Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 201

ferris wheel 202x201The 201st Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to see the latest installment in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

Nuclear Matinee: Making Sci-Fi Sci-Fact—Nuclear Energy History and Perceptions

Don Miley of Idaho National Laboratory leads a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking tour through the images, perceptions, and yes, the reality of ‘nuclear’ and nuclear energy research through history.

What should ‘nuclear’ mean to us? What images and perceptions should immediately come to mind?

Thanks to TEDx Talks for sharing this video.

What city is this?

What city is this?

Eisenhower’s Atomic Power for Peace III: CAP and Power Demonstration Reactors

Hallam Nuclear Power Facility; part of Sheldon Station.

Hallam Nuclear Power Facility; part of Sheldon Station.

By Will Davis

In our previous installment we looked at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Five Year Plan for development of commercial nuclear power in the United States. In this final installment, we’ll look at two programs that were initiated in the mid-1950s to help launch the era of construction of commercial power reactors—the Civilian Application Program, and the Power Demonstration Reactor Program.

CAPphotoA1CAP—Civilian Application Program

Through the mid-1950s, there was quite simply no way to get information that was developed within the defense complex/AEC with a restricted classification into the hands of any person or entity who wished to use it for the development of peaceful atomic energy. This changed when the Civilian Application Program was initiated in early 1956. A Westinghouse Bettis letter says it best: “The Civilian Application Program (CAP), established in accordance with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, was designed to encourage the entry of private enterprise into atomic energy development”—a direct interpretation of Eisenhower’s vision, and as we’ve seen already supported by industry that wished to enter and investigate the field for profit.

In May 1956, Bettis (Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, operated for the AEC by Westinghouse) put out a summary explanation for the CAP and what it entailed. Its introduction offers more insight into the CAP and its intent. To wit:

“To encourage the entry of private enterprise into atomic energy development, the Atomic Energy Commission on February 4, 1956, made effective a regulation entitled, “Access to Restricted Data.  Under this program, known as the Civilian Application Program (CAP), business firms and individuals may gain access to certain categories of Confidential and Secret Restricted data relating to civilian uses of atomic energy. It represents a deliberate, determined attempt by the AEC to avoid further extension of Government ownership and operation of facilities and to encourage the entrance of private investment into the field of atomic energy.”

CAPphotoB1As might be imagined, this opportunity led to a mountain of paperwork for interested parties, and a large number of questions. AEC published a wealth of informative data (shown variously on this page) to support those who wished access to information. Specifically excluded from any access whatsoever was design and operational information that was specific to, or peculiar to, naval nuclear power plants, as well as some other areas of particularly sensitive information. A complete description of the types of information that were available to those with proper permitting fills several pages of the guide quoted above.

One might imagine that companies had to get further security clearance for their employees who would be handling such informationand one would be correct. The AEC publication “Suggestions for Security Plans of Access Permit Holders” sheds light on this aspect:

“One of the principal objectives of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 is to encourage American industry to take an active part in the development of the civilian uses of atomic energy. In order to facilitate the discharge of its regulatory responsibilities in this regard, the Atomic Energy Commission established a Division of Civilian Application. Regulations governing access to Restricted Data (10 CFR Part 25) and the safeguarding of Restricted Data (10 CFR Part 95), by persons engaged in such uses, have been published in the Federal Register.

Pursuant to 10 CFR Part 25, the Division of Civilian Application issues access permits to those individuals and organizations that have a potential use or need for Restricted Data in the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. The approval of such a permit is merely a preliminary measure and does not grant access to Restricted Data. In order to obtain Restricted Data, appropriate personnel security clearances must be obtained for those who will require access to such information, and in addition, a facility clearance (i.e., clearance of premises) is required if the access permit holder is to receive and store Restricted Data. It is therefore incumbent on the permittee who desires access to Restricted Data to properly submit his request for clearance to the Atomic Energy Commission office administering his permit. (The identity of this office is indicated in the letter transmitting the permit.)”

The utility of such information, obtained by the AEC over a decade of work, is obviousmuch work had been done, many reactors had been built, and much information learned. The CAP opened up a great deal of this work to civilian firms that now only had to meet the CAP requirements to obtain it, instead of investing millions of dollars to essentially reinvent the wheel.

Power demonstration reactors

Still, even with the progress to clear civilian firms to obtain and use classified information, there was felt to be a need to spur the development of different kinds of nuclear plants (as was clearly shown in my previous post on this topic).

To this end, the AEC announced in early 1955 its Power Demonstration Reactor Program. The AEC update on its five-year plan, found in the Atoms for Peace Handbook, notes this development thus:

“It is the Commission’s intent to stimulate outside groups to undertake developmental or demonstration power reactor projects with financing of the type normal to the particular group’s activities. This policy is implemented by the Commission’s power demonstration reactor program. This program was announced on January 10, 1955, along with announcement of availability of a schedule of prices for materials and services controlled by the Commission.”

The AEC most certainly did not want to fund entire projects, and did not. Instead, it assisted in various ways and didn’t pay for cost excesses. The report continues:

“Reactor projects resulting from the power demonstration reactor program are to have primary technical and financial responsibility rested in the industrial group making the proposal. The Commission’s financial contribution, if any, will be fixed in amount as the project is approved and overruns in cost must be borne by the industrial organization. In its invitation to industry to develop, construct, and operate these demonstration power reactor plants, the Commission stated that it would consider offering certain assistance including the following:

1. Waiving of fuel charges for loan of source and special nuclear material for fuel for a period up to 7 years.

2. Purchase by Government of special nuclear materials produced.

3. Performing research and development in Commission facilities.

4. Support of research and development in non-Commission facilities.”

As we can clearly see, the Government did not pay for the first round of power reactors. These were privately financed with assistance rendered by the AEC as listed above, with any overrun in cost being the responsibility of the owner-operator and not of the AEC.

Three reactors were built under the first round of the programall well-known early nuclear plants. These were Atomic Electric’s Westinghouse pressurized water reactor at Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Rowe, Massachusetts; Atomic Power Development Associates’ sodium cooled plant known as Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant near Monroe, Michigan; and the Hallam Nuclear Power Facility adjoined to a coal-fired plant and constituting part of Sheldon Station in Nebraska.

The AEC announced another round of this program later in 1955; this round solicited applications for small nuclear plants, of advanced types, by cooperatives or rural power companies. According to the Atomic Energy Deskbook, applications were received but contract negotiations revealed numerous problems, to the extent that the entire provisions for this round had to be revised. Under the second round with the new AEC provisions, “The AEC owns the reactor, bears related research and development costs, and bears the cost of fabricating the first core. The utility owns the electrical portion of the plant and operates the complete facility.” In other words, the second round essentially duplicated the arrangement first used at the pioneering Shippingport Atomic Power Station.

Elk River Station - "America's first rural atomic power plant."  Owned by Rural Cooperative Power Association; built under second round of AEC demonstration program.

Elk River Station – “America’s first rural atomic power plant.” Owned by Rural Cooperative Power Association; built under second round of AEC demonstration program.

