Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 220

ferris wheel 202x201The 220th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to access this latest installment of a long running tradition among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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, Thorium MSR 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.

Japan Nuclear Restarts: Abe Says “Will See To It,” Courts Differ, Plants Prepare

By Will Davis

HamaokaChubuElectric“I will see to it by some means or other. I will properly deal with it.” So go the reported words of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan, as printed recently in the Japanese press. At the present time, while the Japanese government and courts seem to be at odds on restarting plants—with the public left in the middle—those at the nuclear plants themselves must count on eventual approval to restart and must ensure required measures are completed properly. Those preparing for restart continue to work toward that end while facing an improving, but not yet by any means certain, situation in the public and legal arenas.

Abe says yes, court says no

Those wishing for nuclear plant restarts in Japan, and especially power companies and large manufacturers (which consider their businesses in great peril), were bolstered by the continued support for nuclear restarts expressed by Abe, although it’s now becoming clear that a one-man fight isn’t what lies ahead. Abe’s recent statement, specifically about Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), comes on the heels of a public presentation to the Prime Minister of produce from the governor of Fukushima Prefecture—a sure sign that life indeed continues in the prefecture. That rosy picture of recovery stands opposed by courts, however.

Just last May, the Fukui Court issued an order to Kansai Electric barring the restart of reactors at the Oi NPP. The language of the order has more recently been translated into English, and the finding is troubling—the court basically saying that no person or establishment is capable of predicting the maximum severity and effect of prospective natural disasters; and that since the people of Japan generally derive their welfare and well-being from the land, it can be ruled illegal to operate nuclear plants that could in theory lead to the loss of the land and well-being of the people.

Residents in the immediate vicinity of Sendai NPP in Kagoshima Prefecture were this week issued iodine pills as part of a disaster preparedness plan, along with access to pharmacists who could answer questions, according to NHK World. One resident interviewed said that he indeed felt better because of this “ounce of prevention” approach. In some regions, public opinion appears to sway toward the return of nuclear energy, as utilities and prefectural governments make advance preparations and keep the public “in the loop.”

Preparing by building and training

KashiwazakiKariwaAs scenes of quite public debate continue, the utilities meanwhile have long recognized the need to restart their nuclear plants, if at all possible, to begin to recoup some of the massive losses they’re incurring—as a result of having to buy large amounts of fossil fuel and having to build temporary fossil-fired power plants to make up for the loss of generation from nuclear plants. And lest there be any doubt, overall power generation is still far, far short of what it had been with all nuclear plants available.

Some plants have experienced setbacks. This week, Shikoku Electric Power Company announed that its Ikata NPP would delay restarting by up to a year because its on-site emergency control center didn’t meet required revised seismic standards.

Others continue apace. We’ve reported here on the massive amount of time and money that Tokyo Electric Power Company (owner of Fukushima Daiichi) has put into its Kashiwazaki–Kariwa nuclear plant on the opposite coast of Japan; these safety measures continue with further massive construction. A recently published video displays the continued wide effort underway to meet all the required precautions and standards, and is worth viewing in its entirety for anyone interested in the preparations at nuclear plants in Japan:

Click here to watch the TEPCO Kashiwazaki-Kariwa video

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) released a report stating that the triggering event for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was in fact the tsunami, and not the earthquake itself, lending support to safety actions taken at Kashiwazaki–Kariwa and other nuclear plant sites around Japan (including Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka NPP and Kyushu Electric Power’s Genkai and Sendai NPP’s) in the sense that the majority of expenditure lies in prevention of damaging effects from tsunami. A previous Japanese government panel had implicated the quake as the cause, but the NRA’s investigation has resulted in little or no evidence that the quake itself caused any damage to the plants that would have led to core melt. For example, the summary of the NRA report states that any small leaks caused by the quake would not have caused a threat to core integrity within 10 hours, and that there were no detectable signs of any serious breach of primary plant integrity during the time between the quake and the arrival of the tsunami.

It seems assured now—given the work required, the recent court position, and the overall sensitivity of the issue—that none of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart before autumn. As that original hope slips, the public and industry continue to forge a new understanding of the importance of safety in the Japanese nuclear power industry.

For more information:

Hamaoka NPP – 19 minute video of preparations, training entitled “Amassing Our Full Strength in Pursuit of Greater Safety

Nuclear Regulation Authority (Japan) – Overview of Regulatory Requirements

New Regulatory Requirements for Light Water Nuclear Plants (Earthquakes and Tsunami.)  Nuclear Regulation Agency

_______________________

SavannahWillinControlRoomWill 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. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  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, 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 Blog Carnival 219

ferris wheel 202x201The 219th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors has been posted at The Hiroshima Syndrome.  You can click here to access this latest installment of a long running tradition among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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, Thorium MSR 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: The Mighty Watts Bar FLEX Building

If a tornado just happens to come through… flying steel pipes, telephone poles, or even automobiles will be no match for this building. This is the new Watts Bar FLEX building, housing emergency backup equipment like generators and pumps that could be used to replace equipment in case of damage from a natural disaster. Watts Bar will likely be the first nuclear facility in the United States to comply with all the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s post-Fukushima requirements, as the Tennessee Valley Authority works toward licensing for Watts Bar Unit 2 with a target date of beginning commercial operation in December next year.

And take a more in-depth tour of the building:

Thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority for producing the first fine video, and thanks to the Nuclear Energy Institute News Team for producing the second.

FLEX door

Research Reactor License Renewal Challenges

By Rod Adams

The process for renewing research and test reactor (RTR) licenses in the United States has been subject to lengthy delays and periodic backlogs since the early 1980s. Despite the apparent time invested in improvement efforts, the process does not seem to be getting better very fast. The difficulty, schedule uncertainty, and cost of renewing research reactor licenses adds to the burden of owning and operating research reactors. The scale of the challenge may contribute to regrettable institutional decisions that maintaining operable facilities is not worth the trouble.

Here is the background that led me to those conclusions:

A couple of weeks ago, one of the email lists I read provided an intriguing press release announcing the renewal of Dow Chemical Co.’s TRIGA research reactor located in Midland, Mich. The intriguing part of the story was that Dow had initially filed its application to review the license in April 2009 and the 20-year extension was awarded on June 18, 2014, more than five years later. One of the more frequent contributors to the list had the following reaction:

Seriously? It took more than five years to renew a TRIGA license? That in itself might be an interesting story.

