Monday, March 19, 2018

Thursday Meeting on Sale of VY to NorthStar

Sign from Wikipedia
The Plan for the Sale

On Thursday, March 22, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP)  will meet to discuss the sale of Vermont Yankee from Entergy to NorthStar. On March 2, all the parties to the sale (and all but one of the intervenors) signed off on a Memorandum of Understanding.
This Vermont Digger article by Mike Faher covers the memorandum and  is a little easier to read than the legal document.  State, NorthStar strike deal for sale of Vermont Yankee.

Why is the proposed sale a big deal?  I will attempt to answer that question by answering three subsidiary questions and providing some links.

1) What is this deal about?

Choices After Entergy closed Vermont Yankee, the next step was decommissioning.  Entergy looked at the available funding for decomm, and it proposed that the plant be put in SAFSTOR while the funding grew and the radioactivity of the plant diminished. (SAFSTOR can last for up to 60 years.)  Nobody really liked this idea, but it was financially practical and legal.  Entergy didn't like the plan because Entergy has expertise in running plants, but not in decommissioning them.  The state didn't like it because the plant would be just sitting there, for decades.

Decomm Companies Many other nuclear plant owners have faced this issue, and most have hired a decomm company to do the actual decomm.  This is a little complicated, due to nuclear regulations.  For example, when Exelon planned to decommission the Zion units, it hired the specialist firm EnergySolutions to do the actual work.  However, "hired" is not quite the way it happens.  Exelon transferred the Zion license to EnergySolutions, and EnergySolutions will transfer the license back to Exelon when the decomm is complete. The accumulated decomm funds were transferred with the license.  In effect, EnergySolutions owns Zion temporarily, and is directly responsible to the regulatory agencies during decomm.

The proposed Entergy/ NorthStar deal took this type of deal a step further:  Entergy will sell Vermont Yankee to NorthStar, permanently.

A Sale The sale plan led to a lot of excitement among the local nuclear opponents. A first-of-a-kind transfer (direct sale, not temporary ownership), and happening in Vermont? Oh my! The list of intervenors grew and grew. I felt sorry for both of the companies (Entergy and NorthStar) that had stepped into the morass of Vermont anti-nuclear organizations. These organizations saw this transfer as their last chance to show the world how deeply anti-nuclear they are.  I think they also saw it as their last chance to wring concessions of various types from the companies involved.

Signatures The big deal is that on March 2, all but one of the intervenors signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the terms for the transfer. Basically, Entergy and NorthStar added more bonds and more insurance and more money to the pot, and everyone signed off.  It was not just a win for the intervenors though: the decomm is allowed to use rubbilization, which means using clean debris from building demolition to fill basements.  This had been a huge issue. My blog post from last year contains facts and links, Rubble at Vermont Yankee: Framing the Discussion

Well, everyone signed off on the MOU except Conservation Law Foundation, who felt there wasn't enough money or enough guarantees. CLF predicts that the decomm will run out of money and leave Vermonters on the hook, etc.  My own prediction is that CLF will do everything in their power, including lawsuits, to try to make their prediction come true.  

2) What are  the next steps?

There are quite a few. Vermont State agencies, NorthStar and intervenors have agreed on the MOU, but the state Public Utilities Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must still rule on it.  Once again, Faher at Vermont Digger has a good article on this: Vermont Yankee sale case will extend into summer.  Within that article, note that Guy Page urges plant supporters to come to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission hearing on April 12.  (Guy Page  of Vermont Energy Partnership is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.)

Guy Page's suggestion about the April meeting leads to an easy segueway into the next question:

3) Should I go to the Thursday NDCAP meeting?

Probably.  NDCAP is an advisory committee, and its meetings are often very informative.  This one will include presentations from Entergy, NorthStar and state officials. The meeting is going to be held at a bigger venue (Brattleboro High School) than usual,  because they expect quite a crowd.  In Brattleboro, "quite a crowd" can be unpleasant, as legions of nuclear opponents come in (sometimes by buses) from Massachusetts and all over Vermont and New Hampshire.  On the other hand, the NDCAP meetings are usually fairly orderly.

