Category Archives: View from Vermont

The Latest Sop to Nuclear Opponents

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontVermont Yankee will go into decommissioning at the end of its current fuel cycle. The last day of operation for the nuclear plant is now set for December 29, 2014. Entergy, the owner, elected this course last year after financial analysis indicated the plant’s unprofitability in a future of projected low natural gas prices.

Yet, in the first year after the end of Vermont Yankee’s original 40-year license, natural gas prices and the market price of electricity in the region were so high that the plant remitted $17 million to the state from power sales above 6.1 cents per kilowatt-hour under the terms of its 2002 purchase agreement.

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Vermont legislature

Nuclear opponents have great influence and support in the Vermont legislature and governor’s office. With plant operation ending, there needed to be a mechanism to keep the anti-nuclear crusade going.

The new panel

The legislature created a new panel—the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel—to provide representation for nuclear opponents and to set up a new means to access information from the plant. The new panel replaced the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP), which previously had received information from the plant at public meetings, via oral testimony, and public comments and questions. VSNAP had one public member, with the remainder members coming from the legislature and state agencies.

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Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel

At the end of the legislative session, the legislature created a new panel by writing it into the budget bill (H885). This new panel, which is advisory only, was created to:

  • Discuss issues related to the decommissioning.
  • Advise the governor, the General Assembly, state agencies, and the public on decommissioning issues.
  • Serve as a conduit for public information.
  • Receive reports on the decommissioning trust fund and other funds.
  • Receive reports on decommissioning; provide a forum for public comments and comment to state agencies and the plant owner

Meetings and an annual report are specified.

The panel consists of 19 members:

  • Four state officials.
  • Two state legislators.
  • Two local government representatives.
  • Six members of the public appointed by the legislature.
  • Two representatives of the plant.
  • One representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
  • Two representatives of adjacent states in the plant’s 10-mile emergency planning zone (EPZ), representing towns in New Hampshire and Vermont, appointed by the states’ governors.

Since the end of the legislative session there has been no further mention of the panel in public sources.

The composition of this new panel, as well as being larger than the one it replaces, is a radical departure from the old one. It includes representatives of the plant, the union, the towns in the EPZ, and several representatives from the public. Including the union is parallel to the practice in Germany of including unions on corporate boards of directors. This is not surprising, since at least one former member of the legislature, now a member of the Vermont Public Service Board, is an advocate of the German approach to energy management.

What will the panel bring?

The previous panel’s meetings were all public and attended by opponents and advocates, myself included. They were contentious but mostly one-sided. The plant was in the position of being a witness to be cross-examined. There was no appeal to the panel’s findings. The meetings were covered in detail by the regional press. The panel, in effect, became a vehicle for anti-nuclear publicity.

The new panel has plant and union representation, so their opinions will be official components of panel deliberation, not testimony from witnesses. The new panel must meet and report periodically. The reports’ format has not been specified, but it is logical to assume that minority opinions will be included, as is the usual government practice.

It is possible that if the previous panel had officially included pro-nuclear voices, the information reaching the public might have been more balanced.

The adjacent states

Governors Hassan (NH) and Patrick (MA)

Governors Hassan (NH) and Patrick (MA)

There are five towns in New Hampshire and seven in Massachusetts that will be represented by a governor’s appointee. As of this writing, there has been no word as to whether the governors have yet been invited by Vermont to make the appointments. The governors will need to determine the process they will use to make these appointments. Since there are pro- and anti-nuclear advocates in all places, the selection process may be difficult. It is possible the governors might ask the selectmen in these 12 towns, which use a town meeting form of government, to recommend a process. This would seem logical, since it would pass the “hot potato” to the towns. If the towns wind up deadlocked, a governor might end up appointing someone from a state government agency. Or, they might choose a qualified state resident from outside the towns.

Keeping engaged

As a New Hampshire resident, and considering myself qualified, I applied for the New Hampshire state position on the Vermont panel. When I applied in June, the governor’s appointments assistant had not heard of this position, nor heard anything from Vermont. With an election coming up in November, including for governor in both Vermont and New Hampshire (two year terms), and with the plant operating until the end of 2014, perhaps it’s not surprising that this issue is far down on their agendas.

I also sent a letter to the selectmen in all five New Hampshire towns, with a copy of the application to the governor.

We’ll see.

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________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

A CAN-CAN Dance around Vermont Yankee Decommissioning

By Howard Shaffer

View1Our Sierra Club local chapter recently sponsored a joint presentation—by two local anti-nuclear groups. A small audience of attendees heard of the horrors that citizens might expect during Vermont Yankee’s upcoming decommissioning. The presenters claimed that their participation in decommissioning will be needed to insure that all goes well because Entergy, and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, can’t be trusted. Included as usual was a litany of things about to go wrong—all caused by nuclear power!

The dancers

The partners were Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) leader Deb Katz of Massachusetts, and Citizens Action Network (also known as CAN) leader Chris Williams of Vermont and the Beyond Nuclear group. Using a new PowerPoint presentation, which anti-nuclear groups will undoubtedly use a lot more in the future, they detailed their fears and plans. They worked in a “tag team” switching back and forth a few times.

(Are the identical group name acronyms coincidental? The local press uses CAN for both, making it seem there is one larger organization.)

Katz has been active for many years in local opposition to the Yankee plant at Rowe, Massachusetts, and Vermont Yankee http://www.nukebusters.org/.

Williams is a life-long anti-nuclear activist, by his own proud admission and his resume, beginning right out of college. He claims as a signal achievement the torpedoing of the proposed Marble Hill nuclear plant in Indiana. While retired in Vermont, he has been organizing and leading opposition to Vermont Yankee too http://www.beyondnuclear.org/relicensing/2012/10/3/background-on-chris-williams-presenting-on-entergy-nuclear-r.html.

Their message—and what really happened

“We won” was Deb Katz’s opening line, referring to Entergy’s decision to shut down and decommission the Vermont Yankee plant by the end of the fuel cycle this year.

However, the “we” really didn’t do much winning. The Vermont Yankee plant has a 20-year license extension from the NRC, but projected an unprofitable future competing in the New England energy market against (currently) low natural gas prices. Entergy decided to plan to shutter the plant on its own… although it is possible that there was some political pressure on Vermont’s two energy utilities to not sign long-term contracts with the plant.

The presentation then went on to include the following messages (followed by my own analysis):

“We gave up on the NRC and targeted companies’ finances to make it hard for them to do business.”

True. Nuclear energy opponents have used every available means to run up costs. One of the latest was getting the Red Cross to claim that they needed to shelter an absurdly large number of people for an extended period, if there ever were an evacuation. The funding is to come from Vermont Yankeesee Vermont Yankee asked to pay $200,000 in 2014.

Connecticut Yankee and Yankee Rowe (Massachusetts) decommissionings had problems and cost overruns. Rate payers are still paying because decommissioning trust funds were exhausted. The Yankee Rowe site has PCB contamination and is a chemical pigsty.

Once again the tactic is to compare nuclear power to perfection. To compare Yankee Rowe’s initial cost to the decommissioning cost, without adjusting for 45 years of inflation, is absurd economicsbut also a tactic.

Vermont Yankee is the first Merchant Plant to be decommissioned, and if its decommissioning trust fund is exhausted, Vermont taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

The NRC has stated that it will go back to the original owners, if necessary, to get the necessary funds for decommissioning. Congress intended for those who benefited from operating the plants to pay for decommissioning, not any government.  Meanwhile, a loss of funding for various purposes in the region from the Vermont Yankee plant will be keenly feltsee Millions for education, but not one cent for tribute.

The plant could have a fuel pool fire which would be devastating.

This of course has never happened and remains hypothetical.  At any rate, left out is time available for responders to intervene if such an event were to somehow come to pass.

Many nuclear power plants were bought at “fire sale” prices. The Decommissioning Trust Fund can be claimed as an asset. Executives are selling their stock. All Entergy nuclear plants are in trouble financially (i.e., it’s all about making money).

Actually, rather typical business practices are all that has been going on. Taking standard accounting rules and claiming some unique fault of nuclear power is a common tactic.

There needs to be a Citizens Advisory Panel to oversee the decommissioning process. The panel needs training. The Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) should transition to a citizens’ panel. This should be in the Vermont budget bill this year.

Vermont (H.885) established the “Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel,” replacing the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (which was a forum for anti-nuclear activism). The new panel includes two members appointed by the plant, one Union member from the IBEW who worked at the plant, representatives from towns in the 10-mile emergency planning zone, and state agencies.

This is a dangerous time. We are seeing the death spiral of Utilities. The Koch brothers are trying to stop it.

Why the demise of utilities would be such a good thing is not stated. Utilities, after all, are buying power from renewable sources under state mandates. Claiming dangers from a crisis of desperation sounds like a scare tactic.

We have three years to make good energy choicesto the next ISO auction (New England Independent System Operator, the regional grid manager).

What was not said was what terrible thing might happen if what they define as “good” is not done. 

Baseload for renewables is not needed. Hydro Quebec is the backup.

Hydro Quebec’s vast capacity is then the baseload. Another scare tactic.

Baseload will destroy renewables.

Baseload and renewables are coexisting right now. This statement shows a complete lack of knowledge of alternating current power supply realities. A great deal of research and development is ongoing to attempt to develop economical large-scale electric energy storage. If this comes into existence, then renewables plus storage will be part of baseload.

Positive notes

There was no media coverage.

Williams was supportive of a recent agreement between Vermont and Entergy, approved by the Public Service Board and in the Certificate of Public Good, under which the plant is continuing to operate. He said that it gets the job done. Katz was not so happy about the agreement, saying that it didn’t go far enough (surprise, surprise).

The future

We can expect more of the same by nuclear energy opponents locally and nationally—including a citizens’ panel underway for the San Onofre plant decommissioning.

Williams has been to the Palisades plant area in Michigan and expects to continue to help the opposition there. That plant has a license extension and a long-term contract.

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___________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

A Pyrrhic Victory in Vermont for Nuclear Power?

“Another victory like this will ruin us”

—Greek King Pyrrhus after defeating Roman armies in 279 and 280 BCE

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontFriday, March 28, 2014—Hanover, New Hampshire. While Rod Adams, Meredith Angwin, Bob Hargraves, and I attended Dartmouth College’s Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy—the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) issued a long-awaited decision on a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for Entergy Corporation’s Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station. (Rod has a great report on the Dartmouth TMI symposium—the comment string is especially enlightening.)

As expected, the PSB (grudgingly) ruled in favor of Entergy.

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R. Adams, G. Angwin, M. Angwin, M. Shaffer, H. Shaffer

A tortured history

Vermont Yankee originally sought a CPG to operate for 20 additional years beyond its original 40-year approval. The plant had received a 20-year license renewal from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012. However, the state of Vermont under its current governor Peter Shumlin (first elected in 2010) wanted the plant closed.

After the Vermont Senate voted to block the PSB from issuing the certificate, Entergy sued in federal court, claiming the state preempted the NRC’s exclusive federal authority over radiological safety. The District Court and Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Entergy.