The second AEC round of power demonstration reactors included Elk River in Minnesota (seen above), which was an ACF, later Allis-Chalmers indirect cycle boiling water reactor hooked on to a previously constructed coal-fired plant, with interposed superheater fired on pulverized coal; the Piqua Nuclear Power Facility, an Atomics International organic moderated and cooled reactor hooked on to the original Piqua, Ohio, powerhouse; and the Boiling Nuclear Superheat reactor or BONUS, a General Nuclear Engineering Co., later Combustion Engineering BWR with integral nuclear superheat, constructed at Punta Higuera, Puerto Rico.  Later on, a fourth plant, Dairyland Power Cooperative’s Genoa No. 2 plant in Wisconsin (most often known in the nuclear world as the LaCrosse BWR), which was an Allis-Chalmers BWR, was added in to the program under the terms of the second round when two of the original financiers dropped out of a prospective program and the AEC worked the project in after the second round had otherwise been set.

The announcement of the third and final round of the program came in 1957. The program’s terms reverted to being identical to those of the first round but which encouraged the construction of more advanced reactor types. This round resulted in the Carolinas-Virginia Tube Reactor, a Westinghouse HPWR hooked on to an existing power plant at Parr, S.C.; Big Rock Point, a GE BWR; Pathfinder, an Allis-Chalmers BWR with integral nuclear superheat (comparable in concept generally to BONUS of the second round); and a final concept originally known just as the HTGR or High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor, which was completed almost a decade later as Peach Bottom Atomic Power Plant, a General Atomics HTGR located in Pennsylvania.

This closes our examination of the Atoms for Peace initiative. We’ve seen how the initial vision of getting private industry involved in the design and construction of commercial nuclear plants evolved from mere concept to actual nuclear plants in about as simple a way as is possible to present; much more detail is of course available on each and every step along the way, but the process is important to understand generally. I would like to dedicate this series of articles to the many thousands of men and women who worked through the events portrayed here in the development of civil nuclear power, whose efforts today have begun to dim in the collective memory but not in the mutual beneficial effect.

Documents pertaining to CAP and material controls included in files of Sylvania-Corning Nuclear (SYLCOR) now in Will Davis' library.  These include periodic AEC Contractor Bulletins, the AEC Industrial Security Manual (and supplement) and various AEC guides.  Provisions of the CAP were so extensive that SYLCOR had to revise and reissue its security manual in 1956.

Documents pertaining to CAP and material controls included in files of Sylvania-Corning Nuclear Corp. (SYLCOR). These include periodic AEC Contractor Bulletins, the AEC Industrial Security Manual (and supplement) and various AEC guides. Provisions of the CAP were so extensive that SYLCOR had to revise and reissue its security manual in 1956.

———-

Sources for this article include the following:

ATOMS FOR PEACE MANUAL—A Compilation of Official Materials on International Cooperation for Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. 84th Congress, 1st Session, Document No. 55. July 1955 US Government Printing Office.

THE ATOMIC ENERGY DESKBOOK. John F. Hogerton. Reinhold Publishing, New York 1963.

Various AEC publications as shown in the article.

Illustrations are entirely from Will Davis’ personal collection, or show documents in his collection.

———-

For more information:

Several of the pioneering plants mentioned above are described in detail in an earlier ANS Nuclear Cafe post by the same author.

———-

WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the communications director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Persistent Prejudice Against Nuclear—Can Anything Be Done? Part 3

By Jim Hopf

At this site in January, I made the case that there is significant and persistent prejudice against nuclear power among both the public and policymakers. In February, I discussed several approaches to ameliorating nuclear’s current and future problems (which are largely due to said prejudice) and the limitations of each approach. This month, I will explore one last possible option: challenging the biased and unfair treatment of nuclear under current policies and regulation—in court.

Why a court challenge?

court gavel 150x96One might ask why a court challenge is necessary, as opposed to slowly building political support and winning over the hearts and minds of the public. The reason is that public prejudices and policy biases appear to be persistent, and show no signs of going away for the foreseeable future (i.e., decades). The regulatory imbalance between nuclear and fossil fuels in particular shows no signs of going anywhere. Even with ostensible support of nuclear by a majority of the public, nuclear will not go anywhere under the current, extremely unlevel regulatory playing field.

The point is that the cost to public health, to the environment, and perhaps to the economy are simply too high to justify such patience, and waiting multiple decades for the needed change—if such change ever comes at all. Current policy biases result in the use of fossil fuels instead of nuclear, which comes at a cost of tens of thousands of American lives each year and hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide, as well as the potential altering of the earth’s climate. Over decades, the lives lost worldwide will run into the millions. The stakes are simply too high to let the current situation continue for a long time.

There are examples in other areas, particularly the area of civil rights, where a decision was made to turn to the courts, as opposed to waiting for public prejudice to subside, or waiting for legislative or political change. In retrospect, few now regret those decisions. Back then (in the 1960s) and again today, the courts have mandated fair policies and equal treatment, even in the face of significant public and political opposition (e.g., in the case of recent federal court rulings that have overturned state laws prohibiting gay marriage).

The general idea

equal justice under law c 220x65The idea would be to challenge current energy policies and the current regulatory playing field (which holds nuclear to requirements thousands of times as strict as those applied to fossil fuels), perhaps under the equal protection clause of the constitution. The argument would be that having energy policies that place a given energy source at a significant disadvantage, or subjecting that energy source to regulations that are far more strict (and expensive) than the regulations applied to competing sources—simply because that energy source is politically unpopular or does not have much political influence—is unjustified and violates the principles of fairness and equal protection under laws.

The public has the right to decide how much money will be spent on public health, safety, and the environment. That is a question of values. If the public wants to place a higher (economic) value on human life, longevity, or a clean environment, that is our right.

However (it would be argued), the public does not have the right to arbitrarily require one industry to spend enormous amounts for little benefit, while arbitrarily allowing other industries to avoid spending much smaller amounts for much larger benefits (e.g., requiring nuclear to spend billions of dollars per life saved while rejecting fossil pollution requirements that amount to only ~$10,000 per life saved). That is a case of pure, demonstrable policy prejudice.

Values are one thing. Being demonstrably, mathematically, and scientifically wrong is another. We get to decide questions of values, but on questions of fact, science must be respected. Saying that “I am not willing to spend as much to avoid 1,000 fossil-related deaths as I am to avoid a single nuclear-related death” is not a legitimate value judgment.

Precedent (or lack thereof)

coal and nuclear 220x107There is precedent of successful legal challenges under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, but so far they have been only on behalf of individuals or groups of people (e.g., ethnic or minority groups). I haven’t found any cases where an industry has successfully sued under the equal protection clause, as a remedy for unfair treatment such as an unlevel regulatory playing field.

In fact, the text of the actual equal protection clause of the Constitution specifically refers to “persons” receiving “equal protection of the laws”. The clause has also come to be interpreted as applying to classes of people. Thus, application of the clause to an industry would constitute an expansion of its current scope.

