Friday, December 31, 2010

33rd Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs:Year-End Edition

Retrospectives and Prospects for the Future

Most of the blog posts for this Carnival put the Big Issues of the previous year in useful perspective.

The SMRs, the Hatchets, the Laurels, the HardLy-s

Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat looked at the blog posts that drew the most readers to his blog this year in Top Blog Posts for 2010. He notes that his top three stories were about commercializing and licensing small modular reactors. These results reflect rising interest in SMRs.

Yurman was also pleased to see that to see his response to Bob Herbert’s hatchet job on nuclear energy made it as a top 10 reader choice. Herbert's piece in the New York Times was emotional, irrational, and factually wrong.

In the category of you can’t make this stuff up, Yurman distributed his annual Laurel & HardLy awards. (Something appealing, something appalling.) The Laurel and HardLy post was among the posts with the highest readership.

Gail Marcus and Brian Wang Sum It Up

Gail Marcus sums up the achievements of the year in her blog post Year End Reflections at Nuke Power Talk. She points out that more and more of the "nuclear" blog posts seem to be about alternative energy, as wind becomes the darling of people opposed to nuclear power. On another topic, Marcus was pleased to see the NRC "Principles of Good Regulation" being adopted world-wide. She was a member of the group that developed those principals.

Also, Marcus is pleased with the reception of her book Nuclear First, Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development. The book is an important achievement, since so many "nuclear history" books focus on weapons.

Meanwhile, Brian Wang at Next Big Future has two posts about the nuclear renaissance in Asia, where it is moving along at a great clip. In India, Russia is planning to build 18 reactors, and will work on Fast Reactors with Indian scientists. Further east, China's AP 1000 is still on track to operate in 2013, and Japan has a fourth MOX fueled reactor. Areva, building China's reactor, discusses what they need to do in order to compete with Asian reactor builders.

Externalities Explained at ANS Nuclear Cafe

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Art Wharton wrote an authoritative, three-part post on the external costs of energy technologies.

In the first post, Wharton notes that policymakers should take all factors into account when making important decisions. In other words, they should think about external costs. External costs are the source of one of the most popular questions from people outside of the nuclear energy industry: “So, what about the waste?”

Unlike many other forms of energy production, the nuclear industry does have an answer to deal with the waste it generates. One thing is for sure: The nuclear industry’s answer is assuredly NOT “the waste goes out of the smoke stack.”

In the second post, Wharton describes the external costs of combustion technologies. Clusters of death, respiratory problems, cancer, and other sicknesses are related to combustion's ability to release massive amounts of waste into the atmosphere. These costs don’t enter into
the equation on the cost of energy in conventional models.

In his third post, Wharton describes the external costs of solar photovoltaic (PV). This is often considered the most benign of technologies. Wharton describes the impact of the materials used to produce solar panels, and the impact of the methane-burning power plants and other systems required to back up this intermittent source of power.

At the end of the day, there is no denying it: We need nuclear energy.

Northeast Retrospective

I posted my own retrospective on the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog, as Looking Backward, Looking Forward. In this post, I review the tumultuous year in Vermont: tritium, accusations of lying, election of Peter Shumlin as governor. All this excitement happened since I started blogging on January 1, 2010. (Sigh.)Looking forward, I describe the start of the Energy Education Project, and some of our plans for the future. Among other things, we are sponsoring a visit by Gwyneth Cravens to the Vermont state legislature. We aren't just watching the tumult, we're trying to bring some reason to the state's decisions.

I also recommend my recent post on why the Hydro-Québec deal was a bad deal for Vermont.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues tackles the big question of proliferation in his post Filthy lucre and nuclear non-proliferation: what keeps them apart. As Aplin points out: Shutting down the nuclear industry will spur proliferation. It is the nuclear industry that ultimately pays for international safeguards, which are the best bulwark against the spread of nuclear weapons. The information in this post is a short, clear answer to accusations that power reactors enable bomb-making.

Come to the Carnival!

It's entertaining, and there is a lot of wisdom in the summing-up posts! Lots of fun with no admission fee and no calories!

Everyone involved in the Carnival wishes all our readers very happy, healthy, successful and bright New Year!

All images from Wikimedia.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Donation For The Energy Education Project

There's a new ornament on Yes Vermont Yankee. We now have a PayPal button in the upper right hand corner. Click on this button to donate to the Energy Education Project. The Energy Education Project is part of the Ethan Allen Institute, a tax-deductible educational organization. Year end is a traditional time to donate to charities. Your donation to the Energy Education Project is tax-deductible.

