Thursday, June 30, 2011

Loeb Award for Julia Angwin and Wall Street Journal Team

I interrupt my usual flow of news about Vermont Yankee for a moment.

Our daughter, Julia Angwin, headed a team of Wall Street Journal reporters that won a prestigious Loeb award two days ago.

According to the Poynter Institute blog, the Loeb awards are considered the most prestigious award in business journalism. The winning category was Online Enterprise.

The series that won, What They Know, is about how on-line consumers are tracked on the Internet. For example, was installing 234 tracking files (including cookies, flash cookies and beacons) on your computer whenever you visited. Most of these files were from third party vendors planning to sell your data. (I say "was installing" because may have changed their ways after the Wall Street Journal story appeared.)

Due to the What They Know series, privacy concerns are becoming more visible to Congress, and consumers can expect higher levels of personal privacy in the future. We are very proud of Julia.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Nuclear Safety Paradox: Guest Post by Jeff Schmidt

This is a guest post by Jeff Schmidt on an important subject: The Nuclear Safety Paradox. Schmidt's previous guest post was Flawed Analogies, describing common but misleading ways of describing nuclear plants.

Over the past several months, a thought has been at the back of my mind about nuclear safety. I feel is important to enter this issue into the ongoing discussion about Nuclear Power in our country.

There are many people who are opposed to new nuclear. They look at the events that have unfolded over in Japan, and worry that the same can happen here, unless we quickly move away from nuclear power. To that end, they actively seek to slow or block the certification of new designs, and the construction of new power plants.

Rod Adams of the Atomic Insights Blog has recently posted an example: "Friends of the Earth" seeking to stall certification of the AP1000 design . The AP1000, for folks who are not familiar with it, is a new design by Westinghouse Electric (a subsidiary of Toshiba), which adds an emergency passive cooling system to the Light Water Reactor. This cooling would operate in the case of a complete loss of electric power for active cooling, as was the case in Fukushima.

A passive cooling system uses basic physics to work. Passive cooling systems do not require any outside intervention, like electric power, fuel, or other inputs. They work automatically, and always work because those principles of physics never change. Examples of passive cooling techniques include convection in the cooling fluid, air cooling, gravity-fed water cooling, etc). Such passive cooling will keep cooling the reactor from melting down for an extended period of time, when no outside power is available for pumping cooling water.

This is, objectively, a good safety improvement over previous designs, such as those at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, or any of the reactors currently in use in the U.S. (I would add that GE-Hitachi Nuclear also has a new design for the BWR which adds passive emergency cooling, which they are trying to put into the market, and I believe other companies and researchers have other ideas for passive cooling systems in new designs).

So, why don't we have any of these new, safer designs in the U.S.? Largely because we can't get any new designs certified or built.

The Paradox

I have come to believe that in the U.S., we have a Nuclear Safety Paradox - namely, that because of our concern for safety, we are keeping older, less safe designs in active service longer, because new designs have not, and are not, being certified and built. I realize that many of the people who are opposed to nuclear, and are attempting to block forward progress, truly feel that no nuke is good, no nuke can be safe.

In contrast, I believe that most Americans, like myself, do have faith that engineers can create safer designs, in time. I also believe that, while there is probably some good opportunities to put solar and wind power to use in our country, we are not at the necessary technology level to try to deploy Wind and Solar on the scale necessary to completely replace nuclear. We may get there some day, or we may not, but we need much bigger advances in technology to get to a total renewable solution, compared to building safer nuclear reactors.

Now, I don't think the older designs present a large safety threat - after all, there has only been one meltdown in U.S. reactor history, Three Mile Island, and that was, in the end, from a safety perspective, a non-event. But there is still a risk that certain circumstances, very rare, but not impossible, can come in and cause loss of cooling to the old reactors, and that in some circumstances, they might not handle the loss of cooling as gracefully as a reactor which has a passive cooling system. None of us want to face the prospect of having to evacuate a 10 or 20 mile zone around a nuclear plant for 6 months, or a year, or potentially longer. None of us want to see a situation where one natural disaster is followed by a nuclear incident that makes cleanup and repair of the damage from the natural disaster be delayed for long periods.

In particular, I don't think Vermont Yankee presents a big threat to Vermont, as I think Meredith has made many good arguments over the past several years about the safety of even the "old" generation of nuclear plants. Nuclear plants here in the U.S., including Vermont Yankee, have added some additional safety features to, e.g. prevent building up hydrogen gas and resulting hydrogen explosions - safety features apparently lacking at the FD reactors in Japan. We have already made upgrades, well BEFORE the Fukushima reactor meltdowns and explosions, to address some of the exact scenarios that the Japanese ran into. That tells me that to a large extent, our engineering and regulatory systems are very actively working to prevent such a disaster.

The Missing Conversation

However, I suspect that we'd be having a much different conversation if there were plans to be building new nuclear power plants around the country, and in Vermont. Nuclear Power currently provides about 20% of the electricity generation in the United States. To take that offline, we need something to replace it. We could build natural gas (and, in fact, that is happening), but natural gas is not without its problems, either - environmental damage, deaths from gas explosions , and supply which, while ample in the short term, does not promise long term security.The Natural Gas marketers themselves only claim a 100 year supply , and that is including speculative, undiscovered resources. Also, that 100 years is only if we don't increase exports and domestic consumption. We can't expect "cheap" natural gas to last forever. Wind and Solar may someday be able to supplant nuclear power, but there are enormous technical and financial challenges, larger than even for Nuclear, in trying to do a truly massive build-out of Wind and Solar.

I've heard some people compare Fukushima Daiichi (and before that, Chernobyl) to the Titanic. They like to say that "The Titanic was a New, Safer Design - until it sank on it's maiden voyage." But we didn't stop designing or building ships because of the Titanic, and I think everyone would agree that large commercial ships have gotten much, much safer - both as a result of improved design, as well as improved operational practice, over the years. I truly believe that with iteration (that is, the design and construction of new generations of technology after learning lessons with previous generations), all technology gets better with time.

This is almost surely to be true of Solar and Wind as well, but today nuclear reactor technology is better positioned to provide that power than Solar and Wind. As well, I'd rather see the market pick winners and losers than a system that hamstrings one solution (nuclear), while pushing forward another solution, based upon an inflated sense of risk and fear.

I've had the privilege of growing up in a period of extreme technological advancement in nearly every field of engineering, but perhaps none is more illustrative of the power of iterative improvement as computers and electronics. Since the 1970s, we've probably had close to 40 generations of computer technology (about one generation per year). Computers have gotten staggeringly faster, with more storage space, better reliability, more RAM, amazing graphics, very high speed networked communications, high quality sound, much smaller physically, and all at orders of magnitude lower cost. This is the result of lots of iterative improvement.

Where are the Iterations? Where are the New Nuclear Plants?

