Monday, October 29, 2018

"The New Fire" as Shown in Vermont

David Schumacher, director of The New Fire, with me
We are sitting in front of The New Fire poster at the Vermont International Film Festival
Showing The New Fire in Vermont
The movie The New Fire was shown Friday at the Vermont International  Film Festival in Burlington VT.  I attended the screening. I am tempted to write a click-bait heading about my experience.

"I saw The New Fire in Burlington Vermont. What I discovered will surprise you!" 

The showing surprised me, at least.  This is Vermont.  I expected the audience to be hostile to nuclear energy. I expected some boo-ing during the film, and aggressive questions to the director at the Q and A period after the film.  None of that happened.

The promise of The New Fire
The New Fire follows dedicated young people as they develop new types of reactors. The film shows competent, idealistic young engineers as they design an exciting new generation of reactors. Their work will make the world far less dependent on fossil fuels.  Their dedication and idealism shines through the film.  I felt inspired and energized as I watched.

The rest of the audience also appeared to be impressed. During the film, the audience was quiet and thoughtful. Afterward, they asked reasonable questions, not aggressive rants disguised as questions.  In the hallway later, the conversations were interested and even a bit hopeful.

The competence and sincerity of the young engineers had clearly made an impression on the people watching the film. 

As a nuclear advocate, I am grateful to director David Schumacher for making The New Fire.  I hope it will be shown widely.  (The DVD is also available on Amazon.)   This movie will inspire more people to understand the hope and the reality of the new generation of nuclear power.  Perhaps they may even begin to appreciate our current generation of nuclear plants.

The New Fire and me
I had seen the film at an earlier showing, and I had also watched the DVD with my husband.  So the movie was not new to me. What was new was that I was seeing it in Burlington, at a film festival.

The audience's reaction made  me feel better about Vermont. Trying to save Vermont Yankee left me with a deep seated (but rarely expressed) anger at the crowing of the plant opponents when the plant announced it would close. My anger often spread itself further than just those people I could easily identify as people who hated Vermont Yankee. It began to encompass many people in Vermont.

Watching this film made me happier about Vermont people and Vermont as a state.  Some Vermonters will consider nuclear power.  Some Vermonters recognize idealism when they see it.  Some Vermonters are willing to learn.

David Schumacher said that the positive audience reactions at this showing was typical of all the showings.  I was glad to hear this.  I saw The New Fire in Burlington Vermont. What I discovered surprised me!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nuclear Science Week Next Week, October 15-19

 Nuclear Science Week on a National Scale

Nuclear Science Week is a national week-long celebration of all aspects of nuclear science.  the Week is nationwide, and various areas plan local events. For example, Energy Northwest employees visited a middle school during Nuclear Science Week  in 2015:

“We always get a great response and a lot of interest from the students when we explain the science behind nuclear energy,” said Jamie Dunn, an engineer at Energy Northwest. (Quote from Energy Northwest blog post.)

The "Big Event" at Nuclear Science Week, Albuquerque

Each year, Nuclear Science Week plans one Big Event at a single location.  This year, the Big Event is in Albuquerque New Mexico.

Okay.  I admit I am being overly shy here.  I have not yet linked to the schedule for The Big Event in New Mexico. That is because I am the keynote speaker. 😊  On Monday morning, October 15, I will talk about the importance of pro-nuclear activism.  My talk will be at the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque.  (Here's a link to the venues for The Big Event.)

James R Polk Sub Sail
Heritage Park
National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
Many activities at the Big Event center around the National Museum Of Nuclear Science and History. At this Smithsonian-affiliated museum, the indoor area includes exhibits on energy, uranium, nuclear medicine and more. The Museum also contains a nine acre outdoor exhibit area, Heritage Park, with mostly military exhibits. I am happy to be visiting the museum.  And of course, I am happy to be keynote speaker.

