Monday, December 31, 2007

TWiN 54 - Happy Nuke Year from John Wheeler, Rod Adams, and Kelly Taylor

Listen to the Podcast Here

Here's a special edition of "This Week in Nuclear" . Rod Adams of "The Atomic Show" Podcast, along with co-Nuke Kelly Taylor and I decided to bring in 2008 with as a group.

You'll also find our discussion on "The Atomic Show" (link below).

1. This Week in Nuclear Home Page
2. Show Transcript and Blog
3. The Atomic Show

Saturday, December 22, 2007

TWiN 53 - European Union Supports Nuclear Energy Expansion

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News this Week:
  • Bruce Power Enters Deal with Energy Alberta
  • The European Union Endorses Nuclear Energy
  • Canada Joins GNEP
  • Russia and USA are Resolving Uranium Trade Dispute
  • Russia delivers fuel to Bushehr Plant in Iran
  • India / USA Nuclear Deal Struggles
  • USA New Nuclear Developments
  • Rock Legend & Humanitarian Bob Geldof Endorses Nuclear Energy

Bruce Power Enters Deal with Energy Alberta

Bruce Power has reached an agreement to purchase assets of Energy Alberta, including exclusive rights to deploy the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR-1000) design in Alberta. This is significant because Energy Alberta has already begun the process to obtain a permit to build two new ACR-1000 units at the Peace River site. Now Bruce Energy will take over that project, and will have the rights for other future new nuclear plants in the province. The proposed two unit plant would provide energy to the tar sands oil extraction projects in the area. Alberta is expected to need about 5000 MWe of new electricity production by the year 2016.

Bruce Power owns and operates the Bruce nuclear plant in Ontario – that site consists of two “four-packs” as they’re referred to in Canada – two four-unit CANDU reactors. Six of the eight units are in operation, and the other two are undergoing an extensive upgrade and will restart in the future. I spent a few weeks at the Bruce B station several years ago and was impressed by the technology.

It’s hard for those of us who are accustomed to operating single unit or two-unit nuclear plants to envision a common control room for four reactor plants. The control room is huge – about ½ the size of a basketball court. If I recall correctly it’s a six sided room – one side for each reactor, and one side for the common systems, and the back side is the shift manager’s office. There’s also a center island for the refueling station. CANDU reactors have a unique ability to refuel on line, and the center island refuel station is where that process is controlled.

Bruce Power will now begin the process of conducting a full environmental assessment of the Peace River site for the potential new nuclear units. The company also intends to work with the Canadian Hydrogen Association to study the potential of converting electricity generated by nuclear reactors during off-peak hours into hydrogen. A similar study is being conducted at the Bruce nuclear power plant.

The European Union Endorses Nuclear Energy

The European Union has finally come to its senses and endorsed the expansion of nuclear energy as one of the strategies that will help them protect the environment, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, and improve energy security. There’s recognition that at present Europe is highly dependent on Russian gas for heat and electricity, something that gives Russia an unhealthy about of political leverage in the region, so anything they can do to reduce their reliance on gas is a good idea for political autonomy as well.

The report predicted that on current trends, the EU will import 65% of its energy by 2030. Yet, gas and oil supplies are plagued by uncertainty due to growing worldwide demand and geopolitical instability in supplier states.
European energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that "It will be difficult... to achieve our climate change goals without the use of nuclear energy." The endorsement was contained in a report titled, Conventional Energy Sources and Energy Technology, which was adopted with 509 votes in favor, 153 against and 30 abstentions.

The endorsement acknowledging that nuclear energy is a key component of the energy supply in most EU member states and provides one third of the EU's electricity. The report also states nuclear energy is "indispensable if basic energy needs are to be met in Europe in the medium term." Given that "nuclear energy is currently the largest low-carbon dioxide energy source in Europe," they added, "the renunciation of nuclear power will make it impossible to achieve the objectives set regarding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the combating of climate change".

I wonder what the green party has to say about that?

Canada Joins GNEP

Canada announced they intend to join the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, an important step in securing future uranium supplies for GNEP members.
The GNEP vision is to have a consortium of nuclear supplier countries providing standardized reactors to client states along with assured supplies of nuclear fuel. After use, GNEP reactor used fuel would be returned to a supplier state for reprocessing, recycling of recovered materials, the destruction of some wastes in advanced power reactors and final disposal.

Membership already includes Australia, Bulgaria, China, France, Ghana, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United States. Canada’s buy-in was important because they are a leading supplier of the world’s uranium.

Russia and USA are Resolving Uranium Trade Dispute

You may recall a story I covered some time ago about accusations by the US Depart of Commerce that Russia was “dumping” uranium onto the market in an effort to undercut US supplier USEC, drive prices down and acquire market share. It seems that the two nations are on the verge of reaching at least an interim agreement on how much enriched uranium may be imported from Russia into the USA.

At the center of the dispute is the desire by USEC to protect its investment in enrichment capability, and the USA’s need to develop nuclear fuel production capacity to meet future demands. Much of the fuel that USEC currently sells is under the terms of the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program. This uranium blended down Russian highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and not enriched in the USA. However, with the agreement due to end in 2013, and the possible relaxation of current stringent limits on imports of Russian-enriched uranium into the USA, USEC will inevitably face increased competition from overseas. USEC said last month that US utilities' use of very cheap Russian enrichment capacity would be a "significant threat to the ability of the US enrichment industry to deploy new production capacity." USEC itself is currently working hard to do just that, as it constructs the Lead Cascade of its American Centrifuge facility, while others build new US enrichment capacity based on proven Urenco centrifuge technology.

At the heart of the new agreement is an October ruling by the US Court of International Trade (CIT) that declared that uranium enrichment is a “service” and not a “product.” That decision forced the DOC to re-examine its case for import duties placed on uranium enrichment carried out in Russia. Any future trade barriers will not be allowed to rely on uranium enrichment. At present, import duties are imposed on low-enriched uranium imported from Russia and the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The proposed amendment will allow Russia to recommence exporting uranium products to the USA. The amounts allowed will ramp up from16.5K kgU in 2011 to 41.3K kgU in 2013 when the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program is due to expire. Quantities will rise after 2013, increasing from 485K kgU in 2014 to 514.7K kgU in 2020. The amendment exempts Russian uranium imported for US initial cores (the first fuel loaded into a new reactor) from the annual export limits. Under the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program, ex-military enriched uranium from Russia is diluted to reactor grade, sold to USEC and used by US nuclear utilities.

Many people don't realize that for the last several years 1/2 of the fuel used in generating 20% of the USA's electricity has come from "burning" uranium from former nuclear warheads! That means 10% of the nation's electricity has come from getting rid of old weapons. That continues to amaze me!

Russia Begins Fuel Delivery to Bushehr Plant in Iran

This week Russia delivered the first shipment of fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. This is a commercial nuclear plant that has been under construction for more than a decade. I’ve talked about that project a few times in the show, going back to Episode 33. This is a nuclear power plant designed to produce electricity, not weapons. The most recent delay was due to a payment dispute between the two nations. Iran reports the plant should be ready to begin commercial operation in about one year.

