Category Archives: nuclear opponents

What Did We Learn From Three Mile Island?

By Rod Adams

Thirty-five years ago this week, a nuclear reactor located on an island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a partial core melt.

On some levels, the accident that became known as TMI (Three Mile Island) was a wake-up call and an expensive learning opportunity for both the nuclear industry and the society it was attempting to serve. Some people woke up, some considered the event a nightmare that they would do anything to avoid repeating, and some hard lessons were properly identified and absorbed. Unfortunately, some people learned the wrong lessons and some of the available lessons were never properly interpreted or assimilated.

The melted fuel remained inside the TMI unit 2 pressure vessel, nearly all the volatile and water-soluble fission products remained inside the reactor containment, and there were no public health impacts. The plant was a total loss after just three months of commercial operation, the plant buildings required a clean-up effort that took 14 years, the plant owner went bankrupt, and the utility customers paid dearly for the accident.

The other unit on the same site, TMI-1, continues to operate well today under a different owner.

Although the orders for new nuclear power plants had already stopped several years before the accident, and there were already people writing off the nuclear industry’s chances for a recovery, the TMI accident’s emotional and financial impacts added another obstacle to new plant project development.

In the United States, it took more than 30 years to finally begin building new nuclear power plants. These plants incorporate some of the most important lessons in their design and operational concepts from the beginning of the project development process. During the new plant construction hiatus, the U.S. electricity industry remained as dependent as ever on burning coal and burning natural gas.

Aside: A description of the sequence of events at TMI is beyond the scope of this post. There is a good backgrounder—with a system sketch—about the event on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s web site. Another site with useful information is Inside TMI Three Mile Island Accident: Moment by Moment. End Aside.


The TMI event was the result of a series of human decisions, many of which were made long before the event or in places far from the control room. Of those decisions, there were some that were good, some that were bad, some that were reactions based on little or no information, and many made without taking advantage of readily available information.

One of the best decisions, made long before the event happened, was the industry’s adoption of a defense-in-depth approach to design. From the very beginning of nuclear reactor design, responsible people recognized that bad things could happen, that it was impossible to predict exactly which bad things could happen, and that the public should be protected from excess exposure to radioactive materials through the use of multiple barriers and appropriate reactor siting.

The TMI accident autopsy shows that the basic design of large pressurized water reactors inside sturdy containment buildings was fundamentally sound and adequately safe. As intended by the designers, the defense-in-depth approach and generous engineering margins allowed numerous things to go wrong while still keeping the vast majority of radioactive materials contained away from humans. Here is a quote from the Kemeny Commission report:

We are convinced that if the only problems were equipment problems, this Presidential Commission would never have been created. The equipment was sufficiently good that, except for human failures, the major accident at Three Mile Island would have been a minor incident.

Though it is not well-known, the NRC completed a study called the State of the Art Reactor Consequences Analysis (SOARCA aka NUREG-1935) that indicated that there would be few, if any, public casualties as the result of a credible accident at a U.S. nuclear power plant, even if there were a failure in the containment system.

One of the most regrettable aspects of TMI was that the heavy investment that the United States had made into the infrastructure for manufacturing components and constructing large nuclear power plants—factories, equipment, and people— was mostly lost, even though the large components and basic design did what they were supposed to do.

There were, however, numerous lessons learned about specific design choices, control systems, human machine interfaces, training programs, and information sharing programs.

Emergency core cooling

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Ralph Nader’s Critical Mass Energy Project had been warning about a hypothetical nuclear reactor accident for several years, though it turns out that they were wrong about why the emergency core cooling system did not work as designed.

The core damage at TMI was not caused by a failure of the cooling system to provide adequate water in the case of a worst case condition of a double-ended sheer of a large pipe; it was caused by a slow loss of cooling water that went unnoticed for 2 hours and 20 minutes. The leak, in this case, was a stuck-open relief valve that had initially opened during a loss of feedwater accident.

While the slow leak was in progress, the operators purposely reduced the flow of water from the high pressure injection pumps, preventing them from performing their design task of keeping the primary system full of water when its pressure is low.

It’s worthwhile to understand that the operators did not reduce injection flow by mistake or out of malice. They did what they had been trained to do. Their instructors had carefully taught them to worry about the effects of completely filling the pressurizer with water because that would eliminate its cushioning steam bubble. Their instructors and the regulators that tested them apparently did not emphasize the importance of understanding the relationship between saturation temperature and saturation pressure.

The admonition to avoid “going solid” (filling the pressurizer with water instead of maintaining its normal steam bubble) was a clearly communicated and memorable lesson in both classroom and simulator training sessions. When TMI control room operators saw pressurizer level nearing or exceeding the top of its indicating range, they took action to slow the inflow of water. At the time, they had still not recognized that cooling water was leaving the system via the stuck open relief valve.

The physical system had responded as it had been designed, but the designers had neglected to ensure that their training department fully understood the system response to various conditions that might be expected to occur. It’s possible that the designers did not know that a pressurizer steam space leak could cause pressure to fall and the pressurizer level to rise at the time that they designed the system. There was not yet much operating experience; the large plants being built in the 1960s and 1970s could not be fully tested at scale, and computer models have always had their limitations, especially at a time when processing power was many orders of magnitude lower than it is today.

There was also a generally accepted assumption that safety analysis could be simplified by focusing on the worst case accident.  If the system could be proven to respond safely to the worst case conditions, the assumption was that less challenging conditions would also be handled safely. The focus on worst case scenarios, emphasized by very public emergency core cooling system hearings, took some attention away from analyzing other possible scenarios.

Lessons learned

  • Following the TMI accident, there was a belated push to complete the loss of flow and loss of coolant testing program that the Atomic Energy Commission had initiated in the early 1960s. For a variety of political, financial, and managerial reasons, that program had received low priority and was chronically underfunded and behind schedule.
  • Today’s plant designs undergo far more rigorous testing programs and have better, more completely validated computer models.
  • Far more attention has been focused on the possible impact of events like “small break” loss of cooling accidents.
  • All new operators at pressurized water reactors learn to understand the importance of the relationship between saturation pressure and saturation temperature.

At the time of the accident, there was no defined system of sharing experiences gained during reactor plant operation with all the right people. TMI might have been a minor event if information about a similar event at Davis-Besse, a similar but not identical plant, that happened in September 1977 had made it to the control room staff at TMI-2.

Certain sections of the NRC knew about the Davis-Besse event, engineers at the reactor supplier knew about it, and even the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards was aware of the event, but there was no established process for sharing the information to other operating units.

Lesson learned: After the accident, the industry invested a great deal of effort into a sustained program to share operating experience.

The plant designers also did not do their operators any favors in the design and layout of the control room. Key indicators were haphazardly arranged, there were thousands of different parameters that could cause an alarm if out of their normal range, and there was no prioritization of alarming conditions.

Lesson learned: After the accident, an extensive effort was made to improve the control rooms for existing plants and to devise regulations that increased the attention paid to human factors, man-machine interfaces, and other facets of control room design. All plants now have their own simulators that are designed to mimic the particular plant and are provided with the same operating procedures used in the actual plant. Operators are on a shift routine that puts them in the simulator for a week at a time every four to six weeks.

The initiating failures that started the whole sequence took place in the steam plant, a portion of the power plant that was not subject to as much regulatory or design scrutiny as the portions that were more closely associated with the nuclear reactor and its direct cooling systems.

Lesson still being learned: An increased level of attention is now paid to structures, systems, and components that are not directly related to a reactor, but there is still a confusing, expensive, and potentially vulnerable system that attempts to classify systems and give them an appropriate level of attention.

For at least 10 years prior to March 28, 1979, there had been an increasingly active movement focused on opposing the use of nuclear energy, while at the same time the industry was expanding near many major media markets and was one of the fastest growing employment opportunities, especially for people interested in technical fields. The technology was often in the spotlight, with the opposition claiming grave safety concerns and the industry—rather arrogantly, quite frankly—pointing to what had been a relatively unblemished record.

The industry did not do enough in the way of public outreach or routine advertising to explain the value of their product. They rarely compared the characteristics of nuclear energy against other possible electricity sources—mainly because there are no purely nuclear companies. In addition, the electric utility industry has a long tradition of preferring to be quiet and left alone.

The accident at TMI developed slowly over several days, but it became a major news story by mid-morning on the first day. Not only was it a “man bites dog” unusual event, but it was an event that the nuclear industry, the general public, the government, and the news media had been conditioned to take very seriously. Although nuclear experts from around the United States sprang into action to assist where they could at the plant itself, there was no established group of communications experts who could help reporters understand what was happening.

No reporter on a deadline is motivated or willing to wait for information to be gathered, evaluated, and verified. In the absence of real experts willing to talk, they turned to activists with impressive sounding credentials who were quite willing to speculate and spin tall tales designed to generate public interest and concern.

Lesson not yet learned: Although most decision makers in the nuclear industry understand the importance of planned maintenance systems to keep their equipment in top condition and the importance of a systematic approach to training to keep their employees performing at the top of their game, they have not yet implemented an effective, adequately resourced, planned communications program that helps to ensure that the public and the media understand the importance of a strong nuclear energy sector.

Planned communications efforts have a lot in common with planned maintenance systems. They might appear to be expensive with little immediate return on investment, but repairing a broken public image is almost as challenging and expensive as repairing a major plant component that failed due to a decision to reuse a gasket or postpone an oil change. As the guy in the commercial says, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

That is probably the most tragic part of the TMI event. Despite being the subject of several expensively researched and documented studies, countless articles, thousands of documented training events, and more than a handful of books, the event could have—and should have—made the established nuclear industry stronger and the electric power generation system around the world cleaner and safer.

So far, however, TMI Unit 2’s destruction remains a sacrifice made partially in vain to the harsh master of human experience.

Note: I have purposely decided to avoid attempting to discuss the performance of the NRC or to judge their implementation of the lessons that were available to be learned. That effort would require a post at least twice as long as this one.

Additional Reading

General Public Utilities (March 28, 1980) Three Mile Island: One Year Later

Gray, Mike, and Rosen, Ira The Warning: Accident at Three Mile Island a Nuclear Omen for the Age of Terror W. W. Norton, 1982

Ford, Daniel Three Mile Island: Thirty Minutes to Meltdown Penguin Books, 1981

Hampton, Wilborn Meltdown: A Race Against Disaster at Three Mile Island A Reporter’s Story Candlewick Press, 2001

Report of the President’s Commission On The Accident At Three Mile Island. The Need for Change: The Legacy of TMI, October 1979

Three Mile Island A Report to the Commissioners and to the Public, January 1980

three mile island 300x237




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

Do oil and gas suppliers worry about nuclear energy development?

By Rod Adams

The world oil market is not a free market. Prices are manipulated by a small number of producers that adjust production rates to achieve desired prices that are high enough to provide maximum profits, without being high enough to encourage customers to aggressively pursue alternative energy sources.

That is the most important take away for attendees at the OPEC Embargo +40 summit held in Washington DC on October 16. Unfortunately, the meeting sponsors avoided acknowledging that nuclear energy is the alternative energy source that most worries established hydrocarbon suppliers. Nuclear has held that position since the early 1960s, when General Electric first won a head-to-head competition against coal to sell the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

Nuclear energy is reliable, virtually emission-free, and uses a widely distributed, abundant fuel source that is no longer subject to influence by the same producers that manipulate other fuel prices. Its cheap, clean heat can help turn coal, natural gas, and plants (vegetation) into liquid fuels that can be drop-in replacements for petroleum-based fuels.