Both sides were mulling over appealing to the US Supreme Court, and were awaiting a decision from the PSB on the 2- year certificate. Then, on August 27, two weeks after the circuit court decision, Entergy announced that it planned to shut down and decommission the plant at the end of 2014, primarily due to low natural gas prices. Entergy then modified its application for the CPG to run only until the end of 2014. The plant was operating under the expired 40-year CPG, which had been extended because the renewal process was still in progress.

Entergy and the state then negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the plant’s final operation, decommissioning, and site restoration. The MOU provided for the state “switching sides” before the PSB and supporting the application for a CPG through the end on 2014. Entergy agreed to provide several different payments to the state, and agreed to begin decommissioning as soon as the trust fund becomes sufficient. Both sides dropped most pending lawsuits, and agreed to continue negotiations on a few other matters in good faith. This MOU is part of the CPG.

The Certificate of Public Good

The PSB’s order, as it must, includes: background, legal framework, findings and discussion, and general good of the state. It explains the PSB’s reasoning and addresses the issues raised by all parties. The order seeks to be “bullet proof” since the PSB’s orders may be appealed to the state supreme court (for example, since this order, the court reversed the PSB concerning a solar plant).

The state and Entergy, by their agreement, ended all litigation and will close out all other open dockets before the PSB. Obviously, they would like to avoid any more litigation on Vermont Yankee. There are a few unresolved issues between the state and company, but they should be resolvable by good-faith negotiation, as agreed. However, this does not prevent any of the other parties in the proceeding, particularly the anti-nuclear interveners, from suing. The final three pages of the 98-page order list the distribution: 14 parties, 8 law firms, and 37 lawyers! The PSB perhaps hopes that there will be no more lawsuits.

A lesson to be learned for any nuclear plant

One of the factors the PSB considers in all its CPGs is whether or not the applicant can be a “Fair Partner” to the state and its citizens. Section IV B discusses the PSB’s evaluation of Entergy. On page 41 it states, “If Entergy were continuing to pursue a 20 year license extension, the experiences of the last 12 years might well have led the Board to deny a CPG.”

The complete discussion is on pages 31-43, and finishes with the PSB discussing why Entergy is not likely to renege on its commitments in the short time during which most of them must be met. The fact that this discussion had to take place at all is sad, and in hindsight points out mistakes that other plants in similar situations must avoid—that is, when active anti-nuclear groups that are admitted as parties are seeking every chance to trip up and discredit the plant.

Major items listed:

1) Beginning construction of two structures without PSB permission. There was an application in for the items, but approval had not yet been granted.

2) Operating without a valid CPG. Operation after the expiration date of the original CPG continued, even though the PSB said that it could not under the original and subsequent CPGs. Entergy had asked if it could operate while its application for a 20-year extension continued, and the PSB said no.

But it operated, and the PSB and state took no action to force a shutdown. The catch appears to be a state law that apparently applies to all kinds of state licensing actions. This law states that if licensing renewal actions are still in progress when the current expiration date passes, the activity may continue. This seems perfectly reasonable, since without it, the bureaucracy could just “pocket veto” anything, just by postponing or taking no action.

If the state had tried to force a shutdown, then Entergy would have probably sued and asked the court to stay the state’s action. Demonstrating its annoyance over this, the PSB stated that approval of this CPG wiped out Entergy’s liability for operating without a valid permit, but if Entergy doesn’t meet a commitment in the new CPG, the PSB could revoke it, removing the wipe-out of liability, and then impose penalties.

3) A past tritium leak was a huge issue. The state senate set up a public oversight panel, and had a comprehensive reliability assessment performed. One of the members was Arnie Gundersen (of Fairewinds Associates in Vermont), a known anti-nuclear activist who has been spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt in Japan after the Fukushima accident.

The plant told the assessors that it had no “buried piping,” by that meaning piping directly buried in soil carrying fluids regulated for radioactivity. The plant failed to make clear an important distinction between “below ground” and “buried”—everyone else took “buried” to mean “underground,” i.e. below the surface. When piping that was below ground level, but in a concrete tunnel, leaked and the liquid got out through a crack in the tunnel and was detected by monitoring wells, the public, press, legislative and PSB reaction was volcanic.  The opponents all said, “You lied. You told us there is no underground piping.”

A year-long investigation by Vermont’s attorney general found no intentional wrong-doing. However, the plant never recovered from this. The lesson is that you can’t hide behivvnd blaming the press and public for misunderstanding technical terms. Instead, the obligation is to explain technical situations in simple terms the public and press can understand, even if it takes more than one word.

The entire order is repetitious, but at least the section on Fair Partner is recommended for management and those committed to engaging the public.

Of value to the industry

The federal courts found that the state legislature attempted to preempt NRC authority over radiological safety. Radiation safety was not referred to in a resolution the senate had passed blocking the PSB from releasing a CPG—it was revealed in the legislative record, which was brought into evidence. The precedent was reaffirmed that it is legislative intent that can matter when stated actions are unclear or disguised. It seems surprising that this would need reaffirmation, since we often hear of the US Supreme Court examining congressional intent.

The NRC will hold firm to its regulations, but it will not attempt to explain its philosophy to the public in contentious public meetings. Every NRC finding states that there is “reasonable assurance” that the public will be safe. Yet opponents are demanding perfect safety, and the NRC won’t tell them this is what it is doing.

The “pro bono” supporters of Vermont Yankee were able to organize rallies, attend hearings, and participate in all the political activities involved in grass-roots advocacy that takes place on either, or any, side of contentious issues. Plant management can support these activities. Regulated utilities formerly were limited in the amount of advertising and self-promotion they could charge to customers. How much they can do out of stockholders’ funds may be open. For merchant nuclear plants it would seem that they are no more limited than the natural gas industry.

The anti-nuclear movement is international, well-funded, and permanent. Nuclear plants need to have a permanent support network of volunteers. The activity level will vary depending on each situation—“All politics are local.” This support network should be thought of as insurance, which needs to be in place at all times and maintained. When a political firestorm arises, it’s too late to get organized. Insurance is a lot cheaper than picking up the pieces in court afterward.

A Pyrrhic Victory? No!

The victory of just a two-year CPG has cost a lot. Kewaunee and Vermont Yankee have been forced out of business by low natural gas prices in a market where wind and solar power are given preferential treatment. It will cost many of the loyal employees of the plant a lot in the short term, and cost the local community, region, and state of Vermont a lot in the long run.

The loss of Vermont Yankee seems to have awakened industry leaders to a real threat to the life of nuclear power in the commercial electric power market.

The pro bono advocates of nuclear power have been re-energized to fight harder.

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__________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has been an ANS member for 35 years.  He has contributed to ASME and ANS Standards committees, ANS committees, national meeting staffs, his local section, and was the 2001 ANS Congressional Fellow. He is a former member of the ANS Public Information Committee, consults in nuclear public outreach, and is coordinator of the Vermont Grassroots Project.  Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Moving Forward and Living Well

By Meredith Angwin

In August, Entergy announced that it would close Vermont Yankee at the end of this fuel cycle. The plant certainly faced challenging economics.

However, I think it is wrong to simply say “economics” caused the decision. One of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s major goals was to close Vermont Yankee. Shumlin was always eager to see the end of a major negative presence in Vermont: the presence of the entity he often called “Entergy Louisiana.”

The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994 137x200“Be careful what you wish for.” Considering the amount of money that Vermont Yankee has contributed in payroll and taxes, I suspect Shumlin may now be thinking a bit about that old adage. Along these lines, I recommend Margaret Harding’s insightful parable about the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.

Between the economic and government pressures, Entergy made a decision.  The plant will close, and people will be laid off. People at the plant are fearful of the future. People are angry at the Shumlin administration. But what is next? What lies beyond anger and fear?

The  next step is for plant workers to arrange to live happily. This will not be easy, and it will be harder for some than for others. But plant employees will move on, and they will live well.

Fear of the future is reasonable. Despair is not reasonable.

The lists come out

About two weeks ago, the planned closing of Vermont Yankee became more painfully immediate to the people at the plant. That was the day the “lists came out.” I wrote about this in my blog post Paint It Black.

The “lists” were names of people who would work through the end of fuel transfer operations (approximately January 2015) and the names of others who would be asked to stay longer to estimate decommissioning or to provide security, etc. Most employees at the plant were on the list of people with the shorter time of employment.  The “day the lists came out” was a very sad day, and an event not covered in any local paper. As a friend of mine said:  It was a day swept under the rug and not visible to most people in Vermont.

Vermont Yankee people

Although I have never worked there, I identify very closely with the people at Vermont Yankee. As a matter of fact, when I heard recently that Exelon announced that it might close nuclear plants in the Midwest, my reaction had nothing much to do with the fate of the nuclear industry. My initial reaction was basically that this would affect the job search for the people who work at Vermont Yankee.  Let’s look at different groups of workers at the plant.

Older workers
Comments on Facebook and on my blog posts describe the difficult situation of older workers at Vermont Yankee. Some of these people have strong ties to the area, have kids in high school, and live in homes whose value is decreasing as highly paid people leave the area. Everybody at Vermont Yankee is in a difficult situation, but the situation of such older workers is the worst, in my opinion.

Non-nuclear workers
Another group with difficulties will be workers who do not have nuclear-specific skills. Many people (administrative staff, for example) could do similar work at many places besides Vermont Yankee. Unfortunately, Windham County is a poor area, and these people will be unlikely to get jobs at a similar pay level to Vermont Yankee. According to census figures, median household income in Windham County is somewhat below the average for Vermont, even with Vermont Yankee in operation ($51K versus $54K). Will these workers stay or move away? Either way, they will face difficult choices.

Younger workers
Many younger workers will have to move away, but will basically be all right. Comments on the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page show that young people have already begun pulling up stakes. Young people are heading to other power plants in friendlier places.

Adversaries and adversity

What has it been like for workers at Vermont Yankee?

King Henry V might describe it: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

That’s the upbeat version. The downbeat version is that when people are treated badly because they belong to a certain group (for example, they work at Vermont Yankee), they tend to be loyal to each other. They become a band of brothers and sisters. They have a common enemy.

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US Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting in Brattleboro, May 2012

At Vermont Yankee, the enemy wasn’t just the people in the death masks waving signs near the entrance to the plant. It was also the child at the gymnastics class telling another child that her father was a killer for working at the plant. (These Vermont Yankee parents stopped taking this child to gymnastics, and found another sport for her to participate in.) In 2010, I described various incidents in my post Three Views of an Outage, and there are more incidents in the comment section.

In that post, I compared a common attitude in Brattleboro, Vt.,  toward plant workers as almost the same as some attitudes toward African-Americans in the Old South. The idea being that one can say anything bad about “those people,” and one can say anything one wants to “those people”… because they don’t count. Several plant workers agreed with me on this assessment.

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Brattleboro Green Opponent Rally, April 2012

That post about the outage was written in 2010. In 2013, the situation had not changed. When Entergy announced that the plant was closing, far too many people celebrated.

In that post, I quoted an opponent who wrote a letter to the editor, defending his right to celebrate the plant’s closing. He claimed that Vermont Yankee’s contributions to the area weren’t real—he proved this through the use of quotation marks.

THE “JOBS” ARGUMENT is, in my opinion, a fear-mongering ploy by the wealthy to scare communities into submission… Do Entergy “jobs” make our lives better and its “charitable giving” add to the sustainability and happiness of our communities?