India / USA Nuclear Deal Struggles

Political disagreements inside India continue to plague the treaty between India and the USA that will open the door to commercial nuclear cooperation between the two nations. The main opposition is coming from the communist party in India who claim they are trying to protect Indian’s poor from ruthless foreign influence from the United States.

The supporters of the deal have a different opinion; they claim the communist party is engaging in political obstructionism to prevent closer ties with the US at the expense of the same underclass they claim to represent. They also claim that the communist party is afraid the deal will strengthen economic ties with the US which, in turn, will weaken China’s influence in India.

The communist party in India has enough seats in the Parliament to block the deal, so unless a compromise can be reached the deal will die.

I really hope the politicians on both continents can work together to make this deal come to fruition. India badly needs energy to feed their billions, grow their economy, and raise the standard of living of their underclass. They will get the energy somewhere, and it is in everyone’s best interests to make that energy source clean, low cost, and safe. Russia, China and other nations are wasting no time establishing relationships to build nuclear plants in India, and to supply them with fuel. India already has an impressive home-grown nuclear industry, but it is not big enough to build the number of plants they need quickly enough.

New Nuclear Developments

This week there have been a number of developments in plans for new nuclear power plants in the United States:

MidAmerica Energy Holdings announced they are exploring the possibility of building a new nuclear plant in Idaho. MidAmerica is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment company led by investor Warren Buffet. The new plant would be located on the western Idaho border near Oregon. This is the second company actively considering a new nuclear plant in the region; I’ve spoken in the past about the Alternate Energy Holdings project to build a nuclear plant near Burneau, ID.

PPL, or Pennsylvania Power & Light notified the NRC they plan to file for a construction and operating license for a new nuclear unit that will be located at their Susquehanna site in Berwick, PA where they already have two reactors. PPL also announced they have signed a deal with Unistar to provide an EPR reactor for that project.

And Exelon announced they have selected a site near Victoria, TX for a new nuclear plant. That site is about 130 miles SW of Houston.

Rock Legend & Humanitarian Bob Geldof Endorses Nuclear Energy

The anti-nukes have Alex Baldwin and John Hall, but the tide may turning in the entertainment industry as actors, and musicians become more vocal in their support of nuclear energy. A few months ago I reported on positive remarks made by actor Paul Neumann after his tour of the Indian Point Nuclear Plant in New York. Now Rock Legend and Nobel Peace Honoree Sir Bob Geldof is speaking out in favor of expanding nuclear energy’s role in powering the United Kingdom.

Sir Bob wrote in a blog last week that “…to really help the planet we have to go nuclear, fast.” When referring to the potential of new nuclear plants being built in the UK to meet energy demand he added, “I don’t care what anyone says: we’re going to go with it, big time!”

Sir Bob Geldof, formerly of the rock group “The Boomtown Rats” became famous for his humanitarian efforts to bring aid to millions of famine victims in Ethiopia and the 1984 Live Aid concert. In 2005 he was voted a Nobel Man of Peace by all living Nobel Prize recipients.

I know I’m dating myself, but there was a time when I was a big fan of the “Boomtown Rats.” I have no idea where my old “Rats” CDs are, so this news inspired me to me go out and buy an albums on You can do the same: here's a link to the Best of the Boomtown Rats album!

Ways to listen to “This Week in Nuclear” - instruction on the web site:

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Be sure to stop by the web site at . I’ve had a few days off this week and took the opportunity to update the web site and fix a few broken links. At the site you can listen to any prior podcast episodes, read show transcripts, search old shows by key word, and do some last minute holiday shopping.

In just a few days I’ll be celebrating the beginning of my third year producing “This Week in Nuclear”. I know there are a few of you listeners out there who have been supporting the show since the beginning, and I owe you all immense appreciation and a huge “thanks” for your support, encouragement, and participation in the on-line dialog that makes the show fun and interesting.

To those of you celebrating this time of year, I wish you and your families a safe and HAPPY HOLIDAY!


John Wheeler

Monday, December 17, 2007

TWiN 52 - Anti-Nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists Releases Flawed Report

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In recent weeks as several companies and nations around the world have announced plans for new nuclear plants. This is causing a flurry of anti-nuclear propaganda as the opposition attempts to counter the positive momentum that's being created. I'm always reminded that there are an awful lot of people out there who make a living opposing nuclear plants, and these career anti-nukes must be having a fit right about now!

Then again, maybe they prefer it this way because it gives them another soapbox to stand on. And as long as the mainstream media gives them the opportunity, they'll keep taking it. One such group, the Union on Concerned Scientists is having a good week because they got loads of free publicity from a front page article on the USA Today news paper on Wednesday.

The headline was “A new era of nuclear power is beginning. How risky is it?” The article attempts to lead the leaders to the conclusion that nuclear plants are indeed too risky by including quote after quote from the UCS and other established anti-nuclear groups and politicians, while hardly mentioning the nuclear industry's impressive safety record, and low costs. There's also zero comparison to the safety and costs associated with other forms of base-load electricity.

The article was blantantly anti-nuclear, and one thing that struck me was the lack of homework the reporter did . There were so many factual errors in the report that it's obvious they got most of the material for the story straight from the UCS. Let me give you some examples:

The very first sentence of the story was outright incorrect. The story starts out with:

Nearly two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the operator of the Indian Point nuclear plant a year to add backup power supplies to the plant's emergency warning sirens . . . but still hasn't done the work at the plant 24 miles north of New York City.

This is completely false. The work is done and has been for months. In fact, the plant was ready to close the book on the modification when the federal government (FEMA) decided they needed more time to review the work. Although the government is still doing their review, the system is in place and is functioning as designed.

And the second sentence is misleading and inflammatory:

“At the Peach Bottom nuclear plant south of Harrisburg, Pa., security guards often took 15-minute "power naps," ...

The reporter wants you to believe that guards were sleeping while on patrol at a nuclear plant, but that's not he case. The guards in question were napping, and that was against company policy, but were doing so while on breaks in their break room. There was no safety concern.

And just a few lines down, yet another myth is perpetuated:

“Power companies are beginning to file applications to build up to 32 nuclear plants over the next 20 years, the first since the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania halted plans for new reactors...”

Economics caused the slowdown in new nuclear plant construction, not the TMI accident. In fact, more COAL plants were canceled than nuclear plants during the same period.

The report also says that even though security at nuclear plants was increased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reactors still aren't sufficiently protected against terrorist threats such as hijacked jets, and new reactors aren't being designed to be significantly safer than existing ones.

Both statements are false. While not specifically designed with a 9/11 style attack in mind, the robustness and reinforced structure and components in a nuclear plant can easily withstand the crash of a commercial jetliner into the containment without danger to the public of a reactor accident. Also, new designs that rely on passive safety systems instead of “active” systems are more than 10 times safer than current designs.

Here's another factual error...the article states that AT LEAST 4000 deaths will occur among Chernobyl survivors due to their exposure to radiation.

