Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Propane Tanks on the River

A video from the neighboring town of Woodstock.

It shows propane tanks floating down the Ottaquechee River. Our town manager said they looked like marshmallows as they floated by. According to Vermont Digger, 200 propane tanks from West Woodstock (Dead River Fuels) are stuck in Quechee Gorge. Some are leaking: note the "smell of propane" mentioned in this video. Removing the tanks from the river will not be easy. The tanks are stuck in Quechee Gorge, and I have heard that nobody is allowed over the Quechee Gorge bridge for fear of setting off an explosion.

Quechee Gorge bridge is in my township, though not close to me. (Thank heavens.)

West Hartford (also in my township) is hard-hit. I meet most Tuesday nights with some women at the West Hartford library. The library was flooded, and the main road to the village is impassible. The White River flooded it and apparently destroyed parts of the road (I have not seen it, I just know it is closed.) The bridge at West Hartford is so damaged that cars cannot cross it, though pedestrians can.

Huge concerns for the people of my hard-hit township. My family is okay, and I will return to blogging about my usual subjects--pretty soon.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shumlin, the Storm, and Vermont Yankee: The storm is not a problem for the plant.

Shumlin says the storm is not a problem for Vermont Yankee! By golly, he's acting like a governor now, focusing attention on areas of Vermont that need attention!

In his interview at Democracy Now, Shumlin starts with the usual "leaking plant, untrustworthy company" stuff. But then he says we are "in good hands" about the plant and the storm. Instead of using the storm as yet-another-platform about Vermont Yankee, Shumlin puts important things first. The people who are flooded out, and the roads that are closed--those problems come first.

If you don't live in the state, and want to get an idea of the extent of the flooding damage, this road-closure map might help.

Update: I recommend Rod Adam's excellent post on this subject. Shumlin wants to shut down the nuclear plant and simulataneously help prevent global warming? Soft hearts should not be accompanied by soft heads.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bridges, Dams and Nuclear Plants: The Hurricane in Vermont


Two short videos below show the covered bridge at Quechee being attacked by floodwaters from Hurricane Irene. This bridge is next to one of Vermont's most beautiful restaurants, Simon Pearce. I believe Simon Pearce is also flooded. Quechee is in Hartford township, my township.

(My house is okay. I am not trying to worry people here. I am just trying to say that this is "in the neighborhood.")


Green Mountain power may have to release water from Marshfield Dam. As Green Mountain Power said in their press release this evening:

The heavy rains have significantly increased water levels behind GMP’s dams, reaching levels that are potentially dangerous. At our Marshfield dam, record water levels are approaching the top of the dam. Because it is an earthen dam, water cannot be allowed to flow over its top. We are prepared to take emergency measures to protect the integrity of the dam. If necessary, the flow of water through the dam will be increased, which will result in greater flows of water all along the Winooski River.

Releasing the water into the Winooski poses problems, because the Winooski flows through Montpelier, and Montpelier is already being flooded. The latest Montpelier City Update for Hurricane Irene says that flood levels are currently similar to the May floods this year. Here's a video of the May floods.

Update Monday Aug 29 a.m. The water did not top the Marshfield dam, and the water did not have to be released down the Winooski to cause even more problems in Montpelier. However, while the dam is being inspected, the 350 families that were evacuated cannot return home.

Nuclear Plants

Nothing interesting going on. All Entergy plants in the Northeast continue safe operations after Irene. As I would expect.

Planning and forethought pay off.

Update on the Hurricane

This is a photo of flooding in Brattleboro, a town close to where Vermont Yankee is located. I
found the photo on Twitter. It was posted by @RandyGllenhaal on twitpic.

I have that picture up because I wanted to start the post with something dramatic. After all, I am competing with all the other hurricane coverage, and it's an uphill slog because I blog about Vermont Yankee. I blog about Vermont Yankee, and Vermont Yankee is fine. The plant is at 100% power and there is no flooding at the site. No news is....no news. Or maybe, good news is no news?


I talked about floods above. I guess I better say something about winds, too.

There's a great Irene-tracker map at the New York Times. As I write this, tropical storm Irene is in Connecticut. (Irene has been downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm.) Here's a screen shot of the New York Times wind speed predictor for Irene, from the website above.

At 11 a.m. this morning, the wind speed was 63 mph. By the time this hurricane grinds through Massachusetts and gets to Vermont, the wind speed will be below 50 mph. Heck, we've had thunderstorms that were worse. The plant can take hurricane-force winds, above 200 mph. This tropical storm won't even be a test.

I don't mean to dismiss the problems Irene has caused. Hurricane Irene has been a serious storm, especially further south. Even in Vermont, there is considerable flooding and many people have lost power. Some more pix of Brattleboro here. Southern part of the state and some northern areas have been hard hit in terms of flooding. There's going to be a lot of damage. Some roads are impassable. Still, Vermont Yankee is fine, running along at full power. It's not Key Largo around here.

I started this post with a photo I found on a tweet, so I will end with a quote from another tweet. To me, this quote says everything about our nuclear plants, and how well they are handling this storm.

No one ever gets credit when contingency planning works.
@krmaher RT by @arclight

Saturday, August 27, 2011

67th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is Up at Next Big Future

The 67th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Next Big Future.

