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Here it comes – beginning this Monday at the Pasco Red Lion – our chance to fix the legacy Linear No-Threshold hypothesis, or LNT.
LNT asserts that all radiation is bad radiation. Since each of us receives about 600 millirem (6 mSv) of radiation annually from background sources like dirt and cosmic rays (and this doesn’t account for medical/dental x-rays, air travel, eating potato chips, living in basements, etc.), I’m surprised the human race has been able to live with itself all these years. Why haven’t we lobbied nuclear opponents to help us close the planet down?
The industry’s position of “as low as reasonably achievable” would be fine, except that, well, it’s simply not reasonable. Those of us who bring clean, zero-carbon nuclear power to serve 20 percent of the nation’s electric needs are, inadvertently through our own terms and definitions, helping to fuel public fear of radiation.
Scientist and Forbes Energy blogger Jim Conca; environmentalist and California gubernatorial candidate Michael Shellenberger; former NuScale Power CEO and co-founder Paul Lorenzini; and a host of others are gathering in the Tri-Cities next week to try and rectify the situation.
These smart folks – experts from around the globe – are going to get together to debate, collaborate and formulate a new model – a proposal on how to guide our regulatory and social approach to radiation going forward. Bloggers Meredith Angwin and Rod Adams will be on scene reporting as the progress unfolds. We should anticipate development of an approach based on nearly 60 years of scientific study and, yes, reasonableness.
Registration is still open – hope to see you there!
ANS & HPS joint news release:
The American Nuclear Society and the Health Physics Society have joined to provide an international forum of current nuclear expertise to evaluate whether existing low-dose protection standards should be reconsidered. Ethical standards for many, including radiation biologists and epidemiologists in recent years, call into question the justification for unintended consequences that may result from adherence to the long-established model.
Featured speakers include William Magwood, Antone Brooks, Michael Shellenberger and Gayle Woloschak. Nuclear expert at Atomic Insights Rod Adams [www.atomicinsights.com] and Nuclear Advocate Meredith Angwin will cover the meeting through their blogs. One of the media contacts will send an email with links to the posts at the end of each program day.
The conference will be held in Pasco, Wash., Oct. 1-3 at the Pasco Red Lion. For program details, visit our website at lowdoserad.org.
News media are invited to attend the meeting. Please coordinate interview requests with one of the media contacts:
Gerald Woodcock, Arrangements Chair, 509-308-6452
Anna Markham, Communication Chair, 509-377-8162
(Posted by Mike Paoli)
There’s quite a bit of quibbling going on over several carbon-related bills in the Washington state legislature that dare to count nuclear energy as a clean, or carbon-free, electricity generating resource. In a world not tainted by ideology and entrenched environmentalism, this would not be an issue. Basic science tells us that nuclear energy generates no carbon in the fission process. But basic science never had to fundraise as these groups do.
(3) “Carbon-free resource” includes: (a) A resource that emits no greenhouse gas pollution as part of its generation activity; or (b) a renewable resource.
That appears to be both logical and plain-spoken. The enemy is carbon. Reducing carbon is what the whole climate change/global warming thing is about.
Or should be.
But Washington state “environmental” groups have other agendas, including eliminating nuclear energy from the planet. The old saying is, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. These anti-nuclear energy groups prefer to dig us deeper before we begin climbing back out. That adds time we don’t have and money we don’t have. So why pursue that path?
Denial of facts
The reason is obvious. These groups have a deep anti-nuclear energy strain running through them, one that runs deeper than the consequences of climate change. These same groups will tell us that not acting now on climate change will lead to rising oceans, forest fires, deadly droughts and more. But in the next breath they will say nuclear isn’t “clean” because it produces used nuclear fuel. There is no link between used nuclear fuel and rising oceans, forest fires, deadly droughts nor any human nor environmental calamity. None. And there never will be. That’s why it’s important for these groups to confuse the public and mention “Hanford” when talking about nuclear energy. The Hanford Site is a defense waste clean-up effort. (See our video series on the issue.)
Nuclear energy is carbon-free. Its lifecycle emissions, which include uranium mining and fuel processing, are on par with wind and better than hydro, solar and all the rest. Don’t take our word for it, that’s what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded.
The leading climate change scientists all have come to support nuclear energy because of its low-carbon lifecycle (and grid resilience).
President Obama supported nuclear as being part of a clean energy mix.
And currently, politicians from both sides of the aisle support nuclear energy because it is both reliable and carbon-free.
What is important is the ability to have as many carbon-free electricity resources at our disposal as we can. We need to maintain existing nuclear energy resources (currently 60 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity) while continuing to develop new nuclear technology that improves on reliability and makes already world-class safe nuclear even safer.
But what one heard at a recent senate hearing on SB 6253 is a denial of reality for ideological purposes. See for yourself:
Moderate, reasonable, environmental voices understand this. While they don’t wave the nuclear banner they aren’t willing to burn it, either. That’s important. It allows for discussion and to seek consensus based on reality and facts, not time-worn ideology. Nuclear energy is not the solution to every problem, but utilities need to be able to make the best decisions for their customers and the environment. They shouldn’t be hamstrung by ideology masquerading as environmental concern.
