Monday, February 28, 2011

41st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 41st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Cool Hand Nuke.

Once again, Jeff Madison of Cool Hand Nuke has done an admirable job of putting together the best of the blog posts.

Many posts, like Brian Wang at Next Big Future, and Charles Barton at Nuclear Green, discuss big topics such as thorium reactors here and in China, and the role of nuclear energy in preventing global warming. Barton also notes that perhaps we should be talking a bit more about nuclear power's other advantages: for example, its economic advantages. Similarly, Cool Hand Nuke describes Spain's recent pro-nuclear turn-around. Dan Yurman at Fuel Cycle Week describes the upcoming need for MOX fuel while Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk discusses why China is leading the way in so many things nuclear. Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues describes the development of a hydrogen economy based on nuclear heat. At the ANS Nuclear Cafe, George Stanford talks about Obama's nuclear policy, and back at Next Big Future, Brian Wang castigates the NRC for taking 7 to 20 years to approve a new reactor design. (Yes indeed Brian. And what they do with re-licensing is also a crying shame.)

Two other posts take a more personal approach. Suzanne Hobbs of PopAtomic asks why politicians are always saying "there's no silver bullet for the energy crisis" when actually, there is one. It's nuclear. She describes her efforts to get the word out about this neglected silver bullet. Rod Adams of Atomic Insights asks why we are doing this outreach? What drives most of us to support nuclear? His conclusion is that we are doing it for our grandchildren. Both posts are very inspiring!

Come to the Carnival! Learn! Be inspired! No admission fees! No high-calorie sweets! The only Carnival you can attend easily in this lousy weather!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Janus Forum Debate

An Expected Debate and Unexpected Debater

On Thursday of last week, I debated Arnie Gundersen about the future of Vermont Yankee. The debate took place at the Janus Forum at University of Vermont. Here's a link to the Vermont Public Radio segment about the debate, and another link to the audio version of the debate itself, also courtesy of VPR.

Monday Afternoon

I didn't expect to debate Arnie Gundersen. I expected Howard Shaffer to debate Arnie. That was the plan.

On Monday of last week, a couple of us got together in Burlington to hear Howard Shaffer run through his initial presentation for the Janus Forum debate on Thursday. We met in Burlington because Howard and I were due to be on a TV show on WCAX that evening. Also, Burlington was more convenient for some of the people.

We critiqued Howard's viewgraphs and then we asked him hostile questions. I learned a lot as we critiqued Howard. I was also very glad that Howard was going to be in the hot seat Thursday, not me.

I was wrong.

Thursday Morning

I was scheduled to give a talk at a Rotary in Burlington Thursday morning. While I was at the Rotary, my cell phone rang. Howard's wife told me that Howard was on his way to the emergency room in an ambulance, and they weren't sure what was wrong but he was in a lot of pain. Howard had asked her to call me and say that he couldn't do the debate in the afternoon, but he was sure I could take over and do a fine job.

(This is not a place for keeping my readers in suspense. Howard had emergency surgery for a life-threatening condition, and the surgery was successful. He is recovering at home at this point.)

When I heard this, I did what any self-respecting wife would do. I called my husband. George reminded and reassured me that Howard was being taken care of by great people at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Everything that could be done would be done for him. George also said that I couldn't help Howard, but I had my own decision to make. Was I going to take Howard's part in the debate?

Okay. A couple of deep breaths here.

I decided to take part in the debate. I had my laptop with the Rotary presentation on it, and the laptop also had an early draft of Howard's slides on it (from the Monday meeting). I could spend an hour or so merging the presentations before I had to show up at the University of Vermont (UVM). Otherwise, the debate would be cancelled, and UVM people had spent a lot of time on preparation and publicity. Heck, I had done a lot of preparation, if you count half-a-day on Monday reviewing slides with Howard. So I decided to take part in the debate.

Thank You All Around

There's a lot to discuss about the debate, and I will do some of this in the days ahead. Meanwhile, I want to thank the people at the Janus Forum. They managed to hand out programs including my name and background--with only a few hours notice. I have images of those programs on this post. (As usual, double-clicking on the images will bring you to a bigger image.) I also want to thank the moderator, Emerson Lynn, for doing a fine job, and Arnie Gundersen for his well-organized presentation.

Some Links About the Debate

Once again, a link to the audio of the debate.

On Monday, Howard and I appeared on WCAX TV to talk about the debate. You can also see the video on my most recent post.

On Wednesday, Arnie Gundersen appeared on WCAX to talk about the debate.

Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog noted that Arnie Gundersen was introduced as a person with "almost four decades of experience in the nuclear industry." (I noticed this also, and was puzzled because I knew Arnie had taught school for quite a few years. "How old is Arnie?" I wondered.) Rod did some investigation into Gundersen's resume, and discovered resume-inflation. Rod describes Gundersen's background in his blog post: Arnie Gundersen has inflated his resume, yet frequently claims that Entergy cannot be trusted.