Paul Davidson got that wrong again. According to the World Health Organization, the number is “UP TO 4000” people. Again, the anti-nuclear bias shows through here.

In fact, although the WHO says that studies indicate those deaths are POSSIBLE, they also acknowledge that in the more than 20 years since the accident there have been:

  • No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found.
  • No evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure.
  • Most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas received relatively low whole body radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels.
  • No negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas.
  • No widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health.
  • No increase in radiation-induced cancer and leukemia deaths among emergency workers.
The WHO says fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of the accident – mostly plants workers and fire fighters. In addition there were nine people who died from untreated thyroid cancer they acquired from being exposed to the radioactive iodine gas that was released during the event. These deaths are tragic and regrettable, and are the result of an irresponsible social and political system that built a nuclear reactor without a containment, operated the reactor outside it's design envelope, caused it to catch on fire, then failed to notify people who were in the path of the smoke for several days. This can not and would not happen anywhere in the world today, and certainly could not happen in the USA. Let's get real! The deaths from the single worst nuclear disaster pale in comparison to the people who die EVERY YEAR from activity that supports other forms of electricity generation!

Every human endeavor imparts some amount of risk, including the generation of electricity and other forms of energy. The deaths from the coal fuel cycle, the source of 50% of our electricity, are staggering – more than 5000 coal miners die around the world each year, and more than 24,000 premature deaths from air pollution in the USA alone each year. If the climate change people are right, the cost in human life could be an order of magnitude higher.
Articles like the one in the USA Today newspaper do us a great disservice. The news media has a responsibility to INFORM the public, but when the information presented is wrong, biased, or leaves out important facts they are violating the trust placed in them.

Here are some facts ignored by USA TODAY:

Electricity from Nuclear Energy ...
  • is much safer than coal (just look at the coal cycle death toll)
  • has carbon footprint about equal to wind energy
  • is far less costly than gas, oil, wind, or solar
  • helps reduce reliance on imported oil

Nuclear Power Plants . . .

  • do not cause particulate or chemical air pollution
  • do not contribute to acid rain
  • do not cause mercury in drinking water

Don't take my word for it, do some reading yourself. I recommend a great new book called “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens. She's a former nuclear plant protester who shares her experience learning about nuclear energy.


John Wheeler

Sunday, December 09, 2007

TWiN 51 - Nuclear Revival Continues; Anti-Nuclear Forces Step Up Attacks

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1. Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Form New Partnership
2. China Awards $20 Billion Contract to Areva for Two EPRs plus Fuel
3. EDF Begins Construction of new EPR at Flamanville, France
4. Dominion Resources Applies for COL for North Anna ESBWR
5. US Intelligence Reverses Position on Iran’s Nuclear Program
6. NY Politicians Continue Assault on Indian Point Nuclear Plant
7. Debunking Andrew Cuomo and Elliot Spitzer
8. An overview of Seismic Design Criteria for Nuclear Plants
9. The “Non-Threat” of Nuclear Plant Terrorism
10. A summary of Anti-Nuclear legislation proposed by Hillary Clinton

Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Form New Partnership

Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have formed a 50/50 joint venture called ATEMA to develop and market a unique Generation 3+ reactor design. The new reactor will be a pressurized water reactor with about an 1100 MWe rating, and will be marketed to customers who want a medium sized reactor that can handle a variety of load configurations. They expect the design to be complete by the end of 2009. The new design will be called the ATEMA-1 reactor, and the new company will be located in Paris with an initial staff of about 20 people.

China Awards $20 Billion Contract to Areva for Two EPRs plus Fuel

Areva has also been awarded a record $11 Billion contract to build two EPR reactors in China, and provide fuel for the new reactors though 2026. This is a huge deal, and may be part of the reason why we also see Areva investing heavily in uranium mining – they need to make sure they can supply that fuel at the assumed price.
Westinghouse got burned badly in the USA in the 1970’s when they made long term fuel contracts, but didn’t lock in their supplies and price. The price of uranium rose higher than they projected and they had to pay more than expected. I don’t recall the exact figure, but the losses were in the billions of dollars. To that point, Areva, a company that already has large stakes in uranium mining companies, is investing more than $20 million this coming year alone in exploration and development at Canada’s Shea Creek uranium mine.

EDF Begins Construction of new EPR at Flamanville, France

Electricidad de France began construction of their newest reactor at Flamanville, a 1650 MWe European Pressurized Reactor. The reactor will be France’s 59th commercial nuclear reactor. The construction schedule calls for about 52 months from ground breaking to commercial operation, which means the plant will go on line in 2012. Italy's Enel holds a 12.5 percent stake in the new reactor and will also have an option to be part-owner in the next five new EDF reactors.

Dominion Resources Applies for COL for North Anna ESBWR

Dominion Resources has joined a growing list of utilities that have applied for a license to build and operate new nuclear plants in the USA. Their recent filing with the NRC is to build a GE ESBWR at their North Anna, Virginia site where they already have two Westinghouse PWRs. The other companies that have filed for combined construction and operating licenses are NRG Energy for two GE ABWRs in Texas, and the Tennessee Valley Authority for two Westinghouse AP-1000 units at their Bellafont site in Alabama.

US Intelligence Reverses Position on Iran’s Nuclear Program

A recent US intelligence report on Iran’s nuclear program has created quite a turmoil, with both Israel and the European Union siding against the US. The report, released a week ago, states that Iran does not have an active military nuclear program, and estimates the program was stopped in 2003. Within the last two days German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have both reststed Iran continues to pose a threat, and Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, called the report “flawed”. This recent report reverses earlier estimates that Iran was close to building nuclear weapons, and creates a situation that will make it very difficult for the EU and USA to convince other UN Security Council Members of the need for additional sanctions against Iran. If Iran can prove to the IAEA and the UN that their intentions are peaceful, then they have every right to develop nuclear technology for energy production. The remaining sticking point is uranium enrichment, which is highly controlled and restricted by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

NY Politicians Assault Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Last week I discussed two breaking stories in my home state of New York in which two elected officials, State Atty General Andrew Cuomo and Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, were engaging in political rhetoric against Indian Point Nuclear Plant as a strategy to boost their standing among the uninformed and anti-nuclear segments of their voter population. Well, the saga continues, and the dispute is escalating. This week Cuomo and NY Governor Elliot Spitzer filed a petition asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny Indian Point’s request for a 20 year license extension. The two units at Indian Point have licenses that expire in 2013 and 2015.

You might recall from my last show, Episode 50, Andrew Cuomo has a family history of opposing nuclear energy, has appointed an anti-nuclear activist to a high position within his office and has assigned her to lead the charge of his assault on Indian Point. Tax payers in the state of New York should find this troubling – an elected official appointing an extremist activist to a position of influence in government, and paying that person’s salary with tax dollars. This sort of thing probably happens all the time, but it seems to border on corruption, but that’s a topic for another episode.

