Sunday, July 22, 2012

San Onofre and Gundersen and Vermont Yankee

When I was in the nuclear power industry, I was a specialist in preventing corrosion in steam generators in pressurized water reactors.  Recently, replacement steam generators at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) showed unusual wear, and Arnie Gundersen wrote that this was because the replacement generators weren't just like the old steam generators. They even used a new alloy!

This assertion steamed me a bit (pardon the pun) because the whole point of the research we did at the steam generator project office at EPRI was to improve steam generators.  Replacement steam generators aren't supposed to be just like the old steam generators, they are supposed to be better.

Steam Generators

In April, Will Davis of Atomic Power Review asked me to write a guest post about steam generator research and improvements. I did, and the post got a lot of hits.

Writing the post for Atomic Power Review also meant I get some invitations and phone calls based on my steam generator knowledge. Recently, the NRC has issued various reports about the San Onofre steam generators, and I received an invitation to a conference call yesterday.

I was invited to a Southern California Edison conference call about the steam generators. This call was very informative, and Dan Yurman of Idaho Samizdat has written a clear, well-researched post about the NRC reports, San Onofre, and what we learned at the conference call.  It is going to take a lot of work to figure out the next steps at San Onofre, but nobody is in danger, and (I believe) SONGS will be back on line in a few months. Yurman's well-referenced post, A Long Hot Summer Ahead for SONGS does not underestimate the problems SONGS faces.  However, Yurman's post  is  a good antidote to overblown negative predictions.

Arnie Gundersen has been supported by Friends of the Earth to write reports on San Onofre.  It should surprise nobody that his reports put the worst possible spin on the San Onofre steam generator problems.

Gundersen and Vermont Yankee

On the conference call, someone from Southern California said that Gundersen supports continued operation of Vermont Yankee.

"What what what what what?" I sputtered.  Gundersen supporting VY was news to me! After all, I debated Gundersen about 18 months ago.  I took the "Keep Vermont Yankee Running" side of the debate, and Gundersen took the side of "Shut Vermont Yankee Down." Here's a link to a blog post with a video of the debate.  If you watch even a little of this debate, you would hardly think that Gundersen supports the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. What on earth were these people talking about?

Well, they were talking about what Gundersen said on a radio show in California.   To listen to his words, you have to go to this KPBS web page, then go to the KPBS Midday Edition, and then move the cursor to the 8 minute mark (more or less).  Alternatively, I will simply transcribe the section for you, below.

Interviewer: Arnie, I introduced you as a nuclear consultant, but just to be clear. Tell us, are you also an anti-nuclear activist?

Gundersen: No, you know, I have a bachelors and masters in nuclear and was a senior VP. Two..three years ago,  consulting for the state of Vermont, I signed a report saying that Vermont Yankee, our nuclear plant here in Vermont, could run for another twenty years. So, I don't know many nuclear activists who sign reports authorizing nuclear plants to continue to operate.

The Public Oversight Panel report

Gundersen is telling the truth here.  He did sign a report (Public Oversight Panel report, March 2009) that concluded that Vermont Yankee could continue to operate.  Actually, it said that operation of the plant is possible if the recommendations of the panel report were put in place by Entergy and carefully verified by strengthened government institutions, etc.  Read the report for yourself, especially page v, "Panel's Overall Conclusions."  It isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the plant or anybody who supervises it, including the NRC.

The Public Oversight Panel report was a joint effort. There were usually four people on the panel. My understanding of Gundersen's views on Vermont Yankee lead me to believe that he probably fought against  every positive word in that report.  However, I wasn't there when the report was written, so that statement is just my opinion. I formed that opinion by debating Gundersen and from other things he has said.

Gundersen's radio statement on California radio may have convinced some people that he is a nuclear consultant, not an anti-nuclear activist.  After all, he signed a report recommending continued operation of Vermont Yankee.

Maybe. I encourage people to read the report and draw their own conclusions. Personally,  I still see Gundersen as an anti-nuclear activist, and that remains my opinion.

I also don't know why Gundersen is making such a point of not being called "an anti-nuclear activist."  On this blog, my profile has always stated: "I am a pro-nuclear activist and a writer." I don't have any issue with stating that, being introduced as a pro-nuclear activist, or whatever.  Of course,  I also want people to know that I have an educational and career background in nuclear energy, and I understand why Gundersen makes the same point about himself.  But why does he object to being called an "anti-nuclear activist"?  Just wondering...