If there had been built, in the last 10 or 20 years, a gigawatt or two of new, safer nuclear power plants in Vermont, I bet Meredith, nor anyone else, would be trying to keep Vermont Yankee running, because there would be something better in place already, and it would just be time to retire that particular plant. The most natural way to get rid of old nuclear power plants is to build new, improved nuclear power plants to replace them. Without replacement, the result is (and we are seeing this all over the country) that we keep older plants online longer (however, those older plants are upgraded and updated with new safety features, new pipes, new turbines, etc, to keep them as safe as possible).

The most natural way to make nuclear safer is to increase the rate of iteration of generations of the technology. Of course, we need to go at a slow enough pace that we aren't risking disasters, but I think we can do better than 30 years per generation. I think the key is what standard we hold the NRC to: we can enable iterative improvement not by giving it a mandate to ensure 'perfect' safety, because they really can't ensure perfect safety, but rather, our standard should be, "Are the new designs being considered at least AS SAFE OR SAFER than any current designs".

That is how you achieve progress in any field of engineering - not, "Is it perfect, right now", but "Is it better than what we already have". Perfection is a goal we are always chasing, never achieving. This is why computers can keep getting better and better and better, and why nuclear reactors could keep getting better, and better, and better.

Ending the Paradox

Let's end the nuclear safety paradox by getting new, safer reactors built to replace the older reactors, and by giving the NRC the resources, people, and mandate to improve and speed up the certification process. We should enable a fairly rapid iteration of improved generations of nuclear reactor technology. As with other technologies, new improved generations will fairly quickly replace the old generations, leading to ever safer nuclear reactor designs.

AP 1000 illustration courtesy of Westinghouse through Wikipedia
Vermont Yankee photo also Wikipedia.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Grid Operator Says: We Need Vermont Yankee for Reliability.

The 2013 Power Auction

About a year ago, the New England Grid operator, ISO-NE, had a forward power auction for electricity supplies in 2013. Vermont Yankee, unsure of its future, tried to drop out of the auction.

ISO-NE would not let Vermont Yankee drop out of the auction. ISO-NE can't ensure that Vermont Yankee is operating past 2012, but they insisted Vermont Yankee stay in the auction. This puzzled me, and I finally figured it out. You can read my extensive blog post, but the bottom line is:
  1. Without Vermont Yankee, the grid would become unreliable.
  2. When grid reliability looks like it is going down the tubes, ISO-NE must take action: it must order diesel generators, arrange for transmission line upgrades, etc.
  3. These steps would mean millions of dollars of expense, and ISO doesn't want to start the process unless they have to.
  4. So ISO had Vermont Yankee stay in the auction, therefore avoiding grid expense that may not be necessary.

I hope Vermont got the message.

Yesterday, the 2014 Auction: Vermont Yankee is Needed

If Vermont didn't get the message: this is another year, another auction, and the same message again.

Yesterday ISO-NE announced the results of the 2014 forward auction. Once again, ISO refused to let Vermont Yankee drop out of the mix. This time, the story was even more dramatic, in my opinion. According to Reuters, ISO received 201 requests to de-list (withdraw) from the auction. ISO granted 200 of these requests, representing about 1170 MW of capacity. It found that these withdrawals would not affect grid stability.

However, it did not grant one request to withdraw: Vermont Yankee. ISO found that Vermont Yankee withdrawal would affect grid stability and Vermont Yankee had to stay in the auction. As the Reuter's article continues: To prepare the grid, the ISO said it was working with power transmission owners to develop short-term "special operating plans" and long-term transmission upgrades in case the reactor does not continue to operate.

Do you remember the short-term "special operating plans" ISO implemented in Connecticut? Lots of diesels. I hope we can avoid this in Vermont.

ISO-NE is Sending Vermont a Message

Vermont Yankee is a unique plant, with an important role in stabilizing the grid. Closing it down will lead to unpleasant consequences of grid instability such as voltage drop, unplanned outages, or rolling blackouts.

California Dreaming

On the radio today, I was asked what "grid instability" really meant. It can mean brownouts, sudden blackouts, or rolling blackouts. Since I lived through the rolling blackouts (and other weird voltage stuff) in California, I was able to answer from personal experience.

For me, rolling blackouts meant you want to own a home near a police station or hospital. The grid managers kept such areas safe from blackouts. People who had houses for sale would advertise "home in hospital-protected block." Actually, there was a power-company code number for such areas, I think it was 728 or 528 or something. So the ad would look like this: 3/2, rdwd deck w spa, 728 pwr.

Ah, the good old days! (sarcasm alert) I didn't live in a protected area, so I lived with the fear and the reality of sudden, two-hour power shutoffs. Nobody would tell you in advance where they were shutting off the power, for fear of looters and criminals flocking around.

We forget how much electricity adds to public safety. Until someone shuts it off.

Though Enron was partially to blame for the California shortages, California's botched deregulation was also to blame. Enron couldn't have done its manipulations if the fundamentals of the California grid had been stronger.

Let's not be California. Let's not compromise our grid.

ISO-NE is sending Vermont a message for the second year in a row. I hope we are smart enough to get it.

The grid needs Vermont Yankee.

Transmission Line from Wikimedia.

Monday, June 27, 2011

58th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 58th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is posted at Next Big Future. As usual, this is a great compendium of the best of the blogosphere. Despite the New York Times snarky article, Dan Yurman points out that bringing Bellefonte on-line will help TVA achieve its goals of closing coal plants, and the pressure vessel is already available. Will Davis updates Fukushima information, while Margaret Harding describes lessons-learned from the Japanese events. In one of my personal-favorite of this week's blog posts, Brian Wang shows that the "babies are dying on the west coast from radiation" scare stories are bunk. Wang and Scientific American deconstruct the statistical manipulation of Sherman and Mangano, who posted the original story at the Al Jazeera English website. Gail Marcus eulogizes Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Yalow, a pioneer in medicine who made huge contributions to the use of radiation in medicine. Ms. Yalow succeeded despite the formidable obstacles that she was a woman and a Jew. For obvious reasons, Yalow is the kind of role model that is dear to my heart.

There's more! There's more! A post about the Prime Minister of Japan (nuclear has to be part of the mix in Japan) and a post about progress on the fast breeder, and a post about the leadership of pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear groups. More interesting posts than I can possibly describe!

Come to the Carnival! It's a treat for young and old!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Did Vermont Yankee Bring the Suit at the Right Time? Some Thoughts on the Injunction Hearings

The current hearings about Vermont Yankee are not about the merits of the case, but about the injunction, that is:

Shall the court grant an injunction that allows Vermont Yankee to keep operating until the entire case is resolved? If the injunction is granted, the State could not close down Vermont Yankee while the lawsuit was in progress.

Injunctions are often granted when one side could take action that would be a de facto win for that side. For example, a tenant has a leaky roof and the landlord has refused to fix it. So the tenant has sued. If the landlord evicts the tenant while the court case is going on, the landlord has basically won the case, no matter what the merits of the situation might be. In this case, the court would almost certainly grant an injunction that prevents the tenant from being evicted during the court case.

