Fighting for the Next Inch

By Peter Shaw

I had an interesting conversation with some colleagues last night. We were talking about our jobs, and it turned out that some of them were considering moving on to new prospects outside of the nuclear industry. After digging in to the reasons why, the sentiment seemed to come down to “It feels like we’re running as hard as we can only to gain inches every day.”

There is a constant fight for nuclear’s progress in public perception, regulatory oversight, and demands for perfection. The stagnation of progress was what was so frustrating to them.

Here at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, where construction of two new reactors is occurring, people are working on systems right now and comprehensively understanding their behaviors under normal plant operations, while the components themselves are only ink on paper. We are testing, retesting, and scrutinizing every last detail of every piece that is going into the nuclear island. We look at diameter, radius, flow rate, material certification, and thickness. We document the construction, the fabrication, any deviations, the corrections, the exchange of our corrections, the meetings that approve the corrections—and if we missed any of those steps, we have another corrective action to document that.

Why this level of seeming absurdity? Well, it is our duty to make sure that we never lose ground, that we document things to this level, that we perform beyond what we think our limit is. It is our duty to always be better. Every document that we sign, every peer or family member that finally comes around, every congressman we persuade, every argument in which we triumph, that is an inch that does not slip.

How do we ensure that? Through our culture. Our nuclear safety culture is the only thing that can breed the trust that we deserve to be a viable energy solution for the future.

Nuclear culture is all about asking questions, and its most underutilized component is corrective actions. I have seen companies pull off their corrective actions brilliantly. It isn’t easy but it is possible; you need to staff up and dedicate your company to identify and correct any problems that come up. Improvements need to be funneled and optimized to run projects better. As a person, you can never afford to see corrective actions as a negative, even when you have the weight of an angry manager breathing down your neck.

If someone calls into question the quality of our construction—this is when I laugh. I do so because this is how we run our industry, through scrutiny and questioning attitudes. Because of this, nuclear fosters a different kind of thinking; there are those of us who are in it because it is a prestigious stepping stone, others who are interested in a career—and there are some of us for whom this is a passion. Some of us are vehement in our will to succeed because, to us, there is no other option.

I mean that in a literal sense. There is in my mind no better energy option than having a nuclear fleet, augmented with passive energy collection, that supports an infrastructure of homes and businesses with all the electric power they could need.

I am an idealist; I believe that what I do every day is injecting some good into the world. Everyone deserves to have energy; every person on this planet has the right to survive despite the sweltering heat of summer, or have the ability to turn on a computer that will link them with the rest of the world. There is one thing that every human needs on this planet along with food, water, and shelter, and that is electric power. There are only inches gained, but those inches are precious.

I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to leave the nuclear industry—it’s a tough call to action, and I can understand how it could wear you out. Every day we come in and stand up to more scrutiny than any other industry in the world. While we complete this Vogtle project, elsewhere four or five natural gas facilities will have been built, more coal plants go up in the world, and more windmills too. In the end, though, nuclear isn’t about fast action, it’s about longevity.

When natural gas spikes again and the generators go quiet, we’ll keep chugging along. When coal gets a carbon cap put on it and stops spewing pollution into the atmosphere that we all share, we’ll still be churning through our own fuel. When the windmills stop turning because the wind is blowing the wrong direction, we’ll be running through our +97 percent uptime.

And I’ll be coming in to work that day, fighting for the next inch.

vogtle deaerator 300x200

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peter shaw bio 100x150Peter Shaw is a senior licensing engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company for the Vogtle project. He is very involved in North American Young Generation in Nuclear and the American Nuclear Society, and is a member of the ANS Young Members Group and Operations & Power Division.

23 Responses to Fighting for the Next Inch

  1. Awesome article, Peter! But it’s preaching to the choir! Is there ANY way to get articles like yours into the mainstream where ordinary voting folks can take a gander at it and push back the FUD? Your reasonable words just seem so wasted here!

