Friday, August 31, 2012

Where's the Magic Switch? Guest Post by Howard Shaffer about the Grid

Where's the Magic Switch?

Panasonic Electric Drive bike chain
In March 2012, Vermont Yankee’s contract with Vermont utilities ended.  Ever since then, plant opponents have said that Vermont no longer uses any power from the plant.  The plant opponents have a certain conception of how the grid works.

Is there a switch somewhere that shifted at the stroke of midnight, March 21?  Did this switch send the electric current from Vermont Yankee to other places, while the plant continued at full power?  This would be something like a valve in a municipal water system.

There is no switch.  Electric current doesn’t flow like water.

The Source of  Confusion

The confusion arises because the electric power industry talks about current and power flow as if it were like water.  We talk as if the current from a particular plant could be identified, just as water could be identified with a little food coloring.

A Helpful Picture

To get a picture of what is going on physically, think of the electric power circuit connecting all the supplying plants and all the loads using power--think of them as all connected together by a giant bicycle chain.  All the suppliers and all the loads are connected to the chain by sprockets.  There are spare sprockets for suppliers and users who are not on the grid at the moment.

Each supplier and each user has a meter that shows how much they are supplying or using.  In this system, the chain needs to run at an almost constant speed.  In the U.S., it runs at 60 hertz (cycles per second for us old-timers). On this big chain, each supplier and user knows what they are doing, and they know the chain's speed.

No user can say: “My power is coming from that supplier over there, or those suppliers.”  All any supplier can say is: “I’m supplying my power to the chain (grid)."  All any user can know is: "I am getting my power from the chain (grid)."

Supplying Power, Using Power, Paying for Power

This can be maddening to explain.

Let's start with supplying and using power. The language has gotten scrambled by the way the chain system is used and paid for.

Some users are taking power all the time, some only part time.  Some suppliers provide power all the time, some only part time.  The chain must run at a nearly constant speed, and any supplier might break down and quit at any time.

To keep the chain going, the other suppliers must have some extra capacity to make up for the loss, at least for a short time.  In addition, the manager of the chain needs to be able to tell other suppliers to start when needed.

If the chain manager can’t get enough suppliers started and supplying, the chain will slow down (brownouts and low frequency).  In severe shortages some users may have to be disconnected from the chain (dropped load, rolling blackouts).  In the worst case, the chain stops (blackout).

Paying for Power

All the suppliers need to be paid.  All the users need to pay for what they get.  The chain owner and manager needs to be paid too.

Different kinds of supply and use cost different amounts.  If you are a supplier who is always ready to start supplying if another supplier breaks down, it costs money to stay ready.  The same is true if you back up a supplier that is only available for a few hours a day.  If you are a supplier who promises to stay ready to do backup, you usually get paid more.

If you are a user and know how much you want to use over time, it is cheaper for you to have a contract with certain suppliers.  Then these suppliers are  “on the chain” for you.  If you don’t have such a contract, you take the “chain’s price”-- a complicated average price from all the suppliers.

Careless Descriptions

People in the utility industry say: “X utility has a contract with Y plant for so much power.”  In reality the contract is for Y plant to supply power to the chain while X utility is using power from the chain.  Since everyone in the utility industry knows that power is put on the grid (on the chain), not sent specifically to a user, the shorter expression ("has a contract for so much power") came to be used.

The shorter expression was OK until the public wanted to know more.  Then the short expression caused confusion about how the physical system actually works.

Big Ben at Midnight
The Midnight Accountant

If you are a user, and your contract with a supplier ends, the chain will keep you going.  The chain doesn't know about your contract.  The chain just keeps moving, and you keep taking power off the chain the same way you did before.

However, when your supplier contract ends, you must pay the chain’s price. This price includes the higher cost "stay-ready" suppliers.

On March 21, at midnight Vermont Yankee kept right on powering the chain (grid).

