Sunday, January 31, 2010

State of the Union

In general, I focus my posts on Vermont Yankee. Like most people in nuclear, however, I was completely delighted with the support of nuclear in Obama's state of the Union address, and the applause his pro-nuclear statement received. Rod Adams of Atomic Insights made a thoughtful annotated video of relevant parts of Obama's address. I share it above.

I am also doing a little BSP (Blatant Self Promotion). I will be on the Atomic Show podcast with Rod this evening. We will discuss the State of the Union address, but we will also discuss tritium. Rod will post a link later, and I will be sure to include that link in a blog posting.

Here's a link to the State Of The Union discussion podcast. The last half hour is about Vermont Yankee.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tritium, Oil, and Kale

With all the endless hassles about "who said what to whom" about piping at Vermont Yankee, I decided to do a cheerful post for once. Just for a change. Then I will return to our regularly scheduled difficulties.

First of all, a big thanks to Rod Adams for his perspective on the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee. He points out that the EPA describes tritium as one of the "least dangerous radionuclides." A person would have to drink swimming-pools worth of the stuff to receive a lethal dose. They'd drown first. Rod compares this tritium leak to massive oil spills that are ignored by the press.

Oil spills are dangerous. Oil is carcinogenic. In general, the negative health effects of petroleum hydrocarbons are ignored by the press and the population. It would be funny if it weren't sad.

In Montpelier, my friend Howard Shaffer told a legislator that this tritium leak was a spill, like spilling oil on the floor of your garage, but just like the oil, it could be cleaned up. "Well, at least the oil won't give me cancer," the legislator answered. (She will be not be named in this blog. I try to protect the clueless.)

Hydrocarbons are sources of cancer-causing compounds. Here's a nice little how-to article about changing your oil, with the usual warnings about not getting it on your skin, and a note that most landfills will not accept used oil, even in sealed containers. The government warns you to avoid prolonged contact with motor oil, as it caused skin cancer in laboratory animals.

Another thanks is due to John Wheeler, whose podcast compares this tritium leak with earlier leaks at San Onofre. John uses a Brazil nut analogy instead of the banana analogy I used, to compare drinking from the test well with ordinary exposure to beta-particles. We both point out that the amount of radiation in the test well is a fraction of the amount we get on a daily basis.

Sometimes there are unintended consequences to blogging. I fear that someone will read this and decide to give up bananas and Brazil nuts. I may have scared some people. They may be coming to the erroneous conclusion that tropical fruits are radioactive.

I hope these readers understand that potassium is slightly radioactive, but it is also a necessary part of everyone's nutrition. (However, people with some types of kidney disease must avoid potassium.) If you don't have kidney disease, and you don't want tropical fruits, please eat some spinach or kale. Half a cup of cooked greens has about the same amount of potassium as a banana.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Tritium and Health

The tritiated water was discovered in the test well around the time the walkers were headed to Montpelier. I went to Montpelier for their press conference and their cookies, and I had a sign "Yes Vermont Yankee." One woman jokingly offered me a portion of her orange juice, saying: "Here's some tritiated water, drink it." I shot back: "Yeah, give me that water, but YOU are going to have to eat a banana!"

Indeed, both bananas and tritium are beta-emitters, which means they emit an electron and some energy. It turns out that the beta emissions from the potassium in the banana are more energetic than those from tritium, and also potassium stays in the body longer than water does. I asked a friend who is a health physicist to do a calculation: 2 liters of test well water (20,000 pCi from tritium) equaled how many bananas? The answer: two liters of test-well water is the biological equivalent dose of eating part of a banana. One-twentieth of a banana, to be precise. In other words, to encounter the equivalent dose as you would receive from eating a banana, you would have to drink forty liters of test-well water. That's a lot of water.

The State of California has tritium limits which are lower than the EPA limits. For consistency, these limits should be matched with limits on banana consumption (two a year).

Idaho State University suggests that, if you get more tritium than you prefer (let's say you ate a tritium-containing rifle sight device) you could flush it out by drinking a lot of non-tritiated water. It's probably better to avoid eating the rifle sight.

Another take on the test well is described in the medicine and research blog, Big Medicine. Their calculations show that drinking water with this level of tritium for a year would yield an exposure of four millirems per year. For comparison, background radiation is about 300 millirems per year, and a cross-country plane trip increases exposure by three millirems, due to cosmic radiation.