As I said in my book, meetings are more civilized when the groups are more even. So I do suggest that you go.

On the other hand, I am not sure I will go. I may have a family visit that interferes.  I may be there, or I may not be there.  That makes it harder for me to write: "Absolutely, go!"

If I possibly can, I will be there.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

(Escu) Five things I like about nuclear power

Five Best Things about Nuclear Energy

Suzanne Jaworowski recently asked for input on nuclear communications, specifically for ideas on the best things to communicate about nuclear energy. Jaworowski is Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy.

Dan Yurman posted her request at his blog, and I posted my Five Best and Howard Shaffer's Five Best at this blog. Today, Nick Escu (his pen name) contributes to the conversation.  Escu is a frequent guest blogger at this blog, often writing about natural gas prices.

Nick Escu: Five Things I Like About Nuclear Power

1) Baseload power.

Baseload power is the foundation that the grid depends upon. Nuclear, natural gas, and coal are the  three baseload power sources for the US grid.

2) Reliability.

Reliability is the function of being able to continually produce power. Factors include: fuel, fuel supplies, sustainability during severe weather.

Nuclear plants reliably out rank both natural gas and coal. Nuclear plants produce power over 92% of the time. Coal approximately 57% of the time, and natural gas only 53% of the time. As a baseload, nuclear power is more reliable.

3) Resilience

There are several factors involving resilience for grid operation. How much fuel does a plant have on hand? Do fuel supplies become unavailable? How does severe weather affect the plant itself?

Nuclear plants receive fuel either once every 18 months or once every 24 months. Nuclear plants strive to run breaker to breaker, 24 hours/day, 365 days a year, up to 2 years continuously. The nuclear equipment is extremely safety conscious, with redundancy built in, to order to continue running.

Both natural gas and coal have severe limitations on availability of fuel.

Homes receive natural gas ahead of natural gas power generators. When pipeline restrictions begin to be affected, such as in a severe cold period, like the 2014 polar vortex, or the recent winter blast, most natural gas plants don't have reserves. Some natural gas plants are now building oil storage tanks, and burning oil during severe weather.

Coal supplies in the open, FREEZE. So just because a coal plant has 90 days worth of reserves, doesn't mean those reserves are able to be used, because they're frozen. Many coal plants are now installing ice breaking equipment to break up the frozen coal, and transport it into their plants.

At present, nuclear power plants are much more resilient, and in fact, they care for the grid's needs during severe weather. For example, when hurricanes hit Texas, the nuclear power plant's twin units kept supplying power, when all other power sources had shut down.

4) Low Cost

Nuclear power plants are very expensive to build initially, due to the additional safety built into these plants. But the normal pay-off of the initial costs, is completed between 15 and 18 years. But then these nuclear plants run efficiently for the next 40 to 60 years.

The average life span of a natural gas plant is 19 years, before an entire re-build is necessary. Natural gas plants are smaller, power wise, than a nuclear plant. Natural gas plants are able to be licensed quicker than nuclear plants, so a 450 MWe natural gas plant, which costs $2.5 billion is able to be licensed and approved within a year, and constructed with 3 years, as compared to licensing and building for a nuclear plant within 10 years.

So where exactly are the lower costs?

  • First, natural gas is a polluter of the air, and eventually, assessments will be required for the pollutants natural gas spews out every day. 
  • Next, natural gas prices swing from as high as $14/MMBTU to as low as $1.72/MMBTU. Since the recent $1.73 in March, 2016, the steady natural gas prices have risen to $3.65/MMBTU, over a 100% climb in 2 years. That steady climb is partially due to the export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to foreign countries willing to buy nat gas at $17.00/MMBTU. Prices are rising. When natural gas reaches $4.75/MMBTU, nuclear power becomes cheaper than natural gas. 
  • But for now, nuclear plants are less expensive, for several reasons. Fuel for nuclear plants have risen less than 7%/year since the 1990s. Additionally, power is continually produced by nuclear plants: their reliability and resilience far outdistances both natural gas and coal. Natural gas prices spike during severe weather to sometimes more than $500/MMBTU. Nuclear remains steady. 