More about the debate itself, in future posts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting Ready for the Week

This is a week of meetings and speaking engagements for me and Howard and other pro-nuclear people here in Vermont.

If you have a chance, please read my earlier post on the four important meetings this week, including the Shaffer-Gundersen debate this Thursday.

This morning, a post I wrote went up at ANS Nuclear Cafe. It's all about techniques for supporting nuclear energy in public debates.

Suzanne Hobbs at Popatomic has a related post about learning from the opponents in debate.

In other important news, Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat describes why Vermont (and New York) will probably lose their spent fuel case against NRC.

And finally, I want to give a shout-out to Suzanne Hobbs for her post on art in support of Vermont Yankee. With her permission, one of her posters is on this website. Say NO to more Fossil Fuels in Vermont!

Have a good day! I'm off to Burlington for the day. Various activities about the debate, followed by being on a TV show.

Update Again: I embedded the TV clip.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

40th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The ANS Nuclear Cafe is hosting the 40th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers. Dan Yurman did a wonderful job of putting this week's Carnival together. Of course, I might be just saying that because a post from Yes Vermont Yankee is the first one in the line-up.

NRC. The first group of posts shows NRC being treated like a soccer ball (deservedly). Yes Vermont Yankee criticizes their relicensing process, Next Big Future points out how badly behind they are in processing new applications, and CoolHandNuke asks why they "redacted" (i.e., hid) the scientific analysis of Yucca Mountain in their recently released report. Idaho Samizdat blogs about the three states that are suing NRC. These states object to having nuclear fuel stored on-site at their power plants. (Vermont is one of the states, of course. No surprise there.) The Samizdat post quotes a precedent: a similar suit in California. Outcome: Dry casks okay, lawsuit failed.

Tactics, Ads and Thugs. PopAtomic encourages us to learn tactics from nuclear opponents, and Nuke Power Talk notes an editorial in the Washington Post that writes about clean energy without bashing nuclear. NEI Nuclear Notes describes its recent advertising section in USA Today. Nuclear Fissionary gives a blow-by-blow (literally) account of Greenpeace activists in Spain beating up guards at a nuclear plant. Wait. I meant to say: Greenpeace thugs in Spain beating up guards. They knew the guards wouldn't fire on them. The guards had to show restraint, the thugs didn't.

The Fuel Cycle and Business Models. Nuclear Town Hall, Nuclear Green, Canadian Energy Issues, and Brave New Climate take on various aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including thorium reactors, fuel rod issues, plutonium and more. In contrast to these rival techniques and public controversies, Atomic Insights describes a successful business model...low on innovation, high on profits. Oops. That's the oil and gas model. Guess we won't be able to clone that one in nuclear!

In other news, the Renaissance keeps expanding, as ANS Nuclear Cafe announces the formation of a new section in India, and Areva North America reports the results of a study showing increased support for nuclear energy.

From heartening news on surveys and reprocessing, to outright brawls in Spain, the Carnival has everything. You'll smile, you'll laugh, you'll cry, you may want to punch somebody, you may want to kiss somebody. Who said being pro-nuclear is un-emotional? Come to the Carnival and have some fun!

Important Vermont Yankee Meetings: Updated

Four Important Events

This week, there are four important events about Vermont Yankee. I hope you can get to one or more of them.

Energy Education Project Related Events:

Thursday, February 24. Debate between Howard Shaffer and Arnie Gundersen: "Vermont Yankee: Shut it Down or Keep It Running." University of Vermont Janus Forum at 4 p.m. in the Davis Center at University of Vermont in Burlington. Reception to follow. More information and links available on the debate announcement.

Tuesday, February 22. Meredith Angwin will join Patty O'Donnell and others in a presentation at Bradford at 6:30 p.m: Engineering and Economics of Vermont Yankee. More information available in the meeting announcement.

Hearings (in the Brattleboro area):

Tuesday February 22. Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel (VSNAP) Vernon Elementary School, 6 to 9 p.m. Members of the public can comment, but you must sign up early. There are generally far more comments than time. Sometimes VSNAP hearings include shouting (not just by the public, by the panelists. Also arm-wrestling for the microphone). These hearings are usually interesting events. Be prepared if you go. More information available here.

Wednesday, February 23. Vermont Senate Economic Development Committee on the economics of closing Vermont Yankee. Hearing is at 1:30 to 3:30 at the Brattleboro Retreat Education Center. The hearing will include testimony from local residents of Wiscasset Maine and Rowe, Massachusetts about the effects of closing of the nuclear power plants in those towns. The press release for this event is here.

