attending the following ANS Young Members Group (YMG) events:

YMG Executive Committee Meeting
Monday, June 25
11:30 am-1:00 pm
Comiskey Room, Chicago Hyatt Regency
Meet the Leadership of YMG. Interact. Get Involved.

ANS Fun Run
Tuesday, June 26
6 am at front entrance, Chicago Hyatt Regency
2-4-6 mile options
Click HERE for information or contact Ken Schultz for more information.

YMG Working Dinner
Thursday, June 28
5:30 pm at the Girl & The Goat – 809 West Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60607
YMG has a reservation at Girl & The Goat, one of the most popular restaurants in the Chicago area. This is a great occasion to discuss YMG business in an informal setting. You are responsible to pay for your own food and drinks. Availability is on a first come – first served basis. Contact Elia Merzari for more information.

This schedule is provided courtesy of the Young Member Group Newsletter.

ANS to host DD&R 2012

The American Nuclear Society’s Annual Conference, to be held June 24–28 in Chicago, Ill., will feature an embedded topical meeting on Decommissioning, Decontamination and Reutilization (DD&R 2012).

ANS President Eric Loewen said, regarding the event, “DD&R 2012 is the premiere forum to discuss the social, regulatory, scientific, and technical aspects of decontamination, decommissioning, reutilization, and waste management.”

DD&R 2012 promotes the development and sharing of best practices associated with the optimal management of decommissioning, decontamination, reutilization, and long-term surveillance and maintenance of nuclear and formerly nuclear installations, materials, facilities, and sites for the betterment of society. The embedded topical features three focused meeting tracks: Project, Technology, and Regulatory/Lessons Learned.

The Opening Plenary for DD&R is on Tuesday, June 26, and includes the following speakers:

  • Bruce Watson, branch chief, Reactor Decommissioning Branch, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Christine Gelles, director, Office of Disposal Operations, Department of Energy
  • John Mathews, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • Jorg Michels, EnBW Kernkraft GmbH
  • Val Christensen, president and chief executive officer, EnergySolutions, Inc.

DD&R 2012 is sponsored by the ANS Decommissioning, Decontamination and Reutilization Professional Division. Pat Daly, of Zion Solutions, is the general chair, and Sue Aggarwal, of NMNT Interactional Inc., is the technical program chair. James J. Byrne, of Byrne & Associates, LLC, serves as assistant technical program chair.

For more information on DD&R 2012 and the ANS 2012 Annual Conference, please click HERE.


Write your own joke

by A. Priori

Summer is here, and while I’ve been on emeritus status at Excited State University for many years, my seasonal rhythms are still those of academia. This means that I’m loafing now, even when it comes to making wisecracks.

I’m willing, however, to guide others in the production of japery, and fortunately the real world has provided us with some excellent raw material. What follows is a direct quote from a licensee event report posted on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site on June 12. The reporting organization was the NRC itself, through its Region I Office:

“On May 8, 2012, Region I identified that a survey instrument check source containing approximately 2.64 micro-curies of strontium-90 was missing. The source is believed to have been inside of a metal cabinet that was inadvertently discarded on May 2, 2012, during the removal of excess property in preparation for relocation of the regional office. The source is not considered to be a hazard to public health and safety due to its low activity level and beta emission decay path.

Upon discovery, the Region implemented several immediate actions including: attempts to locate and retrieve the source; confirmation that the remaining instrument check source was properly secured; and, a courtesy notification regarding this issue to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, a review of this event, consistent with the NRC’s Management Directives, was initiated to identify and implement appropriate follow-up actions to prevent recurrence.

This report is being submitted in accordance with NRC MD 10.131 Part V for missing material in a quantity greater than 10 times the quantity specified in 10 CFR 20 Appendix C.”

NRC’s Region I is moving from an office in King of Prussia, Pa., to another office in King of Prussia, Pa. The name of the town alone is always good for a chuckle. In your joke development process, feel free to take a wider perspective: NRC’s Headquarters is also getting ready for a move, as the third White Flint North building is finished and the parts of the agency that have been overflowed elsewhere join up again with the HQ folks in the first two buildings.

Sadly, it’s too late to use this in the Nuclear Energy Institute’s joke-writing contest, which expired June 15. You’re welcome to post your jokes here as comments, but all you’ll win is the admiration of your peers.


A. Priori

A. Priori is the heatstroke-induced hallucination of E. Michael Blake, Senior Editor of Nuclear News, the monthly magazine of ANS. Blake would like to point out that he has no opportunities to loaf, in any season, but he’s just a whiner.