Nuclear plants are operational for 60 to 80 years, at the same location. Natural gas plants effectively have to replace everything every 19 years. So megawatt vs. megawatt, nuclear power is built much stronger initially. It out lasts and out performs natural gas in a less expensive manner.

5) Community Friendly

Nuclear plants contribute massive amounts in taxes, in community involvement, in family and community building, because of so many exceptionally talented and experienced people, contributing to their local communities for their working and retirement lifetimes. When a nuclear plant is closed ahead of time, communities and people of those communities suffer tremendously.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

(Shaffer) Five Best Things About Nuclear

Five Best Things About Nuclear Energy

Suzanne Jaworowski recently asked for input on nuclear communications. Jaworowski is Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy. I read her questions on Dan Yurman's blog post , and I sent her my own Five Best ideas. Later,  I published my ideas in a blog post that has a developed a wonderful comment stream of other people's input.  Please read it, especially the comments!

Today, we have Howard Shaffer's essay on the five best things about Nuclear Energy. He sent this to the Department of Energy, and sent a copy to me. Shaffer was a start-up engineer at Vermont Yankee.  He was an engineer at several other nuclear plants, in the United States and abroad, and an American Nuclear Society Congressional Fellow.  Shaffer is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.

Howard Shaffer 
Five Best Things about Nuclear 

by Howard Shaffer

Communications Continuity  Radiation is natural and man-made, and safe within limits. Limits are well known, based on sound science and over 100 years of experience. Like fire, radiation can be used safely and for great good; but can cause havoc  if misused, or mistakes are made. People are not perfect, so mistakes will be made with all technologies.  We still have fire departments, don’t we? Demanding perfection, or raising decades-old mistakes is unrealistic.

Communication about nuclear power has not prevailed in some areas of the country because of a “missing link” in the information presentation “chain.”  That link is addressing concerns raised by citizens at public meetings.  When these concerns, challenges, and charges are not addressed at the meetings, or immediately thereafter- 48 hours(?)-they become the story.  Local media pick them up, and they get repeated many times. Local media go with  "if it bleeds it leads,” and they also love a David and Goliath story.

Nuclear power plant management has just begun to recognize this is a political fight, and all the modern tools are being used by the opposition.  There is an “Anti-Nuclear Industry” professionally staffed, with some of it headquartered in Washington.  One of the common tools they use is repetition, which works for good or bad information.  When bad information is repeated and not countered by good information, it becomes the story.

As in elective politics nuclear power is a “red state, blue state” issue. The political demographics where nuclear power plants have been forced to shut down, compared to where they continue to run with just a little opposition clearly illustrate this truth.

The Anti-Nuclear industry has been effective in selling “Any amount of Radiation is dangerous.”

Safety  Nuclear power is safe. That does not mean perfect for any technology. When the total casualties and environmental effects for energy technologies are compared, nuclear power comes out way ahead of all fossil fuels and even hydro power.  It has been observed by Prof Von Hippel that, “Some people don’t like this kind of arithmetic.”  Those who don’t like the “spread sheet” type of comparison i.e. all effects and costs, seem to like to focus on the few large nuclear power accidents that have been media circuses.

Anti-nuclear information says that a large nuclear accident will make the surrounding area uninhabitable for thousands of years.  How silly is this when anyone can go on-line and see before and after pictures of the city of Hiroshima.  How much sillier that the plant spokespeople don’t use them.

The operational, health, and environmental records over more than half a century prove the personnel and environmental safety of nuclear power, and all uses of radiation.