Decarbonizing is hard
The Northwest is blessed with abundant hydro resources which get us a long way in our effort to rid the electricity sector (and then the transportation sector) of carbon. But getting the rest of the way is, um, tricky. We have the water in the Northwest. The Midwest has the wind. The Southwest has the sun. It would be silly, as Stanford’s Mark Jacobson suggested, trying to power the Northwest with things it doesn’t have in abundance.
For instance, there are entire weeks here when the wind doesn’t blow. Seven days!
What’s the back-up plan? Unless there is a back-up plan that means burning a lot of fossil fuels. The thermal line in the graph above includes nuclear, but is mostly coal and natural gas with some biomass. Except for nuclear, the rest add carbon to the atmosphere.
Of course, there’s always a solution, and the word “easy” is often added by those who advocate for renewable everything. David Roberts at Vox put the lie to that in his latest piece:
“So if you take nuclear and CCS [carbon capture and storage] off the table, you’re cutting out a big chunk of dispatchable capacity. That means other dispatchable resources have to dramatically scale up to compensate — we’d need a lot of new transmission, a lot of new storage, a lot of demand management, and a lot of new hydro, biogas, geothermal, and whatever else we can think of…”
But it seems clear that the groups mentioned earlier don’t fully grasp what it takes to power communities and states. Sean O’Leary, who does communications for the Northwest Energy Coalition, asked on Twitter what need could be met by new nuclear energy that couldn’t be handled by new renewables at less cost. The simple answer we provided: capacity.
In this scenario from last summer (see graphic below) when the temperatures reached triple digits across the Northwest, one sees the wind disappearing. How do utilities make up for that loss? Through dispatchable resources that provide system capacity. For the Northwest, that means cranking up the hydro (if the water is available), and ramping up the fossils. This situation is helped by having 1,200 megawatts of carbon-free nuclear working for the grid around the clock.
When the wind comes back up, the fossils are reduced. California deals with this every day as part of the “duck curve,” with late afternoon solar giving way to natural gas and other dispatchable forms of generation.
The recent study by San Francisco-based Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) found that relying on renewables alone won’t get us to the deep decarbonization the state is looking for. But an approach that values all low-carbon resources, while including some natural gas, is the lowest cost path.
The E3 study found the most cost-effective strategy is one that involves eliminating all coal generation (coal accounts for 80 percent of electricity sector emissions for Washington and Oregon) and replacing it with a combination of energy efficiency, renewables (about 11,000 megawatts) and natural gas generation (about 7,000 megawatts). (Note: These numbers are for the Pacific Northwest region, not just Washington state). This scenario uses market-based policies to achieve 21 million metric tons of emission reductions, an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels. The cost? About $1 billion per year, or 6 percent more than a base scenario which does not include any new policy initiatives.
Compare that to the 50 percent renewable portfolio standard scenario which would cost more than twice as much, $2.1 billion per year, but yield only about half the carbon reduction results, just 11 million metric tons of emissions reductions. The study shows that new wind and solar tend to reduce gas generation instead of coal, and more than 60 percent of the renewable energy is either exported or curtailed. As states such as California race to increase their RPS mandates, the study’s results are a reason to pause and re-evaluate the path forward.
Prohibiting the construction of new natural gas plants is even less effective. This scenario adds $1.2 billion per year of costs, but carbon emissions are largely unchanged because older, less efficient gas plants simply run more. Some amount of new gas generation is needed to ensure that power is available when we need it most, and can be accommodated without increasing overall emissions.
Equally important to sound carbon reduction policy is maintaining existing zero-carbon generation resources. The study found these resources, such as the Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and large hydro dams, provide significant benefits under a carbon cap scenario. Replacing only 2,000 MW of these resources with carbon-free electricity would require 5,500 MW of renewable energy capacity along with “2,000 MW of new natural gas capacity to meet peak load needs,” the study said, at an additional cost of $1.6 billion per year.
Going forward we need sensible approaches to reducing carbon in the electricity sector. It would be a shame to have that effort derailed by groups beholden to old ideologies and special interests. If they succeed in their efforts to deny basic science and reality, we all lose. We don’t have to. We can build a better clean energy future working together. We’re ready.
(Posted by John Dobken)
A survey (Columbia 2017 Plant Neighbor Survey 12-17) by Bisconti Research found 87 percent of residents near Columbia Generating Station have a favorable impression of the nuclear energy plant and the way it is operated, which is slightly higher than the national benchmark for nuclear plants. The poll of 300 residents living within a 10-mile radius of the plant was conducted in October and November. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.
One of the key survey findings is that support for Columbia, located 10 miles north of Richland, comes from safe plant operations and favorable views of owner Energy Northwest regarding safety, the economy, jobs, the environment, and community outreach.
“If you look at similar surveys across the county, the people closest to us, who know us the best, give us the strongest support,” said CEO Mark Reddemann. “They understand but look beyond the energy piece of providing reliable, carbon-free electricity. They see the tangible impact of a thousand good-paying jobs and people who volunteer their time to strengthen our community.”