A glittering cast of American energy pundits gathered in Washington DC for the summit held on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Natural gas was the celebrity invitee everyone wanted to faun over, while nuclear energy was an uninvited guest disrespected by almost all of the speakers whenever it was brought up.

The event was hosted by a group of retired large company executives and military flag officers who have served in roles in which they should have learned about the vital role that energy plays in our economy and in our politics.

That organization, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), recently produced a document titled A National Strategy for Energy Security: Harnessing America’s Resources and Innovation 2013. There are only three uses of the word nuclear in that 125-page document. Two of those appearances are in the legends of graphs about energy sources; one is followed by the word “physics” in a list of education focus areas.

People who want to sell uranium, fabricate fuel, build and operate new plants, and stop a dramatic shift of leadership in technical innovation to other countries (e.g., Korea and China) must recognize that it’s past time to take action to force ourselves into the conversation, even if our technology makes some people uncomfortable.

During the summit, negative words about nuclear energy came from people representing numerous points in the political spectrum. Doubters included a man who had served as both chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and as Secretary of Energy, a woman who had been the Secretary of State, a man who is the chief executive officer of a large ship operating company, and a man who is the CEO of one of the world’s pioneering nuclear power plant vendors.

Madeline Albright, the former Secretary of State, described the Atoms for Peace program as a mistake that led to too many unsolved “unintended consequences.” Meanwhile, according to James Schlesinger (former AEC chairman and one-time energy secretary), cheap natural gas has killed the nuclear renaissance and no utility CEO is going to consider proposing a new nuclear plant to his board of directors.

But you asked a question about nuclear. Madeline (Albright) mentioned the unintended consequences [of the Atoms for Peace speech]. There are unanticipated consequences. What we have seen as a result of shale oil development and shale gas development is natural gas so cheap now that nobody, no utility, is going to build a nuclear plant unless very heavily subsidized, and we are not seeing that. Philosophically we may be more interested in having more nuclear plants but as a practical matter, we’re just not going to see them. There is no nuclear renaissance coming.
(See SAFE video titled Insight from the Oval Office. Schlesinger’s comment dismissing nuclear energy starts at 24:55)

Adam Goldstein was asked if his Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines would be interested in nuclear power, as the company has replaced oil on large ships for more than 50 years. He chuckled uncomfortably—along with the audience—and stated that those ships do not have to carry passengers into Australia. He stated that costs make it prohibitive. He appeared unaware that his huge passenger ships are a tempting “early adopter” market for smaller reactor vendors; they operate baseload power plants running on low sulfur diesel fuel that costs more than $25 per MMBTU.

Jeff Immelt described GE’s new jet engine, which improves fuel economy by 15 percent, as his company’s most innovative technology for reducing oil dependence. When pressed about nuclear energy, he said that his company is going to keep their nuclear energy division on life support because his “successor’s successor” might be grateful to have that option available. He never mentioned the ABWR, the PRISM, or the ESBWR.

Nuclear energy received a few positive mentions; most of the best came from Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of Federal Express, a world-wide logistics company founded in 1971, just two years before the OPEC embargo. Smith fundamentally understands the importance of a reliable supply of fuel for his trucks, planes, and delivery vehicles.

He is also well aware of the fact—through repeated experience—that apparent abundance can rapidly turn into price-spiking shortage. He knows what that shift means to his company’s profits and what it means to the profits of companies that sell oil or alternative energy equipment. He noted the ongoing nuclear renaissance in China and his interest in what he called “pocket nukes” that are receiving investments from Bill Gates and Babcock & Wilcox.

Aside:  SAFE recently posted A Conversation with Jeff Immelt and Fred Smith on YouTube. Immelt repeatedly sings the praises of natural gas and explains how his company is involved in the industry. His comments about the most innovative technologies is in response to a question that Becky Quick asked starting at 23:46. Their discussion about nuclear energy begins with a question from Becky starting at 28:35. End Aside.

Carol Browner, who served as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator in a Democratic administration, insisted that nuclear energy has an important role to play in reducing fossil fuel dependence and reducing CO2 emissions.

Those examples show that the most receptive audiences for the nuclear energy alternative are people who buy a lot of fuel without selling any, and people who are deeply concerned about air pollution and climate change. The former understand that having additional supplies of reliable power will mean more competition to provide more stable and lower prices. The latter group knows that we cannot continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate without unexpected consequences.

It’s time to get more aggressive in nuclear energy marketing. The uranium industry should teach people how heat is fungible in order to excite its potential supporters and capture attention from energy pundits.

Nuclear fission heat has already reduced the world’s dependence on oil; there is plenty of remaining opportunity. Nuclear energy pushed oil out of the electricity market in most of the developed world. Fission has replaced oil combustion in larger ships, but most others still burn oil. Nuclear-generated electricity has replaced oil burned for locomotives, city trolleys, and space heat, but there is room for substantial growth in these markets. Uranium producers should be influential members in the coalitions that are working to electrify transportation systems. Fission heat, especially with higher temperature reactors, can replace oil heat in industrial processes, including those well-proven processes that can turn coal, natural gas, and biomass into liquid fuels.

Fission can also reduce oil use by pushing gas out of the power generation business, thus freeing up more natural gas for other uses. As the gas promoters love to point out, methane is a flexible and clean burning fuel. It is important to remind their customers that fuel burned in power plants is not available for any other use.

There should no longer be meetings in Washington in which serious energy observers can hold sessions about efforts to reduce oil dependence, without discussing uranium’s important role in achieving that goal. There should also not be another meeting in DC discussing how natural gas is going to reduce our dependence on petroleum, without any apparent recognition that gas and oil are almost identical chemicals that come from essentially the same places in the earth’s crust, are supplied by essentially the same multinational conglomerates, and are delivered to customers using very similar types of pipes, ships, and trucks.

gas plant 290x201

Note: An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in the November 7, 2013 issue of Fuel Cycle Week.



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

Robert O. Anderson – banking heir, oil wildcatter, big oil exec, financier of antinuclear movement

By Rod Adams

In 1970, Robert O. Anderson gave David Brower $200,000 as seed money to form the virulent antinuclear group that calls itself Friends of the Earth. I learned that important piece of information while reading a book by F. William Engdahl titled A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order. Here is the passage that opened my eyes:

Anderson and his Atlantic Richfield Co. funneled millions of dollars through their Atlantic Richfield Foundation into select organizations to target nuclear energy. One of the prime beneficiaries of Anderson’s largess was a group called Friends of the Earth which was organized in this time with a $200,000 grant from Anderson. One of the earliest targets of Anderson’s Friends of the Earth was to finance an assault on German nuclear industry, through such anti-nuclear actions as the anti-Brockdorf demonstrations in 1976, led by Friends of the Earth leader Holger Strohm.

(pp. 173-174)

The discovery moved Anderson up to exhibit number one in my long-running effort to prove that the illogically tight linkage between “environmental groups” and “antinuclear groups” can be traced directly to the need for the oil and gas industry to discourage the use of nuclear energy.

Aside: I have always categorized opposition to nuclear energy from people who are concerned about humanity’s impact on the environment as “illogical.” The foundation for my unshakeable belief that nuclear fission energy systems are environmentally beneficial is my up-close and personal experience with operating a nuclear reactor inside a sealed submarine deep underwater.

Even at high power, fission energy produces nothing that needs to be dumped from an exhaust stack, unlike all of its competitors. It is possible to design reactors to operate for decades without new fuel; that means that the supply infrastructure has a tiny environmental impact in comparison with all other controllable power systems. Logically, environmentalists should be some of the strongest supporters of nuclear energy development; it has the proven ability to reduce the negative impacts known to be associated with burning fossil fuels. End Aside.

Without a strong effort to layer as many restrictions as possible on its development, the natural technical advantages of atomic fission would have long ago made oil and gas worth far less than they are today. Robert O. Anderson was fully aware of that fact, something that can be proven with a passage from Daniel Yergin’s The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. In 1956, President Eisenhower sent Anderson on a secret mission to pressure the king of Saudi Arabia to help western interests resolve the Suez Crisis. Eisenhower gave Anderson a lever to use as a source of political pressure; he told him to tell the king that the United States had the ability to disrupt world oil markets using nuclear energy.

That same month (September 1956), with the Suez crisis still brewing, Robert Anderson, a wealthy Texas oil man who was much admired by Eisenhower, made a secret trip to Saudi Arabia as the President’s personal emissary. The objective was to get the Saudis to apply pressure on Nasser to compromise. In Riyadh, Anderson warned King Saud and Prince Faisal, the Foreign Minister, that the United States had made great technical advances that would lead to sources of energy much cheaper and more efficient than oil, potentially rendering Saudi and all Middle Eastern petroleum reserves worthless. The United States might feel constrained to make this technology available to the Europeans if the canal were to be a tool of blackmail.

And what might this substitute be, asked King Saud.

“Nuclear energy,” replied Anderson.

Neither King Saud nor Prince Faisal, who had done some reading on nuclear power, seemed impressed, nor did they show any worry about the ability of Saudi oil to compete in world energy markets. They dismissed Anderson’s warning.

(Emphasis added.)

As a man with extensive and growing investments in oil resources located all around the world, Anderson had no logical reason to help anyone, especially the Europeans, develop an energy source “much cheaper and more efficient than oil”.  He had about as much interest in rendering “petroleum reserves worthless” as King Saud or Prince Faisal.

The oil and gas industry is full of savvy people who understand how to market products to customers; I am sure that Anderson and his associates were aware that any effort to attack nuclear energy that was transparently led by the petroleum industry would fail. They needed to find proxies if they were going to have any success.

Industry decision makers must have been fully aware of the battles that had been fought in the late 1950s and early 1960s to stop above-ground nuclear weapons testing. I suspect that petroleum suppliers made a conscious decision to take advantage of the political strength of antinuclear weapons activism and pivot it into antinuclear energy opposition. The chances of success would be even higher if they could make the strategic decision to take the moral high ground and claim that opposition to nuclear energy arose out of “environmental” concerns.

David Brower’s fall out with the Sierra Club in 1969 provided a wonderful opportunity for Anderson. Brower had an established reputation as a leading environmentalist and he needed money to continue his efforts. He had already engaged in battles against nuclear energy, but was often opposed on the Sierra Club board of directors by more technically qualified people who recognized that nuclear energy was more environmentally friendly than either fossil fuel or hydroelectric dams. (Note: The Sierra Club’s political activism began with battles against dams that threatened to transform flowing rivers and scenic valleys into stagnant lakes.)

Some readers might think at this point that I am “going conspiratorial” and that there is no evidence that Anderson’s action to fund Friends of the Earth was part of a broader strategy. My defense is to remind doubters that oil industry leaders gather and talk in private on a regular basis; describing how they often cooperate to advance their common interests has nothing to do with wild conspiracy theories. Another bit of history to take into account is that Anderson served many years as chairman of the Aspen Institute, a group that has never made any secret of the fact that it organizes forums so that “leaders” can get together to develop action campaigns.

Other doubters may go to the trouble of digging deeper into Anderson’s biographical details to find evidence that he may have actually favored nuclear energy. In fact, there is such a statement in the obituary that the New York Times published on December 6, 2007.

He was also a Reagan Republican who held many top nonelected posts in the Republican Party and favored nuclear power and a smaller federal government.

Of course, it is very easy to say that you favor nuclear energy while working behind the scenes to erect barriers to its development. That statement should not need any links or evidence for anyone that has been paying attention to political statements during the past half-dozen years.