Great and heartfelt thanks to Suzanne Hobbs of PopAtomic Studios for permission to use the Save Vermont Yankee poster!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Communicating About Vermont Yankee at the Rotary

Rotary and Vermont Yankee

Recently, I have had many speaking engagements about Vermont Yankee. Several of them have been at Rotary Clubs. I didn't know very much about Rotary when I started, but I am now very impressed with their charitable work and good fellowship. I am particularly impressed with Rotary's multi-year effort to eradicate polio.

On a more local note, I was impressed with the number of Rotary Club invitations I received after I was listed on an internal website for clubs!

William Secord of the Lebanon-Riverside Rotary Club wrote up my talk in the club newsletter last week. I am grateful that he allowed me to share his article on my blog.

Meredith Angwin originally arrived at her interest in nuclear energy by first getting involved in researching geothermal and other renewable energies. She then came to realize the limitations of these alternative energy sources: Germany and Denmark, for example, even in their big push towards alternative energy, depend upon solar and wind for only twenty percent of their power needs. Meredith saw that our main sources of energy really have to come from large dams, fossil fuels, and/or nuclear facilities. So she focused on nuclear.

Perhaps the first concern of most people regarding nuclear facilities is their safety and, especially in regards to our own Vermont Yankee, the pollution of ground water by radioactive elements such as tritium. From Meredith's perspective, the danger posed by tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, is close to nonexistent. First of all, tritium emits beta radiation, which in itself is very weak, unable even to penetrate a sheet of paper. A person must ingest tritium to really become exposed to its radiation. Even then, the level of radiation that a person would be exposed to in drinking two quarts of water with 20,000 picocuries of tritium would equal only one-twentieth of the tritium radiation contained in one banana. Even the ubiquitous exit signs in public buildings emit five to seven curies (not picocuries) of tritium radiation. Nuclear plants in Canada are allowed 5,000 curies of tritium seepage; Vermont Yankee has a tritium leak level of only two curies. In short, Meredith considers the physical dangers of nuclear energy to be overstated to the point of absurdity.

The second major concern of many people is the economics of nuclear energy. In the case of Vermont Yankee, Vermont's Clean Energy Fund receives two to six million dollars a year from the nuclear facility. A shutdown of the plant would result in a loss of this funding and a payroll loss of sixty to ninety-three million dollars. The domino effect would lead to a loss of one thousand to thirteen hundred jobs. The tax loss would amount to between six and twelve million dollars, plus the loss of Clean Energy Fund monies. In the absence of the reliability of the energy production provided by Vermont Yankee, the cost of electricity per kilowatt hour would increase, greatly depending on the cost of natural gas. Right now, the cost of electricity available on the grid is 4 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Electricity provided by Vermont Yankee costs 4.4 cents per kilowatt; electricity from Hydro-Quebec costs 6.1 cents per kilowatt; electricity coming from renewable resources costs 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt. Increases in the cost of electricity could lead to further job losses among major employers such as General Electric and IBM in Vermont. Two sites on the Web that provide further information on both the safety and economic issues around the Vermont Yankee facility are: and

In response to a question as to why water power has not been classified as a renewable energy resource in discussions relating to Vermont Yankee, Meredith explained the political aspects of energy classifications. If the electricity generated by the big dam at Hydro-Quebec were to be classified as emanating from a renewable resource, then that source would count towards state goals for its renewable energy portfolio; monies that would have gone into areas such as wind turbines would be cut because the state renewable portfolio goals would have already been met.

One member, whose father was instrumental in establishing the original Manchester Electric Cooperative, pointed out that nuclear plants in Canada have been constructed with different parameters, allowing persons to enter them safely only nine hours after one of them has been completely shut down. Meredith pointed out other differences; for instance, Canadian plants use no enriched uranium. They use deuterium, with the result that they have a much higher level of tritium leakage. She also stated that all nuclear plants have some minor problems, even Seabrook, but that political opposition in New Hampshire is not as high as in Vermont.

Another member queried whether Vermont Yankee isn't actually a rather old facility. Meredith responded that of all the nuclear plants built from 1969 through 1979 Vermont Yankee is considered the fourth most reliable out of sixteen sister plants. She stated that nuclear plants don't actually wear out since parts are continually swapped out -- to the tune of four hundred million dollars of rather new equipment presently in place. She noted that some coal plants in operation today are one hundred years old, and even coal energy facilities are subject to corrosion. The National Association of Corrosion Engineers has determined that core pressure vessels in nuclear plants will continue to operate effectively for sixty years and that any radiation impingement of containment vessels can be securely handled.

In general, I was amazed at how accurately Secord reported my talk, and how honest and informed the questions were. There were a few minor errors, of course. Renewable feed-in tariffs are between 12 and 30 cents in Vermont, not 12 and 13 cents. Also, the banana has beta radiation, not tritium radiation.