I followed up with a request for information to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public affairs office. Scott Burnell replied promptly with the following information:

The background on the staff’s ongoing effort to improve RTR license renewal goes back quite a ways. Here’s a relevant SECY and other material:

http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0921/ML092150717.pdf

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML120930333 (March 2012 Commission meeting transcript)

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML12087A060 (March 2012 Commission meeting staff slides)

http://adamswebsearch2.nrc.gov/webSearch2/main.jsp?AccessionNumber=ML12240A677 (regulatory basis for rulemaking to improve process)

I’ll check with the staff Monday on what information’s available re: staff hours on the Dow RTR renewal review.

Burnell sent the staff hour estimate for renewing the Dow TRIGA reactor license. Not including hours spent by contractors, the NRC staff took 1600 hours to review the renewal application. Since Dow is a for-profit company, it was charged $272 per hour, for a total of $435,000 plus whatever contractor costs were involved. That amount just covers the cost of regulator time, not the cost of salaries and contracts paid directly by Dow to prepare the license application, respond to requests for additional information (RAI), and engage in other communications associated with the applications.

Based on the cover letter for the issued license, Dow sent 19 letters to the NRC related to Dow’s application during the five-year process.

The references supplied by Burnell provided additional information about the process that is well known within the small community that specializes in research reactor operations, maintenance, and licensing.

For example, the last renewal of the Rensselaer Critical Facility, a 100-Watt open tank reactor that was originally licensed in 1965, was initially submitted in November 2002 and issued on June 27, 2011, nearly nine years later. The NRC did not send Rensselaer an RAI until three years after it had submitted its renewal application.

University of Missouri Research Reactor

University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR)

In a second example, the University of Missouri-Columbia Research Reactor (MURR) submitted its most recent license application in August 2006. The NRC sent its first set of RAIs in July 2009 and followed up with at least five more sets of RAIs that included a total of 201 questions of varying complexity. According to the NRC’s listing of research reactors currently undergoing licensing review, the MURR license has not yet been issued.

A third example is the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute TRIGA reactor. Its license renewal application was submitted in July 2004 and is still under review. In 2012, AFRRI estimated that it would be spending at least $1 million for its share of the license review process, not including expenditures by the NRC. Since AFRRI is a government organization, the NRC does not bill it for fees. Burnell indicated that the staff hours expended on that project could be 6,000 or more. It is sadly amusing to review the brief provided by the AFRRI to the NRC in 2012 about the process. (See page 52–65 of the linked document.) The following quote is a sample that indicates the briefer’s level of frustration.

Question: Once the licensee demonstrates that the reactor does not pose a risk to the heath and safety of the public, what is the benefit provided to the public by the expenditure of $1M to answer the additional 142 RAIs?

In a quirk of fate, numerous research license renewals have often come due when NRC priorities have been reordered by external events. Research reactors receive 20-year licenses; numerous facilities were constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dozens of renewals came due or were already under review in April 1979 when the Three Mile Island accident and its recovery became the NRC’s highest priority items.

About 20 years after that backlog got worked off, the 9/11-inspired security upgrades pushed everything else down on the priority list.

TRIGA at Oregon State University

TRIGA at Oregon State University

The research reactor office has experienced staffing shortages, often exacerbated by the small pool of people with sufficient knowledge and experience in the field. When the NRC hunts for talent, it is drawing from the same pool of people that staffs the plants and is responsible for filing the applications for license amendments and renewals.

One aspect of the law that eases the potential disruption of the licensing delays is a provision that allows continued facility operation as long as there was a timely submission of the renewal application. That provision, however, has often resulted in a lower priority being assigned to fixing the staffing shortages and the complex nature of the license application process.

The facility owners don’t want to complain too loudly about the amount of time that their application is taking, since they are not prohibited from operating due to an expired license. NRC budgeters and human resource personnel have not been pressured to make investments in improving their service level; not only do the customers have no other choice, but they have not squeaked very loudly. Here is a quote from a brief provided to the NRC by the chairman of the National Organization for Test, Research and Training Reactors (TRTR).

Position on License Renewal

  • TRTR recognizes the unique challenges imposed on NRC during RTR relicensing in the past decade (staffing issues, 9/11, etc.).
  • TRTR appreciates the efforts made by the Commission to alleviate the relicensing backlog.
  • TRTR appreciates the efforts of the NRC RTR group to update guidance for future relicensing efforts and the opportunity to participate in the update process via public meetings.

Generic Suggestions for Streamlining Relicensing

  • The process has become excessively complex compared to 20 years ago, with no quantifiable improvement to safety.
  • Consider the development of generic thermal hydraulic analysis models for TRIGA and plate-type fueled RTRs (1 MW or less).
  • Similarly for the Maximum Hypothetical Accident analysis.
  • Develop a systematic way outside of the RAI process to correct typographical and editing errors.
  • Develop a generic decommissioning cost analysis based on previous experiences, indexed to power level, and inflation.
  • Endorse the use of ANSI/ANS Standards in Regulatory Guidance.

(Pages 26–28 of the linked PDF document containing several briefs, each with its own slide numbering sequence.)

Once the high priority responses have died down and backlogs of license reviews in progress have reached levels in excess of 50 percent of the total number of research reactors in operation, the NRC has stepped in and directed improvement efforts. The staff has attempted to improve the process by issuing more guidance, but those attempts have often complicated and delayed the applications that are already under review.

The Interim Staff Guidance (ISG) issued in June 2009 appears to still be active; it is difficult to tell how much progress has been made on the long-range plan that ISG outlined. Once again, external events have changed the NRC’s priorities as most available resources during the past three years have been shifted to deal with the events that took place in Japan in 2011 and the effort to come up with some kind of waste confidence determination.

There are no easy solutions, but repairing the process will require focused and sustained management attention.

TRIGA at University of California, Davis

TRIGA at University of California, Davis

______________________

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.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 218

ferris wheel 202x201The 218th Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival has been posted at Yes Vermont Yankee.  You can click here to access this latest installment in a long running tradition  among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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, Thorium MSR 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.

EPA Proposes Power Sector CO2 Emissions Reduction Plan

By Jim Hopf

DC PerspectivesWith cap-and-trade and carbon tax proposals going nowhere in congress, the Obama administration is tackling the global warming issue through the administrative branch, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. In the transport sector, the administration promulgated vehicle fuel efficiency (mileage) standards. In the power sector, the EPA has proposed regulations requiring that all new power plants emit no more CO2 than a typical natural gas plant—thus, any new coal plants would have to employ CO2 sequestration. And now, the EPA is proposing to address CO2 emissions from existing power plants by establishing CO2 emissions reduction requirements for the power sector.