To be honest, there is reason to believe that the courts would be loath to go down that path. There are endless examples where it could be argued that things (in life) are “unfair.” With respect to laws and regulations, almost any law or policy could be shown to be not completely even handed. Creating policies and laws that are completely neutral, and give absolutely no advantage to any industry over any other, would be all but impossible.

This may be part of the reason why the equal protection clause has (so far, at least) been applied only to individuals or classes of people, and only in cases in which there is substantial evidence of mistreatment and discrimination. Also, in most cases, the courts have intervened only after some significant degree of political support has been created on behalf of the affected group (recent gay marriage rulings being a prime example).

Why would a challenge from the nuclear industry have any chance of succeeding, given the above considerations? I believe that the nuclear industry (specifically) may have a compelling case because the regulatory playing field is so clearly unlevel, and to such an enormous degree. The outright double standard between nuclear’s requirements and treatment, versus that of other industries (most notably its fossil fuel competitors), is so clear that it should be impossible to ignore.

There is also some precedent for the notion that there should be a level playing field among competing industries. The World Trade Organization has firm policies against protectionist tariffs. In addition, of course, there is the European Union’s policy against “state aid” (i.e., subsidies) for specific industries or energy sources—with the exception of renewable energy, apparently.

Standing—Who’s got standing?

Another barrier to any successful nuclear lawsuit is that the plaintiff must have “standing.” That is, they need to show that some tangible harm (financial or otherwise) is being inflicted on them as a result of the policies in question. The question is, how can the “nuclear industry” claim standing?

Who, specifically, would represent “nuclear”? The Nuclear Energy Institute couldn’t claim standing—no financial impact. Also, as has been pointed out by others, it’s not clear that economic fortunes of utilities or plant construction firms are specifically tied to nuclear’s success. If nuclear is unprofitable, they can simply turn to something else (i.e., build or operate other types of plants). True nuclear companies may be limited to uranium miners and a few nuclear-specific firms such as Westinghouse or Areva. It’s possible that utilities could claim financial harm from excessive regulations hurting the profitability of their existing nuclear plants. Challenging excessive costs of new plant construction would be a harder case to make, since utilities don’t have to choose to build them.

So, who else might have “standing”? Can nuclear advocates like myself claim “emotional duress”? Perhaps a class action suit on behalf of all the people who’ve suffered health impacts or had family members die as a result of coal plant pollution? That may be a high bar to meet. Although Environmental Protection Agency statistics point to tens of thousands of annual deaths, individual risks are relatively low, and usually such claims require a high probability of impact. Also, the courts’ remedy would likely be to require coal pollution reductions, as opposed to a fundamental evaluation of nuclear’s requirements and the levelness of the nuclear vs. fossil playing field. It is also very likely that the courts would say that we should seek remedy in the political sphere.

Potential remedies

Whatever the chance of success, there are several remedies that the industry could pursue that would make a dramatic difference in nuclear’s future costs and competitiveness with other energy sources in the future.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be required to perform a cost/benefit analysis on all of its existing and proposed regulations, as the EPA is currently required to do. The NRC currently has no such requirement. Furthermore, a significant difference in the relative cost (in dollars per life saved or environmental impact avoided) of regulations among different, competing energy sources would not be allowed. The principle could even be expanded to apply the principle of ~equal-cost regulation to all industries.

There is some precedent for this principle. Many government agencies apply a monetary value to a human life, when deciding on how much money to spend on regulations, building codes, clean up requirements, etc. This is done to ensure that money is spent in the most cost-effective manner, in a world where there is not an infinite amount of money to apply to public safety. Requirements that are more costly than the set value are rejected. Typically, the value of a human life is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.

Under a possible court remedy, the NRC would be required to apply a similar criterion (at most $10 million per life saved) to all of its regulations. Conversely, the EPA would be required to also apply a similar criterion to its coal plant pollution regulations, regardless of political pressure (or even legislation) from the coal industry and its congressional allies. (Despite the human life value quoted for the EPA in the New York Times article linked above, proposed pollution regulations that are far more cost effective than $9 million per life saved have been shelved or put on hold, due to political pressure.)

Nuclear as a Clean Energy Source

As I pointed out in last month’s post, a primary problem is that nuclear is essentially required to be a clean energy source, but it is treated, under policy, like a dirty energy source. It must spend almost whatever it takes to reduce even the chance of pollution to near zero. If there is ever a release, massive compensation and cleanup is required. Meanwhile, fossil plants get to pollute the environment, and inflict enormous public health and environmental costs, for free. And yet, current policies give nuclear no credit for its non-polluting nature, and place it in direct economic competition with dirty sources. Other clean sources (renewables) receive large subsidies and (more importantly) outright mandates for their use, regardless of cost, practicality, or even if new generation is needed at all.

The possible court remedy would require that nuclear be treated as a clean energy source under all energy policies, at both the federal and state level. All clean sources (e.g., nuclear and renewables) must have roughly equal subsidies. The terms of any loan guarantees would have to be similar. And, most importantly, any mandates or portfolio standards, on both the state and federal level, would have to include nuclear along with renewables.

Alternatively, the court remedy could demand that fossil sources pay some financial penalty to reflect the health (and economic) costs of their pollution. That could include CO2. A third possibility would be to require that fossil plants be treated like nuclear, with full containment of all toxins/wastes/pollutants required, and compensation or other penalties if they are ever released.

Nuclear Industry vs. Natural Radiation Exposure

As I discussed last month (in the linear no-threshold model/LNT section of the post), public doses from the nuclear industry are treated completely differently than doses from other sources, such as natural or medical exposures. If one assumes the LNT, health effects scale with collective exposure (man-Rem). However, natural and medical sources produce collective exposures that are many orders of magnitude larger than any from the nuclear industry, including even those that would result from a severe meltdown scenario. And yet, nothing is done, and almost no money is spent, on reducing those public exposures, while current policies would require astronomical sums to be spent in the event of a plant meltdown to avoid a much smaller public collective exposure.

Under a possible court remedy, such different treatment of exposures from different sources would be disallowed. All means of reducing public collective exposures would have to be evaluated equally.  The NRC or the EPA could not impose cleanup standards that cost a large amount of dollars per man-Rem avoided if other, far cheaper options for reducing man-Rems (e.g., from natural or medical sources) existed.

One way this principle could be applied would be the use of offsetting public exposure reductions. Often, when an industrial facility is built, it is impossible (or cost prohibitive) to avoid having any environmental impact. So, the applicant offers to perform an offsetting environmental service, such as restoring a wetland at some other location, the argument being that there is then no net impact for the project.

In the case of a plant meltdown, the utility could argue (under this court remedy) that instead of spending an exorbitant sum to bring radiation levels in surrounding areas down to some extremely low level (e.g., the International Commission on Radiological Protection’s standard of 100 mrem/year), it will provide an equivalent amount of public exposure (man-Rem) reduction by some other, far cheaper means (e.g., radon abatement or providing low-dose medical equipment to hospitals). The EPA or the NRC could not oppose such a proposal, as they would not have a leg to stand on. Dose is dose.