I am sharing this article because I go to so many meetings where people are shouting and yelling "liar" and so forth. At those meetings, you can't tell a pro-nuclear story and answer questions. It's not possible in those circumstances.

As you can tell from the questions above, this Rotary club wasn't a group of committed pro-nuclear people. However, it was a group of intelligent, civic-minded and open-minded people, and it was a pleasure to talk to them. And considering the list of invitations I currently have, I will be talking to more Rotary Clubs very soon!

Postscript: Rod Adams of Atomic Insights blog also does The Atomic Show podcast. Two days ago, Rod invited me, Margaret Harding, Gwyneth Cravens, and Julie Ezold to be on the podcast of Four Women in Nuclear Energy. This morning, I found that this podcast was Best of the Blogs at Nuclear Townhall

My recent blog about the NRC also made the Best of Blogs list a day or so ago, as did my friend Willem Post's blog about the Dutch move away from wind power toward nuclear. Willem Post and I are members of the local group, Coalition for Energy Solutions.

These recent acknowledgments have been very gratifying.

I thank and acknowledge the Rotary Download Library for the main Rotary International symbol. I captured the Lebanon Riverside Rotary symbol from their website.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The NRC Loses Its Way: Why Should Controversial Plants Take Longer to Review?

Unequal Treatment for Similar Nuclear Plants

A few days ago, two ranking Republican senators wrote a letter to NRC Chairman Jaczko about the glacial pace of license renewal for nuclear plants that are perceived to be controversial. Platts reported on the letter, quoting Senators James Inhofe and David Vitter. These two senators said that the NRC has developed a "dual standard" for license applications, granting licenses quickly in many cases, but allowing "excessive, unmanaged delays for applications perceived to be more controversial."

What kind of delays are we talking about? As I noted in a previous blog post, Vermont Yankee and Duane Arnold are sister plants, BWRs of almost exactly the same size and vintage. However, tracing back from the NRC web page on license renewal, we see that Duane Arnold submitted its renewal application on 10/01/08 and was granted its renewal on 12/16/10, slightly more than two years later. On the other hand, Vermont Yankee submitted its application on 1/27/06 and has not received its renewal yet, more than five years later. In a recent letter from a vice-president of Entergy, Duane Arnold was listed as the second-most reliable of sixteen sister plants, while Vermont Yankee was the fourth-most reliable. Duane Arnold's capacity factor is 93.1% while Vermont Yankee's factor is 92.6%. This difference is certainly not worth three extra years of license review by the NRC.

It's Not About Regulation Anymore

I'm on a private listserve of nuclear communicators, and I sent the group a link to the Platt's article, along with this provocative message:

Read it and weep. The NRC no longer has objective criteria by which it evaluates plants. It's all about what the neighbors think.

The trouble with being provocative is that people got provoked. I received two opposite types of reply from the people in the group:
  • Right on, Meredith!
  • We can't exclude ordinary people from the process of licensing nuclear plants. It wouldn't be fair.
My answer is simple: Either there are objective criteria for evaluating a plant for relicensing---or there aren't. If the criteria are not objective, the situation is horrendous.

Let's imagine politics mattered for the safety inspections for a car. Say that cars with Obama bumper stickers got a real going-over when it was time for their safety inspections. What if everyone knew that the extent of a safety inspection depended partially on your car, and mostly on how your politics matched the politics of the inspectors or your neighbors? This would be a terrible situation. Sort of like the situation we have now in the nuclear industry.

The NRC is not supposed to have politics as one of its criteria. Supposedly, it doesn't. That should mean that plants are judged against a set of regulations, not against the plant-specific contentions of pro or anti- nuclear groups.

The Voice of the People?

My comments were provocative, and people in my email group had legitimate concerns. Would my comment about unequal treatment end up as a recommendation that ordinary people be excluded from the NRC relicensing process? Such an exclusion was not my intention.

I believe the public should be involved in the licensing and re-licensing process. However, the public should be involved in as it is involved in other public issues. The public should help to make the rules. The public should not be empowered to make exceptions about enforcing the rules. In a democracy, the public make the rules, but many systems are in place to ensure that the rules are enforced fairly.

For example, think of a town that is very proud of its attractive downtown area. The town has strict rules about signs on businesses: No neon signs, and signs must be smaller than a certain standard. The people of the town made those sign rules, but they are enforced on every business equally. If some people think shoe stores are ugly, those people still can't require that a shoe store must have a smaller sign than any other store. Rules are made with general input, and enforced fairly.

Fairness to power plant owners is not some kind of wild new concept that will take decades of trial and error to achieve. The NRC can learn about fair enforcement in many areas, such as zoning. All the NRC has to think about is this:

With Justice for all.


The top photo is from the NRC homepage in July. It shows Chairman Jaczko meeting with intervenors against Vermont Yankee in Brattleboro this summer. At that time, Jaczko met with plant opponents, but declined meetings with plant supporters. The image is more fully described in a previous post on this blog.