The Energy Education Project

The Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute is changing the dialog about energy in Vermont. We are making support for nuclear energy acceptable! Please join us and support us!

In the near future, I will be making many appearances around the state, as will Howard Shaffer. The Energy Education Project has also expanded our reach by bringing noteworthy speakers to Vermont. One of the Project members has donated travel expenses for Gwyneth Cravens to come to the Vermont Statehouse. On January 20, Cravens will speak to a Legislative Round Table at noon, and she will speak at the Sheraton in Burlington in the evening (see graphic below). At the Round Table, her books will be available to legislators free of charge. Ethan Allen Institute has arranged significant media coverage for her visit.

In February, we will bring Dr. Kathryn McCarthy of Idaho National Laboratory to Montpelier and Burlington. She will speak about Gen IV reactors.

These visitors are in addition to our own constant efforts to speak to groups, be on radio talk shows, and take part in debates. We need to change the dialog from sheer reaction-to-accusations to actual education about energy. Through the Energy Education Project, we are changing the dialog.

Please Join....even on a Shoe-String.

We are doing this all on a shoe-string, and we need your help.

Soon, I will approach some major donors for the Energy Education Project. I am sure these donors will ask me: How big is your Energy Education Project? What is the project membership? Which means.... the project needs members! It's $30 a year for membership, completely tax-deductible. Please support our efforts with your membership.

Of course, if you want to give more, we will be very happy! But right now, we are asking for memberships, which are as important as large donations. Smaller donations are also welcome.

You can join by clicking the PayPal button on this blog. (Upper right hand corner. Very easy to click.)

Alternatively, write a check to

Ethan Allen Institute
P.O. Box 543
Montpelier, VT 05601

Please make your check out to "Ethan Allen Institute EEP," or add "EEP" to the memo field.

You can also join through the Membership Page on the Energy Education Projecct website.

I wish you all a very happy Holiday Season and Bright New Year.

Ethan Allen logo courtesy of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Bad Deal with Hydro-Québec

Vermont Yankee Might Close, and Vermont Was Desperate

In recent years, Vermont bought 10% of Hydro-Québec (HQ) power. In return, Vermont gave HQ 40% of its profits. Not good for Vermont.

New power agreements with HQ were announced this year. Are they better? No. They were deals struck by a desperate Vermont legislature, who saw both Vermont Yankee and HQ power in jeopardy. If the state couldn't do a deal with HQ, and Vermont Yankee closed, then Vermont would lose 2/3 of its power within about two years. The legislature had to do a deal with HQ. "Having to do a deal" is not the best negotiating position, and the negotiation results were exactly what you would expect in that context.

Here's the mess they made.

1. We Hereby Anoint Your Power "Renewable"

In a previous post I explained how HQ sold 10% of its power to Vermont, but made 40% of its profits on that sale. I also quoted a Canadian friend: Don't you guys realize that we only want your money?

Actually, the Canadians wanted more than our money. They wanted acknowledgment that their dams provide "renewable power." Renewable power will find buyers in many states, because many utilities must fill a "renewable energy portfolio." Large hydro projects have rarely been labeled renewable though small hydro has been.

To be able to purchase Hydro-Québec power, the Vermont legislature passed a special bill labeling HQ power renewable. This has not made environmental groups within Vermont happy. As reports: Jake Brown with the Vermont Natural Resources Council calls the legislation "a dangerous precedent." Brown says it'll undercut any efforts to grow small renewable projects in state. As one environmentalist blog noted: Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) went so far as to say the contract would be “in jeopardy” without the change (that is, the contract with HQ would be jeopardy if we didn't call their power renewable).

In other words, HQ didn't just want our money. They also wanted our honor. They got it, too. I believe little "green" Vermont is the only state in the Union that labels big hydro renewable.

2. This Deal Has to Stay Secret

Vermonters will never know much about the deals with HQ. Transparency is not part of the package.

HQ is selling power to Green Mountain Power (GMP), Central Vermont Public Service, and Burlington Electric. VPR reported that Burlington Electric was faced with a problem with the HQ deal. Burlington Electric is supposed to have all major power purchases put to public vote. However, HQ has been adamant that price information not be disclosed. It is not clear how Burlington Electric is going to get around its own transparency requirements. I am sure Burlington Electric will think of a way to please HQ by not revealing what it is required to reveal. After all, Burlington needs the power.