Finally, this principle (and court remedy) could be used to require that there be no distinction between industry and other sources of radiation when determining limits on dose rates. The EPA or the NRC would not be able to establish dose rate limits that only apply to industry sources. Instead, they would have to determine what a “safe” level of radiation is, period, regardless of source.

Lower limits for normal operations and routine emissions could possibly be justified, not on the basis of “safe dose,” but as “good industry practice” and to prevent long-term buildup of radiation levels. But limits for accident conditions and for cleanup standards should be based on public safety, and limits lower than natural background would be indefensible. Unless they are willing to declare large sections of the country “unsafe” or “uninhabitable” (and perhaps even proceed with evacuation of those regions), agencies would not be allowed to establish dose rate limits that are within (or lower than) the range of natural exposures. Any public dose rate limits under ~1 Rem/year (such as the ICRP’s 100 mrem/year) would be hard to justify. Higher medical doses would probably still be justifiable, given that there is a tangible health benefit related to the exposure.

Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Plant Closures

I’ve argued that stringent nuclear regulations that result in plant closures or prevent new nuclear construction probably actually increase public health risks and environmental impacts, at some point, since the fossil fuels that are (or will be) used instead have a far greater impact. When a coal plant closes, it’s clear that whatever replaces it will have a lower health and environmental impact. When a nuclear plant closes, it is likely that whatever replaces it will have a higher environmental impact.

Under a possible court remedy, such impacts would have to be considered when drafting nuclear regulations, when evaluating existing regulations, or when making a decision to keep a nuclear plant closed while improvements are being made. The NRC kept the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed for nearly three years, in order to install flood protections, make various other improvements, and improve its “safety culture.” Over that time, the plant’s output was mostly replaced with fossil fuels, including some amount of coal (probably). At the risk of being overly blunt, based on fossil plant pollution health statistics, it is almost certain that the NRC’s decision/policy killed a fair number of people, as well as dumping a large amount of CO2 into the air.

I’m not saying that regulations or ordering plant closures is never justified. However, all impacts of such decisions must be considered (and must not be simply dismissed as being outside the agency’s scope). Under the court remedy, the NRC may have to demonstrate that the reduction in public health risk associated with the plant closure more than offsets the impacts of the fossil replacement. Stated more simply, they may have to argue that the plant’s continued operation is more dangerous and/or harmful than a coal plant before ordering its closure. This may result in greater efforts to find ways to make necessary improvements while plants remain in operation.  Given the impacts of fossil replacements, closure of a nuclear plant must not be taken lightly.

Challenge to NRC Authority

Perhaps the most aggressive use of a possible court remedy would be an outright challenge to the NRC’s authority to write and enforce detailed, prescriptive regulations, especially in the case of small modular reactors (SMRs).

My understanding is that the NRC’s mandate is to protect public health and safety. That is the basis, and justification, for all of the the NRC’s regulations and enforcement powers. Given what we now know (from Fukushima, etc.) it could be argued that meltdown events do not constitute a significant threat to public health and safety—in the case of SMRs at least.

At Fukushima, we’ve learned that the release of radioactivity from the full meltdown of three large reactors caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable public health impact. The maximum possible release from an SMR is far smaller than the Fukushima release. In fact, since the core of an SMR does not get as hot, even in the case of complete loss of cooling and subsequent meltdown, the release fractions (for Cs-137, etc.) should be smaller than those of a large reactor. Thus, the maximum possible release is even lower than the ratio of rated power would suggest (probably a few percent of the Fukushima release, at most).

As a result, it is unlikely that any event at an SMR would have any public health impact, and the land area over which dose rates would exceed the typical range of natural background (i.e., ~1 Rem/year) would be very small. Given this, it could be argued that strict NRC regulations and oversight are not justified. An analysis showing the maximum possible release and affected land area should be the only component of the “safety analysis” submitted to the NRC. Instead, the levels of precaution should be between the SMR operators and their insurers. And yes, the idea would be that the industry would give up Price-Anderson liability limits, in exchange for largely eliminating NRC regulation and oversight. (It would be well worth it.) Given the low release probability of SMRs (due to fundamental safety advantages) and the low potential consequences, well-informed rational insurers should offer reasonable rates.

In order for the above idea to work, however, the ground rules for meltdown events (including evacuation, cleanup and compensation criteria) will have to be established in advance. In last month’s post, I mentioned the possibility that a lower release would simply result in lower allowable dose rates being applied to cleanup (because “they can afford it”). That would have to be nipped in the bud, up front. It would have to be firmly established that no measures would be taken to reduce dose rates within the natural range (i.e., under ~1 Rem/year). Many of the other court remedies discussed earlier would do that, automatically.

What are our chances?

supreme court seal 150x150While I believe that current policies are sufficiently unjust to warrant court remedies, I’m not sanguine about the chances of success, for many reasons I discussed earlier in this post.

I would, however, like to think that, at a minimum, a high-profile court challenge could at least shed some light on the enormously unlevel playing field and outright double standards that nuclear faces. There are many examples of people or organizations issuing court challenges in order to raise the profile of certain issues in the eyes of the public. In this case, a court challenge would, hopefully, open the eyes of the public to the real reasons why nuclear is struggling to compete.

Which of the options I discussed in this post and last month’s post do I think have the best chance to give nuclear a bright future? I would have to say that our hopes primarily rest on the possibility of improved energy policies that give nuclear some credit for its non-polluting nature. These would include some sort of clean energy standard that includes nuclear. That, or the (more likely) CO2 regulations on new and existing fossil plants, which will prevent new coal plant construction and could result in coal’s phaseout. We would then be left to hope for increased natural gas prices, possibly as a result of increased fracking regulations, and as a result of increased demand from declining coal use, gas exports, and increased use of gas in the transport sector. And who knows—maybe someday we will have taxes or limits on CO2 emissions.

_____________________

Hopf

Hopf

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 200

ferris wheel 202x201The 200th Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival has been posted at Atomic Power Review.  You can click here to see the latest installment in a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

Nuclear Matinee: World’s First AP1000 In Review

The world’s first Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactor is scheduled to begin operation later this year at the Sanmen Nuclear Power Station in China. Another AP1000 is scheduled to go online later this year at the Haiyang nuclear power plant in China, with two more AP1000 units to be operational at those sites in 2015, and four additional to follow after that.

Meanwhile, four AP1000 units are under construction at the Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear plants in the United States.

The following time-lapse film covers construction at the Sanmen-1 site from 2009 through 2014.

It is a bit short on soundtrack, however…

Heavy Fuel? Neutron Dance? The Future’s So Bright? Or perhaps something more contemporary…

Thanks to Nuclear Street and Westinghouse AP1000 YouTube.

sanmen 1 ap1000 342x201

New ANS Awards in Fuel Cycle and Waste Management

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By Katy Huff

In an enthusiastic push to better recognize the outstanding technical work of our colleagues and the extraordinary community contributions of American Nuclear Society members, the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division (FCWMD) has established four brand new awards this year. As the nomination deadline of April 1 swiftly approaches, we hope that you’ll help us celebrate excellence in nuclear engineering by nominating extraordinary candidates for this first round of awards.

