Thursday, November 26, 2015

Asthma Society of Canada testimony in favor of relicensing Bruce Power

Thankful for Nuclear Power

Everyone can be thankful for the existence of nuclear power. Nuclear provides great quantities of electricity without simultaneously providing dirty air.

In this video, the Asthma Society of Canada testifies in favor of relicensing Bruce Power nuclear plants.    In the first part of the video, Mr. Oliphant of the Asthma Society describes the prevalence and health consequences of asthma. The Asthma Society used to focus on helping people manage asthma through medication. It is now taking a more pro-active role by helping society minimize asthma. The Asthma Society encourages technologies that do not lead to dirty air or global warming.

Starting at 5:50 (five minutes, fifty seconds) Oliphant describes how energy choices have health effects, and these effects must be considered. Ontario phased out coal generation: they could not have done this without nuclear power.  The last half of the presentation is a strong message of gratitude for the clean air gifts of nuclear power!

Enjoy the video. Enjoy the turkey. Enjoy clean power from nuclear plants!

We all have much to be thankful for.  I will also say:

We nuclear advocates especially have a lot to be thankful for. We know that we are making the world a better place.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

SMRs in Washington State and Washington D.C.

Dramatic slide of Design Simplification for NuScale SMRs
Components in gray are needed for full-size reactor, but not for NuScale
Northwest Clean Energy blog (the blog of Energy Northwest) just published Talking Nuclear Energy from Washington State to Washington D.C.  

Full disclosure here: I wrote the post.

Frankly, it was a pleasure to write this post, because it is basically hopeful about the future. It discusses meetings in Washington D.C. and Washington State. The NuScale Power SMR was featured at both meetings, and Energy Northwest is part of the SMR initiative.

Here's a brief description of the two meetings, in the two Washingtons:
  • The recent Nuclear Summit in Washington D.C. had some good news about how the Department of Energy and the National Laboratories will assist Small Modular Reactors to come to market.   
  • The Washington State Legislature established a Task Force to encourage the possible role of Washington State in manufacturing Small Modular Reactors.  At a recent meeting, NuScale described progress in designing and building its reactor. A slide from that presentation is featured above.

Writing this post was a pleasant change for me. I like to report on good news and positive attitudes toward nuclear energy.  I get tired of reporting on Vermont's seemingly endless negative news and negative attitudes.   As we get closer to Thanksgiving, I urge you to enjoy reading the post at the Northwest Clean Energy blog.  As a matter of fact, explore other posts on that blog: there are many upbeat posts and many fine contributors.

I am grateful that nuclear energy has a bright future in the Northwest.  I wish it had a bright future locally, too.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Closing Pilgrim Will Zap Environment and Grid: Guest Post by Professor Gilbert Brown

Professor Gilbert Brown
Premature Closings

The premature closing of nuclear power plants such as Pilgrim harms our nation’s economy, energy security and the environment.

Why is this happening? It is not because of safety, but rather a blatant skewing of energy markets, that until just a few years ago leaned on the reliability of nuclear power plants. Today there is the short-sighted view that mandated solar and wind and the current windfall from fracked natural gas will work. Facts and history speak otherwise.

Although natural gas is cheap now, it is not likely to stay that way for long. Natural gas has a history of price volatility. Increasing New England’s reliance on gas for electricity generation — now at the 75 percent mark and rising — is nonsensical, especially in winter in a region where gas is used for heating.

And the fact remains that, although wind and solar have seen their costs fall, without serious subsidies their overall costs are more expensive per kilowatt hour than nuclear (and certainly gas). Furthermore there isn’t enough solar and wind to replace large nuclear plants and, because they only operate intermittently, there will surely be more fossil burning.

Correcting market abnormalities in 20 states where nuclear plants are at financial risk may be necessary to ensure that they are not closed early. Right now, the problem with the electricity market is that no value is placed on nuclear power’s role in reducing carbon emissions or its contribution to ensuring electricity reliability and energy security. Most troubling, the loss of nuclear power means that it will become more difficult — in some cases, impossible — for states to comply with EPA carbon-reduction rules, jeopardizing the administration’s climate goals at the very time when the world is looking to U.S. leadership in the battle against global warming.