Adversity and solidarity

Yes, there was a lot of adversity near Vermont Yankee. As usual, this attitude led to solidarity among the people who were discriminated against.

At the time, this led me to a thought about my childhood. I remember asking my mother about why Judaism had survived so long. I expected the same answer I heard in Hebrew School: reverence for the Torah, etc. My mother surprised me by saying that, in her opinion, part of the answer for Jewish cultural survival was the existence of anti-Semitism.

Jewish people supported each other and Judaism because… we had no choice. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”?

Living well

patty O'Donnell, Ellen Merkle, and monk from Grafton Peace Pagoda, NY

Patty O’Donnell, Ellen Merkle, and monk from Grafton Peace Pagoda, NY

What will happen, now that the plant is closing? The focus has to be on the future, and on living well. If you don’t mind the word “revenge,” you can use the old saying that “living well is the best revenge.”

For younger people, living well probably means getting out of town, taking their lumps on the declining local housing market, and starting anew. Yes, Exelon may (or may not) close some plants, but all plants aren’t closing, and many people at those Exelon plants are retiring. Two years from now, the young people will be saying,  “I miss my old friends from Vermont Yankee, but I am sure happier in this town!”

Older people will probably have a more difficult time. I don’t want to downplay this. Some of the problem is external. In my opinion, there is prejudice against older workers, no matter what the hiring agencies say. Some of the problem is internal. Older people may see the loss of a job and community as a betrayal of their life-long work and plans. They may be less interested in starting again or going somewhere new and exciting. For an older person, a loss is frequently not just a “bump in the road.”

Still, there are options.

One option would be to spend less time working, but stay in the nuclear industry. Perhaps outage work or temp work, while continuing to live in the same house? I don’t have the answers. I just think that with the nuclear workforce tilting older, outage work and temp work should be available to older workers, as full-time workers retire.

Non-nuclear workers will undoubtedly make very individual decisions, depending on their age, whether they have family connections to the area, etc.

Let’s face it—go or stay, the Vermont Yankee plant closing is not a good thing. Everybody will have to make changes in their lives. Change is hard. Sometimes change is for the better. Sometimes it isn’t. Everyone at that plant is smart and resilient, no matter what his or her age, and I think that the future will work out well for all of them.

Despair is not reasonable

Fran Gerard, local Vermont Yankee supporter

Fran Gerard, local Vermont Yankee supporter

It is reasonable to be angry at mean-spirited people in Vermont and neighboring states. It is reasonable to be angry at the state administration for its policy of harassing Vermont Yankee and attempting to close it. Now that the plant is closing, it is reasonable for the workers to have a certain level of fear of the future.

But the nuclear industry will survive (plants are being built all across the globe) and nuclear workers are resilient. Many Vermont Yankee people will leave the area, and some will stay. In my opinion, for both groups, despair is not reasonable.

The best future is a future in which you live well. Vermont is not the only place to live well. It’s not the only beautiful state in America, and it is not friendly to nuclear workers. Most people at Vermont Yankee can probably do better somewhere else.

______________________

Meredith-AngwinMeredith 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.

Vermont Yankee: The Art of the Deal

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe Art of the Deal is the title of a book by Donald Trump, and it certainly applies to a recent press conference in Vermont. The press conference, on December 23, 2013,   was about the eventual closing down of the Vermont Yankee power plant and was a big deal, a game changer, and a just-in-time Christmas present for many.

At the press conference, Peter Shumlin, who is the governor of Vermont, and Entergy Corporation announced an agreement for moving ahead on a final year of operation for Vermont Yankee and then its subsequent decommissioning (Entergy had last year announced the plant’s scheduled closure, mainly for economic reasons). The agreement also reached closure on some federal lawsuits regarding the plant. What caught most people by surprise, though, was the “arms linked harmony” display that was featured by the state and Entergy at the press conference, after years of acrimony during which the governor and plant opponents stated that Entergy couldn’t be trusted. The agreement was met with skepticism from the press, while the anti-nukes continue to say that they can’t believe anything that Entergy has to say.

The negotiators

At the December press conference were the governor and Vermont’s attorney general, the commissioner of the Public Service Department, the commissioner of the Department of Health, and the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. Representing Entergy and Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee were Mike Twomey and Jim Sinclair. Not explained at the press conference were the actual negotiations done to reach the agreement, but from the remarks of those making the announcement, they were all deeply involved with the agreement and of course concurred with it.

Everyone’s tone was cordial, deferential, and mutually supportive. This was a huge change from the years during which the governor and the state officials were castigating Entergy and Vermont Yankee. For example, the governor had formerly routinely referred to the company as “Entergy Louisiana” in an effort to portray that it was not “one of us Vermonters with our values.” However, he has more recently made it clear that he, along with the antis, were not criticizing the hard-working plant employees who were, and are, doing their jobs well.

What they said

The Settlement Agreement (13 pages, 33 items) identifies some remaining items still in disagreement, which will be moot if the planned Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for plant operation through 2014 is granted. However, most importantly, the agreement states that Entergy and the state find it in the public good for the plant to operate through the end of 2014, and that the state will support Entergy’s request for a CPG before the Public Service Board (PSB). The parties are committed in writing to working in good faith, and having a “transparent and constructive” process.

Major specifics are:

  • five federal suits or petitions from both sides will be dropped
  • a site restoration fund up to $60 million
  • an economic development fund of $10 million
  • payment of taxes and release of escrow
  • each party to be responsible for its own legal fees
  • the discharge permit process for the Connecticut River will continue
  • the state has the right of first refusal in buying the land
  • a site assessment study will be completed by the end of the year, to include:
    • evaluation of the immediate decommissioning option (DECON) as well as SAFSTOR
    • site restoration to “greenfield” after release by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    • steps for spent (used) fuel removal to dry storage and fuel pool closure
    • state review of the site assessment study before submission of the post shutdown decommissioning activities report to the NRC and inclusion of the state’s comments.

What the opponents are saying

The opponents continue on their chosen track. They continue to find fault with the agreement, accusing Entergy of acting in bad faith or being untruthful, cherry picking facts, and doing everything they can to give Vermont Yankee in particular and nuclear power in general a black eye. In other words, they run a no-holds-barred dirty political campaign.

Ray Shadis, now technical consultant to the anti-nuclear New England Coalition, complained that the agreement between the state and Entergy was a deal made by a few people behind closed doors (but actually there will be an extensive process of review in the form of the PSB).  Further, Shadis complained about the time and money that the coalition had invested in its process to immediately close Vermont Yankee.

But why? The coalition is getting what it wanted, which is to shut down the plant. The only remaining piece is for the state and Entergy to agree with each other before the PSB. This PSB process is not bypassed.

Shadis further complained that Entergy’s leading lawyer asked for a time extension last fall to present the agreement to the PSB, because he was involved in other cases. Shadis maintains that this was a stalling tactic, so that Entergy and the state would have more time to work out the agreement. But, how would Shadis know who was negotiating the deal, since he himself said that negotiations were conducted behind closed doors? Shadis wants to claim the victory of Vermont Yankee’s shutdown for himself, as he does for Maine Yankee’s shutdown.

Another anti-nuclear group, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, complains that the deal lets the plant off the hook since the updated discharge permit is still in process. The group wants the plant to use its cooling towers more and to stop “superheating the river.”

On January 14, the PSB held an interactive state-wide hearing. Many of “the usual suspects” showed up to vent their feelings. One commenter said that granting the CPG to Vermont Yankee would be like giving a drunk a driver’s license.

But state representative Tony Klein, chair of the state’s Natural Resources and Energy Committee and a leading opponent of the plant, said that the deal struck by the state and Entergy is a pretty good one.

What it means

When Entergy last August announced the plan to close the plant at the end of 2014, the state and the opponents got what they had been howling about for years. But suddenly the ground under the governor had shifted, because while he had reached the objective that he ran his election campaign on, he wouldn’t be able to claim that he did it. Also, decommissioning is under NRC jurisdiction, and so the state has no way of controlling it. SAFSTOR, which allows decommissioning to finish in 60 years, is in writing in the plant’s sale agreement (from when Entergy purchased the plant years ago), so Shumlin’s hands are tied in that area. There is a written agreement to restore the site to “greenfield” after the NRC regulates radiological decommissioning, but the term is not further defined.

Also, suddenly the governor is facing the situation that what Entergy had been saying about the adverse economic impact of plant closure might be true. Since the Vermont legislature’s own economic study confirmed the negative impact, an economic downturn for the region seems pretty probable.

Also, Entergy was involved in several lawsuits and petitions, as well as commitments to the state. Up until now, the state had been siding with the opponents in opposing the plant before the NRC and the PSB. This had made things hard for Entergy, since the first tactic that lawyers learn is delay. The interveners in NRC procedures have been doing this nationally to the point where the NRC had to adopt a rule stating that if a license renewal is applied for five years before expiration, yet the proceedings continue beyond that period, the plant may continue to operate while the licensing continues. Vermont Yankee applied for license renewal more than five years before expiration (and the Seabrook plant, in New Hampshire, has applied 20 years before!). If Vermont continued to side with the opponents, Entergy faced agonizing and costly delays for many more years. This prospect needed to be prevented, if possible.

It appears that both the state and Entergy needed a way out of the legal and regulatory tangle created with the “help” of the opponents. It also appears that the state and Entergy recognized the political and financial realities, and that they got together for their own mutual benefit. This qualifies as a very “artful deal.”

Where does this leave the opponents? Mostly out in the cold. With the state no longer on their side, they have little leverage. They know this, as can be seen from the increased anger of their rhetoric.

Where does this leave the PSB? With an easier task than before. The PSB had completed its hearings, testimony, and filings on the 20-year license renewal, and a decision was pending with no date set. The PSB faced the prospect of court appeals from the losing side. Now, with the state and Entergy together—and the operation time of nine months after the agreement’s date set for a CPG, and the federal appeals court having upheld Entergy on nuclear preemption, and the plant’s superior record—it will be hard to find something that will not be in the public good. It is expected that the PSB will complete the hearings to give the opponents their “day in court,” and perhaps impose a few administrative conditions, and then approve the CPG.

The opponents can be expected to continue to fight to the end, and to try to make it even more bitter.

vermont yankee c 405x201

________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

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

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

Vermont Yankee: Now What Are Opponents Doing?

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe shutdown of Vermont Yankee at the end of its current fuel cycle next fall has been announced. Now that opponents have been handed what they were working for, it might be expected that they would declare victory and go on to something else. This isn’t happening. It would be normal for the state and local governments to be concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown, and begin to plan for it. But what are the “anti-nukes” doing? You might be surprised, if you didn’t understand their real motive.

Generating political cover

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

Governor Shumlin

Right after the announcement of the shutdown scheduled for next fall, Vermont’s governor (Peter Shumlin), who had been criticizing plant owner Entergy for years and saying that the plant should be shut down, reached out to Entergy. In 2011 Shumlin said “no one ever told me about SAFSTOR,” and that it had not been mentioned in any hearings. We didn’t hear that this year, since SAFSTOR clearly was discussed previously by the governor (for more on SAFSTOR and Vermont Yankee see this post at Yes Vermont Yankee). If the governor wanted to argue that only what is said or not said in the legislature is what counts, he would be agreeing with the federal court that found “legislative intent” in overturning state laws regarding Vermont Yankee. The governor and Vermont’s Department of Public Service have held a series of closed door meetings with Entergy to discuss decommissioning. There is talk of asking the state’s Public Service Board, which has still to issue a Certificate of Public Good to the plant for another year of continued operation, to include decommissioning provisions in the certificate.