  2. What a gem of an article to find in my inbox this morning, especially after the past few tumultuous weeks. I’ll be sharing this one. Thank you!

  3. Great article Peter! I am glad you submitted it for all to see. You and I will be spending our careers fighting for the next inch. I am glad you are as passionate about the success of the nuclear industry as I am.

  4. Jeff Walther

    “Every document that we sign, every peer or family member that finally comes around, every congressman we persuade, every argument in which we triumph, that is an inch that does not slip.

    How do we ensure that? Through our culture. Our nuclear safety culture is the only thing that can breed the trust that we deserve to be a viable energy solution for the future.”

    Unfortunately, while the culture is *necessary* to breed or retain trust, it is not **sufficient**. You are fighting against a vast array of well funded, well publicized professional shills who have a dizzying assortment of important sounding credentials granted by legitimate sounding organizations.

    Of course, when one digs into the real background of those organizations and the real meanings of those credentials, they’re all vapor, but the public never sees that, the media never bothers to dig, and the FUD keeps on flying onto the headlines.

    For example, there are a ridiculous number of people who actually think that the UCS is a legitimate purveyor of knowledge with an honest devotion to real facts. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it should be self-evident on a cursory examination of their material. Yet it is not — to most of the public. The public is inclined to believe a liar if he has a title like “chief scientist” from the UCS.

    No, while a failure in the culture of safety and attention to detail will severely damage the nuclear electricity industry, do not kid yourself that those admirable avocations are sufficient to grow the industry or change the political landscape. The nuclear energy industry is under attack on at least three fronts.

    Regulatory: Somehow Harry Reid managed to maneuver a one-two punch into the NRC. Jackzo was not only horrible, but also arguably a sexual bigot and a felon. Yet he successfully did his damage. Reid’s next minion seems pretty okay, right? She’s not. Ideologically, she’s just as devoted to nuclear energy’s destruction as Jackzo, and she’s much more dangerous, because, by comparison, she seems so reasonable. Imagine, instead, that she came first instead of Jackzo. Would the industry still be so complacent? Probably. It’s a useless wet noodle politically.

    The NRC will never issue another new license while Macfarlane is in charge. The waste issue will not be resolved. SMRs will not find a change in regulatory structure into which they can fit. This is Macfarlane’s job. This is what Harry Reid has been paid to accomplish. He’s an ass, but he’s a clever, effective ass.

    Additionally, somehow Moniz ended up at the head of the DOE. With Macfarlane heading NRC and Moniz heading the parent organization and a UCS staffer as Moniz’s chief of staff, there is no place from which friendly leadership can come in the regulatory framework.

    Good engineers in the trenches and the non-chairman commissioners might be able to stem or slow some of the damage, but at present the battle is utterly lost on the regulatory front.

    No more licenses until waste is solved. No solution for waste, even if Jackzo, Reid and Obama must break the law in order to ensure it.

    Electrical Rate Structures: At the state utility level, where the electrical rate structure is decided you are also under attack. “Renewable” mandates favor unreliable generators at the expense of those that generate steady, reliable constant, usable power. I can think of few things better designed to drive up the cost of electricity and drive down the reliability of the grid, yet some huge proportion of the public has swallowed this as a good idea and clamour to keep it in place and expand it.

    They think that Germany is a *success* story, instead of an abject failure, and the press never tells them anything except capacity numbers that seem to support this delusion. Most of the public don’t even know how much they pay per KWHr or that KWHr are the units in which their electricity is billed.

    Who will tell them? Where is the public education campaign to show them that these Unreliables Mandates create an electrical rate structure which will turn our electrical grid into something from a third world pit of misery?

    On the nuclear electricity front, these Unreliable Mandates are designed to drive reliable base load generators out of the market. It was these mandates more than cheap gas which destroyed the viability of Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee. How many more must go under before someone puts forward resources to educate the public, and not just the few who read these blogs?

