Sunday, July 31, 2011

63rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The 63rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Next Big Future. Several of the posts are about the Vermont Yankee refueling decision.
  • Margaret Harding, formerly of GE, does a careful analysis of whether the fuel rods could be used at another plant (not easily, not cost-effectively).
  • Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat puts the matter bluntly: Entergy has placed a $100 million dollar bet, despite a hostile political climate.
  • And of course, I write about the refueling decision at Yes Vermont Yankee. I explain why I thought Entergy wouldn't place the big bet, and how glad I am that they bought the fuel.
But the world does not revolve completely around Vermont Yankee. There's also regulation.
  • Margaret Harding analyzes nuclear regulation and politics. The choices do not make her happy: the Department of Energy is misnamed (too much of its work is military), NRC has become politicized (hello, Chairman Reid...I mean...Chairman Jaczko) and it is unlikely that IAEA will step up to the plate effectively.
  • Dan Yurman at ANS Nuclear Cafe has a multi-part post in which nuclear energy professionals comment on the NRC task force recommendations for regulatory change.
  • Atomic Power Review describes how the nuclear regulation scandal is widening in Japan.
Many of the other posts are about new builds, new designs, and some sales:
  • At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman asks if Canada gave away the store int its sale of AECL
  • At Next Big Future, Brian Wang reports on the evolution of the Terrapower Traveling Wave Reactor, partially funded by Bill Gates of Microsoft. The design has gotten simpler. It looks more like a regular reactor nowadays. (Who wudda thought?)
  • Rod Adams of Atomic Insights encourages building new reactors instead of wind turbines. One of the clear problems with wind energy was shown in the recent heat wave. When it's really hot and muggy, the wind is quiet, too. It wouldn't be so hot and muggy if there were a nice breeze...
  • Next Big Future describes the continuing work on the new Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor in South Korea.
  • Meredith Angwin, publishing on a local news blog, explains that Vermont Senator Sanders doesn't just dislike Vermont Yankee, he hates everything nuclear. He's proud of being the only person on his Senate committee to vote against research funding for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).
Finally, in the great tradition of Ratatouille (the film, not the food), Nutcracker Publishing announces a children's book about nuclear energy. In this book, hard-working rats explain how a nuclear power plant works. It may be the first children's book that is not anti-nuclear.

Come to the Carnival! News, opinions, ideas, no cotton candy! A treat for old and young!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting Ready for the Trial: Entergy Withdraws Email Request

This video was posted by Vermont Digger on June 3, 2010, at a Shumlin press conference. The two speakers are Peter Shumlin and Shap Smith, respectively the President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and the Speaker of the House. These are key Vermont legislators. They are expressing their concerns about Entergy. All their concerns are with existing and possible leaks of tritium and strontium and cesium and...all kinds of radioactivity.

In face, there was only a tritium leak: Shumlin's statements about radioactive strontium in children's teeth is sheer grandstanding. (See note below* for more on strontium.)

A reporter asks about the NRC (about 1:30 seconds into the video), and Shumlin answers that in his opinion, the NRC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nuclear industry. In other words, it is up to Vermont legislators like Shumlin and Shap to protect the people of Vermont from leaking radiation.

The Minds of Vermont Legislators

I have posted this ancient video because one of the key points of the Entergy lawsuit against Vermont is that the Vermont legislature based its assessment of the plant on safety, particularly radiation safety. Judgments of radiation safety are reserved to the NRC, not the states, by federal law.

Determining legislative intent is an important aspect of the litigation. That is: what were legislators thinking when they voted to keep the plant from operating?

To understand this intent, Entergy requested many legislative emails. Today, the Brattleboro Reformer reported that Judge Murtha denied Entergy's request for emails. The Reformer article reports that Entergy wanted ten years worth of emails. However, Entergy's request took place in a closed session with the Judge. I am reserving judgment on how many emails Entergy requested. There may be more information later on this subject. At any rate, Entergy will not obtain the emails it requested.

Did Entergy Need the Emails?

I am not a lawyer, and it is possible that Entergy would have found a fabulous smoking gun in one of those emails ("That plant is not SAFE, we must CLOSE it!") On the other hand, to my not-a-lawyer brain, the video above shows the same thing. The video is evidence that the Senate and House were deciding about Vermont Yankee on the basis of radiation safety. I mean, Shumlin and Shap say it, over and over. The claim they have to do something about the radiation leaks (and possible leaks and leaks of material that never actually leaked) from this plant. They have to do it, not the NRC.

Shumlin wasn't hiding his motivations. Neither was Shap Smith. If Judge Murtha just watches this five-minute video of our two leading Vermont legislators, it's probably as good as all the emails in the world. And shorter, too.


* More about Strontium

Right at the source of the leak, some strontium was found in soil. About two pick-up trucks of soil contaminated with strontium was removed from that spot and disposed in a low-level waste repository. Right around the leak, the water may have carried a small amount of particulate that never got very far: the soil acted as a filter, catching the particulate. Or the water may have carried a small amount of dissolved strontium that was quickly caught by the clay minerals of the soil, the soil again acting as a filter. At any rate, there was no further strontium detected further away in the soil, and none was ever detected in any well-water on site.

Shumlin and Smith speak as if the groundwater was contaminated with strontium and unsafe for children. This just was not so. There was never any strontium found in well-water. These claims are Shumlin and Smith drawing ignorant conclusions about radiation safety. The short description of their actions is "grandstanding."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Facebook Page for Save Vermont Yankee. Yes VY and Technorati

Like Save Vermont Yankee! Please Like the Page!

Facebook, in their eternal wisdom, decided that Groups have few members and Pages have many fans. This is moderately interesting, unless you are an administrator on a Group that is Too Big (around 1200 members) and gets "archived." The Group was Save Vermont Yankee and most people can still see it (I can't) but we can't do much with it.

So Cavan Stone and I started a Facebook Page, also called Save Vermont Yankee. Unfortunately, Facebook has hidden the Group membership list (yeah, stupid of them, so tell me about it). The new Page has about five fans right now. Please Like it by clicking the new Facebook button at the top right of this page!

Actually, I think the Page will be more flexible than the Group was, but transitions are difficult.


Just as I was beginning to feel defeated by Internet technology (or maybe by Facebook) I got a nice email from a friend. He had encouraged me to register my blog on Technorati. I registered it last month and promptly forgot about it.

My friend emailed me yesterday and said: "Wow, your blog is doing great. Lovely authority numbers and in the top 100 Green blogs." (There are about 9000 Green blogs on Technorati) Here's a link to the blog at number 75 (but Technorati changes rankings every day)

Glad my friend told me!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

About Entergy's Decision to Buy Fuel: Shaffer on WCAX and Angwin at ANS Nuclear Cafe

Entergy decided to buy fuel for Vermont Yankee. A good video about the decision shows Howard Shaffer being interviewed at his home on Mascoma Lake by WCAX. Don Kreis of Vermont Law School is also interviewed. Kreis says that plant opponents should not be too overjoyed with the injunction ruling. (Kreis is a plant opponent).

Meanwhile, I have a post on the subject today at ANS Nuclear Cafe. In this post,Vermont Yankee, Refueling, and Solving the Problem of Intermittent Energy Sources, I expand my Vermont Yankee outlook to include New Hampshire. Vermont will purchase power from the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire. I comment on the fact that a local green-energy company (SustainX) will move to Seabrook to obtain inexpensive power for its operation.