Anyway, Spitzer and Cuomo, while both opposed to Indian Point, could not agree on when the plant should be shut down - Cuomo called for the “immediate” shutdown of the plant, while Spitzer said the plant should be shut down when replacement power is built. That last point is ironic: Spitzer’s dysfunctional administration has been unable to follow through on his campaign promise to resolve the legislative obstacles to permitting new power plants to be built in New York. As it stands now, it is virtually impossible to build a new power plant of any kind in the state of New York, and the end of this impasse is nowhere in sight. As a result, Spitzer’s call for a shutdown has no real meaning. He can claim to want to shutdown Indian Point to appease this radical fringe supporters, while in reality he knows the conditions he’s set for the shutdown won’t be met because replacement power can’t be built.

Debunking Andrew Cuomo and Elliot Spitzer

Cuomo on the other hand is ignoring all objective data to the contrary and is demanding an immediate shutdown. He claims the state does not need the more than 2000 MW of low cost, emissions-free base load electricity that Indian Point produces. Cuomo stated the plant’s output can be replaced by “wind energy, hydro power, and gas” Let’s examine his statement. By the way, so you don’t think I’m being overly pro-nuclear and exaggerating my facts, most of the statistics I’ll quote come from independent sources like the National Academy of Science, the Energy Information Administration, and the New York Independent System Operator. You can easily go out and verify the data for yourself if you’re so inclined.

Replacing Indian Point with a wind farm: It is virtually impossible to build new power plants of any kind, including wind farms. Also, wind mills run at a maximum of about 20% capacity factor – so to replace 2000 MW of electricity from Indian Point someone would have to build five times that much capacity in wind – 10,000 MW. That would be a MONSTER of a wind farm MORE THAN 12 TIMES LARGER THAN THE LARGEST WIND FARM IN THE WORLD! Since wind generators in any meaningful capacity can’t be built, Cuomo’s suggestion is, frankly, ridiculous. So Cuomo is wrong – even ignoring the simple fact that the wind doesn’t blow all the time and is not suitable for base load electricity production, wind power can not offset the loss of Indian Point.

Can Hydro Replace Indian Point? It is tougher to build a new hydro plant than a nuclear plant. In addition, there are no suitable hydro plant sites in the Northeast USA. The existing hydro power is already running as base load – it’s tapped out. So Cuomo is wrong again – additional hydro power does exist that could replace the power generated by Indian Point.

What about Gas? While it’s true that there is some reserve capacity of gas and oil power plants in the region, there are big reasons they don’t run all the time. These plants are either peaking generators built specifically to run during peak demand, or are very old power plants that are very polluting and inefficient. Many are designed to run on GAS or OIL so they can take advantage of the lowest cost commodity, and a more diverse supply system. But with oil between $80 and $100 per barrel, and gas also near record high prices, the cost of the electricity from these plants would be astronomical. One study estimated that NY electricity rates would increase by 25% if Indian Point was shutdown, but that analysis was done five years ago when both oil and gas cost a fraction of today’s prices. People in NY are already struggling with the costs of energy and have some of the highest per capita energy costs in the nation.

Also, in focusing on the cost, I’m completely ignoring the impact on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. If Indian Point goes off line, the CO2 emissions for the entire state of NY will go up more than 20% - the equivalent of cutting down all the trees in an area 1.5 times larger than the Adirondack State Park. Look at a map of NY State and you’ll see what I’m talking about – ASP will be a large green area in north central NY that cover’s thousands of square miles. It takes two or three hours to drive across the park.

I’ve yet to mention the impact on grid reliability. The NYISO, the company that controls the grid and the flow of electricity around the state has set minimum reserve capacities below which the grid will become unstable. That minimum number is 18% in reserve, meaning they need 18% capacity idling in standby ready to pick up load if another unit trips off-line or if demand rises quickly. If Indian Point closes, the NYISO says the reserve margin will drop dangerously low to 11%. This would mean more frequent brown-outs and black-outs. So Cuomo is wrong again – GAS and OIL can not replace the power provided by Indian Point.

So either Cuomo is misinformed, or he’s bending the truth. I’m not sure which is more dangerous in an elected official who should know better. Spitzer and Cuomo both say Indian Point is unsafe, and they cite threats of terrorism and earthquakes as key concerns. In fact, Cuomo calls the terrorist threat “insurmountable”. Let’s examine their claims in some detail.

An overview of Seismic Design Criteria for Nuclear Plants

First the concern over earthquakes – nuclear plants are designed and built using seismic design criteria that is specific to the geology of the location where the plant is built. Scientists study the geology and the history of seismic activity of the location, and using that information they determine a maximum hypothetical earthquake that could happen. Then they look at the forces that the hypothetical earthquake would impart on the plant structures and components. Finally, they design the plant so that if the maximum hypothetical earthquake happens at the worst possible time in plant life, with other factors also being at their worst, any radioactivity that escapes will be within strict guidelines so that if a person is standing at the site boundary they will not have any health effects from the radiation.

Some additional conservatisms built into the design include assumptions that the earthquake happens when there are already the maximum number of fuel defects in the reactor, and the radioactivity in the reactor coolant is at its highest allowable. In reality, fuel defects are pretty rare, and typically the reactor coolant is thousands of times less radioactive than the maximum allowable. The design also assumes the containment is leaking at the maximum allowable rate – again, normally containment leakage is virtually zero – an amazing fact in itself when you consider the size of containment buildings!

So, when you consider all this conservatism and rigor that’s put into the seismic design of nuclear plants, it is not surprising that the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant in Japan faired so well even in the face of a devastating earthquake. Indian Point is no different. In fact, Indian Point has some additional systems that provide the operators with an enhanced ability to monitor containment leakage and ensure it remains leak tight if there’s an event.

Cuomo cites the Japanese event and said the plant’s shutdown plant during the earthquake was evidence that nuclear plants are unsafe. He’s so far off the truth it isn’t funny – exactly the opposite is true! Nuclear plants are designed to shut down either automatically or through operator action if there is a severe earthquake. The plant reacted exactly as designed. If that plant HAD NOT shut down, THEN there would be some real concern!

The Nuclear Plant Terrorism Non-Threat

Now let’s examine the terrorist threat. A nuclear plant is a hardened industrial complex protected by elaborate redundant security systems and a highly skilled and trained security force. I am not going to talk details of what those systems are, because that kind of information is considered confidential. I will tell you this – Indian Point has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in security system enhancements since the Sept 11 terrorist attacks. When you spend the kind of many they have, you can get some pretty effective protection! Indian Point also has a security force full of very tough, dedicated, hard working people. They are highly trained and motivated. I have seen them in action in what we call “force-on-force” exercises – mock invasions by independent teams of former green berets and Special Forces soldiers. The Indian Point security force is impressive! And don’t you think terrorists know that? Do you think they’d pick a target like a nuclear plant when there are so many soft targets that are unprotected and can cause so much more loss of life? And if there were stupid enough to try, they’d be dead long before they could cause reactor damage!