These awards include two national awards and two divisional awards to publicly recognize the exceptional contributions of our members. They primarily address two key values of the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division: technical accomplishment and divisional service.

Seeking to emphasize contributions to the FCWMD, we have instituted new awards for Significant Contribution to the FCWM Mission and Distinguished Service on Behalf of the FCWM Division. In order to honor contributions to the science and engineering technology behind nuclear fuel cycles and waste management, the Outstanding Published Work and Lifetime Achievement awards were also instituted.

For more details and nomination forms, please see FCWMD Awards and ANS Honors and Awards. We hope that you’ll nominate exceptional colleagues before April 1.

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katyhuff 100x136Katy Huff is a Nuclear Science Security Consortium postdoctoral scholar at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, where she conducts computational analyses of advanced nuclear technologies and systems.  She holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where her research emphasized computational fuel cycle systems analysis and repository technology simulation.

Three years of available lessons from Fukushima

By Rod Adams

During the three years since March 11, 2011, the world has had the opportunity to learn a number of challenging but necessary lessons about the commercial use of nuclear energy. Without diminishing the seriousness of the events in any way, Fukushima should also be considered a teachable moment that continues to be open for thought and consideration.

As a long time member of the learning community of nuclear professionals, I thought it would be worthwhile to start a conversation that will allow us to document some of the “take-aways” from the accident and the costly efforts to begin the recovery process.

Since there are many people who are more qualified than I am to discuss the specific design details of the reactors that were destroyed and the specific site on which they were installed, I will shy away from those topics. Feel free, however, to add your expert views in the comment thread.

Before Fukushima

fukushima 216x144The overriding lesson for me is a recognition that people who favor the use of nuclear technology were quite unprepared for an event like Fukushima. Our technology had been working so well, for so long, that we had become complacent perfectionists.

In some ways, we were collectively similar to perennial honor roll students who prefer doing homework to engaging in risky sports. We have been “grinds” who studied hard, followed the rules, became the teachers’ pets, scored high marks on all of the routine tests, and were utterly devastated the first time we moved to a new level and encountered a test so difficult that our first attempt to pass resulted in a D-.

Many of us—and I will freely include myself in this category—had become so confident in our ability to earn outstanding grades that we did not pay attention to the boundaries of the box in which our confidence was justified.

We confidently accepted the fact that our technology was safe, had numerous layers of defense-in-depth, and was designed to be able to withstand external events, but we forgot that those statements were only true within a certain set of bounding parameters we normally call the “design basis.” Because we had only rarely approached those boundaries, we had no real concept for what might happen once we found ourselves outside of our expected conditions without most of the expected supporting tools.

An extended period of exceptional performance not only made us over-confident, it raised expectations to an unsustainable level. Corporate executives, the media, and government leaders played roles similar to the parents, teachers, and administrators associated with precocious straight A students. They were used to dealing with serious mistakes and outright failures among the rest of the student body, but were surprised and flustered when one of us let them down.

We also failed to understand that we were in the same vulnerable and unpopular position as the geeks who continuously break the curve and make others look bad, year after year. As the excellent report cards kept coming, we did not pay attention to the effect those high grades were having on our peers. We did not see other students gathering into groups after the grades were posted. We did not sense their anger or overhear their plans to be ready to take advantage the first time we gave them an opportunity.

We had no similar plans prepared in case we failed; we expected we would keep performing exceptionally well.

The Fukushima test

fukushima tsunamiWhen the nearly impossible test came, our technology performed as designed, but that was not good enough. Our technology was not designed to match a natural disaster that destroyed all available sources of electrical power. The loss of vital power at a large, multi-unit facility interfered with the ability to understand plant conditions and to put water into the places that desperately needed it.

Aside: That is not to say that it could not have been designed to handle the imposed conditions. As the performance of Onagawa and Fukushima Daini demonstrate, it is possible through better design or more fortuitous operational decisions to improve the chances of avoiding the consequences seen at Fukushima Daiichi, but there is never a guarantee of perfection. End Aside.

Without water flow, the rate of heating inside the cores was determined by inescapable laws of physics. As nuclear energy and materials experts have been predicting for nearly 50 years, once the temperatures inside the water-cooled cores reached a certain point, the zirconium cladding of the fuel rods began reacting with the water (H2O) to chemically capture the oxygen and release the hydrogen.

Fukushima Daiichi plant designers expected that human operators would pay attention to the pressure building inside the primary containment and release some of the steam before breaking the containment. They apparently neglected to consider that operators would not be able to monitor pressure using their installed systems without any available electrical power.

For valid reasons, the designers did not make containment relief an automatic function or even an easy process. They probably did not expect that the operators would wait for a politician located at the end of a tenuous communications link to make the decision to release that pressure, expect that they might feel the need to wait for a report that evacuations had been completed or realize that the time delay could allow pressure to rise so high that it would be almost impossible to open the necessary valves.

The operators performed their tasks with dedication and tenacity, but their efforts fell a little short of the heroically successful similar efforts at Fukushima Daini. It’s worth mentioning one particular example of unfortunate timing; the Daiichi operators invested dozens of back-breaking man hours to install a mobile generator and run heavy cables across 200 obstacle-filled meters in order to provide emergency power. They completed the hook up at 1530 on March 12. At 1536, the first hydrogen explosion injured five workers, spread contamination, and damaged the just-installed equipment enough to prevent it from functioning. (See page 8-9 of INPO Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.)

The excessive pressures in the primary containments did what excessive pressure almost always does; it eventually found weak points that would open to release the pressure. The separated hydrogen left the containments, found some available oxygen and did what comes naturally; it exploded to further complicate the event and provide a terrific visual tool for the jealous competitors who were ready to take advantage of our failure.

The lesson available from that sequence of events were not design-specific. More foresight in the design process, solid understanding of basic materials and thermodynamic principles, and, if all else fails, empowered operators with the ability to resist political pressure can further reduce the potential for core damage and radioactive material release.

Once one of us encountered a test we could not pass, we were dazed and confused, obviously unsure what to do next. That period of uncertainty provided a wonderful opening for the opponents and competitors to take charge of the narrative, emphasize our failure under our own mantra of “an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere” and spread the word that we should not be allowed to get up anytime soon. They reminded formerly disinterested observers that we had fallen far short of our claimed perfection, took the opportunity to land a few blows while we were down, and made arrangements to ensure that our recovery was as difficult and expensive as possible.

Fears of radiation

As a group, nuclear technologists have often emphasized our cleanliness, our ability to operate reliably, and our improving cost structure.

radiationsafetyWe overlooked the efforts over the years by opponents and competitors to raise special fears about the materials that might be released in the event of an accident that breaks our multiple barriers. Though we all recognize that exposure to radioactive material at certain doses is dangerous, our opponents—sometimes aided by our own perfectionist tendencies—have instilled the myth that exposure to the tiniest quantities also carries unacceptable risk.