As I personally get ready for a tropical storm, I am happy to see so much good news in this Carnival. I have a light-hearted post on nuclear communication at ANS blog (and a somewhat heavier one about Shumlin's view of decommissioning), Margaret Harding talks about "Natural Disasters Week" (earthquake and hurricane on the East Coast, both in one week) and how the nuclear plants have demonstrated resilience and safety. It's not just a feel-good post; it's basically about risk assessment. Rod Adams explains why, post-Fukushima, nuclear is still the energy of the future. Adams also features a video everyone should see: young journalists in Japan investigating why Western journalists ignored thousands of tsunami deaths and wrote the stories their editors wanted: "Radiation Danger!"

Will Davis writes a great article on the East Coast earthquake, and all the plants that were affected or not-affected. Everyone appreciates Davis sane approach to the world of nuclear! Brian Wang discusses why stopping nuclear energy (mostly, a Northern European trend) is not economical or ecological. He also reports on the uranium production in Kazakhstan, which goes higher every year. Finally, Gail Marcus describes several pieces of good news, all in one week, and all in one blog post. The TVA board approved the completion of Bellefonte, the first restart of a nuclear reactor in Japan since the tsunami, the completion of NRC safety evaluations of Summer 2 and 3, and a poll about Indian Point which was pro-Indian Point. (Not surprising. Nuclear opponents are vocal, but not a majority!)

It's a sweet carnival! Thanks to Brian Wang. Visit the Carnival!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Money and the Future of Vermont Yankee: Decommissioning and the Marcellus Shale

Shumlin and Decommissioning

On August 11, Governor Peter Shumlin held a press conference where he claimed that the "job gap" from decommissioning Vermont Yankee would not happen for about sixteen years. He claimed that hundreds of plant employees would keep their jobs for many years. In an article in True North Reports today, I demolish these claims. Read "Decommissioning Vermont Yankee: the Governor Versus the Facts."

All That Cheap Gas--What Happened? The New Estimate on the Marcellus Shale

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, buying electricity "at the market price" is basically placing a bet on the future price of natural gas. My favorite graphic on this subject, from ISO-NE, shows the price of natural gas and the price of electricity in New England for the past ten years or so. The blue line is gas prices, the green line is electricity. It's a little hard to see that there ARE two lines, but you can click to enlarge the chart.

Well, gas prices were predicted to stay low forever-and-a-day, or at least, for the next twenty years, because of abundant local Marcellus Shale gas. Electricity prices would follow them, remaining low, even buying electricity "at the market."

Unfortunately for those predictions, today the USGS announced a re-evaluation of the amount of recoverable gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. USGS now estimates it is 80% less than what they predicted earlier. Yes, that is right. The government geologists now estimate that there's only one-fifth of the gas in the Marcellus Shale, compared to their earlier estimates. Bloomberg has a good story on this today.

One problem is that shale wells have a short life-span because shale has intrinsically low permeability. It may be porous, but it is not permeable. That is, shale may have holes full of gas (pores) but they are not connected (permeable). Therefore the well plays out when the fracking-induced permeability no longer yields gas. Also, there may have been fraudulent estimations of the wells, and there certainly are some lawsuits. However, shale proponents point out that "one-fifth of a big number is still a big number."

I'm not going to pursue Marcellus Shale estimations in this post, but rather refer you to the Bloomberg article, and many articles which are sure to follow. It is worth pointing out, however, that the Marcellus Shale is a speculative resource, with estimates that can swing wildly. Good fun for speculators. Not so much fun for electricity prices.

(A USGS map of the Marcellus Shale ends this post.)

Conclusions About Vermont Yankee

Jobs: Decommissioning the plant is pushing the workers off a job cliff. There will be no "sixteen years" of good jobs at the site after shutting down Vermont Yankee. This is true despite what Governor Shumlin says in a press conference

Cheap Power from the Grid: It won't stay cheap. It looks like there won't be sixteen years of abundant shale gas to keep electricity prices low, either.

Vermont Yankee remains our most reliable source of inexpensive power for Vermont.

Note: On the subject of natural gas prices, let me also recommend Rod Adams recent blog post: Is Rowe Right? Will Natural Gas Remain Cheap for 10 or 20 years?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Lengthy Debate and a Short Post about Mystery Stories

In late March, I debated James Moore of VPIRG at Harwood High School in central Vermont. Thanks to Cavan Stone, the debate is finally up at blipTV so I can embed it in my blog. Thank you, Cavan!

The debate is pretty long, but it was held at an interesting time, right after Fukushima, when the situation was still very unsettled. I talked a lot about Fukushima, because I felt Moore would hammer the industry relentlessly on the subject.

So. A member of the audience came to me after the debate and said I talked too much about Fukushima. She said that people in Vermont care about Vermont, not Japan. You can't please all of the people all of the time, I guess.

I saw several anti-nuclear local heavy hitters in the high school auditorium audience, which surprised me. This was at a high school, part of an "Energy Project" the high school was doing. As I left, Moore was speaking to some of them, perhaps doing a retrospective-lessons learned about debating me. Or perhaps I flatter myself.

I am very grateful that Howard Shaffer was there with me and we drove together. Shaffer gave me emotional and technical support. He answered some of the hard questions! He also had a 7-curie tritium exit sign, which we used as a significant show-and-tell.