No physical switch shifted.  The accountants shifted -- the billing.  At midnight, Vermont utilities no longer paid specifically for Vermont Yankee.  Vermont Yankee put power on the grid, and they took power off the grid, same as before.  However, at midnight the utilities began to pay specifically for other suppliers: Seabrook for example.  They pay the chain (grid) price when they don't have enough contracts with suppliers. Some of Vermont Yankee’s power is mixed in that price.

The accountants arrange the pricing, but the power to move the bicycle chain (grid) in Vermont was the same after midnight as before midnight.  The work of the accountants changed at midnight, but the work of the power plant continued.


Howard Shaffer is a Licensed Professional Engineer in nuclear engineering in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  He has a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering from Duke, and was a nuclear submarine officer. Subs have their own ac-dc grid. Later, he was startup engineer for EBASCO when they designed and built Vermont Yankee.  From Vermont, he went  to the Ludington, Michigan Pumped Storage plant as Lead Startup Engineer.  When pumping, that  plant draws 2040 MW, which is twice the power that all of Vermont uses.  Working with this pumped storage unit, Shaffer  learned a great deal about grid operations.  After Michigan, Shaffer went to MIT and received a Masters in Nuclear Engineering.  He then continued his career with assignments in plant startup and plant support.  He has been active for many years in nuclear public outreach, including service on the Public Information Committee of the American Nuclear Society.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome to New Blogs from Nuke Roadie and Milton Caplan Plus a Link to My Post At ANS Nuclear Cafe

Two Great New Blogs

Nuke Roadie: The first blog, Nuke Roadie, was started this month by Nuke Roadie.  Nuke Roadie is known to many of us in the nuclear blogosphere for his blog comments, Facebook page, and twitter feed @nukeroadie.  Nuke Roadie is a contract worker in the nuclear industry. (Yeah, you might have guessed that.) I have appreciated his excellent comments on my blog and other blogs.  I have been following him on FB and Twitter for years. I am delighted to see his new blog!  I have added it to the Yes Vermont Yankee blog roll.

MZConsulting Blog: The second blog, Milton Caplan MZConsulting Blog, is not a new blog.  I had just never encountered it before.  Milton Caplan commented on my blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe.  This led me to check out his company's blog.  MZConsulting is a Canadian company, consulting in nuclear energy, and Mr. Caplan is chair of the World Nuclear Association Economics Working Group.  You can read a little more about Caplan here. As you could expect, these blog posts are thoughtful and authoritative. I have added this blog to my blog roll.

The Search for Nuclear Happiness at ANS Nuclear Cafe

On Tuesday, I posted at ANS Nuclear Cafe on my methods for seeking happiness while supporting nuclear energy.  The Search for Nuclear Happiness includes my favorite techniques to support both nuclear energy and my own personal satisfaction.  One technique involves brownies--- or actually, coffee-and-brownies.  Well, actually, it's not about the brownies, it's about getting together with other supporters! I believe supporters of nuclear energy have a Brownie Deficit, because we don't hang out enough together.  Nuclear opponents are constantly getting their groups together for this and for that.  Such meetings energize them.

Meetings with our pro-nuclear friends can energize us.

Eat brownies, enjoy your friends, and read pro-nuclear blogs!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The NRC Wants YOU! (to share your opinion of their social media outreach)

The NRC wants your opinion of their social media outreach efforts.

A consultant for the NRC contacted me a few weeks ago and asked me for my opinion of the NRC's social media outreach efforts, such as the NRC blog, YouTube channel and twitter feed.  I obliged by giving them a phone interview.  I don't know how they picked people to interview, but I think that my blog was part of the selection process.

Two days ago, they asked me if I could publicize their wider efforts to gather opinions of NRC's social media outreach.  Specifically, they asked me to publicize a link to an opinion-survey form.  Here's the link to their form:  Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Use of Social Media.

Share your opinion. Your name will not be submitted to the NRC, but your opinion will form some part of a final report to the NRC.