As a bonus, I would like to recommend Shay Totten's blog on the subject (Totten blogs for 7 Days, a Vermont weekly newspaper) and Malt Wald's well-researched blog for the New York Times. Wald quotes Margaret Harding, one of my early Blue Ribbon winners. Harding, a consultant who is a former manager at General Electric's Boiling Water Reactor Owner's Group, is an authority on everything related to BWRs.

Enjoy watching and reading!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vermont Yankee Will Refuel!

I was wrong. In a post a few hours ago, I said that I predicted that Entergy would not order fuel for the October outage. I thought they would look at Judge Murtha's ruling denying Entergy an injunction. I thought they would decide that the positive things Murtha said about their main case were not grounds enough to place a $60 million dollar bet by ordering fuel.

This morning, Entergy announced that it will order fuel to be loaded in the October outage.

Reading the Entergy press release, it is clear that Entergy did not base their decision on a tea-leaf analysis of Judge Murtha's words about the injunction. Instead, Entergy's assessed the strength of their own case. Good for them!

Entergy looked at the big picture and the law itself. Meanwhile, I let myself get caught up in microscopic examination of Murtha's statements and whether Murtha's statements were enough basis for ordering fuel.

I am glad to have been wrong about this! I am glad Entergy is ordering fuel!

(Also, I would not recommend hiring me as a fortune teller. If you were thinking of doing so, don't do it.)

Part of the press release is quoted below:

New Orleans, La. – Today Entergy Corporation (NYSE: ETR) communicated to its employees that the company's board of directors voted to approve the fabrication of fuel and the refueling of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in October. This will be the plant's 29th refueling.

While the company has received a 20-year license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state of Vermont has refused to grant a certificate of public good to continue operating beyond March 21, 2012. That issue is currently being litigated before the U.S. District Court for the state of Vermont.

"Entergy's board of directors carefully reviewed the merits of our case and the arguments put forth by all parties during the recent hearing in District Court when we requested a preliminary injunction against the state of Vermont taking any actions to close Vermont Yankee," said J. Wayne Leonard, Entergy's chairman and chief executive officer. "Our board believes both the merits of the company's legal position and the record strongly support its decision to continue to trial scheduled to begin on Sep. 12. On that basis, the decision was made to move forward with the refueling as planned."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Predictions on Vermont Yankee: I Don't Think They Will Order Fuel, and It's All About the Lawsuit

I decided to make some predictions, since everyone else is making predictions about Vermont Yankee. The question:

Will Vermont Yankee order fuel for the October outage?

My Prediction: Vermont Yankee will not order fuel

In a hearing in late June, Vermont Yankee asked the Federal Court in Brattleboro (Judge Murtha) for an injunction to prevent the state from shutting down the plant while the main Entergy v. Vermont lawsuit was in progress. Judge Murtha did not grant the injunction, which means that Vermont Yankee has to make its decision on re-ordering fuel for the October outage without knowing if it will be allowed to operate past March of next year.

Vermont Yankee said that they had to place the fuel order by July 23 to be able to hold the next outage in October. The choices for VY are:
  • Order fuel (about $60 million dollars worth) and perhaps not be able to use it because it is 18 months worth of fuel and the plant may be shut down in March (six months after refueling)
  • Don't order fuel, and run out of fuel in October
VY was expected to order fuel by July 23. Everyone was waiting to see if they would order. However, on Friday, July 22, Larry Smith of Entergy made this statement to the press: "There will be no announcement from Entergy today about anything," And so the weekend has gone by in silence about the fuel order.

Vermont Yankee opponents disagree on whether or not they will order fuel, but most seem to think they will order it. In a blog post by Terri Hallenbeck at the Burlington Free Press, Arnie Gundersen said that ordering fuel was not actually so big a gamble, because the fuel could be used at a different plant. Bob Stannard, another opponent, expects that VY will buy the fuel and "keep going like nothing happened." Meanwhile, over at Vermont Digger, representatives from another opponent group claim VY hasn't made a profit recently, and it should "know when to fold'em." This group stops short, however, of saying that Entergy will not buy fuel.

It's All About the Ruling

I think they won't order fuel. One assumption opponents seem to make is that Entergy asking for an injunction was a big bluff, and the judge called the bluff. Others predict VY will buy the fuel, and VY asking for an injunction was "all a bluff" or "making threats to the judge" or whatever.

I don't think it was a bluff. I am making my prediction because VY hasn't announced yet. What is the delay?
  • Entergy knew its cost structure and the price of fuel ages ago. No new information there.
  • The only new information recently was the judge's ruling, which went against Entergy, but also gave reasons to believe he agreed with some of Entergy's arguments.
The judge said Entergy had a business decision to make, complicated by litigation. No. It's all a litigation decision at this point. What did the judge mean in his ruling? Are the judge's statements strong enough to take a $60 million gamble? That is what Entergy has been wrestling with all week, in my opinion.

I think Entergy will take a middle course. They won't order fuel, but they won't throw in the towel, either. They will continue with the litigation, and assuming they win, they will order fuel then.

It seems to take between two and three months to get fuel ordered, but plants can go into lay-up for that length of time. That is expensive, but not killer, if you are going to run for another twenty years. The plant would have a four month outage in October, rather than a one-month outage.

On the other hand, faced with a four-month outage, they might indeed choose not to continue even with the court case. I don't like this scenario, but it is a possible consequence of the judge's ruling.

In other words, I think the judge did "call Entergy's bluff." Except that Entergy wasn't bluffing about the need for the injunction.

My Hope

I hope that today or tomorrow will prove me wrong.

Also: I think people know this, but I think I better re-state it now. I have NO inside information from Entergy. I base my blogs on what I read in the paper and on-line, public meetings I attend, and occasional private emails from people interested in the plant. (These people are not Entergy managers.)

62nd Carnival Of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 62nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Idaho Samizdat. Dan Yurman put it together, and he did a great job.

One theme: how are the power plants doing as the Heat Is On? Steve Aplin tracks how wind production in Ontario has nothing to do with electricity demand in the province (not a real surprise) while Charles Barton notes that in a place like Dallas, summer air conditioning is necessary for health (or survival of older people). Still, Greenpeace keeps rejecting nuclear in favor of gas plants.

Meanwhile, at Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus discusses how the "Heat is On" in Japan (in another sense) may encourage the Japanese to be more open about problems. She notes that the culture of Japan sometimes makes it very hard to admit errors. She worked in Japan, and has some important things to say about cover-ups and culture. It can be very hard to write about such things today: we never want to criticize others for doing things differently. However, in some circumstances, doing things one way or another has big consequences. Marcus does a great job of describing the situation.

I fear I will end up with a post as long as the Carnival post, so I will go quickly through the rest of the entries.
When its really hot, you need something cool and cheerful. The Carnival is it! Thank you Dan, for putting it together.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Facts and Fancies About Refueling Vermont Yankee: Try Try Again

Facts About Refueling

On Wednesday, July 20, Howard Shaffer spoke for a few moments on WCAX about Vermont Yankee refueling. He shared three minutes worth of facts. How long the current fuel will last. How fuel is delivered (on flatbed trucks). Is refueling dangerous? Simple questions and honest answers.