What can the state and Entergy talk about? They can’t change the facts of physics. The last fuel to operate in the reactor must stay in water cooling for five years until it is ready for air cooling. This governs what can happen. There is no equipment for transferring used fuel out of the plant before five years. Then there is the issue of returning the site to a “greenfield” condition. Some in the public are saying this ought to mean that every last scrap of foundations and base mats must be dug up and removed, that the site must be returned to the way it was before the plant was built, no matter what the future use might be. There has been some public mention of future uses, but nothing from the state.

These talks are really about political cover. Now that opponents and the governor are going to get what they wanted, they are suddenly waking up to the fact that there will be a big economic loss to the plant’s region, and to the state. In addition, they now find that the plant and the used fuel cannot disappear instantly, as if by using a magic wand. This desire is emotionally based, as is much of what drives many of the opponents. The political cover is to play to that emotion. The governor faces an election in the fall, just when the plant will be shutting down. If the anti-nukes are mad at him for not making the plant go away rapidly, they might turn against him by staying away from the polls. The anti-nuclear vote is 14 percent of his support, and without them he would not have been elected the first time.

Continuing the fear campaign

At the same time, anti-nukes are not giving up spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) about nuclear power. Their target now is decommissioning. They apparently want to do what they did in the other decommissionings in New England—to stick their noses in the process to try to make it as costly and painful as possible for the owners. This will help in their objective of giving all of nuclear power a black eye, to further discredit it with the public.

dr resnikoff c 150x130Opponents are continuing in the tactics that they have been using. There are press releases, letter writings, and public presentations. Dr. Resnikoff of the New England Coalition is a presenter at some of these events. At the coalition’s annual meeting (report here) he revealed his tactic, which is to show how much radioactivity there is in the plant. He never says why or how it is dangerous. The unspoken assumption is that it is can easily harm YOU.

The opponent groups also are discussing and proposing various decommissioning options. Perhaps these discussions will open their eyes to the fact that the options are limited to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulations. One of their cards is the “greenfield” issue. The written agreement with the state when the plant was built included the promise to grade and reseed the plant site, if necessary. There has not yet been any mention of possible uses of the parts of the site, such as roads, parking lots, fences, office buildings, and security system that would be valuable for many uses. In addition, a rail line is within a few hundred yards, and there is a major grid switchyard adjacent. Originally built with and for the plant, the switchyard is now independently owned.

What lies ahead

It will be interesting to see what the next year will bring. Lurking in the background is the Certificate of Public Good, yet to be issued. If the plant is denied the certificate it would have to shut down immediately—or go to court.  Also, Vermont’s attorney general received an extension to January of a deadline to file an appeal of the recent appellate court decision to the US Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court were to overturn the circuit court’s decision invalidating the Vermont legislature’s blocking of the Certificate of Public Good, then the certificate would be blocked and the plant would have to shut down immediately. Then there is the issue of sharing “excess revenue” per the sales agreement. If the price of natural gas remains high enough, long enough (and it is spiking now), Vermont Yankee would owe the state money.

vermont yankee c 405x201

____________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

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

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

Millions for education, but not one cent for tribute

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontSince Entergy announced that it would close Vermont Yankee, I have been thinking about advice for nuclear plants going forward.  I mean, they haven’t asked me for my advice, but what the heck.  I have lots of opinions, and 20-20 hindsight.

Nothing for outreach

Let’s look at Entergy and Vermont Yankee.  I was not living in Vermont in 2002 when Entergy bought Vermont Yankee; I moved here two years later.  I understand, however, that shortly after the purchase, Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee visitor center.  It was certainly closed by the time I arrived in Vermont.  Penny-wise and pound-foolish!  (Yes, I have opinions.)

Tribute begins: Power uprate

Meanwhile, Entergy wanted approval from Vermont’s Public Service Board for a power uprate, and the approval was ultimately granted.

Part of Entergy’s deal for the power uprate was that Entergy would contribute $7 million for the cleanup of Lake Champlain.  Lake Champlain is located in northwest Vermont.  Vermont Yankee is located on the Connecticut River at the very southeast tip of Vermont.  Lake Champlain is on the other side of the Green Mountains from Vermont Yankee, in a totally different watershed.  In other words, it is hard to imagine any place less affected by Vermont Yankee than Lake Champlain.  But, Entergy closed the visitor center at the plant, and they made a deal to clean up Lake Champlain in order to get the power uprate.

In other words, outreach ended and the tribute payments began.

(Note:  The legislature attempted to override the Public Service Board on this, but apparently the legislative bill passed only the Vermont house, and not the senate.)

This lake really doesn't have much to do with Vermont Yankee

This lake really doesn’t have much to do with Vermont Yankee

Once the Public Service Board (with guidance from those who want to make nuclear power too expensive to operate) got its first tribute payment, it was hooked on getting more money from Entergy.  If it could get Entergy to fund Lake Champlain, truly the sky was the limit for pet projects!

As Kipling said about the foolish practice of attempting to pay off Viking raiders: “Once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane.”

Once you pay the DaneGeld...

Once you pay the Dane-geld…

Tribute continues: Dry casks

Entergy needed a pad for dry casks.  Now, I don’t even know why this would come before the Public Service Board, but it did.  Dry casks are clearly a nuclear safety issue and are regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  However, the original Memorandum of Understanding (under which Entergy purchased the plant) did not include a reference to dry cask storage.  So the game was afoot!  In my opinion, the Board was now addicted to getting money from Entergy.

In return for dry casks, Entergy had to set up and fund the Clean Energy Development Fund.  This fund pays for wind turbines and solar installations. Funding levels varied for this fund, but were always several million dollars a year.

As a matter of fact, with Vermont Yankee not going forward after 2014, the Clean Energy Fund is also ending.  This is having an impact.  An important pro-wind advocate recently said that he expects no new wind farms will be built in Vermont for many years.  (For me, this is a bit of a silver lining in the dark cloud of Vermont Yankee’s closing, but that is another story.)

Safety diesels, the possible attempt that failed

Recently, Entergy needed new safety diesels installed.  The Public Service Board held off on ruling about this installation until it found itself being sued by Entergy in federal court.  Once the federal case opened, the Board finally issued a snarky ruling allowing the diesels.

The Public Service Board caused a lot of excitement, last-minute rulings, and public grandstanding about the emergency diesels.  Under other circumstances, this could have become another attempt at extracting Dane-geld.  Entergy, however, had been winning in court over the regulation of nuclear safety.  So the Public Service Board was stuck.  It had to back off.

Tax it all!

Meanwhile, the attempts at extracting money continue:

Seven hundred thousand dollars to the Red Cross for possible emergency evacuation shelters.

Massive increase in “generation” taxes, partially to make up for the Clean Energy Development Fund being funded only until 2012.

Tax the fuel rods to make up for the ending of the Clean Energy Development Fund.

Outreach is key

My conclusions are simple.  Don’t bribe legislatures and public service boards, because the bribes will get bigger and ultimately unendurable.  Spend money for outreach instead.

What kind of outreach?  Here are some ideas:

Keep the visitor center open.

Have training days for teachers, essay contests for students, etc. CNTA (Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness) has a terrific program.

Give plant tours (yeah, it IS a pain in the butt after 9/11) to grammar school and high school teachers, maybe even to students.

Instead of insisting that employees who want to talk about the plant at schools and Rotary clubs do it on their own time, set up a plan whereby an employee can have three work-days a year for such activities, after showing the managers where and when she will be talking.

I have more ideas, but I won’t share them for fear of being seen as self-serving about my own outreach efforts and how they could have been supported.  However, the more outreach the plant does, the more the outreach will grow—and the more supporters the plant will have.

My opinion:  Nuclear plants should spend hundreds of thousands (no, it won’t be millions) in outreach, and not one cent for tribute.

Not about Entergy

I have now whipped Entergy up one side and down the other, and I need to say a little more.  This isn’t really about Entergy.

I don’t blame Entergy for what it did and the compromises it made.  Entergy was faced with a group of dedicated opponents, and it made the best deals it could, in order to keep the plant online.  It kept the plant operating, kept the clean energy coming, and kept the jobs for the workers.  I am grateful for what it did and very sympathetic with the difficulties that it faced.

As I said, this isn’t about Entergy.

Instead, it is about the future.  It’s about my opinions.  It’s about what to do in the future when a nuclear plant is faced with a shakedown.  Don’t hand over the money to your enemies—give that money to your lawyers.  Sue!

But this isn’t really about lawsuits, either.

Not just lawsuits

Lawsuits may be necessary to avoid paying Dane-geld, but they don’t help with public opinion.  I started this blog post with a statement that the visitor’s center should have been kept open.  I didn’t start with a list of Public Service Board rulings.  That was deliberate.  First things first!

Outreach is key.

I think that Entergy in Vermont did not have much of a choice.  But going forward, other plants will have choices.  I think funding outreach and education is the most important choice.  Outreach is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.

My advice on Going Forward for Nuclear Energy:

Hundreds of thousands for outreach, but not one cent for tribute.

_____________________

Meredith-AngwinMeredith 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

We are not Spock: Emotion and Nuclear Power

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontWhen Leonard Nimoy wrote his first autobiography, it was titled I Am Not Spock. Nimoy had mixed feelings about the title, but it did entice people to read the book.

Spock wikimedia 141x200Who would want to be Spock, after all? Though Spock is half-human, his character is usually portrayed as close to a computing machine. Spock will not let emotions rule his actions. Spock makes his choices through the use of logic.

When arguing in favor of nuclear power and especially Vermont Yankee, I sometimes felt I was channeling Spock. The opponents appealed to emotion – “I am so afraid.” I appealed to facts and common sense. Sometimes I wanted to scream: “Nuclear energy is the ONLY way to keep our civilization without destroying our world!” I never screamed it.

In retrospect, I was Spock.

The plant closes

When Entergy announced that it would close Vermont Yankee, my inner Spock continued.  The opponents celebrated all over the place. They chanted: “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”  They threw parties.  They wrote op-eds: “On Joy and Justice.”  And so forth.

And what about me?  In my blog, I wrote a careful analysis of the causes of the shutdown: “Questions I Frequently Ask Myself about Vermont Yankee’s Shutdown.”  I tried to understand Entergy’s decision and its implications for other nuclear plants.  (Jim Hopf  referenced my post in his excellent post at ANS nuclear cafe.)

I think I was still Spock.

Not Spock

It’s been about a month since the announcement and my attitudes have changed.

I am not Spock. I am sad.  I am sad and I cannot rationalize my way out of that feeling.  Everything is not for the best, and this is not the best of all possible worlds.

I am sad and I feel quite powerless.  No matter what I do, the plant will close.  No matter what I do, the people I know at the plant will be dispersed to other jobs.

There has been only one solid human-interest article about the plant closing: Vermont Yankee family faces uncertain future.  When the plant closes, Vermont Yankee employee John Twarog will be laid off.  John expects he will have to leave the area, and his teenage sons will have to complete their high school education in a new town. To me, this was the only article that is real because it was focused on what is actually happening.  Also, I admit…. I know the Twarogs.

