Yes, nuclear energy is clean energy

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.

One such bill took a sane approach to defining clean energy in its effort to further decarbonize an electricity mix that is already roughly 75 percent clean:

(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.

Comparison of Life-Cycle Emissions

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.

Cory-Booker

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!

Picture1

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.

Heat Wave

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.

Sensible approaches
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.

Sensible
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)

Survey shows strong support for Columbia Generating Station

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 CGS Plant Neighbor SurveyRichland, 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.

Reddemann

Mark Reddemann, CEO

“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)

Inspections and inspections

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.

Background

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)

Recognizing the whole value

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.

columbia-nuclear-plant 600xx2400-1600-0-100

Columbia Generating Station.

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)

Make this the Summer of Nuclear

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.

Summer of LoveIn 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.

It’s time
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 SoN-PPT1energy 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.

Pro Nukes

Nuclear energy supporters at last year’s Save the Nukes march.

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.

503-2

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)

A real nuclear (energy) family

The noisy confines of the turbine building at Columbia Generating Station may not be every couple’s ideal location to celebrate a wedding anniversary, but it was just fine for Doris and James Raila of Louisiana.

The couple marked 37 years of marriage on June 1 doing what they love working for Siemens and supporting Columbia’s biennial refueling and maintenance outage.

On Turbine

Doris and James Raila on Columbia’s low pressure turbine 1-A.

“We’re happy with what we do and with the company we’re with and Columbia is a great place to work,” Doris said. “We enjoy working on turbines. So we were OK and happy with celebrating our anniversary here.”

Doris is a millwright for Siemens, earning journeyman status in 2015 after four years of apprenticeship. “It was intimidating for me at first, when I first started my apprenticeship. There were 30 or 40 guys and I was the only woman,” she said.

But she did it because it would allow the couple to spend more time together. James, a rigging supervisor, has been on the road with Siemens since 1993, working at nuclear plants across the country, including five refueling outages at Columbia. When the last of their three children graduated college, he told Doris he was tired of being on the road by himself. He wanted her to join him.

Directing

James Raila directs a suspended piece of equipment.

“We’ve known each other since we were 13 and 14. So we’ve known each other over 40 years but we’ve been married 37 years June 1,” James said. Then adds with a laugh, “That was a pop quiz, wasn’t it?”

So she did join him, but not as a millwright, not at first. “After a few years of just travelling together I thought, ‘I’m here, I might as well be working,’” she said.

And she is, on the low pressure turbine crew for this outage, making sure tools and equipment are staged so work moves efficiently. In fact, Doris and James are one of five husband-wife teams working for Siemens at Columbia. They credit Siemens with doing a good job keeping them together, not sending them to different locations.

Close Up“Running the roads takes many a marriage and breaks them up, you just got to stay focused and remember what you’re on the road for – it’s family,” said James. “And when we’re on the road the crew is the family.”

After the work at Columbia is finished, it’s back to Louisiana where their other family, including three grandchildren, is ready to wish them a happy anniversary. No hard hats nor safety glasses required.

(Posted by John Dobken; photos by Olivia Weakley)

Analysis confirms nuclear’s value

Facts still matter. And the fact of the matter is residential utility rates in Washington state are the lowest in the nation. But some people want to change that and force Washington residents to pay more for their power.

“…the widely-publicized decline in solar and wind prices now makes it probable that (Columbia Generating Station) could be replaced entirely with renewable resources and still deliver a cost reduction to Pacific Northwest customers. Once thought to be too expensive, renewables are becoming a viable option for utilities…”

Portland economist Robert McCullough wrote those words as part of a February report pushed by Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear energy group dedicated to closing Columbia Generating Station nuclear energy facility and eliminating nuclear energy entirely from the U.S. electricity mix.

McCullough based his conclusions mostly on levelized cost of electricity reports by Lazard, a financial advisory and asset management firm. However, in doing so he misrepresents the Lazard LCOE 10.0 report, which clearly states that renewables alone can’t replace baseload generation. By ignoring the cost of firm capacity resources needed to back up intermittent generation from renewables, McCullough significantly under-represents the costs that would be incurred if Columbia were retired prematurely (it’s currently licensed through 2043).

McCullough’s conclusion: replacing Columbia with renewables yields a net present value savings of $261.2 million to $530.7 million through June 2026.

A recently released analysis (PPC Analysis – McCullough CGS Report) by the Public Power Council, an entity that has represented the Pacific Northwest’s consumer-owned utilities for 50 years, uses actual data for the Northwest to show McCullough is simply wrong in his conclusions.