EPA proposed rules

Under the proposed rules, each state would be required to reduce its power sector CO2 emissions rate (in tons of CO2 per MW-hr) by a certain percentage by 2030. Some interim goals will also apply. Details of the plan are described on the EPA’s website.

When establishing the emissions reduction goals for each state, the EPA considered five likely, low-cost means that the states may employ to reduce emissions. These include:

  • Increased thermal efficiency for fossil plants (6 percent average increase assumed for the coal fleet).
  • Increased use of existing gas-fired plants, in place of coal (usage increased to 70 percent).
  • 5.8 GW of new nuclear and continued operation of “at risk” nuclear units.
  • Increased renewable generation (to 13 percent of overall generation by 2030).
  • Electricity conservation (10.7 percent reduction in demand by 2030).

The EPA is not requiring the exact measures described above to be taken by the states. The above assumptions are simply the basis that the EPA used to arrive at “reasonable” emissions rate reduction requirements for various states. They are steps that states are already taking or are planning on taking, or steps that the EPA believes can be taken at very low cost.

The only requirement is the emissions rate (tons CO2/MW-hr) reduction percentage that applies to each state. Each state is free to choose the means by which it will meet the requirement. States are also free to engage in inter-state emissions trading to meet the goals (thus allowing some states to emit more than the goal if other states manage to emit less). Such trading schemes may result in some effective price being put on CO2 emissions.

The emissions reduction requirements for each state are based on the assumption that the five new nuclear reactors under construction in the United States go into operation. They also assume that the ~5.8 percent of U.S. nuclear capacity deemed to be “at risk” continues to operate (i.e., that any necessary steps or incentives to keep them open are taken). Thus, the proposed regulations do provide a tangible incentive to finish the five plants under construction and keep all existing nuclear plant operating. If any nuclear plants close, or if any of the five construction projects are halted, the states in question would be significantly affected, as they would need to find other, significant sources of reductions that were not otherwise planned.

The requirements are also based on an assumption that, on average, natural gas plants in the state that are in operation or currently under construction will operate with a 70 percent capacity factor (vs. ~55 percent now). Thus, they assume that coal generation will be displaced by increased gas generation from any under-utilized gas-fired plants in the state. They do not assume any new gas plant construction (to replace coal), however.

The requirements are also based on the assumption that renewables will increase to 13 percent of generation, mostly based on existing state renewable generation (portfolio) requirements and other state plans. States are also assumed to reduce power demand by 10.7 percent (vs. current projections, using new demand-side management programs). These demand reductions are essentially treated like non-emitting generation, and are part of the quoted percentage emissions reduction for each state.

State requirements

The state requirements are illustrated in the figure below. State by state requirements are also shown in tabular form here. The state requirements are expressed in terms of percentage reductions in tons of CO2 emitted per MW-hr of generation, from 2012 to 2030.

epa carbon reduction goals 480x304

At first look, many of the state requirements seem odd, with states that already have low emissions (like Washington) having significant reduction requirements, while “coal states” like Kentucky and West Virginia have very small reduction requirements. One would think that such coal states would be the most ripe for reductions, mainly by replacing coal plants (especially old inefficient ones) with gas generation. The reason for this is that the EPA requirements are largely based on existing state plans.

For example, Washington is planning on closing the one large coal plant in the state, which is the source of most of the state’s power sector CO2 emissions. The EPA based its reduction requirement on those plans, and is essentially requiring the state to go forward with them.

The reason for the low reduction requirements for Kentucky and West Virginia is that few if any natural gas plants exist in those states. As stated earlier, the EPA did not consider the construction of new gas-fired plants in any states when making its estimates for “feasible” reductions. It only considered increased utilization of existing gas plants within the state.

Another example that stands out is the large (51.4 percent) reduction required for South Carolina. The primary reason for the strict requirement is the two-unit V.C. Summer nuclear project in the state. Those two reactors will result in a significant reduction in state CO2 emissions, and the EPA is essentially requiring that those projects go forward.

Overall national reduction goal

The EPA states that the proposed rules will result in national power sector emissions in 2030 that are 26 percent to 30 percent below 2005 levels. It should be noted that power sector emissions have already fallen ~15 percent between 2005 and 2013. Thus, the policies would actually only decrease emissions by another ~10–15 percent from today.

Even after reading most of the press releases and other documents on the EPA website and elsewhere, I have been unable to determine with certainty if the national reduction quoted above is a 26–30 percent reduction in actual, absolute emissions (in tons per year), or a reduction in emissions per MW-hr generated. The EPA refers to a 26–30 percent reduction in “CO2 emissions” (suggesting an absolute emissions reduction), but all state requirements are given in units of emissions (tons) per MW-hr. Looking over all the tabulated state reduction requirements suggests an average (i.e., national) reduction requirement of ~30 percent, in tons/MW-hr. Could the EPA really be referring to a reduction in per MW-hr emissions when it speaks of “CO2 emissions reductions” (i.e., is it using misleading/evasive language)?

This question is significant, since the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects an increase of ~26 percent in overall U.S. electricity generation between 2012 and 2030. Thus, a ~30 percent reduction in tons/MW-hr would result in ~26 percent more emissions than a ~30 percent reduction in absolute emissions (tons/year). The EPA assumed that states would reduce overall electricity use by 10.7 percent, versus current projections (of a 26 percent increase, presumably). However, those reductions are essentially treated like zero-emissions generation, and are included in the state emissions/MW-hr reduction goals. That is, the required percentage reduction in CO2/MW-hr for the state’s power generation is actually less than that quoted, unless the state fails to reduce demand.

Part of the answer lies in the use of 2005 vs. 2012 as a base year. As discussed above, a 30 percent emissions reduction (in tons/year) from 2005 equates to a reduction of only 10–15 percent from 2012 levels. If one assumes that power generation increases by 26 percent, but the tons of CO2 emitted per MW-hr decreases by 30 percent, the resulting overall emissions, in tons/year, would fall by ~12 percent (which lies within the range of 10–15 percent). Thus, I believe we have our answer. Overall emissions will decrease by 10–15 percent, from now to 2030. Emissions intensity (tons/MW-hr) will decrease by a larger amount (26–30 percent), but overall generation will increase somewhat.

It should be noted, however, that the requirements, as written, only limit emissions intensity and do not actually limit absolute emissions (in tons/year). Thus, if overall power generation increases by more than the expected amount, for whatever reason, absolute CO2 emissions will be allowed to increase accordingly. Any restriction or disincentive on CO2 emissions would not increase in response to increased generation.