Part of my goal in sharing this history is to provide a counterpoint to an idea that seems to be almost conventional wisdom in the nuclear industry. As illustrated in a recent commentary on American Thinker titled Nuclear Power’s New Friends?, too many nuclear professionals think that environmentalists are natural enemies that cannot be trusted, even when they express support for our technology.

The notion of environmentalists suddenly embracing nuclear power remains personally unsettling. After 40 years of watching the movement damn all things nuclear, and ginning up one fallacious witch hunt after another, I can’t really trust the movement or their motives.

Some in the nuclear power business, especially on the public relations side, welcome a possible coalition of environmental groups arguing for climate change restrictions (but nominally pro-nuclear) and the nuclear power industry itself. When you have so few political friends, even a professional movement environmentalist can look like your new BFF (best friend forever).

As I mentioned in the aside near the beginning of this post, I believe that people who are concerned about the environment, and who believe that we should tread as lightly as possible on the Earth, are the natural allies of nuclear technology. This technology enables us to do a lot more with a lot less material (e.g., think of those cards that American Nuclear Society members pass around showing that a single pellet of nuclear fuel contains as much energy as 147 gallons of crude oil or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas).

I believe that environmentalists are correct to be worried about the unknown effects of continuing to dump in excess of 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere every year.  In my opinion, the tepid response by some nuclear professionals to the climate change issue can be traced to the fact that many people who seem to be in the nuclear industry are actually in the revolving door between nuclear energy and fossil fuel energy.

The vast majority of environmentalists are sincere, family-oriented people who love both nature and humanity.  I base that statement on my experience with professional environmentalists.  For more than 5 years I frequently socialized with them because my wife worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and often tapped me to help with their events. At the same time, I got to know some of the executives in the movement and learned that they were often people with inherited money linked to energy or banking who drove electric cars to the office—and high-powered sports cars or SUVs in their free time.

From my point of view, the people who have logical reasons to strongly oppose the use of nuclear energy are those who stand to lose wealth and power if it makes their products worth less. If it seems irrational to you when environmental groups promote natural gas and overlook refinery explosions, while fighting nuclear power stations and emphasizing tiny tritium leaks, remember that some of their money comes from people who sell oil and natural gas.

Endnote: Even in 1956, Anderson was obviously exaggerating when he told King Saud that nuclear energy would make oil “worthless”. Petroleum has far too many valuable properties to ever be worthless; however, it should be obvious to the most casual observer that oil does not have to be priced at $108 per barrel (Friday, August 2, price for Brent crude oil as reported by

Gulf_Offshore_Platform 201x268Oil would be worth a lot less than that if more of the world’s energy needs were provided by atomic fission. If oil was worth less, it would make no economic sense to press it out of shale rocks in North Dakota, drill for it deep under the Gulf of Mexico, or try to extract it from the challenging environment of the Arctic Ocean.

Our natural allies in the environmental community would be happy if none of those actions were necessary, but our rivals in the oil and gas industry might resist the notion with vigor.




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


Outrage management – calming people concerned about low risks

By Rod Adams

Dr. Peter Sandman is a communication specialist who has built a career teaching people in high-value, complex industries ways to do a better job of telling their story to customers, stakeholders, and the public. One of his key contributions to the field of risk communications that is especially important to nuclear professionals is a redefinition of the word “risk”.

While most of us have been taught that risk = consequences x probability of occurrence, Sandman determined several decades ago that there was a wide difference between perceived risk and the expected annual mortality that is determined by multiplying consequence times probability. He retitled classical “risk” and called it “hazard” and then defined the risk that people perceive as “outrage”. Here is the definition that Sandman coined in the 1980s:

Risk = Hazard + Outrage

He then separates risk communication into four tasks:

  • Precaution advocacy to warn people and encourage them to take action when the hazard is high, but the outrage is low.
  • Outrage management to calm people down when the hazard is low but the outrage is high.
  • Crisis communications when the hazard is high and includes a matching outrage.
  • Sweet spot in talking to people about a significant, but not particularly urgent risk.

Some nuclear professionals will immediately see that we urgently need to learn as much as possible about what Sandman has to say about outrage management.

After all, we work in a field of technology where 50 years of history has resulted in substantial and vocal outrage, even though the measured average annual mortality (hazard) of the technology has been incredibly low.

As a prime example of the immediate need to get better at outrage management, consider what has happened to the prospects for near-term growth in new nuclear power plants since March 11, 2011. Starting on that day, an event that could have been the plot line of a slow motion disaster film struck a six-reactor nuclear power station called Fukushima Dai-ichi. For weeks, the world was treated to breathless stories about the knife edge between continued life and prosperity and a radiological catastrophe that some panicked-looking television experts said was going to wipe out half of Japan. (I am exaggerating a little for effect.)

As you may recall, the story started when one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history was followed by a large tsunami that topped numerous engineered barriers over a large swath of the northeast coast of Japan. Japan is one of the most camera-endowed places on earth, so we were treated to dramatic footage of the wave that really could have come from a Hollywood movie set, but it was real. Cars, buses, and trains were washed away like so many toys. Buildings were swamped, people were screaming, and the water was filled with large pieces of rubble.

Within hours, however, network television turned away from coverage of that horrible event and from pleas to help the people who needed help to recover their lives and who would never recover some of their loved ones who had been washed out to sea. Instead, the cameras focused on the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, whose buildings looked rather intact. According to the serious and breathless reporters, the station had lost all power and thus lost the ability to continue circulating water needed to complete the reactor cool down process and maintain a stable shutdown condition.

This post is not about Fukushima, so I’ll stop with this summary. Three reactor cores at the power station melted. Approximately 43 grams of I-131 and 4 kilograms of long lived Cs-137 were released into the atmosphere. The plant site is substantially damaged. At least four of the reactors are total losses that will require several decades’ worth of careful and groundbreaking work to clean up.

Large areas of land near the plant remain barricaded and uninhabited, but thousands of workers continue to work safely at the plant itself. There were no measured health effects more serious than a minor sunburn on two workers who waded into radioactive water without proper protective clothing. There are numerous scientific organizations gearing up for long-term studies of health effects from the release of radioactive material, but the early projections are for small, probably unmeasurable, increases in the incidence of certain types of cancers.

Outrage remains high. Only two of Japan’s 50 remaining reactors are operating and Germany has announced a decision to stop using domestically generated nuclear energy. Numerous projects that were in planning stages before the event have been shelved. No one mentions a “nuclear renaissance” anymore.

Fukushima measurably increased the Sandman–defined risk of nuclear energy, even though the event helped prove to at least some former critics of nuclear energy that the hazard part of the risk equation was quite a bit lower than expected.

There is an immediate need for nuclear professionals to become better at outrage management. In fact, it is a moral imperative because there are tens of thousands of people in Japan and around the world who are still suffering from the stress and trauma of the fear of radiation, even though it turns out that the plant’s numerous layers of protection and trained workforce kept nearly all of the radioactive material from reaching the public.

Because of outrage, Japan is burning additional coal, oil, and natural gas that is costing approximately $55 billion more every year to replace the output of the nuclear plants that are not operating—and polls show that many people are relieved that the nuclear plants are being kept from operating.

However, even many nuclear professionals would also recommend that we become expert at crisis communications because our “worst case scenarios” indicate that there are times when the hazards really are high.

I have been struggling for several years with the best way to communicate the message that even the worst possible event associated with a nuclear power plant that has been designed well enough to meet licensing standards that have been in effect since the earliest days of the technology is a relatively low consequence event.

It not only has a low probability of occurring, but even if everything that can reasonably go wrong happens, few, if any people will be harmed. The primary hazards from terrible accidents at a nuclear plant are economic losses for the owners, stress-induced illness in the general population, and enormous economic losses for the community if the government orders unjustified but mandatory property abandonment.

Of course, the worst impossible but imaginable event at a nuclear plant can be calculated to result in widespread destruction and tens of thousands of calculated deaths. All one has to do to make those scenarios seem real is to make unworldly assumptions based on magical mechanisms that cause large quantities of water, metal, and ceramic material to disappear without taking any heat with them.

If you do not believe my assertions, I suggest that you curl up during the next few evenings with the SORACA reports – NUREG 1935. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission spent tens of millions of dollars and more than half a decade to produce those detailed reports. Both the Commission and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety (ACRS) reviewed and approved them. However, they were released without any fanfare despite the following important findings:

  • Existing resources and procedures can stop an accident, slow it down or reduce its impact before it can affect public health;
  • Even if accidents proceed uncontrolled, they take much longer to happen and release much less radioactive material than earlier analyses suggested; and
  • The analyzed accidents would cause essentially zero immediate deaths and only a very, very small increase in the risk of long-term cancer deaths.

(Emphasis added)

Aside: I cannot explain why the NRC web page still labels this list as “preliminary findings” even after the final report has been issued. Perhaps no one bothered to tell the web master. End Aside.

This kind of safety did not happen by accident; it is certainly possible to design nuclear systems that carry the risk of causing widespread damage. Instead, the achieved safety came as a result of having tens of thousands of scientists and engineers who invested their lives’ work into devising systems and structures that could suffer the worst possible stresses and yet continue to perform their safety functions. Then they added some engineering margins to make the systems even more resilient.

We have also invested huge resources into training designers, operators, and maintainers and teaching them to put safety first. The systems engineering that has been invested into reducing the hazard of nuclear technology does not mean that accidents do not occur; it is more like the kind of engineering that goes into protecting race car drivers. Engineers understand that nature and physics can produce powerful forces that cannot always be resisted. Many components and layers of material may look like they have failed, but the precious cargo remains protected.

Objective analysis of Fukushima also supports the assertion that the hazard of the worst realistic event is substantially lower than the readily measurable and known hazards of coal, oil, and natural gas, the only other means of generating similar quantities of reliable, life-saving electricity.

Now that the hard work of reducing hazard is well in hand and continues to be the daily focus of thousands of people, it is high time for the communicators to get to work on reducing the outrage that causes risk to remain high for the public, the government, and the investment community. (As Sandman would say, we need to avoid calling this risk “perceived risk”. It is just as real as hazard and can probably be calculated with significantly more precision.)

With those thoughts clearly in mind, I highly recommend carefully studying and applying the lessons that Sandman offers for outrage management. While you are learning, keep in mind the fact that people of equal talent and social science understanding have spent several decades using techniques that he might call “precaution advocacy” to purposely increase outrage about describable but imaginary risks of nuclear technology.

Here are three 1991-vintage videos that together make up Part One of an outrage management training session. You can find links to more on his outrage management web index. While you are watching, you might notice that Sandman himself has been a victim of the precaution advocacy effort that has worked hard to make people deathly afraid of man-made radiation.

Risk = Hazard + Outrage: A Formula for Effective Risk Communication (Part One — 17:10) from Peter Sandman on Vimeo.

Risk = Hazard + Outrage: A Formula for Effective Risk Communication (Part Two — 17:10) from Peter Sandman on Vimeo.

Risk = Hazard + Outrage: A Formula for Effective Risk Communication (Part Three — 12:00) from Peter Sandman on Vimeo.

outrageandhazard 292x201

Note: The passages about Fukushima were added to the post on May 8, 2013, as a result of communication with Sandman, who offered the following comment:

“One point that is in my field: There’s nothing in your post that’s different from what you might have written before Fukushima. I grant you that there aren’t a lot of documented Fukushima deaths; that the principle health impacts of Fukushima so far are psychological; that arguably unnecessary evacuation exacerbated the damage. (So did government and industry dishonesty.) Still, Fukushima was a watershed.