People in Vermont have been convinced that the Vermont Yankee tritium leak was pretty close to "the end of the world as we know it." When Howard holds up a sign that contains about three times as much tritium as leaked from the plant, it makes a difference to people's perceptions! Seeing is believing.

Forbes has a good article on tritium exit signs, by the way.

Something Completely Different: Mysteries and Thrillers and Other Light Reading

I have a light-hearted blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe today: Mysteries and Thrillers and What I learned about Nuclear Communication. My three teachers: Richard Hannay of 39 Stepa, Harry Bosch of the LAPD series by Michael Connolly, and of course, Miss Marple.

Monday, August 22, 2011

66th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers at ANS Nuclear Cafe

The 66th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Dan Yurman has put together a great Carnival, starting with a scorebox: "Southern, Vogtle and Westinghouse advance in standings." Next, Yurman has an excellent and readable discussion on John Rowe's controversial speech on the future prospects of natural gas and nuclear. Yurman's discussion includes input from blogs by Margaret Harding and Rod Adams.

On the subject of box scores, the Carnival has a lot of project updates. Almost all are good news! TVA is going ahead with the Bellefonte construction/ restoration. and Next Big Future updates us on fusion progress. At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Yurman explains how Saudi Arabia plans to support development in the Empty Quarter with 16 new reactors.

I describe Senator Bernie Sanders vote against small modular reactor research. Charles Barton, ever courageous, looks back to the late fifties in America and Britain to show how the "national prestige" of having nuclear weapons had nasty and long-lasting effects on civilian nuclear programs. Also looking backwards, but more cheerfully, John Bickel reviews pro-nuclear talking points about Seabrook plant from the late seventies. These points are still valid.

On the other hand (small pun), Cool Hand Nuke looks at current events and the future, not the past. His post includes the announcement of a new nuclear think-tank with Pete Domenici and an update on the progress of Bill Gates' Traveling Wave Reactor. Rod Adams stares directly into the future with the question: Will natural gas remain cheap for ten or twenty years? Rowe says it will. Well, let's see. The price has already increased 15% in Europe post-Fukushima. Natural gas supporters see this as a blip, not a trend. Maybe. If current nuclear plants are not replaced with new nuclear plants in the future, higher priced natural gas will certainly be a trend.

Dan Yurman points out that the USEC American Centrifuge project is stalled for lack of a loan guarantee. Gail Marcus, who lived and worked in the Japanese nuclear industry, has posted some pretty strong critiques of the regulatory system there. In this week's post, she defends herself from the accusation that she is anti-Japanese.

All in all, though, the Carnival is a great read. It includes quick and enticing updates on many subjects of interest. Visit the Carnival!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Energy Safari: The Class, the Field Trip, the Blog

Energy Education at ILEAD

Dr. Robert Hargraves and I have both taught energy classes at Dartmouth ILEAD. He gave an amazing course in Rethinking Nuclear Power, and I gave a course on pollution control for coal, All Around the Coal Boiler. In both our courses, actually visiting a power plant was a very important part of the course. Seeing is believing. Seeing is understanding. There's only so much a teaching that can be done with PowerPoint.

This fall we are teaming up for a super-duper-once-in-a-lifetime (probably) course on all sorts of energy, including energy efficiency.

It is ......Energy Safari!

During this course, the group will visit most major types of power plants. We will visit a solar installation, the Lempster wind farm, a wood-fired plant, an LEED (efficient) building, a hydro plant, a nuclear plant, a coal plant and a combined-cycle gas turbine. Whew! That is a LOT of information about energy. Most people (including people in the power industry) never get to see so many types of power plants.

We are very lucky, and very grateful to our hosts:
  • AllEarth Renewables (solar)
  • Iberdola Renewables (wind)
  • Springfield Power LLC (wood)
  • Dartmouth College (efficiency)
  • TransCanada (hydro)
  • NextEnergy (nuclear, Seabrook Station)
  • Public Service of New Hampshire (coal and wood)
  • Granite Ridge Energy (combined cycle gas)
We will use David MacKay's book, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, as our text. This book is available to read on-line or as a free download. You can also buy a more standard copy on Amazon.

The Blog

Hargraves has started a blog for Energy Safari, and we are also trying to get some media coverage. Getting media coverage may be hard, since most power plants will not allow photography on-site. This is such an unusual group of visits that we think they should be documented.

Visit the blog at Energy Safari. I will also post in this blog about our adventures.

Images from various sources on Wikipedia. Anthracite coal from the Wikipedia article on coal.The hydroelectric dam diagram originates from TVA. The gas turbine diagram is a GE gas turbine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Contact the Public Service Board about the Seabrook Power Purchase

Recently, I blogged about a Public Service Board (PSB) hearing that was scheduled for August 10. In this hearing the PSB asked for input about the Green Mountain Power purchase of power from Seabrook Nuclear Plant. The PSB has to approve that purchase.

Here's the PSB web page about the hearing. The power purchase is PSB Docket #7742.

About the Power Purchase

Recently, Green Mountain Power announced that it would purchase 60 MW of Seabrook Nuclear Plant electricity, at a good rate, to replace some Vermont Yankee power. I wanted to let the PSB know that I like nice, reliable nuclear power, but they should remember that we also have a nice reliable plant in Vermont. So I went to the August 10 hearing.