    Solution to Climate Change: The Greens sold the public on climate change. Probably a good thing. But they packaged it with their preferred solution, which is utterly unworkable. Yet, that is what gets all the attention — Unreliables. The public believes that expensive, unreliables are the solution to climate change. They barely give nuclear a thought. Yet, France, converted to 80% nuclear electricity in just 16 years and has the lowest CO2 emissions per GDP in the industrialized world. Why doesn’t the public know about that? Why isn’t some nuclear related organization putting that on billboards and passing out bumper stickers in every city in the USA?

    Media Panic: Every tiniest failure, oversight, or bit of bad luck amongst the nuclear electricity generating infrastructure generates vast media attention and criticism. There are dozens of anti-nuclear “experts” with important sounding (but illegitimate) credentials, who are favored by reporters as sources of information on nuclear issues. Why are they on the reporter’s speed dials, and not Rod Adams? Or a professor at a nuclear engineering school? Or a well educated middle schooler, who could give a more accurate accounting than the anti-nuclear professional shills.

    Surely a professional PR firm knows how to insert the industries experts onto the media’s call lists? Why has no branch of the nuclear industry done this.

    Make no mistake, as soon as the nuclear industry seemed to revive, the forces opposing it set their regulatory, electrical rate wrangler, climate change issue and media circus machines in action. It took them a little while. They let five licenses through (not without opposition, it was a close thing) but they’re awake and active now. And, as usual, they face no effective opposition on any front. No more reactors will be built, and action was taken to ensure that at least an equal number of reactors would be destroyed. I’m betting that they’ll go for at least an equal capacity destroyed and we’ll see one or two more taken out by regulatory intransigence and unfair/predatory electrical rate structuring.

    If you want to thrive, it’s not enough to be perfect. Some part of the nuclear electricity industry must devote substantial resources to the political and public relations arena. This should be the NEI’s job, but they won’t do it.

    I admire hopeful writing such as this blog entry, but it creates false complacency. No, everything will not be alright if you just do your jobs really well. It’s not fair. It’s absurd. It’s insane, but much much more is necessary, or nuclear is doomed, and quite possibly the middle class and technological civilization (at least in the USA) with it.

  5. As much as I’d like to completely agree with the (positive) article, I just can’t. Jeff touches on some of the reasons. While everyone should try to do their jobs as well, and professionally, as they can, if this relentless holding ourselves to “higher standards” results in significant increases in costs, it is not at all clear whether it will benefit the industry in the long run. It sure hasn’t up till now, with the Washington Post (which has generally been supportive of nuclear) now humbly saying that we shouldn’t give up on nuclear power, YET. Things are not going well……

    Assertions that we do our jobs well will do little to convince a skeptical public. Nor is the answer to nuclear’s problems an (even) greater degree of technical excellence of performance. Nuclear has been technically superior for some time (in terms of safety and environmental performance) but the facts have been no match for anti-nuclear propoganda and the public’s general bias/prejudice against the technology.

    Our tiny problems are treated (reported on) as though they are more serious than other industries (or fossil fuel) problems that are thousands of times as large (the hyped leaking tank issue at Fukushima being just the latest example). All of our expensive efforts to increase safety (even further) have merely allowed them to now say that it’s dangerous AND expensive!!

    This article seems to take pride in the fact that nuclear is held to vastly stricter standards than competing energy sources. It then talks about long-term economic payoff, and hopes of climate change regulations and/or natural gas price increases to save nuclear’s bacon. Well, it’s been made very clear that utility executives don’t have such a long term perspective (and therefore are choosing gas) and it’s not clear when policy will come in to save the day by making other sources more expensive.

    It seems that the nuclear industry is filled with engineers who like to be held to higher standards out of professional pride and also love an engineering challenge. Another group are national lab scientists who play up nuclear supposed “problems” (that need solving) as an argument for continued research grants. And these are who politicians view as the “pro” nuclear people!

    Meanwhile, the fossil industry is (apparently) run by hard-nosed businessmen who do anything they can to resist any new “challenges” or requirements (no matter how desperately needed) because they might add a little bit of cost. And that’s what they say to congress (along with buying them with contributions so that they don’t institute any requirements).