Columbia plant neighbors also show a deep favorability to nuclear energy in general. A full 94 percent favor its use in the U.S. That’s 13 points higher than the national plant neighbor average (Final-National-Plant-Neighbor-Survey-(2017)-REPORT), which includes a total of 59 plant sites. Ninety-two percent of Columbia neighbors believe nuclear energy will be important to meeting the nation’s electricity needs in the future.
When it comes to the benefits associated with nuclear energy, job creation, clean air, reliability and advanced technology led the survey results. All results were higher locally than the national plant neighbor average, as were affordability, energy security and nuclear energy as a solution for climate change.
“The views on climate change are important,” Reddemann said. “If we’re to solve this problem responsibly, we have to know which source provides most of our carbon-free electricity and many people simply don’t. It’s good to see a majority in our community grasp the value nuclear provides there.”
Opinions about Energy Northwest were also favorable, exceeding the national average for operators. Ninety percent said they were confident in the agency’s ability to operate the plant safely and that Columbia is prepared to withstand severe natural events that may occur in the region.
In terms of protecting the environment, 88 percent feel EN is doing a good job in that area.
That support could be one reason 86 percent of plant neighbors would like to see another nuclear energy facility located near Columbia Generating Station. Nationally, 68 percent of plant neighbors support another nuclear plant being located near them.
Columbia Generating Station, with 1,207 megawatts of gross capacity, is the third largest generator of electricity in Washington state. All of its electricity is sold at-cost to the Bonneville Power Administration, and 92 Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.
(Posted by EN staff)
In the retail business, the tactic is called “bait and switch.” It’s a tactic the Union of Concerned Scientists utilized recently at its blog “All Things Nuclear.”
UCS attempted to sway the Nuclear Regulatory Commission through a blog post to maintain certain engineering inspections as part of the commission’s Reactor Oversight Process rather than adopt the industry suggestion which is to use self-assessments for these inspections.
But in doing so, UCS not only erred, they omitted key facts in their example, which involves Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station.
Energy Northwest installed seismic category I, environmentally qualified chillers (air conditioners) as required by Columbia’s original licensing basis. The chillers are safety-related and are designed to be manually operated for cooling the control room. This design has been reviewed by the NRC over the years.
It is factual that EN has received two violations on the emergency chillers. The first violation was in 2013 due to changes that had been made to the final safety analysis report in 1988 and 1989 when a change was made from temperature to effective temperature (or wet bulb temperature). This violation was for not obtaining proper NRC permission for the change, not for chiller performance. The issue was resolved by simply removing the term “effective temperature” from the report.
The second issue was due to the fact that no analysis existed for the period of time between the need for the emergency chiller and the manual start. Again this violation was for a lack of analysis, not for chiller performance. This was resolved by simply providing the analysis. The third violation mentioned in the UCS blog is for the service water cooling coil testing and is not related to the emergency chillers or the licensing basis.
Bait and switch
The title of the UCS blog is “Why NRC inspections are necessary” and specifically addresses NRC’s review of the “engineering inspections” performed as part of the ROP. But the three violations mentioned were identified by the NRC resident inspector, as a normal function of the resident program. The NRC maintains at least two resident inspectors on site for each operating U.S. reactor site. So the issues referenced in the UCS blog were identified by the onsite NRC resident inspectors as part of their normal plant inspection activities, which are not affected by or related to the NRC’s review of the engineering inspections.
Columbia Generating Station has had engineering inspections performed by teams of inspectors from the NRC regional office. So why did UCS not reference those? Because they did not provide the fodder UCS needed to push its agenda.
To wit, this year alone, the NRC performed three engineering team inspections at Columbia including Heat Sink Performance, Inservice Inspection Activities, and Evaluations of Changes, Tests and Experiments (10 CFR 50.59). No findings of more than minor significance were identified. The last five inspections of “Changes, Tests and Experiments” identified no violations of more than minor significance for 10 CFR 50.59. The Component Design Basis Inspection performed in 2016 identified one non-technical violation and also identified that Columbia’s performance was stronger compared to the industry.
Since those examples would not make the case the UCS wanted to make, they simply chose an unrelated issue and added the usual anti-nuclear flavoring.
For instance, Dave Lochbaum writes, “Owners are responsible for conforming with applicable regulatory requirements. In this case, the owner made a series of changes that resulted in the plant not conforming with applicable regulatory requirements for the air temperature within the control room.”
Sounds ominous. The truth is in September 1989, the revised FSAR to change the control room air temperature limit to 85°F was reviewed by an NRC regional team inspection and found to be satisfactory. It was later identified by the resident inspector in 2013 to be unsatisfactory. That’s all.
(Posted by staff)
We’ve written before of anti-nuclear energy activists taking a deliberately skewed view of Northwest power markets to negate the value nuclear energy delivers to the region.
The latest iteration is Phil Lusk’s Sept. 14 post at Energy Central, “Columbia Generating Station Market Test.” It is based on an apples-to-apple-pie comparison of spot market prices to the actual costs of producing wholesale power. As chief researcher for the Guacamole Fund, a group focused on “a non-nuclear future,”
Mr. Lusk’s examination of nuclear power economics only considers part of the value proposition provided by the region’s sole source of clean nuclear energy.