Inexhaustible Energy  The fuel for nuclear reactors of the present types, and proven types being developed for the market,  can last for at least a thousand years.  This is possible because the energy from splitting an atom is a million times more than from burning an atom. (Burning gives a thousand times more energy than a moving atom-wind or water)

Benign  The environmental impact of the whole nuclear fuel and plant cycle is small compared to fossil fuels, because so much less fuel material is used.  Used fuel is in solid form and is easy to handle; there are no liquids to leak if there is an accident.

Reliable Nuclear power plants, and fossil fuel plants, can and do run 24/7 to supply the electric grid. Coal and oil plants depend on fuel deliveries and usually keep a 60 day supply on hand.  Natural gas plants depend on pipelines, so a pipeline accident will shut them down.  Nuclear reactors have 1 ½ to 2 years fuel in them when refueled.

End note: 

On Facebook, a friend wrote that Jaworowski had asked for the best things to communicate about nuclear.  He is at least partially correct.  However, for the sake of headline writing, I am going to continue to call this exercise "The Five Best Things about Nuclear."

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Five Best Things About Nuclear (Angwin)

Golden Gate Bridge with light-brown photochemical smog behind it.  NOx gives the smog that color.
Wikipedia photo by Aaron Logan
Nuclear energy makes no smog.

The Question: Your Five Best

In early February, Suzanne Jaworowski, Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy, Department of Energy, sent an email to selected people. She asked the recipients to send her "your top five most motivating facts about Nuclear."  Another part of the letter asked "What facts do you tell people and they are surprised?"

Dan Yurman blogged about this letter; his post is DOE wants ideas to educate the public about nuclear energy.  His post includes the entire letter, as well as his ideas for DOE's future actions.

Okay.  I am a little late about blogging about this.  Jaworowski wanted input by mid-February, and I sent my input quite promptly after after reading Dan's post. Alas, it took me a while to get around to putting my Five Best things on my blog.

Please comment or share your Five Best with me!

The Five Best Things About Nuclear, by Meredith Angwin

1)  Economic: Nuclear plants are great sources of jobs and taxes for a community.  They have jobs for people with advanced degrees and for high school graduates.  Plants often have very liberal policies to encourage continuing education for their employees.  Wages are usually higher than other local wages, and they hire good people at all education levels.

2) Safety: Living near a nuclear power plant exposes you to less radiation than you would get by 1) living in the mountains (cosmic radiation) 2) living on granite bedrock 3) taking some cross country airplane flights. People who live near nuclear plants do not have excess deaths from cancer.

3) Clean air.  This is my favorite, and not because of carbon dioxide. I hate NOx, which is formed in all modern high-temperature combustion-power processes, and only partially cleaned up. NOx is the precursor of acid rain, smog, etc.  Very bad stuff. In NOx, the air burns itself: the nitrogen in the air is burned by the oxygen in the air. This happens at the high temperatures in modern gas and coal plants.  Also, the good thing about talking about NOx is that talking about CO2 raises issues with people.  Many people do not buy into man-made global warming.  Mentioning CO2 is audience-specific, while "nuclear plants don’t make NOx" is straightforward. Nobody likes acid rain and smog!

4) Surprising fact: What a half-life actually means, People keep hearing that something has a half-life of  thousands of  years (or whatever) and this is presented as showing that  the substance is very dangerously radioactive.  Then I lead them through what a half-life is, and what  a long half-life actually means (few atoms decaying at any one time, not much radioactivity). A long half-life is low radioactivity.  This is almost always a surprise.

5) Surprising facts on the big accidents: Nobody died from radioactivity at Fukushima, and few or no cancer deaths are expected.  The sister plant (right next door) to Chernobyl was staffed and producing power until about 2000, over a dozen years past the day of the accident.

Please comment!

I spend a great deal of my time writing about energy and about nuclear power, yet this "five best" exercise was very helpful for me!  I hope you will comment on this post, hopefully with your own "five best."  I will be posting Howard Shaffer's list within the next few days.  If I get some great lists as comments, I plan to post them as blog posts.

I look forward to reading your comments.