The PPC report concludes McCullough’s recommendation would cost Pacific Northwest power customers $271 million a year, as well as impact the region’s power supply resource adequacy.

Playing with numbers

As the PPC report explains, McCullough uses the “median” Lazard LCOE to make his cost comparison, which gets him a cost per megawatt-hour for solar of $42.50 and $31 for wind. The PPC writes, “(a)lthough these values might be realistic in some circumstances, they are wildly inconsistent with the values produced specifically for this region by the [Northwest Power and Conservation Council].”

But the numbers in the Pacific Northwest aren’t as friendly to McCullough and PSR, so they avoid them altogether. The PPC looked at the NWPCC’s Seventh Northwest Power Plan to find levelized costs more in tune with the region where necessary replacement power for Columbia would be generated. “The least expensive new renewable resources in terms of levelized cost in the 7th Power Plan is $61.43 per MWh for utility scale solar and $102.45 per MWh for wind. Many options are significantly higher,” the PPC writes.

They go on to offer a slight rebuke of McCullough’s research tactics.

“Although the (McCullough) report cites the NWPCC and the 7th Power Plan in other instances, the choice to rely on a minimally documented, national level report for levelized resource costs rather than the extensively vetted regional analysis used by the NWPCC is not explained.”

Perhaps we can help. Anti-nuclear energy ideology drives many folks to discount scientific facts about nuclear (such as calling carbon-free nuclear “dirty”) and economic facts that don’t serve their point of view (such as existing resources being cheaper than new resources, even renewables). A lot of people across the country just participated in the March for Science which was, in part, a protest against this type of tactic. In fact, PSR members just marched against this type of tactic.

Doing the math

The PPC takes the NWPCC solar cost of $61.43/MWh and adds Bonneville Power Administration’s Resource Support Services number, basically capturing the cost of an intermittent resource versus a baseload, or full-time, resource. The PPC report uses BPA’s 2018 rate case number of $16.30/MWh for solar.

“Using regionally vetted analysis from the NWPCC and BPA’s latest proposed rates, the least expensive replacement for the power of (Columbia) with intermittent renewables would be utility scale solar facilities in Idaho at a total cost of $78.84 per MWh,” according to the PPC report.

The average cost of power for Columbia Generating Station is $48.50/MWh through 2026 (including transmission), according to the PPC.

McCullough Chart new

Given the difference between the two costs, based on Columbia’s 1,019 aMW annual output (1,019 MW of generation an hour multiplied by 365 days), the McCullough/PSR recommendation would cost power customers $271 million a year over what they currently pay.

“This result is consistent with a scenario analysis conducted in the 7th Power Plan that examined the change in regional portfolio cost for the planned retirement of a 1,000 MW carbon free resource. That analysis found an increase in regional power costs of
$3 to $6 billion on a net present value basis over 20 years,” the PPC concludes.

Other report issues

Cost is certainly an important factor when considering electricity resources. But so is capacity and reliability, or what McCullough strangely sees as “inflexibility.”

In his report, McCullough writes, “Indeed, as renewable energy standards in the Pacific Northwest, California, and other Western states require additional variable resources, inflexible baseload plants, including nuclear and coal plants, will become increasingly problematic.” This ignores two key points: that intermittent generation from renewables is not a reliable replacement for baseload generation; and, existing Northwest coal plants are and will be retiring, reducing the available amount of baseload generation in the region. By arguing that Columbia should be retired, McCullough is doubling down on these challenges.

The Public Power Council report catches this mistake.

“The NWPCC conducts a rigorous, annual Pacific Northwest Power Supply Adequacy Assessment which looks forward five years. The most recent assessment conducted in 2016 for adequacy in 2021 already shows significant potential for resource deficiencies based on the planned retirements of the Boardman, Centralia and Colstrip Units 1 & 2 coal facilities. Retirement of (Columbia) would significantly exacerbate these issues,” the PPC writes.

A final point from PPC: BPA uses the hydro system to help balance the wind generation in the region. The baseload electricity from Columbia Generating Station provides significant additional margin to accomplish that while still maintaining an environmentally-friendly carbon-free mix. Following the McCullough/PSR formula would put added pressure on BPA and the hydro system.

Here’s why:

“(T)he 7th Power Plan specifically does not rely on the large scale development of intermittent resources to meet capacity needs, instead calling for demand response measures as available or natural gas generation,” according to the PPC analysis.

