Forbes’ Jim Conca showcases benefits of clean nuclear energy

You love him at blogging about a variety of energy issues – always with a unique perspective.

We asked Jim Conca, senior scientist at UFA Ventures, if he could bring that perspective to the small screen for a public service announcement about the importance of nuclear energy to a diverse energy mix. And he delivered.

Jim Conca featured in a public service announcement about the need for carbon-free nuclear energy.

Jim Conca featured in a public service announcement about the need for carbon-free nuclear energy.

In the 30-second spot, which can be found here, Conca explains that as an environmentalist who loves the good things energy brings to life, there must be a balance. We need full-time, or baseload, energy. But we also need to protect the environment. Carbon-free nuclear energy delivers on both fronts.

There is a growing movement to ensure our existing nuclear energy facilities across the country remain operating. Nuclear accounts for more than 60 percent of the clean energy produced in the U.S. We need all of that (and more) if we expect to meet future carbon reduction goals.

While on the subject, we encourage you to visit a new website called Nuclear Powers Illinois, from our friends at Exelon Generation. If you are not aware, Illinois is home to 11 nuclear reactors that are threatened by a market that doesn’t properly value the clean energy they produce.

They are working on developing a low-carbon portfolio standard as a solution.

Keeps the air clean.

Keeps the jobs (28,000) in Illinois.

A win-win.

(Posted by John Dobken)

TVA’s Watts Bar 2 makes progress towards NRC license

Update on new reactor progress from Neutron Bytes…

Neutron Bytes

  • Watts Bar Unit 2 Passes Key Milestone on Path to Operating License
  • Bellefonte’s uncertain future
  • Dominion seeks third reactor at North Anna

TVA’s Watts Bar 2 nuclear reactor, now nearing completion, has cleared a major regulatory milestone toward being the country’s first new nuclear generation of the 21st century. A key advisory group for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recommended moving forward with the process to grant an operating license for Watts Bar Unit 2.

In a letter to the NRC Chairman, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards noted that “there is reasonable assurance that WBN 2 can operate as the second unit of the dual unit Watts Bar Nuclear Plant without undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”

“This completes a critical regulatory step in the process to start up the nation’s first new nuclear unit in 20 years,” said TVA Chief Nuclear Officer Joe Grimes.

View original post 652 more words

The forces of light: why supporting nuclear energy is good for the soul

I have actively supported nuclear energy for five years. Before that, before starting to work in the industry, I never gave nuclear energy much thought. Didn’t really see the need. There were more than 100 plants out there producing 20 percent of the nation’s energy – and doing it quite well. In other words, I didn’t have to think about it.

Now having learned something about nuclear energy – and seeing the industry from the inside – I can see why it is an endeavor worth supporting. Strongly supporting.

Michael Hanlon wrote a great piece at Aeon, looking at how risk-aversion has just about killed our innovative spirit over the past four decades. When it comes to nuclear energy, he doesn’t mince his words: “The climate change crisis, which might kill millions, is one of the prices we are paying for 40 years of risk-aversion” toward nuclear energy.

Which is one reason nuclear energy should be looked on as a force of light, a force for good. Think about its attributes:

  • It’s the safest form of energy generation we’ve ever known
  • Its fuel is cheap and abundant
  • It’s carbon-free in the generation of electricity (though the mining of uranium creates some carbon)
  • It’s a baseload, or full-time, source of electricity
  • Its waste is a solid, completely containable, with no impact to the environment

But more than that – nuclear energy can be a national endeavor for the benefit of all.

Plant Vogtle Unit 3 under construction in Georgia. Photo credit: PowerMag

Plant Vogtle Unit 3 under construction in Georgia. Photo credit: PowerMag

The five plants now under construction are arguably among the largest construction projects this nation is undertaking, employing thousands of people: men and women; skilled laborers; engineers; professionals. And the result will be carbon-free energy generation stretching, perhaps, all the way to the 22nd century. During that time, generations of highly-skilled professionals will have family-wage jobs. Thousands of them. Cities will have abundant, clean, safe, cost-effective energy.