In contrast, the Northwest’s Public Power Council recognizes Columbia Generating Station as a linchpin for clean energy diversity, grid resiliency and low-cost predictability. Experts at the PPC understand that daily prices for energy at the Mid-Columbia trading hub do not represent the full cost or value of producing wholesale power. In fact, using spot market prices as the sole basis for comparison with firm power generation undervalues all firm power resources, not just nuclear.
The example Mr. Lusk uses of side-by-side gas stations charging vastly different prices for a gallon of gas shows the disconnect. For that analogy to be relevant, there would need to be another 1,207 megawatt nuclear power plant next to Columbia selling its electricity for half the price. There isn’t.
Let’s talk markets
The Mid-Columbia spot market is a daily bilateral market for wholesale energy. The amount of electricity actually traded in this incremental market is small when compared to the overall average megawatts required to power the Northwest. Prices in this spot market are driven by short-run variable costs – such as fuel and variable operations and maintenance expenses – of incremental generation in the Pacific Northwest. Examination of actual Mid-Columbia market prices and regional generation patterns demonstrates that daily spot prices do not allow generation owners to recover their fixed costs, such as depreciation, interest expense, labor and other fixed O&M expenses.
To illustrate, at certain times, such as when regional loads are low to moderate and hydro and wind generation are high, wind and hydro are the incremental sources of generation in the Northwest and their low variable costs drive the Mid-Columbia spot market price. At other times, such as during high system demand and low hydro and wind generation, natural gas-fired generation is the incremental source of generation and its somewhat higher variable costs set the spot market price.
Recent changes in the regional generation fleet have made it more difficult to recover fixed costs in the spot market. Large amounts of wind power have been added in the region (more than 8,000 megawatts to date), and surplus solar generation from California is imported into the Northwest. These resources, with low variable operating costs, are the incremental sources of generation driving down spot market prices more often than not.
This reduces the effectiveness of the spot market as a mechanism to recover power plant fixed costs, further negating the validity of the Mid-Columbia price index as a benchmark for valuing generation. Furthermore, the spot market does not value the capacity, resilience and other attributes that power plants provide.
Since the daily spot market for wholesale power is not an effective mechanism for recovering fixed costs of generation, how are such costs currently recovered in the Pacific Northwest? The answer lies in the fact that most wholesale power is either generated by, or sold via bilateral contracts to, utilities who then sell it to their retail customers at cost-based rates. As a result, most fixed costs of generation are recovered directly from consumers in retail utility rates, rather than via the spot market.
The big picture
Mr. Lusk’s argument lacks this important understanding of the full range of cost factors and how fixed costs are recovered. A market price index for daily spot market energy transactions is not a valid or accurate representation of the actual value of power produced by Columbia Generating Station or any other firm, long-term power supply resource.
The full “all in” economic value of Columbia is further strengthened by the plant’s environmental contribution.
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council concluded in its Seventh Northwest Power Plan that “it’s not possible to entirely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the power system without the use of nuclear power or emerging technology breakthroughs.” And studies by the International Energy Agency, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Energy Information Administration suggest that we absolutely cannot prevent the rapid pace of climate change without preservation of current nuclear resources and aggressive investment in new nuclear.
The current 99 nuclear plants in the United States provide nearly 20 percent of the country’s power, and an impressive 60 percent of our country’s clean energy. And what is, or will be, the price on carbon? Columbia alone prevents 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually compared to the best-case natural gas replacement option. For a region facing imminent carbon constraints from nine coal and 29 gas plants, the zero-carbon nature of our existing nuclear facility will result in an even greater premium on its value.
(Posted by Energy Northwest)
At 2:46 in the afternoon of March 11, 2011, Reid Tanaka was at home in Yokosuka, Japan, putting the final touches on his retirement speech. Tanaka had served the U.S. Navy his whole career, including stints aboard four submarines and a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. His last position before retirement was Chief-of-Staff, Task Force 70, aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, a carrier, then permanently forward deployed to Yokosuka.“Growing up in California, I was accustomed to the occasional earthquake which would shake us for several seconds,” Tanaka said. “After which, we would conduct some cursory checks of our surroundings and resume our normal routine.”
Not this day. The shaking from the first quake lasted five minutes, followed by a series of intense aftershocks. But the real destructive force was yet to come.
“I didn’t really think about tsunamis until we turned on the TV and saw the tsunami warnings up and down the coast. My thinking had been backwards. There was not a lot of earthquake damage but as we were soon to find out, the tsunami was terribly destructive and massive,” Tanaka recounts.
Indeed. The tsunami, which killed more than 16,000 people, struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant about an hour after the earthquake. The 45-foot tall wall of water destroyed back-up diesel generators that had been cooling Daiichi’s reactor cores after the earthquake knocked-out offsite power to the plant. With no way to cool the reactor cores, three melted down, releasing hydrogen that exploded in the days that followed, demolishing two of the reactor buildings’ secondary containment structures.
For Tanaka, retirement would have to wait.
“The U.S. Navy is well organized for natural disasters, as we often deploy in response to such disasters. After the earthquake, we manned up command centers to take care of the people who might be affected on the base, and get our ships and aircraft ready to deploy to assist the government of Japan. My role was to serve in the latter,” Tanaka said.