I am not the only distinguished speaker  who will be at The Big Event. (Wow, I just called myself a "distinguished speaker." Maybe that keynote business is going to my head?) Other speakers include Jim Walther (executive director of the Museum) and Carol Browner, head of the EPA under Clinton, and now a leader in Nuclear Matters.
  • Browner, Walther and I  (among others) will be speaking on Monday October 15. 
  • On Wednesday, October 17, Michael Shellenberger will speak at a showing of Pandora's Promise.  
  • On Thursday, the Department of Energy and the Museum will host a Millennial Nuclear Caucus on the theme of "Nuclear Science in Pop Culture." 
Starting this year,  Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is partnering with the Museum to be a major sponsor for The Big Event.

It is going to be a wonderful week in New Mexico (schedule).  I hope you can attend!

Nuclear Science Week in South Carolina and Georgia

Nuclear Science Week is nationwide, with events in schools all over the country. One area has Nuclear Science Week events that rival The Big Event in New Mexico. In South Carolina and Georgia (Savannah River Site area, )  has organized a full list of activities for Nuclear Science Week.  Many companies are participating.  The events include:
  • Plant Vogtle visits 
  • field trips to the Savannah River Site
  • a lecture by Dr. Jose Reyes, a founder of NuScale Power 
  • Science Education Enrichment Day
  • Nuclear workers visiting high school chemistry and physics classes
  • Tours of the Savannah River Site Museum
  • A costume ball (Yes. This is real.  I love to see nuclear supporters having fun!)
See the full list of Savannah River area Nuclear Science Week events at the SRSRCO web page about Nuclear Science Week. 

Nuclear Science Week for Everyone

Nuclear Science Week is not just for people who can attend a local event, spectacular as some of the events may be.  For example, the Nuclear Science Week website  has a tab Get Involved.   Everyone can find something interesting on this tab. There's a section on lesson plans for elementary school, middle school and high school.  The resources include games to learn physics, a "mock Senate" module to lead to discussions of energy choices, and more. The tab on Resources is also rich with links and ideas.  In short, the Nuclear Science Week website is a resource for all of us.

If you can't come to New Mexico, or Georgia, don't feel left out. I enjoy browsing the Nuclear Science Week website, and I think you will enjoy it also.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Low Dose Radiation: Keynotes, Initials and History

Alan Walter opens the conference.
October 1, Pasco WA
Rod Adams post:

Rod Adams and I are covering the Low Rad meeting.  I urge everyone to read his post (which he posted just a few minutes ago) and comment on it.

Would you evacuate your home in the middle of the night because of a radioactive release? This question was during at the meeting. Read the answer here: Making sense from radiation protection controversy

Nonstop Learning

I am now in the morning of the third day of the Low Dose Radiation conference, and it has been non-stop learning. In between the sessions and the poster sessions, it has been hard to post.   To give you an example of what I mean, on Monday morning there were eight presentations, not counting various welcoming remarks.  At lunch, Michael Shellenberger gave a stirring talk.  In the afternoon, there were two panel discussions and four presentations. The poster session is also extraordinarily interesting.  And I haven't even mentioned the handbell concert at breakfast.  When I say "nonstop," I mean nonstop.

I cannot possibly summarize this conference.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that since I can't possibly cover the whole thing, I will just hit some high points, and add plenty of commentary. Starting with Monday morning.

Goals and First Set of Keynotes

Goals: Mike Lawrence, former director of the Hanford site,  described the goals of the conference.  The conference attempts to pull together scientific data on the effects of low-dose radiation.  A major goal is to ensure that radiation protection through evacuation after an accident is done only on scientific grounds, not on primal fear of radiation.  The doses encountered at Fukushima would have led to no deaths or very few, but the evacuation killed over a thousand people. (Some estimates are only 800 people,  but you get the idea. The difference between no deaths and hundreds of deaths is a lot of deaths.)