In other words, if the test well tritium were found in drinking water it would not be a public health risk. And of course, this level isn't even in drinking water. It's in a test well. Test wells have been monitored for years around the plant, and this is the first time tritium has appeared.

If the anti-Vermont Yankee woman in Montpelier really had tritiated water available from the test well, I would have enjoyed a glass or two, quite cheerfully. We were standing near the cafeteria, so I could have bought a banana for her. Luckily for her peace of mind, I didn't.

I decided not to tell the woman in Montpelier what my doctor told me. My doctor said that since I am getting older, I need to think about protecting my bones. I should take calcium pills and vitamin D pills, and eat bananas several times a week. I'm supposed to eat the bananas for the potassium.

Tritium is Three

The on-going issues about tritium at Vermont Yankee have been moving fast and furiously. I've had a hard time drawing a line and saying "Okay, I'll blog about it now." For example, one day there's a newspaper article that there
is tritiated water in a second test well and then, the next day, look again, there's no tritium in the water in the second test well. Let's face it, this stuff gets confusing.

I finally decided there are three issues about the tritium, and I would have to blog about them separately.

Fact: There's tritiated water at one test well at Vermont Yankee.

Issue 1: Is this tritiated water a health hazard?

Issue 2: Does the tritium in the test well show that Vermont Yankee is being managed in an incompetent manner or is too old to be run safely?

Issue 3: Did Vermont Yankee managers and/or engineers lie about having underground tanks that contain tritiated water?

As you can guess, the third question has garnered the most press.

Only the first issue is technical. I will address it in the next post. The next two issues (are the managers incompetent? did the managers lie?) join few facts with much opinion. I'm still deciding whether to post on these issues.

So, here goes. Three questions. Probably three posts over the next several days. The first one today, on health effects.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tritium Again

What can I say. Vermont Yankee is making it hard for people who defend it. I still consider Vermont Yankee to be a good plant, and worth relicensing, but this tritium leak is troubling. Governor Douglas is talking about "breach of trust." Public Service Board Commissioner O'Brien practically called the company a bunch of liars. The Burlington Free Press reported:
O'Brien said he didn't see how the misinformation could be described as miscommunication. "What they clearly communicated to us is not true," he said. "There was not a miscommunication here."

So, were the potluck people right? Did Entergy lie to us?

The potluck people were expressing both the facts (Entergy said there were no underground pipes carrying tritium) and their belief system (nuclear people tell lies all the time, you can count on them to lie to us again).

I will start by expressing my own belief system. Something went wrong, and it was pretty big, but the engineers did not lie under oath.

I can't prove that, of course, but it is what I believe. Starting from there, what explanation do I have for all this? Two possibilities.

First possibility is that the spokespeople were asked ambiguous questions. It has been reported that Entergy said one thing to one group of regulators and another thing to a different group. This could happen very easily if the two groups asked slightly different questions.

Engineers tend to give very specific answers. Sometimes they take the time to spend half an hour helping you qualify your question, and sometimes they just answer it. The latter is dangerous because they are making a set of assumptions about your question, and those assumptions may not have much to do with what you asked. And a few months later, with a different group, they may make a different set of assumptions, due to a slightly different question.

That's a "communications" possibility.

My second possibility is more technical. I decided to look at other plants that had tritium leaks. Specifically, I read about Oyster Creek. In late August, Oyster Creek discovered that it had a tritium leak from a pipe within the condenser building. This was not an underground pipe. Tritium was leaking through through the concrete walls of the building.
The preliminary report from the NRC suggests the leakage is passing through the condenser building wall, which is about 4 feet thick. Staff at Oyster Creek have excavated around the wall and found leakage coming from that area. This suggests that the leak is located inside the wall, Sheehan said.
The aluminum pipe is surrounded by a sleeve, so plant personnel would be able to make repairs to the pipe without excavating the wall, according to Sheehan.

If Entergy was asked about tritium leaks before August of this year, they would not have had this information about Oyster Creek. They would only have been looking at heavy-duty, water-carrying underground piping as a possible source of tritium. It is quite possible that the Vermont Yankee tritium leak also has nothing to do with underground piping. I don't know.

I hope they find the leak soon. In this hope, pro-Vermont Yankee and anti-Vermont Yankee people are united.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coal and Nuclear

A blog about coal? Why am I posting about coal? Various reasons. One reason is that I gave a class about coal yesterday, so I'm still thinking about coal. A better reason is that I see the energy rivalry as coal versus nuclear, while most people who are anti-nuclear see the rivalry as nuclear versus renewables.