Reid Tanaka will be telling his story of being on the ground in the aftermath of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, as well as the response to Fukushima, at Ada’s Technical Books and Café on July 26. The event is sponsored by Friends of Fission, a grassroots group of nuclear energy advocates in the Seattle-area.
We asked Tanaka about his experiences and how seeing the events of Fukushima up close impacted his thoughts and feelings about nuclear energy.
As a nuclear adviser to the U.S. Military Commander, what was your role in the weeks and months after the disaster as events unfolded at Fukushima?
The role was ad hoc and not clearly defined. I was given quite free rein and engaged in many different aspects over the course of the ensuing year.
While the military was focused on relief efforts, the Fukushima reactor accident became a focus of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy – Nuclear Energy, and the National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as capturing the interest of the nuclear power utilities and industry in the U.S. The U.S. technical response was fortified by U.S. utilities and industry which were led by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators. The U.S. nuclear team was headed by the NRC which set up headquarters in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.A response task force pulls active duty people from all over the Navy who have other “day jobs” and reservists who get “called up” for weeks at a time. Since I was about to retire and had no permanent position, I was an available nuclear trained senior officer and was assigned to replace one of the (joint task force’s) nuclear advisers. The primary role was to help the coordination between the JTF and the U.S. Embassy in the best way I could. Over the next year, I found myself in many roles as the nature of the crisis changed.
Reflecting back, I spent nearly all my time (when not in meetings) poring over technical briefs and reports by the various ministries and agencies from the Japanese government and by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
Some people point to the events at Fukushima as a reason not to have nuclear power, but you seem to have come away with a different perspective?
The Fukushima crisis made me look hard at energy. The loss of the 10 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi (6) and Daiini (4) put a major hole in supply as the warm season began. Further exacerbating the shortage, Japan reacted by shutting down all nuclear power plants over the course of a year. In the meantime, the elevators, escalators, lighting and air conditioners were shut down as the citizens in north central Japan aggressively reduced energy consumption. It was a miserable, sweltering summer in Tokyo. In the meantime, to make up for the loss of nuclear capacity, Japan began to resurrect decommissioned fossil fuel plants and imports of oil began to swell.
Any look at energy naturally leads to discussions on global warming and fossil fuels. In examining alternatives, other than nuclear, we are primarily left with a combination of conservation, solar and wind.
If industrialized people were satisfied with intermittent and inconsistent electrical power as experienced in many parts of the third world, then I can perhaps see being satisfied in leaving nuclear power off the table. If people want to reduce our carbon footprint and have reliable energy then I see no other viable way without nuclear power.
“Concerns over global warming demands low or no carbon emitting electrical generation; and I conclude nuclear must play a role.
“Since nuclear is required, then Fukushima provides us a strong reason to improve, not abandon, nuclear power plants.”
Since nuclear energy is vital to our energy future, what do people need to know about it to feel more comfortable with it as an energy choice?
Life is full of trade-offs and we are best served in finding the right balance. The world is full of uninformed opinions which unfortunately tip the scales in the wrong direction. With respect to energy, perhaps the biggest trade-off we make today is gaining the near-term tangible economic benefits from burning fossil fuels. The payment comes later: in the long-term, intangible consequence of global warming and climate change; the soot in the air and ash in our water; the damage to our ecology from drilling and mining; and the eventual spike in energy prices as fossil fuels deplete in this finite earth. Some, like me, would consider our trade-offs are out-of-balance.
Similarly, some would say the trade-off in nuclear also has unacceptable costs. If we were to gain the advantages of long-term low carbon, plentiful, baseload electrical energy from nuclear we would have to accept the payment of long-term waste concerns and potential reactor accidents. In my opinion, the advantages are underappreciated and the fear of radiation (which drives the payment concerns) is overblown. In consequence, the scales, here too, are out-of-balance.
Today’s nuclear power cannot compete given that cheap energy is taken for granted in the U.S. When was the last time you worried that your refrigerator wasn’t running, or your lights wouldn’t come on, or your hot water wasn’t hot? When was the last time your car ran out of gas because you couldn’t find a place to refuel? When was the last time you had to adjust your Netflix binge-watching schedule because of the brown-out from a lack of wind or from a cloudy day? I believe once we start having to worry about on-demand, ubiquitous power, we might change our minds.
Today’s nuclear power cannot compete with the low prices of natural gas (in the U.S.) and coal (in India and China) as long as we aren’t concerned about our carbon dioxide and methane emissions. If we are serious about the latter, we must find a way to pay the higher cost today. As hinted in the previous paragraph, wind or solar cannot provide the complete solution.
Today’s nuclear power cannot compete given our unfounded concerns about the long-term disposition of spent fuel. Today’s storage systems are quite acceptable for decades if not centuries. The amount of spent fuel assemblies in the U.S. is relatively small and the land use footprint can be measured in terms of a football field.
Today’s nuclear power cannot compete if we fail to renew with modern designs. I advocate investigating advanced reactor designs which reflect the technology of this millennium and not the last. Passive safety is a key design requirement of all designs since Fukushima. Passive safety essentially means the reactor will shut down and cool down without the need for external power or human intervention during an accident. (Editor’s note: NuScale’s small modular reactor is one such design).
You looked at the renewables industry after retiring from the Navy, but came back to nuclear energy. Why was that?