Evan Twarog testifying at Vermont Public Service Board hearing last fall.  Mother in line behind him

Evan Twarog testifies at Vermont Public Service Board hearing last fall. Cheryl, his mother, is in line behind him.

Of course, lawsuits and opponent meetings and so forth continue, despite the announcement. Howard Shaffer wrote a fine blog post about the current anti-nuclear activism in this area: Our Challenge Continues.  Opponents will attempt to raise the cost of decommissioning in the hopes of giving nuclear energy a black eye.

I don’t want nuclear energy to get a black eye, but once the plant is closed and the teams of contractors appear to dismantle it….the decommissioning issues of “how expensive” and “how long” just aren’t that interesting to me.  I am interested in operating plants, not cost-savings on decommissioning.

Rallying for Vermont Yankee on the streets of Brattleboro

Rallying for Vermont Yankee on the streets of Brattleboro

Rallying for Vermont Yankee on the streets of Brattleboro

Rallying for Vermont Yankee on the streets of Brattleboro

I am not Spock, and my main emotion right now is sorrow.

Advice to myself

My current advice to myself is to stop pretending to be Spock. I find it hard to know how to move forward, which is itself a typical emotion related to the bigger emotion of sorrow.  I am full of self-doubts.  (I know a lot about nuclear energy, why did I decide to concentrate on one power plant?  Wasn’t “Yes Vermont Yankee” a silly name for a blog?).  This is also typical of sorrow.

Entergy closed the plant for economic reasons, not because the opponents won their case in court or in the legislature. But still – the bottom line is that my side lost.  We lost.  The people who wanted the plant to close have something to celebrate.  The people who wanted the plant to stay open have something to mourn.

Rallying for Vermont Yankee near the gate to the plant

Rallying for Vermont Yankee near the gate to the plant

I guess my only advice to myself is to allow myself to acknowledge this sadness. I know that, given time, a way forward will present itself. In the mean time, I plan to continue my blog.

Why will I keep blogging?  Because some people look to my blog as a bit of “their voice.”  These people include employees at Vermont Yankee. I don’t want to abandon my readers.  Also, in the course of blogging, I have learned a fair amount about energy choices in New England.  I want to write about that, too.

Blogging at Yes Vermont Yankee may not be a logical use of my time, but I am still going to do it.

I am not Spock.

Pin supporting Vermont Yankee, designed by Cheryl Twarog

Pin supporting Vermont Yankee, designed by Cheryl Twarog

End Note: My blog post Challenging Those Who Celebrate Vermont Yankee’s Closing includes a link to Jack Gamble’s eloquent letter in favor of nuclear power Count Me Out of the Party as well as links to some of the nastiest “Joy and Justice” type op-eds.

_________________________

Meredith-AngwinMeredith 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.

The Challenge Continues

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe fall in New England brings crispness to the air, beautiful mountainsides covered with leaves turning color, and a spur to activity before the coming winter. The nuclear debate continues to be spurred on as well.

vermont covered bridge 250x164Some recent events and announcements: A local panel considered the situation with the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant (scheduled to enter decommissioning in 2015), an opponents group held its annual meeting, a national anti-proliferation figure came to New Hampshire, and a California opponents group announced big-name anti-nuclear panels in New York and Boston.

Local leaders consider the future

The Commons, a popular local news site for Windham County (in which the Vermont Yankee plant is located), sponsored a panel in Brattleboro, Vt., to consider the future, in light of Vermont Yankee’s scheduled decommissioning. Local leaders considered the economic effects. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear voices wanted to discuss technical plant issues—whether to SAFSTOR the site or not. The anti-nuclear approach still seems to be focused on making life as expensive as possible for nuclear power, to give the industry a “black eye” when possible, and to try to put it out of business. The proceedings of this panel are reported in Yes Vermont Yankee, including interesting comments on the effect of the plant’s closing on the community.

Opponents’ meeting

new england coalition 42nd annual meeting flyer 120x160The New England Coalition, formerly the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, held its 42nd Annual Meeting in Brattleboro on September 28. The coalition said that it is strapped financially and is a quarter million dollars in debt, but will continue with its “mission.” In addition to the business portion of the meeting, there were three speakers—to tell the attendees an anti-nuclear message that they wanted to hear.

A former Millstone plant employee-turned-anti-nuclear-consultant, Paul Blanch, touted his just released paper on Safety Culture.

Marvin Resnikoff spoke on decommissioning and, as usual, emphasized the long half-lives of isotopes, rather than how long the materials that contain the isotopes will be a hazard. He continued to try to make the safety of the spent fuel pool an issue.

An attorney for the group said that the group will continue to litigate multiple actions aimed at hurting Entergy (Vermont Yankee’s owner) economically. He noted that the Vermont Yankee federal preemption case will be used in the case of the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York state, to allow operation with an extended Nuclear Regulatory Commission license regardless of any state requirements. He must have said this to spur donations—or perhaps he is unaware of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant case, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that the NRC must ensure that other requirements besides its own are addressed.

For those interested, a more complete summary of the meeting is here.

Proliferation expert in the Upper Valley

On October 6, an anti-proliferation professor spoke on “The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power” at the Eastman Center in Grantham, N.H. Grantham is a planned community, originally for retirees, south of Dartmouth College in the “Upper Valley” of Vermont and New Hampshire—definitely in the Vermont Yankee area of interest. The speaker, Professor Frank von Hippel from Princeton University, is opposed to nuclear power in its present form and has been actively campaigning against current reactor designs for years. Professor Bob Hargraves, author of Thorium: Energy Cheaper than Coal, and I attended, along with other pro-nuclear advocates.

Panel of anti-nuclear “experts” in Boston

Coming to New York on October 8 and to Boston on October 9, a panel consisting of former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in office at the time of the Fukushima accident; Gregory Jaczko, former NRC chair; Peter Bradford, former NRC member; Arnie Gunderson of Fairewinds Associates; and political activist Ralph Nader (in New York only), will appear to discuss lessons from Fukushima-Daiichi.

The panel is being organized by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation in California, and is touted as the “World’s Best Nuclear Experts” by San Clemente Green, a local California sustainability group. San Clemente Green’s promotional email is reproduced here for those interested in monitoring, and refuting, the panel’s anti-nuclear message.

Nuclear power supporters will, fortunately, be in attendance as well.

Keep up the good effort!

The New England Coalition’s plans as told to members at its meeting, the local appearance of the anti-proliferation professor, the big-name panel in New York and Boston—all prove one thing. The anti-nukes have been encouraged by the announced decommissioning of five plants in the United States this year. They have redoubled their efforts, and this new challenge must be faced.

Thus, the challenge for nuclear advocates continues. Pro-nuclear must win in the public political arena, in the battle of ideas. Keep in mind former Senator Simpson’s rule:  “A charge unanswered,  is a charge believed.

vermont covered bridge

__________________________________

Shaffer

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

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

Vermont Yankee closure announced – There is work yet to be done

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontOn August 27, Entergy announced that it plans to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in the fall of 2014, when the plant’s current fuel is depleted. Entergy plans to decommission the plant using the SAFSTOR option, which consists of defueling, mothballing the plant for a period, then dismantling it by the end of 60 years. Entergy said that it is closing the plant because it is no longer projected to make money, considering the estimated future natural gas prices. Electric power generated by gas is now over 50 percent of the ISO-New England grid.

vermont yankee eveningThe announcement came as a surprise to all of us nuclear advocates here “on the ground” in Vermont, although the economy of the plant had been a topic of discussion by financial analysts in the media. For all of us who have worked so hard in support of the plant, and nuclear power, the plant’s announced closing brings a great sadness. We have done our part, and done the best we could, to promote the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. We succeeded through the plant’s relicensing and the federal court cases. On August 13, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals announced its verdict in favor of the plant. The court found that the state of Vermont had tried to regulate radiological safety, which is by law exclusively the domain of the federal government. Nonetheless, the arrival of shale gas has lowered the price of electric power to the point that Vermont Yankee’s break-even price is undercut.

What are we supporters to do now? Do we curse fate and Entergy management for not hanging on? Do we shed tears, lick our wounds, and slink off into the night? NO! Our advocacy goes on. The underlying issues remain the same. The world-wide antinuclear movement seeks any opportunity to discredit nuclear power, in any way it can—by delaying legal proceedings, protesting in order to run up costs, and every other possible tactic to serve their purpose. Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning is yet another opportunity for the antinuclear movement. Historically, it has inserted itself into other decommissionings in New England.

peter shumlin c 120x148

Governor Shumlin of Vermont

The state of Vermont, through the governor and others, have announced that it will oppose the SAFSTOR option, and advocate for finishing the decommissioning as soon as possible. This is not a surprise. Vermont Yankee received a 20-year license renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2011. During the relicensing discussions, decommissioning was examined. The opponents said that they want everything about the plant gone as soon as possible. They are demanding a “greenfield” process where the site is returned to its condition prior to the plant’s construction, and is available for unlimited use. Their definition of “greenfield” includes excavating, no matter how deep, to remove all traces of even the non-radioactive foundations. The governor tipped his hand two years ago, as reported in this Yes Vermont Yankee post.

protestors 195x130Once in a while, when trying to prove a point, the proof drops into your lap. On September 4, an op-ed by one of the Vermont Yankee opponents was published. It clearly says that the SAFSTOR proposal is a “line in the asphalt.” All of us who believe in nuclear power need to read, and understand, what this letter means.

There is much work to be done here and elsewhere in continuing to tell the truth and opposing the spread of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt at the grassroots level.

A decommissioning plan is not due to the NRC until two years after the plant’s shutdown. Then, the discussion begins. That could be the end of 2015 or 2016.

Stay tuned!

____________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

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

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

Power Play: People, Politics, Electricity, Nuclear

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontEnergy-related events in Vermont continue to be a jumble of citizen activism, political maneuvering, changes to the electric power system, and an overall focus on nuclear power.

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant continues to run well. Among recent developments, plant owner Entergy is reorganizing personnel and is slightly reducing staff systemwide—Vermont Yankee will lose 30 positions by the end of the year, some through retirement. False alarms from refueling floor radiation monitors led to detector replacements. A lawsuit over extra power costs due to cooling tower outages years ago was settled.

Citizen activism

The “usual suspects” have, of course, weighed in on the staff reduction at Vermont Yankee. The New England Coalition and Vermont Public Interest Research Group have asked the Vermont Public Service Board, which is considering Vermont Yankee’s application for a new Certificate of Public Good needed to continue operation of the plant, to consider the layoffs as a pertinent factor in terms of reliability and economic impact. This, in spite of the fact that the financial capability of a nuclear power plant to operate safely is a matter of the original plant application and continuing license, and that a federal court has ruled that the state of Vermont has intruded on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over nuclear safety. It will be interesting to see if the board takes up this issue, especially since the positions to be eliminated have not been announced.