Fancies about Refueling

On Tuesday, July 20, two professors at Vermont Law School (VLS) discussed the court case and the injunction hearings. Donald Kreis and Pat Parentau of VLS were part of a panel sponsored by the anti-Vermont Yankee group, the Safe and Green Campaign. Olga Peters of the Commons reported on this meeting.

At the meeting, Donald Kreis said: “I feel really bad, I love Brattleboro. I love what you folks are doing. I’d love it if Vermont Yankee was banished from the earth.”

(I think "you folks" meant the Safe and Green Campaign.)

Meanwhile, Parentau showed a certain level of confusion, as he had also shown about the sequence of events (Act 160, cooling tower collapse) at Vermont Yankee.

For Profit and Not For Profit

According to the Peters article about Pat Parentau: “We’ve all heard the rumors” that Entergy wants to build an escape hatch that would give the company the ability to say to shareholders, “We fought the good fight,” he said.

As far as I can tell, Mr. Parentau does not repudiate these rumors. However, for-profit companies don't say this sort of thing. They don't need "escape hatches." For-profits don't need to convince shareholders that they fought a good fight, they really tried to tilt at those windmills, but evil forces defeated them. For-profit CEOs simply say that a certain choice wasn't profitable. That's the only justification they need for their course of action.

In contrast, not-for-profits love the "we tried" line, because it can be followed by a line that says "please give us more money."

In a for-profit company, if the new product doesn't work out, or if the division loses money, it is gone. The world of profit-making companies follows Yoda's advice in Star Wars:

Parentau doesn't get the difference.

Parentau Suggests: Try Try Again In the Legislature

If they follow Parentaus advice, the Vermont Legislature will try again.

Cheryl Hanna pointed out that the judge was skeptical of the framing of Act 160, and you can also see Hanna say this in a video on one of my previous blog posts. Hanna also noted that judge thought the legislature was attempting to make laws concerning the federally pre-empted area of radiological safety.

Parentau basically agreed that the judge was skeptical of these things, but he had an idea for a cure. According to the Peters article, Parentau suggested that:

Shumlin should call an emergency legislative session in August to vote up or down on permitting the Public Service Board to decide whether to issue Vermont Yankee’s CPG, he said, and with that vote, “a real clear crisp statement of state policy about why we don’t want a nuclear power plant” should be included.

In other words, if your first law doesn't succeed in standing up to court scrutiny --try, try again.

Ex Post Facto, Anyone?

Now, states do occasionally choose to try to reframe a law that failed in court. But in general, any new law or legal amendment comes AFTER the court has ruled on the original law.

To me, there's a certain contempt-of-the-court attitude shown by Parentau's suggestion. Entergy filed a brief, the State filed a brief, the Court ruled on a preliminary matter (the injunction) and set a date for the full hearing.

Parentau suggests that the Vermont hurry up and pass a new law between now and the full hearing. What would happen? Entergy will have to file a new brief about the new law, the original hearing date will be put off, Entergy will undoubtedly ask for an injunction due to the new circumstances, the judge will have to look at all of this new material.

If I were the judge, I would look at Vermont and say: "Hey guys. What am I over here? Chopped liver? That my work is just tossed out and you are passing a new law, hurry-up? Come on. I think I will start by granting Entergy a permanent injunction, if these are your cute little tricks to prevent a hearing."

Vermont Tiger notes that passing a new law about Vermont Yankee is a bad idea. Geoffrey Norman of the Tiger blames the current heat wave for this suggestion.

It's not the first bad idea of this type that Vermont has had. When Entergy sued, Vermont, the legislature immediately passed a Ex Post Facto law which was also Bill Of Attainder, a law aimed directly at Entergy. This law forced Entergy to pay for the State's portion of the suit. Various people blogged about this blatantly illegal action:

But the law still stands, and now Parentau suggests that the legislature passes another such law.

A Good Idea

Well, I'm for it. I think Parentau's idea is great--for my side. Passing a new law would be a clear admission that the legislature messed up with the law it passed to shut down Vermont Yankee. Also, passing a new law insults the judge. Also, passing a new law after a lawsuit is filed is probably ex post facto and therefore illegal.

Just the idea that the state is discussing such a move should provide Entergy with a shot at a permanent injunction against state activity during the lawsuit. I mean, the lawsuit could go on forever, if the legislature changes the law at every break in the court hearings!

Thank you Mr. Parentau. I hope the legislature takes your advice. I'm glad to see you helping Entergy.

Update: DARN IT

Shumlin won't call a special legislative session. Shame on you, Shumlin! It was another chance for an ex post facto attack on Entergy! You should have taken it!!

Will Entergy Buy Fuel for Vermont Yankee? Mixed Signals and Half-full Glasses

Entergy filed for an injunction to prevent the state of Vermont from closing down Vermont Yankee while litigation is pending. This injunction was denied on Monday.

The judge's wording for the injunction ruling caused some people to believe that Entergy will prevail in the main lawsuit, though it lost on the injunction. However, some plant people are talking about selling their houses. This week, Entergy must make a decision whether to order fuel for a November outage. Alternatively, they can NOT order fuel and shut the plant down in the fall. The cost of the fuel and the outage is about $100 million dollars.

In other words, this week Entergy will place a $100 million dollar bet (or not place it) about whether they are think they are going to win the lawsuit.

I'm going to put on two hats, Half-Full and Half-Empty, to discuss Entergy's position and choices.


The Law and the Judge's Ruling

Half-Empty: Looks like the plant is history. The first round went to the State: No injunction. Vermont Yankee can be shut down by the state while the lawsuit is proceeding. As Parentau of Vermont Law School described it: Judge Murtha called Entergy's bluff.

Half-Full: Well, Mr. Parentau isn't the only lawyer at Vermont Law School. I don't consider him a particularly strong voice about this matter. Parentau is the one who thought that act 160 passed (2006) because the cooling tower fell down (2007). He didn't even have the sequence of events right.

Two other lawyers at Vermont Law School, Hanna and Kreis, thought the ruling looked good for Entergy. Anyone reading the brief can see that the judge made no decision on the merits of the case, but stuck strictly to the question of whether the state's actions would cause irreparable harm to Entergy. In other words, did Entergy really require an injunction?

Half-Empty: It's all very well to read tea leaves this way, but face it, the judge turned Entergy down flatter than a pancake. His ruling doesn't bode well for the next hearing. You're just being Pollyanna. But of course, you always are.

Half-Full: Just because you are permanently crabby is no reason to insult me! I'm not just reading tea-leaves. Here's a couple of points the VLS professors made:
  • Act 160 is badly framed and put Vermont Yankee into legal limbo (Hanna review)
  • The Vermont legislature may have been attempting to regulate radiological safety, which is clear pre-emption of the federal role (Hanna review)
  • The judge accelerated the trial dates, while saying that an injunction would not give the needed relief to Entergy. This may have been a signal that Entergy is likely to prevail at the main trial. (Kreis review)
Half-Empty: Okay. So you are reading blogs, not tea leaves. But you aren't the only one that can read blogs! Another VLS professor thinks that the injunction ruling:
  • Helps the state by pointing out the areas they have to strengthen for the main trial (Parenthau review)
  • Doesn't address an important argument about the Memorandum of Understanding, an argument that may support the state case. (Parenthau review)
Half-Full: I think Parenthau's argument is weak. He tries to make the judge's misgivings about the State argument into some kind of pep talk for the state.

Half-Empty: I think the Hanna and Kreis's arguments are weak. The Judge denies Entergy's request, and they act like this is a great thing for Entergy.

