Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hot Climate and Cold Fish: Gundersen's Debate Misstatements

Debating Gundersen

On Thursday February 24, I debated with Arnie Gundersen on the topic: Vermont Yankee: Keep It Running or Shut It Down? The debate took place at the Janus Forum held by the University of Vermont. You can link to the audio of the debate here and read my recent post about it here.

The debate was very well-organized, but like all debates, it was time-limited. Gundersen often said things that sounded completely wrong to me, but I didn't have time to answer each assertion. My policy during the debate was to speak about what I knew about. I made notes of other Gundersen statements and planned to look up the information later.

For example, during the debate, Gundersen claimed that there are only sixteen shad in the Connecticut River. I knew this had to be wrong. Arnie said that there used to be 70,000 shad in the Connecticut River, and now there are sixteen. He emphasizes the word sixteen: "Not sixteen thousand, sixteen." He claims we have to shut down Vermont Yankee to save the shad, because the waste heat from the plant has killed them off.

(If you move the audio slider of the debate to the 46 minute mark, you can listen to this section.)

I have no idea where Gundersen could have gotten the number "sixteen." The shad counts in the Connecticut River in recent years are between 150,000 and 225,000 fish per spawning season. (See my Geeky Shad Section below for references.) There are thousands of shad in the river, though fewer and fewer as you go upstream. Shad swim upstream to spawn, like salmon. They spend most of their lives in the ocean.

Sixteen Shad and Climate Change?

At the same time that Gundersen said we had only sixteen shad in the river, he also said that replacing Vermont Yankee with fossil fuel would only add one ten-thousandth of a degree to the temperature of the earth, but in return we would "get our river back."

So, there's another number. One ten-thousandth of a degree climate change. This is per year? Over twenty years? Due to how much carbon dioxide? In other words--huh??? One-ten-thousandth of a degree is another number flying in from somewhere unknown, like sixteen fish. However, this post is long enough and I cannot address Gundersen's climate-change assertions today. More later, perhaps.

(The climate statement is near the sixteen-fish statement on the audio.)

A final word. I don't know why the Gundersens are so fond of misstatements about fish. Last summer, fish in the Connecticut River were tested for radiation, and showed only background levels. This caused Maggie Gundersen to write that you shouldn't eat fish from the river, but rather "throw them back."

There's something going on here about the Gundersens and fish, but I don't know what it is.


Geeky Shad Section

There's a picture of an American Shad at the head of this post. Shad is a delicious but bony fish, much loved by Native Americans and early colonists. John McPhee wrote a book about it: The Founding Fish. Shad have a life-cycle similar to salmon, spending much of their lives in the ocean and returning to their native streams to spawn. The shad run on the East Coast starts in April and ends in June, reaching a peak when water temperatures in the rivers are about 67 degrees. A pretty native American shrub is nicknamed "shadbush" because it blooms when the shad runs.

The shad run over the years has been hurt by pollution and the building of dams. Doe shad are very heavy with roe, and can't climb fish ladders, according to Wikipedia. Therefore, shad disappeared years ago from the Merrimack River:

Even more important to the decline of the shad is the damming of the rivers and streams in which they spawn, as pregnant doe shad are quite heavy and do not jump even when hooked. As noted above, the number of shad caught in the Merrimack River declined from almost 900,000 in 1789 to 0 in 1888, due to the fishes' inability to reach their spawning ground.

Overfishing has also had an effect. The U S Fish and Wildlife Service has an interesting web page about shad and restoration efforts. Wikipedia notes that the commercial shad catch has varied from 860,000 tons in 1999 to 600,000 tons in 2005 and is generally falling. Meanwhile, U. S. Fish and Wildlife tracks the Connecticut River shad, with 228,000 fish observed at the Holyoke Dam in 2000 and only 163,000 observed in 2007. Another important point is that the shad run historically ended at Bellows Falls, which is the next dam north of Vernon Dam (Vermont Yankee is located near Vernon Dam). A fishing website, iFished, gives a good overview of recreational shad fishing and availability on the river, including that just below Vernon Dam is an excellent place to catch these fish.

The Connecticut is not a river with sixteen lonely shad in it!


Nukemann said...

Thank you for satisfying my curiosity about Shad, more hot air from the anti-nuclear community debunked.

