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.




Stewart Peterson said...

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.

Rod Adams said...


Welcome back. I have missed your weekly news about the happenings in the nuclear business.

BTW - have you received any recent emails from me?

Orlando Stevenson said...

Great coverage on the educational opportunities for those wanting to get into the nuclear industry.

My brother has been truck driving for ~10 years since Marines active duty and is ready for a change, better life style, and is concerned about increasing pressure on wages with borders opening up.

Cut/pasted from your show notes.. he's now catching up on back shows.

Good to have you back. Check out Rod Adams lastest two, 68 & 69 w/Ray Haroldsen. Amazing early days history that really wasn't that long ago.