I would question the credibility of any nuclear risk expert who didn’t recalibrate after Fukushima, and of any nuclear risk expert who didn’t mention Fukushima when opining about the risk.”




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

Speaking out of turn at the NRC meeting

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontA few days ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting to discuss its yearly assessment of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The assessment results were excellent (all green).

Last year’s meeting and this year’s meeting

The plant also had excellent results last year, but the NRC meeting last year was a situation that moved close to mob rule. I wrote about it in The Politics of Intimidation at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

I didn’t know what to expect this year, and I said as much in a radio interview at WAMC. Well, let’s put it this way: I kind of expected that the meeting would be even more out of hand.

However, this year turned out to be quite different. On my own blog, I described the meeting as “mellow,” which I never would have expected. Comparatively few opponents came this year, despite organized attempts to run carpools to the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be fairly mellow. But… not completely.

An opponent tactic that did not work

At last year’s NRC meeting, a group of older women called the Shut It Down Affinity group showed up wearing costumes and masks (black clothes and white death masks) and walked single file around the room. They then took up a position behind the NRC table and refused to move. Eventually, a crowd swarmed up to support them.

This year, they tried it again—but it didn’t work. Once again, they had costumes (tied-dyed shirts) and masks (of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko). Once again, they started by walking single file, and then stood behind the NRC and spoke and chanted while the NRC personnel tried to begin the meeting. Once again, the NRC people left the room and then came back, with the plant opponents still standing at the front. But things were a little different this time—because the plant opponents did not overwhelmingly outnumber plant supporters.

jazckoWalking c ac 340x301

I speak out and speak out of turn

The women were quoting Jaczko that “all reactors should be shut down,” and the NRC was asking them to sit down, back and forth and back and forth. Then one man in the audience shouted, “It’s about democracy!” He of course meant that the women should stay in front of the room because of “democracy.”

JaczkoStanding c c 400x288 png

But I had had enough. There was a microphone on a stand in the room, and I just went up to it and interrupted the whole thing. I said something like:

“No, it’s about diversity! It’s about whether people with different opinions and different views and different backgrounds will be allowed to talk at this meeting! Apparently not!” Then I left the microphone.

This was very bold for me. I was shaking when I sat down, and I mean physically shaking, not “feeling shaken.” I still can’t believe I did this! But… you could have heard a pin drop in the room when I finished. And shortly thereafter, the Jaczko impersonators sat down and the meeting proceeded.

This time, the stand-behind-the-NRC-and-keep-talking tactic did not work.

Why didn’t the opponent tactic work?

I would like to take credit, but it was basically because the plant SUPPORTERS were showing up and the plant OPPONENTS were NOT showing up—so the supporters weren’t completely outnumbered. I would have been terrified to do something like this at last year’s meeting, in which we were completely outnumbered by opponents. But when it is more even, plant supporters can assert themselves, even when there are opponents who are trying to wreck the meeting.

I will take credit, though, for two things:

  • I didn’t attack anyone, but I made the clear statement that diversity means having various people testify, not just listening to one set of people repeat themselves.
  • I realized that the meeting was out of hand, which meant that taking action was okay. Yes, I went up to the microphone completely out of turn. In a meeting that was well run, such a tactic would have been horrible and divisive and rude and… well, you get it. But in this case, with a continuous and repetitive argument between those who ran the meeting and those who were trying to destroy it, I knew it was okay.

At least, I hope so. I also hope I never do anything like that again. The emotional strain afterwards was overwhelming. When I did it, I was mad and had energy. Afterwards, I was a mess.

I wish you all good meetings, run by Robert’s Rules of Order. I wish you peace.




Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters.  She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago.  Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division.   She is an inventor on several patents. 

Angwin formerly served as a commissioner in Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project.  She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

2012 ~ The year that was in nuclear energy

Plus a few pointers to what’s in store for 2013

By Dan Yurman

Former NRC Chairman Gregory Jackzo

On a global scale the nuclear industry had its share of pluses and minuses in 2012. Japan’s Fukushima crisis continues to dominate any list of the top ten nuclear energy issues for the year. (See more below on Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima.)

In the United States, while the first new nuclear reactor licenses in three decades were issued to four reactors, the regulatory agency that approved them had a management meltdown that resulted in the noisy departure of Gregory Jazcko, its presidentially appointed chairman. His erratic tenure at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cast doubt on its effectiveness and tarnished its reputation as one of the best places to work in the federal government.

Iran continues its uranium enrichment efforts

The year also started with another bang, and not the good kind, as new attacks on nuclear scientists in Iran brought death by car bombs. In July, western powers enacted new sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program. Since 2011, economic sanctions have reduced Iran’s oil exports by 40 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In late November, the U.S. Senate approved a measure expanding the economic sanctions that have reduced Iran’s export earnings from oil production. Despite the renewed effort to convince Iran to stop its uranium enrichment effort, the country is pressing ahead with it. Talks between Iran and the United States and western European nations have not made any progress.

Nukes on Mars

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a scientific and engineering triumph.

Peaceful uses of the atom were highlighted by NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which executed a flawless landing on the red planet in August with a nuclear heartbeat to power its science mission. Data sent to Earth from its travels across the red planet will help determine whether or not Mars ever had conditions that would support life.

SMRs are us

The U.S. government dangled an opportunity for funding of innovative small modular reactors, e.g., with electrical power ratings of less than 300 MW. Despite vigorous competition, only one vendor, B&W, was successful in grabbing a brass ring worth up to $452 million over five years.

The firm immediately demonstrated the economic value of the government cost-sharing partnership by placing an order for long lead time components. Lehigh Heavy Forge and B&W plan to jointly participate in the fabrication and qualification of large forgings for nuclear reactor components that are intended to be used in the manufacture of B&W mPower SMRs.

Lehigh Forge at work

The Department of Energy said that it might offer a second round funding challenge, but given the federal government’s overall dire financial condition, the agency may have problems even meeting its commitments in the first round.

As of December 1, negotiations between the White House and Congress over the so-called “fiscal cliff” were deadlocked. Congress created this mess, so one would expect that they could fix it.

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that if Congress doesn’t avert the fiscal cliff, the economy might slip into recession next year and boost the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with 7.9 percent now. Even record low natural gas prices and a boom in oil production won’t make much of a difference if there is no agreement by January 1, 2013.

Japan’s mighty mission at Fukushima

Japan’s major challenges are unprecedented for a democratically elected government. It must decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima site, home to six nuclear reactors, four of which suffered catastrophic internal and external damage from a giant tsunami and record shattering earthquake. The technical challenges of cleanup are daunting and the price tag, already in the range of tens of billions of dollars, keeps rising with a completion date now at least several decades in the future.

Map of radiation releases from Fukushima reported in April 2011

  • Japan is mobilizing a new nuclear regulatory agency that has the responsibility to say whether the rest of Japan’s nuclear fleet can be restarted safely. While the government appointed highly regarded technical specialists to lead the effort, about 400 staff came over from the old Nuclear Industry Safety Agency that was found to be deficient as a deeply compromised oversight body. The new agency will struggle to prove itself an independent and effective regulator of nuclear safety.
  •  Japan has restarted two reactors and approved continued construction work at several more that are partially complete. Local politics will weigh heavily on the outlook for each power station with the “pro” forces emphasizing jobs and tax base and the anti-nuclear factions encouraged by widespread public distrust of the government and of the nation’s nuclear utilities.
  • Despite calls for a phase out of all nuclear reactors in Japan, the country will continue to generate electric power from them for at least the next 30–40 years.
  • Like the United States, Japan has no deep geologic site for spent fuel. Unlike the United States, Japan has been attempting to build and operate a spent fuel reprocessing facility. Plagued by technical missteps and rising costs, Japan may consider offers from the United Kingdom and France to reprocess its spent fuel and with such a program relieve itself of the plutonium in it.

U.S. nuclear renaissance stops at six

The pretty picture of a favorable future for the nuclear fuel cycle in 2007 turned to hard reality in 2012.

In 2007, the combined value of more than two dozen license applications for new nuclear reactors weighed in with an estimated value of over $120 billion. By 2012, just six reactors were under construction. Few will follow soon in their footsteps due to record low prices of natural gas and the hard effects of one of the nation’s deepest and longest economic recessions.

The NRC approved licenses for two new reactors at Southern’s Vogtle site in Georgia and two more at Scana’s V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina. Both utilities chose the Westinghouse AP1000 design and will benefit from lessons learned by the vendor that is building four of them in China. In late November, Southern’s contractors, which are building the plants, said that both of the reactors would enter revenue service a year late. For its part, Southern said that it hasn’t agreed to a new schedule.

The Tennessee Valley Authority recalibrated its efforts to complete Watts Bar II, adding a three-year delay and over $2 billion in cost escalation. TVA’s board told the utility’s executives that construction work to complete Unit 1 at the Bellefonte site cannot begin until fuel is loaded in Watts Bar.

The huge increase in the supply of natural gas, resulting in record low prices for it in the United States, led Exelon Chairman John Rowe to state that it would be “inconceivable” for a nuclear utility in a deregulated state to build new reactors.

Four reactors in dire straights

In January, Southern California Edison (SCE) safety shut down two 1100-MW reactors at its San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) due to excessive wear found in the nearly new steam generators at both reactors.

SCE submitted a restart plan to the NRC for Unit 2 in November. The review, according to the agency, could take months. SCE removed the fuel from Unit 3 last August, a signal that the restart of that reactor will be farther in the future owing to the greater extent of the damage to the tubes its steam generator.

The NRC said that a key cause of the damage to the tubes was a faulty computer program used by Mitsubishi, the steam generator vendor, in its design of the units. The rate of steam, pressure, and water content were key factors along with the design and placement of brackets to hold the tubes in place.

Flood waters surround Ft. Calhoun NPP June 2011

Elsewhere, in Nebraska the flood stricken Ft. Calhoun reactor owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), postponed its restart to sometime in 2013.

It shut down in April 2011 for a scheduled fuel outage. Rising flood waters along the Missouri River in June damaged in the plant site though the reactor and switch yard remained dry.

The Ft. Calhoun plant must fulfill a long list of safety requirements before the NRC will let it power back up. To speed things along, OPPD hired Exelon to operate the plant. In February 2012, OPPD cancelled plans for a power uprate, also citing the multiple safety issues facing the plant.

In Florida, the newly merged Duke and Progress Energy firm wrestled with a big decision about what to do with the shutdown Crystal River reactor. Repairing the damaged containment structure could cost half again as much as an entirely new reactor. With license renewal coming up in 2016, Florida’s Public Counsel thinks that Duke will decommission the unit and replace it with a combined cycle natural gas plant. Separately, Duke Chairman Jim Rogers said that he will resign at the end of 2013.

China restarts nuclear construction

After a long reconsideration (following the Fukushima crisis) of its aggressive plans to build new nuclear reactors, China’s top level government officials agreed to allow new construction starts, but only with Gen III+ designs.

China has about two dozen Gen II reactors under construction. It will be 40–60 years before the older technology is off the grid. China also reduced its outlook for completed reactors from an estimate of 80 GWe by 2020 to about 55–60 GWe. Plans for a massive $26-billion nuclear energy IPO (initial public offering) still have not made it to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  No reason has been made public about the delay.