George Angwin said...

I gather that anti-nuclear folk make misstatements while pro-nuclear folk lie.

Meredith Angwin said...

George, you know I don't like to use the word "lie."

Yes, the opponenst usually say "lie" but I don't like that word. "Lie" implies that Arnie KNEW differently and still said what he said. I can't prove that. Maybe he just didn't know, didn't bother to fact-check, figured his supporters wouldn't care. I don't know that he actually lied.

It's kind of fun talking to my own husband in the comment section, by the way!


Joffan said...

In my opinion, it's a lie when the person is claiming authority about the subject and gets the main facts that they're communicating wrong; especially if challenged (think Shumlin + solar power in Germany). The two underlying possibilities are deliberate deception or negligent deception, and the claim of authority means I count them equal.

From the level of emphasis you tell me that AG put on his fish story snippet: I'd say he was lying.

But - I really should know better than to join in a domestic arguent :-)

Meawhile, I picked up another strange-sounding Gunderson assertion as I was skipping through the audio: nuclear power plants producing 40% more waste heat per kWh. Now more waste heat is true, as I understand it, because the NPP steam temperature is lower, but the difference sounded large - 40% more? OK, time to break out the calculator. Say the turbine efficiency is 33% at Yankee. Then 1kWh of electricity is accompanied by 2.03kWh of heat. If that's 40% more than some fossil plant, that other plant produces 2.03/1.4 = 1.45kWh of heat per kWh of electricity, and the heat efficiency is 41%. So actually - that one works out correctly for modern high efficiency coal burners. It's just Arnie working the numbers to sound startling, and there's a minor disparity in comparing old designs to new - if only there were new NPPs(in the US) to compare to.

(Of course, he and others are also acting to try to make the numbers worse - there was some anti-nuclear attempt recently to force a reduction in the Yankee steam temperature limits, which would drive efficiency down, and increase waste heat).

Meredith Angwin said...

Joffan. Thank you for the comment. One thing about those fish: I didn't mention fish in my talk, so Arnie was not rebutting anything I said. He brought up the fish himself, so he should have had his facts straight.

Sometimes I get asked a question about something I know very little about. I generally say that I don't know, but I can imagine a situation in which I give a wrong answer to a question on a topic someone else brought up. However, in this case, the fish topic was Arnie's topic, so he should have had his facts in line before he began talking about it.

Thanks for the calculation, by the way. Very helpful! Of course, not all coal plants are particularly advanced. Many were built in the 70s. I suspect the average efficiency of the nation's coal fleet is not that far behind the efficiency of the nuclear fleet. We can't look at a modern supercritical coal plant and say...ah yes, that's typical of the coal fleet.


Here's a small graphics donation I'd like to make:


Anonymous said...

I am quoting the Feb. 2, 2011 story on VPR titled: "Watershed Council Asks State to Act on Yankee Water Permit".

Here is a quote from Rep. David Deen, who is also a fishing guide and will probably forget more about fish than any of us:

"Deen is a state lawmaker as well as a former fishing guide. And he says he saw the problems of the Connecticut firsthand when he took clients out to fish for American shad. The migratory fish were abundant in the 1980s, returning to the river to spawn every spring by the tens of thousands.
(Deen) "In the case of the Vernon discharge, the number of fish in 1993 was some 37,000. In 2009 it was 16, not 16,000, but 16 fish."

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thus, Mr. Gundersen appears to have been quoting a highly respected legislator, who coincidentally is Chair of the FISH and Wildlife Comm., as well as having spent a lifetime fishing the Ct. River. I think it's at least likely that Rep. Deen would know of which he speaks. Mr. Gundersen was simply using his quotes.

It would seem to me as though you would have verified this for yourself before you opted to bash Mr. Gundersen. It wasn't that hard to find.

Bob Stannard

Anonymous said...

I would further note that Rep. David Deen is also the Connecticut River Watershed Council River Steward.

Again, he probably knows the reel (pun intended) truth about the Shad in the Ct. River.

Your apology accepted Ms. Angwin.

Bob Stannard

Bob Stannard said...