At the anti-VY walkers press conference in Montpelier, I talked for a long time with one of the people opposed to Vermont Yankee. We got along famously when we discussed Improv classes that we had taken, but we disagreed about coal. I said that the Walkers, by trying to take nuclear off-line, were simply encouraging coal. He objected, saying that taking nuclear off-line meant more renewables, not more fossil.

This is the crux of so many arguments between nuclear supporters and those who feel nuclear isn't right. If not nuclear, then we will have...what?

The grid is a big, robust system which includes many, many power plants. The grid is not something where you can say: take this plant off-line and therefore, renewables will happen. It just doesn't work that way.

A couple of charts about the nationwide growth of coal usage. A coal industry chart showing that the use of coal to generate electricity in the U.S. has grown from 100 to over 1000 million short tons from 1950 to 2005 (more or less) with accelerated growth recently. A rather nice pie chart about today's electricity situation can be found at a site called As you can see, coal generation is 49% percent of U.S. electricity production.

If you like your statistics straight up, without graphs, EIA is definitely the source. If you look at this table, you can see electricity from coal growing from 1,700,000 thousand megawatt hours in 1995 to around 2,000,000 thousand megawatt hours between 2000 and forward. Meanwhile, nuclear grew from 673,00 to 787,000 from 1995 to 2006 as plants were uprated and became better at managing outages. Renewables, not including traditional hydroelectric, grew from 73,000 to 96,000 in the same period.

As you scroll down the table, you can see that electric power use decreased in 2007-2009, but nuclear held pretty steady and renewables grew significantly. My two favorite technologies did well! But coal is still king.

I spent a small portion of my life on pollution control research for fossil fuels. Because of this, I wanted to educate people a little about coal. Therefore, I am giving a course about coal at ILEAD a life-long learning center at Dartmouth.

Yesterday, I led the first class of All Around the (Coal) Boiler. It's a lot of work to teach that class, because, unlike nuclear or renewables, there are very few books about coal. The books focus on the problems created by coal mines. They hardly mention standard pollution control techniques or how well (or badly) they work.

I'll post more about my class soon. I am happy to say that I have arranged a field trip to a local coal plant, the Merrimack plant in Bow New Hampshire. Of course, when I tell this to many people in my hometown, they often answer: "You mean there's a coal plant around here?"

That question is part of the problem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Montpelier and more

Tomorrow, the anti-Vermont Yankee walkers are holding a press conference in Montpelier at 12:30 at the State House. I blogged about this a few days ago, including a link to parking areas in the city. I will be there.

My original sign will not be there, alas. I called the Vermont Sergeant At Arms, and big signs are not allowed within the State House. Signs have to be "no wider than you are and only 12 inches tall."

I go to potlucks, and I obey rules about signs (true dedication). I made a new little sign that meets these criteria. It says Yes Vermont Yankee, of course.

If you aren't going to Montpelier, you might enjoy reading two excellent blog posts that illuminate some of the topics I have covered recently.

One about tritium and bananas. The drinking water limit for tritium protects you against the radiation you would get if you ate a banana. The second half of the post is about tritium.

The other about steam dryers. Excellent explanations about yet another way the anti-s mislead people.

Just think. You will be all warm and toasty, reading interesting blogs, while I brave Montpelier ( low of zero, high of 22 degrees, cloudy and probably windy). I'd love to see you there, but frankly, it also sounds like a good day to stay home.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tritium and Liars

I told myself I wouldn't use the L-word, Liar, to describe people who don't like nuclear energy. I hear it often enough from them, heaven knows. "Liar" is one of the first things said, under most circumstances.

For example, at the anti-VY walker potluck I attended, someone made an announcement that tritium (really, tritiated water) has been found by a test well near Vermont Yankee. Yankee dug those wells to look for tritium, since it has been a problem at other plants. As you can see from this newspaper article, Yankee found a very small amount of tritium. Bill Irwin is the head of the Vermont Public Health department radiological unit. A quote: "The level discovered in the well wouldn’t cause any appreciable dose if it were to be consumed, said Irwin."

The level discovered in the well is less than the EPA limit for drinking water. Vermont Yankee is getting busy looking for its source.

Now of course, at the potluck, I expected the Walkers to be jubilant about the discovery of tritium, and they were. More ammo for their side. However, what I didn't expect was the chorus of "So, they lied to us again! They lied to us about tritium. They said there couldn't be any tritium and look, they lied." The L-word was being thrown around fast and furiously.