India advances at Kudanlulam

India loaded fuel at Kudankulam where two Russian built 1000-MW VVER reactors are ready for revenue service. The Indian government overcame widespread political protests in its southern state of Tamil Nadu. India’s Prime Minister Singh blamed the protests on international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

One of the key factors that helped the government overcome the political opposition is that Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited told the provincial government that it could allocate half of all the electricity generated by the plants to local rate payers. Officials in Tamil Nadu will decide who gets power. India suffered two massive electrical blackouts in 2012, the second of which stranded over 600 million people without electricity for up to a week.

Also, India said that it would proceed with construction of two 1600-MW Areva EPRs at Jaitapur on its west coast south of Mumbai and launched efforts for construction of up to 20 GWe of domestic reactors.

India’s draconian supplier liability law continues to be an effective firewall in keeping American firms out of its nuclear market.

UK has new builder at Horizon

The United Kingdom suffered a setback in its nuclear new build as two German utilities backed out of the construction of up to 6 Gwe of new reactors at two sites. Japan’s Hitachi successfully bid to take over the project. A plan for a Chinese state-owned firm to bid on the Horizon project in collaboration with Areva never materialized.

Also in the UK, General Electric pursued an encouraging dialog with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to build two of its 300-MW PRISM fast reactors to burn off surplus plutonium stocks at Sellafield. The PRISM design benefits from the technical legacy of the Integral Fast Reactor developed at Argonne West in Idaho.

You can’t make this stuff up

In July, three anti-war activitists breached multiple high-tech security barriers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 highly enriched uranium facility in Tennessee. The elderly trio, two men on the dark side of 55 and a woman in her 80s, were equipped with ordinary wire cutters and flashlights.

Y-12 Signs state the obvious

The intruders roamed the site undetected for several hours in the darkness of the early morning and spray painted political slogans on the side of one of the buildings. They were looking for new artistic venues when a lone security guard finally stopped their travels through the plant.

The government said that the unprecedented security breach was no laughing matter, firing the guards on duty at the time and the contractor they worked for. Several civil servants “retired.” The activists, if convicted, face serious jail time.

None of the HEU stored at the site was compromised, but subsequent investigations by the Department of Energy found a lack of security awareness, broken equipment, and an unsettling version of the “it can’t happen here” attitude by the guards that initially mistook the intruders for construction workers.

The protest effort brought publicity to the activists’ cause far beyond their wildest dreams and produced the predictable uproar in Congress. The DOE’s civilian fig leaf covering the nation’s nuclear weapons program was once again in tatters.

So long Chu

Given the incident at Y-12, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who came to government from the quiet life of scientific inquiry, must have asked himself once again why he ever accepted the job in Washington in the first place.

DOE Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Chu is expected to leave Washington. That he’s lasted this long is something of a miracle since the Obama White House tried to give him the heave ho this time last year after the Solyndra loan guarantee debacle, in which charges of political influence peddling by White House aides colored a half a billion dollar default on a DOE loan by a California solar energy company.

The predictable upswing in rumors of who might be appointed to replace him oozed into energy trade press and political saloons of the nation’s capital.

Leading candidates are former members of Congress, former governors, or just  about anyone with the experience and political know how to take on the job of running one of the federal government’s biggest cabinet agencies. It’s a short list of people who really can do the job and a long list of wannabes. With shale gas and oil production on the rise, having a background in fossil fuels will likely help prospective candidates.


Dan Yurman published the nuclear energy blog Idaho Samizdat from 2007–2012.

Challenging scientific organizations to adhere to scientific methods

By Rod Adams


For more than two years, I have been privileged to be included in correspondence about a battle for truth led by Ted Rockwell, one of the pioneers of nuclear energy and radiation protection. He continues to seek support of nuclear energy and radiation professionals in an effort to encourage the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to do something that is apparently difficult for any large organization to do—apologize and take effective action to correct a continuing mistake.

NYAS book on Chernobyl effects rejects the scientific method

Here is a brief background of the error. It will be followed by a call to action.

The work selected as the December 2009 edition of The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) was an expansion and translation of a report originally published in Russian and later translated to English under the sponsorship of Greenpeace International. The NYAS book, titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment comes to conclusions about the effects of the accident that are in stark opposition to the conclusions reached by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

Where the UNSCEAR report indicates that the total number of deaths caused by the accident through 2006 was less than 50, the book that the NYAS selected as its December 2009 Annals edition claims that there were 985,000 deaths attributable to the accident. It is difficult to comprehend the possibility that two scientific studies of the same event could differ by a factor of 19,700.

Fortunately, the authors of Chernobyl Consequences provide a reasonable explanation for the vast gulf between their conclusions and the conclusions reached by the scientific organizations that studied the accident’s effects. I am paraphrasing here, but the bottom line is that the authors, publishing sponsors and editors involved in the project had no intention of doing any scientific or statistical analysis. Instead they spent their time compiling as many anecdotes as they could find to support their preexisting mission.

Here are some quotes from Chernobyl Consequences that support my summary of their goals and methods:

(Causal thesis)
We believe it is unreasonable to attribute the increased occurrence of disease in the contaminated territories to screening or socioeconomic factors because the only variable is radioactive loading. Among the terrible consequences of Chernobyl radiation are malignant neoplasms and brain damage, especially during intrauterine development. (p. 2)

(Rejection of correlation requirements)
Why are the assessments of experts so different?
There are several reasons, including that some experts believe that any conclusions about radiation-based disease requires a correlation between an illness and the received dose of radioactivity. We believe this is an impossibility because no measurements were taken in the first few days. Initial levels could have been a thousand times higher than the ones ultimately measured several weeks and months later. (p. 2)

(Rejection of impact of other variables)
In independent investigations scientists have compared the health of individuals in various territories that are identical in terms of ethnic, social, and economic characteristics and differ only in the intensity of their exposure to radiation. It is scientifically valid to compare specific groups over time (a longitudinal study), and such comparisons have unequivocally attributed differences in health outcomes to Chernobyl fallout. (p. 3)

(Anecdote collection method)
The scientific literature on the consequences of the catastrophe now includes more than 30,000 publications, mainly in Slavic languages. Millions of documents/materials exist in various Internet information systems—descriptions, memoirs, maps, photos, etc. For example in GOOGLE there are 14.5 million; in YANDEX, 1.87 million; and in RAMBLER, 1.25 million citations. There are many special Chernobyl Internet portals, especially numerous for “Children of Chernobyl” and for the Chernobyl Cleanup Workers (“Liquidators so called”) organizations. The Chernobyl Digest—scientific abstract collections—was published in Minsk with the participation of many Byelorussian and Russian scientific institutes and includes several thousand annotated publications dating to 1990. At the same time the IAEA/WHO “Chernobyl Forum” Report (2005), advertised by WHO and IAEA as “the fullest and objective review” of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, mentions only 350 mainly English publications. (Preface p. xi)

(Rejection of statistical methodology)
It is methodologically incorrect to combine imprecisely defined ionizing radiation exposure levels for individuals or groups with the much more accurately determined impacts on health (increases in morbidity and mortality) and to demand a “statistically significant correlation” as conclusive evidence of the deleterious effects from Chernobyl. More and more cases are coming to light in which the calculated radiation dose does not correlate with observable impacts on health that are obviously due to radiation.

(Emphasis added.)

Though Greenpeace International and its favored authors are free to print any material they want and people are free to read that material to reinforce their existing belief that radiation at any level is harmful, it is the responsibility of the scientific community to provide accurate information and to submit its work for independent peer review. The normal process of challenging assumption, correlating causes and effects, performing valid statistical analysis and accounting for confounding variables is what allows reasonably correct decision making.

Electronic version of NYAS book available for download

Though the decision to publish Chernobyl Consequences took place more than three years ago, it should not be relegated to the category of old news. The NYAS might have stopped printing the paper bound book, but the electronic version of the publication remains readily available for purchase or downloading by NYAS members. The publication web site contains links to several reviews and responses that are only available to people with academic subscription services or to people who care enough about the issue to lay out $39.95 for each letter to the editor. Just one of the linked responses is available to the public without additional fees; it is a devastating review written by M. I. Balonov of the Institute of Radiation Hygiene in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I purchased the response from Yablokov and Nesterenko to the criticism of S. V. Jargin so you would not have to. It provides more fodder for my assertion that the authors have specifically challenged the notion that the scientific method is important, and it includes a veiled accusation that should offend nuclear energy professionals.

In the Foreword, the Introduction and in Chapter II, it is mentioned that obliteration of those publications is not acceptable both from a moral and an ethical (note that in general, medical practitioners could only add short statements about their studies in numerous scientific and practical conferences) but also from a methodological point of view (when the sample number is very large, there is no necessity to use statistical methods developed for a small number of samples).

In this respect, criticizing us with the fact that our conclusions are in disagreement with those of IAEA (2006) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR 2000) cannot but be surprising. The book itself was written as a counterpart to reports of official experts that may be connected to nuclear industry.

(Emphasis added.)

In response to Ted Rockwell’s sustained pressure, the staff of the Annals of the NYAS made some adjustments to the site hosting the book. They published what they described as a disclaimer that made it clear that the NYAS did not commission the book and that the opinions and conclusions are the responsibility of the authors, not the NYAS. However, the “disclaimer” also makes the statement that the book falls into the category of work deemed “scientifically valid by the general scientific community”.

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Chernobyl volume, are their own. Although the New York Academy of Sciences believes it has a responsibility to provide open forums for discussion of scientific questions, the Academy has no intent to influence legislation by providing such forums. The Academy is committed to publishing content deemed scientifically valid by the general scientific community, from whom the Academy carefully monitors feedback.

That phrase “has no intent to influence legislation by providing such forums” was apparently selected to protect the tax exempt status of the NYAS, but it has no meaning in this instance. There is no pending legislation that could be remotely influenced by an honest discussion that evaluates the scientific merit of the December 2009 edition of the Annals of the New York Academy of Science. The discussion and resulting evaluation, however, would partially restore the scientific integrity of the organization as one that acknowledges that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own set of facts.

Challenge to integrity of scientific and technical professionals

There are many correct ways to do good science, and there is a method and a process that should be generally accepted as the way to glean truth, gather evidence, and evaluate causation. It is the responsibility of everyone who has a professional interest in properly informing the public about their subject to challenge those who seek to portray fiction as fact. It is especially dangerous for the truth to allow anyone to publish direct challenges to science and the professional integrity of thousands of people under the imprint of an organization like the New York Academy of Sciences.

Quiet pressure from a long-time member of the NYAS has not resulted in any effective action. Perhaps individual letters to the NYAS leadership sent by dozens of qualified professionals will have more impact.



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

NRC Public Meeting on San Onofre: October 9 via Webcast, Twitter

Note: The NRC public meeting on San Onofre steam generator issues has now adjourned. The webcast will soon be available in archived form at The twitter feed featuring participation by groups on all sides of the issue can be viewed HERE (tweets will eventually expire).


Tuesday, October 9
6:00-9:30 P.M. Pacific Time
Click HERE for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) news release with schedule information


The meeting is now live on webcast at:

A phone bridge will be available by calling: 1-888-989-4359 and entering pass code 1369507.

The webcast and phone bridge will be one-way only.


ANS will live-tweet the hearing at @ans_org using hashtag #SanOnofrePlease note that the person(s) doing the live-tweeting will be watching via webcast.


Click HERE for social media coverage by Will Davis of Atomic Power Review of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station steam generator issues, including a roundup of helpful links at the end of the entry.

Click HERE for a wealth of information from Southern California Edison regarding the San Onofre steam generator issues.