Reports, reports

So to summarize, McCullough took 48 pages to reach a result that was off by literally more than half a billion dollars at best ($750 million at worst) versus a three-page analysis that provided facts relevant to the Northwest and its power customers, and showed the true value of Columbia Generating Station to the region.

As another regional energy expert said about this McCullough report:

Overall, it looks like Robert McCullough hasn’t changed his basic approach. Instead, he’s just adding more superstructure on top of a weak foundation. For example, he willfully continues to ignore and misrepresent the fact that the Mid-Columbia spot market only reflects the variable operating costs of resources, and at best only allows a small portion of the fixed costs of owning resources to be recovered.

As headline grabbers, McCullough’s reports do the job admirably (see here and here, for example), but as the basis for serious energy policy discussions, they seem to miss the mark, and in this case, wildly.

(Posted by John Dobken)

 

Of Marches and More

“(Climate change) is along with the prevention of nuclear war the greatest challenge facing humanity today.”

That statement does not contain a lot of wriggle room.

The line is from a letter to the editor written by Jim Sawyer, identified as a member of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility by the organization. That is a group trying to shut down Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant and is in favor of eliminating nuclear energy altogether.

Nuclear energy provides 60 percent of the carbon-free electricity produced in the United States. That dwarfs wind (17%), solar (2.7%) and hydroelectric power (19%) by comparison.


PowerPoint Presentation


The real reality
So how does one go about tackling “the greatest challenge facing humanity today”? Eliminating sources of clean energy would seem a dubious beginning. We have seen in states where nuclear plants shut down that carbon emissions rise. Look at Vermont (Vermont Yankee). Look at California (San Onofre, and perhaps Diablo Canyon). New York is gearing up to replace carbon-free Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant with a carbon-emitting natural gas plant. Even in Germany, often held up as an example of how to do renewable energy policy, emissions, coal use and electricity costs are all up.

This week, the Environmental Defense Fund acknowledged this reality in a post in favor of offering targeted financial incentives to existing nuclear energy plants to remain operating, if the alternative is to replace them with natural gas. That’s smart.

Nuclear Energy Saves Lives LGRenowned climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, in a study published by NASA’s Goddard Institute in 2013, found the clean air energy from nuclear power has saved 1.8 million lives and may save as many as 7 million more.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been saying for years that nuclear energy must be part of the climate change solution. In 2014 they wrote, “Achieving deep cuts will require more intensive use of low-GHG [greenhouse gas] technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and CCS [carbon capture and storage].”

Given these pro-nuclear voices and benefits, one would think the Physicians would be calling for MORE nuclear energy, not less.

To make a difference
Which brings us to Saturday, when people from all across the country will be marching for science. Some critics have said the march is more about politics than science, which in some cases and for some people may be accurate. Leave that aside.

Sci-con.Artboards.AtomIt is refreshing that the Seattle march organizers (and indeed the national organization) created a graphic that features the symbol of the atom and sought to make nuclear energy part of the conversation. Nuclear science is an often forgotten field, foolishly equated by some to simply making bombs. But it is so much more (as in saving lives through nuclear medicine – surely PSR supports that!). As Dr. James Conca has said, when a mainstream media outlet features a segment on nuclear energy, the “expert” is almost always an activist, not a scientist. That needs to change.

To embrace science (and facts) is to realize that spent nuclear fuel is not the problem so many anti-nuclear activists make it out to be. It is used as a rhetorical fallback position (“yeah, but what about the waste”) to argue against any new nuclear energy. This should stop. Used nuclear fuel occupies a tiny land footprint and poses no environmental concerns as it is currently stored. The science tells us that. If one believes otherwise, that’s a departure from science into ideology. Science is helping us develop a way to utilize this spent fuel and turn it into more clean energy. Thankfully, interest in developing advanced reactors is gaining momentum.

To embrace science is to realize radiation is not the stuff of 1950s b-movies. That while natural disaster-induced nuclear events such as Fukushima are absolutely devastating to displaced local populations, claiming that people or fish/wildlife will be greatly affected by any resulting radiation/contamination is irresponsible. Scientists, real scientists, have looked at the impact of the releases from Fukushima on health and future cancer rates and found them to be negligible. That’s science. Anything else drifts into the realm of “alternative facts.” And who wants to go there?

Ideology is what drives false narratives about “easily” replacing baseload, or full-time, energy resources with intermittent ones. See an example here of how difficult it can be, even on a small scale. (Paywall alert). Don’t be mistaken, we need wind and solar as part of our electricity mix, especially to displace carbon-emitting resources. But using wind and solar to replace either hydro or nuclear makes zero sense in the age of climate change.