Shortsighted Choices

This is really shortsighted. There is no avoiding the fact that more fossil fuels will be used for power production to compensate for the loss of nuclear power. Renewables and improvements in energy efficiency alone won’t meet energy requirements. And what about the rising popularity of electric cars? Where will the “clean” electricity come from to recharge their batteries?

Renewables like solar and wind power are intermittent sources that rely on carbon-emitting natural gas as a backup fuel when the weather isn’t cooperating. Moreover, wind requires 360 times as much land area to produce the same amount of electricity as a nuclear plant, and solar requires 75 times the land area.

Last year 3,600 megawatts of nuclear-generating capacity was closed down, compared with 4,500 megawatts of coal power. Among the shuttered nuclear plants were San Onofre’s two units in southern California and the Crystal River plant in Florida. Those three plants had been inoperable due to required multibillion-dollar repairs and were deemed no longer commercially viable. But since then, decisions have been made to close four operating nuclear plants — Kewaunee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and most recently, FitzPatrick in New York.

With climate change concerns rising every day, the last thing we need is a trend that makes them rise even faster. Yet that is what will happen when zero-carbon-emitting nuclear plants are prematurely retired. In Massachusetts the Pilgrim plant accounts for 79 percent of the emission-free electricity and is the only clean-air source that can produce large amounts of base-load power around the clock. The loss of Pilgrim’s 677 megawatts of generating capacity is not good for consumers, energy security or the environment.

Gilbert J. Brown is a professor and director of the nuclear engineering program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is an active member of the American Nuclear Society, and recently served in the State Department in the Visiting Scholars program. This program enables specialists in the physical sciences to support State Department activities in  arms control, non-proliferation, and disarmament.

This article first appeared on November 4, 2015, in the Boston Herald. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Reasonable Look at Emergency Planning for Vermont Yankee: Guest post by Howard Shaffer

A Draft Plan

Shaffer speaking in favor of VY
PSB hearing, November 2012
Vermont's Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen's Advisory Panel (NDCAP) has written a draft plant for future emergency planning in the area around Vermont Yankee.  You can read the plan here, or I can summarize it. (This summary is simply my opinion.)

The mountains may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but Entergy providing money for emergency planning for the towns around Vermont Yankee---that money must be here to stay.

Howard Shaffer wrote a very reasonable comment on the plan, which I am happy to post as a guest post.  You can read more about NDCAP in the notes at the bottom of this post.

Shaffer Comments on the Draft Plan

Comments on the
Draft Advisory Opinion on
Continued Funding for the Radiological Response Plan
by the 
Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel


The Emergency plan’s purpose is to provide for public safety during the decommissioning period.  This draft of a discussion to justify continued funding of a plan outside the plant fence appears to have been influenced by emotional concerns about the Emergency Plan used during the now completed operational period.  This draft has not sufficiently focused on the radical difference in the potential hazard that occurs after the energy releasing chain reaction in the fuel ceases.

While the plant is in operation and fission is on-going, fission products are continually produced.  After the plant is no longer operating, fission products are no longer produced, and the existing fission products decay.  The nature of any radioactive decay is that it continually decreases with time. The change from operating to not-operating is not reflected well in this draft plan.

The draft should take into account the continual decrease in the potential hazard, and the implications of the continual decrease of energy release.  The slowing of the energy release means that the any hazard from a  release of radioactive material from any damaged fuel pellets would take longer and longer to develop as time goes by, after the plant has ceased operation. The time also allows for intervening action by responders to interrupt and contain the release.