This is a chance to communicate with the NRC about their outreach attempts, so I encourage people to submit the form.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Book I Loved: THORIUM: Energy Cheaper Than Coal by Bob Hargraves


First of all, let me acknowledge that I know Dr. Robert Hargraves and have worked with him on various energy projects, such as co-teaching the Energy Safari course last fall, and founding the Coalition for Energy Solutions.  In the acknowledgements at the end of THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, Hargraves thanks me and my husband, George Angwin (among others) for editorial reviews of an earlier draft of the book.

I wanted to say this upfront, because I think this is a terrific book, and I would think the same if I didn't know Bob Hargraves at all.  This is not just a book about thorium reactors. It's a book about energy policy and energy choices.  Even if you don't care a bit about thorium, you will benefit by reading this book.

You can buy the book at Amazon: THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.

Hargraves also has a useful website about this book: THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.  In this website, he includes the chapter headings, giving you an idea of the sweep of this book.  A partial list of chapters:
  • why we need energy (energy and prosperity)
  • analysis of energy sources 
  • the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor LFTR
  • safety 
  • sustainability 
  • energy policy
Cheaper than Coal and why it matters

The idea behind this book is not fear.  It is not about doom from existing nuclear plants, or even from global warming. The title tells much of the thesis: nuclear energy can be cheaper than coal.  Why is this important?

Prosperity and birth rate,  from Hargraves
Coal was the fuel that brought the industrial revolution and made Western nations prosperous. Now that Western nations are prosperous, we are beginning to turn away from coal, at least to some extent.  However, many developing nations are following the Western path to prosperity: "We'll start with coal."  If the wealthy countries wag their fingers at the developing world about coal, they quite rightly get fingers wagged back at them: "When our people are even half as prosperous as your people, we will enjoy a conversation with you about optimum energy sources.  Until then, you rich guys, don't be such a bunch of hypocrites."

Throughout the book, Hargraves emphasizes that nuclear power (specifically LFTRs) can undercut the price of coal, or the price of cheap natural gas. Hargraves stresses that carbon taxes are not going to be a global solution to the problems of fossil fuel use. LFTRs can be inexpensive and they produce almost no greenhouse gases or air pollution. They can be a large part of the solution.  People all over the world will attempt to lift themselves out of poverty.  Hopefully, people will use nuclear energy instead of coal, and thereby make a better world for all of us.

Technologies Reviewed

Fossil or nuclear?  Are those really the choices?

For those who may say: "We don't need fossil or nuclear, we can do everything with renewables" Hargraves has a well-researched answer.  The book includes almost 100 pages of "doing the numbers" on renewables, and showing they are not a solution for a modern society's energy needs.

One feature of the Hargraves book is that he estimates costs for the different renewable technologies, and explains his estimates.  David MacKay's excellent book, Sustainable Energy--without the hot air, also analyzes renewable technologies. However, MacKay's book mainly asks whether the renewable technologies will provide enough energy for society (without using all the land for energy production). Hargraves estimates the costs, because, after all, the book is titled: THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.  Hargraves knows that people will choose inexpensive energy to lift themselves from poverty to prosperity.  Cost matters.

Though Richard Martin's book Superfuel was all about LFTRs, the technology of LFTRs was not particularly well-expounded in that book. In THORIUM, there are over 100 pages about LFTRs. The information includes charts and illustrations, description of the different varieties of LFTR, information about the technical challenges that LFTRs have overcome, and about many of the technical challenges remaining.  I don't know anywhere else you could obtain this information so clearly and concisely. The information is out there, no doubt, in thorium forums and papers (and Hargraves references these).  But if you want a quick-course on LFTRs, not a personal-research-project on LFTRs, this is the book for you.

Hargraves also reviews other types of advanced reactors: Integral Fast Reactors, pebble beds, etc.  All sections of the book contain very helpful illustrations (and lots of them) and references. The list of references and bibliography is truly impressive.

Technology Overstated?