Political considerations

The EPA’s proposals appear to be designed to minimize political impacts, in my view. As discussed earlier, many if not most of the proposed “measures” are simply ratification of existing policies and plans, such as planned coal plant closures and state renewables mandates. Any new measures are ones that can be achieved at very low cost.

One of the only new aspects is a requirement to increase gas utilization, vs. coal, but even that measure is only applied to states with spare gas capacity, and not to coal states (which have little such spare gas capacity). The EPA’s argument appears to be that constructing new gas plants (as opposed to simply using existing ones more often) would be too expensive. This argument appears weak, given the very low capital cost of gas capacity. It appears to me to be more of a political sop to the coal-dominated states, perhaps to avoid political resistance to the plan. The proposal is designed so that the impact on power generation in the states most politically opposed to the plan are virtually non-existent.

This appears to be a proposal that has a somewhat limited impact on emissions (relative to other/earlier proposals), but also is known to have very limited economic (and political) impacts. My view is that this is an attempt to get at least some sort of global warming policy established. This will set precedent, and establish the principle that this is something that warrants government action. Once the policy is established, policies that require further/continued reductions may be promulgated in the future, especially if (or when) it is seen that this policy had no significant negative impact on the economy. In any event, this is probably the strongest policy that can be attained right now, given attitudes in congress, and some policy is better than none.

Overall impacts

As discussed above, this proposal appears to be far weaker than other global warming proposals that have been put forward, such as the earlier cap-and-trade bill or various CO2 tax proposals.

The plan is estimated to yield a 30 percent reduction in emissions (vs. 2005) by 2030, from the power sector only (and only 10–15 percent from today). That corresponds to a reduction of just over 10 percent in overall emissions, vs. 2005 (and less than half of that vs. today). That compares to the (Waxman-Markey) cap-and-trade bill requirement of ~20 percent in overall CO2 emissions.

It must be noted that power sector emissions reduction options (e.g., replacing coal with anything else) are among the “lowest hanging fruit” with respect to cost effectiveness. A carbon price of $25–$30 per ton, enough to put many if not most existing coal plants out of business, would only add ~25–30 cents to a gallon of gasoline (i.e., not nearly enough to drive any significant changes in the transport sector). Thus, the old cap-and-trade bill was actually far more significant in terms of impacts and reductions demanded. To get a ~20 percent reduction in overall emissions, the reductions from the power sector would have been far greater than 20 percent (its reduction measures being cheaper than other sectors).

It should be noted that coal is still projected to represent ~30 percent of overall generation in 2030, even under these proposals. Coal formerly was over 50 percent, and recently fell to ~34 percent (in 2012). Now, because natural gas prices have gone back up somewhat, coal is back up to ~40 percent. (Note that, whereas when a nuclear plant closes it’s closed forever, utilities turn mothballed coal plants right back on when they become slightly cheaper to operate than gas, with no consideration of the drastic difference in health and environmental impacts.) Thus, all the proposals are doing is bringing coal back down to where it was a couple years ago with no policy input.

My opinion is that, given that shutting down old coal plants and replacing them with gas (if nothing else) represents one of the least expensive means of emissions reduction, any plan that leaves coal’s generation percentage at 30 percent in 2030 simply isn’t trying hard enough.

Indeed, I believe most of the EPA’s proposed reduction measures discussed earlier are estimated to have costs of only ~$15 per ton of CO2. Most carbon tax proposals involve significantly higher CO2 prices.

Most earlier proposals also required more significant reductions in overall (all sector) emissions by 2030. Those requirements, along with other assumptions such as higher natural gas prices, led to significantly different predicted outcomes, including much lower coal use and much higher nuclear use. I seem to recall one EPA study of a cap-and-trade policy that predicted a nuclear generation share of ~60 percent.

Impacts on nuclear

As stated earlier, the EPA’s policies should be a significant help in assuring that existing nuclear construction projects go forward, and in preventing any more nuclear plant closures, as these are the assumptions “baked into” the emissions requirements for each state. Whether or not the policy will stimulate any additional nuclear construction is far less clear.

The emissions goals for each state were based on current plans and additional measures estimated to cost ~$15/ton of CO2. A CO2 price of ~$15/ton is certainly not enough to stimulate much in the way of new nuclear plant construction, although it is probably enough to keep existing plants open. While larger emissions reductions would require higher costs (CO2 prices), the EPA’s analysis and proposals do seem to show that significant reductions can be achieved at very modest costs (and through mere continuation of existing plans and policies); something that is somewhat disconcerting with respect to new nuclear plant prospects.

Perhaps the main impact of the proposed policy, both on nuclear and in general, is that it cements current plans and policies, and prevents any back-tracking. The most significant example of this concerns the use of gas vs. coal. Without the policy, utilities will go right back to coal if the cost of natural gas rises. The EPA policies will essentially disallow switching back from gas to coal, and will instead require some further replacement of coal with gas. We’ve already back-tracked from 34 percent coal use back to ~40 percent. The EPA policies will drive coal use back down to ~30 percent. And they will do so even if natural gas prices rise in the future; a very important point.

That last point is probably the most significant in terms of whether the EPA’s proposed policy will ever result in new nuclear construction projects. If the price of natural gas increases significantly in the future, nuclear may become competitive. The EPA policies would prevent shifting back to coal as an alternative to new nuclear (or renewable) capacity. Preventing a shift back to coal would also tend to keep gas prices up, as a shift back to coal would no longer act as a means of limiting gas demand. On the other hand, if the price of natural gas remains low, the proposed EPA policies would do little, if anything, to stimulate new nuclear construction, in lieu of just using more gas.

Call to action

Another option for increasing the odds of new nuclear plant construction would be to argue for policies that treat all non-CO2-emitting sources the same. As the EPA is leaving it up to each state to determine how to comply with the proposed rules, such policies would most likely be set at the state level. The state emissions goals are based on the continuation of existing renewable generation requirements and plans, and renewables accounting for 13 percent of overall national generation in 2030. The states are free to use nuclear, in lieu of renewables, for some of that generation under the EPA policy.

This is an area where the American Nuclear Society, nuclear engineers, and nuclear advocates need to get involved. The EPA’s proposed rules are now out for public comment. Also, states are beginning to develop plans for how they will respond to the emissions reduction requirements. Nuclear experts and advocates need to make the case for a technology-neutral approach. Certainly, we should advocate neutrality for any new state policies. Cap-and-trade systems in lieu of portfolio standards are also something we could argue for. Revision of existing state renewable portfolio standards to include nuclear (in order to reduce compliance costs) would be a bit more difficult to achieve, but is still worth pursuing.