The draft seems to focus only on protective action outside the plant boundary, and forgets that inside the boundary there will always be a plan, and there would be protective and intervening action inside the boundary.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approach takes into account both the continually decreasing potential hazard and the continually increasing length of time available for intervening action by responders.  The Commission’s approach recognizes that an Emergency Response Plan will always be needed, but for a smaller and smaller area.   The area of concern that might be affected by any release shrinks with time until it is all inside the plant boundary.

The draft does not seem to recognize the shrinkage when it contemplates a plan outside the boundary until there is no radioactive material on site.  The draft uses a potential public exposure limit that is so low that it unrealistic.  No number for the avoided exposure is given.

Problems in the Draft

The draft states that “Nevertheless, all drained structures, systems and components across the entire site are contaminated with layers of solid radioactive material …”  All?  That will be news to the employees who worked in the offices, warehouses, and operated and maintained the many secondary plant systems and equipment. Many systems and parts of the plant are not contaminated.  For example the systems handling river water, electric power, and diesels etc.  Understanding which things are contaminated and which are not is fundamental to a safe and economical decommissioning.

The draft is concerned with “radiation exposure” to the public as it should be, but does not seem clear on the fact that what this means is “excess radiation exposure.”  That is, exposure that can be controlled or avoided in excess of the natural amount of exposure everyone gets.  The draft refers to the State of Vermont’s limit of 25 mrem per year. This limit is exceeded in the State House, in the corners, by the radiation coming from the granite blocks.  Locally we all get 28 mrem per year at 0-1000 feet above sea level from cosmic radiation (Denver = 52 mrem per year).  We all get on average another 200 mrem per year from Radon gas in the air. Medical diagnostic procedures account for some exposure (CT Abdominal scan 800 mrem; I had two in 90 days).  The draft should be clear on what exposures might be if there is an accident releasing radioactive material any time during decommissioning.

The draft should have considered the physical sources of the potential radioactive material.  The main source is the used fuel pellets.  These pencil eraser sized ceramic pellets are in sealed metal tubes.  The tubes make up fuel bundles and the bundles will eventually all be in the sealed metal cans, inside the concrete shield chimneys, which are the outer layer of the Dry Cask assemblies. If an accident occurred that resulted in some fuel pellets being scattered on the ground, they would continue to be air cooled, and remain solid. Unlike, say, coal ash, these pellets are highly sintered ceramic. They would probably break into shards, not dissolve into dust.  All the structure of the plant and its equipment are a much smaller source of hazard.

While used fuel remains in the Fuel Pool in the reactor building there is some slight risk that loss of pool water could eventually lead to a release, due to used fuel damage from overheating and possible fire.  Water loss is not likely. The Fuel Pool has a heavy stainless steel liner designed and tested for zero leakage.  It is set in the middle of the Reactor Building, surrounded on the sides and bottom by thick reinforced concrete walls and floors. The top of the pool is open to the Refueling Floor, but there are many feet of water above the used fuel.  The refueling floor is surrounded by the heavy steel beams that support the overhead crane and roof.  This structure and the crane would break an aircraft impacting the building.  The pool has no drain line, and attached lines have siphon breakers.  There are several sources of water for normal and emergency filling.

Opponents of the plant cite it as being a GE Mark I style, as are the plants at the Fukushima- Daiichi site. Those pools survived the earthquake of 2011.  The unit 4 building had no fuel in the reactor, and much fuel in the fuel pool.   After being hit by the tsunami, the Unit 4 building settled several inches and tilted a little. The used and new fuel in that pool stayed in the pool, was never uncovered, and has now all been safely removed.  This demonstrates the robustness of the pool and building.


This draft  has two serious problems: lack of numerical values for expected off-site emissions, which could be compared to regulatory limits, and lack of understanding of the process of radioactive decay: radioactive materials get less radioactive as time goes by.  However, it is a start on a document that could be used in the decision making process.

Howard Shaffer  PE (nuclear) VT, NH, MA, IL
November 11, 2015


The Citizen's Advisory Panel and the Draft Emergency Plan

When Vermont Yankee closed down, Vermont dissolved its Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Board VSNAP.  This panel's meetings (IMHO) had become room rentals for people to get together and bash Vermont Yankee.