Vermont Yankee is also asking to not-be-evicted during the court case.

The State Says Vermont Yankee Should Have Sued Sooner

As the Associated Press reports: Scot Kline, an assistant attorney general on the state's legal team, maintained the company was exaggerating those claimed harms. He also said the company has known for years that March 2012 loomed, could have filed its lawsuit much sooner and shouldn't be complaining of a time crunch now.

"To the extent they find themselves in a corner, they kind of walked into this corner," Kline said.

Entergy Took Action As Soon As It Could

Entergy took action as soon as it could.
  • On March 10, 2011, the NRC announced it was going to grant a license extension to Vermont Yankee.
  • On March 21, the license extension was granted.
  • On April 18, less than a month later, Entergy filed suit against the state.
Why do I say this was "taking action as soon as it could?" A little personal history here--not about Entergy, but about my own legal education. I owned a business, and someone cheated me. It didn't cause immediate harm, but I was pretty sure it would impact my ability to get contracts in the future. (No, I am not going to go into the gory details.) At any rate, I went to a lawyer.

The lawyer told me not to sue--I couldn't win. He looked over the contracts and agreed that the other side had cheated me. However, he explained that there were two parts to a lawsuit: responsibility for the action, and harm from the action. I had one, but I didn't have the other. I had only potential harm, if other things happened in the future, if other clients did this or did that, and so forth.

In other words, any harm to me was future, nebulous, depended on other people's actions, unquantifiable. I had the cheaters on responsibility, but I could prove no real harm.

I didn't "have a case."

I was steamed, but I learned something about the law.

Earlier: Entergy Had No Case

In 2006, the legislature passed Act 160, giving themselves veto power over the Public Service Board (PSB) issuing a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) to Entergy. If Entergy had tried to bring a suit in 2006, right after Act 160 passed, I think they would have met this response from the court:

Look here, Entergy--you claim that, six years from now, IF the NRC grants you a renewal license, and IF you have that license but the legislature doesn't vote to allow the PSB to release its findings and IF the PSB finding would-have-been to grant you the Certificate of Public Good....if all this happens, then you will be harmed by this Act 160 law? Well, gimme a break. Don't clutter up the calendar with such far-fetched cases, where the harm depends on so many actions happening in your favor by so many third parties, with only the legislature causing the harm. And all this is going to happen six years from now, no less! You haven't got harm, you haven't got a case, please go away.

(Note: Entergy is currently taking the position that the PSB ruling has also been tainted by the legislature's actions. However, in the paragraph above, I am pretending it is six years ago, not today, and that Entergy attempted to sue at that time, which is what the state claims it should have done.)

The Right Steps at the Right Time

Entergy lobbied against Act 160, they fought it, they knew it was not a good thing. But they quite rightly did not sue about it until it was clearly a source of harm. In this, they acted very responsibly, in my opinion.

Of course, the State thinks Entergy should have sued immediately. After all that is what the state does! Just recently, the state lost a major suit about doctors and pharmaceutical companies, which our Attorney General argued right up to the Supreme Court. The State is johnny-on-the-spot to go to court with our tax money, but Entergy quite rightly waited till it "had a case."

Post Script: A few words about the pictures.

Howard Shaffer took these pictures outside the Brattleboro Federal Courthouse on Thursday morning, June 23. (Since Howard is behind the camera, I am in the pictures.) The Safe and Green Campaign was running a protest at that time.

In the top picture, you can see me at the far right.

In the next picture, I do not know the name of the man with the "Mafia" sign, but I have made the assumption that if you are standing on a sidewalk with a sign, you expect to get your picture taken.

The last picture shows me being interviewed by Robbie Leppzer, who is filming a documentary about Vermont Yankee. My hand-made sign says: Save the Children, Yes Vermont Yankee and shows a small child with an asthma treatment nebulizer. My point is that replacing VY with fossil would mean more childhood asthma. However, many of the anti-Vermont Yankee protesters told me, in no uncertain terms, that VY would be replaced with wind turbines and solar, not fossil.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vermont Yankee: Three Insights from the NRC Review Meeting

Two nights ago, June 22, I went to the NRC meeting reviewing Vermont Yankee's 2010 performance.

About 200 people came to the meeting. The NRC planned to spend half an hour on its own presentations, and two hours "addressing public questions." Here are some insights that I had about the opponents, the meeting and the NRC.

1) Fact: Vermont Yankee opponents do not want to listen to the NRC.

Forty-four people submitted questions or comments to the NRC. Many of the questions were multiple questions, and many of the comments were harangues. The NRC people soldiered on, attempting to explain what they could. NRC staff said things such as: "That's a very good question, about water in the cable pipes, and I made this issue my project for the year. Pipes were drained...."

The crowd was visibly annoyed with the NRC responses. Eventually the crowd had had enough information. One woman told the NRC not to respond to her; she didn't want to hear their answers. After that, a shout came from the audience that they had had enough NRC "tongue-wagging" and it was time to let the audience "have a chance." The audience clapped its approval of this statement.

My Insight: Opponents don't trust the NRC and won't even listen to what the NRC says. The NRC review meeting is just another chance for an anti-nuclear rally.


2) Fact: According to Vermont Yankee opponents, the non-existent deaths from the nuclear accident are the most important thing that happened in Japan.

At the beginning of the meeting, the NRC asked for a moment of silence for the tens of thousands of people who lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Later, one person had her turn to comment: she said was "personally offended" by the silence for the earthquake victims. She was upset that the NRC had forgotten the Fukushima victims. Another comment was: "earthquakes and tsunamis have happened and will happen. The real tragedy is the nuclear tragedy. People will die and the land is ruined forever."

The audience clapped in support of the woman who was offended by the moment of silence. They also clapped and hooted in positive response for anyone who said that they were "very frightened" about nuclear safety, or that their children were not safe, or that the NRC didn't keep people safe, etc.

My Insight: Opponents of nuclear energy are kind people--as individuals. In this audience, they showed themselves cruel and indifferent to other people's suffering (hey, tsunamis happen) but exquisitely attuned to their own fears.

3) Fact: Signups for speaking were a mess, two years in a row.

Nearly two hundred people came to the Vermont Yankee review meeting this year, and about 45 (including myself) signed up to ask questions. Since there were less than three hours for questions and responses, this was not going to work. Some people were not going to have an opportunity to ask their questions. But which people?

Last year, the NRC had multiple sign-up sheets for questions. You might be the first one to sign up, at the top of a sheet...but be twentieth in line to speak. This made people angry.

This year, you handed in a card. The NRC collected the cards and decided the order in which people spoke. The NRC had elected officials speak first. Next came prominent anti-nuclear activists such as Paul Blanch and Ray Shadis. At that point, one man from Vermont Yankee tried to speak, saying he was an elected union official. The NRC wouldn't let him speak because he wasn't a "real" elected official. The NRC's choices seemed very arbitrary. Not everyone was able to speak.