_________________

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.

Columbia Generating Station Sets New Generation Record

By Laura Scheele

Ratepayers in the Pacific Northwest have reason to celebrate the dedicated employees of Energy Northwest’s 1170-megawatt Columbia Generating Station:  The Northwest’s sole nuclear energy facility generated a record 9.7 million megawatt hours of electricity during the fiscal year that ended Monday, June 30—eclipsing a previous record of 9.5 million megawatt hours in fiscal year 2006.

This generation mark has been set with safety and efficiency, as well as adherence to the core principles of the organization’s Excellence Model. The Columbia Generating Station has operated more than 4.5 years without an unplanned shutdown, and Energy Northwest has surpassed 14 million work-hours without lost time due to injury.

“This performance is a testament to the organization’s alignment to the Excellence Model and commitment to fixing plant equipment and demonstrating the right behaviors,” said Brad Sawatzke, vice president of nuclear generation, in a message to employees. “Most importantly, the team reached this milestone while performing safely in the areas of nuclear, radiological, industrial and environmental safety.”

In a broader context, the 100 commercial nuclear energy reactors operating in the United States have continued to maintain their overall share of U.S. electricity generation through great improvements in efficiency and performance over recent decades, as well as massive additional capacity added through power uprates—for more on uprates in detail see Nuclear power uprates: what, how, when, and will there be more? at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

For more on the story see Energy Northwest near Richland sets new megawatt record. For more on Columbia Generating Station at ANS Nuclear Cafe see this Nuclear Matinee double-feature from February of this year.

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About Energy Northwest 
Energy Northwest develops, owns, and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar, and wind projects—and Columbia Generating Station (pictured above), the Northwest’s only nuclear power plant. These projects provide enough reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible energy to power more than a million homes each year, and that carbon-free electricity is provided at the cost of generation.

As a Washington state, not-for-profit joint operating agency, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million ratepayers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members’ needs.
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laura-scheeleLaura Scheele is a Senior Public Affairs Analyst and Member Relations Manager at Energy Northwest, a not-for-profit joint operating agency headquartered in Richland, Washington. She is an active board member of the ANS Eastern Washington Local Section.

 

Nuclear professionals: Establish standing now to improve operational radiation limits

By Rod Adams

On August 3, 2014, the window will close on a rare opportunity to use the political process to strongly support the use of science to establish radiation protection regulations. Though it is not terribly difficult for existing light water reactors and fuel cycle facilities to meet the existing limits from 40 CFR 190 regarding doses to the general public and annual release rate limits for specific isotopes, there is no scientific basis for the current limits. If they are maintained, it would hinder the deployment of many potentially valuable technologies that could help humanity achieve a growing level of prosperity while achieving substantial reductions in air pollution and persistent greenhouse gases like CO2.

In January 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit comments from the general public and affected stakeholders about 40 CFR 190, Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Nuclear Power Operations.

The ANPR page has links to summary webinars provided to the public during the spring of 2014, including presentation slides, presentation audio, and questions and answers. This is an important opportunity for members of the public, nuclear energy professionals, nuclear technical societies, and companies involved in various aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle to provide comments about the current regulations and recommendations for improvements. Providing comments now, in the information-gathering phase of a potential rulemaking process, is a critical component of establishing standing to continue participating in the process.

us epa logo no text 214x201It also avoids a situation where an onerous rule could be issued and enforced under the regulator’s principle that “we provided an opportunity for comment, but no one complained then.”

The existing version of 40 CFR 190—issued on January 13, 1977, during the last week of the Gerald Ford administration—established a limit of 0.25 mSv/year whole body dose and 0.75 mSv/year to the thyroid for any member of the general public from radiation coming from any part of the nuclear fuel cycle, with the exception of uranium mining and long-term waste disposal. Those two activities are covered under different regulations. Naturally occurring radioactive material is not covered by 40 CFR 190, nor are exposures from medical procedures.

40 CFR 190 also specifies annual emissions limits for the entire fuel cycle for three specific radionuclides for each gigawatt-year of nuclear generated electricity: krypton-85 (50,000 curies), iodine-129 (5 millicuries), and Pu-239 and other alpha emitters with longer than one year half-life (0.5 millicuries).

It is important to clarify the way that the U.S. federal government assigns responsibilities for radiation protection standards. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the responsibility for regulating individual facilities and for establishing radiation protection standards for workers, but the EPA has a role and an office of radiation protection as well.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 initially assigned all regulation relating to nuclear energy and radiation to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). However, as part of the President’s Reorganization Plan No. 3 of October 1970, President Nixon transferred responsibility for establishing generally applicable environmental radiation protection standards from the AEC to the newly formed EPA:

…to the extent that such functions of the Commission consist of establishing generally applicable environmental standards for the protection of the general environment from radioactive material. As used herein, standards mean limits on radiation exposures or levels or concentrations or quantities of radioactive material, in the general environment outside the boundaries of locations under the control of persons possessing or using radioactive material.

(Final Environmental Impact Statement, Environmental Radiation Protection Requirements for Normal Operations of Activities in the Uranium Fuel Cycle, p. 18.)

Before the transfer of environmental radiation responsibilities from the AEC to the EPA, and until the EPA issued the new rule in 1977, the annual radiation dose limit for a member of the general public from nuclear fuel cycle operations was 5 mSv—20 times higher than the EPA’s limit.

The AEC had conservatively assigned a limit of 1/10th of the 50 mSv/year applied to occupational radiation workers, which it had, in turn, conservatively chosen to provide a high level of worker protection from the potential negative health effects of atomic radiation.

The AEC’s occupational limit of 50 mSv was less than 1/10th of the previously applied “tolerance dose” of 2 mSv/day, which worked out to an annual limit of approximately 700 mSv/year. That daily limit recognized the observed effect that damage resulting from radiation doses was routinely repaired by normal physiological healing mechanisms.

Aside: After more than 100 years of human experience working with radiation and radioactive materials, there is still no data that prove negative health effects for people whose exposures have been maintained within the above tolerance dose, initially established for radiology workers in 1934. End Aside.