    These are probably the reasons why nuclear’s regulations are orders of magnitude more strict than those applied to fossil fuels. Why many nuclear regulations equate to billions of dollars per life saved while fossil regulations that cost only tens of thousands of dollars per life saved don’t get passed. It is the reason why NRC doesn’t even do cost/benefit analyses to justify most requirements (cost is no object).

    When the NRC tells our industry to jump, we say how high (very much unlike the fossil industry), in large part to the attitude expressed in this article. Apparently, the notion is that since we are the target of policy and public prejudice, we have to respond by holding ourselves to a higher standard and achieve a far greater degree of perfection than our competitors.

    This is not a success path. It will surely lead to much higher costs, and nuclear being priced out of the market (as we’re largely seeing). No, instead of volunteering to meet these infinitely stricter standards, we should be asking why we need to meet a standard that is thousands of times stricter than those applied to our competitors.

    I personally, don’t think that we should feel a “duty” to hold ourselves to impeccible standards, far higher than those applied to other industries, most notably the fossil fuel industry. Our duty should be to try and reduce the public health and environmental impacts, as well as economic costs, of the power sector as much as possible. Pricing nuclear out of the market does not achieve this. It achieves the exact opposite, given that nuclear will be replaced by fossil fuels whose negative impacts are orders of magnitude larger. Our duty, our engineering task, should be to get the cost of nuclear contruction down, so that it is fully competitive with fossil fuels.

    It has been the case for some time that increasing nuclear regulations (i.e. holding the industry to ever stricter standards) actually as a *negative* impact on public health and the environment, as it prices nuclear out of the market, resulting in more fossil fuel use. This is something that the NRC, and the industry (and all its proud engineers) need to understand. Instead of agreeing to higher and higher standards of perfection, the industry needs to grow a spine and fight back, i.e., to demand a level regulatory playing field where all sources are held to at least roughly equal standards.

  6. Robert Margolis

    Another part of the problem is that we try to have it both ways. On the one hand, we tell everyone that nuclear power is special and unique such that we have all these special controls and qualified people to keep nuclear safe. Then we turn around and say not to worry about this technology we just said requires all these special controls, systems, and personnel qualifications. Is it one or the other or really both (after all, our field does use quantum mechanics…)? We need a better message that answers these apparent contradictions and provides the moral appeal required. I agree we cannot spend our way to perfection nor abolish the NRC. We need more MLK and less Rickover.

  7. ” a level regulatory playing field where all sources are held to at least roughly equal standards.”

    Would you argue that the impact of a nuclear accident is equal to an accident at a coal/gas/alternative plant? I don’t think so and the general public most certainly does not. I get your point but it’s a losing strategy and not entirely equivalent.

  8. James Greenidge

    Re: “On the one hand, we tell everyone that nuclear power is special and unique such that we have all these special controls and qualified people to keep nuclear safe. Then we turn around and say not to worry about this technology we just said requires all these special controls, systems, and personnel qualifications.”

    It doesn’t sound contradictory. The situation is highly analogous to the air travel industry where you need cutting-edge skilled air crews and mechanics and traffic controllers and hundred of other skills on their toes 24/7. My beef with Fukushima reporting is that the media almost(?) features it that the reactors suffered some simultaneous self-induced inherent fatal flaw in normal operation rather than the incident being caused by a rare massive natural event. Granted, the old structures should’ve waltzed through a quake and tsunami but they didn’t, yet held 3x despite being so under specs. Sadly, there aren’t too many true non-natural industrial accidents/disasters so forgiving, and lots of widows of oil and gas workers would’ve sold their souls for their loved ones to’ve worked in a nuke having an accident instead. Yet because one fails the whole banana bunch in Japan and Germany has to shut down. Why? If a bird downs a plane do we shut down following flights or blame the aircraft industry or engineers? I mean the fright is crazy out there when the Russian meteor prompted many there to maybe require reactors be asteroid-proof. Where does the precautions and protections end when history and records says adequate enough?