The Genesis: Founding of the Anti-Nuclear Movement

“There is no Democracy in the United States”
“They built cancer factories on earthquake faults”
“A long-term low dose of radiation may be worse than a high short one”

— Anna Gyorgy, author of the book No Nukes, at University of Massachusetts DuBois Library Exhibit reception, October 2, 2012

By Howard Shaffer

Each year, the University of Massachusetts’ Dubois Library stages a program and exhibit on an aspect of social change. This year, the subject was the rise of the anti-nuclear movement, titled To the Village Square: An Experiment in American Democracy.

As noted in the introduction to this event, the anti-nuclear movement is “thick” in the New England region, and the presentations at the event explained how this came about. The exhibits and documents of the movement’s founding will be archived at the library.

The venue

The program took place in a reception area in the lower level of the multi-story Dubois Library tower. This reception area is open to an adjacent study area, where students were busy at computers. Chairs and refreshments were set up, along with enlarged photos on easels, photos in display cases, and a monitor with a slide show of pictures.

About 40 people were in attendance, including two or three students and faculty. The audience largely consisted of older adults; several were recognizable from Vermont Yankee public meetings.

Right away, I met Professor Gerald Peterson of the UMass Amherst Physics faculty, whom I got to know at a Selectboard meeting in Brattleboro, Vermont, where I had been commissioned to present a program on nuclear power. Also attending was Gregory Bangs, a chemical–nuclear engineering student from UMass Lowell. We met at a previous ANS Northeastern Section Meeting. He and other students expressed an interest in public outreach, and I encouraged them to attend this event.

At 4:40 p.m., the program began with an introduction of the speakers. This was followed by the two speakers, questions and answers, and refreshments.

The documentarian and publicist


First to speak was Lionel Delevingne, a French photojournalist. He came to this country in 1968 “to be a part of something.” He attended the Vietnam War protests in Washington, DC in 1972, and wound up in Montague, Mass. (about 20 miles south of Vermont Yankee.)

Delevingne read Rachel Carson’s and Barry Commoner’s books, and commented on Commoner’s death two days before. “They provided a way to look at the environment as a whole,” Delevingue said.

In the Vietnam era, photo magazines were a principal news media. Delevingne documented the actions of the movement and sold the stories and photos to these outlets.  Movement actions included Sam Lovejoy’s toppling of the meteorological tower at the proposed nuclear power plant site on Montague Plains in Massachusetts—eventually, area farmers helped stop the plant from being built. He then covered the activists who went to Seabrook, N.H., to inspire the opposition to those plants. Delevingne believes that the anti-nuclear movement went from Montague to the world.

France is not a democracy, he feels, and nuclear power there is a state industry. Accidents are covered up, he said.

The founder


Anna Gyorgy spoke next, her first public address in English in 25 years. She now lives in Bonn, Germany, a center for many United Nations agencies working on sustainable development. She is active on many issues, such as global North-South equity and women’s rights.

She was in Montague, working in a co-op, when the new nuclear power plant was proposed. She recounted that power company officials took the town’s Selectmen out to a steak dinner at Howard Johnson’s restaurant, and spoke of tax revenues for the town. She had read Poisoned Power: The case against nuclear power plants by John Gofman (published in 1971) and became active, gathering supporters. After writing pamphlets, she and the supporters decided to write a book, and 52 activists worked on it. Each had something different to contribute to the book, No Nukes: Everyone’s Guide to Nuclear Power, published in 1979.

The activists agreed that the movement must be peaceful. They also decided that they needed to offer an alternative to nuclear power, and so began promoting conservation, efficiency, and alternative energies. Einstein’s direction to “Take the movement to the village square” guided them.

Gyorgy made a series of statements that indicate her beliefs:

  • Germany shut down eight old nuclear plants, yet exported power the first winter. Talk of impending shortages was “all lies.”
  • In Germany the anti-nuclear movement is inter-generational, now into the third generation.
  • Local movements around nuclear plants, like the one against Vermont Yankee, are the backbone of the movement.
  • It’s not enough to have facts and people alone. A strategic discussion in needed.
  • President Obama’s “All of the above” energy policy is a disaster.
  • All different movements should join together—she is excited by the Occupy Movement and came home to see it.
  • Public education is fine, but the education she received while working on the 1984 presidential campaign for Jesse Jackson was irreplaceable.
  • Delevingne’s pictures caught and spread the spirit of the movement.

Gyorgy displayed a copy of a bar chart of a Gallup Poll, showing the low confidence in Congress. “Democracy has to be won and fought for over and over again. The future depends on it,” she said.

Questions and answers

Together Delevingne and Gyorgy took questions:

Can the internet overcome corporate media?
–  Perhaps not. For example, Wikipedia deleted all its information about Lionel (Delevingne) because it was pre-digital. Alternative energies and localization must be our way.

Can climate change be solved with nuclear power?
–  No. Nuclear power makes CO2 in its mining and life-cycle processes.

What are the effects of the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents?
–  They are well documented. People don’t drop dead right away. There are future health effects. Chernobyl is “20 years of cancer in the making.” The movie “Chernobyl Heart” is great. There is a synergism between radiation, air, and food contamination. The soil around Chernobyl is contaminated, but the food grown there is sold in the common market.

What do you think of the Patriot Act? Has it made energy a state secret?
–  The reaction to 9-11 seemed like a coup. These are dangerous times. The US is creating problems and exporting them.

Have you given up on the US? What do you think of Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government except all others?”
–  We don’t have democracy here.

Additional discussion after the Q&A

Gregory Bangs, Professor Peterson, and Marilyn Billings of DuBois Library

When talking to Gyorgy and asking about a plan to transition to a fully renewable economy while still maintaining an economy, she said it has been done by a researcher at SAIC.

Doug Black, from the Walama Restoration Project in Eugene, Oregon, said that he believes in localization, as they are doing it in Eugene. He noted that we are “all in the same boat.” When asked if jet airline travel and ocean liners would exist in a localized economy, he said perhaps we could go back to sailing ships! And he added that no one has all the answers.

Prof. Peterson reported to me that the UMass Amherst Physics Department hosted a conference: “Climate Change and the Future of Nuclear Power.” It was reported that the relationship between CO2 and earth’s temperature has been found to be logarithmic, such that a large increase in CO2 is needed to affect a small temperature rise…


Some nuclear opponents are *very* afraid of radiation—this is the underpinning of all their actions. And the basis of their fear seems clear. It comes from John Gofman’s work and books—Poisoned Power (1971, 1979) and Radiation and Human Health (1981)—based on the idea that *any* amount of radiation is harmful. Gofman is of course quoted in “No Nukes.”

It seems that we nuclear energy advocates won’t make the progress we want, until we directly confront and abolish this issue.

Right now, the dialog on the issue is stuck on: “Any amount of radiation is harmful” vs “Radiation is natural and low levels are safe.”

I am thinking about developing a one-page “elevator speech” addressing these points:
1. What did Gofman say, and why is it wrong based on current knowledge? What does the evidence say?
2. Based on the limited facts available at the time, was he “right” then?
3. If he was not right at that time, where did he go wrong?
4. Gofman’s views generated a lot of opposition. Was he seeking perfection, not considering risk vs. benefit?

Dr. Gofman died in 2007 and maintained his beliefs to the end.



Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years. He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, and his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a current member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach.

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

Uranium 233 is a valuable resource, no matter what Robert Alvarez believes

by Rod Adams

Robert Alvarez has issued another misleading report about energy dense fuel materials, titled Managing the Uranium-233 Stockpile of the United States.

According to Alvarez’s report, the United States owns about 3400 pounds of U-233, which is one of two fissile isotopes of uranium. He portrays this resource, which has been in storage since the 1970s, as a hazardous stockpile that somehow puts the world at risk of a rogue group obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Unfortunately, he is not the only person with this mistaken opinion. The Department of Energy is currently planning to spend nearly half a billion dollars to get rid of the United States’ carefully protected U-233 resources.

Alvarez’s report does not mention the fact that the stockpile contains as much potential energy as 23 million barrels of oil. At current world oil prices, that gives it a comparable energy value of more than $2 billion, even if it is not used for its highest and best purpose, as the seed for an expansive program of thermal spectrum breeder reactors.

Waste not, want not

My Depression Era parents deeply embedded the “waste not, want not” mantra into my brain. As a relatively prosperous adult, I must admit that I do not always spend as much time separating and consolidating materials for recycling as my parents did, but I still respect their teachings that one should not discard items or materials that have future uses. Short-sighted acts of disposal often destroy any potential value because of the difficulty associated with removing contaminants.

I’ve been writing and reading for nearly two decades about the impressive capabilities offered by using a nuclear fission fuel cycle that includes uranium 233 and thorium 232. As anyone who has read Kirk Sorensen’s excellent blog Energy from Thorium or listened to his passionate talks on molten salt reactors knows, U-233 produces about 15 percent more neutrons per thermal fission as U-235 or Pu-239. That difference is significant; it means that a U-233/Th-232 fuel cycle can achieve a conversion ratio greater than 1.0 in a thermal spectrum reactor, resulting in a self-sustaining fuel cycle that might never need any additional fissile material.

Light water breeder reactor

Sometime during the early 1990s, after I had been a nuclear-trained submarine engineering officer for about a dozen years, I learned about the demonstration reactor core that was installed into the Shippingport nuclear power plant. That final core was operated 1977–1982 as a Light Water Breeder Reactor.

That demonstration proved that a well-designed thermal spectrum reactor could use the extra neutrons produced by U-233 to turn thorium into a useful fuel material at a rate faster than the U-233 would be consumed. Unfortunately, one inherent disadvantage of nuclear fuel cycle knowledge development is that it takes a long time. After five years of power production, the light water breeder reactor core was still going strong, with no evidence of the loss of reactivity that accompanies conventional reactor materials as they consume the fissile materials in their low-enriched uranium fuel rods.

Because the project sponsors knew that they might not be able to continue funding the team that would perform the post-operation fuel material analysis, they stopped the experiment. There were no immediately scheduled follow-on cores because any potential customers would have wanted to wait until the final results were known. No large-scale production capacity was ever developed to handle the unique blend of materials involved in the LWBR process.


The destructive fuel rod analysis that proved that breeding had occurred was not completed until five years after the experiment had been terminated, which was more than 10 years after the fuel fabrication had been completed. Here is a quote from section IX, Summary and Discussion of Significance from a report titled “Proof of Breeding in the Light Water Breeder Reactor (WAPD-TM-1612),” which was provided to the DOE in September 1987 under contract No. DE-AC11-76PN00014. (I have provided that detail just in case someone thinks it might be worthwhile to file a Freedom of Information Act request.)

The results demonstrate conclusively that LWBR was a breeder. They show that breeding can be achieved in a light-water reactor using 233U as fissile fuel and the naturally occurring, relatively abundant 232Th as fertile material. Thus, the Light Water Breeder Program which the Department of Energy pursued for more than twenty years has demonstrated and proven unequivocally that 233U-232Th breeders can be built, operated in light water reactor plants to produce electrical energy, and breed more fissile fuel than they consume. This means that the plentiful domestic supply of low and moderate cost thorium represents a potential resource for providing about fifty times the amount of energy which could be produced using current light water reactors and the domestic supply of low and moderate cost uranium. This light water breeder system could supply the entire electrical energy need of the United States for centuries.

The primary significance of proving breeding in LWBR is the demonstrated potential for greatly increasing our nation’s electrical energy generation capability for many years to come.

By the time those words were written at the end of the quietly submitted report, the leading proponents of the technology had either died (Rickover) or lost all of their influence on government programs (Radkowsky). Radkowsky, the creative designer of the fuel system, eventually started a company called Thorium Power (which is now operating under the name of Lightbridge) to attempt to commercialize his ideas.