Green Mountain Power hasn't been happy with this secrecy either. VPR also reported that Robert Dostis of GMP said public disclosure of the contract terms has been an issue. However, HQ is standing firm on keeping the terms of the deal quiet. Hydro-Quebec spokeswoman Ariane Connor said the company would not disclose certain competitive price information..... "From our point of view it's not an issue. Commercially sensitive information will not be made public."

In other words, don't bother to ask. HQ won't tell.

3. It Isn't Really A Deal. It's Electricity Bought at the Market. It's An Adjustable Rate Mortgage.

But maybe it's a good deal, right? I mean, the Vermont legislature had to vote HQ a special green label, and the deal is secret, but maybe we are getting really cheap power. Or maybe it's power at a guaranteed rate, at least. Not cheap, but steady.

Well, no. It's market-price power, with some smoothing. As the Montreal Gazette explains:

Although the details of the contract were not made public, Hydro-Quebec president and CEO Thierry Vandal said the initial price in 2012 will be 6 cents a kilowatt hour -the same price Vermont pays now.

A price-smoothing clause will keep the price in the middle of the going market rate for the duration of the deal. Vermont consumers, officials argued, get protection from price swings while Hydro gets a higher return when prices slide.

So, the deal with HQ is like an adjustable rate mortgage. The power prices go up and down with the grid prices, but move a little more slowly. Adjustable rate mortgages are often considered to be the mortgage of choice for buyers that don't quite qualify for a fixed rate mortgage.

Vermont couldn't qualify for a fixed rate contract with HQ. We couldn't qualify for a better deal. We had to take whatever they would give us, and they are giving us market price power. (By the way, HQ says they will give us more of the same, if we shut down Vermont Yankee and need more of their power. You can take the words "give us more of the same" any way you choose.)

The Legislature and the Prices

All last year, my local Vermont representative kept saying that he couldn't vote to relicense Vermont Yankee unless it was a really good deal for Vermonters, and he hadn't heard a really good deal yet. (He sometimes scowled at me at that point. He made it clear that he was protecting the pockets of the people of Vermont, and I was just a nuclear advocate.)

Yet I am sure this same man voted for the bill that calls HQ power "renewable" and agreed with the secret deal for HQ power at market prices.

Wow. If they would just give Vermont Yankee, with its local payroll, the deal they are giving HQ!

It won't happen, of course, because Vermont Yankee is our in-state provider, and its regulators can push it around. In summary, to quote my earlier post:

We will never get as good a deal from Hydro-Québec as we get from Vermont Yankee. We're the Export Market for Hydro-Québec and the In-State Market for Vermont Yankee.

Addendum: Power Price Context
I thought I should give a little background here, to show the deal in perspective.

Vermont Yankee is currently selling power to Vermont at 4.2 cents per kWh. According to its original Memorandum of Understanding, after 2012 it could sell power at the market rate, but would share revenue with the utilities when the market price of power went above 6.1 cents. As I write this, the ISO -NE price for power is about 5.7 cents, but it will vary--the ISO-NE day ahead price map shows an average price of 7.4 cents. HQ sells power to Vermont at about 6 cents. Feed In Tariffs for renewable power range from 12 to 30 cents.

Looking ahead:
Vermont legislators objected to the market price of power/revenue share deal that they signed in 2002 (Memorandum of Understanding). They have pressured Entergy to give a better deal. The negotiations are on-going, and nothing has been formally announced. According to both plant proponents and plant foes, the word-on-the-street is that Entergy has offered 6.1 cents as a fixed price. In contrast, HQ has offered only market pricing, and of course, without revenue sharing.

Image of Spillway of Robert-Bourassa Generating Station from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays from Vermont, with a Tip of the Hat to Québec

My latest post was about bad bargains from HydroQuébec, but I don't want to give the impression that I don't like Québec! One of the things I love about Vermont is that it is so close to French Canada. I'm thinking a lot about Canada recently, and not just about Canadian power contracts. I've been thinking about Québécois music.

When I was a little girl, someone bought me a record of Folksongs of Québec. I loved it, and I memorized many of the songs. (I don't speak French, but I sure tried to sing the songs.) This year, the Christmas Revels at Dartmouth had a French-Canadian theme:

Inspired by the Revels, I looked for YouTubes of my old favorite French Canadian songs. I found this video of a classic song. Actually, I found a whole set of similar videos. I have a good time watching them when I should be doing useful stuff.

Here's a short French carol, too. I learned this one in high school, where I did not successfully learn to speak French. Oh well. I still enjoy the music.

Friends, family, food, music. That is what I will be doing for a few days. I hope all my blog readers have similar joys at this season. I wish you a very merry Christmas, and the happiest of holidays!