Sculpture of Lady Justice by J. L Urban. The statue is part of a court building in the Czech Republic. Lady Justice holds a book instead of scales, and is not blindfolded. I consider her to be Lady Justice for the Regulatory Process. (The usual Wikimedia license.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

39th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 39th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Cool Hand Nuke.

The Cool Hand Nuke website is more than a blog: it's a job board, a employer directory, a salary calculator for nuclear jobs, and a game room. Oh yes, it's a blog, too!

Today Cool Hand Nuke is hosting the 39th Carnival of Nuclear Energy blogs. This Carnival is full of truly amazing exhibits.
  • See Rod Adams of Atomic Insights explain why the Natural Gas Strong Man wants us to believe that methane will be cheap forever. (Each reactor-year of delay means about $350 million in additional methane sales.)
  • Watch Brian Wang of Next Big Future describe amazing feats of long-life (reactors) through nanosteel, while simultaneously tracking nuclear builds throughout the world.
  • Observe the warning at the Tunnel of Love! Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk discusses Divorce and Nuclear. Actually, not much to warn about. Statistics show that the divorce rate of nuclear engineers is very low, compared to other professions.
  • In Vermont, on the other hand, it's always time for a spat, and Meredith Angwin (me) of Yes Vermont Yankee covers a big spat (lawsuits) and a small spat (blog comments by an anti-nuclear lobbyist).
  • Love and Art time. Visit the Nuclear Art Exhibit by Suzanne Hobbs in the ANS Nuclear Café tent. It's a major public show by several young artists of the Nuclear Renaissance, and it is right here at the Carnival.
  • Dan Yurman, in an amazing display of quick motion, is in several tents at the same time! At his own blog, Idaho Samizdat, he updates the story of nuclear power in Turkey. Their first buy was from Russia, but the second one is from Westinghouse Toshiba.
  • Simulataneously, at the Cool Hand Nuke tent, Yurman shows that two American states, Minnesota and Kentucky, have lifted their bans on new nuclear construction.

From lawsuits to love and back again, it's a great Carnival. You'll be happy you visited!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's day, and once again, my husband is going to go out with a bunch of guys and sing love songs to women I have never met.

It's called being married to a Barbershopper!

Right this very moment, if you want to, you can call the Barbershop Harmony Society near you and get a Singing Valentine arranged. Amaze (and embarrass?) the person you love. The Singing Valentines are the main fundraiser for many choruses, and it can truly be called a fun-raiser!

The video below is the Westchester Chordsmen, and my husband is in the North Country Chordsmen. None of the guys in the quartet below are as handsome as George is, but they sing almost as well as his quartet.

Have a happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Update Grab Bag: Tiny Tritium, Big Lawsuits, and Small Spats.

So Much Action

I haven't blogged since Sunday. I'm trying to catch up. My three topics are tritium (surprise!), the Entergy Earnings Conference call, and a little on-line spat.

Tritium Again

What: Vermont Yankee may have shot itself in the foot in terms of public relations by not submitting some water samples.
Exactly What? Apparently, Vermont Yankee did not notify the state about tritium found in a new quickly as the state expected notification. Entergy said that their sampling apparatus was down for repair.
Consequences: The Public Service Board (PSB) is mad, and has required VY managers to submit samples under oath. (No, not drug test samples. Tritium test samples.)
And It Means: Very little. The amount of tritium in the samples is tiny, less that 1000 picocuries per liter. In the newspaper stories I read, it was not clear that VY was required to submit the test samples on a certain schedule or it had chosen to do so. Whichever it was, VY shot themselves in the foot in terms of public relations by not submitting a water sample on time. Unless, of course, they weren't required to submit the sample in that time-frame. So the PSB is angry and fed up and won't take it any more. Or the PSB wants Entergy to think they are angry and fed up and won't take it any more. To me, this whole thing is like a set of chess moves. It's not about the tritium.

The Earnings Call

What: Entergy, like all large publicly held company, has quarterly earnings calls. In the most recent one, Wayne Leonard, President of Entergy, made some strong statements.
Exactly What Did He Say? States or governors are certainly free to voice their opinions, but the NRC, which has jurisdiction on these matters, must deal with the facts....Efforts also continue to secure a new power purchase agreement with the Vermont Utilities. Negotiations had been ongoing for some time now..... However, while we would certainly prefer to sell power in state, that is not a necessary condition, of course.
The Consequences: In only slightly-veiled terms, Leonard raised the possibility that Entergy might file a lawsuit on the grounds that the Vermont Legislature has pre-empted federal rules. (Recently, I listed three possible grounds for lawsuits.) The words were also a clear statement that Entergy considers that it holds some cards in the negotiations with the Vermont utilities. No law requires Entergy to sell power only to Vermont. As I pointed out in a previous post, a state always gets the best deal from its in-state power suppliers. That is, the state gest the best deal if the state and the supplier aren't suing each other. If they are suing each other, the court decides the deal.
And It Means: A lawsuit would be a game-changer about negotiations. Even the threat of a lawsuit is a game-changer. Shumlin responded by calling Entergy a liar, though he restrained himself from the L-word. He said it was A company that has a history of saying one thing and doing another. The Shumlin honeymoon is over, as far as I am concerned.

