Friday, May 31, 2013

Saturday, Nevil Shute and Slide Rule

Tomorrow I will lead a discussion of Nevil Shute's autobiography, Slide Rule, at the Howe library in Hanover.  We will be at the library from 2 to 4 p.m., it's free, and there will be refreshments.  I hope some of you will be able to come.

If you remember, my course on Engineering Adventures with Nevil Shute led to the formation of a local chapter of the Nevil Shute society.  Tomorrow is the third meeting of our chapter, and I will be leading the discussion. Thanks to the tireless work of C.J. Smith, the Dartmouth Chapter has a great web site (NevilShuteDartmouth) with information about the meetings, contact list and more.  C. J. also made the poster, shown above.  My own notes for the meeting are below.


Dartmouth Chapter of the Nevil Shute Society

On Saturday June 1 2013, the Dartmouth Chapter of the Nevil Shute Society will meet at Howe Library from 2 to 4 to discuss Shute’s autobiography: Slide Rule.

Meredith Angwin will lead the discussion.  Angwin led the successful ILEAD course “Engineering Adventures with Nevil Shute” and the discussion of Slide Rule will follow the format of the course. In this particular discussion, we will try to understand the decision making about two airships:
R100, which Nevil Shute helped to design,
R101, designed and built in a government facility.

The R100 flew successfully to Canada, but the R101 crashed on its first voyage. Why the difference?

Questions For Discussion:

Was the R101 doomed by:
Being built in a government facility?
Not having pilots as designers?
Lack of project management?
Changing specifications mid-stream?
Other issues (air-worthiness certification rules, for example)?

Have you ever been in a project where upward communication was controlled by political constraints:  “It’s going great! Trust us!”

Structure of the meeting:

1) First Hour: Only the book.  In the first hour, we discuss questions from completely within the context of the book. This constraint encourages everyone to contribute to the discussion.

2) Second Hour: Personal anecdotes and specialized knowledge. The second hour encourages discussion of personal anecdotes about similar projects, specialized knowledge about airships, and more.

Further reading: 

The book is the only reading needed for this meeting, but you might be interested in other course material available at “Downloads for the Nevil Shute Course.”

 PO Box 5731, Hanover NH  03755, 603-790-8291,

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The PSB, the Diesels and Sherlock Holmes

Bulldog asleep
Waiting for the Public Service Board

About a week ago, on May 21, I blogged about the fact that Vermont Yankee needs another back-up diesel, and the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) has been dragging its feet about giving permission to install that diesel.  Entergy has an NRC deadline to install the diesel, and therefore, Entergy sued the PSB in federal court.  The court hearing is scheduled for June 4, which is Tuesday, and coming up fast.

By denying the diesel permit, the PSB is interfering with nuclear safety, an area of federal jurisdiction. My post was A Court Case With A Deadline: The Black Start Diesels. 

That post included the "Breaking News" that the PSB hearing officer for the diesel docket had recommended that PSB grant the permit for the diesel.  The Department of Public Service also supports granting the permit for the diesel.  Here's a link to the Vermont Digger article by Andrew Stein on these recommendations that the PSB approve the diesel.

However, these were only recommendations. The PSB itself did not rule on this matter. The Vermont Digger article quoted Jim Sinclair of Entergy: “While we appreciate and agree with the hearing officer’s recommendation, we remain uncertain as to when the Board will rule,” he said. “Therefore, we will have to determine how this may affect the federal court hearing.”

Will the PSB Rule? Time Passes

The Vermont Digger article appeared on May 20, and the hearing is June 4.  I'll be blunt.  I was waiting for the PSB to make a statement.  I thought PSB might say:

  •  "We agree with our hearing officer and here's your diesel permit. " 

  • "To heck with our hearing officer's recommendations. We don't hand out diesel permits to outfits like you, and we'll see you in court."
But, so far, nothing has happened.  At this point, it looks like the PSB is happy to ignore the hearing officer and the Department of Public Service.  The court date is approaching fast.

I waited. I wanted to write a blog post about this, as soon as there was some news.

Sherlock Holmes and Me

Then I realized that the lack of news--is also news! Non-action is also information.

To quote Sherlock Holmes:

"You consider that to be important?" he [Inspector Gregory] asked.
 "Exceedingly so."
 "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
 "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
 "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
 "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893) Silver Blaze

In the Holmes case, the fact the "dog did nothing in the night-time" means that a stranger did not commit the crime.  If a stranger had been there, the dog would have barked. Holmes concluded that the crime was an inside job.

To me, the fact that the PSB has done nothing means that they are happy to go to court June 4, even though (IMHO) they are pretty sure to lose on this one. In my opinion, this shows they are heavily influenced by politics.  I think that the more often the PSB is in court, the more political credibility they think they have with the Shumlin administration and the Vermont legislature: We TRIED to shut that plant down! We really did.  They sued us all the time, but we kept trying. 

In my opinion, this non-action on the hearing officer's statement shows that political credibility is what matters to the PSB.  The PSB is supposed to be a non-partisan board, but this incident of the Dog in the Nighttime indicates something else. The Public Service Board is ignoring its own hearing officer and the State's Department of Public Service. It seems happy to be dragged into court.

A political agenda is the best explanation I can come up with.  I welcome readers' comments with other explanations.

Will Davis and Me

And here's a comment to start you off!  Will Davis hosted the most recent nuclear blog Carnival at his Atomic Power Review site.  The Carnival included a link to my post about the diesels, and Will Davis had this to say about it:

Will Davis
Atomic Power Review Note:  Regarding the Yes Vermont Yankee post linked and described above...  Just how many times in this post-Fukushima world would one EVER expect to find any group, anywhere, that could possibly justify campaigning AGAINST adding a back up diesel generator at a nuclear plant site?

I think that says it all.  I hope to receive more comments, but it will be hard to beat Davis's pithy comment.

And Yet Another Lawsuit

In related news, a group of intervenors just sued the PSB in Vermont Supreme Court, claiming the PSB should "enforce their own orders" and close the plant.  Here's the May 25 article by Bob Audette in the Brattleboro Reformer on that suit:  Groups Ask Vermont Court to Affirm PSB Rulings on VY.

This suit bears an uncanny resemblance to a lawsuit the Vermont Supreme Court turned down in March of this year.  Here's the Andrew Stein article in Vermont Digger  on March 28: Vermont Supreme Court Denies New England Coalition's Petition to Close Vermont Yankee.  Or, as I blogged on March 28 in Court Won't Close Plant During PSB Hearings. Since the Vermont Yankee matter is active in both federal court and the PSB, the Vermont Supreme Court is unlikely to get involved.  Courts don't like to step on each other's toes.