A few years before Rickover and Radkowsky demonstrated the possibilities of using a U-233/Th-232 fuel cycle in conventional reactors, there were a couple of experiments conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that avoided the fuel fabrication and destructive testing issues described above. By dissolving the U-233 and Th-232 into molten salts, those experiments showed that it was possible to design liquid-fueled reactors that might be arranged to enable utilization of the world’s large thorium fuel resource. There is much to be learned about building durable molten salt reactors with closed fuel systems, but the learning process would be made less time consuming if the Department of Energy enabled effective use of the already existing inventory of special material.

Even if one agrees with Alvarez’s stated concern about the need to carefully protect the U-233 from all possibility of being stolen, I cannot imagine any system that is less likely to experience material theft than operating nuclear power reactors. Those devices are surrounded by thick shielding resembling a vault, and they are full of self-protective radioactive isotopes. Sarah Weiner, writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, characterized Alvarez’s well publicized report as “alarmism”, but she also supported the DOE’s plans to make it nearly impossible for the energy laden material to be put to any beneficial use.

Knowing what I know about U-233’s potential benefits, I was saddened by Matt Wald’s recent article titled Uranium Substitute Is No Longer Needed, but Its Disposal May Pose Security Risk. It is disturbing to think that so many people have such a huge misunderstanding of nuclear fission technology that they take action to make U-233 an expensive waste product, instead of more accurately treating it as a potent energy resource that would become more valuable the more it is used.

PS—I cannot resist the temptation to compare the DOE’s planned expenditure of $473 million to destroy the potential value in its U-233 stockpile with the $452 million that has been widely promoted as the government’s contribution to small modular reactor development.



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

The future of nuclear at #MOXChat

By Laura Scheele

On September 11, the National Nuclear Security Administration (U.S. Department of Energy) hosted a public meeting in Chattanooga, Tenn., concerning its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium as mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in power reactors. You may have seen the ANS Call to Action for the hearing and perhaps read the ANS position statement or background information.

L to R: Stephanie Long, Nick Luciano, Alyx Wszolek, and Suzy Hobbs Baker.

This is the story about how ANS members fulfilled the mission set forth in the position statement:  to inform the public and media about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program. It’s also the story of how ANS student members answered the Call to Action and contributed to the success of this event for the Society.

The Chattanooga ANS Local Section and the Chattanooga State Community College ANS Student Section both committed to supporting the September 11 hearing as a priority outreach project. ANS Public Information Committee Chair Dave Pointer e-mailed nearly 700 ANS national and student members within a 5-state radius and asked them to come to the hearing to represent the Society, to explain why MOX fuel use makes sense, and to make a stand for nuclear in an area where nuclear opponents had monopolized the public discussion about nuclear.

ANS members showed up.

ANS student members from University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K): (l to r) Hailey Green, Remy Devoe, Tyler Rowe, Seth Langford, John Wilson, and Brent Fiddler. (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

LOTS of ANS members showed up.

Chattanooga State Community College ANS students wear their blue-and-orange shirts in a standing-room-only public hearing.

MOST of the ANS members who showed up were students.

The faculty and student delegation from University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UT-K). (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

ANS members who couldn’t show up replied to the e-mail to say they couldn’t come, but wanted to pass along their encouragement and their belief that this was the right thing to do.

We can take pride in how well the Society was represented in Chattanooga.

The students took pride in representing the Society and the profession—and did so very well.

Chattanooga was a communications victory for ANS across the board: a great turnout for nuclear professionals and students and a great event for explaining the benefits of MOX fuel technologies.

Defying expectations

The presence of so many young people supporting the ANS position on MOX fuel made a definite impression upon attendees. The most common question I was asked by non-ANS participants was, “How many Chattanooga State students are here today?” One gentleman who opposed MOX fuel prefaced his remarks by saying that he once taught at Chattanooga State and was thrilled to see so many students attending the hearing.

Chattanooga ANS Local Section Chair Samuel Snyder wrote following the hearing:

Samuel Snyder, Chattanooga ANS Local Section Chair

Samuel Snyder comments during the hearing.

One thing that struck me last night was the average age of those who attended the meeting in support of the nuclear science and technology industry. When you take last night’s “pro-nuclear” group as a whole, I would say that the average age was in the 20s.

A good number of students were willing to get up in front of the group and provide public comments in favor of the ANS-backed proposal for the disposition of surplus plutonium. The comments were very civil from the “pro” side, and mainly civil from the “anti” side, though my biased opinion is that the “pro” side did a much better job of presenting facts and providing sound arguments for their position.

It’s good to have friends…

This was the first public hearing experience for most of the participants. Recently, Chattanooga has seen a lot of anti-nuclear activity, including opponents who stage protests dressed as zombies.

In asking ANS members to attend this hearing, we were asking nuclear professionals to venture outside of their comfort zone in terms of making public comments on an issue that might not really be their area of expertise—and oh, by the way, you might also need to wade through a crowd of zombies who will be heckling you. No worries!

Three ANS students wisely team up and keep their backs to the wall to prevent a zombie sneak attack. (L to R: Alyx Wszolek, Steven Stribling, and Stephanie Long ) (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

That’s what friends (and professional membership societies) are for—to watch your back when you’re surrounded by zombies. Being the only science-informed person in the room can sometimes be uncomfortable and even intimidating. There is strength in numbers, and so coming together on a vitally important issue strengthens our association by strengthening our professional and personal bonds.

…Especially social media friends

Suzy Hobbs Baker of the Nuclear Literacy Project drove from South Carolina to support the hearing. (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

The social media promotion of this event contributed to its success. The ANS Social Media Group is an amazing collection of people with wildly different perspectives and backgrounds who share one thing: the conviction that the nuclear community needs to improve how we communicate if nuclear energy’s promise is to be realized.


Alex Woods, Chattanooga State

Alex Woods, Chattanooga State Student Section president, led off the comments.

Individually and collectively, they have shed much blood, sweat, and tears in their efforts—and they are willing to lend a hand so that your blood, sweat, and tears might be spared.

#MOXChat was the twitter hashtag for the Chattanooga hearing. The live-tweeting provided a minute-by-minute rundown of the comments and observations by nuclear professionals across the country who followed this on twitter. Unfortunately, the tweets have expired on Twitter.

A roundup of social media coverage of #MOXChat is at the end of this article. Many thanks to everyone who supported this event via social media. Your observations and advice were invaluable, and many of the students brought printouts of your entries to the hearing as prep material.

Steven Skutnik

Steven Skutnik

A special tip of the ANS Nuclear Cafe cap to Steve Skutnik, who did it all at this hearing: made public comments, live-tweeted the hearing, live-blogged the hearing here at the ANS Nuclear Cafe, blogged pre- and post-hearing at his Neutron Economy blog, and helped prep students in his capacity as UT-K assistant professor. Thanks, Steve!


The power of  showing up

Howard Shaffer, Meredith Angwin and Eric Loewen

Howard Shaffer and Meredith Angwin receive presidential citations from ANS Past President Eric Loewen.

Meredith Angwin and Howard Shaffer have spearheaded a nuclear advocacy effort in Vermont that has changed the public debate over nuclear energy. They often talk about the value of  ‘Showing Up’ to support nuclear. By showing up, Meredith and Howard have built a pro-nuclear grassroots movement in a place where people sometimes seem to think nuclear is a four-letter word.

Pro-Nuclear Rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Go Team Nuclear!

We asked ANS members to come to the hearing and comment on behalf of ANS—but we also asked those who could not comment to show up and support their friends and colleagues. They did—and they applauded every comment. Some who couldn’t stay for the hearing showed up to meet with the students and answer questions that they had about MOX fuel and reactor operations.

ANS members mingle before the public hearing begins.

Everyone there contributed to the success of this event—just by showing up.

Having fun is contagious

The disposition of excess weapons-grade plutonium is a serious issue. The ANS student members took seriously the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the ANS position and the need to counter some of the more implausible assertions by the nuclear opponents who attended.

Chris Perfetti preparing his public comments.

Taking the responsibility seriously, however, doesn’t mean being humorless. Sometimes we err too much on the side of serious and need to remember that positive experiences build upon themselves: having fun at an event makes it more likely that you’ll do something similar in the future.

Besides, we’re hilarious! Why try to fight it?

Sometimes a little #MOXSnark needs to be vented due to the wild claims made by nuclear opponents.

And sometimes brilliant ideas—like ANS Man, or a YouTube show featuring Sarcastic Science Guy in a Turquoise Shirt, or setting future public comments to cheering cadences—are born of these shared experiences.

All I will say is this:  My understanding of  plutonium dispersion factors has been forever transformed. Or, as Steve Skutnik live-tweeted, #youprobablyhadtobethere.

You know, in Chattanooga.


*in a technically credible, knowledgable, and thoroughly polite and eloquent manner, while adhering to the highest standards of safety (no zombies were harmed in the writing of this post).

L to R: Remy Devoe, John Wilson, Rob Milburn, and UT-K Student Section President Ryan Sweet

Social media roundup

Rod Adams, Atomic Insights:
Plutonium Power for the People

Meredith Angwin, Yes Vermont Yankee:
MOX & Hearings in Chattanooga
Meeting Success Story in Chattanooga
Show Up for Nuclear in Chattanooga

Steve Skutnik, Neutron Economy:
Wading into the Zombie Nuclear Horde
Mixing it up over MOX – a wrapup from Chattanooga

Dan Yurman, Idaho Samizdat:
Mix it Up about MOX in Chattanooga
Calling Out Red Herrings about MOX Fuel for TVA

US Areva:
Can you Talk MOX? 10 Things You Need to Know about MOX Nuclear Fuel

Chattanooga State students stand near a MOX fuel assembly mock-up at the open house. (L to R: Geneva Parker, Mark Hunter, and Brian Satterfield) (Photo by Charles Ellsworth)

Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information

ANS was able to support this important effort thanks to funding provided through its Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information.


 Laura Scheele is the Communications and Public Policy Manager for the American Nuclear Society’s Communications and Outreach Department.

Call to Action: Public hearing on MOX fuel tonight in Chattanooga


American Nuclear Society members in the Tennessee Valley region


Public hearing on the use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel technologies for surplus plutonium disposition—Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement


Today, Tuesday, September 11
5:30pm–8:00pm Eastern Time (click HERE for schedule—scroll down)


Chattanooga Convention Center
1150 Carter Street
Chattanooga, Tenn. 37402


The existence of surplus weapons-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium constitutes a clear and present danger to national and international security.
National Academy of Sciences, 1994

The American Nuclear Society endorses the rapid application of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel technology to accomplish the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium (ANS position statement).

Industry and professional organizations should work to inform the public and media about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

Come join many of your fellow nuclear professionals and ANS members in the nuclear science community in the Tennessee Valley area to help provide some credible scientific and technical perspective on this important issue, as well as play an essential role in providing factual, credible information in this public setting to increase public awareness.

The hearing will be live tweeted at #moxchat.

Stay tuned to the ANS Nuclear Cafe for updates on the hearing later today.


ANS Man vs. the Anti-Nuclear Zombie Plague

Adventures of the Charismatic ANS Man





By Dave Pointer

I grew up in the green rolling hills of east Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee.

University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Photo by Wade Rackley/Tennessee Journalist
Modified by Dave Pointer


I moved north to the great city of Chicago to work as a nuclear engineer.