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  9. Robert Margolis

    Air travel is tolerated because it provides unique and tangible benefits (flying vs driving from NY to LA). Nuclear provides benefits, but to the public their toast does not taste any better when the nuclear plant supplies the electricity vs the coal plant. We need better and more powerful messages to communicate the benefits of nuclear to the public.

  10. Geoff, people are killed by gas explosions on a fairly regular basis. No one was killed by radiation at Fukushima.

    Are you aware that a train hauling oil in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec derailed, burst into flame, killed 47 people (many of whom cannot be found because they were burned to ashes), and virtually destroyed this small town? The fact that you think fossil fuels are safer, along with much of the public, is exactly the problem.

  11. Geoff,

    Steve points out some fossil fuel accidents, and how they’ve actually killed more people. However, with fossil fuels (such as coal and gas plants), accidents are not the primary cause of harm, normal operation is.

    US fossil plants cause ~13,000 deaths every year, along with global warming. Worldwide, fossil fueled power generation cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, i.e., ~1000 every single day. That along with global warming and hundreds of billions in annual economic damages. Even the most anti-nuclear experts acknowledge that Fukushima will cause fewer than 1000 eventual deaths.

    So, to answer your question, even a worst-case nuclear accident (e.g., Fukushima) has a smaller total impact than that inflicted EVERY DAY by fossil fueled power generation. And with nuclear, such releases are once every several decades (with that frequency probably falling in the future), as opposed to every day. The two aren’t even remotely comparable. Nuclear is several orders of magnitude safer and less harmful, the data clearly show.

    You may be right that trying to reduce nuclear requirements, to something remotely like the level applied to fossil fuels, may not be a successful political/PR strategy, given the enormous prejudice that the public apparently has against the technology. But my view is that it’s the only shot we’ve got. May as well give it a try. Our current course, where we accept vastly higher standards than our competitors, resulting in much higher nuclear costs, is surely not a winning strategy.

    There may not be a good answer, and the industry may indeed be doomed. The only other option is to try and get fossil fuel requirements increased to something that’s at least a bit closer to those applied to nuclear. That may sound far-fetched now, but only a few years ago the nation (and world) seemed ready to apply hard, declining limits on CO2 emissions. That would result in coal be phased out relatively quickly, but gas would linger ((even increase) for a few decades. Thus, the nuclear rennaisance would be, at worst, delayed.

  12. Dennis Mosebey

    The only thing we KNOW is if we do not do our jobs impeccably well we will surely die. So what is the alternative, just give up? I am like the author one of the passionate ones. I do agree with the above comments about MacFarlane, she is also a Reid stooge. The NRC needs abolished and a single head put in charge based on technical excellence and understanding of nuclear power, not political patronage, and ANS needs to get out there and aggressively be going before House and Senate Committees and pointing out the fallacies of NRC thinking on a variety of issues. Nuclear power is political and not technical in the US. Until we solve that, it will always be a game of inches.

  13. 97% availability ?!? No new nuke that I am aware of has gotten better than 90% in it’s first decade.

    And new nuclear power is clearly uneconomic in the developed world. See the massive subsidies to build Vogtle.

    None-the-less, nukes are better than coal.

  14. Jim Hopf,

    Fukushima was *NOT* the worst case possible nuclear accident. It could have been *FAR* worse!

    Consider if the winds at the worst of the radiation releases (when reactors were blowing up like popcorn) had been southerly, with light rain.

    Tokyo would have become a radiation exclusion zone -permanently evacuated !!

    Perhaps the death toll would have been only in the thousands from radiation – but Fukushima has certainly already killed thousands by disrupting their lives. And the toll from destroying Tokyo could have approached one million prematurely killed and utter misery for tens of millions.

    Nuclear power could tear the heart out of a great nation.

    And you want lower safety standards ?