From the 1934 tolerance dose to the EPA limit specified in 1977 (and still in effect), requirements were tightened by a factor of 2800. The claimed basis for that large conservatism was a lack of data at low doses, leading to uncertainty about radiation health effects on humans. Based on reports from the National Academy of Sciences subcommittee on the Biological Effect of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR), the EPA rule writers simply assumed that every dose of radiation was hazardous to human health.

The EPA used that assumption to justify setting limits that were quite low, but could be met by the existing technology if it was maintained in a like-new condition for its entire operating life. Since the rule writers assumed that they were establishing a standard that would protect the public from an actual harm, they did not worry about the amount of effort that would be expended in surveys and monitoring to prove compliance. As gleaned from the public webinar questions and answers, EPA representatives do not even ask about compliance costs, because they are only given the responsibility of establishing the general rule; the NRC is responsible for inspections and monitoring enforcement of the standard.

The primary measured human health effects used by the BEIR committee in formulating their regulatory recommendations were determined based on epidemiological studies of atomic bomb survivors. That unique population was exposed to almost instantaneous doses greater than 100 mSv. Based on their interpretation of data from the Life Span Study of atomic bomb victims, which supported a linear relationship between dose and effect in the dose regions available, the BEIR committee recommended a conservative assumption that the linear relationship continued all the way down to a zero dose, zero effect origin.

For the radionuclide emissions limits, the EPA chose numbers that stretch the linear no-threshold dose assumption by applying it to extremely small doses spread to a very large population.

The Kr-85 standard is illustrative of this stretching. It took several hours of digging through the 240-page final environmental impact statement and the nearly 400-page collection of comments and responses to determine exactly what dose the EPA was seeking to limit decades ago, and how much it thought the industry should spend to achieve that protection.

The EPA determined that allowing the industry to continue its then-established practice of venting Kr-85 and allowing that inert gas to disperse posed an unacceptable risk to the world’s population.

It calculated that if no effort was made to contain Kr-85, and the U.S. industry grew to a projected 1000 GW of electricity production by 2000, an industry with full recycling would release enough radioactive Kr-85 gas to cause about 100 cases of cancer each year.

The EPA’s calculation was based on a world population of 5 billion people exposed to an average of 0.0004 mSv/year per individual.

At the time that this analysis was performed, the Barnwell nuclear fuel reprocessing facility was under construction and nearly complete. It had not been designed to contain Kr-85. The facility owners provided an estimate to the EPA that retrofitting a cryogenic capture and storage capability for Kr-85 would cost $44.6 million.

The EPA finessed this exceedingly large cost for tiny assumed benefit by saying that the estimated cost for the Barnwell facility was not representative of what it would cost other facilities that were designed to optimize the cost of Kr-85 capture. It based that assertion on the fact that Exxon Nuclear Fuels was in a conceptual design phase for a reprocessing facility and had determined that it might be able to include Kr-85 capture for less than half of the Barnwell estimate.

GE, the company that built the Midwest Fuel Recovery Plant in Morris, Illinois, provided several comments to the EPA, including one about the low cost-benefit ratio of attempting to impose controls on Kr-85:

Comment: The model used to determine the total population dose should have a cutoff point (generally considered to be less than 0.01 mSv/year) below which the radiation dose to individuals is small enough to be ignored.

In particular, holdup of krypton-85 is not justified since the average total body dose rate by the year 2000 is expected to be only 0.0004 mSv/year.

Response: Radiation doses caused by man’s activities are additive to the natural radiation background of about 0.8-1.0 mSv/year [note: the generally accepted range of background radiation in the mid 1970s, as indicated by other parts of the documents was 0.6 - 3.0 mSv/yr] whole-body dose to which everyone is exposed. It is extremely unlikely that there is an abrupt discontinuity in the dose-effect relationship, whatever its shape or slope. at the dose level represented by the natural background that would be required to justify a conclusion that some small additional radiation dose caused by man’s activities can be considered harmless and may be reasonably ignored.

For this reason, it is appropriate to sum small doses delivered to large population groups to determine the integrated population dose. The integrated population dose may then be used to calculate potential health effects to assist in making judgements on the risk resulting from radioactive effluent releases from uranium fuel cycle facilities, and the reasonableness of costs that would be incurred to mitigate this risk.

Existing Kr-85 rules are thus based on collective doses, and a calculation of risks, that is now specifically discouraged by both national (NCRP) and international (ICRP) radiation protection bodies. It is also based on the assumption of a full-recycle fuel system and 10 times as much nuclear power generating capacity as exists in the United States today.

Since the level specified is applied to the entire nuclear fuel cycle industry in the United States, the 40 CFR 190 ANPR asks the public to comment about the implications of attempting to apply limits to individual facilities. This portion of the discussion is important for molten salt reactor technology that does not include fuel cladding to seal fission product gases, and for fuel cycles that envision on-site recycling using a technology like pyroprocessing instead of transporting used fuel to a centralized facility for recycling.

There are many more facets of the existing rule that are worthy of comment, but one more worth particular attention is the concluding paragraph from the underlying policy for radiation protection, which is found on the last page of the final environmental impact statement:

The linear hypothesis by itself precludes the development of acceptable levels of risk based solely on health considerations. Therefore, in establishing radiation protection positions, the Agency will weigh not only the health impact, but also social, economic, and other considerations associated with the activities addressed.

In 1977, there was no consideration given to the fact that any power that was not generated using a uranium or thorium fuel cycle had a good chance of being generated by a power source producing a much higher level of carbon dioxide. In fact, the EPA in 1977 had not even begun to consider that CO2 was a problem. That “other consideration” must now play a role in any future decision-making about radiation limits or emission limits for radioactive noble gases.

If EPA bureaucrats are constrained to use the recommendations of a duly constituted body of scientists as the basis for writing its regulations, the least they could do before rewriting the rules is to ask the scientific community to determine if the linear no-threshold (LNT) dose response model is still valid. The last BEIR committee report is now close to 10 years old. The studies on which it was based were conducted during an era in which it was nearly impossible to conduct detailed studies of DNA, but that limitation has now been overcome by advances in biotechnology. There is also a well-developed community of specialists in dose response studies that have produced a growing body of evidence supporting the conclusion that the LNT is not “conservative”—it is simply incorrect.

Note: Dose rates from the original documents have been converted into SI units.

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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.

Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 217

ferris wheel 202x201The 217th edition of the Nuclear Blog and Author Carnival has been posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to access this latest installment in a long running tradition among the world’s top pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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, Thorium MSR 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 Video Matinee: Vogtle Nuclear Construction Update

Near Augusta, Georgia, the first new commercial nuclear power reactors under construction in the United States in 30 years continue to “go vertical.”  Take an inside look at the latest from the Vogtle-3 and -4 construction site, including placement of the 1.8 million pound containment vessel bottom head for Unit 4, the cooling tower for Unit 3 surpassing 300 feet, and a very interesting visit to the Port of Savannah where many of the most massive Vogtle components arrive via ship.