I can hear it.  Somebody is going to say that I have been taken in by a paper reactor.  Do I know that the LFTR will work? Do I know that the LFTR development task section of Hargraves' book (pages 227-247) lists all the necessary tasks? Do I know that all the development tasks, listed or not, will be completed?  Of course not. I don't know these things, and neither does Hargraves, and neither does anybody else. I also know that materials development work is often much harder than it looks at the beginning.  LFTR development is not certain.

Molten Salt FLIBe
However, several advanced reactor concepts are in development at this time. New types of reactors will be developed in the near future.  In my opinion, the Hargraves book makes an excellent case for expanded work on the LFTR.

My One Gripe

Early in this post, I said:

This is not just a book about thorium reactors. It's a book about energy policy and energy choices.  Even if you don't care a bit about thorium, you will benefit by reading this book.

As a matter of fact, that statement also expresses my one major problem with the book.  The sections on energy policy, renewables and costs are top-notch (as are the sections on advanced reactors).  The energy policy sections should interest every citizen and every policy maker.  But will  the average citizen or policy maker pick up a book about advanced reactors?

I think that this book consists of two fine books packed in one cover:
  • a book on energy choices and energy policy 
  • a book on advanced reactors, especially the LFTR  
Of course these two topics are related, but putting them in one book makes a rather thick book (470 pages). Though it is well-written and well-illustrated, I think its size alone is a bit intimidating.

I urge you to buy it.  You can read the whole thing and enjoy it. Or you can just read the sections of interest to you and use the rest as reference.

In either case, this book is a major achievement, and should be on the bookshelf of people interested in energy in general, renewable energy, nuclear energy, and advanced reactors.  In other words, it will be helpful to pretty much everybody.

Reminder: You can buy the book at Amazon: THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.

Note: The book cover is by Suzy Hobbs Baker of Popatomic Studios.  I am on the board of directors of Baker's not-for-profit, and I love her work.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

119th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

The 119th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers is here today at Yes Vermont Yankee!  I am so pleased with the great blog posts in this Carnival.

I just recently added a set of Share This buttons at the right of the blog.  Please use them to spread the word of the Carnival. Facebook, email and Twitter are right up-top. The Plus button gives you many more choices, such as Stumble-Upon, Reddit and Pinterest. It's easy to spread the word. Just click the button!

Now, on to the Carnival.  To me, a major theme of this Carnival is the difficulty of communicating about nuclear energy.

Fukushima Communication
Let's start with an important Fukushima report and video at ANS Nuclear Cafe

Video interview with ANS Special Committee on Fukushima Co-Chair: Michael Corradini
Dr. Michael Corradini

The leadership of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) commissioned the American Nuclear Society Special Committee on Fukushima to provide a clear and concise explanation of what happened during the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and offer recommendations based on lessons learned from their study of the event.

Dr. Michael Corradini is president of the ANS, and he is also co-chair of the ANS Special Committee on Fukushima. In this video,  Dr. Corradini provides an update on the Special Committee’s work, including the release of the committee’s final report. He also announces as an embedded topical meeting on Fukushima that will take place at the upcoming 2012 ANS Winter Meeting in San Diego, Nov 11-15.

Health Communication
At Atomic Insights, Rod Adams asks why radiation health professionals are so reluctant to talk about radiation hormesis.

Rod shares some comments from an experienced group of professionals about the reluctance of radiation protection professionals to discuss hormesis. Ted Rockwell, who was troubleshooter at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project and later served as Admiral Rickover’s technical director when Naval Reactors developed the first nuclear powered submarine (USS Nautilus) and the first commercial light water reactor (Shippingport) provided the first comment.

Aside: Ted's background information is provided to show that he is not only deeply experienced in nuclear energy and its associated radiation, but he is also a rather mature 90 years old and still going strong.

Energy Communication
At Neutron Economy, Steve Skutnik discusses the role of cultural signaling in the energy discussion.

At the Neutron Economy, Steve Skutnik asks the question of how much cultural signaling factors play a role in energy politics. Specifically, how much of support for energy sources like coal (and likewise, renewables) come more from that they say about the values and identities over more rational study of environmental and economic trade-offs?