    There is a place for nuclear power -but it the last resort to get off fossil fuels, not the first.

    Efficiency can easily and economically cut US energy use in half. More really. Transit orientated development uses half to just a fifth of the energy if Suburbia – and 60% of Gen Y wants to live in TOD.
    I have worked with one of the designers for the original Washington DC Metro (1962-63) on plans to trie urban rail passenger miles. Oilfreedc.blogspot.com

    . I am typing this by the light of a Philips l-Prize bulb – 900 lumens for 9.7 watts, CRI 93. DoE testing after 25,000 hours – 0 failures out of 200 bulbs, lumen maintenance 99.8%.

    After efficiency, renewables plus pumped storage plus HV DC are the next best solution. But there will be gaps left in going towards a very low carbon grid. A place for expensive, dangerous nukes.

    I prefer the load following and neutron efficiency of EPRs over AP-1000s, but about 40 AP-1000s should be needed to completely get rid of fossil fuel generation in we chose the wisest path.

    Both Vogtle and Summer will largely displace coal -and both are in places where we can afford a 30 mile radius, multi-century exclusion zone if/when things go wrong. So I support the massive subsidies required to bud them.

  15. I don’t like belittling people, but such can’t be helped when they’re very frightened ignorant people infecting an already largely science illiterate public with FUD with off the cuff statements like “reactors blowing up like popcorn” (they didn’t) and talking about radiation exclusion zones when it’s been researched and shown Fukushima need not had to been evacuated no more than the community around TMI. Your ilk think that nuclear plants are imminent threats when for over fifty years with nuclear plants under different flags and standards and personnel cultures there has been no local much less national hazard due a nuclear plant incident outside Chernobyl which was a tinkered-with military project and not electric generating one, yet still NO Doomsday, yet you all whistle away with hands your pockets when millions yearly constantly suffer health aliments from fossil fuels. Not speculation, not if-maybe-could-be perils and risks, but REAL sicknesses in hospitals right now! Spare me the health-safety hypocrisy, PLEASE! Oh, if I’m just blindfully supporting nuclear, then have one of your so prized and learned anti-nuclear heroes who feeds you all this FUD drop by for a peer-to-peer debate on a roundtable like at AtomicInsights.com to see whose facts and fear-fantasies win out. Email them the challenge! Don’t expect them to take up the gauntlet though. They’re making too much money conning and scaring the ignorant witless than to have their golden goose gored and lies exposed! Hey — dare them to take on someone with fact and record and reality on their side! http://Www.atomicinsights.com‘s Roundtable door is wide open to take their “proof” and “facts” on!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  16. On the Sierra Club Energy Chair list serv I am the rabid PRO-nuclear proponent. Same perspective in both.

    At Fukishima, yes, seeing the hydrogen explosions in one reactor after another did remind of popcorn. Only the cold reactors (down for refueling) did not “pop”. I understand a rabid pro nuke guy not liking the analogy, but it is accurate.

    No exclusion zone at Fukishima ? No communities forced to evacuate ?I think you need to recheck your facts !!

    I lived in New Orleans before and after Katrina. I am VERY well aware of the thousands who died from the after effects of the evacuation and destruction of their lives! I have no doubt that thousands of Japanese died from nuclear power ! NOT from radiation or cancer – but from the stress and dislocation of evacuation & destroyed communities. Which was unfortunately required because of poor nuclear engineering. FACT !!

  17. What would have happened at Fukishima & Tokyo *IF* the winds had been southerly (i.e. Directly over Tokyo) with light rains to mist during, say, the ten days of highest radiation release?

    Same facts as history, except a different weather pattern.

  18. What would have happened at Fukishima & Tokyo IF the winds had been southerly …

    You might as well ask what would have happened *IF* the earthquake had been more southerly and the resulting tsunami had struck Tokyo directly.

    Same facts as history, except a different epicenter.

    You can ask “what if” until the cows come home. That doesn’t mean that you’ve made a valid point that has anything to do with reality.

