At some community radio stations in Portland, Ore. the bar seems to be set very low for what constitutes “expert analysis.” Recently, one such station welcomed anti-nuke-for-hire Arnie Gundersen to talk about Columbia Generating Station.
Columbia, a 1,170-megawatt boiling water reactor located near Richland, Wash., recently finished a long, breaker-to-breaker run of 683 days, and then had a refueling outage (one of our safest ever). After the outage, Columbia’s return to full power was delayed by a stuck, non-safety related, isolation valve in one of its reactor feedwater loops, limiting Columbia to 65 percent power until that valve was fixed.
Gundersen didn’t even know that much information.
Yet he manages to speak for four minutes on the outage and the causes of the delay in attaining full power.
When you need an anti-nuke who can claim to have a nuclear engineering degree, Arnie is the go-to-guy, ready at a moment’s notice to offer “expert analysis.” He offers analysis whether or not he knows any actual facts. Here’s his opening line on the radio show: “…it’s hard to tell what’s going on because Columbia has not released much information…”
That line would be a tip-off to most interviewers that the person being interviewed may not know what they are talking about. Also, Columbia is run by a public entity, Energy Northwest. The agency has informed local news media, regional trade press and members of the region’s Public Power Council about Columbia’s work to fix the stuck valve. Furthermore, when the community radio station called us to inquire why Columbia was at 65 percent power, they were told. Only Gundersen seemed to be out of the loop on what happened.
Rod Adams of the Atomic Insights blog has written extensively about Gundersen’s history and credentials. It’s not flattering. Meredith Angwin, who often blogs here, debated Gundersen at the University of Vermont, and wrote a blog post about his statements about fish. Gundersen claimed that there were only 16 shad in the Connecticut River, and that this precipitous decline in the shad population was caused by the operation of Vermont Yankee. The Connecticut River shad runs have been declining due to overfishing, yet the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated 244,000 American Shad at Holyoke Dam in 2011. That’s a long way from “16 fish.”
Back to the interview
Gundersen misspeaks (to be kind). He said Columbia had not started up. Not true, of course. Then he speculated that “deferred maintenance” was to blame for not reaching full power. Remember, that he is describing a “deferred maintenance” issue for a piece of equipment whose existence is unknown to him.
The valve in question is a non-safety related motor-operated isolation valve. There is a preventative maintenance program for the valve motor – and there are no issues with that program. However, the valve internals are handled on a condition-based maintenance regime. This is an industry-wide practice for such valves at thermal plants (nuclear, coal, gas combined cycle). One doesn’t just go about opening up 12,000 lb. valves, especially valves that are only operated twice every two years (closed for refueling; opened for operating). These valves are opened up for maintenance only when there is a reason to believe they need maintenance. On the other hand, the motor that drives them is maintained regularly.
Without any knowledge of the situation, Gundersen doubled-down on his guess-work, claiming repairs should have been done to a piece of equipment that he still hasn’t named. He then begins a wandering analogy about car tires.
His conclusion is that “Columbia isn’t making any money….” Well, this is another place he shows his ignorance of the facts on the ground. Gundersen seems unaware that Energy Northwest is a public power agency that sells all of the power its produces at Columbia, and its other assets, at cost.
Then he goes on to say that Bonneville Power Administration, which buys all of the at-cost power from Columbia, is “not doing the needed repairs at Columbia in a timely fashion…” He might have noticed that Columbia’s capacity factor and reliability have steadily increased over the past five years: not a sign of “not doing repairs.” Three straight annual generation records! Columbia availability last year: 100 percent!
Once again, his statements are complete hogwash – particularly when he makes those statements just after Columbia completed a refueling and maintenance outage that had a $100 million budget. And the outage began, as noted before, after the best and longest continuous run in Columbia Generating Station’s history.
Seems to be his MO
As we have noted in previous posts, anti-nuclear energy activists appear to have created a bubble of anti-science, anti-fact existence. Gundersen, through his family business (their tagline is “moving energy education forward”), even tweeted that his interview was available on line. Why would you tell the world (or a very small fraction thereof) that it can listen to you talk about something you know nothing about?
This was the case following Fukushima. He has made a cottage industry of scare stories about Fukushima. For example, before Tokyo Electric Power began the work to remove spent nuclear fuel rods from spent fuel pool #4, Gundersen made these bold statements:
“I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.” (Never happened).
“I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out.” (Never happened).
“I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.” (Nope. All the fuel has been removed. Safely.)
As long as people like Gundersen remain on the fringe, perhaps it won’t matter that their “expert analysis” is all wrong.
(Posted by John Dobken)