I will be back to blogging sometime next week.

Post Script: If you are looking for a stocking-stuffer, I recommend Louise Penny's mystery series about Inspector Gamache of the Québec Sureté. The mysteries are set in the Eastern Townships of Québec, an area that I used to think about as the boring farmland north of the Vermont border and south of Montréal. I no longer think of that area as "dead space" between me and my destination! Penny's descriptions of the seasons, the people and the food are masterful. She is also quite direct about the tensions between between English speakers and Francophones. Several of her books are out in paperback. There's a spiritual center to her books, too. In the spirit of the season, I will quote Ms. Penny's website. The quote expresses her philosophy, and also makes a fitting close to this post.

If you take only one thing away from any of my books I'd like it to be this:
Goodness exists.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Better Be Good--to Your In-State Customers

Utility Truths

Among utilities, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the customers in your regulatory jurisdiction are always in need of a good deal. You had better give them a good deal. You had better be good--to your in-state customers.

Your in-state regulators are the ones that can impose new rules and fees. You want those regulators to think of you as wonderful people who are saving money for their ratepayers. You want to make your in-state regulators look good.

Out of State and Out of Mind: Heaven Help the Marks!

On the other hand, when a utility looks toward out-of-state or out-of-country customers: for these customers, the truth is different. The truth is more like "God Save the Mark!" Or in this case, "Heaven Help the Marks."

I was thinking of this when a Canadian friend emailed me recently. He said (slight paraphrase)

That VPIRG guy on the debate....he sure made a sales pitch for HydroQuebec (HQ) power. Don't you guys realize that we only want your money?

My friend was referring to James Moore of VPIRG's comments on our recent debate. Like many of those opposed to nuclear power in this state, Moore has great faith in future purchases from HydroQuebec.

But my Canadian friend said the Canadians only want our money. This is a truth acknowledged even by the HydroQuebec web site.

The Profits Flow North. The Profits Come from Vermont.

The HQ annual reports tell the story. The HQ 2009 annual report show this very telling graph (you can doubleclick on the graphics to enlarge them)

In 2009, HQ exported 10% of its power...and made 30% of its profits on the export. And that wasn't even a good year for HQ exports. In the 2009 report, HydroQuebec noted that the falling revenue was due to more difficult market conditions

In the HQ 2008 Annual Report, we see that in previous years, HQ made a far higher portion of its profits on exports. In 2007 and 2008, they made around 40% their profits on 10% or less of their sales. These profits came from the export sales. Basically, little Vermont is subsidizing the power prices of everyone in Quebec.

Bad Guys Up There in Canada? No, Not Bad Guys. Utilities.

I don't want to pick on HQ here. As I said in the first paragraph, if you are a power plant or an entire utility, you give the customers in your regulatory jurisdiction the good deal, and make profits from customers elsewhere. As far as I know, the same is true with Vermont Yankee. The Memorandum of Understanding calls for VY supplying 4.2 cent per kWh to Vermont utilities. That price is only for Vermont utilities. More than half of VY power is sold out of state. I believe that the out-of-state prices for VY power follow the market. I think most VY profits come from the out-of-state sales.

In short, as we get ready for the holidays, let's resolve to be good to our in-state power suppliers. Because the in-state suppliers are the ones who will be good to us! Opponents may talk about HydroQuebec power being available to Vermont. However, by the nature of utilities in general:

We will never get as good a deal from HydroQuebec as we get from Vermont Yankee. We're the Export Market for HydroQuebec and the In-State Market for Vermont Yankee.

Important Note: A few days ago, Dan Yurman had a very insightful blog post about Shumlin and Vermont Yankee. Why Peter Shumlin Will Save Vermont Yankee. I recommend it highly.

Image of Spillway of Robert-Bourassa Generating Station from Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The 32nd Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at Canadian Energy Issues. Steve Aplin blogs at Canadian Energy Issues, and I met him in France this summer when we were visiting Areva reprocessing facilities. In some ways, Steve and I have similar blogs: we each concentrate on energy issues in one geographical region.

Today, Canadian Energy Issues is hosting the Carnival of Nuclear Energy for the first time. Steve has done a terrific job on organizing and explaining the best of the nuclear blogs for the past week. He includes a description of Dan Yurman's amusing (and appalling) Laurel and HardLy awards for the best and worst of the nuclear industry this year. The Laurel and HardLy post is at Idaho Samizdat. In two other posts, Brian Wang of Next Big Future describes the big picture of the world-wide nuclear renaissance, and a smaller picture of a possible breakthrough in extracting uranium from seawater. Steve also comments about the Yes Vermont Yankee debate. Steve notes that if the Vermont Senator thinks that people shouldn't feel entitled to "power whenever they want it," the Senator might consider sending a letter to that effect to billions of people in India and China who need reliable electric power. (He would have to send the letter by snail mail, of course. That could be expensive.)

