Saturday, July 10, 2010

New Sites and Old Sights: Blog Carnival, IAMVY, and Communications

Blog Carnival

It's time for the 9th Blog Carnival of Nuclear Energy. This one is hosted by Rod Adams of Atomic Insights, and includes the outcome of a bet (how much uranium was used in 2009) and a description of what wind energy did for Canada in the recent heatwave. (Wind energy did nothing for Canada during the recent heatwave. Just what the dog did in the night.)

Step right up! See the outcome of bets on energy usage! Place your own bets in the comment section!

Or just have a good time at the Carnival.


The IAMVY (I am VY) site is up again, after a long hiatus. A long miserable hiatus. I'm glad to see it back.

A little history.

I AM VY is a site about employees and safety culture at Vermont Yankee. The site was actually launched about six or seven months ago, and began operating just in time for the "They Lied About Piping" issue to come front and center. (I have blogged about this issue extensively.)

Two of the people featured on the original I AM VY site were Dave McElwee, a senior employee at the plant, and his daughter, who also works at the plant. The opponents were ecstatic when McElwee was one of the employees placed on administrative leave during the investigation. You can imagine the ruckus.

Shortly after placing McElwee on leave (late January) Entergy took him off the IAMVY site and rewrote his daughter's description of working at the plant. Greenpeace had a field day with this action. On February 10, Entergy took the IAMVY site down. Great joy was expressed in the camps of the opponents.

Happily, the site was relaunched a few days ago, featuring plant employees and plant culture again. It's definitely worth a look.

Is the Controversy Over?

The IAMVY site is still controversial. As I have noted in several posts, the Gundersens and their followers are very excited about finding background levels of strontium 90 in Connecticut River fish. I'm talking about background levels, you understand. You could get the same quantities of strontium 90 in your fish if you buy your seafood at the grocery store. However, such mere facts have never stopped an attack when ignorant people have decided to attack.

On IAMVY, plant employee Ross Rosinski says he enjoys fishing in the river and eating the fish. Yesterday, on Twitter, Nuclear Fissionary and a local reporter, Shay Totten, were going at it hammer and tongs. The excitement started with Totten's remarks about the employee being willing to eat the fish. I am not sure which person at Fissionary was posting, but I do know that some of the people on the site are recreational fishermen as well as pro-nuclear activists.

I am sure that there will be more fireworks on this subject in weeks to come.

What We Have Here Is A Failure to Communicate

Sometimes, sometimes, we hope there is a better way. That someday, plant opponents won't make mountains out of molehills. (Background levels of strontium in the fish! Close the plant down!) That nuclear proponents will do a better job of explaining themselves, and especially, of listening.

Two excellent recent posts address these problems.

Greg Molyneux, of Nuclear Fissionary, asks What Makes Successful Communication? He advises that you start by understanding the audience. Everyone in communication should read this post.

In Nuclear Townhall, Gwyneth Cravens describes her journey from Seabrook protestor to nuclear supporter. The post includes her excellent answers to the most common anti-nuclear questions. After all, they were her OWN questions, when she started out. She had to answer these questions for herself, first.


Just a little note that Vermont Yankee has been running at 100% during the heat wave, and selling power to Vermont at $45 MWh, by contract. The ISO NE grid was averaging about $130 MWh, as older and more expensive plants come on line. With the cool weather and the end of the workweek, the grid is down to between $43 and $48 MWh today.


Once again, my picture of the carousel in the main square of Avignon. I like this picture.


Howard Shaffer said...

As I testified Thursday to the Public Service Board, there are two belief systems in use that can not be reconciled.
One system is based on science, which proves that there is some risk in everything, including just living on earth. You could get hit by a meterorite. Evaluating risk and benefit, where risk includes what could go wrong and how bad could it be, and what are the odds of this, is the science. Various choices are compared with one another. Congress did this in the 1950's comparing nuclear power and coal, and started the nuclear power program. Science believes in Madame Curie "Everything is to be understood, nothing is to be feared."
The other system seems to be mostly based on a desire for perfection and fear. Going to public meetings where anti nukes speak provides background. Eventually someone reveals their motivation. Sally Shaw (aka Sally the Slinger) said she was in Junior High when Vermont Yankee was announced, and was struck with fear. She and some of the others are still running on that experience of fear, and like the puppy that touched the hot stove, will always be motivated by it. Others: Ray Shadis. Lived blissfully near Maine Yankee until the Three Mile Island accident, then was struck with fear. Deb Katz lived near Yankee Rowe until a lightning strike event affecting the plant made her afraid.
We will never make their fear go away. We must stay politely engaged and defeat their fear tactics in the political arena. As former Senator Simpson said "A charge unaswered is a charge believed."

Meredith Angwin said...

Howard, thanks for the comment.

One explanation for people who don't live around here. At a meeting last, year, Sally Shaw placed manure into water glasses of NRC and Entergy employees. She smeared their papers with manure. She also threw manure at an Entergy employee in the parking lot.

That is why Howard refers to her as Sally the Slinger.

Country Mouse said...

Thanks for a very informative post. I also wonder about how people from "opposite camps" can communicate - the Richard Dawkins types and the evangelical Christian folks, for example. I read both linked articles with interest. The point about the deaths in the US resulting from fossil fueled energy today vs the lack of deaths up to this point from nuclear reactors is a very good one. I'd like to kow the basis for the statement that a Chernobyl couldn't happen in the US. Interesting to see the anti-nuclear factions portrayed as passionate but ignorant and driven by fear, and the pro-nuclear self portrayal as cool, rational, and science based. But wouldn't the anti-nukes also self-describe as science-based and rational?