Nuclear energy demands the best of people on a daily basis. Isn’t that a good thing? Going back to Hanlon’s piece, we don’t advance as a society by simply making a larger screen on a smartphone and calling it a breakthrough. That’s just marketing. We advance as a society by big pursuits of important things.

Nuclear energy is about the pursuit of perfection in energy generation. Think about it. To have a 1,200 megawatt plant run nearly 100 percent of the time producing carbon-free electricity with little (to no) environmental impact at a very low cost. As Vince Lombardi once said, perfection, in the end, is unattainable, but in pursuing perfection one can catch excellence.

That’s where you’ll find the next generation of nuclear energy innovators – pursuing perfection in their designs of advanced nuclear technology. They are designing nuclear

Leslie Dewan, co-founder of Transatomic Power, a nuclear energy start-up.

Leslie Dewan, co-founder of Transatomic Power, a nuclear energy start-up.

reactors that are smaller, utilize passive safety features, and that would be economical to manufacture and deploy.

They should be celebrated. And encouraged. Politicians, fellow scientists, even the environmentalists (especially the environmentalists), should be leading the cheers and pushing them on in their work to create an abundant source of clean energy. Many are supporting them.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation.

Those who find themselves opposing the current use of, or future deployment of, nuclear energy are not the ones who will make this nation or this world a better place for humankind by holding this position. They add little to the discussion about how we will supply billions and billions of people with electricity in the future without harming the environment.

So they chase ghosts. “Nuclear is dirty.” “Nuclear is expensive.” “Nuclear is unsafe.” None of that is true, but they repeat it a lot and they are able to get other people to repeat it as well. The New Republic, for example, recently reported, “For starters, nuclear energy isn’t clean.” For support of that statement, the author sources… an anti-nuclear energy activist. You can read the piece here but you’ll get far more insight skipping to the comments of well-informed readers.

Many environmentalists are taking a fresh look at nuclear energy and with good reason. Nuclear energy is not going away, just ask China – or the rest of the world. So why waste time arguing for its elimination?

Vermont Yankee protester.

Vermont Yankee protester.

After all, what was gained by closing Vermont Yankee? Lost jobs. Lost clean energy. Lost taxes and charitable support. Why? Because some people can’t evolve from a 40-year-old, fear-based ideology. It was misguided then and it is even more misguided now, but old habits are hard to break.

Thank goodness for this next generation of innovators who want to give us a clean, safe, full-time source of energy. Celebrate them and thank them – but most of all – support them. Your grandchildren will thank you for it.

To learn more about innovations in nuclear energy, here are links to a small sample of what’s happening out there:

NuScale Power

Transatomic Power


Helion Energy

(Posted by John Dobken)

Washington state and Boeing and modular reactors

Energy Northwest is a clean air pioneer, and the potential development of modular reactors in Washington state will be a part of that clean air tradition. I recently wrote a blog post about this. However, just like a character in a movie doing a double-take, I realized that Washington’s clean air history was only part of the story. It’s not just a clean-air tradition: there’s an aircraft tradition, too!

What do most people think of when they hear the words “industry in Washington state”? They think of Boeing and Microsoft. But when it comes to regular nuts-and-bolts manufacturing, not software, but manufacturing that is world-class and competitive and makes big impressive machines… they think of Boeing.

Courtesy: CNN

The Boeing assembly line in Everett, Wash. Photo: CNN

Well, okay. I personally think of Boeing first because our son worked there for several years. I took the tour of Boeing and was incredibly impressed at the complex airplanes, huge machines with miles of wiring and extremely high safety requirements, that came off the assembly line. An assembly line! It completely amazed me (as it should amaze anyone) to see something so complicated made in such a routine way, to such high standards of quality and safety.