A Minor On-Line Spat

What: Howard Shaffer wrote a post about our Vermont activities for ANS Nuclear Café.
Exactly What Happened: Bob Stannard, an anti-nuclear lobbyist in Montpelier, wrote a negative comment on the post. I commented on his comment, and we had an on-line discussion. Or spat. Or something.
Consequences: Stannard decided to set me straight about Vermont Yankee's importance to Vermont. It's not that important, in Stannard's opinion. As he said: Approx. 1/3 of Vermont does not use or depend on VY power
And It Means: Two-thirds of Vermont uses or depends on VY power. I didn't say it: the anti-Vermont Yankee lobbyist said it. Sometimes the opponents tell it like it is.

The same image might have been used to illustrate the Earnings Call section.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reliability and Business: Two Reasons Why Vermont Needs Vermont Yankee

Last week was a big week for writing letters about Vermont Yankee. I received (in various ways) two very informative letters about Vermont Yankee, and I want to share them in my blog. The first letter, about Vermont Yankee reliability, was sent by an Entergy Vice President. The second letter was an open letter to Peter Shumlin about the importance of Vermont Yankee to Vermont's economy. The letter about Vermont Yankee economics was signed by two business organizations and a union.

Vermont Yankee and Reliability

The letter about Vermont Yankee reliability was sent by Entergy to an email list, and I don't know who was on the list. (Media? Friends of Vermont Yankee?) At any rate, I was glad to get the letter, because it showed Entergy is reaching out to bloggers. For most companies, including Entergy, us bloggers don't get no respect. For most companies, we're not "real media." ( Areva, on the other hand, has conference calls and even tours for bloggers.)

So I was happy to see the letter come my way, and I sincerely hope that communication with bloggers is a new approach by Entergy. (Rod Adams has already blogged about the letter.)

Vermont Yankee and Reliability

In this letter, Entergy Vice President T. Michael Twomey, based in White Plains, New York, did a fabulous job of refuting the trash-talk about Vermont Yankee and reliability. The person to whom the letter was addressed, James Marc Leas, apparently has described Vermont Yankee as a "piece of machinery that is falling apart" and claimed that it has "extraordinary" reliability issues.

Twomey completely refutes Leas. In the letter, Twomey goes through the plant, practically section by section:
  • Performance Indicators, as assessed by the NRC, show that Vermont Yankee is at the highest levels of performance and lowest levels of required oversight, year after year.
  • Vermont Yankee's capacity factor (time on-line) is fourth highest of its group of sixteen "sister plants" (boiling water reactors that came on-line between 1969 and 1979).
  • Major equipment upgrades ($400 million dollars worth of equipment) have been added by Entergy in the eight years it has operated the plant. Twomey lists the equipment that was added.
Yet, in my opinion, Twomey doesn't go far enough. He doesn't mention that in 2010, VY was awarded an industry-wide prize for their advanced steam-dryer inspection methodology. Well, okay. If Twomey was going to list everything, it would be a long letter.

The letter is pretty impressive as it is.

I have to say, however, that I wish I had had access to this information months ago. For example, when I speak about VY, I have said things like: "It is one of the most reliable plants in the fleet." Saying "fourth out of sixteen in capacity factor" would have been much better. I have said: "They have kept up the plant effectively, as proved by its reliability." Saying "400 million in capital improvements" would have been more convincing.

To quote Rod Adams, Like many of my pronuclear blogging friends, I have been a little disappointed in the lack of quotable responses from the plant owner.

I am pleased that this letter has been written, but I wish it had been written months ago.

Vermont Yankee and Vermont's Economy

The letter about the economic consequences if Vermont Yankee does not get relicensed did not contain any information which will be new to readers of this blog. A quote from the letter:

Vermont will face 1) increased electric rates from more expensive replacement power than Yankee would offer, 2) increased rates from the cost of projects required to shore up the electric grid's reliability, 3)possible periods of reduced reliability if such projects are not completed in time, and 4) the loss of well over 1,000 jobs from Yankee itself, companies doing business with the plant, and other businesses facing higher electric rates.

The new information in this letter is the list of the groups signing it, which includes Associated Industries of Vermont. The other two organizations who signed the letter are IBEW, a union which has long supported Vermont Yankee, and VTEP, another long-time supporter. However, I see the signature of Associated Industries of Vermont, along with IBM's recent press conference, as evidence of a new mobilization of Vermont industries to support Vermont Yankee.