My Insight:. When running a meeting, you should announce in advance the order in which people will be allowed to speak. The NRC does not do it right. They have lots of practice running meetings so I don't understand the problem. Frustration and anger about speaking must happen at NRC meetings all over the country.

For another overview of the meeting, I recommend this article by Olga Peters of The Commons of Brattleboro.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vermont Website for Entergy Lawsuit: New Information

When I was writing my recent post on how to find briefs on the Entergy/Vermont lawsuit, I went to the Vermont Attorney General's site. However, I only found Vermont briefs on that site. I didn't find Entergy briefs, Friend of the Court filings, etc. However, the website now has a more complete listing of briefs and filings.

I don't know if the non-Vermont briefs are recently-added links, or I just wasn't looking the right place on the website before. However, I am happy to share this more-complete listing!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lawsuit Time: Links to the Legal Briefs

The Lawsuit

In April, Entergy filed suit against Vermont for pre-emption of the federal right to regulate nuclear plants, and for breach of contract. Entergy also filed for an injunction. If granted, the injunction would prevent Vermont from ordering Vermont Yankee to close while the lawsuit and the appeals take place.

On Thursday, June 23, a hearing on the injunction will begin in Federal Court in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Right now, legal actions and filings are multiplying like rabbits.

So Many Briefs, So Little Time

For days, in various places on the web, I have seen links to different briefs on the lawsuit and injunction. These links are not all in the same place, and it is hard to keep track. As aservice, I am writing this blog post of links to the law briefs. This list is not complete, but I haven't seen a better list anywhere else, so here we go.

Meetings, Hearings, and Briefs

NRC Meeting: I want to point out there there is an NRC meeting in Brattleboro on Wednesday night, June 22, Brattleboro High School 6:30 p.m. This is the annual open review for Vermont Yankee, and has nothing to do with the lawsuits. I blogged about it before, but thought I would include a reminder.

First Lawsuit Hearing: The first hearing in the court case will be about the injunction, and will begin Thursday, June 23, Brattleboro District Court, 9 a.m. Here's a link to the Court Calendar for Thursday.

Finding the Briefs: All the briefs in these filings are public records, but they are not always straightforward to obtain. Many legal document come through the PACER system, Public Access to Court Electronic Records, which seems to a paid system of some type. However, some websites (the Commons, the Vermont Law School blog) link to legal briefs, and other websites (Entergy, CLF) put their own briefs on-line. I am including the entire URL to show where the briefs are located.

Links to the Briefs

The main brief for Entergy's contentions in the lawsuit (not the injunction)

Entergy Injunction Brief, through The Commons (Brattleboro newspaper)

The state response to Entergy injunction brief, through Vermont Business Magazine and the State Attorney General. This response comes in several briefs

State general response to the injunction

Declarations in support of the state general response:

Justin E. Kolber

Bruce E. Hinkley

Seth G. Parker

Robert deR. Stein

The Conservation Law Foundation and VPIRG filed a Joint Friend of the Court brief in support of Vermont. It is on the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) website.

Massachusetts filed an Friend of the Court brief in support of Vermont, which is linked through the Vermont Law School blog

The New England Coalition (NEC) Friend of the Court brief in support of Vermont includes about twenty attachments. You can link to them all on the NEC home page

Vermont Sur-Reply, linked through Vermont Law School Blog

Missing Links

I haven't found everything yet.

The Sur-Reply above was based on an Entergy Reply to Vermont's reply to the injunction. I can't find the Entergy reply on which the Sur-Reply was based.

According to the Brattleboro Reformer, this Thursday Entergy filed Proposed Findings of Facts. I have no idea if these Findings of Fact are available on-line, but I know I can't find them.

If the Justice Department or the NRC enter the lawsuit, we can expect more briefs, of course.

Help Wanted

If you know of any links to briefs, please let me know so I can amend and update this post.
While putting this post together, I decided to ask people to please click on the Donate button and join the Energy Education Project ($30). Or at least donate $10 toward the work of informing people about their energy choices. Maybe it was the sight of all these briefs, prepared by highly-paid lawyers and consultants, that made me think of this.

As they say, "Only a lawyer would call an fifty-page document a brief."

Happy reading! Remember to donate!

57th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 57th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers has just been posted at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Dan Yurman assembled, arranged, commented and illustrated this compendium of nuclear energy blogs, and he did a splendid job. Yurman gives the Carnival a compelling story line.

Debunking: Does it Work?

Yurman starts by pointing out all the bogus news stories about nuclear ("weapons-grade plutonium ejected from Fukushima!") that crowd the internet. He then asks the question: Is Debunking nonsense likely to be successful? To answer that question, he refers to my post about Fuel Pools, Cheryl Rofer's post about the fake video about Fukushima, David Bradish of NEI debunking Grist's anti-nuclear campaign (especially the economics). Will Davis at Atomic Power Review describes "How the Misinformation Superhighway Affects Nuclear Energy" in a thoughtful post with many comments. At his own blog, Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman debunks the conspiracy theories around Fort Calhoun plant and the Mississippi River flooding. Meanwhile, Rod Adams points out that the German retreat from nuclear energy will not cause the renewables revolution. At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Ted Rockwell debunks myths about radiation harm.

Jaczko and Safety

NRC Commissioner Jaczko asked for a fifty-mile evacuation zone for Americans in Japan in the early days of Fukushima. Jaczko apparently ignored NRC staff to make this recommendation, and of course, ignores everybody about Yucca Mountain. In the Carnival, Brian Wang at Next Big Future comments on people who are calling for Jaczko's resignation, while Margaret Harding does some digging and concludes that Jaczko is untouchable. The only man who can fire him is President Obama, and Obama won't do it. Obama needs the support of Jaczko's former boss, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Meanwhile, two bloggers talk about real nuclear safety, not the Jaczko version. Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk discusses beefing up safety regulation in Japan. Having worked in Japan on nuclear regulatory issues, Marcus speaks with authority. Meanwhile, at Nuclear Green, Charles Barton assesses the safety of nuclear power (already the safest form of energy production) and how new generations of reactors can improve safety even further. He discusses (debunks) the Vermont Yankee tritium scare, the Fukushima escaping-plutonium excitement, and has a lovely picture of the first test of the storage of used nuclear fuel: the Oklo natural reactor, where nuclear byproducts were retained in place for a billion years. And new types of reactors will be even safer than our current reactors.

Good News

In the spirit of leaving on an upbeat note, Dan finished the post with some good news. Brian Wang describes the Economist Intelligence Unit seeing a decade of growth for nuclear, with capacity 27% higher in 2020 than in 2010. Brian also points out that he has won several bets (for example about the amount of uranium produced in 2010) against nuclear naysayers. Meanwhile, Rick Maltese of Deregulate the Atom looks at what Germany and Switzerland will have to do in terms of land use to substitute renewables for nuclear. And Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy issues talks about the excitement of working with students of nuclear and chemical engineering to solve the problems of the future.