  19. >>> At Fukishima, yes, seeing the hydrogen explosions in one reactor after another did remind of popcorn. Only the cold reactors (down for refueling) did not “pop”. I understand a rabid pro nuke guy not liking the analogy, but it is accurate.

    I hope someone else does your taxes. Anyone in the know here knows _ none_ of the reactors went ‘pop’ or blew up.

    >>>> No exclusion zone at Fukishima ? No communities forced to evacuate ?I think you need to recheck your facts !

    The guy didn’t say that! READ before you RANT!!

    >>>>> I am VERY well aware of the thousands who died from the after effects of the evacuation and destruction of their lives! I have no doubt that.

    Whose fault is that? The reactors that never touched them or officials so petrified by anti-nuclear Doomsday rants they ordered an unnecessary evacuation when the people would’ve far safer staying home? Do some research and I don’t mean by Greenpeace!

  20. No, my point is extremely relevant in risk analysis (something extremely relevant to the risks of nuclear power).

    A prudent risk analysis would say “Do not build a major city where Osaka is” (I suspect Tokyo as well). But that decision is irreversible.

    Building, and operating already built, nuclear reactors is certainly not an irreversible decision.

    So we cannot reasonably debate “should Tokyo be moved, or dispersed into a thousand small towns”?

    We can reasonably debate, should Japan have any operating nuclear reactors in 2020, or 2026 ? ( I would say yes to the first and no to the second date).

    Weather and earthquakes/tsunamis are independent variables. One should model the Fukishima failure of nuclear engineering under a variety of weather patterns to get a realistic idea about the risks resulting from nuclear engineering failures.

    In judging the ability to estimate risks it is worth noting that the NRC ordered an update of seismic risks at every US nuke site. The report found that the North Anna reactor was at least risk of all US reactors in their ranking.

    Five weeks after the release of the NRC analysis, North Anna was hit by an earthquake twice the design limit. Fortunately, the design was robust enough (old slide rule engineering) to withstand the quake.

    IMO, people with your cavalier attitude towards the risks of nuclear power should be forever barred from working in the industry.

  21. Mitch, you are one disconnected from reality.

    It is truly frightening to think people such as you are in any way connected with nuclear safety issues I may have to rethink my limited support for nuclear power if people like you exist !

    There were no explosions at Fukishima ??

    No radiation releases ?

    Or are one of those wackos that think radiation is good for you ?

    The fault for all the damage, direct and indirect, and disruption at Fukishima is clearly, 100%, on nuclear engineering !

    This gross and terrible failure is squarely and entirely on the backs of the American and Japanese nuclear engineers who designed, supervised the construction, and maintained the Fukishima reactors

    ALL of It !!

    No shifting the blame, the nuclear power industry caused Fukishima, and the terrible things that flowed from that.

    ALL of it !!

    And it good have been MUCH worse. The wind blowing south, with a light rain, as the poorly designed Fukishima reactors popped like popcorn, one after another, spewing radiation over Japan instead of the sea.

    As noted, I support the massive subsidies (MUCH more than wind and solar get) to build four new AP-1000s at Vogtle and Summer.

    The new designs are somewhat safer, and the locations are lightly populated enough that society can accept the risk of a multi-century exclusion zone around them.

    They are being built where the only viable renewable is solar. And even if extremely wasteful Southerners cut their electrical consumption by 75% to 80% (quite doable and economic BTW, see France as one example), there would still be a need for that much base load generation.

    I do agree that nuclear power, despite it’s risks and poor economics, is better than coal. A rough estimate is that an energy efficient America, with maximum use of renewables (including HV DC transmission and pumped storage), would still need @ 40 AP-1000s, almost all in the Southeast. Locate them in remote rural areas, far from cities and prime agricultural land, and accept the risks.

  22. No, my point is extremely relevant in risk analysis (something extremely relevant to the risks of nuclear power).

    Alan – Your “point” is extremely relevant only in your own little mind. You do know that the nuclear industry pioneered the field of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA), don’t you?