The hearing was held in six interactive TV studios in Vermont. Each studio had a technician in attendance, and several large TV screens so you could see the members of the Public Service Board, and also see images of all the other five studios.

I was the only member of the public present at any of the studios.

Lonely Splendor: I speak my piece

In lonely splendor, I testified for five minutes. I said that Vermont Yankee was also a lovely plant, so why were we sending our money and jobs to Seabrook. A few days before, I had sent an email on this subject to the Commissioners.

After I finished talking, the commissioners said they had "received and read" my email. This means it was not lost in a pile of emails! If you want to comment on this subject by email, your voice will also be heard. Here are the addresses. Mention Docket 7742.

The email addresses are PSB.clerk@state.vt.us and vtdps@state.vt.us (Public Service Board and Department of Public Service).

For background information, here's a post I wrote recently on the subject of the recent power purchases, including Seabrook: Power Purchases in Vermont Not Really Replacing Vermont Yankee but Adding Greenhouse Gases

A post just about the Seabrook purchase: Nimby and Nukes

And a recent post by Vermont Law School professor Donald Kreis on related power purchases:

Strictly speaking, only the Seabrook purchase is open for comment on this docket, but I wanted to put this purchase into context.

Action Items:

First Action Item: write an email with your opinion of the purchase! In case you have forgotten: PSB.clerk@state.vt.us and vtdps@state.vt.us (Public Service Board and Department of Public Service).

Second: Remember that you can make a difference. I talked to the technician, and he said this kind of interactive meeting with the PSB was common. The PSB announces the meeting. Nobody shows up. The Commissioners and technicians go home after fifteen minutes (I didn't actually delay them, it turns out.) He said that occasionally an interest group will pack a meeting, but most meetings are just like this one. So if a subject is of interest to you, don't be shy. Go out and SAY something. You will be heard.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sanders is Sole Vote Against Small Modular Reactor Research

Bernie Sanders and Small Modular Reactors

Senator Bernie Sanders often speaks about his opposition to Vermont Yankee as having something to do with the age of the plant, the fact it is owned by Entergy, or his "state's rights" stance about regulating nuclear power plants.

Recently, however, Sanders made it clear that he is against nuclear power in any form and is proud of that opinion. On Senator Sanders website, he featured the fact that he was the only vote against "a pair of measures that would promote the development of small modular reactors."

One of these measures was the Nuclear Power Act S512. This act would authorize the Secretary of Energy to start a cost-shared program for development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

This act had strong bi-partisan support, being sponsored by 3 Republican and 4 Democratic Senators. The act requires research and development funds for SMRs. The Act is still in process, and does not have a firm dollar amount attached, but the dollar amount is likely to be small (in government terms, at least.). Current estimates are $100 million per fiscal year for four years, starting next year.

The act also requires that industry cost-share the expense. If industry doesn't think it is worth spending money on the research, the research will not receive government funding either.

As a background to the probable cost of this Act, we should note that President Obama requested $4.8 billion dollars for Department of Energy research, of which $3.2 billion is allocated for renewable energy and energy efficiency research. (This number has changed with the debt deal, but new numbers are not available at this time.)

Small Modular Reactors for The Future

Sander's opposition to this Nuclear Power Act will hurt America's chances to develop an important new exportable technology. Outside of Europe, the nuclear renaissance remains in full swing, with reactors being ordered and built in Arabia, China, India and Southeast Asia. Developing a strong set of SMR designs would be America's best chance to re-entering the world market for nuclear power.

SMRs are modular (assembled in a factory and delivered to the site), small (50 to 225 MW) and have many safety features, such as passive cooling. SMRs are expected to have a huge international market. They suitable for many places that do not have the population density or money for the current crop of huge reactors (1200 MW, built on site at great expense). SMRs would make nuclear power affordable and salable many places.

Westinghouse and Babcock & Wilcox have invested significant amounts of their own money in developing these products. The NRC is also active in assessing preliminary designs. At another Senate committee meeting on SMRs, Commissioner Magwood of the NRC said that he does not expect decisions made by the NRC to be the critical factor in the success or failure of SMRs. Magwood noted that SMRs have passive safety features and large water inventories; these would be considered during license review.

America Fallen Behind

America has fallen far behind the rest of the world in most nuclear technologies. Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) were developed in this country. They are being sold all over the world, but not by United States companies. We're out of the running. Other countries licensed and improved our original technologies. Companies from France, Korea, Russia and China compete to build large reactors in China, Arabia, and Southeast Asia.

Three American companies have put millions of dollars into the development of SMRs: Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox, and NuScale (a small start-up). Many people in the nuclear industry feel that the race to develop the first successful SMR is a truly high-stakes race, being fought at the level of nationwide efforts. Luckily, SMR development has bi-partisan support, and Mr. Sanders was alone in his opposition to supporting American industry efforts to develop these plants.

Should Government Be Involved?

Of course, one can make a case that the government should get out of the energy research business altogether. If Senator Sanders wished to save tax dollars by cutting all energy-research programs, he might have a valid case. However, if the government does plan to spend money on energy research, cost-sharing with industry on a new nuclear technology is certainly a far better use of funds than many of the projects in the swollen DOE renewable budget.