Post Script

Like Brian Wang, I also had a chance to read the Economist Intelligence Unit report on nuclear power worldwide. The Economist titled the report "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back" and that sums it up. In the U. S. we tend to be focused on anti-nuclear sentiment and Jaczko and so forth. The Economist group looked at the whole world, and sees a different picture. Slower growth after Fukushima, but growth nevertheless. A 25% increase within 10 years is important and significant, and I found the Economist report both well done and reassuring.

Yesterday, Rod Adams reviewed Arnie Gundersen's incorrect statements about Fukushima. I wrote about some of these statements in my Fuel Pool post, but Rod reviews more: tiny particles, Gundersen on Al Jareeza, Gundersen's own website. Rod's post, Gundersen Going International, went up yesterday, and already has about 40 comments. I have noticed this rapid-comment phenomenon myself. In my post, Hot Climate and Cold Fish, I showed the folly of Gundersen's claim that there were a total of 16 shad in the Connecticut River. I got thirty comments very quickly, with a high percentage of those comments taking me to task for daring to claim that Arnie could be wrong! At any rate, I recommend Rod's post which is complete, helpful and authoritative.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Silence of Governor Shumlin

Shumlin Speaks

Let's start with Governor Shumlin speaking at a press conference in April, the day after Entergy filed suit against Vermont.

In the video below, at the one-minute mark, a reporter asks Shumlin if he regrets his comments on nuclear safety. The reporter notes that the Entergy suit quotes some of Shumlin's comments (on Vermont Yankee safety) as examples of state pre-emption of federal regulatory powers.

Shumlin answers that he never talked about safety, just reliability. Shumlin then puts his foot firmly in his mouth, saying the plant is "leaking radon into the ground" and other radiological non-sequiturs. In other words, Shumlin talks about radiation safety.

If I were Shumlin's lawyer at that point, I would have told him to shut up. Instead, my attitude was: "Go, Shumlin! Keep talking! Keep that foot in place!"

(This is a video from the website of True North Reports, of a Shumlin press conference on April 22, the day after Entergy filed suit against the state. I also featured this video on an earlier blog post.)

Shumlin Stops Speaking

A few days later, on May 5, Shumlin was supposed to appear on a radio show about Vermont Yankee. He didn't appear. Shumlin claimed he needed to visit the Lake Champlain flood damage at that time. (I mentioned this in my post on the Vermont Law School blog.)

I don't believe that that was Shumlin's reason for canceling his appearance on the show. I think he had gotten the message from his lawyers: "The state is being sued. You are not doing the state's case any good with your comments!"

I am not as important a person as Governor Shumlin, and I can persuade radio programs to meet my scheduling needs when they want me to appear on their programs. If I can do this, so can Shumlin. If the Governor had wanted to talk about Vermont Yankee, the program would have been re-scheduled for when the Governor was available.

The program was not rescheduled.

Shumlin hasn't said a word about Vermont Yankee since then. Shumlin talks about health care, cigarette taxes, schools. But not about Vermont Yankee.


It's so nice and quiet nowadays. Shumlin is nice and quiet.

I don't miss Shumlin's rants about Entergy Louisiana and their thieving ways. I was tired of his endless statements about the dangers of strontium in the groundwater--no strontium had ever been detected in the groundwater. I was tired of hearing his nasty innuendo and his fractured facts--repeated over and over.

I think Shumlin has gone quiet for the duration of the lawsuit.

My peonies were spectacular, and Shumlin has shut up about Vermont Yankee. It is shaping up to be a lovely summer, despite all the rain. Great peonies; quiet Shumlin. Who could ask for anything more?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fuel Pools

The video above was taken by a robot camera at the Unit 4 Fuel Pool at Fukushima in late April. At Fukushima Unit 4, there was no fuel in the core, and all the fuel had been off-loaded to the fuel pool. In the video, we can see that there is rubble on top of the fuel racks, but the racks themselves are in good order. Yesterday, the NRC announced that the spent fuel pool at Unit Four probably did not go dry. Today, Rod Adams of Atomic Insights has an excellent post on this subject, including videos and links to the NRC announcement.

Now, most of the nuclear commentators will focus on the Big Issues. Why did Jaczko think the fuel pools were dry? How did Jaczko's statements affect U. S./Japanese relationships? These are big questions.

I'll look at a smaller question which is relevent to Vermont Yankee. Did any of the Fukushima fuel pools go critical?

Fuel Pool Criticality: The Gundersen Version

On Monday, April 18, Arnie Gundersen said "it could be that the fuel pool had a self-sustaining chain reaction." (Unit 4 pool) However, as you can see in the video above, everything looks pretty darn orderly in the fuel pool, with the exception of the debris from the roof lying around. The racks and water look stable. This is not how things look after an un-controlled chain reaction.

On April 26, Arnie Gunderson suggests that the Unit 3 fuel pool went critical. He says that the nature of the Unit 3 explosion proves that the cause was not a hydrogen explosion. He says that a hydrogen explosion would only be a deflagration (burning) not a detonation (explosion) He suggests that a "prompt nuclear reaction" caused the dramatic detonation at Unit 3, because a hydrogen deflagration just "can't do it."

Fuel Pool Criticality: Nope

However, the existence of an explosion is not proof that fission took place. There were plenty of explosions before nuclear fission was even considered a scientific possibility. Nobel and dynamite and all that.

Also, though hydrogen usually burns (deflagrates) hydrogen can detonate, especially in a enclosed area, such as a reactor building. Turbulence around existing piping can also cause hydrogen to detonate. Gundersen's kindly-uncle description of detonation and deflagration is fine, but the idea that hydrogen "can't do it" (detonate) is incorrect.

Since nuclear opponents often believe that Gundersen is always right, I thought I would point out that in this case (as in many others) he was wrong. There is no evidence for criticality in any of the fuel pools.

There's a whole subculture of hydrogen explosions on Youtube. Here's a hydrogen and oxygen balloons. Detonating. Not deflagrating. Detonating.

Consensus at the Meeting

I attended an American Nuclear Society local meeting earlier this week. The general consensus was that the Unit 3 and Unit 4 explosions were hydrogen explosions, and the hydrogen was generated within the overheated reactor of Unit 3. Also, no criticalities (fission reactions) occurred in either fuel pool. Unit 3 and 4 share an off-gas venting stack, and the explosion in Unit 4 was probably from hydrogen that had migrated over from Unit 3 through the shared stack.

You understand that we don't know everything yet, so nobody is claiming anything for sure. Still, there were a lot of smart people in the room at the NRC meeting, and this was the consensus after an excellent presentation and a lot of questions.

