Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Global Nuclear Renaissance Rolls On, Career Opportunities Continue

Despite claims by anti-nuclear groups of the pending demise of nuclear energy production in the United States, the nuclear renaissance is alive and well. According to the non-partisan Energy Information Administration, nuclear energy production in the USA will continue to expand for the next 25 years.
Electricity generation from nuclear power plants grows by 14 percent in the AEO2013 Reference case, from 790 billion kilowatt-hours in 2011 to 903 billion kilowatt-hours in 2040, accounting for about 17 percent of total generation in 2040 (compared with 19 percent in 2011). Nuclear generating capacity increases from 101 gigawatts in 2011 to a high of 114 gigawatts in 2025 through a combination of new construction (5.5 gigawatts), uprates at existing plants (8.0 gigawatts), and retirements (0.6 gigawatts).
Coupled with retirements among the 120,000 people who work in the nuclear industry, this expansion means continued career opportunities building, operating and maintaining the nation's fleet of commercial reactors.  And this is just the start.  In addition to the 100 commercial nuclear plants operating in United States, there are 335 in operation in other nations and 73 more under construction (including four in the USA).
Recently announced shutdowns of four nuclear energy facilities in the USA has done little to dampen the demand for talent; the industry has more than enough demand for knowledgeable workers to absorb those displaced by plant closures. While some older nuclear plants will gradually go out of service over the next few decades they'll be replaced with larger power plants that require larger staff sizes.  New technologies like small modular reactors may add even more jobs in advanced manufacturing and construction.
What does all this mean for career opportunities? Every nuclear plant employs at about 600 to 1500 people depending on the power plant size, the technology used, and the number of reactors at the facility.  In the USA alone the combination of modest expansion and hiring to replace about 40% of the workforce over the next decade means nuclear energy companies will hire 30,000 to 50,000 new engineers, operators, and technicians.  The numbers are even larger in other countries where growth will create more than 70,000 career opportunities as new facilities come on line.
If you are interested in more information about careers in the nuclear industry, check out the information at the links below:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tritium: Fuel for Antinuclear Reactions

podcast-150x150Fast Fission Podcast #22 - Get the MP3 File Here

There is a political and public relations cauldron boiling in Vermont over a recently discovered tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.   Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen and has a 10 day biological half-life when it is ingested by humans. 

The leak is minute and completely inconsequential from a safety standpoint: the tritium levels very low.  Only one ground water sample is slightly above federal drinking water standards (even though the sample points are far away from any sources of drinking water).  In fact, the levels are so low that even if you drank water from the test wells, and nothing else, for an ENTIRE YEAR your radiation exposure would be only about 1/10 of what you would receive from one medical x-ray, and a small fraction of your exposure from the natural background radiation.  Eating the same quantity of brazil nuts every day, one of the most naturally radioactive foods, would result in MORE exposure to radiation than bathing in the water in these test wells!

These facts have not stopped the antinuclear groups in the area from going berserk.  They know when they have the upper hand on a public relations issue, and they are doing everything they can to take advantage of it.   Adding fuel to the fire are allegations of false statements by plant officials.  At a PSB hearing last spring a plant executive stated he did not believe there was any active buried piping containing radioactive fluids.  The official said the plant would verify that was the case and would get back to the board, but reportedly they did not.  Potentially adding to the communication difficulties -  the phrases “Buried piping” and “underground piping” do NOT mean the same thing.  To an engineer the term “buried” piping refers to piping that is buried underground in direct contact with the soil.  Underground piping means the piping is below grade and could be located in a vault or concrete trench. 

Plant personnel have apologized for the miscommunication and are actively looking for the source of the leak.  Timing could not be worse because the VT public service commission has yet to make a ruling on Entergy’s proposal to create a new nuclear only generating company, and the VT state legislature has yet to vote on the plant’s request for a license extension.

Vermont Yankee has passed every NRC inspection in flying colors and is operated both safely and reliably.  In fact, the plant recently earned the highest possible rating from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.

John Wheeler

This Week in Nuclear

Cloudy Days Ahead for the Sunshine State

podcast-150x150Download the MP3 Here

This past week the Florida Public Service Commission voted to deny requests by the state’s two largest utilities to upgrade the state’s electrical systems by adding renewable energy, new gas turbines, a new gas pipeline, new reactors, and transmission lines.  This politically motivated decision is mind-numbing in a state with an over-taxed grid and an electricity supply that has not kept up with population increases.

In this podcast Rod Adams of The Atomic Show and the Atomic Insights blog joins me for a chat about this terribly near-sighted decision, some possible motivations, and what it means for the people of Florida.

Some other links related to this story:

Renewable Energy plans will be scuttled by the FL PSC Decision.

Westinghouse condemns the FL Decision.