Come to the Carnival. You will laugh! You will cry! You will look at Brian's charts, read Dan's HardLy awards, listen to the Senator from Vermont and think...maybe THIS is why the Renaissance is mostly happening beyond the American borders. Then you will read Dan's Laurel awards and feel much better.

The graphic is one of my favorite pictures from the French trip this summer: the Carousel in the square at Avignon.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flawed Analogies: A Guest Post by Jeff Schmidt

Jeff Schmidt is a computer geek and software-developer-in-training, currently working for a small business software developer in Ohio and pursuing a bachelor's degree at the University of Cincinnati. He recently sent me an email commenting on the flawed analogies in the Debate Goes On.

(The debate was about relicensing Vermont Yankee. Howard Shaffer and I debated James Moore of VPIRG and Senator Dick McCormack of the Vermont Senate.)

I am grateful to Mr. Schmidt for allowing me to post his (somewhat edited) email as a guest blog.

Flawed Analogy #1: Vermont Yankee is an old person in failing health.

Vermont Yankee is like an old person whose health is failing.

Both the Senator and Mr. Moore made this analogy early on and kept repeating it.

Flaw: Power plants are manufactured machines and buildings. Machines/buildings are not like people. When people get old, if their eyes are failing, you cannot replace their eyes with brand new ones (at least, not yet. . . maybe someday). If their joints get arthritic, you cannot easily just replace the joints (in some cases, like hips and knees, joints can be replaced, but that's pretty limited), and so on.

Machines, on the other hand, can have faulty components and even major parts replaced, can have failing welds inspected and re-welded, can have leaky pipes, valves, turbines, whatever needs it, replaced, while keeping that which is still good. Any machine or building can be restored to a pristine condition, if the responsible party is willing to put the necessary funds and effort into the job.

You can even take that a step farther - machines and buildings can be upgraded with new technology or features, and made better than the day they were new. There are a lot of cars that have been beautifully preserved and restored by people who love historic cars. They run great, and in many cases, are safer than the day they rolled off the lot. They may have had seatbelts added to them (which they didn't originally have), or perhaps the owner added an anti-lock braking systems. Maybe the owner added a turbo-charger to make the engine perform better, or an upgraded suspension, better tires, etc.

I think almost everyone has at some point been to a classic car cruise-in, and seen the amazingly restored vehicles on display, with their hoods open and their engines roaring. While nuclear plants are not exactly like cars, it still holds true that they can be repaired and restored, as they too are machines.

Machines can be kept running almost forever as long as someone does the necessary repairs and replacements.

What it ultimately comes down to is an economic analysis of whether it's cheaper to fix the plant, or to decommission it and put the refurbishing funds towards the construction of a brand new facility of some sort. This is an analysis which is best done by the company itself, not the State of Vermont. If Entergy were willing (and I'm not saying they are, but let's assume for argument's sake that they are), to put the money into whatever repairs and upgrades are necessary to keep the plant safe and reliable, then there is no legitimate state interest in forcing the plant to close.

Flawed Analogy #2. Relicensing the plant is a game and you are changing the rules.

The analogy is that decisions regarding the disposition of Vermont Yankee are a game and you cannot change the rules of the game at the end of the match.

The Senator made this analogy early in the show, and I thought that was the most bizarre analogy I've heard in a very long time.

Flaw: How is public policy anything like a sport? Is this really how we make important public policy decisions? By saying, "we made this decision 20 or 40 years ago to license it until this date, and to change it now is unfair? Who is it unfair to? The decision should be made on what is best for the State's residents/taxpayers/ratepayers, not based upon some immaterial sense of fairness because you are re-thinking a decision made years (or even decades) previously.

My driver's license expires on my birthday in January. Since it was set to expire on that date, does that mean I should not have the chance to renew it? Re-licensing is an opportunity to review the situation, to make sure it is appropriate to re-license something, but there's no reason it needs to be a hard-and-fast, set-in-stone termination date.

The only reason I can think that this person is complaining about fairness, is that they have been a committed anti-nuke for a long time. They may feel that since the nuclear plant got to operate, but they never wanted it operating in the first place, it's unfair that they don't get their way in being able to shut the plant down, if you consider re-licensing it.