When the plant announced it would close, Vermont started convened a new panel, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen's Advisory Panel, NDCAP.  The new panel includes members from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and members from Vermont Yankee and the IBEW.  In terms of membership, NDCAP is clearly a more representative group than the old VSNAP. You can read its membership list here.

Howard Shaffer

Howard Shaffer has attended almost every meeting of this panel.  He acknowledges that he was late in submitting his comment on the draft plan: he missed a deadline for commenting.  That means his comments may not get into the Department of Public Service public record.

His comments are now in the public record, right here at this blog.

Shaffer has contributed many guest posts to this blog. One of my favorite posts is Where's the Magic Switch, about power and pricing on the grid. Howard Shaffer and I both received Presidential Citations from the American Nuclear Society in 2012. Photo below courtesy of American Nuclear Society.

Howard Shaffer, Meredith Angwin,
ANS president Eric Loewen

Monday, November 9, 2015

Why You Can't Trust the State of Vermont to Oversee the Decommissioning Fund

Crystal ball
The State Foresees the Future and Provides Insults

The State of Vermont insists that it needs to have oversight of Entergy's Vermont Yankee Decommissioning fund. They have often asked for a "seat at the table" when fund disbursements are planned. The state recently petitioned the NRC, asking the NRC to investigate Entergy's finances, and whether or not Entergy would have sufficient funds to decommission Vermont Yankee.  NRC turned down that petition, but the state is back at it.

On Friday, November 6,  groups within the state government (the Attorney General, the Department of Public Service) along with Green Mountain Power, brought a new petition. This new petition to the NRC attempts to limit usage of the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Fund.

While the earlier petition pretty much asked for an investigation, this new petition can best be described as insulting.  Here's a quote from the petition, according to VTDigger's State Ramps Up Pressure on NRC to Review Yankee Spending:

"Considered together, Entergy’s actions threaten to undermine the radiological decommissioning work that is the very purpose of the fund,” the document says. “Unless the commission intervenes, Entergy will divert hundreds of millions of dollars from their intended purpose.”

Wow.  "Entergy will divert." Crystal ball time!  Actually, what Entergy will do is that Entergy will follow all the rules and the guidelines of the NRC. But the state doesn't like that. The state could write: "Hey, NRC, we don't like your guidelines and rules." Instead, the state leads off with an insult directed at Entergy. (Vermont Business Magazine also has a lengthy article on this new petition.)

I Review the Past and Hope the State is Foiled

I found this "[Entergy] will divert millions of dollars" funny, because I have a sick sense of humor sometimes.

Let's say I was required to rank Vermont's ability to oversee projects: say I had to rank Vermont's project oversight on a scale from one to ten.  I would give the state a negative-five rating.  Vermont wants to oversee how Entergy spends its funds?  Is this a joke?

You don't have to dig very deep to come up with huge examples of inadequate project oversight by the state of Vermont. I will give a short list, along with one or two links for each example. Each of these situations has a long and well-documented history.  I could be here for two days, inserting links.

Lousy Project Management by the State of Vermont

Vermont Health Connect

This is the big one. The Shumlin administration wanted to bring single-payer to Vermont, and so it didn't sign up with the federal government for an Affordable Care website. Other states obtained and customized the federal website, and got their Affordable Care websites going fairly quickly, and at reasonable cost.  Vermont decided to build its own software, which didn't work and cost over $200 million.  At this point, we are trapped because, after all, who else can maintain this custom software?

Costs go to $200 Million.  VTDigger.
Trapped in Expensive Quicksand.  John McClaughry of Ethan Allen Institute.