I like solar and wind power. I think they have a place. But I think they will only provide a fraction of what we want (and only in localized areas). They certainly do not appear to be able to provide the continuity of base-load power demanded by a modern industrialized society.
Energy storage systems would certainly help smooth the production (supply) ripples, but to date, no large capacity system which can be efficiently scaled and is economical has been identified.
I’ve also read about a number of different contrarian issues such as the land use demand, the cost and supply limitation of exotic materials, the long-term maintenance costs, and the amount of (energy intensive) concrete which would be needed (to build out large amounts of wind and solar). All told, solar and wind are not as “green” as one would first believe.
Until we get the di-lithium crystal warp engines of the Starship Enterprise or the Mr. Fusion DeLorean of Doc Brown we will need fission.
How do you see advanced reactor technology changing perceptions about nuclear energy?
If our government decides to make America a great technology leader again, where we take an aggressive role in education, research and development; where we use our vast talent in our citizenry; where we take advantage of our national laboratories and universities; and where we develop and demonstrate new reactor technologies, then perhaps we can celebrate the nuclear renaissance for which we were known in the 1940s through 1970s.
A second, more likely scenario, less desirable, but better than nothing, is to rely upon other countries. China and India are determined to build advanced reactors. If they are successful in demonstrating a reduction of accident risk (and public evacuation), reduction of long-term waste concerns, and lower costs, then I believe we might be able to convince a skeptical U.S. citizenry to get on board.
Finally, there are a few voices in the nuclear frontier that have resources and clout and have a chance of achieving that break through. One being Bill Gates.
(Posted by John Dobken)
The audience was surprised.
The young man who came to talk to them about advocacy for nuclear energy was standing before them belting out an operatic version of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man from La Mancha.” As far as utility conferences go, one could call this a departure from the norm.
But Eric Meyer is a man of many talents, opera being but one (B.A. in Vocal Music). Grassroots advocacy is another, hence his founding of Generation Atomic. His talk to the Northwest Public Power Association in Sunriver, Ore., this spring showed how direct outreach to people is helping build support for nuclear energy in the places it is needed most – currently Ohio. There, two nuclear energy plants are facing difficult times due to deregulated energy markets that don’t adequately value reliable and carbon-free electricity.
“We deregulated the energy markets thinking the only thing that mattered was price to consumers,” Meyer told me. “Then we realized that wasn’t the whole story. We care about clean energy. We care about reliable energy.”
Meyer hadn’t thought much about nuclear energy growing up and admits he probably had a vague disrespect for it because of watching The Simpsons. But in 2009, a friend sent Meyer a video on molten salt reactors.
“(I)n that video they talked about other reactor designs and how with nuclear you can do things that you can’t do with other energy sources, like make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, desalinate water and, just in general, have reliable electricity that doesn’t harm the environment.”
That opened his mind to the concept of nuclear energy being a good thing. So he changed his education focus to public policy and advocacy and a year ago jumped into nuclear advocacy with both feet.
“(Pro-nuclear environmentalist) Michael Shellenberger invited me to come out to Berkeley and help organize a pro-nuclear climate march, the March for Environmental Hope. We had three big events and were able to build some momentum,” Meyer said.
Meyer felt more could be done on a grassroots level – and that more should be done to begin building the base of nuclear energy support. So Meyer started Generation Atomic with Tay Stevenson using campaign-style tactics that had worked for them before, such as in Minnesota building support for gay marriage legislation.
“There’s always been a small contingent of pro-nuclear people, people who work at the plants, or your enthusiasts, who haven’t had an opportunity to go into communities before,” Meyer explained. “There’s never been a door-to-door operation for nuclear. There’s been these efforts for clean water, renewables. You go back 30 years and the public wasn’t calling their legislators demanding renewables standards or subsidies. That took a grassroots effort.”
Generation Atomic is so grassroots that for the Ohio campaign, six people shared a Sandusky duplex and slept on air mattresses. “I don’t think we could have made it more clear how grassroots we were.”
While the accommodations weren’t fancy, Generation Atomic is running a sophisticated operation. Volunteers go door-to-door with a smart phone app that allows potential supporters to find their own path to why favoring nuclear energy is a good thing. And it works. Nearly 60 percent of residents they speak with sign on to the cause, according to Generation Atomic, and nearly 54 percent will take action.
“The plant workers get it. The enthusiasts get it. The climate scientists get it. But the public at-large is either not thinking about it or has their perception colored by the media in general,” Meyer said. “The general message (for canvassers) is, ‘nuclear is good for your community in these different ways.’ What’s most important to you?”
Those ways may be jobs, school funding or environmental benefits. “People don’t understand they like nuclear until they understand the implications of losing it.”
Generation Atomic is benefiting from, well, a generation of Americans who see nuclear through a different lens. It’s not about a missile crisis, fall-out shelters or doomsday clocks. They understand technology and how it can help society; it’s comfortable. The only doomsday clock they worry about relates to the climate. For them, nuclear energy is a solution. A good one.
Good examples of that mindset can be found in Emma Redfoot and Kelley Verner, the University of Idaho graduate students behind Students For Nuclear, a group for students “who have decided that developing and supporting nuclear energy is an important and meaningful way to spend their lives.”