Frankly, I don't get this intervenor latest suit.  It looks frivolous to me: it looks like the same contentions as the lawsuit in March.  Why are they doing this? However, I freely admit I am not a lawyer, so there may be a reason. Once again, comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Carnival, The Rise of FUD, and a Scandal

Carnival: The 158th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is well worth reading.  It contains a link to my Black Start diesel post.  Atomic Power Review blog hosted the Carnival, and Will Davis, the blogger at that site, made a great comment on the actions of the intervenors:

Atomic Power Review Note:  Regarding the Yes Vermont Yankee post linked and described above...  Just how many times in this post-Fukushima world would one EVER expect to find any group, anywhere, that could possibly justify campaigning AGAINST adding a back up diesel generator at a nuclear plant site?

In Vermont, sometimes it is possible to get so used to intervenor actions that we forget how absurd they can be.

The Golden Dome
AKA Vermont State House
AKA Golden Bubble
Shaffer Post on Gundersen Testimony: While I was out of town in North Carolina, Howard Shaffer posted about Arnie Gundersen's visit to the Vermont legislature at ANS Nuclear Cafe. 

Shaffer's post has the accurate title: Love Feast Under the Golden Dome.  Shaffer's title is accurate, but Gundersen's statements are not accurate.  Shaffer quotes and refutes his statements.  Gundersen is a very skillful purveyor of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).  A post well worth reading.

Shumlin Scandal:  I almost never post anything about Vermont politics unless it has something to do with energy.  I need to make an exception.  

Governor Peter Shumlin was involved in a questionable land deal, where he bought land from a very poor neighbor, and he paid approximately one-fourth of the listed value of the land. The neighbor was facing a tax sale, but would undoubtedly have received far more money from such a sale than he received from Shumlin.  However, he seemed to have been panicked at the thought of the tax sale, and closed with Shumlin the day before the sale was scheduled.

To many people in Vermont, Shumlin's actions seem unethical or perhaps even illegal.  As I say, this isn't about energy, so I usually wouldn't bother with this sort of thing.  But I suspect the national press is going to pick up on this, and I want to be sure my readers are informed.  I also want to avoid getting ten thousand emails asking me: "Meredith, did you see this?!" 

Two articles from Vermont Digger are linked below.  More articles are being posted daily, all over Vermont.

Waterfalls, Renewables and Me

Triple Falls, DuPont State Forest
North Carolina
This morning, I have an unusual blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe, inspired by my recent hiking trip in North Carolina.

In Farmers, City Folk and Renewable Energy, I consider the renewable-advocates idea that we can "get" all the energy we need from sun, wind and water.  No. We can't simply "get" energy from sun, wind and water. We would have to "take" this energy, by industrializing the wilderness.

I compare this idea of "getting" energy with the realities of farming.  City people are sometimes annoyed at that reality, but farms are a sort of factory for food.  A well-tended field is not just scenery: it has had inputs: seeds, fertilizer (organic or not), labor.  With these inputs, the field is expected to produce outputs: food.  Do we want to turn the natural world into a kind of energy farm, as we set ourselves up to "take" the renewables, wherever they may be?  I don't think so.

I write about environmentalism, and letting the rivers be rivers, not hydro plants, and my own history of Sierra Club membership, back in the day when the Club protected the wilderness. Remember the fight against Glen Canyon Dam?  Remember the fights to expand wilderness areas?

So-called "environmental" groups have come a long way in the wrong direction since those days. Now, they try to sell everyone on the absolute necessity of building wind turbines on the ridges of our beautiful mountains. Now, they make fun of people who think hydro power might be limited in Vermont.  Now...well, now, in my opinion, many of their stances are completely anti-environmental.

My ANS post is more personal than usual.  I hope you will read it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Local Business: Vermont Yankee at the Business Expo

Richard January, VY employee, talking to a visitor
Vermont Yankee booth at Vermont Business Expo
Vermont Yankee at the Expo

On May 22 and 23, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce held its yearly Vermont Business and Industry Expo at the Burlington Sheraton conference center.

I went to the Expo this year and Entergy Vermont Yankee had a booth.  Several Vermont Yankee employee volunteers staffed the booth. In my picture, you can see Richard January talking to a visitor  at the booth.

Voices for Vermont Yankee (the book)

Entergy had several copies of our book, Voices for Vermont Yankee, at their booth.   Voices for Vermont Yankee records many pro-Vermont Yankee testimonies made at the Public Service Board hearings last fall.   My husband George and I published this book together, and Entergy had told me that they bought some copies. I think they gave a few copies away at the Expo.

You don't have to go to the Entergy booth to get a copy, though!  You can buy Voices for Vermont Yankee on Amazon as a paperback ($4.04) or you can buy it as a Kindle or a Nook ebook for $2.99.  It's an inspiring book for anyone in favor of nuclear energy: people's statements in favor of nuclear power.

Last time I announced the book, it was only available as an ebook. Now we have it as  a paperback, too. With this print copy available, more people can read it.  You can give it as a gift if you already have your own copy. George worked hard and thoughtfully  to design the paperback. It looks very good (but I'm prejudiced).  You will enjoy it.

Others at the Expo

While I was at the Expo, I was happy to see that GW Plastics, one of my favorite Vermont companies, won the prestigious Deane C. Davis Outstanding Business Award.  As the GW Press Release for this award wrote: During the last two decades, the company has expanded four times in Vermont, investing millions in equipment, facilities, and training, and doubling its Vermont employment. 

I have some connection to Vermont manufacturing, so I was glad to see a Vermont manufacturing company win this award.  My manufacturing connection is mainly through Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center (VMEC). VMEC is part of a nationwide organization which helps U.S. manufacturers be innovative and efficient.  I used to write Success Stories for VMEC, interviewing manufacturers that had worked with them.   At the Expo, I enjoyed stopping by the VMEC booth and seeing some old friends.

A Vermont Company

Vermont Yankee is a Vermont company (though part of a larger company, which is true of many Vermont employers, such as Ben and Jerry's and IBM).  Vermont Yankee employs many people in Vermont.  It pays taxes in Vermont.  It attends trade fairs in Vermont.

For me, seeing VY's booth at the Expo was a very refreshing and calming experience.  People stopped by and talked: as far as I can tell, most visitors were in favor of continued operation of the plant. (I was not staffing the booth, just visiting, so my knowledge is incomplete.)   All the Expo exhibitors were calm and upbeat. It is fun to walk around a trade show.  Being at Expo was a refreshing change from my trips to hearings in Brattleboro and Montpelier.

Perhaps I spend too much time  at hearings and not enough time at trade shows.  I'm going to try to  change that.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Court Case with a Deadline: The Black Start Diesels

Breaking News: 

Last night, the hearing officer for the diesel docket at the Public Service Board recommended granting a certificate to allow the diesels to be installed.  This is great news!  However, as Entergy notes in its response, the PSB has not yet ruled on this recommendation, so the situation remains uncertain.  Andrew Stein article at Vermont Digger includes a link to the hearing officer statement.

A Court Case with a Deadline

On June 4, in federal court in Brattleboro, there will be a hearing on Entergy's suit against Vermont's Public Service Board.  While many court cases drag on forever, this one is likely to be resolved quickly.  Entergy needs an answer from the court by mid-June.