Dave Pointer in Chicago

 Photo by Nimesh Madhavan.
Modified by Dave Pointer


But it wasn’t long before I started hearing strange reports from home. Unsettling rumors—almost too strange to believe—of the dead returning to life and congregating in the streets of Chattanooga.

Zombies in Chattanooga TN

 Photo by Just Shooting Memories.
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


Their sole purpose—to oppose the use of nuclear science and technology, especially for the generation of electricity.

Zombies with chainsaws

 Photo by Richard Webb
Chainsaw clipart:
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


As the cooler temperatures of autumn approached, we learned that the zombie plague had spread: the zombies were closing in on the public hearing on the Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), scheduled for 5:30pm–8:00pm on September 11, 2012, at the Chattanooga Convention Center!

Zombies in a conference room

  Photo by Dries Buyaert
Original zombie art by Dave Pointer


I knew that I must act—and ANS Man was born!

ANS Man is every ANS member and no ANS member—a mystery figure armed with a PASSION for nuclear energy and the FACTS about nuclear science and technology.

A Nuclear Superhero is born!

 Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer


Faster than a speeding neutron, ANS Man traveled to Chattanooga and registered his intention to address the zombie crowd. He also stopped by the ANS Member Hospitality Room in MEETING ROOM ONE for a delicious cookie.

ANS Man arrives at the Chattanooga Convention Center

 Photo by Dries Buyaert
Original ANS Man and Cookie art by Dave Pointer


When it was his turn to take the microphone in hand, ANS Man spoke eloquently and passionately about the benefits of nuclear science and technology and the safety of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.

  • Nuclear science and technology improves our lives in many ways and in many different areas: generates over 20 percent of U.S. electricity; makes our food safer; improves the quality of our tools, gauges, and machines; helps diagnose injuries and illnesses; treats cancers; and powers our exploration of the solar system.
  • MOX fuel has been proven to be a safe and reliable fuel source over many reactor years of operation. The safety and performance record of MOX fuel is comparable to that of low-enriched uranium fuel.
  • MOX fuel has been produced in five countries and is widely used in many reactors all over the world. Many nations view MOX as an essential part of their energy and fuel cycle management policies.
  • The concept of using MOX fuel to dispose of surplus plutonium has received broad national and international support from scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the US-Russian Independent Scientific Commission on Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, Harvard University’s Project on Managing the Atom, and the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Eloquent Nuclear Super Hero

 Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer
Podium clipart from


The zombies were overwhelmed by his presentation, and, as they filled with new facts, new brains began to grow inside their zombie skulls.

The zombie plague was cured!

ANS Man cures zombies!

Original ANS Man art by Dave Pointer
Brain clipart from


Hopefully, this was entertaining. Unfortunately, there are people who will stop at nothing to reduce the use of nuclear energy, regardless of the consequences.

By opposing the safe and responsible use of MOX fuel technologies to reduce or eliminate excess weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles, the anti-nuclear zombies really do pose a threat: they make our world a much more dangerous place.  As a nuclear engineer, I know that we can and should advance nuclear science and technology for the benefit of society. And we can do so safely and responsibly.

This issue is so important that the ANS Position Statement on Utilization of Surplus Weapons Plutonium As Mixed Oxide Fuel (ANS-47-2009) takes the unusual step of including a call to action—asking professional organizations to help inform the public about the nonproliferation benefits of the MOX fuel program and the safe and successful track record of manufacturing and using MOX fuel.

Don’t wait for ANS Man to act on your behalf. Plan to attend and give your statement at the SEIS public hearing on September 11, 2012!

Capes are optional.

ANS Member Hospitality Room

The ANS Member Hospitality Room will open at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, in Meeting Room One of the Chattanooga Convention Center.

The Search For Nuclear Happiness

By Meredith Angwin

This year, and especially during these long tomato-filled days of August, I have been thinking a lot about happiness. Actually, I have been thinking even more about unhappiness.

I am a nuclear advocate, and sometimes I find myself thinking, Why am I doing this nuclear activism thing? Do I like confrontation? Do I like it when I get a hate email?

NRC officials with police escort evacuate meeting in Brattleboro VT

Do I like to go to contentious Nuclear Regulatory Commission meetings where the NRC people are intimidated into leaving the room? Or to Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel meetings where opponents ask endless questions about nuclear safety? The answer is no. I don’t like to go to such meetings!

On a recent day, I found myself reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. My daughter had recommended this book. As I was reading it, I was also receiving a series of accusatory emails from a plant opponent.

Quite a contrast in mental tone.

Not a contrast

Actually, it was not that much of a contrast. One of the points of The Happiness Project is that happiness doesn’t necessarily make you FEEL happy. This contradictory statement can be parsed as follows: The activities that are meaningful to a person, and lead to long-term happiness, are often stressful, hard, and anxiety-producing while they are happening. At the time you are doing them, happiness-producing activities do not necessarily make you feel happy.

Gretchen gave a simple example of how she began to discover this. A friend who is a gourmet cook was giving a dinner party. As he dashed around the kitchen, trying to do too many things at once, Gretchen asked him if he was “enjoying his own party?” He paused only briefly and answered that he would “enjoy it when it was over.”

So, why does he give the party? I mean, how is “enjoying it when it is over” different from “enjoying it by not doing it at all”? The answer is that cooking for friends is a major source of satisfaction for this man. The short-term stress of cooking leads to the long-term happiness of friendship and cheerful memories. It also leads to the happiness of being admired for the gourmet meals he creates.

I don’t want to try to summarize the book here, but it made me think about how to stay happy as a nuclear advocate. I came up with three ideas that work for me, and I thought I would share them.

Three routes to happiness as a nuclear advocate

First: Do something

Try to do something most days, even if it seems small. As Gretchen Rubin writes: We overestimate what we can accomplish in an hour or two, but we underestimate what we can accomplish by small efforts over time. Write enough letters to the editor, and you may be asked to write some op-eds. Once you have some op-eds printed, you can send op-eds to other newspapers and get wider publication. Organize a small meeting, or a big rally. There’s always something to do, and it doesn’t matter if it is big or small, or if you don’t do it perfectly, just as long as you do it.

Second: Work on curing the brownie deficit

Nuclear opponents tend to spend a lot of time together. They have potlucks, make costumes, have coffee and brownies in letter-writing groups. Pro-nuclear people have a brownie deficit; that is, a personal-interaction deficit. Try to cure it! Meet others in person whenever you can. I don’t know if I could do much for nuclear energy without the friendship of Howard Shaffer and my husband George Angwin. My female pro-nuclear friends tend to live farther afield, although I have developed a very close personal and pro-Vermont Yankee friendship with a woman in Brattleboro. It is over an hour’s drive between our houses, but we both think that getting together regularly is worthwhile, because personal friendships are important.

Yes, it is hard to get together, but humans were meant to get together. My best ideas don’t come from cogitation, they come from conversation. Don’t hide behind your computer. Get out there and cure the brownie deficit!

Third: Prioritize

Being a pro-nuclear activist means living in a “target-rich” environment. Every day, somebody will say or plan something ridiculous and anti-nuclear, and you want to answer them all. Every day, someone will ask for your help. You can’t do it all. Work on the situations where you have the most knowledge and the most credibility. Usually these are the events and talks that take place near your home. Prioritize! Time is your most precious commodity.

Another way to say that is to quote a friend of mine: “You don’t have to join every fight you’re invited to.”

The General Rule: Gratitude

My rules are specific to nuclear advocates, but I think there’s a general rule for increasing happiness that is true for everyone, in every circumstance.

Cultivate gratitude.

As a nuclear advocate, gratitude might mean appreciating your health (so you can be an advocate), appreciating your friends (so you aren’t alone in your advocacy), and appreciating your victories, however big or small. However, writing that list just for “nuclear advocates” feels much too petty. Advocate or not, I believe that gratitude helps everyone to happiness, to generosity, and to love.

In other words, being a nuclear advocate is just like being anyone else, and staying happy as a nuclear advocate uses the same techniques as anyone’s successful ”Happiness Project.”



Meredith Angwin is the founder of Carnot Communications, which helps firms to communicate technical matters. She specialized in mineral chemistry as a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Later, she became a project manager in the geothermal group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Then she moved to nuclear energy, becoming a project manager in the EPRI nuclear division. She is an inventor on several patents.

Angwin serves as a commissioner in the Hartford Energy Commission, Hartford, Vt.  Angwin is a long-time member of the American Nuclear Society and coordinator of the Energy Education Project. She is a frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.


Sowing the seeds of curiosity

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

~Albert Einstein

by Suzy Hobbs Baker

Everyone can remember at least one teacher from childhood who actually made learning fun rather than a task, and inspired students to keep digging for more knowledge after the bell had rung. Really good teachers do more than just teach—they sow the seeds of curiosity.

For me, it was my seventh grade biology teacher, Mrs. Smith. Every class was something new and exciting (cell-shaped cakes, anyone?).

Her enthusiasm for science was contagious, and for me it began a deep-seated interest in biology that persists today.

Nuclear energy professionals, advocates, and communicators can certainly learn a few things from Mrs. Smith and all the great teachers out there.

Over the weekend, a very good example of how to cultivate public curiosity was successfully put into practice by a group of pronuclear environmentalists in South Australia. The environmentalists—Ben Heard, Barry Brooks, Geoff Russell, and Corey Bradshaw—each presented to about 100 local citizens on their respective areas of expertise relating to energy, climate, and the environment, followed by Geiger counter readings of pinchblende (also known as uraninite) that Brooks put right up to his face! How’s that for entertainment? The full story from Heard is available here.

Something notable about their approach was the conscientious creation of a unified front for the sake of outreach. Each of the environmentalists support nuclear energy for very good scientific reasons—and that was the overarching message that these scientists sent to the public. These guys really listened and spoke to the concerns of their community, and they did it with enthusiasm.

The bottom line is that the environmentalists created a public forum that was informative and honest, and—most importantly—that cultivated genuine curiosity in the subject of nuclear power. One hundred citizens walked away from the meeting with a new-found interest in nuclear science, and I would be willing to bet that most in attendance will continue searching for information on their own.

The environmentalists achieved all of this forward motion in their community despite antinuclear activists working against them throughout the planning process and even at the actual event.

Improving the ways we conduct outreach has the potential to increase the number of nuclear projects, lower the cost of projects already underway, and reduce the negative environmental and human health impacts of energy production. These are HUGE stakes.

In fact Steve Kidd, the deputy director of the World Nuclear Association, has made a formal call for a new, more personal approach to outreach in a series of articles on public acceptance in Nuclear Engineering International magazine (I highly recommend reading the whole series):

Kidd states clearly, “Last month I argued that there is a clear link between the degree of public and political acceptance of nuclear projects and their cost. It is highly likely that a substantial part of both the escalation in nuclear investment costs over the past decade and also some of the gap between these costs in the Western world and Asia can be explained by the industry’s failure to achieve greater public support. So those people who argue that ‘public acceptance is the biggest issue facing the future of the nuclear industry’ may indeed have a very good case.”

This is not just about good PR. It’s about good business, and about responsible energy generation. So the next time we each make a school visit, or talk to a neighbor about nuclear energy, let’s do it with the zeal and passion of Mrs. Smith, or with the humor of Barry Brooks, who despite being a world-renowned scientist, isn’t afraid to have a little fun! Let’s sow the seeds of curiosity and get people interested in the truly awesome power of the atom.


Hobbs Baker

Suzy Hobbs Baker is the executive director of PopAtomic Studios, a nonprofit organization that conducts educational outreach through the Nuclear Literacy Project. Baker is an ANS member and a frequent contributor to ANS Nuclear Cafe.