Vermont Public Service Board Commissioners
Margaret Cheny, Chairman James Volz, Sarah Hofmann
Vermont Gas Systems Pipeline

This is big, also.  Basically, Vermont Gas Systems (part of Gaz Metro) proposed a pipeline that was supposed to cost $80 million dollars.  Pipeline technology is comparatively straight-forward: this is not a first-of-a-kind project. The estimated costs have now risen to $150 million, to be paid by Vermont ratepayers.  This cost increase would have put the state Public Service Board  (which approved the project) in a bind where they might have to take some action.  Instead, the administration and Gaz Metro did a de facto end run around the Public Service Board, signing a Memorandum of Understanding and getting the Public Service Board off the hook. AARP is very upset about the effect on ratepayers.

AARP accuses Vermont of End Run in MOU with state. VTDigger

Entergy funds for Windham County Development

This is not so big, but somewhat indicative. In its agreement with the state concerning the last months of Vermont Yankee's operation, Entergy promised to send the state $2 million per year, for five years (total $10 million) for Windham County economic development.  The state has received $4 million of these funds, and I believe is due to receive another $2 million sometime in the next two months.

The state is sitting on most of these funds. So far, it has awarded around $800,000. The Governor makes the final decision on all awards. The Governor says he didn't award the money because the proposals just weren't good enough. If I lived in Windham County, I might find this insulting.

Inadequate project management by the state? Or inadequate proposals? Or the state being comfortable by keeping an extra few million in the bank for a while?  Whatever reason the state has for not-releasing those funds, the funds are currently not-growing the economy of Windham County.

State Reboots Application Process for Entergy Money. Times Argus

My request to the NRC: Please don't let the state of Vermont be the project managers  for the decommissioning funds.

End Note: Project Management and me

I have years of experience and interest in project management. I managed small projects at Acurex, back in the late 70s. In the early 80s, I joined the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), where my title was "Project Manager."  At EPRI, first I managed projects in the renewable division, and later in the nuclear division.  I left EPRI to go into business with a friend. The name of the business was Crescent Project Management.  I think it is still going, but my friend and I went our separate ways, business-wise. Then I started Fourth Floor Databases, Inc. As president of that company, I competed for, won, and managed many projects for utilities. I closed the company after eleven years.  Meeting a payroll in a small business is very stressful.

Nevil Shute
More recently, I have been very interested in the author Nevil Shute. He was a working engineer, a business owner, and an author. In September of this year, I gave a talk at the Nevil Shute Society conference in Oxford. All the talks at the Conference are posted here, and here is a direct link to the audio for my talk: Nevil Shute for Project Managers

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Pilgrim, Fitzpatrick, Rod Adams, and The Boxer

The Double Shock

Yesterday, Rod Adams wrote about the double shock of Pilgrim and Fitzpatrick closing.  It was a terrible set of events. We need every nuclear plant to keep operating.  We need them for their clean reliable power, for their ability to supply power without greenhouse gases and nitrogen oxides, for their ability to supply power during polar vortexes and other fossil-fuel supply crunches.

Adams said this better than I can, in the post
Deeply troubled by FitzPatrick and Pilgrim announcements. We need their clean electricity production to continue

A long time ago, I did a post: I am not Spock, at the American Nuclear Society blog. In this post, I wrote that I am not Spock.  I am a person with emotions.  I am committed to nuclear energy for the sake of my children and grandchildren.  This is an emotional commitment, as well as a logical energy choice.  I am having a deep emotional reaction, a reaction of grief, to the closing of these two plants.

The Serenity Prayer

Adams post includes his thoughts about the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I value the serenity prayer, but I don't completely follow it.  If I try to change something, and I don't succeed, was I therefore unwise? If I tried to make something good happen, but it didn't happen, was I lacking in wisdom, because the thing I tried to accomplish ended up being a "thing I cannot change"?

On the other hand, when a friend called two days ago to tell me that her cancer was no longer in remission, I clung to the serenity prayer. "I cannot change this. I cannot change this.  I can only accept it.  I can only do one thing: keep being her friend, whatever that will mean in the future."

Showing up and paying attention

This is the mantra that I use about my activism. For some issues, I find it more powerful than the serenity prayer.