Vermont Yankee needs a diesel generator.  The plant must begin pouring the concrete pad for it in mid-June.


Vermont Yankee and Vernon Dam
In the summer of 2012, the New England System operator (ISO-NE) changed its black-start power plant requirements.  "Black Start" power plants are plants that can start quickly and re-energize the grid during a wide-spread outage. Until last summer, hydro plants were the black-start plants, but hydro plants tend to be small (Vernon Dam is 34 MW).  Gas-fired plants can also start quickly, and gas-fired plants tend to be bigger.  It would require fewer gas-fired plants to re-energize the grid.  Therefore, last summer,  ISO-NE said that small hydro plants such as Vernon Dam would no longer be black-start facilities.  That role would be assigned to larger gas-fired plants.

Vermont Yankee has a direct tie-line to Vernon Dam, and had always counted Vernon Dam as a source of emergency back-up power. When Vernon Dam was re-classified and would no longer be a black-start facility, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission required Vermont Yankee to replace it with another emergency diesel generator.

Supposedly, in Vermont, adding a diesel generator at a nuclear power plant requires a ruling from the Public Service Board.   That's the current Vermont requirement, and Entergy tried to comply.  In early August, Entergy announced it would ask the PSB for permission to add a diesel generator.  The Brattleboro Reformer reported on the request on August 7 (Entergy to ask for new diesel generator at VY), and I blogged about it on August 13 (Black Start, Black Out and Diesels, Some Clarity).

Trying to Shut the Plant Down

As soon as Entergy said it needed a new diesel generator,  intervenors got ready to try to stop them from acquiring one.  As Ray Shadis of NEC said in the Reformer article: "the state even today regulates certain aspects of existing emergency generators -- such as exhaust emissions, petroleum leaks and noise."  He clearly hoped that this diesel generator, a required piece of nuclear plant safety equipment, would be stopped on the basis that diesel generators are..well, they are diesels.

(sarcasm alert) We don't need no stinkin' diesels in Vermont. (end alert)

The Public Service Board Refuses to Act

Vermont Yankee began the process of asking for a new generator last August.  In general, such simple requests to the Public Service Board do not require complicated dockets, but are decided in two or three months. This type of request does not require not the same type of docket as a utility merger might require.  However, the PSB made it pretty clear that they were going to make this decision into a major issue. After months of hesitating, on December 27, they opened the investigation into the diesel with a PSB order that included these words:

As a preliminary matter, the Hearing Officer may request parties to examine the question of whether (i) the Board can and should grant permission for Entergy VY to install the generator when Entergy VY is not in compliance with existing Orders and CPGs and has not demonstrated that it is willing to comply with orders of this Board 

Orders and Implied Orders

The "orders of this Board" clause is not about something small.  It's huge. The question is whether Entergy has a right to keep operating Vermont Yankee after March 2012, when its original certificate of public good expired. In general, by Vermont law, plants can keep operating with an expired certificate, as long as they had applied for a new certificate in a timely fashion (as Entergy did).  But Senate votes and federal court cases (among other things) have muddied the waters on the certificate extension, at least in the opinion of the PSB.

I have not actually found any order from the PSB requiring the plant to shut down.  It seems to be more of an order-implied-by-the-question  that is quoted above. If someone can find such an actual PSB order, I hope they will tell me.  The last two years of PSB orders can be found on this page:  Recent Public Service Board Orders.

The PSB did issue an order recently, however.  On April 24, the Public Service Board entered a Scheduling Order on the docket, re-iterating that it wanted answers to the questions  from the December 27 order.  To put the matter rather mildly, with this statement, the PSB gave Entergy absolutely no assurance of a timely decision.

Entergy Sues

On April 25, Entergy sued the Public Service Board in federal court, claiming the Board has no authority over safety equipment at a nuclear power plant.  It seems clear to me (and apparently, equally clear to Entergy) that the Public Service Board is willfully interfering with the purchase of  nuclear safety equipment. The Board is pre-empting and frustrating the federal role of ensuring safety at nuclear plants.  Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger has a good short article on the lawsuit. I have the Entergy complaint (document that outlined their suit) on federal-filings-page of the Energy Education Project website.

As the Entergy complaint notes, on page 25:   Vermont's refusal to authorize construction of the station blackout an aspect of the state's long-running campaign to force the VY Station to shut down by any means necessary because of radiological safety concerns....[Vermont] has no genuine, non-pre-empted state interest in preventing construction of the blackout generator.

A June 4 date has been set for the hearing.

Even Nuclear Opponents Wonder about the PSB's Choices

Pat Parentau
Pat Parentau is no friend of Vermont Yankee.  He is a professor at Vermont Law School and an advisor to the Vermont legislature on methods for shutting down the plant.  However, even Parentau appears puzzled by the Board's actions.  A recent article by John Dillon at VPR quoted Parentau:

Vermont Law School Professor Pat Parenteau said the suit puts state regulators in a difficult situation.

“The point is you have a federal law that mandates something to be done and the state seems to be frustrating that,” he said. “And that’s just not the position you want to be in.”...

“Once again, I’m concerned about how the state interacts with the federal court in this matter,” he said. “If they have a real basis to say, ‘no, we’re not going to let you do this.’ Then, okay, what is that basis? But they don’t seem to have that. Why didn’t the state just do something that would avoid this? I don’t know.”

The court date is coming soon.  It will be interesting to see how the state defends their position on the diesel generator.  I personally don't think they can defend it. "They don't seem to have that [a real basis for their statement]" as Parentau said.  So true, indeed.

The state is making arbitrary decisions on nuclear safety, and now they will be in court again.  However, every time a case is heard in court, it is a gamble.  I am not a lawyer. I  think the state does NOT have a good case, but I certainly don't think it is a slam-dunk that one side or the other will win.

I think Entergy is in the right on this, and I certainly hope for a good outcome in court.


Note: You can link directly to the Entergy filing complaint filing pdf here.  It includes a timeline, including Entergy warning the PSB of the date that it would sue them, if the PSB didn't move.  The pdf is a longish document and will take time to download.

I have another document, also, about Vernon Dam.   I asked an  Entergy spokesman if VY had tried to pay Vernon Dam to continue to be available as a black-start facility.  In return, he sent me this filing that Entergy made to the Public Service Board on April 12.  Entergy had asked Vernon Dam (TransCanada) that question and been refused.  TransCanada was willing to be black-start if required by ISO-NE, but did not want to take on the liability of being contractually bound with a nuclear power plant.