Now, I think it is very unlikely that a company would drill test wells to detect something and simultaneously say there is no possibility that there is any of that substance for miles around. More likely, Vermont Yankee said that they felt it was very unlikely that they would find tritium. That wasn't a lie. They hadn't found any yet, for Pete's sake, in any of their wells. For decades.

Quick to accuse, do the walkers themselves tell lies? Between us, Howard Shaffer and I have been to three events of the anti-Vermont Yankee walkers.

1) A debate with a nuclear expert. The expert was actually a comic actor. This was never announced.

2) A potluck, supposedly including talks by experts about conservation in the home. No experts arrived and conservation was barely discussed.

3) A potluck with a "panel of experts" at Vermont Law School. My friend Howard was the only expert there. No other experts attended.

Okay. I'm not going to use the L-word about the walkers. But I'm thinking it.

Where Were the Experts?

Howard Shaffer, a nuclear engineer and former congressional fellow, is our guest blogger today. Howard met with the Anti-VY walkers at Vermont Law School. The official walk website lists this event as Potluck followed by discussion including presentations by experts.Vermont Law School, program with discussion group Here is Howard's report.

The Anti-VY walkers began their walk on January 2. On the day I met them in Royalton, they had covered five miles in temperatures in the teens. They were hanging out in the Yates common room at Vermont Law School, during school vacation, when I got there at 5:30. Potluck was at 6. I have been to the Law School many times since I returned to this area in 2002. I have an essay in their Journal of Environmental Law. The school is known as the leading school in the country for environmental law.

There were about 40 people there, not all Walkers. I asked about how they were faring. They said they were OK, and they thanked me for asking. The organizer from Citizens Awareness Network (CAN) asked why I was there. I told him that I had been doing Public Outreach for nuclear for over 30 years. A student from Keene State College talked to me. One of her relatives works at Sikorsky, as does one of my sons. She talked about the replacement life of helicopter parts, and extended this to not relicensing Vermont Yankee. She was the typical “fire hose” talker, hardly letting a word in edgewise, and raising every issue, from corporate salary, indigenous peoples rights, and waste, to cost and how shutting down VY will promote renewables.

The website advertised a presentation by experts, but there were none. Everyone sat in circle and introduced themselves. There were a few students from the Law School, including one who came to study Environmental Law and shut down VY. I said I was a PE in nuclear engineering in Vermont. I had come to VY 40 years ago this coming summer as a Startup Engineer after submarine service. I have been doing Outreach for 30 years. After introductions the floor was opened to statements, moderated by one of the organizers.

Concerns were the usual: fear of radiation, the waste, and the VY plant somehow blocking alternative energy supplies. There was the usual quoting of the regulations that “No amount of radiation is safe.” Hattie Nestel said that uranium starts emitting when it is dug up and above ground. An emotional man said that the plant routinely emits radiation and if VY is shut down, then since Yankee at Rowe, MA, Connecticut Yankee, and Maine Yankee have been shut, there would be a 100 mile area in which an organic farm could be located. One person said the plant doesn’t make any money, which is why Entergy wants to puts its merchant plants into a company called Enexus that would only own six merchant nukes. Another said that VY is a cash cow. (No one mentioned the contradiction.) One law student asked where the power would come from if the plant is shut down.

The meeting ended at around 8:00 so that the Walkers could get their house assignments for overnight. One walker from Massachusetts works with special needs children. Her uncle was a physicist and her brothers are engineers. She hugged me. Another thanked me for coming. Others told me how brave I was for coming to the meeting. I replied that I knew they didn't hit people.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How We Can Win in Montpelier

In theory, our Vermont legislators shouldn't give a darn about most of the walkers, because they don't vote in Vermont. In fact, with all five Vermont Democrat gubernatorial contenders declaring against Yankee, the legislators will be paying attention. We must be sure that our voices are also heard.

The Vermont State House, Montpelier, Wednesday January 13, 2010, noon to four p.m.

What can we do? Well, some of us can go to the legislature that day, hopefully with signs in support of Vermont Yankee. Among other things, it will be a great way to meet me, your faithful blogger. I will be the extremely beautiful older woman with a sign: Yes Vermont Yankee. Okay, easy to recognize.

Here's a map for parking in Montpelier.

(Look, if the anti-s can stage a fake debate, I can tell you I am beautiful. At least the sign will be recognizable.)

If you can't come then write your legislator. If you haven't got a legislator because you don't live in Vermont, write anyway. Most of the walkers come from out of state, after all.