Note: I am pleased to be an occasional guest blogger at True North Reports. This post first appeared in True North Reports on July 27, 2011. It has been updated, especially with some newly-available cost information.

Graphic of B & W mpower reactor from NRC website: TVA may be interested in building small modular reactors.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Addition to the Blog Roll: Nuclear Clean Air Blog

Today, I visited the Nuclear Clean Air Energy website and added the Nuclear Clean Air Energy blog to my blog roll.

I have been aware of this site for quite a while. Entergy is one of the major sponsors, and Nuclear Clean Air sponsors a really cool race car, with a really cool driver, Simona de Silvestro. Women Impacting Public Policy, a women's business organization, is also a partner with Nuclear Clean Air. I am happy to have this blog on my blog roll.


I am also a little embarrassed to be adding the blog today. You see, this morning's Nuclear Clean Air Energy post was about MY blog, specifically about the post with the slide show on Vermont's Energy Future. The title of the Nuclear Clean Air post is Lessons for Vermonters is Good for All Americans. The post, by Margie Jepson, ends with these sentences:

I read something this weekend: “We live in a society bloated with data but starved for wisdom.” That is from ethnographer Elizabeth Lindsey.

We must keep nuclear in the mix for the future of our planet. Wisdom about nuclear through education is the mission. Take a listen to Meredith.

Look, I know I should have added this blog before Jepson wrote that about my slide show! Right now, I am both blushing from the praise, and blushing because I didn't add the blog before.

I've added the blog to my blog roll. Better late than never!

65th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers: Inspiration and the Bigger Picturw

The 65th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at NEI Nuclear Notes. The title is Turning Inspiration int Action, Not Just Nuclear, and the Bigger Pictures.

David Bradish starts the post with inspiration. Suzy Hobbs at ANS Nuclear Cafe asks how to turn inspiration into action. What can a nuclear supporter do? Her answer is: Talk about it. Don't be shy! Will Davis, at Atomic Power Review, talks about talking about it...specifically, which is more dangerous? A nuclear power plant or a gas station? Rod Adams hosted a podcast with Ben Heard and Barry Brooks of Australia, describing how people are trying to move Australia away from its dependence on coal.

Four bloggers make comparisons of nuclear and other technologies. Dr. John Bickel at Evergreen Nuclear tracks radiation releases from natural gas production (hey, it's "natural), and Steve Aplin of Canadian Energy Issues looks at the Sierra Club's pro-natural gas policies and asks the logical question: Why are they against a gas PIPELINE but in favor of replacing a nuclear plant with a gas-fired power plant? At ANS Nuclear Cafe, Dr. Ulrich Decher evaluates whether California can meet its renewable energy goals (think "intermittency"). At Yes Vermont Yankee, my slide show describes the most likely substitutions for Vermont Yankee power if the plant closes (think "fossil").

In other posts, Charles Barton defends the Molten Salt Reactor, and indeed, all nuclear power. Margaret Harding at 4 Factor Consulting looks at the economic overview of the nuclear industry. Gail Marcus of Nuke Power Talk discusses the regulatory changes that would help Japan in the future. Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat has two excellent posts about the progress on the Vogtle reactors: one post on financing, and another on the recently issued NRC Safety Evaluation Report for the AP1000 reactor design,

David Bradish has put together an excellent Carnival, including well-chosen quotes from many of the blogs. Come to the Carnival! New information, interesting viewpoints, no cotton candy! It's a feast for the intellect!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nuclear Song Videos: Spiritual and Rap

Having posted a serious video yesterday about Vermont Yankee, I thought I would post some short videos today.

Spiritual first:

Thanks to the twitter stream of @NukeRoadie for leading me to this video: Nuclear Power Song by Environment Man. A very familiar tune.

"Chernobyl my fears relieved...How precious did that dome appear..."

Rap Later:

As one You Tube leads on to another. Nuclear Power Rap. I believe this is by tmntlegacy?

"Nuclear is the future. Stop gassing man, you're gassing because you're a coward"

More Music

Previous blog posts featured another Nuclear Power Rap and the rollicking Ways to Save a Millirem.

Some non-musical links

  • My recent video about Vermont Yankee has also been posted at The Energy Collective.
  • Howard Shaffer has a post on Old Tactics and New Approaches in the Vermont Yankee battle: this post is at ANS Nuclear Cafe.
  • I have a post about the Shumlin Fish Story at True North Reports: Shumlin's fish story is not good for his lawsuit story.
  • At Vermont Tiger, John McClaughry asks What About the Milk? Comparing radiation dosage from Shumlin's Fish to the dosage in ordinary milk (from the naturally radioactive potassium in the milk).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slide Show on Vermont's Energy Future

I recently recorded a 45 minute slide show about Vermont's Energy Future. I had been meaning to do this for a long time.

I want to thank the people at CATV studio of White River Junction for their work and patience in recording this, and Cavan Stone for his thoughtful editing. I hope you enjoy it!

The show covers Vermont Yankee issues, including:
  • alternatives to Vermont Yankee
  • safety issues, including tritium and concerns arising from Fukushima
  • economics

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Economics, Productivity, Energy and Vermont Yankee

Economic Collapse: Short Term Reasons

The short-term economic news is dreadful. First we had the Debt Ceiling wrangle, then the Standard & Poor's downgrade, and now, a continuing fall in the stock market.