Each came to nuclear energy along different paths. We had a chance to speak to Emma and Kelley during a recent visit to Columbia Generating Station. Watch these short videos to learn more about how they decided to support nuclear energy.
Learn more about Students for Nuclear by visiting their website.
After earning a bachelor’s in nuclear engineering at Texas A&M, Jean Lim found himself in Seattle, not exactly a hotbed of nuclear advocacy. Not yet.
“People outside the field of study don’t get many opportunities to be in positive conversations about nuclear,” Lim says. “They don’t get a chance to understand what nuclear energy can do for the environment, and really, themselves.”
Lim began his nuclear energy journey while still in high school, wondering what he would choose as a major. Nuclear’s carbon-free generation caught his attention and that’s the direction he ultimately chose. Now he’s working toward a Master’s degree and one day he hopes to work on Generation IV nuclear technology.
“The people I encountered within school and industry were driven and passionate individuals that believed in a science that can better mankind, and I still want to be a part of that. It may have been less romantic in their minds, but that was what I saw,” Lim said.
Lim’s passion for nuclear energy brought him closer to a fledgling group of nuclear energy advocates in the Seattle area, now known as the Friends of Fission.
“After moving here, I took some classes at a local community college to keep up with my technical skills and studies. I also started working with a work counselor and she urged me to continue creating nuclear Industry connections,” Lim said.
One of her suggestions was checking out Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe, as they were hosting a radiation talk that week. The talk happened to be organized by the founders of Friends of Fission, and affiliated with Cascadia Climate Action. Lim found out they wanted to do more talks focused on nuclear energy. “At that point I felt I had a way to continue advocating for nuclear power at a new place, so I started to work with them.”
Lim has helped the group with organizing events and designing graphics to promote them. The positive message of nuclear energy helping the planet with reliable electricity and clean air motivates him.
“We break away from the doom and gloom other environmentalists preach, and try to showcase a piece of the puzzle that can drastically improve our fight against climate change,” Lim told me.
With clear eyes
What I take away from these conversations is that this generation is more fact-based in its focus on solving the big issues, such as climate change, almost linear, in fact. If climate change is devastating to people and the planet, and low-carbon electricity helps reduce climate change, then nuclear energy is a good thing and we should have more of it. They look at arguments such as “what about the waste?” and see answers based in science and opportunities for new technology, not roadblocks or fear. In short, it’s hope shining through.
Yes, there’s something happening here. Make sure you take time to stop and look around.
Then join in. After all, this is the Summer of Nuclear.
(Posted by John Dobken)
Fifty years ago what Wikipedia describes as a “social phenomenon” began spreading across the country, and in some respects around the world. The Summer of Love as it was known marked a deep cultural shift with its roots in an optimism that life could be better – all it took was a will to change the status quo.
In the United States, the Summer of Love had San Francisco (and Berkeley, Calif.) as its epicenter, followed by New York City. London provided a hub for European Summer of Love activities and feelings. Music played a key role (The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as did literature, poetry and fashion, all in service of new ideas and new ways of looking at existing conditions and troubles and asking “why?”
While debates can ensue about the lasting impact of the Summer of Love (The Beatles broke up three years later after all), one point is certain: there would be no going back to the way things were before.
Coincidence or not, I’m still not sure, but there is a personal feeling that something significant and positive is afoot with nuclear energy. Not a renaissance, per se, but a revelation. We have reached a time when the cultural and societal perspective of nuclear energy is changing for the better, and among new audiences. In this case driven not by music or poetry but science, of all things! Which is good and necessary because science has a way of separating out fact from fear-mongering, which nuclear energy desperately needs to escape an undeserved taint from weapons activity. Nuclear energy wins on the facts every time.
The change, this new momentum, also emanates from California, from Berkeley environmentalist Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress; from the Mothers for Nuclear based in San Luis Obispo; and from the many other grassroots pro-nuclear groups that have been building these past few years, including Generation Atomic and Atoms for California and Californians for Green Nuclear Power. The 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise from filmmaker Robert Stone now seems like The Beatles’s Revolver album, giving a hint of the new and wonderful things to come in nuclear energy advocacy. There is even a handbook for young (and all) pro-nuclear activists written by Meredith Angwin.
In Seattle (Seattle!) earlier this year, a two-hour panel discussion on nuclear energy drew 130 people. One of the speakers came from a company, TerraPower, in which none other than Bill Gates is heavily invested. The effort was the work of a new grassroots group, Friends of Fission, which has staged talks and discussions throughout Seattle during the past year. New voices. Fresh voices. Smart voices. Speaking up for the climate and for nuclear energy.
Flowers and sunshine (and reality)
To be fair, the nuclear energy industry faces hurdles in unregulated markets and there’s much work to be done to reach larger and larger audiences with facts and truth. We don’t have a Monterey Pop Festival or Woodstock in our future to reach massive amounts of people (or the deep pockets of the fossil fuels industry). The voices in the media will continue to sound dire and dour notes about nuclear energy as reactors close for various reasons over time (just as all generation projects do). This truly is not unique to nuclear. Just look at the issues with solar energy in Oregon with both projects and manufacturing (and here). Los Angeles County banned wind turbines from its unincorporated areas.