The same applies to air attacks – nuclear fuel is protected by three barriers – the cladding, the reactor system, and the containment system. All three barriers are incredibly robust and structurally fortified. After all, they have to be able to withstand the maximum hypothetical earthquake, right? In order for anyone to be injured by a radioactive release from a terrorist event, all three barriers have to be penetrated, PLUS all three redundant reactor cooling systems would have to be destroyed. A Sept 11 style attack on a nuclear plant by a large commercial aircraft simply would not cause that to happen. In fact, it’s most likely that not even one of the three barriers would be penetrated.

So Spitzer and Cuomo are wrong again. Indian Point is safe. Earthquakes and hypothetical terrorist acts do not represent risks to the public.

Cuomo predicts a long and protracted legal battle, and that’s exactly what he wants. What better way to keep his name in the press for months and maybe years on end! Remember, he wants to be Governor and he needs to build his reputation as the ultimate protector of his voting public. He knows he’ll lose the battle, but for him it’s a win-win scenario regardless of the outcome!

Spitzer is in the same boat. His first year in office has been a disaster – he’s managed to alienate both political parties in power. As a result he has been unable to deliver on any meaningful campaign promise, and is thus losing the support of the special interests that helped him get elected him to office. He is also under investigation for misuse of state resources. He badly needs a media distraction. What better way to get the media heat off of him than to shift it to Indian Point.

A summary of Anti-IPEC legislations proposed by Hillary

You would not expect Hillary Clinton to pass up this opportunity to get her name in the news, either. On Friday she released a statement that added zero value – it was simply a regurgitation of her repetitive calls for an Independent Safety Assessment at Indian Point. She claims that Indian Point’s safety issues are unique and fall outside the bounds of the on-going regulatory process. That could not be farther from the truth; on both technical and legal grounds there is no basis for an ISA at Indian Point. She cites areas of concern in emergency preparedness and the NRC’s oversight of the plant, both of which are the subject of continued regulation and congressional oversight. The fact is, Clinton recognizes that Indian Point has the law on their side and the anti-nuclear arguments posed by the state and Clinton’s office do not have a chance of succeeding under the current regulations and legal framework. That’s why she is working to change the laws in order to shut down Indian Point. Here are some examples:

Hillary forced provisions into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that required Indian Point to install emergency warning sirens with redundant backup power sources and redundant and diverse actuation systems – something no other plant is required to do. In fact, the technology for that system was not yet mature nor ready for deployment in such a large geologically diverse area. That caused multiple delays in getting the system up and running as the plant had to do what was essentially research and development and many resultant modifications on the system until it would function as intended.

Hillary sponsored a bill in the US Senate that would take funds that result from fines levied on Indian Point and distribute those funds to the surrounding counties. That would, in essence, give the counties on-going economic incentive to oppose Indian Point in the hopes that the NRC would levy fines be income for the counties. Forget the fact that Indian Point already spends millions of dollars in taxes and in direct payments to support the emergency response infrastructure in the region.

Hillary also sponsored legislation to mandate an Independent Safety Assessment at the plant, something the NRC has repeatedly said in unnecessary because Indian Point’s performance is good and the plant is being operated safely.

I am all for changing nuclear regulations and energy policy as new information and knowledge is gained through sound research or operating experience. That’s not the case here. In fact, there’s a lot of research and experience that indicate the existing laws that govern nuclear plant design criteria may be unnecessarily strict. For example, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests the linear approximations used in estimating the health effects of low level radiation actually grossly over-state the risks. The radiation exposure guidelines and plant design criteria that follow as a result of those inflated health risks add billions of dollars in the cost of building and operating nuclear plants around the world.

If Hillary’s proposals were to be passed, the new laws would impose costs and restrictions without ANY added benefit to the public. If that were to happen, in the end who do you think will bear the cost? You got it! The tax payers in New York and the electricity rate payers all around the northeast USA.

Cuomo’s claim that Indian Point’s critics finally have a “critical mass” is further evidence that he misunderstands even the most basic scientific facts underlying nuclear energy. A critical mass implies a self-sustaining chain reaction which will continue to produce energy without continuous nudging from a catalyst. That’s certainly not the case here! What’s going on around Indian Point is more of a political spontaneous fission – a random bust of energy that quickly dissipates, but is predictable enough to know another will happen again soon when the instigators have an audience and a soap box to stand on.

I want to remind you that you can help support my podcast by doing some of your holiday shopping through my Amazon shopping page. Go to my web site at and click on the STORE tab– you’ll be taken to my Amazon store. From there you can click through to various Amazon categories or use the search box to find what you’re looking for. The prices are the same as when you go directly to and I get a small percentage of the total cost. Amazon referrals and Google advertisements on the web site help off-set some of the costs of producing and hosting the show, so thanks in advance for doing what you can to keep the show going.

Have a safe and happy week!

John Wheeler

Saturday, December 01, 2007

TWiN 50 - The Anti-Nuclear Andrew Twins - Spano and Cuomo

Listen to the Podcast Here


  • Andrew Cuomo continues father's anti-nuclear legacy.
  • Spano Boycotts Emergency Drills - does it really matter when they rarely participate anyway?

A story hit the news wires this week that REALLY caused my blood pressure to go up! Actually there were two stories like that this week - both in my home state of New York. New York politics have always been pretty cut throat, and some elected officials have chosen to play to the anti-nuclear fears of the uninformed in order to win votes. You've heard me talk about former governor Mario Cuomo, and how he succeeded in shutting down the then new Shoreham nuclear power plant and paid off billions of dollars in construction debt by passing it on to tax-payers.

Andrew Cuomo continues father's anti-nuclear legacy.

Well, it looks like his son Andrew is following in dad's footsteps. Andrew used his father's name to get elected to the position of New York Attorney General and now he's using his new position to carry on the anti-nuclear legacy left unfinished by dear old dad. On November 15, Cuomo led an effort by five other state attorney generals to demand the NRC change the way the review and approval license extensions for nuclear plants. The letter was also signed by Attorneys General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Beau Biden III of Delaware, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Gregory B. Stumbo of Kentucky and William H. Sorrell of Vermont, according to a statement from Cuomo's office. Funny - neither Kentucky nor Delaware have nuclear plants, and Kentucky's state laws, designed to protect the coal industry, are some of the toughest in the nations when it comes to licensing nuclear plants.

In his letter and in the press release that accompanied it Cuomo regurgitated the anti's battle cry that the potential for terrorist acts and earthquakes be specifically evaluated in license extension requests. This is the same request that's argued by anti-nuclear groups in California, New Jersey, and elsewhere. It's also one the NRC has answered multiple times: the potential threat from terrorist acts and earthquakes is a matter of on-going regulation and is NOT unique to plants undergoing a license renewal. Since all the US nuclear plants are already being evaluated and regulated against these threats, it makes no sense to include them in the license renewal process.

Cuomo, of course, knows this, but Indian Point Nuclear Plant in his state is undergoing the license renewal process, so there's political gain to be had. He want to run for Governor and he's doing everything to keep his name in the news as someone who is fighting for the safety of his voters.