We had become so good at keeping those materials tightly locked up that we accepted ever-tightening standards, because they were easy enough to meet under routine conditions. Even under the “beyond design basis” conditions at Fukushima, our multiple barriers did a good enough job of retaining dangerous materials so that there were no immediate radiation-related injuries or deaths, but that isn’t good enough.

There were dangerous radiation levels on site; workers only avoided injury and fatalities by paying attention and minimizing exposure times. The myth of “no safe dose” and the reality that any possible effects may occur in the distant future has continued to result in fear that effects are uncertain and will probably get worse.

The no-safe-dose assumption has made us terribly vulnerable to an effort to force us to continue meeting the expectation of zero discharges. Our stuff does “stink” on occasion; in this case if we try to hold it all in we are going to eventually suffer severe distress. The tank farm at Fukushima, with its millions of gallons of tritiated water cannot expand forever, but our opponents will prevent controlled releases as long as they can to make the pain as large as possible.

It’s worth quoting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s recent report about its late 2013 visit to Japan to provide an independent peer review of recovery actions. This passage comes in the context of a carefully-phrased “advisory point” that strongly recommends that Japan prepare to discharge water where most isotopes other than tritium have been removed.

… the IAEA team encourages the Government of Japan, TEPCO and the NRA to hold constructive discussions with the relevant stakeholders on the implications of such authorized discharges, taking into account that they could involve tritiated water. Because tritium in tritiated water (HTO) is practically not accumulated by marine biota and shows a very low dose conversion factor, it therefore has an almost negligible contribution to radiation exposure to individuals.

Reliability and perfection

Not only did the accident destroy the ability of four plants to ever operate again, it has reminded us that reliability is not just a matter of technology and operational excellence. If the powers-that-be refuse permission to operate, the best technology in the world will fail at the task of providing reliable power. Our competitors are perfectly content to take over the markets that we are failing to serve. The longer they perform the easier it is for people to assert that we are not needed.

We have also been taught that we have no real control over cost. The aftermath of Fukushima has shown that it’s possible to establish conditions in which even the most dire prediction of economic cost is an underestimate. There is no upper bound under conditions where perfection is the only available standard.

If we do not learn how to occasionally fail, how to make reasonable peace with our powerful opposition, and continue to help everyone understand that a search for perfection does not mean that its achievement is actually possible, nuclear energy does not have much hope for rapid growth in the near future.

That would be a tragic situation for the long term health and prosperity of humanity. The wealthy portions of our current world population can probably do okay for a while without much nuclear fission power. However, that choice would harm the underpowered people who are already living and innumerable future generations who will not live as well as they could if we shy away from improving and using nuclear fission technology.

Fission technology is not perfect and poses a certain level of risk, but it is pretty darned good and the risks are well within the range of those that we accept for many other technologies that can perform similar tasks.

References:

INPO 11-005 Special Report on the Nuclear Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station

IAEA INTERNATIONAL PEER REVIEW MISSION ON MID-AND-LONG-TERM ROADMAP TOWARDS THE DECOMMISSIONING OF TEPCO’S FUKUSHIMA DAIICHI NUCLEAR POWER STATION UNITS 1-4 (Second Mission) Tokyo and Fukushima Prefecture, Japan 25 November – 4 December 2013

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Adams

Adams

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

Fukushima Three Years Later

KashiwazakiKariwa

Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Station; Units 6 and 7 were submitted for safety screening in September 2013.

By Will Davis

In our collective memory, disturbing images played out on video around the world in the days following the apocalyptic Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami have somewhat receded, even if they haven’t lost their impact—images of rushing waters, floating vehicles, buildings and debris, massive (and unstoppable) outbreaks of fire, and implications of lives lost and lives ruined.

Peculiar among these images, however, are those refreshed by their association with the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station; peculiar because people remain out of their homes, because the cleanup at the plant has been protracted and troublesome and failure-prone, peculiar because a seemingly insidious enemy of people and life—ionizing radiation—is completely invisible in our images and films, quite unlike the rushing and thundering waters.

Indeed, what is not seen can be frightening, and what is not known can be daunting; what is happening is that the public, both evacuated Fukushima refugees and other peoples around the world, are beginning to grasp the realities of the present in addition to focusing on the days of the tsunami, the nuclear accident, and the evacuation—and the world is starting to respond.

The plant

In the past several months, the story at Fukushima Daiichi has had one parallel with the original disaster—the problem, quite plainly, is water. Lots of water. Millions of gallons of it, coming onto the site at a rate of several hundred tons per day, in the form of runoff and precipitation, and millions of gallons of water that have been used to cool the damaged reactor cores at Units 1, 2, and 3. This water is being both cleaned up and stored in a dizzying array of onsite tanks, and unfortunately occasionally is escaping out of the nuclear plant buildings and tanks and into places onsite where it should not be.

Personnel patrols among the giant, fabricated tanks now beginning to fill the entire hillside behind the nuclear plant (the shore side) have been stepped up to ensure tanks that overflow do not continue to; however, exposure rates can be high in areas around these tanks and failures have been missed. The news continues to be of struggles with these systems, and with those systems purifying the water.

What has received less press has been occasions of positive news—perhaps foremost of which is the continued, methodical removal of fuel elements from the spent fuel pool at Unit 4. As of now, 462 of the 1533 fuel elements stored there have been moved safely to the site’s common fuel pool. None of the dire predictions made by numerous anti-nuclear prognosticators concerning this spent fuel pool and its contents have come to pass, and TEPCO’s continued methodical removal of the elements emphasizes the fact that nuclear energy is a practice of procedure, of care, of attention to detail, and that this environment does indeed exist at the Fukushima Daiichi site.

Progress is in fact taking place on the water issues as well; the plant site is fairly well sealed from the harbor, and the harbor from the ocean. The mechanisms behind the spread of contaminated water around the site are known and preparations are underway to stop it using means both tried and new. The TEPCO video below demonstrates just one of the “small victories” that can be checked off in the massive effort to first contain the water and then decommission the nuclear plants.

The actual moment-to-moment actions that were taken during the progression of the accident—indeed, even the natural events such as the exact timing of the arrival of the first tsunami wave—continue to be debated, questioned, and analyzed by expert panels worldwide. Just this week, an analysis was released by the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, backing up the theory that the earthquake itself did no critical plant damage, and that the tsunami was the triggering event for the accident. This theory is espoused by a large number of experts and was backed up by evidence presented at the American Nuclear Society’s 2013 Fukushima Daiichi embedded topical meeting in November.

Questions about the operation of the isolation condenser systems at Unit 1, and the high pressure core injection system at the other units, remain at the forefront of discussion, as does the question of containment venting. Only the full decommissioning and teardown of the nuclear plants, piece by piece, will finally yield all the answers about what happened and when. For now what matters is preventing anything like it from happening again—anywhere.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company's Tomari Nuclear Station.