Many pundits will ascribe many causes to this group of events. The causes will concern government borrowing, deficits, partisan wrangling in Congress, broken campaign promises, and so forth. I will leave those analyses to the pundits. They may be right.

Longer Term: Productivity and Growth

As a simple matter, economic prosperity and growth follows economic productivity. If the average laborer produces $10 worth of goods in an hour, she can be paid perhaps $5 and use that to buy food, transportation, medical care and flat-screen TVs. If she can only produce $5 worth of goods in an hour, her pay will be closer to $2.50 an hour, and her living standard will be less. This has nothing to do with the value of the dollar or inflation or anything like that. It is a matter of goods and services produced. Productivity matters.

This post is headed by a productivity chart for various nations (double-click to see a bigger version.) Productivity and prosperity are not completely linked: I would say that the United States is probably more prosperous than Ireland, for example. But in general, prosperous countries have higher productivity (Norway, France, U.S.) and poorer countries (Mexico, former Soviet states) have less productivity in the workforce.

When Henry Ford paid his workers enough to buy the cars they produced, cars became a consumer item rather than a rich person's toy. He could afford to pay his workers this much because the Ford assembly lines allowed them to be productive enough to warrant this pay, without bankrupting the company.

Stagflation: Reasons For the Misery of the 70s

According to traditional economics, high inflation and high unemployment rates cannot happen at the same time. However, in the 70s, both existed at the same time: it was called Stagflation. Economists are still writing about the reasons this happened. Two major theories are that the 70s stagflation was caused by:
  • Cost increases of raw materials, especially energy and oil
  • Slowdown in worker productivity increases in 1970s. Productivity did not rise as quickly as it had risen in earlier decades. "The productivity slowdown became the single most important event of the decade." (Quote is from Timothy Taylor, Teaching Company Course on A History of the U. S. Economy in the 20th Century).
I'm not an economist, but I think these two may be related. If you cannot use more energy, it is harder to increase productivity

Productivity in My Experience

My husband and I worked in Silicon Valley in the late 90s and early 2000s, when our companies were becoming very excited about outsourcing certain types of intellectual work (programming, map digitizing) to India. Wages were lower in India, the workers were very well-educated, the Internet was allowing excellent communications. What could go wrong?

A lot could go wrong, as it turned out. Managers very quickly realized that while wages were lower in India, productivity was lower also. Managers had to pick and choose tasks carefully to come out ahead on the "outsourcing" business.

One of the main problems was energy. India's electric grid was pathetic. Blackouts were frequent. Companies had back-up generators, used as little air-conditioning as possible, and generally had a work environment that looked plain flaky to people who were accustomed to Silicon Valley businesses. Reliable, inexpensive electricity matters to productivity. The workers in India were great: the infrastructure was terrible. There's a reason that India is building electric power plants of all kinds as quickly as it can.

What Can I Do About Economics?

I can encourage productivity.

Reading the paper recently has been no fun at all. American treasury bonds being down-rated. Stock market has been nose-diving. I see that Congress is too full of grandstanding politicians to tackle the big questions. For me to affect the financial situation in this country feels hopeless.

What I can do is what I have been doing. I can help keep productivity high in America by encouraging reliable power, inexpensive electricity, and nuclear plants. Especially my local nuclear plant, Vermont Yankee. Think globally, act locally.

When I look at the paper, it is a relief to know I am doing something about the situation, however small my contribution may be.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hearing and Letter-Writing on Seabrook Power Purchase

The Seabrook Deal

In May, Green Mountain Power made a deal to buy around 60 MW of power from Seabrook Nuclear Plant in New Hampshire. There was general rejoicing: Liz Miller, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service, said "GMP has struck a deal for a price that looks good... Keeping costs down for Vermonters is great for the state's economic development."

Ms. Miller was appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin. Shumlin has been trying to shut down Vermont Yankee, despising its low-cost power and in-state job creation. Therefore, this hearty embrace of nuclear power from a neighboring state depresses me. In my blog, I have discussed this purchase in terms of:

I guess that pretty much covers it! Nuclear power is clean and reliable, but why should we substitute out-of-state power for in-state power?

Luckily, there is now a way to make our thoughts known on this subject.

The Public Service Board Hearing AND Email Addresses

Go to the Hearing: On Wednesday night, August 10, the Public Service Board will hold a hearing on the Seabrook power purchase. The hearing is being held by interactive TV, all over the state. You can go to TV stations in Bennington, Lyndonville, Montpelier, Springfield, White River Junction of Williston at 7 p.m. Here's the PSB web page with the meeting information, prefiled testimony to read, and so forth.

Send an Email: You can email your opinion to the PSB. This information is not on the website, but I emailed Sarah Hofmann of the Public Service Board for information.

Hofmann wrote: To submit electronic comments to the Board they should go to PSB.clerk@state.vt.us and the DPS email is vtdps@state.vt.us

(I gather you should send your comments to both addresses).

Send Snail Mail: You can also send comments by snail mail.

Hofmann wrote: The comments go to the Public Service Board with a copy to the Department of Public Service. The Board's address is: 112 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620-2701. The Department's address is the same but with the zip code of 05620-2601.