Brenner talk: The first keynote was by David Brenner of Columbia University.  He supported LNT as the proper measure for low-dose radiation. The two arguments that he used to support the LNT theory really struck me, but not in a good way.  He used the idea that there is a cell, and it gets zapped with radiation.  We know quite a bit about high doses, but as we lower the dose, we can expect that each cell will only be zapped one time.  Then, as we lower the dose further, fewer cells will be zapped, but each cell which is zapped will be zapped pretty much the same way.  He admitted that repair mechanisms exist, but felt they were the same (or could be considered to be the same) if every cell was zapped once, or if only half the cells were zapped.  Therefore, he considers LNT to be correct.

My opinion: this was an overly-simplistic gedanken experiment. Later in the meeting, I heard many scientists describing the complex interactions of radiation, expression of genes, DNA repair, and so forth.

He also claimed that radiation damage to a fetus was another reason to support LNT, because fetuses do not have the confounding factors that adult humans have: no smokers, drinkers, etc. So damage to a fetus can stand in for damage for adults.  My opinion: "I'll drink to that. And while I am at it, I will have a thalidomide pill, if I can find one, in case I get a little nauseated."  In other words, many things that harm a fetus (alcohol, thalidomide) are not harmful to an adult, especially at low doses.  Many choices that would have been unwise for me to make while I was pregnant are no particular problem to me now. His fetus-centric argument strikes me as a thin reed to hold such an immense regulatory structure.

McClellan talk. The second keynote was by Roger McClellan, an internationally known expert in inhalation toxicology. He has worked in both radiation toxicology and chemical toxicology, and understands the difficulties of obtaining good data at low doses.  Brenner's conclusions about low dosages were clear (but wrong in my opinion), while McClellan was nuanced. McClellan said that all industries, de facto, use ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) for exposure, basically because no CEO wants to get sued.  He concluded that poverty is far more dangerous to human health than the low-dose issues of nuclear energy.  (I hope I am reporting this correctly.) I enjoyed his talk, and hope to read it in full at some time, to report on it more accurately.

The March of the Initials

The next part of the meeting was what I call the March of the Initials. At this point, I need to encourage people to go to the program tab of the Low Radiation Dose Conference website.

Website for Program:
Pdf of program:

The March of the Initials is the list of regulatory agencies, marching by in rapid fire, who presented their approaches to radiation protection. They had twenty minutes per agency.  These agencies included NRC, IAEA, UNSCEAR and others.  I was somewhat surprised (I am naive) about how different these agencies are in their approach.  David Pawel of EPA could have been giving Brenner's talk, while  Patricia Wieland of UNSCEAR acknowledged the limitations of understanding any possible levels of good or harm at low doses. She ended her talk by recommending that "regulators...use the old concept of ‘de minimis non curat prætor’ and exempt from regulations low-dose exposure situations that do not warrant control."  (Lots of us wanted to kiss Ms. Wieland, but we refrained.)

Note: Wieland was standing in for Abel Gonzalez, whose name is on the paper but could not attend the meeting.

As this point, I encourage people to go the website for the program, go to the program tab, and download the zip file of the Flash Drive for more information.

Micheal Shellenberger and History

Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, spoke at the luncheon, with a fascinating talk on "The Making of Radiation Panic."  History teaches us the way forward.  To some extent, the bomb-making scientists (such as Oppenheimer) found themselves displaced in the public esteem by the reactor-making leaders (such as Rickover). They did not necessarily like this fact. Also, many of the older scientists, including Einstein, had the Utopian idea that the bomb would lead to a world government, which would mostly supersede the nation-states.  This also did not happen. It's a complex story, and Shellenberger told it well.

It became a battle between the idea of promoting world peace through promoting fear of radiation, and promoting world prosperity through the use of nuclear power.  I believe Shellenberger is writing a book on this subject.  I will be eager to read it.