Flawed Analogy #3. A power plant is perishable, like milk. It has a magic sell-by date, and nothing can be done to make it useful after that date.

The analogy the power plant is a perishable item. Forty years ago, we chose forty years as the magic date, and there's no reason to believe we made a mistake.

The Senator repeatedly appealed to this idea that it was licensed until 2012, why should we relicense it? The question, really, should be why shouldn't we relicense it, if it is safe for it to continue operating, or if it can be made safe to continue operating at relatively low expense? Machines don't have expiration dates that are set in stone - as I said above, basically it comes down to, if you are willing to spend enough money, any machine can be repaired, so it's really just a question of if it is worth repairing.

The Senator also asked, "What mistake did we make in the past when we decided the plant would be obsolete by 2012?" I don't really know what went into the original decision making process, so I suppose I can't specifically answer that, but I also don't see how an arbitrary date can ever be correct in such matters. You don't make decisions based upon arbitrary dates, you make decisions based upon the facts of the situation, including such things as an economic analysis of whether it's more cost effective to fix/upgrade the plant, or to build other plants, or to get power from other sources. Magic dates are largely stupid, unless it's based upon some particular scientific principle (e.g. the sell-by date on milk and other perishable goods - we have science which tells us how long the milk will be good for - but machines are not like milk, again, you can fix machines, but you can't make sour milk good again).

Some Thoughts about the NRC

James Moore and the Senator made repeated assertions that the plant was failing and was really no longer safe - that it's developing too many problems. Didn't the NRC go through a re-licensing process where they evaluated the plant on it's technical merits, when considering whether to re-license it, and didn't the NRC evaluation find that the plant should be relicensed?

Note from Meredith: The NRC has not officially ruled on the relicensing yet, but a ruling is expected within a few weeks. The plant has been extensively inspected and reviewed. Everyone expects the plant to be relicensed by the NRC. Even the opponents expect the NRC to rule for relicensing. As you can see by this NRC summary, more than forty plants have had their licenses renewed to date. End of note.

Do the Senator and Mr. Moore think the NRC is corrupt, or just incompetent? Do they think themselves better suited to evaluate the plants condition than the engineers and scientists who work for the NRC to do these inspections and evaluations? I certainly would have challenged them on that point, but perhaps I'm too confrontational, I dunno.

Overall, I think you and Howard did a pretty good job, but I just offer these thoughts in the hopes that, as you will likely continue to encounter these ideas and these expressions of the ideas, you can, perhaps, have some ideas of how to attack the flaws in those lines of thought.

The Use and Misuse of Analogies

When people depend too much on analogies to understand problems, they usually end up making bad decisions. Don't get me wrong, analogies can sometimes be helpful, but it usually is just a cover for overly-simplistic analysis which misses key parts of the problem immediately at hand. When you debate someone using analogies, look for the flaws in every analogy and attack the analogies. Show how the analogy fails to adequately address the problem at hand.

Vermont Yankee image from Wikipedia
Old Man With A Crutch, I. M. Kramskoi, 1872, Wikimedia

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Debate Goes On

This morning, Howard Shaffer wrote an excellent post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe blog: Vermont's nuclear debate, continued. In Howard's blog post, he mentioned the real-time debate/discussion that we had on the Walking Through Life local access television show about a week ago. This show, hosted by Linda Carbino, often deals with issues of healing and recovery. She is a gracious moderator, and frequently interviews local politicians.

On Carbino's program, Howard Shaffer and I debated Senator Dick McCormack and Mr. James Moore. Moore is Clean Energy Program Director for VPIRG. McCormack has been on the VPIRG board. They are both foes of Vermont Yankee.

I decided to post the video here. It is a full hour long, so I doubt many people will watch the whole thing. If you want to skip ahead to the 25 minute mark, you can see Senator McCormack say something like: "the idea that people are entitled to all the electricity they want, when they want it, is maybe an outdated concept." A little later in the show, I point out that many places in India have this situation: people cannot have all the power they want whenever they want it. McCormack may like the idea of poor people doing without electricity, and rich people having diesels in the backyard. I don't like it.

Well, here it is. Our debate in all its glory.

By the way, local commentators seem surprised that some people think Vermont Yankee might continue to operate. This morning's article by Terri Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press is titled Some Hold Out Hope Yankee Can Stay Open. The article has already had 88 comments.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

31st Carnival of Nuclear Energy

The 31st Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs is up at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Dan Yurman assembled a fabulous collection of blogs. This post might be subtitled: Everything you wanted to know about nuclear today, but were afraid to ask.