    In judging the ability to estimate risks it is worth noting that the NRC ordered an update of seismic risks at every US nuke site. The report found that the North Anna reactor was at least risk of all US reactors in their ranking. … Five weeks after the release of the NRC analysis, North Anna was hit by an earthquake twice the design limit. Fortunately, the design was robust enough (old slide rule engineering) to withstand the quake.

    The ground acceleration at North Anna in 2011 reached 255 Gal. The design basis is 176 Gal. Sorry, but the earthquake was not anywhere near “twice the design limit” as you claim. The design was robust, not because of your romantic notion of “old slide rule engineering,” but because of safety margins, something that you apparently have never heard of.

    IMO, people with your cavalier attitude towards the risks of nuclear power should be forever barred from working in the industry.

    The only thing that is “cavalier” here is your handling of facts, figures, and probabilities. Perhaps it would be better if you were to go back to collecting pictures of your favorite trams. The nuclear industry worldwide takes safety very seriously, and the experts in this field have a far better understanding of risk than what you have demonstrated here.

  23. The nuclear industry has “hung it’s hat” on Probabilistic Risk Assessment, which serves to understate, I believe drastically understate, the actual risks.

    A clear example is North Anna. The NRC decided to re-evaluate the seismic risks at every US nuclear power plant. They did so. North Anna was listed as the reactor least at risk.

    Then slightly over a month after the release of the report, North Anna suffered an earthquake 1.45 times it’s design. (Earlier reports said twice – but 1.45 design is a significant overload. I reject your claim that 1.45 is not anywhere near “twice”).

    The fact is that PRA grossly understated the design seismic event risk at North Anna.

    And the entire risk assessment of US nuclear power plants was discredited with that NRC report on seismic risk.

    As for “my collecting pictures of my favorite trams” – that is part of a larger detailed assessment of how the French reduced their per capita carbon emissions by -14.8% in five years (2007-2012) and their plans going forward.

    During those five years no new nukes opened or closed, so nuclear power had nothing to do with this significant drop. Google the 2007 Grenelle Environmental Agreement.

    A small part of this was renewables. French generation is 75% nuclear and 10% hydro (average rainfall). In 2012, wind was 3.8% of total generation.

    They plan to increase wind to 11% (58 TWh) by 2020 and then switch emphasis to solar (all new buildings built in France will be net zero in 2020 – this means solar PV and solar hot water heating).

    From a 2005 base, French carbon fuel burning will be down -40% by 2030 and -60% by 2040. With 4% to 5% of French energy coming from coal, this will mean significant reductions in oil and natural gas. See the trams being built in almost every French town of 100,000 and larger, and the doubling of the Paris Metro.

    By 2050, French energy use (nuclear, fossil & renewables) will be halved. However, I expect the drop in oil and natural gas will be significantly greater than the the drop in electricity. None-the-less, electrical demand will drop below the current 6.8 MWh per capita annually.

    French electrical generation will trend towards 50% nuclear and 50% renewable. All the EPRs (about 15 to 18 by my calculations – once the last N4 is retired) will be on the Atlantic coast in fairly low density populated areas (already policy).

    By 2020, the two oldest reactors at Fessenheim will be retired and the first EPR completed with a net loss in capacity of about -200 MW.

    After 2020, discussions (not yet firm plans) suggest retiring four 900 MWe old nuclear power plants and build one 1.6 GW EPR to replace them. Increased efficiency (see 50% drop by 2050) and renewables will make up the difference. I expect an increase in the 4 GW of French pumped storage (the Swiss have plans for 12 GW).

    An open question is if EdF will remain a large electricity exporter. The answer will affect the number of EPRs built.

    The EPR is designed to ramp up and down fairly quickly, and over a wider range, so there will be less need to export power at 3 AM at giveaway prices.

    All in all, I find the French energy and environmental policies to be aggressive, doable and quite rational.