Dear Ms. Angwin, I think that inasmuch as Mr. Gundersen was quoting a respected news source, VPR, that was quoting a respected naturalist and public official, Rep. David Deen, that at the very least you could take a moment to apologize to Mr. Gundersen.

Anonymous said...

For those looking for a reference to this quote, here is the VPR story in which in ran.


It appears Mr. Gundersen had it right on.

Chad Simmons

Anonymous said...

Mr. Stannard, it appears to me that Arnie has mis-used that quote then. The quote you gave was for 2009. Not 2010, not 2011, 2009. Also, according to the text you quoted,

"(Deen) "In the case of the Vernon discharge, the number of fish in 1993 was some 37,000. In 2009 it was 16, not 16,000, but 16 fish."

Arnie's statement was, "Before Vermont Yankee started there were 70,000 Shad per year in the river. Now there's 16. Not 16,000 - 16."

It seems to me that Deen's statement above is a more qualified statement than what Arnie Gunderson said. I have to admit I don't know what the term "Vernon discharge" means, but it sounds an aweful lot like one single part of the river, not the *entire* river?

Whereas Arnie's statement implies that the *entire* river is down to only 16 fish, today. So, if the "Vernon discharge" shows the state of fish in the entire river, and if subsequent fish surveys last year and this year (if this year's has been done yet), then I will accede that I'm incorrect in this, but if it is, as it sounds, a very localized count of fish, not representative of the river as a whole, then I would say that by the words Arnie chose when paraphrasing that quote do constitute a lie, because he, it seems, made the quote much less specific than Deen.

Meredith Angwin said...

Bob Stannard

Thank you for leading me to this news article. I was looking at government websites about fish and fisheries, not news articles about suing Vermont Yankee.

Mr. Deen has a long fishing resume, but he also has a political agenda. According to various websites on voting records, he votes with the VPIRG plan most of the time and would like to see Vermont Yankee shut down.

I have been searching all over the web for some kind of corroboration of his "16 fish" statement. As far as I can tell, Deen's statement is anecdotal, not an official fish count. Since he also has a political reason to say there are few fish in the river, I would need to see something more than his assertion before I believe him. If there are official, non-anecdotal numbers available, I hope you will share them with me.

Also, in the same article, Deen says that the "entire river" can be heated five degrees by the power plant. That is patently ridiculous. He must mean something else. This statement damages his credibility.

Here's the Deen quote about river temperature from that article:

And the question for us is does increasing the temperature of the entire Connecticut River 5 degrees damage the ecosystem

Also, with all due respect to however many fish there are at any time, the shad stocks overall have been decreasing with overfishing. If you go to any of the government web sites I quoted, you can see it. If there were indeed thousands of fish in the 80s, with Vermont Yankee running at the time, and less fish twenty or thirty years later...well, you can blame Vermont Yankee if that fits your world-view, but it doesn't fit the facts.

Speaking of credibility, Mr. Gundersen said there were 16 fish in the river. Listen to the recording yourself. If Mr. Gundersen learns to be less careless in his language in the future, my post will have been a great help to him. I do not have anything to apologize for.

Bob Stannard said...

It appears as though Mr. Gundersen was quoting a VPR story of Feb, 2, 2011.

claire said...

Hmm, Arnie lying about the number of Shad in the CT River?

I don't think so. In fact, David Deen says that there were only 16 Shad, that is sixteen (16) isolated American Shad in the Ct River.

thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight.

Claire Chang

Bob Stannard said...

I've known Rep. Deen since 1983. He is a dedicated lawmaker and cares deeply about our environment. VY discharges heated water into the Ct. River instead of spending the money to use the cooling towers year-round and that is Rep. Deen finds objectionable.

Discharging heated water into our rivers is something that we should all find objectionable, especially when there is an alternative available. The alternative is not used because it would cost money, thus showing a truer cost of nuclear power from this plant.

To keep their costs lower, they compromise the river. He does not agree with that policy. You can say that he has an agenda, which he probably does. His agenda is to ensure that the river is protected.

Bob Stannard said...

It might also be helpful to point out that the company that you are supporting, Entergy, has previously been fined $51,000 for false advertising. This company has a history of not telling the truth.

Bob Stannard said...

Also, Entergy was fined an additional $82,000 for "misleading" the Public Service Board. We'll avoid using lying.