Hokuriku Electric Power Company’s Tomari Nuclear Station.

Prevention—machines and manpower

An approach to prevention underway in Japan is similar to that of the United States in one respect; it is recognized that preparation for cataclysmic events that could cause interactions among nuclear units on the same site is of utmost importance (e.g., a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 stopped efforts for a time at all other units). To that end, Japanese nuclear plant owners and the Nuclear Energy Institute in the United States recognize that a massive array of stand-by generating trucks (for electric power), fire engines (for water pumping) and other vehicles, as well as personnel and the ability to get all of this to a plant site in short order are necessary developments. And the progress to this end is remarkable in both countries.

In Japan, there is a growing desire to get nuclear plants restarted so that they can provide energy at far lower cost than the fossil fuels that are now being imported. However, no nuclear plants can be started back up until they’ve passed new safety inspections mandated by the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in Japan. Not surprisingly, the plants at which the most upgrade work has been completed are those that have already applied to restart. Seventeen units have applied as of now—see the NRA graphic below.

NRAplantrestartappsMarch2014

The efforts underway to allow restart are well known; this link details the work done at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s giant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant and at Chubu Electric Power Company’s Hamaoka plant. Since that article was written, the containment vent filters have been delivered to and installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 6 and 7. Other plant owners have begun to take steps as well, including Hokkaido Electric Power Company at its three-unit Tomari Nuclear Station, as seen in the graphics below excerpted from an official company report.

HEPCOTomariPlan1HEPCOTomariPlan2

The steps above concerning plant additions to adapt to use of portable power and water supplies, in addition to the mobile supplies themselves, are typical of provisions being made throughout the country.

In the United States, similar work is also in process and showing real progress. By the end of this year, two regional centers, each with five full sets of mobile backup emergency equipment, will be opened. This backs up equipment already bought by and stationed near the nuclear plants themselves; NEI informs us that 20 nuclear plants will complete their FLEX preparations by the third quarter of 2014 in the area of mobile electric power. Twenty plants will also have installed spent fuel pool water level monitoring equipment. Already completed are plant-specific seismic walkdowns and flooding walkdowns; actions resulting from these are all forthcoming. In all, over 1500 pieces of equipment (such as generator trucks and water pump trucks) have been purchased for this FLEX effort, or are on order. NEI reports that all FLEX modifications at all nuclear plants in the United States will be complete by 2016.

In Japan, it’s expected that at some plants the modifications and provision of equipment will occur much sooner so that plants can be restarted in the near-term. The NRA has recently bolstered its staff significantly after having merged in an outside professional organization, and with the help of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the safety reviews (delineated in the table above) are now well underway. However, it may not in fact be the final safety reviews that hold up restarts. For example, TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is assumed in TEPCO’s business plan to restart after July this year, but a revisit of the seismic conditions under the plant may take as much as six months by itself. This would push the safety review out at least that long; further, TEPCO may not finish all of the physical upgrades by July either. In a similar fashion, some of the other operators may not complete some large construction projects such as seawalls by summer. What’s important to realize is that operators now have safety squarely in mind, and not only do not wish to attempt to restart until it’s nearly assured as possible, but cannot do so anyway without NRA approval.

Public 0pinion shifting, people moving

According to a recent Kyodo News poll, 37 local governments in Japan (out of 156 total) would today allow restarts of nuclear plants when the NRA safety checks are passed. This is a surprise, given a continuous flood of negative press covering anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan. This follows the election of a government in Tokyo that is, at the very least, not anti-nuclear, and of course the exploits of Prime Minister Abe who is pushing for the restart of nuclear plants. Abe is also pushing to repatriate displaced families back to areas where safe return is assured.

As reported by NHK World, Abe visited Fukushima Prefecture last week, and held a meeting with persons displaced from Miyajoki District who will be allowed to return home April 1. This step is the first in the real recovery of Fukushima; the “real recovery” isn’t just about the nuclear plant, and “Fukushima” isn’t a nuclear plant, but a giant prefecture that was and again will be the home to many thousands of people, and the site of farms and villages and fishing ports—just as it was before March 2011. Prime Minister Abe was quoted as saying that the recovery of Japan cannot begin until the recovery of Fukushima is underway, and the progress seen so far as well as the ongoing efforts to ensure future nuclear safety (and thus reliable energy supply, safe living, commerce, and prosperity) are absolute sign posts on the road to a recovery that we all know is coming, and we can just see dawning on the horizon.

For more information:

NEI has very recently published a new resource entitled “Fukushima Daiichi Recovery:  The Facts,” which addresses many issues both in Japan and the US

Utilities Service Alliance: USA Fukushima team ensuring plants can respond

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA February 2014.

Events and Highlights on the progress related to recovery operations at Fukushima Daiichi NPS. IAEA March 2014.

(Above two links contain information provided to International Atomic Energy Agency by the Japanese government.)

OECD/Nuclear Energy Agency: Accident Management Insights after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP Accident

June 2012 TEPCO handout on tsunami protection, other measures being installed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Initiatives for Ensuring Safety in Nuclear Power Stations. (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)

Kyushu Electric Power Company – Application for compatibility check to New Regulatory Requirements (Sendai NPP and Genkai NPP)

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WillDavisNewBioPicWill Davis is the communications director for the N/S Savannah Association, Inc. where he also serves as historian and as a member of the board of directors. He is also a consultant to, and writer for, the American Nuclear Society; an active ANS member, he is serving on the ANS Communications Committee 2013-2016. In addition, he is a contributing author for Fuel Cycle Week, is secretary of the board of directors of PopAtomic Studios, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants. 

Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 199

ferris wheel 202x201ANS Nuclear Cafe is proud to host the 199th edition of the Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival – a long standing tradition among the top English-language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.  The top news and views of the week appear in a rotating fashion each week at one of the top pro-nuclear blogs.  With that, let’s get to the entries from this week.

Atomic Insights – Rod Adams

Smoking Gun – Antinuclear Talking Points Coined by Coal Interests

Some of the earliest documented instances of opposition to the development of commercial nuclear power in the United States originated from designated representatives of the coal industry. They were the first people to mount sustained opposition to the use of taxpayer money to support the development of nuclear power stations.

They testified against the implied subsidy associated with nuclear fuel leasing and complained about the value credited to commercial plant operators for the plutonium produced during operation, even though that material was locked up inside used fuel rods. They were the first people to label the Price-Anderson nuclear liability limitations as a subsidy.

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Nuke Power Talk – Gail Marcus

Energy Diversity – A Discussion on Capital Hill

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reports that she participated in a session on Capitol Hill on the subject of energy diversity, along with Dr. Pete Lyons, the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy.  The meeting was cohosted by the Global America Business Institute (GABI) and the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI).  Lee Terry, a Congressman from Nebraska and Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, opened the proceedings.  He pointed out that his committee dealt with all forms of energy and he was convinced we needed them all.  Dr. Lyons provided an overview of the work of his office, and Gail covered some of the unique contributions that nuclear energy makes.  Gail also quoted a recent talk by Prof. Richard Lester, Chairman of the MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering that also explained how nuclear energy contributes to assuring a secure and adequate energy supply to meet present and future needs.