The SAGE Alliance, for the second consecutive year, is sponsoring a flotilla to travel down the Connecticut River to the Vermont Yankee plant. The event is purportedly to publicize concerns about river warming by the plant. However, that issue is already undergoing a thorough investigation by regulatory agencies. A final decision on a new water discharge permit will come after consideration of the latest science by outside experts working for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

On August 6, the 68th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, a small group of repeat protesters once again blocked the Vermont Yankee plant gates, delaying second shift personnel from entering. The protestors were arrested again. The only press coverage was through the group’s press release—in the Park Forrest, IL news (per Google search).

our children climate faith symposium 201x208Two climate change events have been organized for mid-month. One of them, Our Children, Climate, Faith Symposium will feature speakers from many religious faiths, and is sponsored by the United Church of Strafford. The event is organized by Jeff Wolfe, a member of that church, and the founder of groSolar, a solar installation company.

The second event, The Rendezvous: Truth, Justice, Culture, Energy, will look at “the thorny, ineffective, policy mess that currently passes for a response to climate change at the state and federal level.” It is a “meet-up” sponsored by Mountain Occupiers, a group of conservationists and renewable energy advocates. The event will take place on the family farm of one of the lead organizers.

Political maneuvering

The 63-MW Lowell Mountain wind farm, recently completed, is not always able to send all of its power to the grid. The problem is described by the grid operator, ISO New England, as “inadequate infrastructure.” A $10-million synchronous condenser is under construction.

lowell turbines 206x201That a major generating project could go into service without adequate transmission seems rather strange, to say the least. What happened and why has not yet been ferreted out. During a recent heat wave affecting Vermont and much of the country, Lowell Mountain’s output could not be entirely accepted because of these transmission problems. Thus a slanted word was applied—“curtailed”—as Meredith Angwin discusses at Yes Vermont Yankee. Meredith says “not dispatched” is a more apt description—and perhaps it should be “unable to be dispatched.” Vermont’s Governor Shumlin sent a letter to ISO New England complaining about the failure to use all available renewable energy during a time of peak demand.

Vermont Yankee recently had some false alarms from the area radiation detectors on the refueling floor. Operators followed procedures, then immediately checked to see if plant conditions revealed the source of the alarms. Everything was normal, so a technician with a portable instrument verified that all was safe. The instruments were replaced, and the manufacturer indicated that there had been problems with these instruments. The state Department of Public Service has sent a letter to the NRC requesting detailed information on the event.

Electric power

In addition to the transmission connection problems with the Lowell Mountain wind farm, the Vermont Public Service Board will investigate alleged violations of noise restrictions in considering that project’s Certificate of Public Good.

There is also an ongoing discussion of the state’s Energy Plan, including how much electric power will be needed in the future. The goal is 90 percent renewable sources for all energy used by 2050. “All” includes transportation and building heating as well. With current and foreseeable technologies, this means most personal transportation will need to be electric. This factor alone implies roughly tripling the state’s electric power use. A concurrent goal is for these energy sources to be in-state.

The state has programs to encourage renewable energy projects of all kinds. The state’s comprehensive energy plan at first allowed only small hydro-electric projects, but when this seemed problematic for the schedule, the legislature allowed prospective and existing large projects to be included—however, the fact that Hydro-Quebec is not exactly in-state does not seem to be an immediate concern.

Nuclear power

Some years ago the Vermont legislature created the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP). It is chaired by the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, with members from state agencies, the legislature, and the public. The panel meets periodically on an apparently random schedule. I’ve never heard or read of it making any recommendations to the legislature. Instead, it seems to serve as a vehicle for members of the public to vent against Vermont Yankee. The panel met on July 17 and heard an hour-long, fact-filled presentation from Entergy engineer Bernard Buteau. The lessons learned from the Fukushima accident and the actions the plant has taken and will take were presented, followed by a grilling of questions by the panel members.

In the recently completed legislative session, a bill was passed to expand the number of people the Red Cross would shelter for an extended period of time due to an evacuation caused by Vermont Yankee. The cost, of course, gets passed to the plant.

The plant itself is operating at full capacity and is legally in a holding pattern. Entergy sued the state over the legislature’s preventing the Public Service Board from releasing its findings on a new Certificate of Public Good for the plant. This was a de facto shutdown move, and the plant won in federal district court. This decision was appealed to the circuit court of appeals, and heard in January. A decision is awaited. Meanwhile, the Public Service Board started all over on the Certificate of Public Good, and has concluded the hearings. Final briefs are due soon and the board’s schedule calls for completion of its work this fall.

The future

What will the Public Service Board do when they have reached a decision on the Certificate of Public Good—but before the federal court decision is final? An existing act of the legislature blocks them from releasing the board’s findings. That act is in the courts. When the courts finish—what happens? If the act is struck down, then the Certificate of Public Good findings would be released. If the decision were to not issue a Certificate of Public Good, thus calling for a shut down, it is my opinion that Entergy would sue in state court, at least.

Meanwhile, the power play of this jumble of forces—very much like a “tug of war”—will continue for many years. Climate change will continue to be an issue, as will energy and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

vermont yankee c 405x201

__________________________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

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 former member of the ANS Public Information Committee and consults in nuclear public outreach. He is coordinator for the Vermont Grassroots Project. Shaffer holds a BSEE from Duke University and an MSNE from MIT. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Prisoner’s Dilemma and New Types of Nuclear Reactors

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermontPrisoner’s Dilemma is a famous example of game theory. You can look at this example in quite a few ways. I especially think of this game when I am thinking about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) and advanced and non-traditional reactor development.

But before I begin looking at LFTRs, let’s see the classic example of the game.

Prisoner’s Dilemma, summarized

cartoon prisoner 90x153Two men are arrested. They are held separately and cannot communicate with each other. Prisoner A is told that if he gives evidence against Prisoner B, while Prisoner B does not give evidence against Prisoner A, Prisoner A will go scot-free and Prisoner B will spend three years in prison (and vice-versa). If A gives evidence against B, but B also gives evidence against A, they will both spend two years in prison. If neither A nor B gives evidence against the other, they will both spend only one year in prison.

In other words: If you give evidence against the other guy, you get a good deal, unless the other guy gives evidence against you.

The best deal overall is for nobody to give evidence against the other person: this leads to 1 year in prison for both people. However, this decision puts the individual in a difficult position. He fears that if he does not give evidence, but the other person does, then he will get three years in prison for having kept silent. The best outcome is for both people NOT to give evidence, but the most probable outcome is that most people WILL give evidence.

The most probable outcome is two years in prison for both.

Viewpoints on the game

This game can be looked at as simple strategy: Here are the rules, and therefore these results will be the consequences of those rules.

The game can also be looked at as a moral issue: Taking the high road (not attacking the other guy) leads to the best overall outcome.

Or a community issue: How can you persuade people to do what is best for the group, instead of what is best for themselves (and not-best for the group)?

Or a truth and falsehood issue: As a friend pointed out to me recently, the people judging the prisoners sound like very crooked people. There is nothing in this game to say that the evidence given is true or false, or that the prisoners are guilty or not guilty. If one person “gives evidence,” it convicts the other person. End of story.

xkcd valentine dilemma 132x140Or a communications issue: If the two prisoners could talk to each other, they could mutually decide to not-attack the other and get the best overall outcome. Most versions of Prisoners Dilemma make it clear that if the players are able to talk to each other, it is fundamentally not the same game.

Okay. Let’s get back to communicating about nuclear energy.

LFTRs and the Dilemma

I am happy to know several proponents of LFTR development. Chief among these people is Dr. Robert Hargraves, who wrote the book THORIUM, Energy Cheaper Than Coal, and has spoken on the subject worldwide.

cover thorium energy cheaper than coal 100x149I am also a strong proponent of LFTR development. I presented LFTRs years ago in a poster session at a high temperature chemistry Gordon Conference.

Hargraves finds it straightforward to be in favor of continued operation of currently operating LWR like the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant AND in favor of rapid development of LFTRs. I feel the same.

With the people I know, there is no dilemma, because there is no real contradiction between two goals:

  1. Keeping current reactors contributing to our electricity supply.
  2. Designing new types of reactors for the future.

But there is a dilemma

Not everyone is mellow all the time.

The people who want to see new types of reactors funded sometimes attack current reactors vigorously: You NEED our reactors for safety and non-proliferation!

People who work on current reactors sometimes attack new types of reactors as impractical: Your idea is just one step beyond a PAPER REACTOR and will be full of new problems when you scale it up!

To some extent, we are having the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma outcome: Both sides are attacking. The attacks lead to a worse result for everyone.

Communication as the answer

Supposedly, the fact that both sides can communicate with each other should change the game. The game shouldn’t even be Prisoner’s Dilemma anymore. We can learn by communicating.

For example, attacks on current reactors will translate easily into attacks on new types of reactors. Therefore, supporters of new types of reactors should not join the nuclear opponent attacks on operating reactors.

Similarly, no one should dismiss other reactor designs so vigorously that the implication becomes that operating reactors are the best reactors that could ever be designed or built. Engineering advances have improved cars, houses, television sets, and computers. Engineering advances will improve reactors.

In other words, both sides will win if we promote nuclear power as a whole.

Yet, like the prisoners who can’t communicate, we are afraid of the downside. We fear that new reactor types won’t get funding, or we are afraid that existing reactors will be shut down. Sometimes we can’t see that attacks on the “other” nuclear technology hurt the whole community of nuclear supporters.

But there is a way to win. The way to “beat” Prisoners Dilemma, the acknowledged way to change the game, is to communicate.

Let’s start communicating.

____________________________

Endnote: I wrote about communication, but I think that the other issues I listed (moral, community, truth and falsehood) also come into play. I welcome your comments. Is the nuclear industry playing “Prisoners Dilemma”? And if we are playing, how do we stop?

I also recommend Rod Adams’ post Open letter to advocates of Generation IV reactors (IFR, LFTR, NGNP, PBHTR) in which he reminds us that the real battle is “fission versus fire”, not “types of fission.” The post also has a lengthy and very interesting comment stream.

____________________________

Angwin

Angwin

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.

Getting inside the legislative process

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe legislative process, at all levels in the United States, is how public policy is created and implemented. These policies affect everyone’s life, like it or not. For those concerned about critical issues, and anxious to affect the outcomes, getting inside this process is vital.

Recently, an opportunity arose for me to get inside the process at the state level. How it came about should be helpful to those who want to change policies.

The Vermont legislature and the Vermont Yankee Plant

vermont state house 268x201The Vermont legislature is solidly Democratic, pro-alternative-energy, and anti-nuclear. Nonetheless, my pro-nuclear professional associates and I have been attending hearings and have been meeting members for years. For example, the Ethan Allen Institute sponsored Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World, on a book tour in 2011 that included a lunch time presentation at the Vermont Capital. John McClaughry, vice president of the Institute, used his privilege as a former legislative member to get this presentation scheduled. (Gwyneth’s appearance was “for information”, not testimony before a concerned committee.)

Every week, we review the legislative committee schedules. This past spring we noted that Robert Alvarez, of the Institute for Policy Studies, was to speak to Vermont’s House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. From prior work on a contracted review of his report on the Bush administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership plan, I knew Alvarez to be rabidly anti-nuclear. One of his favorite scare tactics is the old “how much radioactive material there is” tactic (stating that a process will contain “x” curies, but never saying why or if this would be a problem, how it might escape, what the effect on people and the environment might be, etc.).