(Skutnik starts his discussion with a look at why the Friends of Coal plate is the most popular custom license plate in Kentucky.)

Economics Communication
Quite a few  interesting posts  in this category.  

Nuclear Costs
Let's start with Brian Wang at Next Big Future, examining anti-nuclear bias in a Guardian assessment of nuclear power costs

Brazilian Oil Platform Wikipedia
Expensive equipment
A Guardian UK analysis of nuclear power has the usual bias. Oliver Tickell's analysis has - At a construction cost of about US$10 billion per reactor, we would need to dedicate US$110 trillion, or about two years' gross world product, while also providing for long-term liabilities to replace the new fossil fuel generation for expected energy demand growth. However, about 90% of the reactors will be built in or by China, South Korea, Russia and India. The costs will be two to four times less.  In total the costs for nuclear energy to replace all additional fossil fuel for the next 35 years would be more in range of $30 trillion. The analysis is not complete because the comparison of costs needs to look at the costs for the alternatives of wind, solar and other power generation. Wind has the problem that if wind was the sole basis for new power generation it would a warming effect as well.

In a related link Wang points out the oil and gas capital expenditures are currently at more that $1 trillion ( US $) per year.

Fuel Choices
Customs officers 
 Inport controls in action
At Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman and Andrea Jennetta report on fuel choices and small modular reactors.

Yurman and Jennetta assess fuel choices for SMRs in terms of assess time to market and export control issues. Thorium reactors face a challenge of proving their competitive advantage in terms of total cost of doing business.

Advertising Campaigns
In Yes Vermont Yankee, I describe a possible advertising communications campaign for Indian Point.

The Subways of New York and Indian Point

Indian Point could advertise on the New York subways, since they provide part of the power for the subways. I thought of some neat ads for them. This post had many hits, and attracted some of the "usual suspects" from the New York area in the comment stream.  Should I be glad I have a new set of readers? (just a joke)

Education and Communication
The Center for Nuclear Science and Technology
The Center for Nuclear Science and Technology: Who should the audience be?
American Nuclear Society's CNST

At 4Factor Consulting Blog, Margaret Harding talks about the Center for Nuclear Science and Technology that ANS is creating to help with education. Two speeches given at the ANS-UWC put the idea in her head that the CNST should be doing more to education journalists and local governments. In the end, what are YOU doing to educate your community?

ANS Young Members
New chair for the Young Members Group at ANS

Gale Hauck

At ANS Nuclear Cafe, American Nuclear Society Young Members Group (YMG) Secretary Elia 
Merzari caught up with new YMG Chair Gale Hauck and asked her to 

introduce herself and upcoming plans for the ANS YMG.

Politics and Communication
Gail Marcus discusses Harry Reid and Bill Magwood
Harry Reid insulted NRC Commissioner Bill Magwood.  Allison Macfarlane would be re-appointed Commission Chair by Obama if he is re-elected.  How is this all going to play out?

More on Reid and Magwood

At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus has a follow-up to her previous discussion on Harry Reid's comments on NRC Commissioner Bill Magwood a few weeks ago.  She reflects on a comment the earlier blog received, which speculated that, if President Obama is reelected, he will want to reappoint Chairman Allison Macfarlane, but it will prove impossible because there will be no Republican with which to pair her nomination.  Gail follows that train of thought and considers the various possibilities.

Nuclear History: SYLCOR Continued

Moving away from communications issues, we look at nuclear history with Will Davis of Atomic Power review.

SYLCOR Western Office:  Part 3

In the latest SYLCOR historical retrospective installment, we learn about SYLCOR's specialty in fuel elements in text and photos, and see a particularly unusual type of fuel element made by this company for a special situation.  Many interesting illustrations are included.

Technology of Uranium Extraction
For our final Carnival entry, we get away from communications into straight technology.  Brian Wang reports that the technology for extracting uranium from seawater has improved.  Costs for seawater extraction are getting closer to land-based costs.