The other thing Cuomo said that really agitated me: “The NRC should have learned a lesson from this summer’s earthquake in Japan, which forced the emergency shutdown of the world’s largest nuclear plant and resulted in the release of radioactive material into the air and water. Our letter illustrates the concern states across the nation have about nuclear power plant safety.” Hey Andrew, didn't you get the word? The Kashiwazaki nuclear plant weathered that massive earthquake "better than expected" and there was absolutely zero safety impact to the plant workers or the public. What do you expect? There's no reason to let the truth stand in the way of a good story, right Andrew?

In researching this story I came across another fact worth mentioning; Cuomo has appointed Katherine Kennedy to the post of Special Deputy Attorney General of NY and she is in change of this issue for him. Ms Kennedy is the former General Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group that is working to rid the earth of the plague of nuclear power plants. If you go to the NRDC web site you'll find they place nuclear plants in the same risk category as nuclear weapons. Cuomo is surrounding himself with people who have the same anti-nuclear bias as he does.

I'm no expert in the Kennedy family genealogy, but there's another interesting twist. Andrew Cuomo was married to Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and they have three children. I wonder if Katherine Kennedy is any relation? Oh the tangled web we weave!

If that first story didn't get my heart rate going, the next one sure did…

Spano Boycotts Emergency Drills - does it really matter when they rarely participate anyway?

Andrew Spano, the county executive for Westchester County NY released a statement on Thursday November 29 that the county would "boycott" participation in emergency drills with the Indian Point nuclear plant because he was "tired of Entergy's lack of commitment and appalling lack of preparation during practice drills." This one really ticked me off, because I have relevant personal experience.

Up until recently I was a member of the emergency response organization for Indian Point. In fact, it was my job to interface with state and county representatives in one of the emergency facilities. Spano's charge that Entergy doesn't take emergency drills seriously is ludicrous. I've participated in at least a dozen practice emergency drills at Indian Point, plus three or four evaluated exercises. I've also been there for real events, for example during the northeast electrical blackout a few years ago. The plant staff has always taken emergency preparation very seriously, and has gone out of their way to do an exemplary job. In fact, I wonder how Spano made his assessment since at much of the time the Westchester County representatives don't show up for the training drills! There have been times when the plant staff has to designate employees to "act" as county representatives because the state and counties decide not to participate! Going back to the night of the NE blackout, to my recollection the county representatives choose not to participate then either!

So Andrew Spano - tell me again how you came to your conclusion? The people who were there know better, and thanks to the Internet we can call your bluff.


John Wheeler

Saturday, September 29, 2007

TWiN 49 - NRG Energy Files 1st New Nuclear Constuction License Application in USA

Listen to the Podcast Here

In this Episode I discuss:

  1. Insights into the NRG Application to Build & Operate Two New Nuclear plants.
  2. Rep. Ed Markey's (D-MA) On-Going War on Nuclear Energy
  3. CNN's Anti-Nuclear Bias
  4. Nuclear Plants Perform "Better than expected" in Major Earthquake
  5. Letters from Listeners

The nuclear renaissance in the United States reached another important milestone this week! Those of you in the business have probably heard the big news: On Monday September 24 the first combined construction and operating license for a new nuclear plant in the USA was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by NRG Energy and South Texas Nuclear Operating Company. The companies plan to build two Toshiba Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) at their South Texas Project site where they already operate two Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactors.

  • New Units will add 2 x 1350 MWe (2700 MWe) to the already 2,500 MWe from the PWRs.
  • New site will surpass the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station as the largest nuclear electricity generating station in the United States.

About the ABWR Design

  • It's already one of the NRC's "certified designs." The other pre-certified reactor type under active consideration in the US is the Westinghouse AP-1000. The Areva/Unistar EPR and the General Electric ESBWR designs are not yet certified. This could give an advantage to the STP project when it comes to timeliness of obtaining approval for their COL.
  • There are already four ABWRs in operation in Japan, and two more are under construction in Taiwan. The experience of having built, started up, and operated the units will give the NRG project a huge advantage compared to first-of-a-kind projects. For example, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Unit No.6 was built in 51 months from ground breaking to commercial operation (and only 39 months from the first concrete pour to the first time they connected to the electrical grid).
  • The Toshiba ABWR is a variation on the General Electric ABWR. It is not really an "evolutionary" design as are the ESBWR and AP-1000. It is more of the next step in a progression of BWR where each generation has benefited from the experiences gained building and operating the ones that came before it. Each generation of BWRs has been an improvement on the last in terms of design, construction, margins of safety, ability to maintain, and reliable operation.
  • So from a perspective of minimizing risk in the licensing process, construction time line, and reliable operations it is a logical choice.

Some design specifications worth mentioning:

  • The volume of the ABWR building is about one third smaller than those of present BWR buildings, resulting in less construction time and expenses.
  • Toshiba states improvement in design yield safety margins that are about one hundred times greater than the current plants in the United States.
  • The design includes ten internal reactor pumps that replace the external recirculation pumps in earlier BWR designs. This eliminates piping and connections to increase safety and decreased costs.
  • The reactor safety systems are automated and Toshiba claims no operator action is required for the first 72 hours in the event of a coolant loss. Being a former operator, I'm a bit skeptical on that point. But…. the plants I operated were designed in the '50's and '60's and built in the '60's and 70's - so I have to be careful. Also, my background is in military and commercial PWRs - so my personal experience may not be relevant. If any of you out there have recent BWR operating experience I'm interested in hearing from you about your post-accident operating guidelines and training.

The Companies Involved

There is an intricate web of legal entities and companies that could be involved in the STP units 3 and 4 project.

  • According to Wikipedia, South Texas Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) is owned by three entities:
    • NRG Energy 44%
    • City of San Antonio 40%
    • City of Austin 16%
  • Toshiba, of course, will be the lead for reactor design and procurement.
  • GE, Hitachi and Bechtel were involved in drafting the COL, and NRG is in talks with them to reach agreement on their role in the construction phase of the project.
  • Toshiba has hired Fluor's Power Group to provide engineering, procurement, and construction services.
  • And with Toshiba being the majority owner of Westinghouse, I've got to wonder what Westinghouse's role will be in the project.

If you build them will they come?

  • The company stated they plan to have the two units on line in 2014 and 2015. If you back up the timeline from those dates you'll find there are some long lead time things that need to happen. In addition to the physical plant components, there's a lot of early work needed in developing the workforce for the new units. Initial fuel load happens about one year before commercial operations, and when you load fuel you have to have just about everything in place for an operating plant; licensed operators, a fire brigade, maintenance crews, security, a training staff, a simulator.
  • Here's a thought: STP runs two PRWs - they don't have BWR operating experience. So where do you think they'll get experienced operators for the new units? True, some will come from their existing units and will re-train on the BWR technology, but my guess it they'll be recruiting experienced BWR operators away from other companies. South Texas did this once before - back in the late '80's and early 90's I was working as a Senior Reactor Operator at Turkey Point Nuclear plant in Florida. About that time STP was building up their operating staff for the new PWRs - units 1 and 2 that had just come on line. I recall hearing of telephone calls into the Turkey Point control room from STP employees who were recruiting operators. In act, several experienced operators left Turkey Point around that time and went to work at South Texas.
  • I know personally that the folks at South Texas are doing a lot in their local community to strengthen the technical education infrastructure so they can recruit local talent for the plants. I take my hat off to them! That is definitely the right thing to do! I doubt it will be enough, though. They'll have to recruit some experienced people from the outside

I've mentioned before on the show that the time is ripe for people who want to get into this business. All you have to do is go to the web sites of various nuclear utilities and take a look at the job postings. I'll put some links in the show notes. Hey - if you get a job in the nuclear industry after hearing one of my shows then shoot me an email ad let me know!