To write your legislator (or somebody's legislator) go this website for the legislative listings. The directories contain email addresses. The committee lists and the district list contain names, which must be cross-referenced to the directories. If you don't have a representative and want to write someone, email one of the members of the committees on Natural Resources and Energy.

Let's have a presence as this fight begins.

Friday, January 8, 2010

What We Need to Do

My husband and I drove past the Anti-VY walkers yesterday morning. "Gee, there aren't many of them," he noted. So true.

To shut down Vermont Yankee, fifteen to twenty people are walking the whole way from Brattleboro to Montpelier, and others are joining them at various points. We only saw about a dozen people walking yesterday.

Let's assume, though, that there are twenty dedicated walkers. At the potluck Thursday night, I learned that half the walkers come from Massachusetts, a quarter from New Hampshire and a quarter from Vermont.

Do the math. That's five people from Vermont. This is how they plan to impress the Vermont legislature? They also claim to be carrying a petition with 1600 signatures. Again from the tri-state area, in the same proportions, no doubt. Probably 400 signatures from Vermont. Less than the number of people who work at Yankee.

In other words, a bunch of outsiders are planning to march into Vermont's capitol, roar around, and influence our elected representatives. It is difficult enough that Vermont is the only state that lets the legislature have a hand in nuclear licensing. But why are we letting people from Massachusetts vote about it by petitioning and demonstrating in our legislature?

Their numbers are small, and with a little effort, we can beat them.

They are going to be at the State House noon to four p.m. on Wednesday, January 13. We will be there too.

Either in person, or by email. Read the next post to find out how.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Potluck with the Walkers

Because I am with the town Energy Committee, I decided to go to the potluck "event" for the Anti-VY walkers, who are spending the night in White River Junction. I call it an "event" because it wasn't supposed to be all-about-VY, it was supposed to be about how to cut our electricity use by 1/3 so we don't have to keep VY running. The Energy Committee was very interested in how the neighborhood group was going to address this.

I admit, at first I was seriously crabby about this event. I don't like the idea that anti-VY and pro-conservation were all blended together. As a matter of fact, I called it a "wolf in sheep's clothing." Still, I decided to go, especially if nobody else from the Committee could go. Nobody else could go. It was up to me.

The potluck was at a private residence, and I called the hostess and said I was pro-VY and I was only coming for the conservation part of the meeting, for the Town Energy committee. She didn't seem totally pleased, but she was very polite. I said the same thing to others at the potluck, walkers, friends of walkers, etc. I said I was there for the Energy Committee about conservation, my personal views were pro-VY, and I wasn't there to argue. I also brought Vegetarian Baked Beans I had made from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker cookbook. Navy beans and maple syrup and summer savory. Pretty good, if I say so myself! And they are vegan, so they are a good potluck dish.

The beans were well accepted, and so was I. I had a great conversation with an anti-VY walker from Brattleboro who builds energy efficient houses. We talked about my house, about solar hot water (a good idea, under most circumstances) and just had a great time. As he said: we don't have to agree on everything. Even some of the people who were annoying at the Putney clown-farce turned out to be sweet at this meeting. They thanked me for being brave enough to come. I thanked them for being so welcoming.

Actually, the potluck made me sad in some ways. Putney made me sad, but that was an angry kind of sad. "Will Nukem" "Wet Dreams" "No increase in global warming from shutting down Yankee!" Insults and lies, in other words.

This potluck made me sad in a deeper way. I remembered starting out in the energy field, a member of the Sierra Club, eager to promote renewable geothermal energy. Excited about the Geysers in California, a geothermal field that was being developed. Only to find the Sierra Club was strenuously trying to block the power plant. "We're not against geothermal energy; but this is not the right place for a plant." Of course. Some other plant, some other place, might be just fine. Sure.

This potluck made me sad for all the nuclear plants, and all the renewable plants, that "weren't the right plant." And all the fossil plants that got built instead.

Illustrated Playbook?

I found a graphic I wanted to use for the Old Playbook posting: a football playbook from Amos Alonzo Stagg's days as coach at University of Chicago. How he beat Ohio in 1922, for example. That's an old playbook!

I felt drawn to this graphic because I went to University of Chicago, as did my mother and father and aunt and husband and daughter. Also, the first nuclear reaction (The Italian Navigator) took place under the stands at Stagg Field at University of Chicago.

Alas, my request for permission to use the graphic is still bouncing its way up the chain of command at the University. So all I can provide is a link.