While storage technologies are promising, they aren’t efficient enough or economic enough to replace large hydro or large nuclear or large fossil resources. In 20, 30 or 40 years, perhaps. But groups like Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility want to close down nuclear plants yesterday. That’s irresponsible. Tesla cars are fun to talk about, but the world still runs on pick-up trucks and Camrys.

Mr. Sawyer continues his letter, “What’s almost as horrifying as these impending and looming realities is our government’s incomprehensible indifference to the problem and the seeming commitment and desire to accelerate a problem that the human imagination cannot even begin to come to grips with.”

Doctor, heal thyself.

The PSR position on nuclear energy was born of, and lives in, a pre-climate change universe. Since the time most anti-nuclear energy positions were formed in the 1970s and 80s, nuclear energy has only gotten better as an energy resource. The U.S. fleet now has annual capacity factors over 92 percent.US-Nuclear-Industry-Capacity-Factors It’s safety record continues to be unmatched. Which may be one reason anti-nuclear energy arguments focus almost exclusively on cost of power. But if you believe, as Mr. Sawyer and his colleagues believe, that climate change is “the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” shouldn’t that change the prism through which costs are viewed? How does the public health factor into PSR’s cost analyses? (Hint: it doesn’t for nuclear. Washington’s PSR chapter actually posted that link on their Facebook page, missing the irony). Cost for anti-nuclear groups is a convenient cudgel that only swings at one target, an opportunity brought about by (current) low natural gas prices. But then they don’t want natural gas either. That’s what ideology does for you.

Science… just the facts
While we still await an energy storage system capable of city-scale baseload equivalence; or a large-scale electric grid that can turn part-time energy resources into full-time, dispatchable resources; science has already developed a resource that is carbon-free, cost-effective and runs more than 90 percent of the time with an abundant supply of fuel.

Yeah, science did that.

Support science with your feet, but more importantly, support it with your brain and your heart.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Resolute about Nuclear Energy

Four Energy Northwest member utilities issued resolutions during the past two months calling for the continued operation of Columbia Generating Station during its lifecycle. Columbia received a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012 to operate through 2043.

Pacific County Public Utility District 2 commissioners were first to place their signatures behind the economic and environmental value of Columbia, followed
March 28 by Benton and Franklin PUDs and Grant County PUD 2.

Resolutions adopted by Benton PUD and Franklin PUD also took to task a recent report commissioned by the anti-nuclear energy group Physicians for Social Responsibility. In the report, researcher Robert McCullough claims Columbia’s output can be replaced by renewable resources. (See our blog post for more on the report).

“We felt pretty strongly about this,” said Franklin PUD general manager Tim Nies during the utility’s public meeting March 28, referencing “a lot of flaws” in the PSR report. “CGS is baseload…and the cost of generation from CGS is still a really good deal.”

Resolutions

Such statements of confidence join state bi-partisan political support for nuclear energy generation that, according to Gov. Inslee last year, is “a vital part” of the state’s diverse mix of environmentally responsible generating resources.

Last summer Washington State Democrats passed a resolution titled, “Retain the Columbia Generating Station”. In early March the Benton County Republican Party passed a similar resolution which, like its democratic companion, is expected to advance this year to full state party support.

Brent Ridge edit

EN Vice President for Corporate Services/CFO Brent Ridge

“This all started with the state democratic party, which focused on the environmental benefits of nuclear power generation,” Brent Ridge, vice president for Corporate Services and chief financial officer, told Franklin PUD commissioners. “Now we have a resolution from Benton County republicans that’s similar, but leans toward the specific economic benefits of Columbia.”

Directly responsible for more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, Columbia is the third largest electricity generator in the state, behind Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. Plant operations prevent an atmospheric carbon impact equivalent of keeping 600,000 cars off the road, or equal to eliminating every passenger vehicle in Oregon’s Multnomah County.

Last month Pacific PUD leaders also pushed back on a local activist’s call to close Columbia because of “risks to the Columbia River.” In a letter published in the Chinook Observer, Commissioners Diana Thompson, Michael Swanson and Dick Anderson spoke to Columbia Generating Station’s safe and efficient operation, declining costs, recent generation records and environmental benefit.

“PUD commissioners and employees have gained insights and knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear energy operations; about their systems and back-up systems; the regulatory framework these plants operate in; and the professionals who keep the plant running safely and efficiently,” the commissioners wrote.