Vermont Yankee opponents are sure to promote the idea that Fukushima proves that the Vermont Yankee fuel pool is a nuclear explosion just about to happen. They get confirmation on this belief from Gundersen's videos. It's time to point out that those videos are wrong.
  • Hydrogen can, indeed, detonate.
  • Fuel pools don't go critical.
That's just the way it is. The accident sequences are what you would expect. It is important to avoid hydrogen explosions, but hydrogen explosions are just hydrogen explosions. They don't turn fuel pools into nuclear bombs.

Updates: In a post today, Cheryl Rofer debunks the bogus Internet video on Unit 4 fuel pool which shows Cerenkov radiation (in black and white, no less!) as well as other absurdities.

That big explosion at Unit 3 could have been a deflagration or a detonation. It was certainly caused by hydrogen, not fission.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Legislative Shakedown of Entergy. Plus A Song About the Master of the House

The Commerce Clause and the Insistence on a "Good Deal"

The legislators who were against the plant's continued operation probably realized (at some level of their minds) that constantly decrying the plant's safety might get them into trouble vis-a-vis the NRC.

So, for many of the legislators, a favorite statement was some variation of : "I won't vote for the plant continuing to run unless they give Vermont a good deal." Or, alternatively: "They haven't given Vermont a good enough deal, yet."

The legislators made it abundantly clear, on many occasions, that the State of Vermont was not going to let Vermont Yankee operate unless Entergy gave Vermont utilities a better deal than they give out-of-state customers.

That was equivalent was putting a tariff on goods shipped out of state, which is illegal according to the Commerce clause of the Constitution. As one on-line legal definition states: "The Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to regulate commerce in order to ensure that the flow of interstate commerce is free from local restraints imposed by various states."

As the Entergy lawsuit brief says: “Vermont officials have further stated that they might condition any favorable exercise of the state’s supposed licensing authority upon the wholesale sale of power generated by the Vermont Yankee Station to Vermont retail utilities at preferential rates compared to the rates charged by non-Vermont retail utilities.”

“This condition coerces Plaintiff [Entergy] to enter into below market power purchase agreements with Vermont’s retail utilities that will effectively result in [Vermont Yankee] and out of state consumers subsidizing the electric bills of Vermont’s consumers.”

There's another side to this issue, not about Vermont Yankee or even the U.S. Constitution. "They have to give us a better deal or else they are gone" is a form of political coercion. In other words, a shakedown.

The Shakedown

John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute wrote an article about this: Shumlin's Vermont Yankee Coercion Scheme. The article has appeared at True North Reports, Vermont Digger and Vermont Tiger.

Whatever happens in the lawsuit or with Vermont Yankee, this action of the legislature makes it clear to employers and businessmen what they can expect at the hands of the State of Vermont. We don't welcome employers in Vermont. We shake them down for all they've got. "Give Vermont the deal we want, or we'll shut you down."

In the past, I was annoyed at the fact that Shumlin always emphasized that Entergy is a "Louisiana Company". He frequently stated some variation of: "We don't do things in Vermont the way they do in Louisiana." I wondered what other out-of-state companies would think of this. Would they come to Vermont to set up a factory? Would they be attacked as "That's a Delaware company. We don't do things in Vermont the way they do in Delaware" ? Would an out-of-state company even consider coming to Vermont?

Vermont has attacked a major out of state company for---being from out-of-state. It has also coerced that company: "you can't operate here unless you give us the deal we want."

Whichever way the Entergy lawsuit goes, this way of treating employers does does not portend a bright future for Vermont. Nobody likes a shakedown.

A Song

I headed this post with a song about extracting money from the people you supposedly serve: "Master of the House" from Les Mis. For my purposes, the song should be titled "Master of Vermont," since the House, the Senate and the Governor were all involved in the shakedown. It's not fair to just pick on the House. (small lame pun...)

Note and Disclosure: The Energy Education Project that I direct is part of the Ethan Allen Institute, co-founded by John McClaughry.

Monday, June 13, 2011

56th Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The 56th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at NEI Nuclear Notes, and David Bradish has done a terrific job of putting it together.


This week's carnival includes lots of juicy political stuff, such as Dan Yurman's post in Idaho Samizdat about how Jaczko manipulated the internal process in order to stop Yucca Mountain. (Hey, that was Jaczko's job, after all!) Rod Adams describes the NRC caving to an email attack by Friends of the Earth. Rick Maltese (Deregulate the Atom blog) gives credit where it is due: INPO (Institute for Nuclear Power Operations) and WANO (World Association of Nuclear Operators) are self-regulatory nuclear organization who can tack much credit for the nuclear industry's excellent record on safety. I talk about Vermont Law School and its blog, and Steve Aplin reviews negotiations with Iran (and the situation in Libya).

New Types of Plants, and New Builds

Despite what people think, new builds are popping up all over, and the Carnival describes several. At Cool Hand Nuke, Jeff Madison, describes the move toward completion of the TVA's Bellefonte plant. Construction was halted in the late 80s. Dan Yurman posts that Areva plans to push spent fuel recycling plans in the United States. Charles Barton at Nuclear Green compares Advanced High Temperature Reactors with renewable energy in his post: Why is Renewable Energy so Expensive, while Molten Salt Reactors will be so Cheap? At Neutron Economy, Alan Rominger and Steve Skutnik describe charter cities built around small modular reactors. Brian Wang at Next Big Future describes advances in plasma research for fusion.

Germany, Germany, Germany

Once again, Germany has decided to shut down its nuclear plants, sometime in the future, and several bloggers have comments. (Comments is a nice word, so neutral...) Margaret Harding describes Germany's Nuclear Game of Chicken while Michele Kearney at Nuclear Wire and Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk count the costs. Brian Wang points out that nuclear generation is higher this year than last year, in the developing countries. (This includes the fact that Japan is making less nuclear power, with so many reactors off-line for so long.) Rod Adams takes a crack at the "golden age of natural gas" (and how will Germany feel about buying lots of gas from Russia?)


Only one post on Japan, but it's a good one. Will Davis at Atomic Power Review has a Fukishima update with great pictures. Highly recommended.

Come to the Carnival! It's always a treat!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Manufacturing and Fuel Cycle in France: AREVA and Nuclear Communicators

A year ago this week, I was in France at an AREVA-sponsored trip for pro-nuclear bloggers. We saw the entire fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment, reprocessing, and waste vitrification. I was very glad to be invited to see these things with my own eyes.

The trip was inspiring. I began solid friendships with other pro-nuclear bloggers, and visited a country that embraces clean air, good food, and nuclear power. Here are some of the things I saw and learned on the trip.

Improved Manufacturing: Support Plates as Giant Jewelry

A PWR steam generator has tubes carrying water from the reactor: these tubes pass through support plates which hold them in place. The illustration above is a set of steam generator support plates, manufactured at AREVA's facility at Chalon.