Jack Gamble said...

Antinukes like Gundersen and Stannard are either intentionally dishonest or woefully ignorant by claiming Vermont Yankee has any part in the decline or restoration of the American Shad population in the Conn River.

First: since VY began operation, the American Shad population has increased. This is a fact. Not that VY can claim credit for the increase, but the population is higher now than it was 39 years ago. Had I the credibility (or lack thereof) that antinukes have, I would help myself to the credit for this population growth. But then again, I have the burden of being right, so I won’t.

Second: The driving factor behind previous declines in Shad population was hydroelectric interfering with migration paths and the introduction of predatory Bass into the river. If Deen was in fact a fishing guide, then he knows this.

Third: Perhaps Gundersen would care to produce the thermodynamic calculation that says a 500 MW electric plant is heating 'the entire river' by 5 degrees. I would so love to see his numbers, if he indeed has them.

Fourth: By promoting a natural gas plant to replace a nuclear plant, antinukes are again either intentionally dishonest or woefully ignorant when they claim to give a dam (pun intended) about climate change.

Weather it be intentionally dishonest or woefully ignorant, antinukes simply have no credibility here, not that they ever really had any. But then again, when ones credibility isn't a concern, you can pretty much say what ever you want, be it truth or not.

FYI: I was a professional fisherman for three years and a recreational one for life, I can say with the utmost certainty that for any person to claim proof that "16 fish" of a species exists at any given time and why is fantasy at best, a lie at worst.

Gundersen is a liar. He is paid handsomely to do so.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ Bob, shumlin can go on fox news and lie and its acceptable ?

Anonymous said...

Well for full disclosure then I guess it should be also pointed out that you are a paid lobbyist. A lobbyist paid to oppose Vermont Yankee and nuclear power.

Also I did listen to the debate very closely and I listened at the 46 minute mark and he very very clearly states there are 16 Shad "in the river". This information is just plain incorrect. You can look at the pages Meredith puts links to show his statement is incorrect.

John McClaughry said...

It looks to me like fishing guide David Deen went into business when there were tens of thousands of shad in the Connecticut, and for his personal profit showed his clients how to reduce the shad count to sixteen. This is troubling.

willem Post said...

I think Gundersen may be getting too old to be a consultant.

He sensationalizes, demagogues, dramatizes, makes up situations (16 Shad, I/1000 of a degree)

But he seems to serve the purposes of the politicos, where ever they may lead us.

Mike Mulligan said...

So why can't we get last year's fish count from the Vernon Dam? Who is in control of that information...why is it restricted? You pays for counting the fish?

Anyways, I think it is irrelevant to the story of VY. What a object waste of money building and maintaining those fish ladders over the decades. I rather feed hungry families and heat homes with those moneies, or educate and physical education programs for children.

It really questions the conservation and environmental programs in general in the area...what and who does it serve?

Anonymous said...

If you look at the American shad migration from the sea to the upper extent of their historical range in the CT River (bellows falls where before the dam, shad couldn't ascend the falls), it is not suprising to see that the numbers of shad progressing from Holyoke Dam to Turners Falls Dam drops off and again there is a drop between Turners Falls and Vernon Dams. That's because they are finding suitable spawning habitat downstream of Vernon. It is also important to note that shad runs are down along the entire eastern seaboard, not just in the CT River. Professional fisheries biologist postulate that overfishing coast wide has caused much of the decline and that in the CT River, feeding of striped bass on juvenile shad as they migrate back downstream has had a significant impact. Shad do quite well in warm water... Susquehanna river in PA/MD and others further south. If you google the CT River Coordinators office, you can get all kinds of info on annual fish runs in the CT River.

Bob Stannard said...

He sensationalizes, demagogues, dramatizes,...

Mr. Post, apparently you were not in attendance at the debate. These would be the words I would have used to describe Ms. Angwin's performance. Holding up a banana and comparing it to the tritium, cesium, strontium-90, cobalt-60 leaks at the plant would be considering what in your eyes?

You folks are having great difficulty winning on the issues and thus must resort to shooting the messenger. I get it. The plant, and the company that owns it, are very difficult to defend. You should all be commended for your valiant and steadfast support of this aged, leaking, collapsing facility operated by people who knowing lied under oath.