So Much More

There's so much more to say. But if I don't post now, I will be late to the meeting!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Low Dose Radiation: The Conference in Pasco

Mid Columbia Master Singers perform at the front face of the B reactor
Photo courtesy of Energy Northwest
Low Dose Radiation

It is generally agreed that high radiation doses can be very harmful.   However, few things in nature are described by simple straight lines, and other effects of radiation are not so clear.  Is exposure to low levels of radiation harmful, neutral, or helpful? Let's just say that the answers are controversial: no "general agreement" here!

Next week, in Pasco Washington, a joint meeting of the American Nuclear Society and the Health Physics Society will attempt to get some clarity on the effects of low dose radiation. Experts from many countries will attend.  I am pleased to say I will be at that meeting and I will be blogging about it.  Watch this space!

Here's the press release announcing the meeting.

International meeting in Tri-Cities to discuss low dose protection standards

RICHLAND, Wash. – The American Nuclear Society and the Health Physics Society have joined to provide an international forum of current nuclear expertise to evaluate whether existing low dose protection standards should be reconsidered. Ethical standards for many, including radiation biologists and epidemiologists in recent years, call into question the justification for unintended consequences that may result from adherence to the long-established model.

Featured speakers include William Magwood, Antone Brooks, Michael Shellenberger and Gayle Woloschak. Nuclear expert at Atomic Insights Rod Adams [] and Nuclear Advocate Meredith Angwin will cover the meeting through their blogs. One of the media contacts will send an email with links to the posts at the end of each program day.

The conference will be held in Pasco, Wash., Oct. 1-3 at the Pasco Red Lion. For program details, visit our website at

News media are invited to attend the meeting. Please coordinate interview requests with one of the the media contacts:
Gerald Woodcock, Arrangements Chair, 509-308-6452
Anna Markham, Communication Chair, 509-377-8162
Master Singers at the B Reactor

I have been to a meeting that held its banquet at a museum after-hours. That was pretty cool. This meeting will hold a kick-off banquet at a decommissioned reactor from the Manhattan Project!  That is beyond merely cool!  I am very happy that I will be able to attend this event.

The Mid-Columbia Master Singers will perform at the banquet: the photo above is from an earlier performance. Here's a video of their performance at B reactor last year.   Enjoy!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Electrification of the Heating Sector: CLG meeting in September

Consumer Liaison Group Meeting in September

The purpose of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) is to be the voice of the electricity consumer in advising the grid operator, ISO-NE. (I am on the Coordinating Committee for the CLG.)

The next meeting of the Consumer Liaison Group will be Thursday, September 20,  in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The topic is Electrification of the Heating Sector.  

CLG meetings are free, but you should register in advance if you want lunch.  Here's the information.  The graphic is merely a screen shot,  I supply the relevant links below the graphic.  I hope to see some of you there.

DoubleTree Hilton Hotel, Windsor Locks, CT
CLG Webpage

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New England Governor's Meeting: Guest post by Guy Page

Toronto, Evening of August 14, 2003, Wikipedia
On eve of 15th anniversary of Big Blackout, governors push more reliable power grid

By Guy Page
AUGUST 13, 2018 - Maybe the timing was just co-incidence. But today, on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the August 14, 2003 Big Blackout that put 50 million North Americans in the dark, Gov. Phil Scott and four other New England governors announced plans to prevent crippling power blackouts.

The 2003 outage blacked out an estimated 50 million people and 61,800 megawatts (MW) of electric load in eight northeastern states, including parts of southern Vermont, and Ontario.

Maybe the governors remember the Big Blackout, but it’s more likely they are heeding this winter’s scary wake-up call. For three weeks of record cold in December and January, New England homeowners burned record amounts of natural gas to stay warm. Power grid operators lacked adequate supply to power regional natural-gas fired plants. The New England grid was already playing with a thin bench, due to recent closures of coal and nuclear power plants. Things got worse when a transmission line failure separated an operational nuclear power plant from its customers. In extremis, grid operators burned backup stockpiles of dirty, expensive coal and oil. Soon even these supplies began to run low. Had sub-zero temperatures persisted, the grim reality of blackouts, frozen pipes and frostbitten New Englanders was imminent.  