All filings to the PSB are public documents, but this one does not appear on the PSB website.  I thank Entergy for sharing it with me.  Mark Potkin's testimony on negotiations with TransCanada--a relatively short pdf.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

NRC Meeting about Vermont Yankee: What Wasn't Shown

Tension at the NRC Meeting

The day after the NRC meeting about Vermont Yankee, I wrote a post Mellow Meeting of the NRC in Brattleboro.  Actually, the meeting was only mellow in comparison with last year's meeting: The Politics of Intimidation.  This year, women with Jaczko masks once tried to disrupt the meeting by standing behind the NRC people, chanting and making speeches (photo at left). Once again, the NRC members left the room and then came back into the room.  Once again, the women stood behind the NRC after the NRC came back.

However, the women didn't succeed this year.  Eventually the women sat down and the meeting proceeded.

Eventually, I took action

Um, did I say "eventually?" I should have said something stronger.  The problem is that I don't like to toot my own horn.  But I did take action that helped get the meeting back on track, and it is worth sharing that action with my readers.

At the meeting, the women were chanting, the NRC was trying to talk over them, a man from the audience shouted "It's about Democracy!" and I had personally had enough.  I went up to an open mike that was standing in the middle of the room, and I interrupted the whole thing. I said, quite loudly:

“No, it’s about diversity! It’s about whether people with different opinions and different views and different backgrounds will be allowed to talk at this meeting! Apparently not!

Then I left the microphone. The meeting had grown quiet while I spoke (it was so unexpected) and the police soon persuaded the women to sit down.

I blogged about this incident at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Speaking Out of Turn at the NRC Meeting. On that post, I treasure a comment from a man who was at the meeting and wanted to thank me after the meeting.  Unfortunately,  I was feeling sort of shaky from the strain of doing something like that, and I left the meeting a bit early.

OMG, It Isn't There

A few days later, I found that community TV had recorded the meeting.  I thought: "Oh dear. What did it look like when I went up to that microphone?" I was scared to look at the video, but I needn't have worried.  The incident wasn't there at all.

The TV people apparently felt that the women chanting, the NRC leaving the room and coming back, the NRC trying to talk above the chanting, me making my statement, the police approaching the women..none of that was worth recording.  I don't know how they concluded this: in retrospect, it was all rather dramatic theater. But none of it is on the video.

If you look at the video below, a man from the NRC refers to the incident with some statement like: "if there is more disruption, we will have to take a break."  The video cameras follow the women walking peaceably around the "science fair" part of the meeting and then you see them sitting peaceably in the chairs during the question period.  In the video, you see me and my friend Guy Page (frequent guest blogger) speak to the NRC once the meeting was underway. Our remarks start at about the 11 minute mark on the video.

The TV video makes the situation look darn mellow.  That is not how it happened, my friends.  That is not how it happened.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The 90% Solution: What 90% Renewables Would Look Like in Vermont

What going to 90% renewable energy would do to Vermont’s landscape

In 2011, the Vermont Department of Public Service published a Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) for Vermont’s future. The CEP states that Vermont will get 90% of all its energy, including the energy we use to drive our cars and heat our homes, from renewables by 2050.  There’s another section titled “25 by 25”, meaning that Vermont should get 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025.  There are no concrete directions or roadmaps for accomplishing either of these goals.

In a hearing before the newly formed Energy Siting Board, one woman stated that the CEP was a collection of slogans, not a plan.  She was correct. Nevertheless, it does represent the goals Montpelier has made for our state, they are acting on it, and we have to take it seriously. I am attempting to see how we could possibly meet these goals, and to answer the question what does moving to 90% renewable energy – or trying to – really mean? In particular, what impact would it have on our natural environment and signature Vermont landscape?

Here’s the reality: If we are going to build enough renewables to generate 90% of our energy needs, we will have to devote much of our state land resources to the cause of energy production.

Renault ZE  electric car
Consider that to “get away from fossil fuels” we will have to convert to mostly electric vehicles and electric heat-pump heated homes. How much more electricity will we need?  Right now, Vermont uses 6000 GWh of electricity per year.  For the “renewable” future, my preliminary estimate is that we we will need at least three times this much, or 18,000 GWh. In an op-ed in the Valley News, Charles McKenna, a Sierra Club member and retired engineer, estimated Vermont would require 15,000 GWh. (He was making the case for building renewables quickly.) In short we’re looking at a lot more electricity generation. What are the renewable options for obtaining this power?

Let’s take wind turbines. Most people are immediately struck by how big the things are. A 3 MW wind turbine has blades that sweep the entire area of a football field.  The Vestas at Kingdom Community Wind (Lowell Mountain) have blades that sweep 112 meters  (367 feet). Why so big?  Because wind is not energy-dense.  Think about it: a windy day can blow some trash around, but the wind usually can’t lift even a tiny dog and blow it around.  If you want to make electricity with wind — enough electricity to make it worth the trouble to put in a transmission line — you have to capture a lot of wind. So, you build turbines that sweep more than the area of a football field.

Solar and Wind at Lempster NH
To make 18,000 GWh of electricity, my rough estimate (I’ll have more detailed numbers ready for publication later this spring) is that Vermont would need to build 140 wind farms with the approximate output of Lowell Mountain’s 21-turbine facility. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory web site and other comparisons, 21 turbines of this size would usually cover 5 miles of ridgeline.  These 140 wind farms would use 2,240 industrial turbines over 700 miles of ridgeline. Lowell claims to use only 3 miles of ridge line: in this case, ”only” 420 miles of ridgeline would be required for the turbines. However, not all ridges have wind as good as Lowell, so more turbines would probably be needed. Keep in mind, the entire state of Vermont is 158 miles long and 90 miles across at its widest.

If we do move to a 90% renewable energy portfolio, much of Vermont’s high country would need to be sacrificed to meet the CEP’s goals. Still, that wouldn’t cover the electricity we would need, because sometimes the wind doesn’t blow.

Logs at Springfield NH
biomass plant
What about solar? A 2.2 MW solar facility was recently installed in White River Junction. An area of 15 acres was cleared for this facility. Do to our northern locations and frequent cloud cover, this can be expected to generate only 2,755 MWh or 2.8 GWh per year. Making 18,000 GWh per year with solar would require 6,700 such facilities or 100,000 acres of solar installations. They would cover an area approximately one-fourth the size of the Green Mountain Forest. And, of course, they would not provide any power when the sun isn’t shining.

Biomass? It is difficult to calculate the wood required by biomass plants. Using information from the McNeil and Ryegate biomass plants gives different results from calculations based on wood heat content and power plant efficiencies. Basically, making 18,000 GWh with wood biomass will require between 8 and 14 million cords per year. In contrast, the current wood harvest from Vermont is about 1 million cords per year.
At the Springfield plant

How much forestland does, say, 12 million cords represent?  Estimates of a sustainable wood harvest vary from 0.5 to 2 cords per year per acre. Assuming one cord per acre, we would need 12 million acres to be devoted to wood for the biomass power plants. The total area of the state of Vermont is 5.9 million acres, of which 4.6 million is forested.