The Old Playbook

"Don't let them scare you about global warming. Shutting down Vermont Yankee won't make any difference to global warming."

Deborah Katz of Citizens Awareness Network said this in Putney on Saturday night. She was speaking to a group of dedicated anti-nuclear activist and a few members of the public (me and Howard). The talk was open to the public.

A question arises: who are "they" who are going to "scare you" about global warming? In general, people who are concerned with global warming are liberals, and people who are not as concerned are conservatives. So are the liberals are going to scare you about global warming and ask you to keep nuclear plants open?

Liberals are not supporting nuclear in Vermont, where all the Democratic candidates for governor have spontaneously and unanimously come out in favor of shutting the plant down. On the other hand, Vermont Tiger points out points out that unions have endorsed Vermont Yankee. Unions are usually a Democratic constituency. Meanwhile, the current governor of Vermont, Douglas, is a Republican. Douglas is strongly in favor of relicensing.

The common ground between Douglas and the unions is jobs and job creation.

So where does this leave us? Who are They who are trying to scare you about climate change? For that matter, who are you who should resist being scared? And are jobs a liberal issue, a conservative issue, or everyone's issue?

This leaves us with the fact that the anti-Yankee forces are using a very old playbook. Their playbook comes from the days before anyone was worried about global warming. Their playbook comes from when days when people felt quite comfortable with the idea that middle-class jobs were available and secure. That was then, and this is now.

Recently, there have been two terrific posts about the use of the Old Playbook. I intend to post about this also, but right now, I have to go to an Anti-Vermont Yankee walkers meeting, this one in my own town of Hartford, Vermont. Oddly, I am not going there to argue, but as a part of the town Energy Committee. The group is meeting about Vermont Yankee AND about energy conservation. I hope to report back to the Committee about how the conservation part of the meeting turns out.

In the meantime, I urge you to read both posts:
Rod Adams posting about the Shoreham bag of tricks, including heating oil companies providing financial support for anti-nuclear activism.
Steve Aplin posting with a Canadian perspective, including Copenhagen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Posting Changes

I received a few complaints about difficulties people encountered when they tried to post comments to this blog. I had set up some automatic spam filters and they caused problems. I have changed that.

Instead of automatic guards on posting, anyone can comment now. This means that I have personally become the spam filter. All posts are moderated before they are posted.

If you click on the word "comment" at the bottom of any post, you should be able to post. However, since I am the moderator, and I have to look at the post, there will be a delay between the time you comment and the time your comment appears on the blog.

Will some posts be deleted? Of course. If they are rude, foul-mouthed or incoherent rants, they will simply never appear on this blog. If they are civilized comments that I don't happen to agree with, they will be posted. I discourage anonymous comments, but I will post well-written ones.

I make the posting decision, right here, at my computer, all by myself.

In other words, if you want to see your comment on this blog, choose to err on the side of civility.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Debate with a Comedian

A man dressed in a suit, and Deb Katz, dressed more casually, took the stage. A moderator introduced William Newcomb from NuCorPAC (he was never referred to by his real name) and Deb Katz from Citizens Awareness Network. The moderator asked the questions and thanked people politely, as if this was a real debate.

At first, I got more and more angry, but then I settled down. After ten minutes, anyone would understand that "Will Nukem" was not from the nuclear industry. He was actually very funny, good theater. His answer to "what should we do with the waste" included not worrying about it since it will flow down the river to Massachusetts ("You people in southern Vermont have done enough. Let Massachusetts do its part") and putting it on trucks to spend a week in every township in Vermont ("Spread the burden. You have done enough, But don't send it to Montpelier. We gotta stay on good terms with Montpelier."). At the end of the debate, he literally danced off the stage, singing "Nuke is Green" and clapping his hands. You gotta hand it to a good actor.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, Deb Katz was not as good an actor. She had the world by the tail: a hand-picked comedian to oppose her, a very receptive audience. This apparently encouraged her to make remarks that I considered nonsensical. For example, she said: There are people missing from our homes, from around our tables. People who will never come back. We must make sure this stops. ( or maybe...make sure this does not notes are only my notes).

It sounded for all the world like she thought death itself would stop if Vermont Yankee goes out of service. Death would stop, the gene pool would be safe forever? That's a pretty powerful nuclear plant, bringing "Death into the World and all our woe." Whoops, that quote from Milton was about Adam's fall, not Vermont Yankee!