In the aftermath, grid operator ISO-New England warned that preventing blackouts will require action. Yesterday, the governors agreed:
“The New England states and ISO New England have recognized the challenge of increasing reliance on natural gas-fired generation during cold periods when the region’s natural gas is used primarily for heating. These concerns have been heightened as non-natural gas-fired generation resources, such as nuclear, coal, and oil, have retired in recent years. During recent winters, ISO-NE has been relying on more expensive, carbon-intensive oil-fired units to ensure sufficient generation to meet hour-by-hour demands on our energy system.” 
The governors in particular praised the low-carbon, energy security value of nuclear power:
“Effective next June, the region will have two nuclear power plants that represent approximately 3,500 MW of baseload energy that is not dependent on natural gas infrastructure and also helps to meet emission goals. ….It is important to continue to evaluate cost-effective policies that properly value existing clean energy resources which have significant fuel security implications.”

Proposed energy policies, to be adopted state-by-state, could include:

  • Public “cold weather” education to conserve non-essential electricity and heating fuel, similar to messaging during summer heat waves;
  • Charging customers more at peak hours of consumption, hopefully to reduce demand;
  •  Energy efficiency, including weatherization and combined heat and power, which reduces overall consumption of electricity and natural gas; and
  • New, generation such as large-scale hydropower and off-shore wind;
  • Working with Congress to ensure Liquid Natural Gas can be delivered in a timely manner during winter;
  • More backup generation, fuel storage and transmission. 

For those of us who may have forgotten the 8/14/2003 Big Blackout, or vaguely remember seeing news coverage on our (electric) television sets – power was not restored for 4 days in some parts of the United States, according to the official EPA final report April, 2004. According to August 13 2013, ISO Newswire, New England was largely spared from the effects of the outage because protective equipment installed on the transmission system sensed the disturbance and automatically closed the ‘electricity border’ with New York, splitting New England away from the collapsing power system to the west.

But that’s history. New England’s governors have taken the important first step of acknowledging a serious, life-threatening problem exists. Whether they can prevent another Big Blackout is a question for historians of the future.

 Guy Page, a frequent guest blogger at this site, published this in his newsletter: State House Headliners. 

Copyright © 2018 Guy Page, All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Updated. Batteries at Green Mountain Power: Beating the Peak

Batteries from Wikipedia
(Tesla battery images are proprietary)
Beating the Peak

I wrote recently about The Game of Peaks. This game is a business move, not a moral imperative.

Utilities pay a percentage of overall grid costs based on the percentage of power they use during the high-usage peak hour on the grid. Lowering their usage at that time can save significant amounts of money for the utility.

Note that "beating the peak" saves money for one utility, but the fixed costs of the grid remain the same.  If one utility beats the peak, another utility will pay more for the fixed costs of the grid. Beating the Peak has little to do with conservation, a clean grid, etc.  We are talking about cost shifting from one business to another.  It irritates me when utilities wrap themselves in "do-good" rhetoric about this cost shift plan.

I plan a series of posts about Vermont utilities and their various strategies for Beating the Peak.  I start today with the biggest utility (Green Mountain Power) which has the most high-tech strategy (batteries).

Green Mountain Power: We Have the Batteries

In an article in 2016, Green Mountain Power claims to have used batteries to reduce its peak power demand and save its customers $200,000 in an hour. We know that Green Mountain Power plans to use batteries to shave the peak this year, also, as described in their recent press release: During Hot Weather GMP Leveraging Stored Energy to Drive Down Peak Power Demand and Lower Costs for Customers  In the press release, GMP describes the use of solar power and batteries in terms of 5,000 homes powered by battery during the peak, and that GMP's power sources are 90% carbon free.