Anti-Nuclear Politician Ed Markey Tries to Throw Cold Water on the Optimism

If you've listened to my shows long enough, you've undoubtedly heard about Representative Edward Markey (D-MA). He is without question one of the most rabidly anti-nuclear elected officials in the US government. The day after the NRG Energy COL application, Markey sent a letter to the NRC commissioner questioning the legality of the NRC's practice of using independent consultants to review parts of nuclear plant construction applications.

Markey's quote: "Assuring the safety of nuclear power plants falls well within the definition of an 'inherently governmental' function," Markey wrote. "I am therefore alarmed that this contract may violate the law and ... result in a danger to public health and safety."

Man, he's a pro! He knows all the key words and tricky phrases to get the media all spun up, doesn't he?

Markey's claim is that by outsourcing design reviews, the NRC is deferring its responsibility to external consultants. Again, it's easy to see the fallacy in Markey's argument; every branch of government uses external talent and resources when they don't have the permanent staff to meet the demands. FEMA, the DOD, the Dept of Labor, and the FDA - they all use external consultants and experts when needed (people like college professors, government retirees, and engineering consultants are commonly used by federal government agency). The NRC Office of New Reactors started with about 85 people late last year and is expected to grow to 430 by the end of 2007 to deal with an anticipated onslaught of nuclear reactor applications. And while about 100 government employees will work on each application, they still don't have all the talent needed. I need to mention here that the US taxpayers do not pay one cent to support the effort. The NRC is funded entirely though user fees levied on the beneficiaries of the work - in this case the reactor vendors and utilities. This is simply one more way Ed Markey is trying to slow the process down - on one hand he works as a congressman to prevent the NRC from getting approval to hire the people they need to do the license reviews, then he complains when they outsource work they can't do on their own.

Typical! It sounds like something right out of the play book from the anti-nuclear group the Nuclear Policy Research Institute! If you think that's far fetched just do what I did; Google the terms "Markey NPRI" and see what you find. Interestingly, many of the references have been removed from the host websites, but thanks to Google, you can view the old pages by clicking on the "cached" files.

In response to Markey's letter an NRC spokesman stated: "The NRC has not, and will not, delegate any decision-making authority in the licensing of potential new U.S. nuclear reactors,"

I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this!

CNN's Negative Nuclear Campaign

I spend a lot of time in airports, and I've often wondered why all the televisions in all the airports in the United States are constantly tuned to CNN. It's pretty irritating for a guy like me because CNN has a knack for sensationalizing any story related to nuclear energy, and they rarely present the positive sides of the stories.

Over the last few months I've come to expect weekly negative coverage about the earthquake that struck Japan in July. The epicenter was near the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear station, and the non-nuclear parts of the plant suffered some minor damage. If you didn't know anything other than what CNN told you about the event you would believe the reactors were gravely damaged, leaked dangerous radioactivity into the sea, had caught on fire, and will probably never operate again. All this is false, but that's what they've been reporting. The facts are the reactors automatically shut down when the earthquake occurred (as they are supposed to), and while the non-nuclear parts of the plant had some damage, the reactors and safety systems were virtually unscathed. In fact, an independent team of nuclear safety experts from the IAEA inspected the reactors and concluded that plant safety features performed admirably during the earthquake. They also confirmed that the very small amount of radioactivity that sloshed out of the fuel storage pools well below the authorized limits for public health and environmental safety. Damage from the earthquake is limited to those sections of the plant that would not affect the reactor or systems related to reactor safety.

It's worth noting that the earthquake, a major one at 6.8 on the Richter scale, exceeded the level of seismic activity for which the plant was designed. Other building and industrial facilities built to normal commercial standards were completely destroyed. According to one report I read, the nuclear plant was just about the only thing left standing and, as I said, it was almost unaffected. The IAEA team concluded that the safety margins used in building the plant and conservative seismic design measures added robustness to the structures, systems and components that helped them weather the earthquake better than expected.

So in a REAL WORLD major earthquake the Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors demonstrated the success of a conservative nuclear design philosophy that protected the public, even when the event was worse than the designers envisioned. That sounds like a huge success story to me!

The plant, by the way, is the world's largest nuclear power generating complex with seven reactors and 8.2 GW of electrical output, including the two ABWRs I mentioned earlier in the show.

I want to mention the classical music on this episode is at the request of Marje Hecht who posted some very interesting comments about the last episode on the podcast web page, and she provided a link to an article by Marsha Freeman on the political and economic factors that contributed to the downturn of the nuclear industry in the United States in the 1970's and 1980's. Thank you, Marje. Marje, by the way, is the Managing Editor of 21st Century Science & Technology. Check out their web site.

By the way I get all the music for my podcasts at the Podsafe Music Network. This particular track is called Paul in Love, by Paul, a group of musicians in Austria. Check out the PodSafe Music Network! It's an amazing source for royalty free music by artists who are trying promote their work.

I also received an email from Giorgis from Sydney who feels I am overstating the threat posed by Iran's eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons. I'm trying to keep an open mind about it, but international diplomacy has not yielded any results for several years.

And Orlando Stevenson wrote I to say "thanks" for bringing to light the career opportunities in the nuclear industry. He's passed some information from the show to a family member who may be interested in a career change. Excellent Orlando, thank you!

On the topic of ways to get a positive outcome from the Iran nuclear crises, Stuart Peterson asked "Why not give Iran some demand for Natanz's enrichment services (i.e., sell Iran a few LWRs)? That way, they'll be forced to produce LEU." Great idea, Stuart! Cash speaks louder than swords, and from what I've heard Iran could use all the hard currency they can get! Come to think of it, that's what Russia has been trying to do with the Bushehr nuclear plant, the project has been stalled for months because Iran has not been paying its bills.

I also got a note from my good friend and fellow podcaster Rod Adams of the Atomic Show. While I've been busy with other endeavors Rod has kept nuclear podcasting alive with some absolutely great shows. If you don't listen to the Atomic Show, you should!

Thanks everyone for the emails and comments! Keep them coming! And I'd like to say "Welcome" to new listeners in Slovakia, Serbia, Egypt, and Hawaii. As a reminder, the show web site is at where you can read show transcripts, post comments, send me email, and much, much more.

Have a great week!

John Wheeler

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Episode 48


1. What’s John Been Up To?
2. The Jane Fonda Effect
3. Iran's Atoms for Peace Program
4. Vermont Supreme Court Throws Out Anti-nuclear Argument
5. New College Courses Focus on Nuclear Careers

Welcome to episode 48 of “This Week in Nuclear.”