Half-Full: Puh-leeze. Did you even read the judge's ruling?

Half-Empty: Hey, did you read it? Frankly, I think we should change the subject.

Half-Full: Okay. Best idea you've had yet.

Entergy Has to Make a Decision on Fuel

Half -Empty: It's all very well to dissect and analyze the statements of law professors who are themselves dissecting and analyzing the statement of a judge. Lots of fun! But would you invest $100 million dollars (the cost of the new fuel and the fall outage) on the belief that the upbeat interpretation of the judge's words is correct? You think Kreis and Hanna are better interpreters than Parenthau. Fine. Are you willing to bet $100 million on this choice of advisors?

Half-Full: Oh for heaven's sake. That's not the bet. It's not about those interpretations. The Entergy choices would be the same if Vermont Law School had never started a blog. It's about fuel ordering choices, not betting on lawyers.

Entergy has a lot of choices. For example, the judge has moved the trial date to September, so by the time of the planned outage, Entergy will know whether or not it has won the case.

So, right now, in July, Entergy could order fuel. If they lose at the September trial, they don't hold the outage. Yes, they have the fuel, but that is not lost money. They have other BWRs, and the fuel can be used in those, perhaps with some cost for modification. They won't lose all their fuel money, and they won't spend the outage money.

On the other hand, if Entergy orders fuel and wins the case in September, they can go ahead and refuel, pretty much on time. It's this sort of reasoning that encouraged the judge to deny the injunction. Entergy is not about to suffer irreparable harm from its choices. In his ruling, the judge gave Entergy a list of possibilities for managing the situation without losing tens of millions of dollars.

I must say, Half-Empty, you have managed to trivialize the grounds of Entergy's choice while exaggerating the financial consequences.

Half-Empty: That is absolute nonsense. What company in its right mind would spend $100 million dollars on such a bet? They would be betting the ruling will go their way, or, if it doesn't, that they will manage to use the fuel anyhow. There is a strong possibility that they will be throwing money away.

Is Vermont Yankee Worth An Investment?

Half-Empty: Speaking of throwing money away. Remember, when Entergy put the plant up for sale, nobody stepped up to buy it? That was a market assessment that Vermont Yankee is worthless as an asset. What company would put a penny into a place like that?

Half-Full: A smart company. A company that knows that a "worthless" asset can become a very valuable asset quickly when the only difference is a legal ruling. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric in California went to the verge of bankruptcy around 2001. Then a Public Utility Commission ruling allowed them to raise their rates, and---presto! Profitability! This type of scenario can and will happen again.

Half-Empty: Your analogy is flawed. Entergy owes a duty to their stockholders to avoid this sort of high-stakes bet. And, that is not all that is on the table. Bad things could happen in the future. For example, the NRC could make them do expensive upgrades, based on the NRC's interpretation of Fukushima.

Half-Full: Your reasoning is fallacious. You don't create value for stockholders by walking away from the good businesses. Bad things could happen in the future, sure, but so could good things! As a merchant plant, Vermont Yankee would have strong profitability, especially if the price of natural gas goes up. Fracking is big now and it's the great hope for cheap natural gas. But fracked wells have a shorter life-span than traditional wells, and plenty of people feel that gas prices are bound to rise after this round of frack drilling plays out. Maybe about five years from now. If gas prices rise even a little, that plant can be a gold mine for its owners.

Half-Empty: I don't agree with you, but you could conceivably be right. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Half-Full: I don't agree with you, but you could conceivably be right. Even someone without a clock can guess at the time.

Half-Empty and Half-Full: We'll just have to wait and see.

Nuclear fuel bundles being inspected (Unfortunately, the illustration shows a PWR bundle , not aBWR bundle.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Video Views about the Vermont Yankee Injunction Ruling

Some recent local news videos explain a lot about the injunction ruling in a short time-frame.


The first is a two-minute clip from WMUR in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, across the Connecticut River from the power plant at Vernon. The video gives a neighbor's view of the potential Vermont Yankee closing.

Legal Implications

The second is a five minute clip of Cheryl Hanna of Vermont Law School, sharing her view of Judge Murtha's ruling. In summary, Hanna says that Entergy has lost this battle, but not lost the war. She also recommends that people read the footnotes in Murtha's ruling.

No injunction: Will Vermont Yankee keep operating? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Howard Shaffer on Vermont Energy

Howard Shaffer was on CCTV with Rob Roper on July 14. Howard and Rob talked about Vermont Yankee and Vermont's Energy Future. You can watch the video on this blog or see it on TV according to this schedule. The early part of the video covers other Vermont issues, and the energy part begins at around the ten minute mark. They discuss Vermont Yankee, Vermont wind energy, and the proposed new transmission lines. It's a great summary of Vermont's pressing energy issues.

However. July 14 was before Murtha's ruling on the injunction, so the some of the video feels like ancient history. However, tomorrow night at 6 p.m., Howard will be on WCAX TV with an update. Be sure to watch!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ruling on Injunction Goes Against Entergy: Closing a Plant and Endangering the Grid is Not Irreparable Harm

Today, Judge Murtha ruled against Entergy's request for an injunction. Entergy had asked for an injunction that would allow Vermont Yankee to keep operating while the lawsuits wended their way through the courts. Today, Judge Murtha denied that request.

Over the next weeks, this decision will be the subject of much legal commentary. From two articles, one in Vermont Digger and one by Reuters, I understand that the judge ruled "the decision to refuel is either not harmful if Entergy prevails on the merits, or it is not a cognizable injury if Vermont’s statutes are upheld. This may present a [business decision-type] dilemma [for Entergy], but it does not constitute irreparable harm that can be resolved by a preliminary injunction.” Judge Murtha also set the opening date for the full hearing for September 12.

William Sorrell, the Vermont Attorney General, was quoted as saying that, with the early September trial date, there will be a ruling on the merits of the case before March. So, from his point of view, everything is great.

March Isn't the Issue

By March, there will indeed be one ruling, by Judge Murtha. Since both sides plan to appeal, and Murtha will rule for one side or another, the chances are good that the court case will continue past March. The March ruling will be the first of many.

The issue is not about March. The issue is whether or not Vermont Yankee will order fuel for an October outage, or shut the plant down in October. That decision has to be made by the end of this week, according to Entergy. March isn't the issue. July is the issue about ordering fuel. October is the issue about possibly shutting down the plant.

My Idea

The usual description of Entergy's options are the following:

  • Spend $100 million on an outage in October, an expense that is usually amortized over 18 months of operation. Face the possibility of running the plant for only six months past the outage, and de facto losing about $60 million dollars in expense that cannot be recaptured by sales.
  • Don't spend $100 million on the outage and shut the plant down in October, leading to great rejoicing in Montpelier, no matter how the lawsuit eventually comes out. In this case, Entergy doesn't lose as much money, but it loses something even more valuable. It loses many of the plant staff. (I assume that Entergy would put the plant in some type of lay-up where it could be restarted later. I have no particular reason to make that assumption.)
  • Don't spend $100 million on the outage, and shut the plant down permanently in October. (This is the more general assumption being made.)

All of these are lousy options.

I think I have a better idea. (Not that Entergy asked me!)

My goal: don't spend the money on the refueling, but keep the staff as long as possible.