(Posted by Mike Paoli)

 

Making the Case for Nuclear Energy: 5 Questions

Everyone comes to nuclear energy along different paths. For some the journey starts in high school. For others, later in life, after knowledge has been gained and, perhaps, views have changed.

Such is the case for the participants in Tuesday’s event (April 4) at Seattle Town Hall, Making the Case for Nuclear Energy in the 21st Century (tickets and information available here). The event is an effort by the grassroots organization Seattle Friends of Fission, a group of Seattle-area residents, to ensure nuclear energy is part of the climate change discussion.

Panelists Dr. Jim Conca, Forbes.com contributor on energy and environmental issues; Dr. Nick Touran, advanced nuclear reactor physicist for TerraPower; Kristin Zaitz, senior consulting engineer, Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and co-founder of the group Mothers for Nuclear; and moderator Scott Montgomery, nationally acclaimed writer, and adjunct faculty, University of Washington Jackson School of Intl. Studies, offered their thoughts on how nuclear energy became a calling instead of just a career.

Speakers


Northwest Clean Energy: What first got you interested in nuclear energy?

Nick Touran: I first got interested in solving the energy challenge in high school. I went to the local engineering school not knowing how exactly to do this and ended up in a discussion with a peer advisor on what to major in during freshmen year. She asked what I my interests were and I said “energy.” Then she asked me if I had considered the nuclear engineering department. I had not.

Kristin Zaitz: I’m a civil engineer by training. I chose my profession when I was in my teens, flipping through college catalogs. The pictures of civil engineers were all outdoors, inspecting bridges, taking water samples. I didn’t want to be in an office. In my career I’ve rappelled down enormous concrete structures, swam amongst beautiful Pacific Ocean sea life, hiked along rivers, explored pristine coastland and tide pools,  and I’ve done that all while working at a nuclear power plant.

Scott Montgomery: I am a geoscientist and became an anti-nuclear activist in the 1970s. At that time, fear focused on radiation and on nuclear power as a dangerous technology forced upon the public by an anti-democratic concentration of power by a military-industrial-government system.

I began to question my views in the early 2000s, due to rising concern among scientists about climate change. One key influence was the endorsement of nuclear power by many of these scientists, who wrote of reevaluating their own former ideas.

Jim Conca: As a young planetary geologist in the 1970s, I first became interested in nuclear as

Jim Conca Salt I0001

Dr. Jim Conca with Delaware Basin salt from New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project.

possible propulsion for spacecraft. Later, I worked on deep geologic disposal of nuclear waste and began to see the irrational fear that surrounds radiation and nuclear power, and how the misunderstanding between weapons and energy led to nuclear being used as a political tool during the Cold War.

Being an environmentalist and understanding both climate change and the massive direct pollution caused by fossil fuels, it became obvious that we need all non-fossil fuel sources for a sustainable future that provides everyone on Earth with reliable and sufficient power to have what we consider a good life.

SM: Educating myself on basic nuclear science and radiation led me to look into the Manhattan Project, the detailed development of weapons and the impacts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from there, into the history of nuclear power, the medical literature on health effects of radiation, and a great deal more. Over the past decade, as part of my research for a book on the future of nuclear in this century, I have had conversations with hundreds of physicians, radiation workers, nuclear engineers, radiobiologists working at hospitals, health physicists at the Centers for Disease Control, anti-nuclear activists, and ordinary citizens.

 

Scott M Tour

Scott Montgomery, at far right, with students from his class on a tour of Columbia Generating Station.

The combination of all this study and work has made it clear beyond measure that nuclear power is among the least threatening of all major energy sources and among the most essential for battling climate change.

KZ: I’m interested in conserving our precious land, cleaning up our air, and protecting our climate. When I connected nuclear energy with the things that I value, my interest in nuclear was born.

Far more has been done out of uninformed fear than informed understanding.
– Scott Montgomery

Northwest Clean Energy: Why do you think there is not more widespread acceptance of nuclear energy?

Kristin Zaitz: Because of people like me. Like many people, I am afraid of things that I don’t know a lot about, I am biased in ways that I don’t immediately realize, and I am not naturally good at assessing risk. We all tend to seek out data that confirms our beliefs.

IMG_2040

Kristin Zaitz with children Oliver and Kate.

I have spent over fifteen years working at a nuclear power plant, learning, questioning, exploring, discovering. When I started my career, I thought that I was going to uncover a pile of dirty secrets that the mad scientists were hiding. My preconceptions were the product of the mainstream environmental anti-nuclear fear campaign that preys on the public’s lack of information about nuclear power coupled with fear of radiation and nuclear weapons. It took many years for me to shake that fear, but I ended up discovering nuclear energy to be one of the best kept secrets in land conservation and climate action.