The Carnival includes a series of posts about the Nuclear Summit which recently took place in Washington D. C. The bottom line is complex, but basically, wind and solar cannot provide reliable power. However, if people assume that natural gas prices will remain cheap indefinitely, the market will choose to build natural gas plants. (The market doesn't care too much about greenhouse gases, when all is said and done.) Is this appropriate?

Taking a broader view of costs, the Carnival links to posts describing the levelized cost per kilowatt for nuclear, solar, wind and fossil energy world-wide. Nuclear energy is far less expensive than solar and wind, but the comparison to fossil depends heavily on carbon costs. Will carbon sequestration be required? Will carbon taxes be imposed?

Other posts describe Warren Buffet's nuclear fuel bank philanthropy, and issues about export of nuclear materials. Gail Marcus points out that the "footprint" of wind farms is frequently underestimated. I explain "geothermal heating" in Vermont: geothermal is advanced electrical heating. Governor-elect Shumlin is fond of this type of heating. Vermont Yankee could provide the power for it.

Always something to think about. Always something thought-provoking. No cotton candy.

Come to the Carnival!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Murky Road to Renewables and Geothermal in Vermont

The Biomass Plant

Last Saturday, Howard Shaffer and I went to the VECAN conference on energy savings and renewable energy. The first speaker was governor-elect Peter Shumlin. I admit, I was bored with his repetitive statements against Vermont Yankee. I especially think his "junker car" analogy is getting old. However, I was interested in what he would say about renewable energy in Vermont. I am in favor of renewable energy use (in reasonable amounts) and I am a member of my town's energy commission.

As I described in an earlier post, a biomass plant is proposed for southern Vermont. The plant would be located close enough to Vermont Yankee to be relevant for replacing a small part (30 MW) of Vermont Yankee's power (620 MW). The plant would also use a grown-in-Vermont renewable resource --wood. The protests against the plant have been fierce, but you might think Shumlin would love it. It's renewable. It's local. It's not nuclear.

Of course, Shumlin doesn't love it. At the VECAN meeting, Shumlin was asked about this plant and another proposed biomass plant. He answered that biomass is the "least attractive" renewable technology, and that he hoped the biomass plants underwent Act 250 review. Act 250 is Vermont's draconian environmental review process, so hoping for an Act 250 review has clear implications. Shumlin isn't supporting the biomass plants, and he hopes they don't get built.

What do I think about the Pownal biomass plant? I decided not to take a position on it because I have not studied it enough. To make up my mind, I would have to investigate the sources of the wood and the pollution control plans for the plant. In contrast, Shumlin knows his own mind on renewable matters, whether or not he actually knows the facts.

Geothermal Heat

However, there are renewables that Shumlin favors. Geothermal. Shumlin announced an upcoming conference on geothermal heating for Vermont. Heating with green energy! The earth's own energy! What could be better?

Geothermal heating sounds very natural, but it doesn't use the earth's energy in some natural, passive manner. Geothermal heating in Vermont is actually electric heating, using a ground-based heat pump. I am in favor of geothermal heat pumps, because they use electricity to replace oil. You can make electricity many ways, including low-carbon sources like nuclear power. Burning oil in your basement is simply...burning oil.

Most people in Vermont use oil and oil-derived products (propane) for heating. It gets cold up here, and Vermonters use a lot of oil in the winter. Some people use biomass for heating: wood stoves and pellet stoves. However, since larger buildings are almost all heated by oil, I would have to say that oil-based products are the main source of heat in Vermont in winter. Geothermal heating could replace some of this oil.

Research on Geothermal Heating Was Sponsored By the Electric Industry

Back home from the Conference, all the Commission members received a note from the head of Hartford Energy Commission, announcing the geothermal heating conference in January. I wrote a response: When I was at EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) improved heat pumps were a major research area, because improved heat pumps could compete with direct use of fossil fuels. Their presence would be a new market for electricity.

The EPRI heat pump research succeeded, and one of the results is this geothermal heating conference.

Part of my reason for writing this note was that there is too much good guys versus bad guys rhetoric in the energy business. Many of the people on my energy commission list will be upset to learn that one of Shumlin's favored "green" technologies was developed to provide a new market for electricity. But so what? I think people should open their eyes to the wonderful things electricity can do for us. Developing new uses for electricity can make our lives better and our energy use more efficient.

