Saturday, April 20, 2013

Shaffer Knows About Spent Fuel: Alvarez Talks About It

Robert Alvarez (at head of table, near door)
House Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Montpelier, VT  April 
The Committee

The Vermont House Energy and Natural Resources Committee is headed by Tony Klein, a fervent opponent of Vermont Yankee.  On April 21, Robert Alvarez made a statement to this committee.  Mr. Alvarez has no technical training (as far as I can tell) but he spoke at length about the amount of spent fuel stored at Vermont Yankee, how much cesium it contains, what a huge problem it is, and how it should all be in dry casks.  Also, he said that Entergy will leave Vermont holding the bag for cleaning up the site.  (In other words, he said the usual.)

Luckily, Howard Shaffer was at the meeting.  After the session, several reporters interviewed Howard.

The Interviews

Shaffer actually knows something about nuclear energy, spent fuel and so forth.  Among other things, he is a registered professional engineer in Vermont.  Well, you all know Howard Shaffer.

Here are links to the articles, and some quotes from Shaffer (and others).

 Vermont Public Radio: Expert Says Vermont Yankee Has Too Much Spent Fuel Stored on Site

When power failed at Fukushima, reactor operators could no longer pump water to keep the fuel cool. Some of the material burned, releasing radiation.

Listening to Alvarez’s testimony was Howard Schaffer, a Yankee supporter and nuclear engineer. He said that Alvarez overstates the dangers of the spent fuel pool at Vermont Yankee.

“Because most of the fuel in the pool is (cooled) down to the point where it would absorb heat in the pool, because it’s down to the point where it could be cooled in air,” he said.

(The first two sentences above are not a quote from Shaffer. They are part of the article, and I think they show the tone of Alvarez's comments.)

WPTZ: Nuclear waste expert says Vt. Yankee's growing risk

"The (Federal) NRC and the industry are more  motivated by economics than understanding the implications of the safe storage of these materials," Alvarez told lawmakers.

Some listening to his testimony think Alvarez exaggerated the problem.

"He's from an industry who makes his living saying the sky is  falling. without saying what the odds are," said nuclear engineer Howard Shaffer, of Enfield, N.H.

Rep. Mike Hebert, a Vernon Republican who sits on the committee, said Alvarez "represents an anti-nuclear group who will give the most negative position you'd expect them to do." 

AP: Vt. Lawmakers hear from nuclear waste critic
The pool ‘‘contains about nine times more cesium-137 (a radioactive isotope) than was released from the more than 600 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests around the world,’’ said Alvarez, who acknowledged under questioning from Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, that his current employer takes an anti-nuclear stance...

Howard Shaffer, an engineer with the group Nuclear Public Outreach who attended Thursday’s hearing but did not testify, said afterward that the public should not be alarmed about the safety of nuclear waste. He argued that it can be managed safely.


Background: The Vermont State House as  Rick's Cafe Americain For Nuclear Opponents

Alvarez was at the Vermont State House because:
  1. The legislature is considering taxing spent fuel and/or requiring more spent fuel to be placed in dry casks for "safety."  (I don't think I would recommend our legislature going into "safety."  I think the courts have been pretty clear about that...)
  2. The committee invited Alvarez to testify about spent fuel. 
Actually, Alvarez was invited by both the Senate and House committees: he was supposed to speak at a joint session of both committees.  But the joint session never happened, and he spoke to the House committee only, in a rather small and crowded room (see picture above).

Everybody comes to Rick's
Anti-nuclear activists are often invited to speak to the House Natural Resources and Energy committee.  Next week, Arnie Gundersen will speak to them. This committee is like Rick's Cafe Americain for anti-nuclear activists.  They are all invited and they come.

In contrast, the Ethan Allen Institute sponsored Gwyneth Cravens to come to Vermont two years ago: she is the author of Power to Save the World.  However, we were unsuccessful at getting her to be invited to speak before a  legislative committee. We did arrange for Cravens to speak at a State House Round Table, which is basically a lunch-time meeting in an available committee room.   Quite a few legislators came to hear her.

You might also enjoy reading Rod Adams post:  Why does anyone trust Robert Alverez's opinions about nuclear energy?

Update: Nuclear Notes, the blog of the Nuclear Energy Institute, has a comprehensive post on the Alvarez visit: Vermont Yankee and the Ink on the Rubber Stamp.  NEI takes a national perspective, comparing the Vermont situation to similar issues in other states.  Many excellent links, also.


Bill Rodgers said...


Quick question. How does Alvarez justify his statement that Entergy will leave Vermont citizens "holding the bag" for site clean-up?

Or is it a case of him constantly putting it out there for so long that by now no one is challenging him?


Anonymous said...

Sounds like nothing more than a kangaroo court. These clowns are using taxpayer money to hire hacks to tell them what they want to hear. Typical, Bunch of bums...

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you for the comments.

Bill, I am sorry I didn't see your comment in a timely fashion.

They all say that the Maine Yankee decommissioning had overruns. Ray Shadis has said that the Maine ratepayers are still paying for it. I don't believe that, but I have never done research to disprove it. To me: "Maine ratepayers are still paying for that decommissioning" is probably up there with "Fukushima Fuel Pool 4 burned." In other words, not true.

However, in general, I try to blog about things I know and can prove, and this Maine-ratepayer issue is not something I know enough about.