Part of the time I worked in nuclear power, I was in the Steam Generator Owner's Group at EPRI. In those days, support plates were rather crude things built of relatively low-quality steel. The holes for the tubes were either "drilled" or "punched" and the quality control wasn't particularly good. These support plates caused problems for PWR reliability.

Now, steam generators are being replaced in many PWRs, and AREVA is building some of the new ones. Modern support plates are high quality steel, and each tube opening is carefully made, measured and polished. As one person on the trip described it: "These support plates are like huge pieces of jewelry." Yes. Precision jewelry.

We have not built new plants in this country, but the nuclear industry has made amazing progress in building new and better components for existing plants. I am glad I was able to see this.

Fuel Shipment: Porcupines Coming Down the Road

In America, we keep spent fuel in on-site fuel pools, and move it slowly into dry cask storage. In France, there's a huge central fuel pool at La Hague at the recycling facility (at left). The pool is in the facility where the spent fuel is processed into new fuel.

How does the used fuel got to that big facility? On my trip, I learned the simple answer: used fuel moves by road and by rail.

The used-fuel shipment containers are shown at the right. These containers are extremely sturdy, can be hit by locomotives without breaking, etc. The French hold used fuel at the reactor site for less than two years (usually). Therefore, French shipping containers carry fuel which is physically hot. The container looks a bit like a porcupine. Vanes stick out to promote cooling and heat transfer.

In this country, we tend to get tunnel vision. We think that fuel cannot possibly be moved until it has cooled in a local fuel pool for at least five years. When I went to France, I realized that is just a choice we have made. Fuel is moved much sooner in France, and very safely.

Meeting People and Friendship

I have to finish with a view of the group in front of the Melox facility which manufactures MOx fuel. To the left is our guide from Melox: then Steve Aplin (wearing shades) of Canadian Energy Issues: Jack Gamble of Nuclear Fissionary: Rod Adams (also wearing shades) of Atomic Insights: Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: Jarret Adams of AREVA and the AREVA North America Next Energy blog, and me.

Friendship was the greatest gift of the trip.

Post Script about the Anniversary:

I keep a Levenger five-year journal. Among other things, that means I always know what I was doing on the same day last year. I find the five-year-journal's short format very informative. It helps me understand what I wanted, what I did, and how I succeeded or failed. It's also useful for figuring out when my favorite flowers are likely to bloom.

I used to do more elaborate journaling, but I never wanted to re-read the stuff I wrote. While the extensive writing helped me at some level, it didn't inform me as I moved forward in my life. In contrast, a five-year journal is more like a log book, and I thoroughly recommend having one. If you buy a five year journal, buy a good one, like the Levenger journal. After all, it has to last five years. (I get no money from Levenger from this endorsement!)

All illustrations on this post are courtesy of AREVA.

Update: Thanks for the link, Jarret! A Trip Down Memory Lane at the AREVA blog.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Local Meetings and a Revised Website for Vermont Yankee

Information about the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan meetings and the NRC Vermont Yankee review meeting.

Also, welcome to the revised Vermont Yankee website.

The Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, Thursday June 9, Springfield Vermont

If you remember, newly-elected Governor Shumlin was shocked to discover that Vermont's energy plan included Vermont Yankee past 2012. As Governor Shumlin requested, the Department of Public Service is putting a new plan together. The Governor hopes to have the new Comprehensive Energy Plan on his desk by this fall. Here's the DPS web page about the plan, including links to various drafts.

Update: At first, I couldn't find the meeting information on the DPS web site.. However, there is a link to the meetings on the DPS web page. I thank Ed Delhagen of DPS for sending it to me. Forums to Focus on State Comprehensive Energy Plan Update.

I first learned about the meetings because I received an email as a member of the Hartford Township Energy Commission. The meetings are open to the public. I encourage people to attend the planning meetings and make public statements in favor of the energy type you choose (nuclear, I hope!)

I will be at the June 9 meeting highlighted below.
June Forums to Focus on State Comprehensive Energy Plan Update

***Your input is needed!***

Goal: Comprehensive Energy Plan to be Completed & on Governor’s desk by Oct 15;

Implementation of VT’s Energy Plan is the central piece of this work!

Community energy committee leaders, planners and the general public are all invited to attend one of the following:

  • June 1 Montpelier 6-9 p.m. National Life. Co-hosted by the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission and Two Rivers Ottauquechee Planning Commission
  • June 9 Springfield - Riverside Middle School 6-9 p.m. In cooperation with Windham Regional Commission, Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission and the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Planning Commission
  • June 16 Rutland Leahy Center at Rutland Regional Medical Center 6-9 p.m. Co-hosted by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, Addison County Regional Planning Commission and Bennington County Planning Commission
  • June 28 - Colchester - Colchester High School - 6- 9 pm

(Email from Bob Walker of SERG. Thank you to Mr. Walker for sending this email.)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Annual Review Meeting June 22

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold the annual review meeting about Vermont Yankee at Brattleboro High School on June 22, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. To find out more about the meeting, go to the NRC website. There's a calendar headed Public Meetings: if you click on June 22, you can find out more about the meeting. The agenda is:

  • Introduction Discussion of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station performance in 2010(10 minutes)
  • Discussion of U.S. plant safe operation in light of Japan event (10 minutes)
  • NRC to address public questions (time as needed)
  • Closing Remarks (5 minutes)
These meetings are great gathering places for plant opponents. Sometimes their remarks are quite humorous. Last year there was an exchange about "Was the fish alive when you caught it?" Or had the fish died of radiation poisoning first?

Plant supporters are often too intimidated to show up. If you can show up and make a public comment before the NRC, it can balance the situation at least a little. I plan to be there.

A Modern Website for Vermont Yankee

Vermont Yankee has put some time and thought into its message in the past few months. The Vermont Yankee website has been totally revamped recently.
The new website is much more appealing, and includes links and an email sign-up area. Vermont Yankee is also on Twitter now @Vermont_Yankee. As far as I can tell, they joined Twitter yesterday. Check out the new media!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A New Blog at Vermont Law School

The Announcement

Two days ago, Vermont Law School (VLS) announced they were starting a blog about the Vermont Yankee law suit. The announcement was quickly picked up by the Burlington Free Press, and you can read the Law School blog here. I have also added it to my blog roll.

As a blogger, I would call it a weak blog. That is not a comment on the views expressed but on the shallowness of the blogging. There' s one blog post by Pat Parentau, there's a reprint of a Vermont Public Radio interview with Entergy's lawyer, Cheryl Hanna, and there are links to several posts by Donald Kreis. These posts previously appeared in Vermont Digger: the most recent of these posts is An Inconvenient Truth: Entergy Might Win.

I feel as if someone at VLS said: "You know, we should be blogging about that lawsuit. We've been advising the legislature about it forever, so we should really get out there with a blog." So they threw some old posts together, and presto, a blog!

Radio Mistakes

So far, the VLS blog doesn't have much value-added, but that may improve. Pat Parentau's post is new content, at least. I find Parentau's arguments a bit muddy. However, I am also prejudiced by the fact that he made so many mistakes on a radio show recently.