Katz also said that "you shouldn't let them scare you about global warming. If Vermont Yankee is out of service, it won't make a bit of difference about global warming." It made me nostalgic to hear James Moore of VPIRG, who admits that closing VY will lead to using more fossil fuels "for a few years." In Moore's oft-stated opinion:"Relicensing Vermont Yankee would be a twenty-year solution to a three-year problem". At least, he admits a possible problem.

I was also surprised that Deb Katz was potty-mouthed. This was a public forum and at least parts of it were recorded. Yet she raised giggles and applause from the audience several times by referring to the nuclear industry as having "wet dreams." She also said that Entergy planned to "shtup us again." ("Shtup " is a very coarse Yiddish word). Finally, she got quite a hand with the statement that "don't piss on my back and tell me it's raining." Well, I guess all applause is good applause.

After the meeting, one of the organizers asked us if we had enjoyed ourselves. We both said it had been very entertaining. I said that I had been a little surprised that, at the end, they had not introduced the man who played Will Nukem, but instead had him be "Will Nukem" the whole time. They should have told the name of the actor, at least at the end. The organizer admitted that had confused some people, and they probably should have done something at the end to introduce him. It didn't seem like a big deal to him, however.

I wonder if there were some people at the meeting who thought that Nukem was a real industry representative. In the question period, almost all the questions were addressed to Nukem, not Katz.

I am often somewhat depressed on the drive home from these events. This one was no exception. I will try to have more upbeat posts in the future.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Potluck and Genetics

When Howard and I walked into the community building for the potluck and the debate, we felt right at home. There were about fifty people there, perhaps less, and many of them were "the usual suspects"--people we had seen at many hearings.

By the way, this isn't a youth movement. Most of the people were on the far side of fifty (as I am, myself). They may be remembering their days as college-age protesters, but they aren't college-age protesters.

Howard had debated against Deb Katz in the past, and she greeted him nicely and asked if he wanted to be on the platform with her. "Of course," he answered. She never invited him up there. She had arranged to debate with a comedian, after all. I saw some people I knew, including an anti-VY man who is getting interested in thorium reactors for the future. We email occasionally, and greeted each other with honest warmth. People made sure that we had food, soup, cookies.

We sat at the table. At each place setting, there were two handouts. One was a short yellow piece containing a poem and a quote. The quote was from Gayle Green's book "The Woman Who Knew Too Much."
"And cancer is not the worst of it. Alice Stewart warns. Even more dangerous than cancer is the threat to future generations That's what you really need to be afraid of. It's the genetic damage, the possibility of sowing bad seeds into the gene pool from which future generations are drawn. There will be a buildup of defective genes into the population. It won't be noticed until it is too late. Then, we'll never root it out, we'll never get rid of it. It will be totally irrevocable."

A sentence at the top of the page stated that Alice Stewart, M.D., was born in Great Britain in 1906 and investigated the dangers of exposure to radiation.

This piece gave me the chills. First of all, it had that early-20th-century tang of eugenics (those irrevocable bad seeds) and eugenics led to untold misery. Second, it seemed to imply that radiation from un-natural sources was the main cause of mutations, and without such radiation there would be no bad seeds! Forget about crossover patterns between chromosomes and every other source of mutation that has been operating since the dawn of life. I leaned over to Howard, desperate to discuss this. But we couldn't talk, because the debate was about to begin.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Prologue to a Fake Debate

When discussing Vermont Yankee, it is always hard to know where to start, and how much to assume that people know. I will begin with some basics. The Vermont Yankee plant was owned by a consortium of utilities, and in 2002 it was sold to Entergy. At that point, various agreements were set up in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which is worth a couple of blog posts on its own.

When Vermont Yankee's original license runs out in 2012, it requires the approval of the Vermont Legislature before the Public Service Board can issue a Certificate of Public Good for a renewed operating permit. This legislative involvement is highly unusual. License extension usually requires an NRC ruling and approval by the state PUC or Public Service Board, but legislatures don't get involved. To meet the 2012 license expiration date, the legislature must vote this year or next to approve or not approve the license extension.

The fact that the legislature has to approve a license extension is seen by many as a referendum on nuclear. Anti-s from all over the country have flooded into Vermont. I met a man from the Citizen's Awareness Network who had been dispatched here from the Great Plains. He was fighting a coal plant for them. Greenpeace has opened an office in Vermont, specifically targeting Vermont Yankee. And don't get me wrong, these people are well-funded. I don't know where they get their funding, but their funding sources are clearly national, and right now, they have focused their attention on Vermont.