This Week in Nuclear Begins It's 5th Year!

podcast-150x150Download the MP3 Here

Last week the Pakastani government arrested five American citizens on the suspicion that they were planning to attack the Chashma Nuclear Plant.  All five men are dual nationals of Pakistan and the USA and they recently lived in Washington DC. 

According to news reports all five have been questioned by both the Pakistani police and the FBI.  They were arrested while trying to make contact with Al-Qaeda terrorist groups.  Another news report indicates the five have been charged and will stand trial in Pakistan.

The Chasma Nuclear plant is a small 300 Mw pressurized water reactor that was built in Pakistan with the assistance of China.  It is very similar to the Quinshan nuclear plant.  The plant is very reliable – during a recent fuel cycle it ran at 95% capacity factor.  It’s unclear what sort of threat the men posed to the plant, but it is doubtful that there was much of a risk to the plant or to the public.  Even if the men had taken control of the plant, without detailed knowledge of the plant’s safety systems it would be very difficult for them to cause reactor damage.  Core damaging events usually take many hours to reach the point at which the fuel begins to over heat and by that time the military would be able to retake control.khan20091226181810718

Happy Holidays everyone!  This week marks the 4th anniversary of the first episode of This Week in Nuclear.  Wow!  Time has flown by!

Producing the show has been an amazing experience for me; I’ve met people from all around the world, many of whom I consider my friends; I’ve been exposed to new ideas and new situations; and I’ve expanded my knowledge of the nuclear business in areas like politics, communications, and financing.  While I came into this adventure with a lot of experience operating nuclear plants and training nuclear workers, and the longer I do this the more I learn.  God willing I’ll be at this for at least another four years!  Thank you for your support!

I apologize for the slow down in the number of shows over the last three weeks.  I’ve had a very busy time at work since the beginning of December trying to get the typical end of year things taken care of in time for the holidays.  I’m taking some time off, too, so I had to make sure everything was set before I left.  Thank you for your patience and I’ll be starting back up again the first week in January.  Until then I’m taking a little time off.

New Jersey Anti-Nuclear Groups Fight On


Fast Fission Podcast #20 – MP3 File

In April of 2009, after a long fight with well-funded anti-nuclear groups, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant in New Jersey was granted a 20 year license extension.  At the time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called Oyster Creek’s application “the most extensive license renewal to date.”  It’s worth noting that the NRC commissioners voted 3 to 1 in favor of the license extension, the only dissenting vote was from Gregory Jaczko who was subsequently appointed NRC Chairman by President Obama and continues to serve in that position.

Image of Oyster Creek FacilityAnti-nuclear groups viewed the plant’s license extension as a temporary setback, and they are again trying to shut down the plant.  They have been unable to show any safety or environmental basis for their cause, so they are taking another approach – trying to force the owners to make enormous plant modifications they hope will make the plant too expensive to operate.  They have succeeded in getting a bill in front of the New Jersey state government that would force the plant to install cooling towers, something that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  They argue that the plant’s cooling water intake from Barnagat Bay kills fish and a forcing the plant to use cooling towers would reduce the number of fish killed by the plant’s cooling water system.  The anti-nukes are trying to get the State to require cooling towers as a condition of renewing the plant’s water discharge permit.

A similar tactic was attempted by the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper in New York against the Indian Point nuclear plant.  That case went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In the end Riverkeeper’s claim was denied.

Local newspapers are predicting large crowds will be on hand Monday, December 14 at the State House Annex in Trenton where the hearings will take place.  This will be an interesting case because similar bills are before both houses of the NJ legislature, and lame duck Governor, Jon Corzine opposed the plant’s license renewal.

These attempts to portray nuclear plants as evil fish killers are laughable.  All central station power plants use large quantities of cooling water.  They pull the water in and discharge it back a few degrees warmer.  Environmental permits already specify how much the plants are allowed to heat the water, and I’ve known of times when power plants have reduced power because they were approaching the water discharge thermal limits, particularly in the heat of the summer.  Also, many plants like Indian Point were forced years ago to install multi-million dollar fish catching systems on the water intakes to gently redirect the fish away from the intake screens to safety in the warm discharge water.

I for one am tired of hearing the newspapers and television news refer to anti-nuclear organizations as “environmental” or “public advocacy” groups.”  It is easy to argue that ill-informed anti-nuclear activism has resulted in serious damage to the environment and cost many lives by slowing down the growth of nuclear energy.  Air and water pollution caused by the alternatives, burning fossil fuels, has far more impact on our health and environment.  Let’s stop calling groups like Riverkeeper, New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, and the Radiation & Public Health Project “environmentalists” and “public advocates”.  Instead, let’s call them what they are: anti-nuclear groups.

Let's also acknowledge it's quite possible to be both pro-nuclear AND pro-environment.  In fact, the two go hand in hand.

John Wheeler