Joffan said...

As a participant in the continuing Fukushima Misinformation Disaster, it doesn't make any difference what Gundersen claims to be - he is actually an anti-nuclear activist.

The reason he prefers to avoid that label is to attempt to bolster credibility for his misinformation.

His distant background in nuclear reactor operation only makes his various deceptions and exaggerations more reprehensible.

Kit P said...

People claim to be unbiased in order to appear more credible when they tell an organized lie.

Aaron Rizzio said...

I watched video of the UVM debate you had with Gundersen last Nov. At the 44 minute mark "finally . . . my position is we had a deal, a 40-yr deal and it's time to shut it down"

I thought the best point you scored was the graphic comparison of the pico curies of tritium from VY with the common radio-illuminated safety exit signs, and later in the debate with Wal-Mart's large scale use of such signs (and apparent loss of 3 thousand of them), surely a radio-toxic release on the scale of TMI, why have we not heard of this before? And they are allowed to continue to serve customers food items in most of their stores?:

"The NRC could, if it wished, levy a $369,300 fine on Walmart; however, it chose to waive the fee because the chain quickly responded to the citation. Walmart tallied the tritium-based signs at its stores, cleaned up radioactive spills created by its broken signs, and eventually decided to switch from tritium-based signs to more conventional -- and nonradioactive -- signs."

Fascinating to me this never became a major national news item; if ever the NRC pursues an action against an NPP (particularly on this scale) it couldn't fail being mentioned in at least the local media. Question: if a NPP operator broke one of these tritium exit signs would it have to report it to the NRC which in turn publicly report it as a radiation leak?

"Walmart isn't the only retailer getting targeted by the NRC for questionable disposal of tritium-based exit signs. Sixty other companies, including Home Depot, Northwest Airlines, and Bed, Bath and Beyond are also facing investigation. And, lest it appear that the government is unfairly targeting commercial and industrial groups, it's worth noting that NASA, West Point, the U.S. Postal Service and dozens of other government-owned and administered facilities are also facing investigation by the NRC."

However you never countered Gunderson on the issue of the 70k shad he claims from a 1990 count that were depopulated by VY thermal pollution. You had the photo of the dam right next to VY that you could have noted. VY has been operation since the early 70s, how long have these dams, particularly for pumped storage, been operational? Also Gunderson claims 33,000MW IN VT!!!, 5000MW "idle". VY generates 70% of instate electricity so virtually all of this must be 1.) outside VT and 2.) CO2 emitting gas-turbines, coal, oil, & diesel back up.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Aaron, you are correct. I was not prepared for the shad question, and I didn't counter it well. However, unlike Gundersen, at least I didn't say anything that was patently not possible. No human can assert that there are 16 shad "in the river." Did he catch them all? Could there be another two or three he didn't catch? Etc.

Later, in a blog post, I did some research and countered Gundersen on this shad busines. Here's the post.

The comment stream on that post also worth reading...David Dean, a plant opponent and a river guide, apparently claimed that there were 16 shad at the outflow of the Vernon Dam. Dean has no back-up for this assertion, no official count, etc. but at least, what he says could conceivably be true. That is, one could count a certain number of fish at a certain place in the river.

In the comments, you can see the opponents piling on me that Arnie was just quoting Dean, Dean knew what he was talking about, and the opponents are happy to set the record straight and show me that Arnie was right!

Changing the subject. Your comments on tritium are correct. Howard Shaffer always brings a tritium exit sign with him. He notes that you can order these and they can be shipped by mail because they are not considered particularly hazardous. And that his exit sign, yes, that one, right in his hand--contains as much tritium as the entire amount that leaked fromVermont Yankee.

A good link on the pumped storage effect on the fish is here...

Aaron Rizzio said...

Gundersen is a talented debater, perhaps likely unethical as well, which makes him all the more formidable an opponent.