Environmental Implications

I use fuel oil for heating, like most people up here. I don't particularly enjoy having an oil tank in my basement. As you can see by this fact sheet about preventing problems from fuel oil tanks, replacing millions of basement oil tanks would prevent a lot of environmental problems. By using electricity, we can replace those tanks. We need abundant inexpensive electricity in order to be truly "green."

In other words, for geothermal heating in Vermont, we need Vermont Yankee. The nuclear plant has had negligible environmental effects, especially compared to home-based oil tanks that contaminate groundwater all over the country.

Unfortunately, the concept of using electricity to prevent pollution may be a more complicated view of green than some people are ready to accept.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Vermont Yankee Explained by Robert Hargraves

My friend Dr. Robert Hargraves has a Ph.D. in physics, teaches Rethinking Nuclear Power at ILEAD, and co-founded the Coalition for Energy Solutions (I am a member). Many people who read this blog may also remember his post: Vernon New Hampshire? He also presented the history of Vermont Yankee at the first Ethan Allen Energy Education Project meeting. I also gave him a Blue Ribbon on this blog for all the work he does for nuclear power, including thorium reactors.

Yesterday he posted this six-minute video, Vermont Yankee Explained. I love it.

Send it to your friends, too! Here's the link, as well as the video.

Friday, December 3, 2010

30th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

Asia: The New Frontier for Nuclear

Several nuclear energy blog posts this week explore the new builds in Asia. At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Dan Yurman reviews China's ambitious nuclear program. China is planning 40 GWe of nuclear by 2020. Will China be able to execute its ambitious plans? A target of 40 GWe by 2020 could involve at least 30 new reactors. However, the official target is almost 120 GWe. Yurman discusses China's targets, challenges and plans in his post. For example, China would have to become self-sufficient in reactor design.

Brian Wang at Next Big Future also looks toward China. In An Even Bigger Century of Nuclear Energy, Wang shows that China has been able to maintain Walmart type prices for its nuclear builds. In McKinsey Proposes a Green Revolution Development Plan for China, Wang reviews a McKinsey report from late 2009, and notes that China is moving faster on nuclear and green technologies than that report recommended. In a related post, Wang looks at the Chinese energy mix for now, 2015 and 2020. And finally...what is China planning to do with all this electricity? Here's one answer. In a post on amazing facts of China's high speed rail buildout, Wang points out that by the end of 2012, China may have more miles of high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined.

Looking at the costs in China, however, Charles Barton describes how molten salt reactors, built in the United States, could still be the most cost-effective way to produce nuclear power. As Barton explains, Keeping Up with China may mean leapfrogging current technology.

North America Moves Ahead

Current technology in North America is doing very well: David Bradish of NEI Nuclear Notes shares some statistics. Nuclear power electricity production in the United States is on track to break all previous yearly records. So far, 2007 was the record year for nuclear generation. At the end of October in 2007, nuclear had provided 669.5 bkWh. This year, nuclear provided 670.0 bkWh by the same date.

North of the border (that is, the border between the U. S. and Canada) the situation is decidedly mixed. In Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman describes how the Ontario provincial government plans to build two more nuclear plants at Darlington, and refurbish ten more reactors. However, the Ontario provincial government also wants to sell (privatize) Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL). This is the company that would build the reactor. As usual, Yurman gives insights into these murky waters.

North America Falls Behind

Steve Aplin of Canandian Energy Issues also casts some light into the murk. Ontario has a long-term energy plan that includes phasing out its coal plants. However, the plan includes replacing most of the coal plants by natural gas. Aplin explains why this is not a particularly good idea. He concludes by pointing out that the plan is a pdf document, no more. It's written in pixels, not stone. It can be changed.

Meanwhile, at Atomic Insights, Rod Adams brings a blast from the past: at year-old document on radiation from gas and production water in the Marcellus shale. Did anybody except Adams ever read this document? I hope so. Thousands of wells are going to be drilled, in thickly-settled farm county, and someone should be thinking about the effects.

Speaking of the countryside, in my Yes Vermont Yankee post, I temporarily stop describing protests against the nuclear plant in southern Vermont. Instead, I describe protests against the proposed biomass plant in southern Vermont. Just in case you thought renewables would make people happy.

Not exactly a blog post, but Cool Hand Nuke helps you nuclear-power your browser. You can bring nuclear news, views, and job openings to your browser with Cool-Hand Nuke's free widgets. (I think they are widgets. Maybe they are plug-ins. Anyhow, they are free and they are all about nuclear.)

The Carnival Calls

Come to the Carnival! It's always fun. It's never cold and windy. The comestibles are brain food, not cotton candy. Something to learn! Something to see! Always something new!