Anti-nuclear testimony

Rep. Mike Hebert (R)

Rep. Mike Hebert (R)

Meredith Angwin and I decided to attend Alvarez’s testimony. That morning we met with the state representative for the town of Vernon, which is the Vermont Yankee plant’s location. Mike Hebert (R.) is a former U.S. Marine and plant supporter. Many of the plant’s employees live in Vernon, and it is doubtful that a plant opponent could be elected from that town.

.
The testimony was as expected; misinformation and scare tactics on used fuel storage. Of course, Alvarez introduced his remarks by saying that they were not about safety, so as not to run afoul of the federal court ruling that the legislature had violated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over reactor safety. At the end of the testimony, Rep. Hebert stated that there was someone present with rebuttal testimony (he meant me). The committee chair said that there was not time allotted for rebuttal that day, but rebuttal would be scheduled for the next week, when Arnie Gundersen was to appear.

Pro-nuclear testimony

The week break, and rescheduling due to the press of legislative business prior to adjournment, allowed for thorough review of Alvarez’s testimony and preparation of factual rebuttal. From the chairman’s statement, I assumed that I would be sharing an hour of allotted time between my statement and questions with Gundersen. As it turned out, my plan was fortunate. Those testifying on the radiation safety of wireless smart meters ran over their time, and when the chair passed a note to Rep. Hebert asking how much time I needed, I was able to accommodate the committee by saying only 30 minutes.

When the witnesses before me rose to leave, the chairman immediately called me. I passed out copies of my testimony package and began (Testimony below – entire package here). Members followed the written testimony as I read it, and I briefly added remarks.

The first questioner was the committee clerk (third in command). He thanked me for being brief and for having my testimony in language the members could understand, noting that some witnesses attempt to impress the members with technical terms.

The clerk then asked if Vermont Yankee’s used fuel would still be there in 300 years. My answer was, “No, it would not. It would be used in new reactors in the U.S., or sold to China or others.” Ninety percent of Vermont Yankee’s used fuel can be reused.

tritium exit sign 160x160There were other questions, and I had opportunity to hold up my tritium self-illuminated EXIT sign (which contains more tritium than was spilled in a widely-publicized pipe system leak at Vermont Yankee years ago—yet, the sign can be ordered through the U.S. mail).

After the meeting, Rep. Hebert said that he was pleased with my performance.

You can get inside the process

To get inside the process:

  • Study your local politics
  • Find a member who supports your viewpoint. Party doesn’t matter. You don’t have to agree on anything else.
  • Communicate with that member. Ask them to get you invited to testify. Even minority members have privileges. Majority members know that after the next election, they may be the minority.
  • Former members have some privileges too.

We, as citizens, all have the right and duty to participate in the process. If we don’t participate, we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t like the outcome.

Testimony

VERMONT  LEGISLATURE

House Natural Resources and Energy Committee
Storage of Used (Spent) Reactor Fuel at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station
Howard Shaffer, PE (nuclear)  VT, NH, MA

Thank you Chairman Klein and Committee Members for allowing me to come before you today. My purpose is to provide what I can from my experience on this important matter. My view is positive.

Virtually my entire career has been in nuclear power. My resume is attached.

BACKGROUND

Missing from the nuclear debate has been clarity about the overall design philosophy of US nuclear generating facilities. From the beginning, every aspect of the program—hardware, training, management, and regulation—has been designed, not on the belief that accidents MIGHT happen, but on the certainty that accidents WILL happen. Experience with human performance proves that there will be mistakes. If the benefits were to be enjoyed, then all possible means to, first, prevent accidents and, second, to deal with the consequences of accidents had to be developed and put in place.

A key part of the design process is asking “What if..?”  scenarios for all imaginable events that could happen. The design and licensing process continues and asks “How could this happen?” and “How long does this take to happen?” and “What are the odds that it will happen?” Fast-breaking events require controls that respond instantly and automatically, while longer-term events include actions by trained nuclear operators. For example, the design basis pipe break initiates a series of automatic programmed shutdown responses for the first 10 minutes. At that point, the nuclear operations team takes over the process. The operators are the first responders. At Fukushima, the operators worked diligently until the accident was under control. It took more than a day before there was any release, and the order to evacuate residents in the vicinity came hours before that.

USED (Spent) FUEL STORAGE

One-third of the nuclear fuel in the Vermont Yankee reactor is replaced every 18 months. The fuel that is removed from the reactor and stored on-site continues to be a valuable resource because only about 10 percent of the energy contained in the fuel has been used and 90 percent of that energy can be reclaimed through recycling and used to create more electricity.

The solid ceramic fuel pellets in the fuel bundles that have been removed from the reactor as spent fuel and stored in dry casks are air cooled by natural circulation through the cask. The pellets have been stored in water for more than five years and are generating very little heat. With the shielding in the 100-ton storage casks, the used fuel is very secure. Even if a cask was broken open and the pellets scattered on the ground, they would just lie there, continuing to be air cooled. Radiation dose to the offsite public would be insignificant.

Used fuel in the pool is also very secure. The reactor building and radioactive waste storage facilities are designed for the maximum design basis earthquake and 360 mph winds from a tornado, with 300 mph winds advancing at 60 mph. The fuel pool and the entire cooling system are in those buildings. The system is powered by two redundant emergency backup diesel generators when normal power is lost. There also are backup water supplies to the spent fuel storage pool. Post 9-11 and based on hypothetical spent pool fire studies, the fuel is stored in the pool in a checker-board pattern, with the fuel most recently removed from the reactor, which generates the most heat,  surrounded by older fuel (which has been cooling in the pool for up to 35 years) that will absorb heat.

There was an event this February at Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, a plant like Vermont Yankee. This event illustrates the design margin. During storm Nemo, all offsite power was lost for two days. The reactor scrammed and emergency backup diesels started automatically, as designed. The reactor was brought to cold shutdown by the Pilgrim reactor operations team in 10 hours, and fuel pool cooling, which can be suspended for a long time due to the large volume of water in the pool, was  restored after 21 hours!

UNDERSTANDING THE NUCLEAR DEBATE

I’ve struggled to understand how the debate over nuclear power got to be so politically polarized. Starting with the famous book “Soft Energy Paths,” the author wants to do away with nuclear weapons (don’t we all?) and he concludes that we must do away with all nuclear power generation—a source of 20 percent of the US electricity supply—in order to do this. This means finding and developing economically-viable technologies to replace the 24/7 base-load power generated by nuclear plants without massive increases in the use of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, it also has led in some quarters to doing as much as possible to discredit nuclear power. Some supporters of nuclear power call this spreading FUD – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

Using examples that increase fear of radiation is a common tactic. For example the warning that an element has a “half-life of millions of years” implies that it will be harmful or dangerous that long. The opposite is true. The longer the half-life, the more slowly the radiation is given off and the lower the dose each year.

Implying that radiation comes only from the generation of electricity with nuclear power and from nuclear weapons is also false. Radiation is natural. The uranium in the granite in this statehouse building was radioactive millions of years ago, and will be radioactive in millions more. This is a natural part of our environment, and we all get low doses of radiation continually.

The sun’s light, heat, and other radiation comes from nuclear reactions. We could even say the “Solar Power is Nuclear Power.”

Here is an example of a peaceful use of radioactive material. (Hold up EXIT sign.)

Thank you.

Vermont Yankee fuel pool and cooling system design features

  • Designed for the safety systems design basis earthquake.
  • Located in buildings designed for the design basis earthquake.
  • Buildings designed for 360 mph winds (tornado of 300 mph advancing at 60 mph).
  • Power can be supplied by the emergency diesels.
  • Two 100-percent-capacity cooling pumps, heat exchangers, and filter-demineralizers.
  • Cooling water to heat exchangers supplied by safety grade service water.
  • Backup water supplies to the pool.
  • Pool has a thick stainless steel liner.
  • Piping is arranged to prevent siphoning.
  • Pool has no drain line.
  • Pool liner set in thick reinforced concrete walls and floors.
  • Pool is in the middle of the building—not against any outside walls.
  • Outside walls around the pool are thick, reinforced concrete.
  • Massive steel girders support the reactor building roof, walls, and overhead crane rails.
  • These girders and the overhead crane will destroy penetrating aircraft.
  • Fuel storage racks have increased capacity for maximum amount of used fuel storage.

_____________________________

Shaffer

Shaffer

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

Philosophy, Shale Gas, and the ANS Annual Meeting

By Meredith Angwin

viewfromVermont

 

 

 

Philosophy

1) Show up
2) Pay attention
3) Tell the truth
4) Don’t be attached to the consequences

This sequence seems very relevant to my experience at the American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

Showing up at the ANS Annual Meeting

baggage claim 200x166I had a hard time showing up at the meeting, because my plane was six hours late in taking off! I was massively late to a committee meeting that I planned to attend. Even after I arrived, I had a hard time paying attention, because the airline also had misplaced my luggage. Not having my stuff distracted me.

I was off to a bad start, for sure. But at least I did show up and tried to pay attention.

Paying attention

A stark fact cast its shadow on the meeting. Since a year ago, four plants from the American nuclear fleet have gone off-line. Granted, four units are also under construction. However, owners have deliberately slowed the construction schedules of other units that were planned or were being refurbished. Some units have been cancelled.

The truth isn’t always friendly. But it’s the truth.

Telling the truth at the plenary session

plenary 200x150Top nuclear professionals and executives spoke at the opening plenary session that started the ANS meeting. The probable future price of natural gas was one of the major topics.

In the section that follows, I will attempt to summarize the talks given by key nuclear industry regulators and executives at the plenary session.*

Svinicki c 150x201The Honorable Kristine L Svinicki, Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner: We have to look at what happens in a flat economy. We may have to rethink our reasons for regulations. Regulations should be evidence-based and data driven.

SONGS follow-up: Andrea Jennetta, publisher of Fuel Cycle Week, asked Svinicki about the role of the NRC in the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).  Svinicki replied that the commissioners have asked the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) to vacate the ASLB order that required SONGS to get a license amendment. Svinicki could not comment more, because the matter is still active and being litigated by plant opponents.

roderick 150x200Daniel Roderick, president and chief executive officer of Westinghouse: Subsidies for wind and solar create “missing money” in the market. Shale gas was all dug at once, creating a gas glut, a gas bubble. The current low gas prices are not sustainable. We should also be rethinking nuclear plant life extension: Coal plants have operated for 100 years. Annealing-in-place of the pressure vessel could extend life.

Great quote: “We (the nuclear industry) are 200,000 people strong. We have to tell our story. We cannot just be defensive.” (Roderick also unveiled a wonderful pro-nuclear commercial from Westinghouse. You can see it here.

kuczynski e 200x145Steve Kuczynski, president and CEO of Southern Nuclear: Kuczynski showed inspiring slides of the Plant Vogtle construction. Due to the economic slowdown, interest rates are down, material costs are down, and labor is easier to find. In some ways, the economic slowdown has helped Vogtle. Our original idea was that a post-Vogtle rate hike would be 12 percent, and now it is 6–8 percent. This is the important part, not total construction cost. Vogtle is a major employer in Georgia at this time.

grecheck 150x180Eugene Grecheck, vice president Nuclear Development, Dominion Generation: Grecheck was in the Kewaunee Power Station control room during final reactor shutdown. Employees were professional to the end. The Kewaunee plant was one of the best in the fleet, but it lost money every day it operated. There were purely economic reasons for Kewaunee shutdown. If this plant were in Virginia, it would still be operating.