Just recently, Evan Twarog, a guest blogger at Atomic Insights, wrote a guest post at Rod Adams’ blog. This post reminded me of the aircraft side of Washington state history, and how that part of Washington’s heritage can affect the nuclear industry. Twarog’s post is titled: What Aircraft Manufacturers Can Teach the Nuclear Industry .

Twarog compares airplane manufacturing to the nuclear industry in terms of regulation, complexity of product, and safety requirements. He points out some painful differences, such as the fact that Boeing and Airbus can afford their license applications. Boeing has a market value around $90 billion, and Airbus is valued at $40 billion. For these two companies, it’s small change to spend $100 million (mere millions) on a license application for a new type of airplane. In contrast, for the start-up companies that want to build new types of nuclear plants, such high expenditures for licensing pose a serious problem which slows innovation.   The airplane industry is definitely in better shape than the nuclear industry!

However, the nuclear industry can learn a great deal from the aircraft industry in many ways other than financing. Twarog reviews Boeing’s “9-Step Plan” which has increased the quality of manufacturing while decreasing the cost. He admires the Boeing “culture of innovation.” And of course, aircraft are built in modules: they are not the equivalent of conventional home construction. They are modular, and newer reactors (SMR- Small Modular Reactors) will also be modular in construction. As Twarog writes: Modularity has the potential to remake the nuclear industry, but it must be executed in a way that will live up to its true potential. The nuclear industry must learn the things the aircraft industry already knows.

And where better to learn these skills than Washington state, the exact state where the aircraft industry already practices these skills. I know that the legislature is considering various ways of encouraging SMRs in the state, and I personally hope the legislature succeeds in encouraging them. Building SMRs in Washington, recruiting some people who work at or who advise Boeing, could be the best place in the United States for this industry. That’s my opinion, anyway!

Evan speaking in favor of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing in November , 2012.

Evan speaking in favor of Vermont Yankee at a Public Service Board hearing in November, 2012.

A word about Evan Twarog. He is a remarkable young man, graduating high school this year and heading off to the Coast Guard Academy. Twarog also was offered a significant scholarship to Renssellear Polytechnic Institute, after being nominated by his high school science teachers. However, he has chosen to go to the Coast Guard Academy. He also wrote an essay that won a global Rotary contest.

Evan is the son of John and Cheryl Twarog. John is a shift supervisor at Vermont Yankee. Even early in his high school career, the younger Twarog was a very well spoken advocate for Vermont Yankee. I am the director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont, and I was lucky enough to have Twarog as our intern one summer. To give you some idea of his background, I am linking to some posts at my Yes Vermont Yankee blog. Enjoy!

(Post by Meredith Angwin)

Yes, we can have a conversation about clean, safe nuclear energy

by Paul Lorenzini


Paul Lorenzini

As a native Oregonian who has spent nearly all his life in the Northwest, the yin and yang of attitudes toward nuclear power has been interesting to follow. Priding itself on its commitment to the environment and having felt the impact of a 1980’s bond default, both Washington and Oregon have historically tended toward the nuclear skeptics. So I was interested when we founded NuScale Power in 2007, with home offices in Corvallis and Portland, to see what the reaction would be.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Political leaders not only welcomed the economic benefits, they took seriously the safety advances of the NuScale design and the economic advantages of Small Modular Reactors. We even had some positive press, enough so that my son, living as a surfer in Seaside, Ore., was surprised when the subject of small reactors spontaneously (and positively) came up in a random conversation among his surfer buddies.

Still, the anti-nuclear energy vibe is alive and, well, hanging on. The one operating nuclear power plant in the region, the Columbia Generating Station owned by Energy Northwest and located just north of Richland, Wash., generates occasional interest from anti-nuclear groups seeking to find any (literally any) reason for permanently shutting it down. In a report released in late 2013, for example, a group sponsored a study claiming the plant should be closed on economic grounds. While it received some initial coverage in the press, it failed to gain traction when a close examination showed – to no one’s surprise – that the math simply didn’t work. More recently they sponsored a report targeting the spent fuel pool, seeking to make associations with Fukushima. Again, it failed to gain much traction, especially after Energy Northwest noted that they had erred in assuming a radioactive inventory that was off (on the high side) by as much as 100,000,000 curies (see here and here). It was equally obvious that they had exaggerated the risks. As Energy Northwest Spokesperson Mike Paoli curtly observed, even at Fukushima, after a 9.0 earthquake, a 45-foot tsunami and three hydrogen explosions that blew the side and roof off reactor buildings at the site, “the spent fuel pools didn’t lose a drop of water.”