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Yes Vermont Yankee – Meredith Angwin

Decommissioning, Governor Shumlin, and Dry Cask Storage

At Yes Vermont Yankee, Meredith Angwin defends her assertion that the Vermont state government is finally learning about nuclear energy.  She discusses Entergy’s decision to use SAFSTOR, Governor Shulin’s odd timelines, and more.

(Meredith also nominated her own post this week at ANS Nuclear Cafe which also covers the Vermont Yankee situation – a nomination we agree with!)

Moving Forward and Living Well

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Meredith Angwin analyzed the probable future choices for people who currently work at Vermont Yankee.  Younger, nuclear-trained people should have an easy time of the transition when the plant closes.  They will simply move away.  For others, the transition may be much harder.

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The Hiroshima Syndrome – Les Corrice

Les Corrice covers the February 28th PBS report “Inside the slow and dangerous cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear crisis,” showing it to be nothing more than the worst kind of fearmongering.  The obvious intent of the special, according to Corrice, is to scare and upset viewers with exaggeration, innuendo and thinly-veiled conspiracy theories, all predicated upon fostering fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Corrice also looks at what might have happened had Naoto Kan not been inserted into the decision-making process for venting the containments at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station.  Corrice’s assessment is that there may not have been hydrogen gas explosions, no evacuation and shorter recovery time.

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Forbes – Jim Conca

WIPP is Still the Best and Only Choice for Nuclear Waste

The only operating deep underground geologic nuclear waste repository had its first minor accident on Valentine’s Day.  The amount of radiation released into the environment was a million times less than any EPA action levels, but to hear the outcry you’d think it was Chernobyl.

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NewsOK Energy Issues – Robert Bruce Hayes

WIPP Radioactivity Release

Robert Bruce Hayes has, as stated in this article, “been at the WIPP site almost every day after the event.”  Hayes feels that statements from someone who is there are vital; he provides perspective and in addition opens up for questions.

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Atomic Power Review – Will Davis

More Nuclear Energy for Mexico?

In a brief post, Davis observes that a recent Korean press piece on KEPCO energy exports has surprisingly revealed Mexico’s revitalized plan to greatly increase the percentage of energy it generates by nuclear fission.

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Next Big Future – Brian Wang

China wants to export nuclear plants

South China Morning Post reports that Beijing-based State Nuclear
plans to start construction of the first CAP1400 demonstration reactor
in Shidaowan, Shandong province, this year and commission it in late
2018, according to Xinhua.

The schedule is about a year behind the original target as Beijing
suspended new projects for about 18 months to review the safety of all
nuclear power projects after Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.

The two other state-owned nuclear power plant developers, China
National Nuclear and China General Nuclear Power, have also been
looking for opportunities to expand abroad, even though they have the
world’s biggest nuclear power expansion programme to complete.

After raising industry safety standards, Beijing set a target for the
country’s installed nuclear generating capacity of 58GW by 2020, up
from 12.57GW now, although insiders had believed the industry was
capable of generating 70 to 80GW.

China’s nuclear companies are in talks to export to Brazil, UK and
South Africa and other countries

That’s it for this week’s submitted entries.  Thanks to all of the contributors for great content this week on a wide variety of issues.

Nuclear Matinee: ‘Cosmos’ Returns

“It is time to make the case for science,” says host Neil deGrasse Tyson of the upcoming relaunch of the classic 1980 series Cosmos. The new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey premieres this Sunday, March 9, on FOX, and Monday, March 10, on the National Geographic Network—all in all, in 170 countries and 45 languages, the largest global opening ever for any television series, according to executive producer, writer, and director Ann Druyan.

Nuclear-related? Sure! The universe itself is nuclear-powered, and from the Curiosity rover on Mars to the most powerful space telescopes, our understanding of nuclear science and use of nuclear technologies have been indispensable in humanity’s exploration and understanding of that greatest of all mysteries, and greatest of all voyages… the Cosmos.

We no longer have Carl Sagan, but if the new series can capture the charm and wonder of the old, and portray this to a mass audience, we could be in for something special. As in this trip back in time, in which Dr. Sagan (at 28:27) begins to discuss the prospects for… nuclear-powered starships.

For more on the new Cosmos and its creators, see this review in the New York Times. Or, just tune in Sunday evening and enjoy the ride.

cosmos 355x200

 

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.

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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.

ANS Young Members Group Slogan Contest

Young Member Group 200x52Are you witty? Good with words? Up for a challenge? Then we have a contest right up your alley!

The Young Members Group (YMG) of the American Nuclear Society is looking for a slogan, and we need your help. Our slogan should both help describe who we are (young/new professionals in ANS) and what we’re trying to accomplish (support integration of young professionals into ANS and represent their needs).

Imagine your words on television! Billboards! In lights! Or maybe just on websites and tee shirts. That would still be cool, right? Plus, we’ll have an awesome prize for the winner—your choice of an amazing nuclear themed print by Megan Lee Studio.

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Example prints by Megan Lee Studio given as prizes during the 2013 Young Professionals Congress (sponsored by NAYGN and YMG).

Have an idea? We’d love to hear it—submit your entry here. We look forward to hearing what you’ve got!

Suggested slogans will be judged by a panel of ANS members. Entries are due by March 31, 2014.

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Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival 198

ferris wheel 202x201The 198th Nuclear Energy Blogger Carnival has been posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to access this latest installment of a long running tradition among the top English language pro-nuclear bloggers and authors.

Each week, a new edition of the Carnival is hosted at one of the top English-language nuclear blogs. This rotating feature of nuclear “posts of the week” represents the dedication of those who are working toward a future of energy abundance, improved health, and broadened security through nuclear science and technology.

Past editions of the carnival have been hosted at Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Power Review, ANS Nuclear Cafe, NEI Nuclear Notes, Next Big Future, Atomic Insights, Hiroshima Syndrome, Things Worse Than Nuclear Power, EntrepreNuke, and Deregulate the Atom.

This is a great collaborative effort that deserves your support.  If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brain Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

Nuclear Matinee: NASA Artificial Intelligence Unit on Fission vs. Fusion

Fans of the popular games Portal and Portal II will get a kick out of this one—or just fans of evil and corrupt artificial intelligences—or just fans of nuclear fission, fusion, and astronomy.

As part of the education and public outreach department of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an A.I. system is brought online to manage the NASA servers—but unfortunately, and of course completely unexpectedly, it turns out to be mad with lust for power.

In the process of dealing with this highly entertaining, if evil, machine, brilliant computer technicians learn about the A.I. system’s fusion and fission power cores and the basic science of the processes behind them—and even how old the light is that we see from the sun, among other interesting things.

Thanks to NASA Spitzer YouTube for this fine video.

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