My idea: Cut back power from the plant immediately to perhaps 25% power. Keep running at this level as long as it is possible and legal, well past October. Perhaps go for a second injunction as March approaches and the appeal process takes over. Or, if Entergy wins the case at this level, refuel at that point and let the State go for an injunction on any appeal.

What are the downsides of my idea?
  • Entergy will be employing people but making less revenue.
  • The grid will suffer in the summer. The big nuke plants never refuel during the summer season.
However, Entergy cares about its workers, so the first part isn't too bad. The second part---what can I say? It will be amusing to watch the utilities scrambling hard for power, facing the possibility of rolling brownouts in hot weather, and asking the PSB for emergency rate increases.

At least, it will amuse some of us.

Update: You can download Judge Murtha's ruling here, and Shay Totten of 7 days has a very thoughtful analysis. Did Vermont really win?

Thank you to Rod Adams today for the link to this post in his blog, and the thoughtful words about it.


Event Today

The Safe and Green Campaign, the same group that led the protest on the street in front of the Court House in June, is sponsoring a discussion tomorrow in Brattleboro about pre-emption. Besides VLS faculty (Kreis and Parenthau), New England Coalition and Citizens Action Network will be presenting. 7 to 8:30. With such a long list of presenters, it doesn't sound like much audience participation will be available. In other words, don't expect to ask any questions: this isn't an NRC meeting, it's a VLS meeting. However, Kreis is usually worth listening to, so it might be worthwhile to attend. Update and Correction: I listed this meeting as being at Vermont Law School in an earlier version of this blog. It is in Brattleboro.

Nuclear fuel rods being inspected (Unfortunately, the illustration shows PWR rods, not BWR rods, but I use the graphics I can find.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

61st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 61st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at the ANS Nuclear Cafe. This week's edition is a rich compendium of information, on Fukushima and other subjects. For example, Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk notes that hill on which the Fukushima reactors sit used to be higher--but it was blasted lower to situate the reactors on bedrock, to be more secure during earthquakes. Meanwhile, Next Big Future interviews Kirk Sorenson, who is starting a new company to build a prototype of the LFTR (Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor).

These topics will give you an idea of the scope of this week's Carnival. Read it and enjoy!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lowell Mountain Wind Turbine Facility in Vermont: A Guest Post by Willem Post

The Lowell Mountain Wind Turbine Facility, proposed for the Northeast Kingdom area of Vermont, has encountered much resistance, but Green Mountain Power (GMP) vows to complete the project despite objections. The politics are clear (follow the tax dollars) and many locals feel they are not being heard. Meanwhile, the wind farm energy is included in the future projections for electricity in Vermont.

Today, Willem Post has graciously shared his review of the Lowell Wind Farm with us. His most recent guest blog at this site was Subsidies for Wind and Solar. His posts are frequently featured at The Energy Collective.

Lowell Mountain Wind Turbine Facility in Vermont
by Willem Post, 14 June, 2011

The GMP-instigated 63 MW Lowell wind turbine facility with (21) 3 MW Danish wind turbines stretched along 4 miles of ridge lines has nothing to do with community-scale wind, everything with utility-scale wind. GMP is using blatant PR to soft-soap/deceive Vermonters. It is a capital intensive (63 MW x $2,500,000/MW = $157.5 million, excluding grid modifications), highly visual (410-ft tall wind turbines), noisy wind turbine facility that is proposed to be built on environmentally-sensitive ridge lines. It received a Certificate of "Public Good" from the Vermont Public Service Board, a mostly political entity.

The Lowell wind turbine facility would produce just a little of expensive, unreliable, intermittent, variable wind energy (63 MW x 1 GW/1,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.30 = 165.6 GWh/yr, or about 2.76% of Vermont’s 6,000 GWh/yr consumption). This energy has near-zero dispatch value to grid operators, such as ISO-NE. For at least 10 percent of the year, the wind speeds are too low to produce any wind energy. Most of the wind energy is produced in irregular, varying, sporadic spurts at night during the winter.

Carbon Dioxide and Wind

The project has nothing to do with reducing CO2 emissions or generating wind energy. Most of the CO2 emissions that wind energy was meant to reduce is offset by the increased CO2 emissions due to the inefficient operation of the gas-fired balancing facility, as shown by my paper on Wind and Carbon Dioxide at the Energy Collective.

For the same capital cost a new 60% efficient combined cycle gas turbine facility in base-loaded mode at rated output would produce:
($157.6 million/$1,250,000/MW) x 1 GW/1000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 993.4 GWh/yr

or about 16.5% of Vermont’s 6,000 GWh/yr consumption. This would be more than 5 times as much electrical energy per invested dollar.

Let's look at some of the advantages of such a gas-fired facility:
  • No grid modifications would be required
  • No inefficient operation of gas-fired wind energy balancing facilities would be required,
  • Visual impact would be minimal
  • The plant takes up only a few acres
  • The electrical energy produced would be low cost, steady, reliable and dispatchable.
Job Creation and Wind

The Lowell wind turbine facility job creation is largely a mirage. The facility will temporarily employ a number of people during the construction phase for about a year. During the next 20 years, just a few people will be permanently employed to perform operations and maintenance. An enormous waste of capital to create just a few permanent jobs, as shown by this Vermont Department of Public Service study.

Following the Money

The project would not be built if there were no subsidies equivalent to at least 50% of the capital cost. Without subsidies, the wind energy produced would be at least $0.15/kWh delivered to the grid, significantly higher than New England average grid prices of about $0.055/kWh.

The project has everything to do with grabbing as much federal subsidies as possible and "coursing" them through Vermont's economy for the short-term benefit of the well-connected few . The beneficiaries include high-income, non-Vermonters looking for tax shelters and foreign companies supplying wind turbines. The long-term economic expense (higher electric rates) will be carried by the many.

Wind and Subsidies

Over the past 10 years, the subsidies for wind turbine facility owners have become so excessive that facilities are built in marginal wind areas, as on most Vermont ridge lines. Other facilities are being put in place before building infrastructure to transmit the wind energy to population centers, as in the Texas Panhandle. These wind facilities are built just to cash in on the lucrative subsidies.

Here is a partial list of subsidies:

  • Federal grant for 30% of the total project cost which also applies to Spanish, Danish, German and Chinese wind turbines thus creating jobs in those nations instead of the US. These nations would not dream of passing a law to benefit US wind turbine companies.
  • Federal accelerated depreciation allowing the entire project to be written off in five years which is particularly beneficial to wealthy, high-income people looking for additional tax shelters.
  • Federal production credit of $0.022/kWh of wind energy produced.
  • Owners of wind turbine facilities receive Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which they can sell on the open market. The RECs are subsequently bought by polluting companies that find it less expensive to buy the RECs than clean up their pollution.

The federal government and state legislatures are pressured to provide increasingly greater state subsidies to politically well-connected renewables vendors, developers, financial entities (such as Goldman Sachs on Wall Street) and their high-income clients who use them for tax shelters.

Wind Turbines Circumvent Environmental Protection

State legislatures and state government agencies are pressured to pave the regulatory ways to essentially circumvent state environmental and quality of life laws. Pro-forma hearings, usually required by law, are held to create a semblance of democratic process. These hearings effectively are rubber-stamp approvals of pre-ordained decisions.

Update: A popular post by Post! Turns out that Rod Adams also posted this as a guest post (longish story about how we both managed to post it the same day), and a revised version of the post is now up at The Energy Collective.