Nick Touran: I once went out on the streets of Ann Arbor, Mich. asking people what they thought about nuclear energy for a documentary. People generally mentioned the typical four

lab_dinner

Dr. Nick Touran of TerraPower.

concerns: waste, bombs, accidents and cost. But one woman summed up the general feeling really well when she said “Honestly, my gut feeling is that I’m not in favor of it, but I don’t know hardly anything about it.” Her friend standing there chimed in “I second that!” So I’ve made an effort to try to help people understand nuclear energy better. Generally, the more someone understands it, the more accepting of it they are.

Scott Montgomery: This is both an easy question to answer and a challenging one to explain. There is little doubt in my mind:  the most fundamental factor is the fear of radiation. It is not a simple fear, combining as it does many anxieties about society and the self. But it saturates nearly everything to do with nuclear power, from the unending talk of “safety” to the idea of a “dirty bomb.”

Jim Conca: Agree. The intentional, but incorrect, fear of all radiation, even at low levels that cause no harm.

SM: Far more has been done out of uninformed fear than informed understanding. Educate and reduce that fear, and a great burden will be lifted.

Northwest Clean Energy: If there was one thing you could tell someone to help them understand why nuclear energy is good, what would it be?

Scott Montgomery: 50 years of civilian nuclear power, with an average of 300 reactors operating, has resulted in only 3 large accidents, two of them without a single injury to the public.

Jim Conca: Fewer people have died as a result of nuclear power than any other form of energy, including renewables. It is the most reliable, safest, longest-lasting form of energy we have.

Kristin Zaitz: I’d want them to understand how electricity is generated, how it is transmitted, and the magnitude of our consumption in the developed world. When you look at the abilities and limitations inherent in the technology of each available energy source, and pair that with the environmental pros and cons of each, you realize that there is a trade-off in every energy scenario. We need to understand those trade-offs and make wise choices. With nuclear as part of a clean energy mix, we can provide abundant energy to our growing world and minimize the impacts to people and nature.

Nick Touran: I like informing people that if they got 100 percent of their energy (electricity, transportation, heating, everything!) from nuclear fuel, they’d consume about 1.5 soda cans of it in their lifetime and produce no climate-altering byproducts. I’d then go through the key concerns and point out how there are reasonable solutions to all of them, but I guess that’s more than one thing.

Northwest Clean Energy: What is the greatest myth about nuclear energy?

Kristin Zaitz: The greatest myth about nuclear energy is that we don’t need it, and that we can decarbonize without it. Germany is a great practical example of this. Germany is succeeding at adding lots of wind and solar power to the electric grid, but still its carbon emissions are rising since this intermittent supply is backed up by fossil fuels. We simply cannot decarbonize our energy supply with renewables as long as they are backed up by fossil. Energy storage is something that we don’t do well at large scale, or for any appreciable length of time. In absence of an energy storage miracle, Germany and many others are doing the only technologically possible thing that they can do and locking in their dependence on fossil.

Nick Touran: That they’re unsafe. At a public meeting last year the people laughed out loud when a nuclear supporter said it was one of the safest energy sources known. Upon even brief research, anyone can see that the data support this conclusion. Nuclear has actually net saved 2 million lives worldwide by displacing air pollution deaths even considering the effects of nuclear accidents. I think it’s a shame that people reject the data on this one.

Northwest Clean Energy: Looking to the future, what is your hope for nuclear energy, in the U.S. and the world?

Jim Conca: My hope is that the United States will retake the global leadership in nuclear science and nuclear power. We should complete development of new reactor technologies that are ideal for eradicating global poverty and reverse global environmental degradation before we pass the point of no return, somewhere around 2050.

Nick Touran: Some Chinese urban populations are losing something like five years of life due to air pollution, so they have an urgent clean energy need. Accordingly, I see China, India, and Russia building large nuclear fleets in the somewhat near future.

Scott Montgomery: My hope is that the U.S. will see the need for expanding and advancing nuclear power in a major way, a technology it has given to the world. That the many new nuclear start-up companies in the U.S. and Canada focused on advanced reactors that address waste and non-proliferation concerns, find major success.

Kristin Zaitz: I want energy access for all of humanity, clean air, a livable climate, and room for nature. I see this happening through the protection of existing nuclear energy, and the expansion of new nuclear and other clean technologies across the world.

(Posted by John Dobken)