Thanks for returning to the show after my summer break. The last several months have been incredibly busy, but things are starting to clam down a bit and I’m going to do my best to get back to producing regular podcasts. I really appreciate all the notes of support and encouragement from many of you out there.

The Fonda Syndrome

Have you ever heard of “The Jane Fonda Effect?” I hadn’t until this week. It’s a phrase coined by
Steven Levitt, one of the authors of the best selling book “Freakonomics” in a Sept 16th editorial in the NY Times. In this essay, he ponders whether or not Jane Fonda is partially to blame for global warming. Here’s the line of thought that makes him contemplate the hypothesis:

Jane Fonda is vocally anti-nuclear, and she starred in the film “The China Syndrome”, a story about a fabricated near disaster at a California nuclear plant.
The movie premiered 12 days before the accident at Three Mile Island, and helped to create public misperception and fear of nuclear plants.
In the movie, the loss of coolant accident that was nearly avoided would have (according to the script) destroyed an area of land the size of Pennsylvania – something that is utterly preposterous. But the public at the time didn’t know any better.
The accident at TMI had no environmental consequences, and no one was killed or even slightly injured as a result of the core melt down. The safety systems behaved as designed and contained the hazardous materials.

In the years after the accident, many plants that were under construction were abandoned, and those in the planning stages were cancelled.
Because the USA turned away from new nuclear plants in favor of gas, oil, and coal, causing a huge increase in the amount of greenhouse gasses released, especially when compared to how it would have been had those cancelled nuclear plants been built.

Well, Levitt is right on one account – the USA would be producing far less CO2 today if there were more nuclear plants. But as much as I’d enjoy blaming global warming on Jane Fonda, and as much as she’d like to take credit for shutting down nuclear plants, the facts don’t support those positions.

It’s a widely held myth that the accident at Three Mile Island causes such a huge public outrage that utilities cancelled new nuclear plant orders and abandoned half-built nuclear plants.

While I find “The Jane Fonda Effect” thought provoking, it’s interesting to find that a renown economist missed a fundamental fact about the decline in nuclear plant construction in the 1980’s and 1990’s: the primary cause was the economics of electricity supply and demand, NOT the success of the anti-nukes. Economic recession and a corresponding drop in electricity demand growth left utilities holding the bag on billions of dollars of base load power plant projects that they did not need. They did what any good business would do – they cancelled their orders.

During the same time period MORE new coal plants were cancelled than nuclear plants. If the success of the anti-nuclear movement had truly been the cause of nuclear plant cancellations, then there would have been a corresponding increase in new coal plant construction, and there was not.

For the same reason nuclear plants are coming back in favor – they make sense economically; low emissions, low cost energy, and long term electricity price stability are attracting investment around the world. The “anti’s” can’t change the fundamental economics of nuclear energy, and that’s why they are losing their ill-advised struggle.

The Times article is thought-provoking, though, and it’s worth a read.

Iranian Atoms for Peace

Let’s see…where we are in the saga of Iran’s “Atom’s for Peace” program. In our last episode we left the kindly President Ahmadinejad was embattled, one against the many; the free world was condemning his uranium enrichment program for violating international law, for refusing to submit to United Nations resolutions, and for failing to provide full transparency required by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And today, three months later we find they are let’s see…..violating international law, refusing to submit to United Nations resolutions, and failing to provide full transparency required by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Well I guess that sums it up, doesn’t it? The Iranian President is going a fantastic job; he’s continuing to stall the UN and international negotiations while his engineers add more and more enrichment capacity. At last could they had 3,000 centrifuges running making the material they need for nuclear weapons.

There has been some progress though; this week the
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy stated publicly that Iran's nuclear activity is a cover for a clandestine weapons program. And the Russians have refused to deliver nuclear fuel to the Bushehr nuclear plant. Even Iran’s strongest supporters are getting irritated at the facade. It’s about time…it was on September 25, 2003 that IAEA inspectors first reported finding highly enriched bomb-grade uranium in Iran’s centrifuges. That’s more than three years, and during that time the Iranian government has made a mockery of the international community while continuing to threaten their neighbors with animation.

I’m somewhat of a pessimist when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, and the world’s response to it. If anyone out there has any good ideas, or if you know of a possible chain of events that would bring this to a happy ending, please post a comment on the blog. There’s lot to be optimistic about when it comes the peaceful expansion of atomic power to provide the world with abundant, reasonably priced, emissions free electricity, but this not one of those happy stories.

Vermont Supreme Court Throws Out Anti-Nuclear Appeal

On a brighter note….In May of 2006, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was granted a 20% power up-rate after a long legal process with both the state of Vermont and the federal government. The New England Coalition, an anti-nuclear group, appealed the 20 percent power increase, arguing that the Vermont Public Service Board did not hold public evidentiary hearings on the proposed power increase.
This week the Vermont Supreme Court dismissed the appeal saying the issue was indeed raised when the proposal was being reviewed by state officials three years ago. Associate Justice John Dooley III wrote in the ruling "The entire thrust of NEC's appeal -- that various statutes required the Board to conduct an evidentiary hearing before entering its March 3, 2006 order -- was simply not made to the Board,"

Vermont Yankee is in the process of seeking a 20 year life extension, and you can be assured that the New England Coalition is fighting it every way they can.

College Programs Springing Up to Support the Nuclear Renaissance

Demand for college courses that prepare young people for careers in the nuclear industry are on the rise. Word is getting out that jobs are plentiful, the work is exciting, and the pay is very good. One interesting development – industry is getting involved in a big way in partnering with colleges and government to create programs designed to precisely fill the demand. That means graduates will have exactly the knowledge and skills they need to go right into these high paying fields.

A few innovative examples include:

A Nuclear Technology associates degree program that has been developed through a partnership between University of Missouri, Linn State Technical College, and the Calloway Nuclear Plant.

An Energy System Technology Education Center at Idaho State University that is a collaboration between the university, Entergy Corporation, Idaho National Laboratory, and others.

A Nuclear Support Technology associates program at Central Virginia Community College that trains students to become nuclear quality control inspectors, a field that is in high demand.

Each of these programs offers hands-on engineering technology knowledge and skill that enable students to fast-track into a nuclear career. All the credits earned in the two-year degrees matriculate into a four year bachelors degree program when the graduate decides to further their education later. I’ve described a few, but there are many more.

You can find out more information through the Center for Energy Workforce Development, or from the Nuclear Energy Institute web site.

Well, that’s it for this show. It’s great to be back! Don’t forget you can get a full transcript of the show from my blog, and you can find prior episodes in the archive. You can also listen to the podcast on the telephone at (510) 248-0360, so if you’re away from your computer you can dial in to hear the latest episode.

You can help support the show by visiting the goggle advertisement links on the web site, by shopping at my Amazon store, or by making a donation by Paypal. And for those of you who have already donated to the show - you have my most heart-felt thanks! Your donations have helped reduce the financial costs of producing and hosting the show. Each show takes between 6 and 10 hours to prepare, record, and post, so with that kind of time commitment it’s nice to have some of the recurring costs taken care of through donations.