Complicated and slow

The battery story is a bit more complicated, actually. The press release above claims that Vermonters have installed nearly 500 Powerwall batteries in their homes...GMP can share access to stored energy to pull down power demand at key times... and drive down costs for all customers.

Actually, Green Mountain Power is not deploying its Tesla battery units as fast as it had hoped to do so.  Electrek reported in April that only 200 home Powerwalls had been installed out of 2000 that GMP planned to install. However, the article said that the utility was making some "big deals" (with commercial customers?) that would lead to more deployment.

If there were 200 batteries in April and 500 now, the pace of installation must have increased.  Here's how Electrek describes the arrangement GMP makes with its customers for Powerwalls: Under their agreement with the electric utility, homeowners who receive a Powerwall are able to use it for backup power for “$15 a month or a $1,500 one-time fee”, which is significantly less expensive the ~$7,000 cost of the device with installation, but in return, Green Mountain Power is able to access the energy in the pack to support its grid, like a virtual power plant.

UPDATE: Green Mountain Power has just claimed to have saved $500k during the recent heatwave, deploying "enough batteries to accomplish the equivalent of taking 5000 homes off the grid."  They also said they had deployed 500 Powerwall batteries.  In this case, my estimate of $1000 saved per battery (see below) would be correct.

However, as described in the article, GMP  also has solar storage facilities, access to electric vehicle chargers, and other methods of saving electricity. Because of the other methods of saving electricity, as well  the Powerwalls, my estimate of $1000 saved per battery is too high. Since there is no way for me to correct the estimate, I will stay with that estimate, but note that it is optimistic on the role of batteries.  Vermont Business Magazine: Stored energy helped GMP cave $500 K during heatwave. 

Math on the Batteries

Let's do some math.  If batteries "beat the peak" for Green Mountain Power, they could be cost effective.  Let's say GMP installs 1000 batteries, and each battery costs them $7,000 (true cost) minus $1,500 (cost the homeowner pays.)  So each battery costs Green Mountain Power $5,500.  With 1000 batteries, they will have invested $5.5 million dollars in batteries.

If GMP saves only $200,000 a year by beating-the-peak, it would take GMP about 27 years to make up the $5.5 million cost for the batteries.  Hopefully, they will actually save more, or perhaps they got a better deal on the batteries.

I'll look the calculation a different way, however.  In 2016, Green Mountain Power saved $200,000 a year with less than 200 batteries deployed. If GMP saves $1000 a year per battery, it will only take them 5.5 years to make up the costs of the batteries, which is a more reasonable payback time.

However, if  GMP deploys all 2000 batteries that they plan to use, will they be able to save $1000 per battery?  Will they be able to save $2 million in a year?

To answer this question, I would have to look at what they would pay for transmission without using the batteries. First, we need to know the overall grid costs for transmission.  That part is easy: ISO-NE expects to spend $700 million dollars on transmission this year.

Then comes the hard part: estimating Green Mountain Power's peak use compared to grid peak use.  I fear this would be a lot of speculation on my part. I don't know how much GMP would pay without the batteries. And by what percentage would the batteries cut demand?  Perhaps GMP could save $2 million a year on transmission costs, by using the batteries.  Perhaps they couldn't.  I will just leave the question out there.

Note: It is not clear how quickly the homeowner will make back their share ($1500) of the costs of the batteries.

My opinion of the GMP Strategy: Not very cost-effective. Not straightforward.

Cost: Batteries are an innovative way to shave a peak, but they don't look particularly cost-effective. They are okay, but even a six year payback is long, in terms of business calculations. And a six year payback was my most optimistic calculation.

Rhetoric: In my opinion, GMP's rhetoric about the batteries and the peak is misleading. Their press release is full of feel-good words about the environment, and nothing about how the money is saved --the "savings" is really a transfer of grid costs to other utilities.