Paul Lorenzini with Gary Linton of the Canby Rotary. (Photo courtesy of the Canby Rotary)

All of which brings us to the public at large. How much of this actually gets on the public radar? What are they thinking? Over the past six months, I had the opportunity to speak to thirteen Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs in and around Portland, with a few more coming later this year. They ranged in size from less than 20 to more than 70. I would not claim this to be a very scientific survey, but they do represent a cross section of middle class citizens in the region who could be fairly considered more informed than average. My topic was the importance of Columbia Generating Station to the Northwest, with candid discussions of Fukushima, waste disposal, and small modular reactors.

So I was curious. What would I find? It was not just a question of whether the kerfuffle from these anti-nuclear challenges had been getting anyone’s attention, I also wanted to get a feel for how much public sentiments had been affected by Fukushima. Similarly, after all the investments in wind (more than 4,500 MW of installed capacity in the Northwest) did they see a continuing role for nuclear power? What were their attitudes toward nuclear power?

After reflecting on all this, here are some general observations:

  • The overall tenor in every meeting was positive and supportive. My interpretation – attitudes toward nuclear power have significantly shifted from early skepticism and have not been as seriously affected by Fukushima as we might have thought.
  • None of the recent claims from that one anti-nuclear energy group was ever mentioned. It says to me these are largely “inside baseball” and are getting little attention outside the circle of the cognoscenti.
  • In early meetings I received skeptical questions about the security of long-term spent fuel containers. Once I added details on the nature of the containers, the land area they would take, and the recent actions by the NRC on long-term waste disposal, the waste issue no longer raised questions.
  • There seemed to be acceptance that wind has limitations – I was never challenged by anyone who felt wind and efficiency would solve meeting our future energy needs.
  • There was a lot of interest (positive) in developing technologies, certainly SMRs, but also fusion, the Bill Gates-funded Terra Power and other next generation technologies.
  • The most skeptical kinds of comments came after the meetings when individuals would come up and express the feeling that there are no easy answers. It said to me people continue to be thoughtful about the risks but realize they must be balanced.
  • Interestingly, when I emphasized the important role nuclear power can play in decarbonizing our electricity emissions, I found no skepticism about the need to address this challenge.

As a general observation, it would be naïve to conclude there were no silent skeptics in these audiences; my informal “survey” was just that – an informal testing of the waters. But overall I was encouraged by what seems to be receptivity toward nuclear power in a region known for its skepticism, even in the period following Fukushima.

Paul Lorenzini has extensive experience in both executive management and nuclear operations and is dedicated to advancing public understanding of nuclear technologies. He began his career with Atomics International, a division of Rockwell International, after earning his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Oregon State University. While developing safety analysis codes for design of the liquid metal-cooled fast breed reactor, he also attended law school and earned his J.D.

After working with a Portland-based law firm, Lorenzini rejoined Rockwell International at the Hanford Nuclear Defense Complex in eastern Washington state, where he was subsequently named vice president and general manager of Rockwell’s Hanford Operations. He later joined PacifiCorp, an electric utility company in Portland, where he spent more than a decade in several executive management positions, including president of Pacific Power & Light, chief executive officer of PacifiCorp Turkey, and chief executive officer of Powercor Australia.

Seven at one blow

Where nuclear bloggers, seven in all, team up to address the closure of Vermont Yankee Nuclear energy bloggers are a rare breed. The barriers to entry to the field are formidable and their respective voices are highly distinctive based on their experiences in the industry. So it is a special circumstance that causes seven of […]