I think email would be easier than sending two letters.

Share your opinion with the Public Service Board.

It's Not About Seabrook

I was a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) specialist in my career. I'm not against Seabrook, a perfectly lovely PWR.

But why substitute it for Vermont Yankee?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

64th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 64th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at Atomic Power Review.

Will Davis has done a great job of posting a well-organized Carnival. It includes Margaret Harding on nuclear politics, Gail Marcus on the Japanese Nuclear system (and its problems. Marcus worked in nuclear regulation in Japan.). Brian Wang announces that Kirk Sorensen, one of the main driving forces behind the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, now has a regular blog on the Future of Energy at Forbes. Wang also updates us on the Chinese and South Korean reactor builds. Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat contemplates Areva's future, while Fred Moore at ANS Nuclear Cafe feels that the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor will be a game-changer. The Nuclear Energy Institute considers "Musicians United for Safe Energy" in California (they don't know a lot about energy) while Rod Adams plans to spread Calm, Certainty and Reassurance instead of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

There's a couple of my posts in the Carnival, too.

Will Davis, once again, frames the Carnival with a guessing game. How appropriate! What is Will holding in his hand in the picture at the head of the blog post? You have to read the post to find out.

Come to the Carnival! Take your chances at the guessing game! Learn about World-Wide Nuclear! Have a good time!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

That Strontium Fish in the Connecticut: Vermont Yankee, Shumlin, and the Facts

The Fish and the Facts

A smallmouth bass was caught nine miles upstream of Vermont Yankee power plant more than a year ago (June 2010). This fish was not destined to be eaten: it was tested for radiological contamination, according to Vermont's testing program for the river near Vermont Yankee. It turns out the the fish contained radioactive strontium, slightly above the detection limits, in its flesh as well as its bones. Though the fish was caught in 2010, it was tested only last week.

Was that fish contaminated by Vermont Yankee? The Vermont Department of Health didn't think the strontium came from Vermont Yankee. An article by Taylor Dobbs in Vermont Digger said that:
Bill Irwin, the radiological health chief of Vermont Department of Health, said his team doesn’t believe the Strontium-90 came from Vermont Yankee. There is no unequivocal evidence either way, he said. It’s possible, but very unlikely, he said, that cross-contamination of the non-edible and edible fish samples occurred. Irwin says he doesn’t believe the Strontium-90 found in the fish was from Vermont Yankee. “We would need to see a pathway between the source and the fish,” he said.

However, Shumlin thought the strontium came from Vermont Yankee, and he did something about it. He wrote a press release.

On August 3, Shumlin sent a strongly worded press release, directed at Entergy about the fish. Here's a quote: “Today’s troubling news from the Vermont Department of Health is another example of Entergy Louisiana putting their shareholders’ profits above the welfare of Vermonters."

The next day, Shumlin had a press conference, and he had to back off on his statement that this was Entergy's fault. According to today's Digger article by Taylor Dobbs, at the press conference, a day after his strong press release, Shumlin said: "We don't know exactly where [the strontium] came from."

The Fish and More Facts

The Vermont Department of Health website today has a complete listing of the facts about that fish. Basically, the Department of Health catches fish for testing. The bigger the fish the better, because bigger fish are more likely to contain radionucleides. The Department catches fish at two locations: right by Vermont Yankee's outflow, and nine miles upstream. This fish was caught nine miles upstream.

If there is contamination from the plant, it is expected that the fish caught near the outflow would be more heavily affected. However, fish do swim around, and the wildlife biologists said that a smallmouth bass could have swum ten miles upstream. (The problem with nature is that it just doesn't behave like a well-controlled laboratory)

Still, for a first approximation, the fact that the upstream fish had more strontium than any fish near the plant implies the fish was probably not contaminated by outflows from Vermont Yankee. As a friend of mine said: "Amusing when the control group is more contaminated than the sample group."Also, as Irwin said above, there is no clear pathway between the plant and the fish.

Reading the Department of Health website, you can note that:
  • The amount of strontium in the bones of the fish in the Connecticut River is the same as in the bones of other fish in other rivers: background levels.
  • The level of strontium in these fish is very low, and the Department of Health has to find special labs that can do "hard-to-detect" analysis. They have switched labs recently, due to poor results from one of their contract labs.
In other words, when the head of the Department of Health, Harry Chen, reassured people that the fish had low levels of strontium (hard-to-detect levels, actually) and fishing in the Connecticut River was okay, Chen was showing good scientific judgment.

The Fish and The Wiggles

Science doesn't mean much to Shumlin if it contradicts his plans. Shumlin does his best to use this fish against Entergy, even though he can't actually use it because he can't say Entergy caused the fish to contain strontium. This leads to amusing wiggles at his press conference.

The video below is Shumlin's press conference yesterday, when he reluctantly admits that we don't know where the strontium comes from. However, he continued to attack Entergy for contamination. It's a frustrating video to watch because the sound is very poor. However, you can enjoy:
  • Around the three minute mark where Shumlin is asked about the fish and whether he is concerned with health effects (translation, "is he regulating radiological health effects, which is the federal prerogative?") and Shumlin steps quickly into "environmental effects"
  • The nine minute mark, when Harry Chen, the head of the Department of Health, says these levels are so low we will never know where they come from and the fish are safe to eat. Shumlin answers it may not be science, but common sense is the reason that that he himself wouldn't fish in the river.
  • Around the 13 minute mark, where a reporter tries to understand if Shumlin is attacking Entergy about the strontium in the fish, and or the tritium leak in the past or what? Shumlin says he has been very clear about this. His statement obviously clears everything up.
I find this press conference amusing, but not everyone does. One lawmaker objected that this sort of message from the governor would hurt the tourist industry in Vermont. The governor's office quickly issued a statement explaining that not eating the fish was a "personal choice."

