Tag Archives: Indian Point

Timing and framing: How to address nuclear and climate change

by Suzy Hobbs Baker

Technology is an amazing thing. As Hurricane Sandy approached the Northeast last month, I watched and read as friends in the area tweeted pictures and thoughts on the situation. I didn’t have to worry if they were okay, as many were able to post hourly status updates with items such as: “Still okay, still have power. Just wish we had more beer and chocolate.”

In stark contrast to the several-day silence in the wake of Katrina in 2005, New Yorkers were ready with carefully-charged mobile devices that allowed them to self-report their entire experience of Sandy—even long after the power was out. In 2005, the iPhone and Twitter did not yet exist. Seven years later, these tools were essential in New York City’s emergency response.

New York’s Governor Cuomo

In the wake of the storm I also bore witness to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s real-time “climate awakening” on twitter. Yes, I know it sounds strange, but he shared his realization that climate change is here now, 140 characters at a time over the Internet. He also made the rounds with the media, refusing to entertain a political debate about the causes of climate change, and instead focused on the immediate challenge of managing increased coastal flooding of his state in recent years. Having just witnessed the first presidential debate in my lifetime that did not focus on climate change as a central issue—I was relieved that a politician was willing to talk climate with both frankness and urgency.

Unfortunately, Cuomo also used this as an opportunity to talk about shutting down Indian Point Nuclear Station—one of the structures and sources of electricity that weathered the storm without damage. He sees the changing climate as a threat to one of New York’s primary energy suppliers, and thinks it should be shuttered.

Timing and framing

Two things about this situation struck me as important: timing and framing.

The framework that Cuomo has laid out is extremely important in that it serves to confirm what some people already believe should happen, at a time when they expect dramatic action. That confluence of events translates into a real risk of shutting down nuclear plants specifically in response to climate change, now and in the future. If the nuclear industry stays mum on climate change, this could become a dominant narrative.

The iron is hot, however, for providing another way of framing the situation that offers a better solution.

Repositioning and reframing

In my opinion, the nuclear industry has a critical opportunity at this point in history to position itself as the hero in this story. First of all, nuclear is one of the largest sources of carbon-free electricity. Anyone who is serious about addressing climate change needs to be fully aware of the many, many historical and current examples of increased greenhouse gas emissions as an unavoidable outcome of shutting nuclear plants. In addition to increased emissions, Germany and Japan are also dealing with skyrocketing energy prices and grid destabilization that is negatively impacting manufacturing.

The nuclear industry is also very experienced and knowledgeable in terms of hardening infrastructure and emergency preparedness. So, as Cuomo fights for better infrastructure and planning in the face of climate change, he has mistaken a potential ally—the nuclear industry—as a foe. The nuclear industry can help reduce impacts of climate change by building out new nuclear technologies, and also by providing an advanced understanding of adapting and preparing for extreme weather.

As small modular reactors and Generation IV designs near commercialization, we need to update the way we frame and communicate about the role of nuclear energy in society. In the 1950s, radiation gave comic heroes their superpowers Now, nuclear is often aligned with the villains in movies and comics. Luckily, we live in a time when information abounds and perspectives and cultural constructs change rapidly, and everyday people have more power than ever to influence that dialogue.

Technology and the subsequent ways that we communicate are constantly evolving.  Just a few short years ago there was no such thing as Twitter, and social media was just starting to gain traction as a serious platform for news and information. Now, social media is central to how we share information and communicate—and even to how we conduct emergency response.

Nuclear is a relatively new technology when compared to other energy sources (younger even than solar and wind), and we are still adapting and processing our feelings about this technology as a culture. The dominant narrative at this time is that people who are concerned about climate change should reject nuclear energy—but that simply does not have to be the case. Right now is the perfect time to provide a new framework for supporting nuclear as a solution to climate change.

I highly recommend starting with Governor Cuomo. If you’d like to tweet your thoughts to him, his Twitter handle is @NYGovCuomo—let him know that the nuclear industry is the hero in this story—not the villain.

Photos courtesy of Greg Molyneux

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Hobbs Baker

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

 

 

New, strict rule on plant water intake targets nuclear

By Jim Hopf

Indian Point

A recent Reuters news article describes how New York State will require a reduction in cooling water intake for power plants and other industrial facilities, to reduce fish kills by 90 percent. The article goes on to say that the state is planning to use this rule to force the Indian Point nuclear power plant to install a $2-billion closed-cycle cooling system.