Monday, July 11, 2011

NRC Reviews Proprietary Data From Vermont Yankee. Opponents Express Outrage

Recently, it has come to light that the NRC reviews proprietary information that it does not share with the public. The entire nuclear-opponent-industry professes to be in a profound state of shock at this perfidy.

An AP article written by Dave Gram noted that the NRC had reviewed a document about Vermont Yankee groundwater which was sent to the NRC through a inspection-access-document computer system. Documents on that system are not shared more widely.

Gram interviewed people at the NRC. They confirmed that they do not share every document they review. He also interviewed a wide-ranging group of nuclear opponents: a man in Maine, and a lawyer from the Maine group, and a man in the Middle West. The opponents were (predictably) shocked to their core that not everything the NRC knows is shared with everybody.

Gram did not interview anyone at any other regulatory agency or anyone who might know something about proprietary data and regulation. His questions to NRC (or, at least, the answers he included) consisted of "is it true you don't share everything?" without a word of explanation about why an agency might not share everything.

In contrast, I learned about regulatory agencies and proprietary data the hard way. I messed up an assignment.

How I Messed Up

Many years ago, I was a junior scientist at a company that was later bought by A.D. Little. The company had a big contract with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Within the over-arching contract, there were smaller Work Orders, and I was put in charge of a very small work-order. It was one of the first projects I led, and I wanted to do a bang-up job.

The issue was about a certain type of chemical plant. These chemical plants used a batch process to make the chemical, and the EPA suspected that the plants vented a lot of bad stuff into the air whenever they started a new batch (called a "pot"). They asked if we could give an estimate of how much stuff the plant was venting, assuming they were venting directly to atmosphere when they started a pot.

Getting the Straight Dope From an Unwitting Employee

Well, doing an estimate based on a small amount of factual information just wasn't good enough for me. I wanted to do a really great job for the EPA. The people at the chemical plants wouldn't tell me much, but I was very clever. After I did the original estimation that the EPA wanted, I did some sleuthing.

I called up a company that built these chemical plants, and maneuvered around until I was talking to someone who was both knowledgeable and naive. I got all the dope from this junior engineer at the architect-engineering company. I found out:
  • how many pots a plant started in a week,
  • how long they vented the start-up pots directly into the air before switching to their scrubbing systems
  • how many trays they had in their contact columns (nowadays, they use packed beds instead of trays, which is why I have a packed-bed illustration on this blog).
I wrote it all in my draft report, expecting high praise from my project manager at the EPA.

But no.

When the project manager received the draft report, he called me up and gave me an earful. I had filled my report with data which was proprietary to the company, data that had to be handled through certain protocols within EPA, data that EPA contractors (such as myself) were never supposed to see. He told me to scrub the data from my final report, and just hope that nobody but him saw the draft, or a bunch of us were going to be in trouble.

I guess nobody saw it, because I didn't get in any further trouble. But I sure learned the lesson that even if I could (cleverly) obtain proprietary data, I had no business doing so. Not even under the auspices of a regulatory agency.

Regulation and Compromise

Companies share proprietary data with regulatory agencies only because they have agreements with those agencies that the data will not go further. Armed with my non-proprietary estimates of vent quantities, the EPA could have required that the companies give them more data. I had no business acting like a private investigator and finding the data myself.

It's a tough set of compromises. The regulatory agency can't regulate without access to data which is proprietary to the company. On the other hand, the company doesn't want proprietary data shared with potential rivals or groups that do not have the company's best interests at heart. So there are agreements about who sees the data and special computer systems where regulatory agencies can see data but never "take possession" of it.

No doubt many activist groups would like all company data to be visible to everyone. They are certainly entitled to their opinions. However, I was annoyed to see a newspaper article in which people are shocked that a regulatory agency reviews proprietary data. The article further implies that only the NRC would do something like that.

Anti-nuclear groups also keep data proprietary, which is why Rod Adams has a "smoking gun" series about fossil fuel money funding nuclear opponents. However, such groups don't have to share this data. They can keep it proprietary. And of course, they do.

First Afterword: There is a nuclear-opponent-industry, in which professional opponents can move readily from job to job. Howard Shaffer describes one such professional in his blog post A Tale of Two Nuclear Opponents at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Second Afterword: Since the NRC Report on Fukushima (warning, that link is a lengthy pdf) came out yesterday, people are probably expecting me to blog about it today. However, I have not reviewed it enough to do so. For the best commentary to date, I recommend Dan Yurman's post at Idaho Samizdat, and a Reuters article published today. The Reuters article starts with words of wisdom from my friend Margaret Harding. Harding headed a safety group at GE's Boiling Water Reactor Owner's Group, and also worked in Japan.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Vermont, Canada and the World: Dr. Andy Cook on Energy Choices

Recently, I was complaining to a friend about the amount of time it takes to fuss with a presentation and get it right. I am trying to get my slide show (more or less, my Putney School slide show) ready to post on the web. My friend asked if I had seen the Andy Cook videos; he thought they might be helpful to me.

I was aware that Vermont Yankee has its own YouTube channel. When I went to the channel, though, it took me a moment to find the Andy Cook videos. Apparently, Dr. Cook gave this presentation about Vermont's Energy Future at Vermont Yankee sometime last summer. It is posted on YouTube in three parts. The video contains a wide-ranging overview of world energy needs, the use of fossil energy, Vermont/ Canadian relationships, and the role of Vermont Yankee.

Dr. Andrew Cook

Dr. Andrew Cook is a vice-president at AREVA. He grew up in Canada. Cook went to graduate school at M.I.T. in nuclear engineering at the same time Howard Shaffer was a graduate student. (I have never met Dr. Cook.) Cook now lives in Maine and is a citizen of the United States. He is an avid hiker and outdoorsman.

I decided to embed these videos in my blog today because I found them very informative on areas I rarely cover . For example, Cook describes the effect of the James Bay project on Canada. He also explains how the big things we hear about (the BP spill for example) are not one-offs, but part of an on-going set of predictable accidents.

I hope you enjoy the videos.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

60th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers

The 60th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers is up today at Atomic Power Review. This is the first time Will Davis has hosted the Carnival at his site, and he has done a splendid job! I was hooked on reading it. He starts the Carnival with an ambiguous picture: guess what this photo shows? You have to read to the end of the blog to find out what it is. (Well, you can cheat and scroll down to see the answer. I did.) And when you read the answer, you will learn some nuclear history

Series Posts

Two posts are each part of important series:
  1. In the fourth part of Charles Barton's multi-part post on Nuclear Subsidies, Barton explains that most supposed "subsidies" to nuclear are not subsidies at all. In these four well-researched posts, Barton discusses government relationships to nuclear energy, other energy projects, and military nuclear. In another post, Barton describes Google's floundering attempts to go "green" without considering small modular reactors.
  2. In the third of three posts on Lessons Learned from Fukushima, Margaret Harding describes the political lessons of Fukushima. Her earlier posts have described techniclal and corporate lessons.
Thought-Provoking Posts

Rod Adams of Atomic Insights wonders why nuclear advocates rarely mention the positive role of nuclear power in preventing climate change. Adams makes a convincing case for not hiding nuclear's climate-beneficial light under a barrel.

Rick Maltese of Deregulate the Atom writes a bold (and probably correct) prediction that Japan will speed up nuclear development in the future. While noble suicide was a tradition in Japan during the feudal era, the country won't choose to commit economic suicide by phasing out nuclear during the modern era.