I'm sure potential tourists will find that very reassuring.

Little Update: Thank you to Vermont Tiger for writing that Meredith Angwin's take on this latest dustup between the state and Yankee is, naturally, sharp and bankable.

Alas, I still haven't found the bank....

Update: Ray Shadis, of New England Coalition, a hardworking foe of the plant, quoted on WAMC, says there is no indication, other than Vermont Yankee manufactures the isotope, that the Strontium-90 came from the nuclear plant.

Group of smallmouth bass. Featured illustration from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Power Purchases in Vermont: Not Really Replacing Vermont Yankee But Adding Greenhouse Gases.

The chart above comes from the Vermont Department of Public Service website. Dave Lamont of that department drew this chart in March of this year. It shows the "committed resources" for Vermont's electricity supply. Vermont uses approximately 6000 GWh electricity per year. The chart shows power plants and utilities that have agreed to sell power to Vermont.

We can see the more-than-2000 GWh from Vermont Yankee (bottom left gray area) coming to an end in 2012. We can also see old Hydro-Quebec (HQ) contracts coming to an end in 2016 and new HQ contracts starting around that time frame, for slightly less supply than the old contracts.

The most noticeable thing on the chart is all that white space to the right of 2012--the who-knows-where-it's-coming-from part of Vermont's electricity supply. Roughly half the electricity supply after 2012 on this chart is white space: it simply isn't there.

Recently, new announcements of power purchases by Vermont utilities have re-assured people in Vermont that there's going to be plenty of electricity anyhow, if Vermont Yankee closes. However, there is less in these contracts than meets the eye, in my opinion.

The New Contracts

The big new contract is GMP (Green Mountain Power) with Seabrook Station Nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. GMP is going to buy 60 MW of power from Seabrook. That is about 1/3 of the power that Vermont obtains from Vermont Yankee. To see this amount on the chart above, draw a line at about 700 GWh above the existing lines. As you will note, the big supply gap is still there. For example, adding 700 GWh in 2017 (when the current HQ contracts phase out and we are on the new HQ contracts) moves the total supply to around 3600 GWh out of 6000 GWh required. Okay. So that's only 40% white space now. When we factor in the Seabrook purchase, only 40% of the electricity is "who knows where it is coming from?"

However, today's news included more announcements of power purchases, this time by Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS). CVPS bought 0.57 GWh through the end of 2012. The new contracts are opaque: CVPS said they held a "structured auction," and got a good price (4.75 cents per kWh). However, CVPS won't release the names of the auction winners. Nobody knows what kind of power CVPS bought. It's probably fossil based, because the Northeast grid is fossil based.

CVPS also had to get ready for the Vermont Yankee outage, and needed to buy power for that. As the Reuters article says: The contracts will also fill Central Vermont's energy needs during the planned Vermont Yankee refueling outage this fall, the utility said.

The Seabrook power purchased by GMP is available for many years, but the agreements announced today by CVPS are only for power through 2012, when the old and new HQ contracts are also both available. It's a short-term power purchase agreement.

That Chart Again: The Short-Term Power Purchase Agreements

Looking at that Committed Resources chart again, at the head of this blog, we can notice two new things.
  • First, look at the medium blue area called Vermont PPAs. These are various short-term power purchase agreements set up by the Vermont utilities. With a PPA, the utilities hopes to get a better deal than they would receive from the spot market. PPAs are never arranged too far in advance, or for very much power. These CVPS deals announced today are just more PPA deals, which are usually not accompanied with such hoopla. Of course, anything that claims to replace Vermont Yankee power will be a major announcement, nowadays.
  • Second, these CVPS contracts extend only through the end of 2012, so they could only be covering the small amount of white space at the top of the chart, through 2012. They have no effect on the big white space to the right of the chart.
It's hard to see what all the excitement was about.

Time for Perspective: Greenhouse Gases

Up until now, I have been describing the Committed Resources chart at the top of this blog post. It's not the only chart the Department of Public Service prepared for their March presentation.

Below is a companion chart, showing the sources of greenhouse gases for Vermont. While Vermont Yankee is running, the electricity section of the greenhouse gas emissions is low. However, after 2012, look at those emissions grow! By 2015, the electricity sector in Vermont is making more greenhouse gases than all the heating of all Vermont buildings (RCI fuel use). By 2020, with autos and home heating emissions steady, the electricity sector has grown to be the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

I have noticed that the emission chart says "electricity supply high-emission scenario" but I don't see a low-emission scenario in the presentation. I can think of a low-emission scenario, though.
If Vermont Yankee keeps operating, that is a low-emission scenario, and a very good one.

Notes: You can double-click on the charts to enlarge them.
I also blogged about the Committed Resources chart at ANS Nuclear Cafe.