Parentau was on WCFR on May 5, along with some friends of mine such as John McClaughry. On that show, Parentau claimed that several things had "disillusioned" Vermonters and caused Vermont to pass Act 160. (Act 160 took power from the Public Service Board and gave it to the legislature.)

According to Parentau, three things that caused the legislature to pass Act 160 were:
  • the cooling tower collapse (2007),
  • the tritium leak (2010)
  • the "lies" about the underground pipes (2009).
However, Act 160 was passed in 2006, before any of these things happened!

I have a hard time taking a person seriously when he has the event sequence completely backwards. I couldn't believe my ears, and had to check with other people who were listening to the radio program. Did Parentau really say those things? The other people said that they heard what I had heard. However, I hope that WCFR posts a tape or transcript of the show so I can check further.

The VLS Blog Could Be Good

VLS started a blog. It isn't very good. So why do I care?

The problem is that the lawsuit situation in Vermont is getting out of hand. Lawsuits are breeding like rabbits--the kind of rabbits that live where there aren't enough natural predators. I want to blog about the lawsuits, but I am feeling overwhelmed by the number of legal actions (and by the fact that I'm a not a lawyer, I'm a chemist). Here's a list of existing lawsuits as I understand them now.
  • The main Entergy lawsuit against Vermont
  • The Entergy request for injunction, so that Vermont does not take action while the main lawsuit is pending
  • Vermont's answer to the request for injunction.
  • Massachusetts joining the main lawsuit on the side of Vermont.
  • Various groups (VPIRG, NEC, CLF) attempting to enter the main Entergy lawsuit on the side of Vermont (as intervenors) and being turned down by the court.
  • The same groups filing Amicus Curiae briefs.
  • A separate lawsuit claiming that Entergy didn't apply for a water quality permit. This lawsuit is against Entergy, brought by another state agency in Vermont.
  • Various groups bringing actions against the NRC, saying that they shouldn't have given Entergy a license extension because of the supposed lack of water permit, or Fukushima, or something. I lose track of these anti-NRC actions very easily. They come so fast and furious around here.
There's more. The Attorney General of Vermont is preparing some kind of suit about the piping. Just a bit late, hey? Also, I think the state passed a Bill of Attainder against Entergy and I want to blog about that.

I would welcome a respectable blog by lawyers about the Vermont Yankee legal situation, even though the VLS lawyers are on the other side of the fence. What I see is something quite different. The VLS blog is a "we should be blogging, right?" blog, practically devoid of content, except for reprints of old articles.

Oh well. I think it is going to be up to me to blog about all these rabbits--I mean, all these lawsuits. I hope the VLS blog can become useful, but so far...well, not really.

55th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Today I am hosting the 55th Carnival of Nuclear Energy, bloggers look at the world, including Saudi Arabia, Germany, and what kind of Lessons Learned are possible at this point from Fukushima. It's truly a feast of information!

Germany and the Czech Republic

At Idaho Samzdat, Dan Yurman describes Germany's Nuclear Energy Panic Attack.

Shortly after the extent of the damage to reactors at Fukushima became apparent, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was reversing her policy of keeping the nation’s oldest reactors open beyond 2022. A deal put in place by her predecessor called for the eventual closure of all 17 reactors by that date.

There is no middle ground in the nuclear debate in Germany. Anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany runs high with polls showing as much as 70% of the population says "no thank you" to nuclear power.

Some sentiment among Green Party members calls for a reduction in Germany's industrial economy and a return to a life style of "off the grid" villages in natural ecosystems. Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, the utility is moving ahead with its reactor projects, planning three to five new reactors. Perhaps Germans won't have to live "off the grid" after all. There's always "nuclear colonialism." If a neighbor country like the Czech Republic builds nuclear plants, there's nothing wrong with Germany buying the power, right? The map to the right shows a potential nuclear colony of Germany. Much more complete analysis in Yurman's post.

Fukushima Fuel Pools (Red Herrings)

In her blog post, Nuclear Power and the Witch Hunt, Margaret Harding shows that the spent fuel pools at Fukushima are a witch story. They didn’t burn, they did run out of water and caused problems for TEPCO, but we should not over-react in the need to “fix” a problem that isn’t there. There is risk that a fix could create other issues.

Harding's post includes a video of Unit 4 fuel pool, showing the pool intact, the fuel rods intact, the fuel racks intact, and debris in the water from the explosion at Unit 4. Harding is in touch with people in Japan who are figuring out what caused the explosion at that unit: clearly not the fuel pool. Harding notes that we may well have to rethink our fuel storage, but we should do it on the basis of facts, not witch hunts.

The NRC and Nuclear Power

In Nuclear Sanity and Nuclear Insanity, Will Davis of Atomic Power Review describes the evolution of nuclear thinking world-wide (Germany wants to shut down its nuclear plants, Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 nuclear plants) and in the United States. As he points out, we can expect 40 million tonnes more CO2 in the air each year if Germany closes down its nuclear plants. Davis describes the role that nuclear bloggers and others might take to change the NRC's position from insanity (we must PROVE we are doing EVERYTHING possible) to some level of sanity. His post is a call to action.

The Future of Energy in Europe and Arabia

In a series of posts at Next Big Future, Brian Wang describes Saudi Arabia building 16 nuclear reactors by 2030 and Lithuania building two. As usual, his well-referenced post is a pleasure to read.

Wang also notes that Desertec plans to build terrawatts of wind and solar power in North Africa. Desertec is a proposal to build terawatts of wind and solar power in North Africa, which is Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and other countries. This proposal would be to spend $600 billion or more to build wind farms and solar farms in the same politically unstable area where OPEC is now to provide about 17% of europe power needs by 2050. About 110% of the current world nuclear power generation. (2,940 TWh per year). The detailed financial and technical proposal is due in 2012. So currently it is a back of napkin proposal and they hope to progress to vaporware in 2012, all for a bad idea for Europe to fund a solar and wind OPEC by 2050.

Wang describes the consequences to Switzerland and Germany if they phase out nuclear power. Electricity costs will go up and Germany will depend more on coal and fossil fuel.

In another post, Wang points out that instant-phase-out of nuclear power in Germany is running into some snags. German Utility Eon is taking action to recover tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue that will result from the German decision to shut down nuclear prematurely.

That's the trouble when governments take unilateral action without due process. They get sued. Happens in Vermont and it happens in Germany.
  • Due Process: it's what makes governments into governments, not tyrants.
  • Lawsuits: they are what keep governments from becoming tyrants.

All in all, this Carnival is perfect for a summer evening's reading!


The 54th Blog Carnival was hosted at Idaho Samizdat last week. It includes good news about thorium reactors, discussions about the NRC, and an analysis of passive cooling for small modular reactors. Worth reading! (I had serious internet connection problems last week and was not able to blog or even email, most of the week.)