And now, on with our story.

Currently there is a walk from Brattleboro to Montpelier to shut down Vermont Yankee. The protesters plan to arrive in Montpelier with a petition to the legislature, etc. As part of the walk, there was supposed to be a potluck and debate about the plant in Putney on Saturday night. A "debate" means that someone was defending Yankee, so I was very interested in attending and supporting that person. According to the web announcement at the time, a man named William Newcomb, of NUCORPAC (Nuclear Corporation PAC) was supposed to be the pro-nuclear debater. He was to debate Deb Katz, of Citizens Awareness Network. When I looked at the anti-VY walk site, however, it claimed that Ms. Katz was debating "Will Nukem".

I couldn't figure this out. Who was William Newcomb? Nobody I knew had ever heard of him. And were the organizers making fun of the poor man's name by calling him "Will Nukem"? Also, Nucor is a steel company: there is no nuclear NUCORPAC.

I emailed the organizers, and they emailed back quickly and politely. They explained that "Will Nukem," is a comic role played by our actor friend Court Dorsey. (taken from one of the emails I received.) They assured me that it would still be an interesting and informative debate. I suggested that announcing it as a debate was misleading, since the pro-nuclear debater was a comic actor, but nothing was changed. The "debate" was widely announced and open to the public.

I resolved to go and hear this. Howard Shaffer and I decided to drive down to Putney together.

A word about Howard Shaffer III. He was a Submarine Engineer Officer, is a P.E. in Vermont and New Hampshire, was Startup Engineer at Vermont Yankee, and was a Congressional Fellow in 2001. He is in NEI's third party expert program and is a nuclear power advocate. Howard wrote an excellent commentary on nuclear energy for the Vermont Law School Journal. Howard and I often go to hearings and other VY-related events together.

It was a dark and stormy night (well, snow was threatening) when Howard and I got into the car to drive to Putney and hear the debate with Will Nukem. Tune into the next post to read about the debate.

Thanks and Links

I posted my first blog last night, and by the time I awoke this morning Dan Yurman and Rod Adams had both posted kind words about my blog on their blogs. Thank you, Dan and Rod!

Dan Yurman posted about new nuclear bloggers here

Rod Adams posted about this blog here

And Kirk Sorenson welcomed me here

With this post, I am also adding some site links and a blogroll.

Friday, January 1, 2010

About This Blog

Yes Vermont Yankee is a blog in support of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Vermont Yankee is due to be relicensed in 2012, but is fighting fierce opposition from well-organized groups. For example, some anti-Yankee people are currently walking from Brattleboro to Montpelier. They are gathering accolades and publicity along the way.

The walkers apparently don't care that shutting down Yankee will mean burning more fossil fuels. Their leaders say that we will only burn more fossil fuels for a "short time" if Yankee is shut down. They claim that renewables will take over in three to five years. Will Vermont really have hundreds of megawatts of renewable baseload power in five years? I don't think so, and no reputable analyst thinks so.

Still, the anti-Vermont Yankee walkers accept the idea that Vermont will burn expensive fossil fuels for electricity for "three to five years" -- or maybe ten years, or maybe forever. They apparently don't concern themselves with global warming or pollution from fossil-fired plants. They just want to shut down Yankee, and they are very organized.

The Vermont Yankee power plant has been an asset to Vermont by providing safe, clean, reliable, inexpensive power. It has provided good jobs, charitable donations, and taxes. Yankee's low-cost electricity encourages business and employment in Vermont. Vermont Yankee has been, and can remain, a boon to the state and the region.

It is time that Vermont Yankee supporters become organized. This new blog can be a place where we can trade information. I hope it will become a rallying point for plant supporters.

You might wonder who is writing this blog. Do I work for Vermont Yankee? No. I am Meredith Angwin, a physical chemist. I have worked most of my life for the power industry. My background includes fossil fuels (patents in NOx control), risk management for natural gas pipelines, economic and corrosion assessments for geothermal energy, and corrosion control in nuclear power plants. I currently earn my living as a writer. Though I accept contracts from electric utilities and equipment suppliers (among other companies), this blog is not part of any paid work. It is completely my own, and I am responsible for its contents.

One final word. There are many excellent pro-nuclear blogs, and one of my friends asked why I wanted to start another one. However, most other blogs tend to cover the whole world, including nuclear construction in China, the latest word from Congress, and so forth. I live in Vermont, and I have started this blog specifically to concentrate on Vermont Yankee issues.