Engineer-Poet said...

"It's kind of fun talking to my own husband in the comment section, by the way!"

When you start yakking in text messages from opposite ends of the sofa, it either means that your marriage is over, or you've regressed to being teenagers again. ;-)

The average heat rate of coal plants in the USA is about the same as nuclear (EIA page on average operating heat rate).  These numbers are in BTU per kilowatt-hour.  To get thermal efficiency, divide 3414 by the heat rate; to get heat rejected per kWh, subtract 3414 from the heat rate.  Not all rejected heat goes to coolant, some leaves via the atmosphere.

The average NG plant rejects much less heat than the average nuclear plant (~4740 BTU/kWh vs. ~7040) but adds far more than its direct output via GHG emissions; the GHGs will last in the atmosphere for centuries.  The nuclear plant's thermal effects are almost exclusively local and very temporary.

If one is facing a paid lobbyist in a debate, one should ask whether said lobbyist is pushing personal views or the position of an organization and whether the claims stated have been cited by source and checked for accuracy.  As we can see, even if something has a source, it can be far from accurate and truthful information.

I think it would also be valuable to record, transcribe and fact-check such debates in a formal manner.  If the lobbyists have to stop using misleading claims, or better yet, if they and their parent organizations are forced to retract them, that's a huge win.

Meredith Angwin said...

Mr. Stannard. I did not hold up a banana. I showed a slide with a picture of a banana.

I thought you were at the debate. Maybe you weren't.

Meredith Angwin said...

Engineer-Poet. Thank you for the very helpful discussion of heat rates. In a response to Joffan's comment, I commented that I thought that nuclear and coal were pretty close in terms of heat rejected per kWh, but I didn't know how to check it.

Yes. I would love to go over the opposition's statements with a fine tooth comb. I never seem to have the time to do so. I dip in and refute one ridiculous statement, and I ignore three others. I will accept volunteers to help! I might be able to get or make a transcript. Anyone who wants to have a little fun, dissecting statements, please email me at mjangwin at gmail.

And yes, I prefer to think that George and I are teen-agers again! :-)

Gwyneth Cravens said...

It's puzzling why Gunderson and his supporters have failed to take a closer look at deadly, global-heating natural gas and the toxic waste from gas extraction. The 2010 death toll in the US from 1) an explosion at a natgas plant in CT and 2) a big pipeline explosion in CA: 14, with several others injured, and, in CA, a whole neighborhood wrecked. There have been zero deaths in the US from the operation of commercial nuclear power reactors. For Gunderson and others wishing to bring many gas plants to VT, I suggest a look at the high environmental costs that come with gas. See the NY Times article on the toxic waste fed into rivers by natgas extraction: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html . And, by the way, that toxic waste is radioactive and is put into public waters.

No wonder the question often comes up about whether people campaigning to close nuclear plants receive $$$ from the natural gas industry.

At nuclear plants all over the world, the slightly warmer, clean water discharged into rivers, lakes, or the sea attracts fish of many species. When I visited McGuire Nuclear Station in NC, you could see fisherman trolling near the outlet area. I'm told this is also the case in Sweden, where North Sea fish love the slightly warmed water from the power plant.

Engineer-Poet said...

"I prefer to think that George and I are teen-agers again! :-) "

If you start posting videos of you two getting freaky, I'm not coming back here.

And along similar but entirely SFW lines, see this.

Engineer-Poet said...

On Gwyneth's topic, I note that Chesapeake is one of the companies forced to cease deep-well injection of wastes in Arkansas due to siesmic effects.

Chesapeake Operating Inc. is the operational arm of Chesapeake Energy, which does mostly oil and gas drilling.  In other words, what Gunderson is implicitly supporting by hoping that VY shuts down.

Meredith Angwin said...

Engineer-Poet. Thank you for the comments and the link.

There is nothing "implicit" about Arnie's endorsement of fossil and therefore, of natural gas. Arnie says quite explicitly that if the power made by Vermont Yankee was made by a fossil plant instead, we would "pump up global warming by 1/10,000 of a degree, but we're going to get shad back in the Connecticut River." This is in the same section of the audio as the rest of the fish story.

Great video of mud puddles and joy! In just-
spring, when the world is mud-