Meredith Angwin said...

Country Mouse. Wow. You ask good questions! I am off to a meeting today, not nuclear for a change. I will get back to the part about how nuclear proponents and opponents see themselves later.

Also, I have asked a friend of mine to post a comment about Chernobyl. He know so much more about it than I do.

But basically, there were about four things that make that Chernobyl type of reactor very different from U S power reactors, and mean that accident cannot happen here.

1) It was a Russian reactor, and the Russians built everything as if they were building for the military. This meant they had switches the operators could use to override the safety systems. These switches (called battleshorts) are common on warships, including our nuclear subs. Sometimes, the safety system operation is not as important as maximum power, when someone is shooting at you! But that is a military type decision.. No American power plant would ever be licensed (or ever has been licensed) with a battleshort-type system in place.

The Russian operators activated the battleshorts. They overrode the safety systems the plant had.

2) The above is about safety systems, which are add-ons, to some extent.. The next issue is intrinsic to the design. American reactors use water to both cool the reaction and moderate the neutrons. If the water goes away, the moderator also goes away, so the reaction stops, leaving you only with residual heat. Now, residual heat can be substantial, but by definition, it is residual. No water, no reaction. The reaction has been stopped.

In the Chernobyl reactor, the water cooled the reactor,as in American reactors, but the moderator was graphite. When the reactor overheated and the water boiled off, the moderator (graphite) was still there, and the reaction kept going. The cooling was gone, but the reaction continued. This is a huge intrinsic difference. Graphite-moderated reactors have certain types of built-in instability.

Why do people use such systems? Various reasons. In this case, once again, the Russian military was closely tied to everything. Chernobyl was a dual-purpose reactor, for making bomb material AND power.

3) The moderator was graphite, as I said. Graphite is carbon. Carbon burns. When the reaction got hot enough, the carbon began burning. The combination of fire and reaction was a VERY effective mechanism for spreading destruction far and wide. If an American (or French or Japanese or...) reactor becomes overheated and loses its water, it will melt and slump in place, as Three Mile Island did. American reactors are not built within huge lumps of coal.

4) The Russian containment basically didn't exist. It was just a roof over the reactor. Amercan containment domes can take a certain amount of overpressure. That's why they are built as CONTAINMENT, to contain overpressure. If things begin to go bad, containment keeps the problem within the building. But the Russian system was powerless to contain anything, much less an on-going reaction taking place within a burning hunk of carbon.

Howard Shaffer said...

Meredith is basically right about the terrible Chernobyl accident. See the Anmerican Nuclear Society web page and use the search on the page for Chernobyl. Has links to the UN 20 year follow up reports.

Scram bypasses caused the accident. No bypasses in the design, no accident.

The anti nukes never claim they are science based. Science uses all the info, and the latest. They pick the info that supports their position that nuclear power is bad. They NEVER use numbers. They only say RADIATION, then go out in the sun.

Thomas said...

Hi Merideth my name is Tom Clegg. I work as a mechanic at Indian Point. I have also worked at VY. The problem with the general public is when they hear someone make a statement they don't question that persons background on the subject that they are talking about. Therefor somebody says something it goes through word of mouth or the media and it is fact. Also the electric company's do a poor job of defending nuclear power. Most of the time they hire a communications person who knows very little on how to make electric never mind nuclear power. These are the people they assign to defend nuclear power to the public. I have some sites that might help you. They have helped me defend nuclear power, against Riverkeeper and Clearwater. Google why wind power works for Denmark.Also Google IEA Energy Statistics, this site will give you graphs (in color) on what different country's use to make electric. You can see how little Canada uses wind power to make electric

donb said...

Howard Shaffer wrote:
Sally Shaw (aka Sally the Slinger) said she was in Junior High when Vermont Yankee was announced, and was struck with fear. She and some of the others are still running on that experience of fear, and like the puppy that touched the hot stove, will always be motivated by it.

I am not afraid of nuclear power. I AM afraid of freezing in the dark on a cold, windless winter's night. I am afraid of breathing wood smoke and of chimney fires. I am afraid of food poisoning when there is not enough electricity to run my refrigerator on a hot summer afternoon. I am afraid of someone having an asthma attack caused by using the atmosphere as a waste dump for combustion products from coal and natural gas. I'm afraid of not having enough money from my retirement income to pay for electricity generated by increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Let's work on minimizing the causes of rational fears, not cater to the irrational fears of a few people.

Greg Molyneux said...

Country Mouse really asks a great question. If I had to guess, the pros and antis would positively describe themselves in very similar terms while mutually dismissing the other with similar arguments as well.

This suggests a communication breakdown to me. Clearly, neither side is too willing to listen or accept the other.

Meredith Angwin said...

Country Mouse. I agree with Greg. However, the opponents arguments and data rarely come from peer-reviewed literature. They have certain institutes that publish papers, and their references are often rather circular.

At the same time, the opponents will dismiss peer-reviewed literature or government studies as "bought" or "part of the problem" or "you can't trust these guys" or "in bed with the industry."

Overall, though, Greg is right. Everybody is quoting papers and feeling that THEY have the true scientific answer.

James Morgan - Puritan Financial Advisor said...

The opponents were ecstatic when McElwee was one of the employees placed on administrative leave during the investigation. You can imagine the ruckus.