Beginning of the end of wind power? Of solar? Of course not. But the issues are there just the same.
There’s little argument that the growth of renewables has been driven by state renewable portfolio standards and federal tax incentives. Why wind and solar? Because renewables are carbon-free and that’s the kind of electricity the U.S. wants to encourage for staving off the effects of climate change.
Well, nuclear energy is also carbon-free.
States such as New York and Illinois have recognized this with policies to encourage nuclear plants to continue providing reliable, low-cost, carbon-free electricity. Other states are contemplating similar legislation to protect their nuclear plants (and the hundreds of jobs that go with them). Those efforts (and others nicely compiled here by Forbes.com blogger Jim Conca) are being supported by grassroots groups, students and others, including, thankfully, editorial pages.
Our nuclear energy community includes 30 countries worldwide operating 449 nuclear reactors for electricity generation, with 60 new nuclear plants under construction in 15 countries, including four in the U.S. Can I get a “groovy?”
Make this the Summer of Nuclear
The Summer of Love didn’t wash away all the ills and struggles of 1967 or the years that followed. But it became the culmination of a focus on humanity that began years earlier that proclaimed we can do better for each other if we come together with a common purpose. Lowering CO2 levels is a common purpose, too. Or should be. Continued resistance by some to the number one provider of carbon-free electricity (nuclear) seems more baffling than ever. But it’s out there. The table is set for change.
Given the coalition that is building organically to save existing nuclear plants and promote the many new nuclear energy technologies in development, this summer seems the perfect time to capture the moment and spread the good word about nuclear energy (and the dedicated, smart, skilled people who help produce it).
Now, more than ever, nuclear energy is needed to power our clean energy economy. Now, more than ever, new voices are joining those who have been fighting the good fight for decades; they are joining the bloggers, scientists and advocates, both in and out of industry, who realized long ago we have something very good here and we can make it even better and more abundant. We can share this technology with the world and help other countries solve their problems of polluted air and poverty. That promotes peace. That’s powerful.
Celebrate the Summer of Nuclear by reaching out and sharing with your friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, that nuclear energy is vital to our future for better health, better jobs and a better engagement with the world. Be positive. Correct what isn’t factual. Join these groups. Make a difference.
The planet will thank you.
(Posted by John Dobken)
Neoen, a French independent renewable energy project developer, on Saturday began site studies for what would be the largest utility scale photovoltaic power plant in Washington state.
Neoen plans to build a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar project in Benton County on land adjacent to the Hanford site. Project completion is scheduled for 2019 and Neoen is actively seeking potential customers for the solar electricity.
“Neoen is very proud to be investing in a utility-scale solar project in Washington state. The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology. It is also the first step in Neoen’s long-term strategy in the U.S.,” said Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen Deputy CEO.
Neoen and Energy Northwest signed a lease option agreement on April 18 to lease up to 150 acres of the 300 acre site.
The Tri-City Development Council has been working with Neoen since 2014. The Tri-Cities is well-suited for solar energy because it has the available land, the infrastructure to support power projects and abundant sunshine. TRIDEC recently transferred the property to Energy Northwest, which is supporting the project’s development.
“This is exactly the type of project we envisioned when we began our effort to transfer Department of Energy land to the community for economic development,” said Carl Adrian, President and CEO of TRIDEC.
“The project further solidifies the Tri-Cities’ position as the energy hub for Washington state and confirms that the decision to transfer the land from DOE was correct.
“A huge thank you to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and former Congressman Doc Hastings, for recognizing the economic potential the transferred land presents to the Tri-Cities,” Adrian added.
Neoen hired Energy Northwest, a generator of more than 1,300 megawatts of carbon-free
electricity for the region, to provide consulting and marketing support.
The geotechnical work that began this weekend will help determine the most viable site for the project.
Background on Land Transfer
On Sept. 30, 2015, the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office transferred 1,641 acres of the Hanford site to TRIDEC and the Tri-Cities community for economic development. The date for transfer was established in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act
The TRIDEC-led land conveyance request began in 2010. The City of Richland, Port of Benton and Benton County worked closely with TRIDEC and DOE RL to meet all the requirements for transferring the property.
By the end of first quarter 2016, 1,341 acres had been further transferred at no cost (other than title transfer costs) to the City of Richland and Port of Benton for future economic development with a focus on growing the energy sector of the Tri-Cities’ economy.
TRIDEC transferred the remaining 300 acres to Energy Northwest with the understanding that approximately 100 of those acres would be made available for a solar energy project (view: Neoen Site Map). This project had been in negotiation for nearly two full years.
Founded in 2008, Neoen is an independent supplier of electricity from renewable energy (solar, wind and biomass) and is set to be the first French supplier to reach 1,000 MW of installed power. Neoen has a long term view development strategy and today Neoen operates in France, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, Jamaica, Portugal and Ireland. Neoen’s main shareholders are Impala SAS (owned by Jacques Veyrat), the fund Capénergie II (managed by Omnes Capital) and BpiFrance.
Neoen aims to supply power in excess of 3,000MW by 2020, and is opening an office in Washington state to address the U.S. market.
Learn more at www.neoen.com