Any (or any combination) of the above mentioned options necessary to meet a 90% renewable policy would have a tremendous impact on the look and feel of Vermont for generations to come. Tourism plays a very important role in the economy of this state, and a pristine and rural landscape is an important part of the Vermont brand. We really have to decide if “90%” is worth its tremendous cost to our environment. (And to our pocketbooks. Electricity made from renewables costs two to ten times as much as standard “grid” electricity. We can expect Vermont’s electricity prices to double or triple, if the CEP is actually put into effect.)

People who are against large-scale renewable energy development are often ridiculed as NIMBYs.  However, they may simply be aware that achieving renewable-energy goals will have huge effects on Vermont’s landscape and ecosystem, and they don’t want that to happen.  In other words, people opposed to renewable developments are often true environmentalists. It is time to reject the impossible goals of the CEP, and implement only the renewables that are reasonable and cost-effective for the citizens of our state.


This is a preliminary version of the Vermont Land Use report that George and I are writing for the Ethan Allen Institute.  This post first appeared on the Ethan Allen Institute site.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

LFTRs, a Disruptive Technology; Guest Post by Fred Moreno

This is a letter written to me and Robert Hargraves, which I obtained permission to share on my blog.  I have edited it a little:

Dear Robert:

Thanks for your book Thorium Energy Cheaper than Coal which I have just completed.  Besides providing a further education on the topic, in reading the first page reviews, I saw one by Meredith Angwin which caused a distant memory to light up... I found her email address and we have struck up a conversation of shared interests.

I was motivated to write after reading your appendix with the paper that again retraces the history of LWRs and the evolution of the latest generation systems from Westinghouse et al.  Their investment causes them to have little interest in any new technology that may detract from their established history and embedded corporate strategic heading.  As you know, this is common in companies/industries that grow long in tooth.

Disruptive Technologies

If you are not aware of the work of Clayton Christensen at the Harvard Business School, you should review his work on "disruptive innovation" in light of the Westinghouse strategy and disruptive characteristics created by LFTR.  In short, Christensen showed through research that markets change need, and differing needs cause changes in buyer preference which old suppliers can not adjust to meet. So they die.  He started with disk drives, and broadened his research.

Some examples:

In disk drives, for years the driver was lower cost per megabyte which meant huge disk drives.  I am
sure you remember the refrigerator size drives, lined up in rows, that serviced IBM 360's at computer centers to which we brought stacks of punch cards.  Mini-computers (DEC VAX being most notable example) could be put in a closet so that small hard disk drives were preferred despite much higher $/MB cost.  Small size was more important.  The 8 inch Winchester and then 5 inch Winchester drives emerged, and a whole new industry of disk drive companies thrived.  Interestingly, IBM did not make the transition, and the 8 inch guys could not transition to 5 inch who could not transition to 3 inch shock hardened units for lap tops.  Once established, the established players could not match the cost structure and demands of the next smaller step.

Research showed this happened in the past again and again. American clipper ships were unsurpassed in ability to sail around the Horn at low cost with high reliability. Steam ships were unreliable, expensive, and exploded.  But clipper ships could not navigate rivers and canals, and it was on the Mississippi River and elsewhere that steamships found a solid footing and matured to eventually take over.  Number of clipper ship companies that made the transition:  zero.

Earthmoving was dominated by huge steam shovels.  Figure of merit: dollars per cubic yard of soil moved.  Bigger was better.  Until the post WWII housing boom when somebody cobbled together a small hydraulic powered scoop that fitted on the back of a Ford rubber tire ag tractor and was driven by the agricultural power take off coupling.  It was a kludge, but for cutting trenches around tract houses, it beat hand work by miles.  Time goes on, and hydraulic backhoes have become huge and dominant in earth moving.  Survivors from the steam shovel days: a couple that now make huge drag lines for open pit mining.
Avant Loader in Sweden

Bigger seems better, until it isn't

You see the pattern is clear in the context of LFTR: The proposed GEN III huge "modular" LWRs are derelicts of the past.  They must be bypassed because the market demands something with different requirements - mass production, easily shipped and quickly erected at smaller, easier to find sites, economy from production line manufacture instead of economies of scale, and all the other benefits you know so well.

So as you pursue your quest for LFTR, and given your bully pulpit, I suggest you incorporate the lessons of "disruptive innovation" to show that costs, risks, performance, and other benefits arise from adaptation to the changes in market demand.   "Disruptive innovation" needs to be a primary strategic element of LFTR commercialization attracting a new generation of business entrepreneurs not bound to the views of the past.  It is a message that rings strongly with the venture capital set, all of whom have carefully read Christensen's work.   It needs to be part of the LFTR equation.


Fred Moreno, a retired Yankee Techie now resident on the SW coastline of Western Australia

 I worked with the author, Fred Moreno, at Acurex in the 70s.  Moreno has a BSME from University of California and an MSME from Stanford University. He retired from his position as Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Silicon Valley technology company. The company made robotic systems for use in the semiconductor manufacturing business.  Moreno now lives in Australia.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hydro: Some insight into nuclear opponent mistakes

My recent post on Nuclear Opponents View of New Hydro in Vermont described a Public Service Board hearing. The post showcased a lawyer for a nuclear opponent as he said the equivalent of:
"Nah, nah, nah, I know about hydro and I am not telling!"

What did he think he "knew" but didn't have to "tell"?

Two engineers contributed to this current post on the topic of new hydro.   William Rodgers commented on my earlier blog post itself, while Jaro Franta (from Quebec) commented on the earlier post at the Save Vermont Yankee Facebook page.

Licensing  by William Rodgers:

..But anyway, not to take away from Mr. Simon's moment illustrating his maturity level; the other issue of new hydro is not just available capacity but also licensing.

New hydro needs to walk the path of licensing with FERC. It is one thing to read a few research articles in Hydroworld and proclaim some sort of illusory victory. It is entirely something else to actually make a transition plan to new hydro work so all will benefit and none will suffer. New hydro can take anywhere from 5 to 15+ years to get licensed.

And with the current FERC leadership preferring natural gas plants over all other generation sources to back up wind, it is highly doubtful significant new hydro would be licensed anyway. Especially since actual environmental groups would come out and protest licensing activities.

Then there is the construction costs, number of sites that would have to be used to get even close to the output of VY, issues with run-of-the-river dams where water is already needed for other uses, not hydro-generation. Oh the list goes on and on.

Then there is the dreaded drought year or years. What then?

What is "Hydrologic"? by Jaro Franta

"Hydrologic turbines" seems to be a reference to an aquatic version of windmills:

Greens in Quebec have also been pushing these "water current turbines" or Tyson turbines, as an alternative to standard hydro dams - they would apparently prefer putting thousands of these things in the St. Lawrence and other rivers.

Unfortunately they're clueless about the crud (fouling) that develops over time on these things, due to the low-speed water flow, and the massive job it would be to keep cleaning them.