Looking toward the future, Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat watches Jaczko attempt to delay and derail APR1000 regulatory approval. (Despite the fact that no APR builds have even been suggested for Nevada! Okay, that was my snarky comment, not Dan's post.)

Brian Wang of Next Big Future notes that if Germany phases out nuclear, they will be going to fossil. In another post, Wang, once again, keeps us up with the fusion future. Wang reports that t the United States has joined the Stellerator fusion project in Germany.

Announcements and Bartenders

The Carnival includes my paired Yes Vermont Yankee posts about the Vermont Attorney General (AG): "Vermont AG will announce", and "Vermont AG has announced" that he is not bringing criminal charges against Entergy. The AG sure got a lot of mileage out of a non-event! Myself, I'm planning to hold a press conference to announce that I will hold another press conference to announce whether or not I am bringing charges against the Vermont AG. (Just kidding, I think. Maybe.)

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Yurman's post at ANS Nuclear Café, Some Good News for a Change. So few nuclear posts start with a conversation with a bartender! This bartender, see, tells a bunch of nuclear people that they are a gloomy crowd and should lighten up, and then Dan says....Okay. As Yurman points out: There's lots of good news in the world of nuclear. The United Kingdom is building nukes, Finland has asked for more bids for reactors, and more. I'll drink to that!

The 60th Carnival! Bartenders, Germany, climate change, APRs, fusion. Something for everyone! Pay it a visit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No Criminal Charges: The Vermont Attorney General Announces Conclusions About Entergy

Today, William Sorrell announced that he was not filing criminal charges against Entergy. He announced this with as much anti-Entergy innuendo as he could manage. While newspapers describe a person caught red-handed as the "alleged" murderer, Sorrell speaks as if he is sure that Entergy is guilty of a crime, but he just couldn't find the evidence.

None of this innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff for Sorrell. He explains that perjury is SO hard to prove, he lacks "the smoking gun evidence"... "to prove that this untrustworthy behavior was criminal," and so forth. He goes on to say that the "active phase of the investigation" is over, "more evidence" may come to light in the future allowing him to file criminal charges against Entergy.

You can watch the whole thing on the video above; I don't have to repeat it here.

Sorrell's short report is also available. There's no new information in the report, as far as I can tell. If you want, you can compare it against the other three reports exonerating Entergy. (You can find links to those reports in my previous blog post.) Frankly, why bother? I have better things to do with my time than check whether, in 17 months of investigations, Sorrell found an email that I had not seen before.

Also, whatever emails Sorrell includes, he concludes that he does not have evidence to file criminal charges.

My Smoking Gun About Sorrell

According to AP, Shumlin "respected Sorrell's conclusions." Then Shumlin took his usual cracks at "Entergy Louisiana" whose "pattern of misinformation" is "not how we expect businesses to act here in Vermont."

Speaking of misinformation, how is a Vermont Attorney General supposed to act? I believe I have a smoking gun about serious inconsistencies in Mr. Sorrell's statements about the investigation.

Sorrell wants to convince us of two things, which are basically contradictory. He wants the people of Vermont to believe:
  • He did a thorough, lengthy investigation (17 months, millions of pages of documents, interviews, etc.)
  • His investigation cost the taxpayers very little money.
In his press conference, Sorrell declares that both these things are true, despite the obvious contradictions. He describes a year and half of legal investigations of a major company, in a complicated situation....but the whole thing cost---wait for it---$100,000.

That's right. As far as I can tell, $100,000 per year is less than a full-time State's Attorney would receive. (I moused around the Vermont state job board to determine this.)

How did Sorrell do such a lengthy investigation and spend so little money? Did he charge-back the investigation to Entergy somehow? I don't think governments can charge people or companies for investigating them. Governments can certainly charge fines, but that implies a trial and conviction.

There's a smoking gun here. Sorrell isn't saying everything about his investigation. In my opinion, this $100,000 number is part of Sorrell's pattern of misleading the people of Vermont. I'm a taxpayer in this state, and I don't like it.

Update: I recommend the post The Entergy Investigation by John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute, newly posted at Vermont Tiger. In full disclosure, the Energy Education Project I head is part of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Vermont Attorney General Will Soon Announce Something Or Other About Entergy

In a previous post, Vermont Yankee, the Vermont Attorney General, and the Completely Political Timing of Lawsuits, I pointed out how the Vermont Attorney General, William Sorrell was planning to "release the results of his investigation" soon. Sorrell has now announced that he will release these results tomorrow. The timing of this release seems to be so important that Sorrell has to chosen to make an announcement of the day that he will make the announcement.

For William Sorrell, the timing is crucial. He is making his announcement while Judge Murtha is deliberating on whether to grant Entergy's request for an injunction. If granted, the injunction would assure Entergy that the state will not shut them down while legal actions are pending. (The injunction is discussed in my post Did Vermont Yankee Bring the Suit at the Right Time?)

What Can Sorrell Accomplish?

The actions "under investigation" happened two years ago. Last year, three separate groups investigated whether Entergy had deliberately mislead its regulators. Three separate groups said: Entergy did not lie to its regulators. Entergy did answer some questions incorrectly. However, these answers showed no intention to mislead.

The three reports on this subject were published last summer, between April and July. They are referenced below:
These links are to the original documents, though I have many blog posts on the subject too. You can read the reports for yourself -- right here, right now.

The bottom line is: Entergy said some things that were incorrect, but Entergy did not intend to mislead by these statements.

What is Sorrell going to prove? The facts are well known, after all.
  • The statements Entergy made are well documented.
  • Many investigations have determined "who knew what and who said what."
  • Further digging can reveal little or nothing.
Perhaps Sorrell will come up with interesting hypotheses on Imperfect Management Styles. What will this prove? It's a long way from Imperfect Management Styles to Criminal Liability and Perjury. Sorrell will find Entergy managers were imperfect, but not dishonest.

Imperfect Management Styles of William Sorrell

Sorrell is playing this game as if Judge Murtha is a fool who can be swayed by well-timed banging on the table. I think that is an assumption Sorrell will lose.

Recently, John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute shared two letters with me, letters that he had written to William Sorrell this spring. They show Sorrell's own imperfect management style.

On March 30 of this year, McClaughry wrote:

Over a year ago, according to media reports, you announced a criminal investigation of Entergy, related to allegedly false statements made to the Public Service Board regarding tritium leakage at Vermont Yankee.

Now that over a year has passed since your initiation of this investigation, have you made public your findings and/or initiated prosecution?

If not, has your investigation been slowed by a shortage of qualified lawyers on your staff, and if so, what additional legal resources will be necessary to bring this investigation to a speedy conclusion?

Or have you quietly concluded your investigation without any public announcement?

On June 21, McClaughry wrote again:

I learned from Assistant AG Treadwell, replying on April 25 to my inquiry of March 30, that your industrious staff will complete “this spring” your now 15-month old criminal investigation into whether an official of Entergy may have made a false statement in testimony before the Public Service Board several years ago.

“Spring” has now passed into history, and I continue to wait expectantly for what will no doubt be startling revelations from your office, extracted from the two million (!) pages of documentation produced by Entergy in response to your requests. Will I and the anxious public soon learn of the results of these labors?

I would also like to request an accounting for the expenditure of your office’s funds in perusing and evaluating the two million (!) pages of documents said to be relevant to the allegedly false statement, on top of the report resulting from the investigation by the independent law firm hired by Entergy to examine the allegation.