Part of my comment on Adams blog post:

I personally find this mantra more helpful:
– Show up
– Pay attention
– Tell the truth
– Don’t be attached to the consequences.

In this mantra, when the consequences are not what I would like, I tell myself “Well, I did the first three steps” as opposed to “I can’t tell the difference, can I?” And I can say: “Oh well, the fourth one is always the hardest, but I did the first three.”

The Boxer

I decided to head this post with Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer. I have been listening to it, somewhat compulsively, in the past few days.

The Boxer "carries a reminder," he carries a scar, from every blow that hurt him. He has been hurt so badly that he wanted to quit, hurt so badly that he said he would quit.

But The Boxer doesn't quit.

The last line is:
"But the fighter still remains."

Thank you

Thank you to Rod Adams for his posts and his courage.  Thank you to everyone who works in the nuclear industry, giving us clean power and clean air.  And thank you to everyone who defends the industry.

The fighter still remains.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Updated: Nuclear Blogger Carnival 285, Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

Once again, we are proud to host the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers, right here at Yes Vermont Yankee.  The Carnival is a compendium of nuclear blogs that rotates from blog site to blog site, and it is always a pleasure and an honor to host it.

I am happy to update it with new posts…and unhappy to update it with the news that the Fitzpatrick plant will close.

Nuke Power Talk -- Gail Marcus

Scary Energy Scenarios: My Real Fears on Halloween.

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus reflects on the Halloween holiday and conjures up futures that are scarier than ghosts and goblins.  When short-sighted policies and misinformed views dominate energy decisions, these futures can go from being scary to--being scary and being real.

Salaries by Degree Field (Update---new post)

In another blog from Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk, she reports on the results of a salary survey by academic degree field.  Engineering fields in general ranked high, and nuclear engineering was #2 for mid-career alumni out of 319 academic fields surveyed.

Energy Reality Project--Rick Maltese

Educating a new nuclear workforce: Guest post by Beth Kelly (Update--new post0

This is a post about filling new nuclear jobs in a hypothetical growing market.  However, unless you assume that all nuclear plants in the country will close within ten years (an unwarranted assumption), you must notice that about half the workers at nuclear plants will retire within ten years.  And that leads to job opportunities for younger workers.

Audio version of Chapter 8 of Maltese's book: Energy Reality, a Necessary Renaissance (Update--new post)

Rick Maltese is writing a book he titles Energy Reality: A Necessary Renaissance. He has been posting his chapters at patreon, a crowd-funding website.  This is the first audio sample.

Atomic Insights-- Rod Adams

Several important nuclear energy developments from the Westinghouse press office

Westinghouse announced that the first two  reactor coolant pumps for their AP1000 reactor have passed all qualification tests and should arrive at the Sanmen site in China for installation by Dec 31, 2015.

The next day, Westinghouse announced that they are buying the nuclear plant construction assets of CB&I, their partner at Plant Vogtle and VC Summer.

An excellent discussion of the facts and implications, and of course, a very lively comment stream.

 Yes Vermont Yankee--Meredith Angwin (update, bad news)

Ginna continues operation, surcharges in context, and Fitzpatrick

The Ginna nuclear power plant has been received some financial relief, and will keep operating for at least another 18 months. Sadly, Entergy announced today that the Fitzpatrick plant will close (the post include links to articles about Fitzpatrick.)  In this blog post, Angwin compares the financial relief to Ginna to other electricity surcharges, including Vermont's own local "Efficiency Vermont" charges (much higher than the Ginna per-household costs) and the cost of proposed carbon taxes.

ANS Nuclear Cafe--Ted Besmann

The Power of Nuclear Energy

In this post, Besmann describes some of the economic hazards that currently face the U.S. fleet of nuclear plants.  The EPA proposed clean power rule gives less than 6% credit to emissions reduction from nuclear plants, for example. At the same time, the EPA claims that it would be worth paying  an extra $12 to $17 dollars per ton of CO2 that is not emitted.  But this monetary value is theoretical and not available to nuclear plants.