Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David O'Brien and Nuclear

On Saturday, Commissioner David O'Brien spoke to a Republican breakfast meeting in Rutland, Vermont. In his speech, reported in the Rutland Herald, he expressed his support of Vermont Yankee, saying: "Vermont Yankee, as a unit, which you won't read about anymore, is one of the best-performing nuclear units in the country," he said, adding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has told him it has no problem with the plant.

He also pointed out that two factors have given Vermont Yankee bad press: missteps and miscommunications by the plant management, and a poisonous atmosphere promoted by Senator Shumlin among others. Specifically, O'Brien noted that the tritium leak had been blown completely out of proportion, that over twenty nuclear plants had such leaks, and Vermont Yankee had taken the correct steps to address it. At that remark, I could hardly stop myself from standing up and shouting "Yes, Yes, YOU TELL THEM!" (Actually, I'm kind of a quiet person, and this was a Republican breakfast meeting, so I didn't say anything.)

Aside: In a recent post, I noted that VY found the leak very quickly, and leak was less than 0.5 curie of tritium (Rod Adam's calculation). Adams also noted that a well-run CanDu reactor releases 5400 curies of tritium per year. The NRC notes that American reactors also release tritium in liquid effluent. From the NRC website: In 2003, the average PWR released about 700 curies of tritium in liquid effluents and the average BWR released about 30 curies of tritium in liquid effluents. (Vermont Yankee is a BWR).

In contrast, Vermont Yankee is a zero-liquid-discharge reactor which had a minor spill. Half a curie of tritium. This amount of tritium would look pretty good to most of the reactors in this country. End Aside.

O'Brien refused to panic over this incident, despite the endless chorus of "tritium will get into the Connecticut River and incredibly bad things will surely happen!" Well, no they won't. It was good to see that O'Brien paid attention to the facts and not the hype.

But enough about tritium for a while. Have a banana, sit back, and relax. I realize that I have posted videos featuring Gundersen and Shumlin. So let's have some air time for the good guys for a change. Here's a video of the president of Areva North America, Jacques Besnainou, talking about America and nuclear.

Note: I received an email that someone could not see the video. If you cannot see it, you can link to it here.


Peter Alexander said...

I don't think many people were in a panic about the tritium itself. The real issue with Vermont Yankee, in addition to Entergy's really bad record of preventive maintenance, is the company's breakdown in credibility. Finding and fixing a tritium leak "quickly" is small potatoes. Fixing the company's reputation after its long record of misrepresentations, omissions, half-truths, cover-ups, and outright lies is an entirely different matter. For those who may not be aware, Entergy has been sanctioned and fined at least twice by the Public Service Board. On January 27 the PSB delivered Entergy attorneys a stinging scolding from the bench for the company's long history and pattern of giving false information. The "poisonous atmosphere" was not created by Senator Shumlin. It was created by Entergy. The Senate was right to deny a license extension.

Meredith Angwin said...

Peter. Thank you for your comment.

Entergy's misstatements about the underground piping happened and are a problem. But a "long history of misrepresentations...and outright lies" is frankly, just a buzzword of people opposed to nuclear. I don't pay attention to these general statements, just as you wouldn't pay attention to me if I said that "Helen Caldicott makes a living as a fear-monger." We would have to back up our statements with facts to convince anybody.

Let me go further. We are entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

Let's talk about some facts, here. Now that the leak is fixed, and the amount that escaped is trivial, you wrote that "I don't think many people were in a panic about the tritium itself." Really? Where on earth have you been? What about the new docket, "shut the plant down NOW because of the tritium leak," that the PSB opened at the request of the Conservation Law Foundation? It's costing me money, because I live in this state, and opening new dockets isn't free.

(By the way, I predicted in an earlier post that they would have the leak fixed before these docket hearings got underway. Maybe I should hang out my shingle as a fortune-teller.)

Maggie Gundersen (see the video in an earlier post) predicted that the tritium would end sport fishing in the Connecticut River because it bioaccumluates in fish. Senator McDonald rolled his eyes and repeated his question to Bill Irwin (of the Department of Health) over and over....you mean tritium is going to the river? It will be in the river?

And the letters to the editors, and the notes in my blog and heck, even the cartoons. Did you see the Mimi's Doughnut cartoon with "tritty" coming out of the faucet and explaining that he causes cancer? Then he says he has to run now and visit people downstream. This cartoon runs in my paper, and it has quite a following.

So, you have made a misstatement. You said that people weren't panicked about tritium. In that case, they were lying and pretending to be panicked. They were working hard, perhaps, to set up a poisonous atmosphere, while lying about what they were afraid of? Maybe. Maybe.

So you are misstating things, or they were lying. Take your pick.

Ending the leak is a big deal, even if you want to dismiss it, now that it is over.