The story so far shows Sorrell to be a poor manager (promising to complete an investigation this spring). But is he a good lawyer?

Arguing Before the Supreme Court

In his June letter, McClaughry makes polite requests about the investigation, quoted above. Then McClaughry does a little needling:

On a related matter, it appears that Entergy Nuclear v. Shumlin, Sorrell et al..... will eventually be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. I want to urge you, as Vermont’s attorney general, to personally argue this case before the Supreme Court. I’m sure the Court will give as great weight to your arguments as it did in your prior appearance there.

What was this remark about? How is McClaughry needling Sorrell? Well, In mid-June, Vermont lost a major lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

Vermont brought a lawsuit about physician confidentiality, and argued it all the way to the Supreme Court. This was a multi-year, expensive lawsuit. In June, the Supreme Court ruled against Vermont 6-3. Here's Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna on the ruling:

"What the (Vermont) law did, the Court said, was suppress speech that was “too persuasive” and contrary to the state’s own policy goals of promoting generic drug use. In essence, the Court said Vermont had engaged in censorship for political reasons. The state may not like pharmaceutical companies, but it doesn’t have the right to keep them quiet. .....

The consequence of that, the Court held, is to withhold otherwise true and accurate information from consumers. If state tries to do so, it must have, in plain English, a really, really good reason. But Vermont couldn’t come up with a really, really good reason. The law didn’t protect physician privacy, it didn’t lower the cost of medical services and it didn’t promote public health...

In both the 2006 Randall campaign finance case and today’s Sorrell decision, Vermont compromised constitutional precision in favor of political popularity, positioning the state as David and financially powerful voices as Goliath. In both cases, the Court saw it the other way around."

In June, the Supreme Court decided the pharmaceutical case on the basis of freedom of speech. Sorrell was unsuccessful in trying to show that the Vermont law protected somebody, and didn't violate free speech. Since many the Supreme Court decisions nowadays are 5-4, losing 6-3 is losing big.

As a Taxpayer Myself

Perhaps someone should investigate why Sorrell wastes Vermont's money this way. (Hopefully, this group will announce the results of their investigation while a judge is deliberating on one of Sorrell's cases.) If someone gathered 2 million documents, I am sure there might be something to say, if only something like:

The current Vermont Attorney General might benefit from some refresher courses in the law. Merely knowing how to pound on the table isn't enough.


Legal aphorism: "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table."

Photos of Khrushchev pounding the table (probably a fake picture) and the Supreme Court building (a real picture) from Wikipedia.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

59th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Yes Vermont Yankee is proud to host this 59th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs!

Let's start by welcoming a new blog about nuclear, by someone who went to the University of Vermont.

I want to start by welcoming the first blogger to the Carnival and to my blog roll. Evergreen Nuclear's author, Dr. John Bickel, graduated from the University of Vermont as a math/physics major. He is now a nuclear engineer who lives in Colorado. The post on the Carnival today is So...Should We Dig Up a Lot of Coal? This post is an update of an article Bickel wrote comparing nuclear and coal (both mined in Colorado). His article was first printed in the Colorado Mountain Club's Trails and Timberline magazine. Bickel was an elected board member of the Colorado Mountain Club.

Thinking about Japan

Several blog post discuss Fukushima, and what could have been done better.

The ANS Nuclear Cafe post: Hall Talk at the Special Session on Fukushima, is a behind-the scenes interview with two people who presented at the Fukushima sessions at the American Nuclear Society meeting last week. Dan Yurman wrote the post, and the interviewees are Akira Omoto of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, and Mike Weber of the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They share their frustrations with the U.S. and the Japanese response to the early days of Fukushima.

In the last Carnival, Margaret Harding shared technical lessons learned from Fukushima. This week, in the post Lessons Learned From Fukushima-–-The Corporate, she addresses corporate lessons and corporate planning. Among other things, Harding concludes that it is important to be willing to ask for help.

In a related post, Too Much Politicization, Gail Marcus discusses a guest column by former Commissioner Kenneth C. Rogers that contrasts the NRC of today with the way the Commission operated during his tenure as a Commissioner. Commissioner Rogers asserts that the first of the five Principles of Good Regulation, independence, is being violated by current actions. Gail notes that it should serve as a lesson to the Japanese, who are now talking of reorganizing their regulatory structure, that, while the institutional arrangements are important, they are not enough to guarantee true regulatory independence.

All these posts include information and opinions from people who have worked in the nuclear industry in Japan.

Truth Squad

Other bloggers debunk myths and comment on government actions.

In Just a Speck of Plutonium... Cheryl Rofer asks: Is it true that just a speck of plutonium will kill you? Well, no. Rofer considers this all-too-common and inaccurate assertion and wonders why people who claim to respect science keep repeating it. (Note: Cheryl lives in New Mexico. During the recent fire, this post got quite a bit of press coverage in her state. There wasn't any radioactive release from any of the labs, but the just-a-speck-kills assertion was all over the newspapers for a while. We are all grateful to Rofer for this post. She has another post on the Drums at Area G, which continues the debunking. )

In Nuclear Industry Leaders Are Wimps, and It is Time To Fight Back Rod Adams reports the US nuclear industry decision makers continue to focus their meager advertising and public outreach resources inside the Washington DC beltway. They repeatedly refuse to recognize that nuclear has no friends in the fossil fuel industry. Rod wrote a fascinating post that has over 100 comments.

Will Davis, at Atomic Power Review (APR), reports on the latest developments at Fukushima Daiichi, including a new video on the APR YouTube channel. What's most newsworthy is the fact that while many serious challenges remain, the situation continues to improve steadily. (I just added Atomic Power Review to my blogroll. It is not a new blog, and I don't know why it wasn't there before. I apologize to Davis, whose information and graphics are always worthwhile.)

Rick Maltese, at Deregulate the Atom, asks: Is Canada's Federal Government Sabotaging Nuclear Energy? At one point, the government wanted to sell AECL for $23 Billion, but the latest price is $15 million. As Rick says: "This post is my short and stunned response."

At my own blog, Yes Vermont Yankee, I document that the New England Grid operator (ISO-NE) said we need Vermont Yankee for grid reliability. This is the second year in a row that ISO-NE has refused to let Vermont Yankee drop out of the forward power auction. The politicians aren't taking note of this, but I am.

Looking Forward

Several blog posts look to the future and the big picture. I am proud to have hosted one such post, Jeff's Schmidt's guest post, the Nuclear Safety Paradox, which is now featured at The Energy Collective. Jeff's question: Where are the new generations of nuclear plants?

At Next Big Future, Brian Wang points out that fusion advances are now being covered in the main stream media. In another important post, Brian summarizes (and links t0) a June 2011 report from OECD on the technical feasibility and economics of small nuclear reactors. Both technically and economically, small reactors look good!

Steve Skutnik of Neutron Economy also reviews Small Modular Reactors and the Economics of Nuclear. Small modular reactors (SMRs) have numerous advantages in terms of safety and scalability that make them a promising pathway to new nuclear development. However, their most important advantage is in that they attack one of the chief stumbling blocks to new nuclear: economics.

Assessing the Japanese experience, telling the truth, and looking forward. It's all here, in this week's Carnival of Nuclear Energy!

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Carousel in Avignon photo by Meredith
Plutonium in solution from Wikipedia.