Some, including the plant owner (Entergy), argue that such a cooling system (which would probably involve large cooling towers) would be impractical or too expensive, and would result in the plant’s closure instead. The plant owner also doubts that the state would even grant the permits to build the cooling towers, if it decided to try to keep the plant open.

Gov. Cuomo

Since the current state government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have made it clear that they intend to close the plant (primarily for reasons unrelated to water intake), it is clear to many that this rule is being used as an avenue to get the plant closed, and not to get cooling towers installed.

If one assumes that this rule will lead to Indian Point’s closure, one must ask if the environmental benefit of the reduced water intake would offset the negative environmental impact of closing a large nuclear plant, and replacing its output with fossil fuel generation (i.e., increased air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, not to mention increased power costs). It’s almost as if the New York environmental agency promulgating this rule is choosing not to look at the broader picture.

Fossil plants given a pass

Hudson River

Actually, the situation is far worse, and more brazen, than that. The Reuters article goes on to state that the state environmental agency is planning to be “flexible”, and allow several fossil power plants on the Hudson River to modify their open-cycle cooling systems, instead of requiring the installation of a closed-cycle system. The article does not mention any facilities other than Indian Point for which a closed-cycle cooling system will be insisted upon.

Presumably, these alternative approaches would be more practical and far less expensive. Whether these alternatives would achieve the same result (i.e., a 90-percent reduction in fish kill) is not made clear in the article. I’m guessing not. Otherwise, why can’t Indian Point do that? In fact, the state has rejected alternative methods (such as mesh screens) that have been proposed by Indian Point.

Two quotes from the article give the state’s rationale:

The [New York Department of Environmental Conservation] said it would be flexible because it recognizes that all existing facilities may not be able [to] install a closed-cycle cooling system like the one the state wants at Indian Point.

Closed-cycle cooling is not always an available technology for existing facilities as issues of space availability and compatibility of new technology with the facility’s original design frequently make it infeasible to implement.

Suffice it to say that I’m unconvinced. There are no fundamental reasons why an independent ultimate heat sink system couldn’t be hooked up to any thermal power plant. Expensive, yes. Technically impossible, no.

You would think that the state would be even less flexible (not more flexible) with old fossil plants, since their closure would have additional environmental benefits (on top of the benefits to fish), whereas closing a nuclear plant would have significant negative environmental (and economic) impacts that more than offset any aquatic benefits.

The article itself makes clear the real reason why the state is being inflexible only with Indian Point:

But New York’s top elected officials, Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, both want Indian Point shut because it is located in the heavily populated New York metropolitan area, home to more than 18 million people.

Equal protection clause violation?

To summarize, New York State passes a tough requirement on power plant water intake that has a stated purpose to protect fish. The state then largely shields the fossil power plants on the Hudson from the law’s impact, but is completely inflexible with Indian Point, requiring the maximum cost response.

As is made pretty clear in the linked article, the state is deliberately being inflexible with Indian Point, because it wants the plant closed. Its reason for wanting it closed, however, has nothing to do with fish, or the river (an important point). Thus, the state is using a requirement intended to protect fish as a vehicle to close Indian Point, for reasons that have nothing to do with fish. The state is also deliberately choosing to apply the law unevenly and arbitrarily.

In other words, this is a clear example of discrimination against a specific party (Indian Point), through the unequal application of laws. I’m not a legal scholar, but my impression is that this would (or should) be a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The equal protection clause is discussed here. A key excerpt is shown below:

…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Examination of the clause’s language, history, and application makes it pretty clear (admittedly) that it is focused on individuals, or groups/classes of individuals, as opposed to something like an industrial facility. Perhaps the plant owners could claim status as an affected group of individuals, even though they are a corporation. The tragedy here is that since the benefits of the plant are primarily societal, the plant may not be able to claim protection under the clause.

In any event, it seems clear to me that deliberately applying a law unequally, to serve an objective that has nothing to do with the subject or scope of the law in question, should be illegal or unconstitutional, for one reason or another. The article mentions further legal proceedings that will cover these water permit issues. Perhaps some of the issues I discuss above will be raised at these proceedings.

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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.