Two letters: one with new information, and one with new supporters. I am happy to share them.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The 38th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs

The 38th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is up at Canadian Energy Issues. The title of the post tells some of the contents within:
The Asian nuclear Revolution, energy “plans,” and questionable media reporting: it’s the 38th Carnival of Nuclear Energy.

A great deal of the post is concerned with the Nuclear Renaissance. Is it happening? How fast? Where is it happening?

Dan Yurman, of Idaho Samizdat, points out that the "Sputnik moment" of President Obama's State of the Union Speech wasn't really a Sputnik Moment. After Sputnik, American launched a well-funded effort into space, which led to a man on the moon, communications satellites, and even GPS systems. In Obama's "Clean Energy Sputnik moment," however, clean energy research and innovations are happening in Asia, not America. For example, Charles Barton discusses the Chinese initiative on thorium reactors at Nuclear Green: "Why the Chinese Commitment to the LFTR Matters."

World-wide information also comes from Brian Wang of Next Big Future, who reports on the mining and milling of uranium. Production is expanding to meet the demand. Meanwhile, Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk points out that the lull in plant construction is over-rated by nuclear opponents. Many of the delayed plants were a bit shaky to begin with, and many plants are being built.

Rod Adams has two posts in the Carnival. One, at ANS Nuclear Café, describes why nuclear is a "disruptively cheap and simple way to boil water." Since heat engines are the basis for most of our electricity, and steam is the working fluid in most heat engines, this is an important post! At his own blog, Atomic Insights, Adams notes that UPI reports on the supposed "cross-over" of nuclear and solar costs. This cross-over did not happen, and the New York Times had to publish a note about the error. UPI was pretty gullible in this regard. As Adams points out, UPI didn't get the memo from the New York Times.

The Carnival also refers to the post in this blog where I discovered the Vermont Energy Plan that seems to have been mislaid. A ranking Vermont senator on the important committees explained the plan to me: we have to get used to using less electricity. For all I know, the senator may be at IBM offices right now, explaining this and helping them arrange for a moving van to take their factory out of state.

Come to the Carnival. Smile at the prospects for nuclear in the future! Grin at the expanding use of nuclear power in the world! Sigh at how America has fallen behind!

And have some cotton candy, too!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Transparency in the Vermont Hydro-Québec Contract. Maybe We Should Thank John McClaughry

The Hidden Contract

In a late-December post, I pointed out several ways that the Hydro-Québec contract was a bad deal. One bad thing about the deal was the required secrecy.

When John McClaughry read my blog post about the HQ contract, he realized that this contract was another example of secrecy in government, secrecy that does not serve the ratepayers or taxpayers of Vermont. He decided to ask about it

About John McClaughry. I head the Ethan Allen Institute Energy Education Project. John McClaughry, a former Vermont State Senator, leads the main Ethan Allen Institute. One of the Institute goals is transparency in state government. For example. the Institute also has a Transparency Project which is a joint project of the Ethan Allen Institute and the Public Assets Institute.

McClaughry's Letter to the Public Service Board

On December 31, 2010, John McClaughry wrote a letter to James Volz, Chair of the Public Service Board. McClaughry shared a copy of this letter with me. I have a long quote from his letter at the end of this post.

My translation of his letter would be: You are giving an unfair advantage to HQ compared to VY, by putting the HQ contract terms under seal of secrecy. What law allows you to set this kind of advantage for one party over another?

The PSB Responds

Within days, the PSB responded, in a letter dated January 4 and signed by Kurt Janson, General Counsel. Once again, I have a long quote from this letter at the end of this post. Janson never mentions Vermont Yankee.

My translation of Janson's letter would be: We know that markets are more efficient when they are more open. However, the greater good is to help Vermont utilities with theoretical new out-of-state contracts. We're not going to comment on the effect of this secrecy on VY. Thanks for writing.

Truth in Purchasing?

A few days after this exchange, HydroQuebec announced that its going-in price to Vermont would be 5.8 cents per kWh instead of the current price of 6.6 cents. In Vermont, rejoicing was general. Wow, did we get a good deal! Wow, now we have transparency!

And also. "Wow, now Entergy knows the price it has to beat!"

Perhaps McClaughry's letter had something to do with this revelation. Perhaps it didn't. His letter could have been irrelevant, or the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back of secrecy. We will never know.

So, Now We Know The Deal?

I, for one, am not impressed with the new information. The HQ price still floats with the market price. The price is still tied to the "clearing price" which is set by natural gas. Entergy was offering a fixed price, and the HQ is still a variable rate mortgage.

As a matter of fact, I am less impressed now than I was before. My life experience says that only the slippery mortgage brokers and credit-card companies offer too-good-to-be-true teaser rates, going in to the contract. This 5.8 cents business is a teaser rate IMHO.