(Not to mention other undesirable aspects, such as interference with marine traffic and harm to aquatic life)

Developments in ducted water current turbines

Keeping These Turbines Clean, by Jaro Franta

Incidentally, a fair comparison may be made with the Côte Sainte-Catherine Hydromega projects, which I was involved in the mid-1990's.

As I recall, one of the big issues there was the fouling of the trash racks on the intake to the penstocks: These are ***fortunately*** accessible from shore (they are on the high side of the seaway locks dikes), but they certainly keep the plant operators busy cleaning them, especially in the summer.
I can't imagine what that job would be like, with turbine units spread out all over the river somewhere.....

" The Côte Ste-Catherine facility is located at the Côte Ste-Catherine lock of the Lachine section of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The bypass canal upon which the facility is located was constructed as part of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958. The facility has a total installed capacity of 11,120 kilowatts and was constructed in three separate phases, each phase having a total installed capacity of 2,120 kilowatts, 4,500 kilowatts and 4,500 kilowatts, respectively, and each phase was commissioned in 1989, 1993 and 1996, respectively. Due to the year round, high volume water flows of the St. Lawrence River, the facility is expected to operate at full capacity throughout the year. The Côte Ste-Catherine facility uses approximately 2 per cent of the river flow at any given time.

More photos:

My Own Conclusions

As William Rodgers notes, permitting new hydro would be close to impossible.  This is probably why upgrading existing hydro is more popular.

As Jaro Franta notes, upkeep on run-of-the-river turbines is very difficult, since the low flows mean the trash racks are easily fouled.  Also, the Côte Ste-Catherine facility uses only 2 percent of the river flow.  With a mighty river like the St. Lawrence, installed capacity for these turbines is 11.2 MW.  With a smaller stream, the output would be in kilowatts, and the costs of running and cleaning the system might be too high for the amount of power you would gain.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

As Germany goes, so goes Vermont? Guest post by Guy Page

Guy Page
As Germany goes, so goes Vermont?

Parallels in renewable energy policy and outcomes

By Guy Page

“As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” went the political truism between 1834 and 1932, when the Pine Tree State picked the winner in almost every presidential election. When only staunch Republican (!) Vermont joined Maine in selecting Republican Alf Landon in 1936, winner Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign manager James Farley famously if somewhat predictably quipped: “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”

Eighty years later Vermont is following another trendsetter:  Germany, the Western world’s undisputed leader of government-subsidized renewable power. Visitors to Germany note that solar panels cover the south face of seemingly every village church, school and home. Germany is home to a well-funded, highly popular “feed-in tariff” (FIT) that has encouraged almost broadbased power production. Of the 40 GW of installed solar power worldwide at the end 2010, almost half – 17.4 GW – was located in Germany. In just two years Germany’s share jumped to about 30 GW, according to the Feb. 2013 Washington Post.

German Inspiration

The German program was an inspiration to the crafters of Vermont’s May, 2009 feed-in tariff law, the energy-generation lynchpin of the state’s plan to use 90% renewables by 2050. Then Senate Pro-Tem (and now Governor) Peter Shumlin was particularly enthusiastic. In March, 2010 he told Fox News that if overcast Germany can get 30% of its electricity from solar power, so can America. He said this just days after leading the Vermont Senate in its “no” vote on Vermont Yankee. (When Fox reporter Stuart Varney pointed out that Germany gets just one percent of its power from solar, Shumlin conceded the error but has never retreated from his central point: Vermont, like Germany, can become a leader in the new renewable power energy economy, resulting in new jobs, clean air, and energy independence.)

Like its European forebearer, Vermont’s FIT solar power program also contributes about one percent to the state’s total power portfolio – actually, about one-third of one percent. The state’s SPEED website lists 13 projects (see “project summary” page) as “online and generating,” producing about 18,000 MWh of Vermont’s total load of about 6,000,000 MWh. (The FIT program for ALL forms of generation comes in at 53,000 MWh, or just under the one percent mark.)

German FIT solar power costs about 32 cents American per kilowatt-hour. Likewise in Vermont: FIT solar power is down from 30 cents to 25.7, about five times the average market rate. And while market power rates fluctuate – for better or worse - the Vermont FIT solar power rate, once set, is fixed in contractual stone over the course of the 10 year contract.

Nuclear and Fossil

As in Germany, Vermont opponents of nuclear power were empowered by a nuclear “incident” that helped them reverse government support for nuclear power. The Vermont Senate’s 2010 vote was held amid a powerful public response to reports of a tritium leak at Vermont Yankee. In May 2011, in the wake of Fukushima, the German government announced plans to close many nuclear plants. Although Germany followed Vermont chronologically, the decisions-making process was similar: the politically astute realized that a sense of crisis had moved matters to a tipping point.

The pro-renewables, anti-nuclear policy has had an unexpected effect in both locales: they are more reliant on fossil fuels. Germany has been an acknowledged leader among the “green” nations of Europe. In 2011, Vermont had the nation’s smallest carbon footprint for power generation, thanks largely to its reliance on hydro and Vermont Yankee.

A Step Backwards for the Carbon Footprint

Lignite or "Brown Coal"
In carbon terms, both have taken a step backwards. According to a February 27 2013 Bloomberg News report, Germany plans to build 6000 new megawatts of coal-fired power generation, a move which will significantly increase their overall carbon footprint. The pragmatic Germans realize they need plentiful, domestic, baseload power capacity to support Europe’s strongest manufacturing economy. Deprived of nuclear power, the German government is turning – back – to coal.

In Vermont, something similar has happened. Vermont Yankee’s contract providing about a third of the state’s electricity expired in March, 2012. Vermont’s reliance on New England grid power jumped about one million megawatt-hours in 2012 over 2011, according to “Vermont Electricity At A Glance,” study I conducted for the Vermont Energy Partnership. That figure equals one-sixth of Vermont’s total electrical load. About three-quarters of the grid’s power is derived from fossil fuels, mostly natural gas.

Concerns about the technical Achilles Heel of intermittent power - grid instability - are present in both Vermont and Germany. The August, 2012 Spiegel Online reported that large German manufacturers have experienced expensive power interruptions related to the transition to renewable power. In Vermont, the New England transmission grid operators have “curtailed” its purchases of power from the Lowell Mountain wind turbine development due to intermittency, resulting in a million dollars of lost income this winter, according to the general manager of one Vermont utility quoted in the April 5, 2013 Vermont Digger. The project’s owner is installing a synchronous condenser - $10 million pricetag – that it hopes will solve the problem.

Looking Forward

It is only fair to point out that in neither Vermont nor Germany has the final chapter been written. Perhaps solar power will prove to be greener, in both cash and carbon, in the long run.  Someday, a bright engineer may solve the problem of “translating” intermittent power into a traditional power grid. No doubt renewable power is delivering many positive benefits right now, including energy diversity, property tax income, and strong growth in solar-related employment. Solar power’s cost of production has decreased somewhat in recent years, in part due to fierce competition from China’s solar panel producers. Nevertheless, it’s a safe bet that when the avid backers of solar power in Vermont and Germany celebrated the passage of their FIT laws, few of them were anticipating that the immediate future would have more carbon and serious concerns about power cost and reliability.


Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at Yes Vermont Yankee. His most recent blog post described his report on Vermont's transition to renewable energy

Monday, May 6, 2013

Off Shore Wind Versus Nuclear: Guest Post by Willem Post

Off Shore Wind Versus Nuclear: Guest Post by Willem Post

AWC Schematic, from their website
Introduction by Meredith Angwin

Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) plans to enable the Atlantic Coast to use off-shore wind efficiently.  As their website says:

The Mid-Atlantic region offers more than 60,000 MW of offshore wind potential in the relatively shallow waters of the outer continental shelf. 

The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone transmission project is an essential foundation to this new industry.

Evaluation by Willem Post

Trans-Elect and Atlantic Grid Development are the Atlantic Wind Connection, AWC, project developers.

When completed, the AWC will be able to carry as much as 7,000 MW of offshore wind energy to consumers along the US East Coast.

With a project plan that envisages construction extending from 2016 - 2026, the developers intend to build out the offshore transmission backbone in five phases at a total expected cost of $6.311 billion. The capital cost of the IWTs (Industrial Wind Turbines) would be 7,000 MW x $4.2 million/MW = $24.53 Billion, for a total of $35.7 billion

Energy production would be 7,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.40 = 24.53 TWh/yr

For comparison: The capital cost of 7,000 MW of nuclear plants (7 standard 1,000 MW plants) would be about $28 billion and the energy production of would be 7,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 55.20 TWh/yr; more than twice the production at much less capital cost. They could all be built in about 10 years, thereby reducing CO2 much sooner than the IWTs which would take 20 years.

Completing the project would enable transmission of renewable offshore wind power to consumers in NY, Pennsylvania, NJ, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia.

According to a project analysis performed by IHS Global Insight, the AWC transmission backbone would be able to deliver:

3,417 MW of electrical power to NJ (44% of AWC’s total capacity);
1,015 MW to Delaware (13%);
1,013 MW to Maryland (13%)
2.297 MW to Virginia (30%).

Based on the above, it appears the energy cost of the IWTs will be at least 20 c/kWh and of the nuclear plants about 10 c/kWh, per EIA/US-DOE

About Willem Post

Willem Post is one of the most-read bloggers at The Energy Collective.  He has a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and also an MBA.  He designed systems and evaluated costs for utility systems and large buildings.   He is an internationally recognized expert on the economics of wind power.

Post is a founding member of the Coalition for Energy Solutions, and an occasional guest blogger at this blog, for example, his November 2012 guest post: Wind in Vermont is Oversold.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Renewable Subsidies for the Rich: Guest Post by John McClaughry

Renewable Subsidies for the Rich by John McClaughry

Renewable electricity costs from two to five times (depending on the technology) as much as electricity from the New England grid, generated by natural gas, hydro, coal, and nuclear. Therefore no utility would rationally buy it but for an astounding assortment of subsidies and mandates.

Consider just these: The federal investment tax credit subsidizes 30% of the capital costs of small scale solar photovoltaic and wind projects. Some investors may also claim a 50% first year depreciation bonus, plus five years of ordinary depreciation of the remainder, regardless of the actual lifetime of the equipment. Wind generated electricity on any scale earns a 2.3 cents/kWh federal Production Tax Credit.

The Vermont legislature has added to this cornucopia a 7.2% investment tax credit for small wind and solar PV electricity produced from commercial properties. The Clean Energy Development Fund, until it ran out of money, also added 45 cents per residential installed watt for solar panels (40 cents per watt for commercial and industrial projects).

The legislature has also required Vermont utilities to buy solar PV (up to 2.2 MW) and small wind electricity (up to 100kw) at prices up to five times the wholesale price available on the New England power grid.  In an effort to lure enough new investors to stay on target toward the 127.5 MW program goal, the PSB has now pushed the feed in tariff rate for new solar PV projects up to 25.7 c/kWh for the next 25 years; and to 26.2 c/kWh averaged over 20 years for small wind.

To summarize: governments shower lucrative capital and operating subsidies on wind and solar entrepreneurs, then force the utilities buy their electricity at up to five times the New England wholesale price for 20 to 25 years, charging the extra cost to their ratepayers. What a sweet deal!

Willem Post of Woodstock is a retired electric engineer whose career took him all over the United States and Europe. One of his hobbies is running calculations on the economics of energy, especially renewable energy.

Post describes a $10.5 million 2.2 MW solar PV facility in White River Jct., created by high-income Boston investors. About 15 acres of topsoil and trees were cleared, leveled, and shielded by an eight foot high fence. The facility almost certainly features Chinese-made solar panels and German-made inverters. It will generate electricity only when the sun is adequately shining, which is about 35% of the hours of the year. The expected annual generation is 2,755 MWh.

Under the legislature’s feed-in tariff law, the Public Service Board mandated that Green Mountain
Power write a check to the investors each year for 25 years in the amount of $661,415.  Since the cost to GMP is about four times the cost of electricity from the New England grid, the utility will charge its customers $509,840 a year more than they would otherwise have had to pay for grid power.

The generous tax benefits appeal to people in the highest income tax brackets. In 2011 the Shumlin administration made it even more attractive to the rich by allowing them to take half of the lifetime projected tax benefits from the Clean Energy Development Fund as an upfront grant, an option eagerly taken by 64 of the first 68 investors in the program.

The state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan of 2011 recommended adoption of a Vermont Renewable Portfolio Standard, by which utilities would be required to increasingly higher percentages of their electricity from renewables (including HydroQuebec). Achieving this goal would mean that ratepayers would be hammered all the harder, while the investors pocket even greater profits. Nice.

Last spring the House was about to enact a Renewable Portfolio Standard. At the last minute Shumlin, an erstwhile advocate, instructed the House not to do it. We don’t know why he suddenly got cold feet, but 14 of the 29 states with RPS laws are currently watering them down.

That suggests that a lot of voters forced to pay for the renewable mandates have discovered that they are a very bad deal – unless they have allowed people like Peter Shumlin and Bill McKibben to terrify them about the Menace of Global Warming, which has disappeared since 1999.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute ( I am a director of the Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute.

This article first appeared at Vermont Digger

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Radiation Superstition: Guest Post by Bob Hargraves

Radiation Superstition by Robert Hargraves

Nearly a million people each year die of breathing particulates from burning coal; the climate temperature may increase 2°C this century; more than a billion people have no electricity.  Yet within

our reach is a solution to these global crises of increasing air pollution deaths, climate change, and the
Coal Mine, Wyoming
growing populations of nations trapped in energy poverty.

The welcome growth of the global middle class increases energy demand. If the world's economy prospers enough to allow everyone to enjoy just half of the electricity benefits that Americans now take for granted, world electric power generation will triple. Most electricity will come from coal burning, which grew 8% worldwide in 2011. Germany leads the way, building more coal plants. Wind and solar power are too intermittent and too expensive to displace coal worldwide.