Grecheck on natural gas: Grecheck does not think shale gas is a “bubble” or that prices will be higher soon. Gas experts at utility commissions testify that gas will be even cheaper in future. Who is right? However, replacing the current nuclear fleet with natural gas would take 20 percent of natural gas in United States. This would make electricity (and other uses of natural gas) very vulnerable to supply disruption.

moses 200x135Edward Moses, principal associate director, National Ignition Facility (NIF) & Photon Science Directorate: The NIF inertial confinement fusion research device can demonstrate a 1000-MWe fusion plant capacity; the facility can concentrate 192 laser beams achieving ten to the eighth kelvin temperature at a single point—Moses advised to please see http://lasers.llnl.gov for more detailed information. (Also, true to humorous form, Moses noted a change from the old NIF project name “Project Sherwood”… as in, “Sure would be nice if it works!” – but in reality, Moses was quite energized and optimistic.)

mowry 130x246Chris Mowry, president, Babcock & Wilcox mPower: Integrating nuclear with intermittent sources (renewables) dictates load following for nuclear; the mPower small modular reactor (SMR) under development has a 14-day blackout coping time, uses standard pressurized water reactor fuel, and will refuel on a 4-year cycle; the vision is for an emergency planning zone located entirely within the site fence for below-grade SMR plants.

Telling the truth at a session on Managing the Spectrum of Risks in New Builds

Amir Shahkarami, CEO Exelon Nuclear Partner, and senior VP Exelon Generation: Where a unit is located has a strong influence on whether or not it is profitable. One Exelon unit is running at a loss. (Note that this echoes Roderick’s statement that if Kewaunee had been in Virginia, it would still be operating.) Also see Will Davis’s coverage of the session here.

Telling the truth (Pandora’s Promise)

pandoraspromiseposter 200x88A large group from the ANS meeting went to a showing of Pandora’s Promise on Tuesday night. That movie is a major example of telling the truth!

Denver Nicks of Power Engineering Magazine went to the movie with the group from the meeting, and here is his reaction to the movie (and to the group): Pandora’s Promise: My night at the movies with the American Nuclear Society

Not being attached to the consequences

Clearly, for our energy future, a great deal hinges on the future price of natural gas. Will the shale boom continue to supply low-cost natural gas, or will the price rise? The fate of many coal and nuclear plants may hinge on this question.

Regulation is also important. Instead of giving the usual nuclear examples, let’s look at a coal plant in my area. Merrimack Station in New Hampshire is the local coal station that we visited in my course, All Around the Coal Boiler. When we visited in 2010, Merrimack was a baseload plant.

A new law required Merrimack to install a $400-million scrubber to abate mercury and the remainder of the sulfur. Now, with cheap natural gas on the grid, Merrimack’s power is too expensive, and the plant runs only 20 percent of the time.  The company that owns it may be forced, by further regulation, to sell the plant at a loss. A recent Public Utilities Commission report suggests that Public Service of New Hampshire should dump its power plants.

In other words, regulation and the price of natural gas are both crucial for the future of nuclear (and coal, for that matter). Neither of them is in our control.

So what is in our control? Running the plants well (although that didn’t save Kewaunee). Communicating to the public about the clean-air advantages of nuclear (although the probable addition of polluting natural gas plants to the Los Angeles basin didn’t save SONGS). In telling the truth, I will say that there is nothing the nuclear industry (or the coal industry, or the gas industry) can do to totally guarantee itself a good future.

The longer-term consequences

Public Utilities Commissions are already concerned with the grid’s over-concentration on natural gas. While the world as a whole is burning more coal, it seems unlikely that new coal plants will be built in the United States, except perhaps expensive plants with new types of pollution and carbon controls. In short, nuclear is an important part of the energy picture now, and will remain so.

As nuclear professionals, we must continue to show up, pay attention, and tell the truth. We cannot necessarily think our efforts will have instant rewards (don’t be attached to the consequences) but in the long run, nuclear will be the force that powers the future.

By the way, my own prediction on shale gas prices is that the “long run” starts within five to ten years.

ans 200x139*I do not have a copy or recording of this meeting or the presentations, so I am depending on my memory and from the tweets of several people (including me, tweeting as @yes_VY) who were live-tweeting the plenary session. Thank you to Shawn Downey (tweeting as @ansct), Will Davis (tweeting as @ANS_org), Suzy Hobbs Baker (tweeting as @popatomicstudio), Andrea Jennetta (tweeting as @NuclearBuzz), and Cal Abel (tweeting as @Cal_Abel), at a minimum.

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Angwin

Angwin

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.

A Dangerous Precedent or a Slippery Slope?

By Howard Shaffer

viewfromVermontThe governor of Vermont last year established the “Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission” after citizens protested  a proposed wind farm (meanwhile, the legislature proposed a wind farm moratorium bill). The main purpose of the governor’s initiative was to evaluate how much local input should be required in energy siting decisions.

Many Vermont citizens have been taught by nuclear opponents to raise “Not In My Backyard!” cries against nuclear-related issues—and now, this tactic has extended far beyond nuclear. Will Vermont allow every small locality to block projects needed for the state, regional, and national good?

“Wind at the backs” of wind power developers

Vermont’s policy is to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, which include wind, solar, biomass, and small hydro. The policy also supports energy conservation and efficiency, through an energy efficiency utility. And there are federal tax breaks and incentives for these projects. In addition, the state provides a “feed-in tariff” where power is bought by the distribution utility at a higher price than that from other sources.

All energy projects are now required to go through an identical permitting process. The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) issues Certificates of Public Good (CPG) for energy and other projects. The PSB also conducts an investigation of project applications, including quasi-judicial public hearings, to determine if projects meet the legal criteria for a CPG. Participants in the hearing process must formally apply, and must be represented by legal counsel.

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Industrial wind turbines

Vermont residents living near wind power projects have opposed their construction. The latest designs of large wind turbines, dubbed “Industrial Wind Turbines” by opponents, are over 400 feet tall to the top of the blades. Objections are often raised about environmental impacts. In addition, destroying the view is an objection.

sheffield wind

The impact of land clearing, roads, and ridge line facilities is another major objection.

land clearing

Local citizens have formed groups to lobby their elected officials against these “wind farms.”

save our ridgelines

An objection raised against all projects is that legal counsel is required to formally participate before the PSB. This creates a hurdle for local citizens due to its expense.

The Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission

From the Commission’s charter:

“On October 2, 2012, Governor Peter Shumlin created the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission. The charge of the Commission is to survey best practices for siting approval of electric generation projects (all facilities except for net- and group-net-metered facilities) and for public participation and representation in the siting process and to report to the Governor and to the Vermont Legislature on their findings by April 30, 2013. The Commission will also look at alternative dispute resolution processes for project siting, permit coordination opportunities, how cumulative project impact is considered, and whether generic siting guidelines should be developed.”

The Commission’s report states that it is in the context of goals already set by law:

  • By 2022: 127.5 MW of new in-state renewable electric generation contracts provided through the Standard Offer program of SPEED (30 V.S.A. § 8005a(c))
  • By 2025: 25 percent of all energy from in-state renewables (10 V.S.A. § 579(a))
  • By 2028: 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; 75 percent by 2050 (10 V.S.A. § 578(a))
  • By 2032: 75-percent renewables in electric sales (30 V.S.A. § 8005(d) (4) (A)

Also, the state’s 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan requires:

  • By 2050: 90 percent of all energy from renewables

Recommendations

The report’s recommendations are introduced as follows:

“The Commission believes that Vermont can address potentially competing interests and advance clean energy projects efficiently while also protecting the state’s natural resources. An effective and efficient siting process is essential to achieve this. With this in mind, the Commission is particularly focused on recommendations related to the following aspects of the siting process:

      • The role of—and opportunities for—public participation and representation.
      • Process uniformity, transparency, and efficiency.
      • Adequate protection from negative environmental, cultural, and health impacts.
      • Ensuring that the best rather than easiest sites are selected by maintaining a process that rewards appropriately sited projects, thus making the process easier and more predictable for all parties.
      • Encouraging projects that are community-led with the aim of increasing project acceptance and reducing costly contestation of projects for all parties.
      • Avoiding unintended consequences, including keeping the budgetary and retail rate consequences of the recommendations to a minimum.”

Recommendations are grouped in categories:

      • Increase emphasis on planning
      • Simplify tier system
      • Increase opportunity for public participation
      • Improve the siting process for increased transparency, efficiency, and predictability
      • Ensure adequate environmental, health, and other protection
      • Cross cutting recommendations

A key to understanding the whole report is the final policy recommendation:

“27. Although many of the following points have been covered in the body of this report, the Commission recommends that the PSB pay particular attention to these issues in the near term as they relate to siting electric generation within its current jurisdiction: a) the public need for procedural advice throughout the application process (Case Manager); b) an improved PSB website including an online case management system; c) consideration of economic efficiency and least environmental damage, with particular attention to climate change; d) health issues; e) cumulative impacts, which may include aesthetic, grid, economic and health effects; f) potential effects on neighboring property values; g) consideration of view shed in accommodating participation of communities; h) setbacks; i) principal concerns raised at public hearings for the project; and j) a more efficient process for smaller, community sponsored projects.”

The legislature

In January, a bill calling for a three year moratorium on wind power projects was introduced in Vermont’s  Senate. The bill went through the usual committee reviews, in both houses. However, after this process the bill was then changed into an Act of the legislature that requires up to six joint meetings of the Senate and House Committees on Natural Resources and Energy, during a time that the legislature is not in session. This was not surprising, since the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is an ardent supporter of alternative energies. The committees are to review the Siting Commission’s report.

A slippery slope?

A major recommendation of the Siting Commission concerns including more local input in the project approval process. Based on what has happened, and continues to happen, concerning the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, dealing with local objections is a major hurdle. Right now, the objections of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plants opponents are heard by the PSB. Vermont Yankee’s opponents have formed groups, raised money, retained counsel, and formally participate in the approval process, at the state and federal level. The opponents want the plant shut down, no matter what.

The obvious problem, which has gone unspoken, is that when there are two sides that desire conflicting results in a controversial issue, both sides can’t be satisfied. Most elected officials don’t like to tell constituents “No,” particularly when an emotional issue is involved. In this era of one-issue politics, elected officials, considering their re-election possibilities, are wary of any group that will oppose them based solely on their stand on one issue alone.

The Commission’s report contains many good recommendations. It admits that the current process was set up when generating projects were large and infrequent. Now that projects are smaller and numerous, the process has to be streamlined. In particular, a tiered system is recommended, so that projects are subjected to a review process matched to their size and potential impact.

The danger in the process, as I see it, is coming up with a solution that will allow small local groups to have a veto over projects—energy, communications, or others—that are needed by the county, region, state, nation, or world. This could create a situation where nothing gets done. For example, in Windham County, home of Vermont Yankee, some do not want nuclear power—and they also do not want wind power.

My grandmother used to say, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” The Commission’s report could be viewed as trying to have everything, and saying nothing about hard choices.

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Shaffer

Shaffer

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