What Vermont Yankee Should Do

I am going out on a limb here. I have a negotiating suggestion for Vermont Yankee. Of course, they don't ask me for advice.

VY should go to the utilities and say: Our going-in rate is 5.3 cents. Half a cent below what HQ has offered. However, our tracking system for rate rises must be exactly the same as HQ. So, if the price of power goes up to 8 cents and HQ is getting 8, we get 7.5. Etc. We're always below them, but we get the same market-based deal as they got.

This would be a great deal for Vermont Yankee. They would make a fortune. It would be the lowest price producer, and still make a fortune. Of course, some regulators might object that ratepayers would be soon paying more than if they had taken VY's 6.1 cent fixed price offer. To which Vermont Yankee could answer: you had your chance, friends. You missed it.

I like it.

Aside: I expect electricity rates to rise, rather steeply, in a year or so. The rise will start when the hoopla about the Marcellus shale dissolves into the reality that most shale wells are expensive wells that don't produce much gas. (Yes, I know. This assertion is worth its own blog post. I'll get to it.) End Aside.

Here's a video on the deal from WCAX. Note how often the words "market" and "market smoothing" appear. A great deal of excitement for a 5.8 cent teaser rate.

The Letters

From McClaughry

Dear Mr. Chairman:

In their prefiled testimony for the Joint Applicants (Vermont power companies) in this case, Deehan and Cole state:
As described in the Petitioners’ Motion for Confidential Treatment of Prefiled Evidence, the details of the PPA’s pricing provisions are subject to confidentiality limitations under Section 11.15 of the PPA, and are therefore described in more detail in confidential testimony that we will submit under seal upon approval by the Board of confidential treatment. For this same reason, portions of the PPA, Confidential Exhibit Petitioners’ Joint-3, have been redacted.......

Your Board has an obligation to determine whether a PPA merits a certificate of public good. At the same time that the Board is deliberating on this docket, the General Assembly will be debating whether to allow Entergy Vermont Yankee to pursue a certificate of public good for extending Vermont Yankee’s operating period for another twenty years. It seems clear that a commitment by Entergy Vermont Yankee to offer these same utilities a multi-year power price more favorable than that agreed to by the Buyers and HydroQuebec would produce strong added support for a favorable vote in the General Assembly.

This it seems to me imperative that legislators be informed of just what that power price is under this PPA. If the parties to this PPA have agreed on that price, as their prefiled testimony avers, why is in the public interest for the Board to compel nondisclosure to legislators debating a similar and very relevant issue? .....

It appears to have been argued by HQ, and supported by the purchasing utilities, that the PPAdeal is dependent upon nondisclosure. Why is in the public interest for the board to grant that request? If that information is kept secret by a public body, the interest of Entergy Vermont Yankee, HQ’s leading competitor, in offering a PPA with terms that would favorably influence the chances of gaining legislative approval for its application – approval that HQ is not required to obtain – would be damaged or thwarted.

I would appreciate it if you or your counsel would, for the record, state the legal authority and rationale for the Board keeping the HQ PPA terms secret from the legislature and the public.
For the record, I make this request solely on behalf of this Institute, and I have not discussed this request, directly or indirectly, with any parties to Docket 7670.

Yours truly,
John McClaughry
President (acting)
(Senator, 1989-92)

From Kurt Janson, General Counsel of the PSB
...public disclosure of the Confidential Information relating to price and credit arrangements would provide an entity seeking to sell power to, or purchase power from, the Buyers (or HQUS) with knowledge as to the Buyers' (or HQUS's) position on several of the most significant factors at issue in negotiating power contracts, putting them at a significant competitive disadvantage. Price and credit terms relating to wholesale power agreements are commercially sensitive and are typically not disclosed to the public.....

The Vermont utilities know the specific terms of the HQ power contract, and when they negotiate with other sellers of power the Vermont utilities will be able to compare potential deals to the HQ contract. Therefore, making the HQ terms public would not be expected to result in better power deals for Vermont; to the contrary, it would provide potential sellers with valuable information that they otherwise would not have regarding the terms and conditions that the Vermont utilities might ultimately accept.

As a general matter, more transparency about the specific terms of power purchase agreements is still desirable both because of the public interest and because competitive markets tend to operate more efficiently when market participants have greater information. However, given the national trend toward greater confidentiality about pricing information in recent years, there is a concern that requiring Vermont distribution utilities to publicly disclose commercial1y sensitive pricing terms may put them at a competitive disadvantage in relation to out-of-state sellers and buyers of power. (Emphasis added by blogger.)
Janson then continues that this desire for more efficient markets must be balanced with the desire not to undermine the bargaining position of Vermont utilities. He never mentions Vermont Yankee.

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