Thanks to Georgia Power YouTube for sharing this construction update.

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Nuclear Energy in Japan Steps into the Chasm

by Will Davis

Recent developments in Japan concerning the Fukushima Daiichi plant recovery specifically, and nuclear energy generally, have not been exceedingly positive. The difficult recovery efforts at the crippled nuclear plant are not all proceeding smoothly; delays and technical problems continue to abound and confound. Meanwhile, on a broader scale, the national pullback from nuclear may be even more serious and have longer term effects than anyone realizes.

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi Units 5 and 6, courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi—Where is the ice wall?

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported that efforts to block the flow of water through below-grade piping conduits have failed, largely because the currents in these conduits are fast enough that the water cannot freeze. Sealing these “trenches”—a separate issue from the “ice wall” discussed below—is a major part of the contaminated water mitigation process; it is what will, ultimately, prevent contaminated water that is inside the nuclear plant buildings (reactor buildings and turbine buildings) from getting out into the general grounds near the plants. At this writing, no solution has been devised, although TEPCO hopes to better control the currents and/or add more coolant pipes if needed.

Similarly, TEPCO also repeatedly delayed the expected completion date for the “frozen earth” ice wall that will surround Units 1 through 4 underground, which will prevent groundwater from intruding into the buildings. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has publicly expressed concern over the delay in this process, urging TEPCO to attack the problem with utmost vigor. According to reporting from NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting organization), the NRA has urged TEPCO to come up with definite steps by the end of July to ensure a timely completion of the ice wall.

Click here to see a video covering the ice wall verification test

TEPCO continues to have the “to be expected” occasional system problem here and there, but since the general public’s attitude toward TEPCO is definitely not one of trust and understanding, all events make for wide and negative press. Early this week, TEPCO temporarily lost cooling to the spent fuel pool at Unit 5 on the Fukushima Daiichi site. To make matters worse in the public eye, original statements made to NHK/NHK World (which have now been removed from their sites) indicated that TEPCO had no clue when cooling could be restored, and that the pool would hit its operating temperature limit in a few weeks.

The truth of the matter is that the very next day, the residual heat removal system was placed in service to restore spent fuel pool cooling. But the shaky initial message had already gone out, with a seemingly powerless undertone that certainly didn’t underscore the ability of those at site to deal with the situations they encounter (TEPCO has since released a detailed account of this incident).

On the positive side, as of this writing 1188 out of the 1533 fuel elements in the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 have been transferred to the site’s common fuel pool. Future operations will see some of this fuel also transferred to the Unit 5 spent fuel pool.

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi site common spent fuel pool; courtesy TEPCO

Restarting plants might be slow

In a completely separate development, a Fukui court has blocked the restart of two units at Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi Nuclear Power Plant, citing in part that the plant had operated from July 2012 to September 2013 without incorporating new or revised safety standards. What relevance this has to the restarting of a plant now completely meeting the revised NRA standards is unclear, but the precedent is set: Courts are ready and willing to act to counter the Japanese government’s mission to restore the Japanese economy by restarting nuclear plants.

Eventually, it does seem certain that many of the nuclear plants in Japan will restart, as the need becomes increasingly critical to improve Japan’s import-export ratio and drive down the cost of energy. The Japanese government, the utilities, and most major corporations (and their lobbying groups) have expressed the desire to restart the plants; at the same time, however, local and highly vocal groups are speaking out and taking legal action.

Separately, Japan’s NRA has publicly made some severe comments after finding a number of inadequacies in early applications to restart plants submitted by a number of owner-operators. According to the NRA, further requests for information and clarification will be necessary—driving the potential restart dates for even the earliest expected plant restart (Sendai) beyond the high demand period of the summer heat. Sendai is still expected to be the first to restart, though—perhaps as soon as the autumn months.

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

Conceptual illustration, Ohma Nuclear Power Plant; courtesy J-Power

The “chasm”

At the tip of Aomori Prefecture lies the site of what is now the only nuclear power plant actively under construction in Japan—the Ohma Nuclear Plant, owned by Electric Power Development Company, Ltd., commonly known as “J-Power.”

That’s right—this is the only nuclear plant in Japan actively under construction. After the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, all nuclear plant construction was effectively halted in Japan. Of the three that were under construction, two were deferred indefinitely; of the 12 announced or proposed, all were deferred indefinitely or cancelled.

The plant near Ohma—an Hitachi advanced boiling water reactor—has been “on the drawing boards” for many years and was several times deferred. First planned in the early 1980s (the site survey was accomplished in 1983), the plant’s site preparation didn’t begin until 2008, with actual plant construction beginning in 2010, but suspended from the time of the 2011 quake until October 2012 when it was resumed. As might have been expected, anti-nuclear opponents have taken the Fukui court finding as a precedent and have now acted to block completion of the Ohma nuclear plant as well. It appears an extended court battle may now be in the offing.

This portends a “nuclear chasm,” similar to what we now face in the United States. The cessation of new nuclear plant orders in the U.S. in 1978, coupled with a flood of nuclear plant cancellations that followed, means there will come a time when nuclear plants in the United States are shutting down and decommissioning—even including life extensions—faster than new nuclear plants come on-line.  The nuclear industry has long known this would occur; but it is being accelerated in some quarters by economic conditions (e.g., Kewaunee) or unanticipated material conditions (e.g., Crystal River, San Onofre-2 and -3.)

The result in the case of Japan will be that there too will come a time when, assuming that many plants restart, there will be no new plants in the wings to take the place of the older plants when they shut down. The present social environment in Japan now approaches the atmosphere in the United States during the 1970s and ’80s, with continuous anti-nuclear “environmentalist” opposition that can kill a nuclear energy project. This does not bode well for a nation that imports more than two-thirds of its energy needs; it requires a careful and sober analysis of the nation’s energy needs—and the place that nuclear power plays in those needs—now before the chasm cannot be escaped. Japan, unlike the United States, cannot fall back on indigenous coal or gas—it has neither.

The actions of the Japanese utilities lately have done little to steer away from the road to the chasm; harsh words from the NRA about inadequacies in the initial round of restart applications bears witness to this. Public trust is key, and if it is perceived that utilities wish to simply “slide by and play along” until they get their nuclear plants back—they won’t get them back.