Nuclear power is the solution within reach; it's safe and affordable, with low environmental impact. Yet opposition to it borders on superstition, defined by Merriam-Webster as a "belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation ... a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary".  Let's explore evidence.

People rationally fear possible accidents spreading deadly radioactive materials. Indeed massive doses of radiation did kill 38 emergency workers at Chernobyl, and the fallout of short-lived iodine resulted in 4000 cases of thyroid cancer and 15 deaths. However there is no evidence of the thousands of hypothetical deaths predicted by extrapolation of deadly exposures to lower radiation doses. Opponents of nuclear power have now hyped this death number up to one million, without observable evidence.

Low-level radiation
Using simplistic mathematical extrapolations from the effects of high-radiation accidents, nuclear power opponents claim that no amount of radiation is safe -- not even the low-level natural radiation that comes from the sky and from earth's radioactive potassium, uranium, and thorium created billions of years ago. Potassium is in our food and our bodies. Rocks contains the thorium and uranium that decays to radon or fuels electric power plants.

Reporting about the Fukushima accident created hysteria without basis. A UN scientific committee charged with investigating the accident's health effects reported in December that no radiation health effects have been observed among public or workers, and it cautioned against extrapolation to predict health effects of low-level radiation. Radiation superstition causes great harm. Japan is wasting billions of dollars preventing repopulation of radiologically safe areas. Hundreds have died from evacuation stress. Importing liquified natural gas to replace nuclear power has driven Japan's balance of trade negative.

People unnecessarily fear low-level radiation from accident-dispersed material, buried waste, or medical procedures. EPA required Yucca Mountain engineers to limit accidental releases to just 1/20th of natural radiation for 10,000 years. Dental X-ray technicians routinely drape lead blankets on patients to protect them, but it would take over 10,000 such X-rays to observe any health effect.

Prolonged radiation exposure is safe at natural environmental levels; each cell rapidly repairs DNA strand breaks: one per second per cell. Early life evolved when the natural radiation rate was 3 times greater than now. Today people living in places where natural radiation is 5 times normal exhibit no more cancers. People living in mile-high Denver get more cosmic radiation, but exhibit no more cancers.

Thorium, Energy Cheaper than Coal
Available Through Amazon
Radiation dose rates are as important as doses. High radiation rates overwhelm natural cellular defenses. Doses deadly to Chernobyl workers would have no effect if spread over a lifetime. Cancers are destroyed by multiple concentrated radiation treatments, allowing time between for less-irradiated tissue to recover. In 2012 MIT radiation researchers discovered no DNA damage from exposure rates 30 times as great as natural radiation, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab scientists actually observed how low-level radiation stimulated repair within cells. Long-term, low-dose radiation is benign.

Nuclear industry and shipyard workers exposed to low-level radiation developed fewer cancers. Accidental contamination of building steel by recycling a medical radiation source exposed 8000 Taiwan residents to radiation 7 times natural levels over 30 years, and cancer rates were dramatically reduced. Last year the Dose Response Journal and the American Nuclear Society published compendia of articles evidencing how low-level radiation is benign or healthful.

The vague radiation regulation, "as low as reasonably achievable" encourages ever more costly impediments to affordable nuclear power. This could be fixed with "as high as reasonably safe" limits that are set with evidence, as practiced for other environmental hazards. Nuclear power can solve our energy, climate, and poverty crises. Should we forsake the future of the planet by clinging to a superstition?

Background of this post:

This post first appeared on Rod Adams blog, Atomic Insights.

On Adams' blog, you can follow many related links about this post.

The post was written as an op-ed, but rejected by a large number of papers, despite its reasonable length and tone, and Hargraves' impressive resume.

On my own blog: Monday Blue Ribbon to Robert Hargraves
Vermont Yankee Explained (the animation) by Robert Hargraves
Plus, Hargraves excellent suggestion that Vernon leave Vermont and join New Hampshire (what's a river, anyhow?)

Hargraves Resumé:

Author: THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal
Energy policy study leader: ILEAD@Dartmouth
Vice president: Boston Scientific
Management consultant: Arthur D Little
Vice president: Metropolitan Life
President, DTSS
Assistant professor of mathematics: Dartmouth College

PhD, physics, Brown University
AB, mathematics and physics, Dartmouth College

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mellow Meeting of NRC in Brattleboro

Low Attendance, Mellow Meeting

Last night's NRC meeting about Vermont Yankee was relatively mellow.  The meeting took place at Brattleboro High School, and was lightly attended.  The first part of the meeting was a science-fair set up, in which people talked and looked at exhibits. As  you can tell by the two pictures, there weren't many people there.

As they did last year, the Shut It Down Affinity Group (aka Raging Grannies) came in again, wearing costumes and masks. Once again, they walked single file around the room.  I hope you can tell (despite my lousy photography) that they were wearing tie-dyed shirts and wore masks of former NRC commissioner Jaczko.

Later, when the more formal presentation was supposed to start, the women once again stood behind the NRC people. The women refused to sit down, and delayed the start of the meeting. They read long letters and repeated quotes from Jaczko about how all nuclear plants must be shut down.

However, unlike last year, the crowd did not swarm up and surround the NRC people in solidarity with them. (There wasn't much of a crowd, anyway.) So the Jaczko impersonators  eventually sat down and the meeting proceeded.

Vignettes from the meeting

Being Friendly: During the open house, Cheryl Twarog (plant supporter), Mike Mulligan (plant opponent) and myself had a very friendly and upbeat conversation about children, the Navy, where we grew up, high school experiences, and so forth.

Aside: My husband was a baby during WWII, but later served on a destroyer (a "tin can"). I remember urging Cheryl and Mike (both associated with Navy nuclear) to read this book about destroyers in a major battle in WWII --  The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.  I also recommend it to the readers of this blog.

Being Unfriendly:  During the meeting, a woman with a heavy German accent (I don't know her at all) gave the usual anti-Vermont Yankee spiel, including lots of comments about Fukushima.   She ended it with the question: "How did you [addressing the NRC people] ever become so contemptuous of other human beings that you encourage nuclear power?" (I didn't record the question, but this was the gist of it.)  At that point, the NRC people began talking about what happened at Fukushima and what we have learned. She interrupted them to say: "I had ONLY ONE question: how did you became so contemptuous of your fellow human beings?" This woman sure had an advanced case of self-righteousness!

Update: My blog post on the meeting is up at the ANS Nuclear Cafe today: Speaking Out of Turn at the NRC Meeting.  The post is about how I spoke out of turn, and how that helped the meeting get back to order.

Further Reading:

One of the people in masks was kind enough to stop and pose while I took a picture, but I did a bad job of taking that picture, and so it isn't on the blog. I apologize.  My camera is old and is getting unreliable.