Concerning the exit signs, when cornered at UVM he quickly pivoted and averred that the tritium itself wasn't so much the issue but rather the fact that it served as a proxy for other radionuclides such as strontium-90 and cobalt-60! Presumably if there were samples of cobalt-60 in the soil (somehow) they'd reveal themselves more readily than the tritium. After TMI strontium-90 was found in soil samples collected outside the plant -- from Chinese above-ground weapons testing on the other side of the planet!

The other blatant falsehood is this claim (at ~45 minute mark) by Gundersen that VT has 33,000MW of electric generation capacity, 5000MW idle reserve; where does he get this number from? It was never challenged in the debate. It sounds like the entire New England ISO grid.

Members of the audience knew the golden oldies. One invoked the Silkwood case. You should refresh yourself on her story, she was basically caught taking her work home with her, that is, Pu-239, in what has been surmised as some sort of blackmail, or shakedown, scheme against her employer Kerr-McGee. She was killed in a single car crash and autopsy revealed elevated levels of narcotics in her bloodstream. Note Pu-238, many times more radioactive than Pu-239, has been installed right next to people's hearts since the early 70s providing excellent test cases to follow. There is a documented case I read in JAMA or NEJM of a woman, healthy in her 60s, with a Pu pacemaker implanted for 40 years.

Silkwood case:

Meredith Angwin said...

Hi Aaron

Thanks for the update on Silkwood. I didn't know that. I have always dismissed the whole thing as being about a mining company, not a power company. My father-in-law was a coal miner (he got out of the mines and became a sheet-metal worker as soon as he could) and I have never had a high opinion of the average mining company. I had no idea Silkwood was on drugs at the time of her death.

ISO New England used to have a good little "all about ISO for beginners" report on their website, but I couldn't find it just now. So, I went to Wikipedia. According the Wikipedia, the entire ISO-New England System is 32,000 MW (NOT just Vermont!) According to the Vermont state profile on ISO NE, the total generating capacity within Vermont is 1,100 MW.

Meredith Angwin said...

I just received a note from Peter Bradford. He was a member of the Public Oversight Panel.

Hw corrects this post to explain that The 2009 VY Public Oversight Panel consisted of four members, not three - Bill Sherman, Fred Sears, Arnie Gundersen and me. David Lochbaum was also a member but resigned when he joined the NRC in early 2009.

My original post said that there were three members of the panel. I have corrected it to "usually four" members and I thank Peter Bradford for his information.

Aaron Rizzio said...

So Lochbaum is now working at the NRC, what is his position?

Meredith Angwin said...

Lochbaum worked at NRC as an instructor for a year. At least, I think he was an instructor. I am not sure. He is back at Union of Concerned Scientists now, and has been back for several years.

Meredith Angwin said...

Also, Dan Yurman at Idaho Samizdat wrote a relatively pessimistic assessment of SONGS future. It's part of a post "bad news comes in threes"

I am trying to figure out if I have been too optimistic. Maybe. But maybe not.

I think it will be relatively straightforward to fix the problem (perhaps with some de-rating of the generators). Because of the huge issues of the computer modeling that LED to the problem, however, it may be much harder to convince the NRC that the new modeling is correct and the plant can be restarted. That could take a long time.

Anonymous said...

San Onofre will be back on line in a few months? What kind of computer modeling reification is that statement based upon? Anyone who knows anything about steam generators knows that San Onofre won't be back on line for at least a few years, if at all.

Meredith Angwin said...

Anonymous. I do know some things about computer modeling in steam generators, and I was frankly puzzled when I heard how very wrong the modeling had been.

Okay. Here's my opinion. If they had to start the SONGS models from scratch, it would take years, but luckily, it HAS taken years already. That is, for years EPRI and vendors developed effective vibrational modeling of SGs, and model verification.

I think SONGS can modify such existing models in a few months.

You will say that nobody will believe the modified models and it will take years of testing. I think that if the new models give results similar to well-researched results of existing models, SONGS will be able to operate, of course with much more inspections at the next outage than they would otherwise have.

I could be wrong. On the other hand, you could be wrong. I think your prediction is overly pessimistic. I realize that my prediction may prove to be overly optimistic. But the fact that modeling they used was SO wrong gives me hope that better models can be shown to be effective comparatively quickly. The problems with the models used by MHI was not a subtle, hard-to-diagnose problem. It was big. In some ways, that means revising the models will be easier.