Time will tell what plays out for Japan’s nuclear energy enterprise, but at the moment a great deal of work needs to be done to swing the course away from an abyss.

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SavannahWillinControlRoomWill 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. Davis has recently been engaged by the Global America Business Institute as a consultant.  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, and writes his own popular blog Atomic Power Review. Davis is a former US Navy reactor operator, qualified on S8G and S5W plants.

Nuclear Museum Photo Competition and Exhibition!

A quick note about an interesting contest going on at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

All are invited to share their photographic talent and eye for everything that is science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEaM) with the ”Atomic STEaM Photography Show.” Any individual, from a professional photographer to a student with a camera phone, may submit photographs for this art exhibition. All winning entries will debut at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History from November 8, 2014, through January 4, 2015.

Contestants can win a sizable cash prize and also have their work on display in a nationally accredited, Smithsonian-affiliated museum. Each entry fee is $15, and there is no limit to the number of entries an individual can submit. Although all photographs must relate in some way to the overall theme of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics, they are of course open to interpretation by the photographer. Entries are now being accepted online, with an entry deadline of August 29—visit the museum’s contest page for more details.

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Nuclear Energy Blog Carnival 216

ferris wheel 202x201The 216th edition of the Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers and Authors is posted at Next Big Future.  You can click here to view this latest installment of a long running tradition among pro-nuclear authors and bloggers.

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, Thorium MSR 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.

Caught in the Leadership Paradox: Insight from Admiral Rickover

By Paul E. Cantonwine

Recent scandals at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and General Motors (GM) have struck a chord with the media and the American people because they represent the worst in bureaucracies—where the lives of individuals seem to get lost in the bureaucratic woods. In the case of the VA, lying about wait times blocked pathways for care and potentially resulted in the early deaths of some veterans. In the case of GM, the bureaucracy put horse blinders on its employees so that they couldn’t recognize the safety significance of ignition switch problems linked to at least 13 deaths.

While it is the nature of organizations to have leaders responsible for directing or dictating from the top down, it is also true that accomplishment only occurs through individual action. Thus, the Leadership Paradox is that while a leader is responsible for the actions of the organization, the actions occur from the individual decisions of those who follow. Organizational scandals, then, are usually a result of a leader’s failure in responding to the Leadership Paradox.

The Leadership Paradox and Admiral Rickover

Hyman_Rickover_1955 155x200To provide some insight into the current problems at GM and the VA, consider the thought of the greatest military engineer and government bureaucrat in U.S. history: Admiral Hyman George Rickover (1900–1986). Admiral Rickover served more than 60 years of active military duty in the U.S. Navy—longer than anyone in our history. He is known as the Father of the Nuclear Navy, and for 34 years he led the organization that developed the pressurized water reactor technology that propels our nuclear Navy and provides about 14 percent of U.S. electricity (boiling water reactors provide an additional 6 percent, approximately).

Admiral Rickover’s approach to the never-ending challenge of the Leadership Paradox was to create an organization made up of professionals. As a leader he then only had to “manage” the standards used in decision-making by the individuals rather than each individual decision. Rickover shaped the culture of his organization, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, by fostering excellence and professionalism.

Professionalism and responsibility

Professionalism occurs when individuals act in the best interest of those being served according to objective values and ethical norms, even when an action is perceived to not be in the best interest of the individual or their organization. That is, there are times when professionals must sacrifice their own interest (or that of their organization) to meet the objective values and ethical norms of the profession. Professionals, in this sense, are serving something greater than the bureaucratic organization that employs them.

If Admiral Rickover had a mantra to shape a professional culture, it would have been, “I am personally responsible.” As a leader, Rickover felt personally responsible for every aspect of his organization, and he instilled this value in everyone working in the organization. In 1961 during Congressional testimony he put it this way: “Responsibility is a unique concept; it may only reside and inhere in a single individual. You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you. You may disclaim it, but you cannot divest yourself of it. Even if you do not recognize it or admit its presence, you cannot escape it. If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, ignorance, or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.”

rickover2 310x201For everyone in the organization to feel personally responsible, a leader has to act personally responsible. Actions really do speak louder than words.  For Rickover, this meant sometimes getting into the details, because he recognized the truism that the devil is always in the details. His mechanism for keeping an eye on the details was through communications from the bottom up that were called “the pinks.” The pinks referred to the pink carbon copy version of letters that he required people, throughout his organization, to write weekly about problems in their areas of responsibility. These pinks provided Rickover a pulse of his organization’s health and were a way to bypass bureaucratic structure to communicate problems. If he thought a problem was significant, he would hold those responsible accountable on Monday.

Personalizing safety and facing the facts

Other ways Rickover fostered professionalism was to personalize safety and to promote facing the facts to avoid “hoping for the best” when evidence suggested the contrary was a possibility. To personalize safety, Rickover was well known for ending technical debates with anecdotes to support the more conservative decision. One famous story is from a meeting discussing the technical merits of sealing the reactor head to the pressure vessel with a gasket/bolt design, versus using a more conservative design that used both a gasket/bolt and a weld. When the team initially recommended the gasket/bolt design, Rickover made his point about conservatism in design by asking the technical team to consider the question: “What would you do if your son was a sailor on this ship?” Thinking about safety in these personal terms highlighted the interests of those being served (the sailors) over the interests of the organization (to minimize cost), and led the team to change their recommendation to the more conservative design.

To help his organization face the facts, Rickover encouraged open debates that were void of any sense of organizational status. He once put it this way: “Free discussion requires an atmosphere unembarrassed by any suggestion of authority or even respect. If a subordinate always agrees with his superior he is a useless part of the organization.”

In our highly civilized society, bureaucratic organizations are absolutely critical to the delivery of goods and services that make life possible. GM and the VA both provide an important service to the United States. But when the purpose of an organization becomes the self-interest of the organization, professionalism within the organization is compromised and decisions are no longer made in the best interest of those being served. Like Admiral Rickover before, the leaders of bureaucracies like GM and the VA must recognize that the best response to the Leadership Paradox is to promote true professionalism among the individuals working within their organizations. For good or for bad, it is individuals who make things happen.

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cantonwine 110x154Paul E. Cantonwine is a practicing engineer and editor/compiler of The Never-Ending Challenge of Engineering: Admiral H.G. Rickover in His Own Words (ANS 2014). The book is highly recommended for everyone interested in engineering, effective leadership, and nuclear history and is available at the ANS Store.