Uranium from seawater idea boosted with shrimp shells

At Next Big Future, Brian Wang reports  that uranium from seawater technology has been improved. 'Although these trials proved the principle of uranium extraction from  seawater, the cost was prohibitively high - perhaps around $260 per  pound. This compares badly to today's most economic mines on land, which produce uranium at around $20 per pound, while resources at higher  costs up to about $115 per pound have already been identified that would last more than a century.' And: The ACS summarised the session saying that the new techniques might reduce the cost of uranium from seawater to around $135 per pound.

Enjoy the Carnival!

Read it! Follow the links!  Tweet it! Facebook it!  (Buttons at top right for your linking pleasure.)

Have fun and spread the fun!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Upcoming Events: VSNAP and ANS

The First Meeting: VSNAP Meeting on September 10 in Vernon

VSNAP is the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the July 9 meeting of VSNAP: my post at ANS Nuclear Cafe describes the meeting. Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel: Safety Again!  The discussion was about safety, safety and safety.  The panel spoke as if the lawsuit hadn't happened.

The July meeting was in Montpelier, and poorly attended.  The next meeting will be at Vernon Elementary School at 6 p.m. on September 10.  I expect it to be well attended, because Vernon is near Massachusetts and many people come up from Massachusetts to protest the plant.  Many protesters live in Brattleboro, near Vernon, but even more seem to come from Massachusetts.

Liz Miller
DPS Commissioner
I suggest you come to this VSNAP meeting if you can, but remember that the opponents shout, carry signs, wear funny clothes and masks, and basically enjoy a good round of street theater.  As I wrote about the NRC meeting in Brattleboro, these meetings can be intimidating.  NRC Public Meeting In Brattleboro: The Politics of Intimidation. However, as Howard Shaffer has often said: "Nobody has ever actually hit me."

Also, the VSNAP panel is opposed to Vermont Yankee, and the crowd is opposed to Vermont Yankee.  Therefore, this meeting should be comparatively subdued.  It will be subdued compared to the behavior at an NRC meeting--that's what I mean by "comparatively subdued."

So I do encourage you to attend.

The Panel and The Plant

In June, Liz Miller lost a lawsuit against the NRC.  Miller is the chairperson of the VSNAP panel,  and she is Commissioner of the Department of Public Service (DPS). DPS had joined a local intervenor to sue  the NRC. In their lawsuit, DPS and the intervenor hoped to force the NRC to rescind Vermont Yankee's license. Their suit was based on a water quality permit issue. DPS and the intervenor lost in court.

More recently, Miller  asked the NRC to increase their scrutiny of Vermont Yankee until the NRC's work meets DPS standards for nuclear oversight.  The NRC has been reported as "cool" to her request.

Go to the meeting anyway

For nuclear supporters, this meeting will be fun if you're a masochist.

It turns out that I am invited to a reception that evening, and I won't be at the VSNAP meeting.  I will be devastated to miss it (not really!). Howard Shaffer plans to attend the VSNAP meting.

Why go?  Sheer masochism?  No.  There are reasons to go.

With any luck you might be able to convince the newspapers covering the meeting that the plant has supporters as well as Another reason  to attend is that some people from the plant are required to come to these meetings, and they like to see a friendly face in the crowd. You can be that friendly face. Also, Liz Miller is a dedicated plant opponent, but she is also a very nice person who tries to be fair to everyone who speaks.  Her behavior is another pleasant part of the meeting.

The Second Meeting: ANS Meeting in Connecticut on September 13

On the other hand, if you aren't a masochist you will enjoy attending the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Connecticut Region meeting on the evening of September 13.  As a matter of fact, I can guarantee you will enjoy the meeting, because Howard Shaffer and I will be speaking on "how to be a pro-nuclear activist."

This dinner meeting is a regularly scheduled meeting of the ANS, a professional society.  Such meetings are generally not announced to the public: they are only for society members. Guests are welcome, however, by pre-arrangement.  If you are interested in attending, please email me at mjangwin at gmail and I will put you in touch with the meeting organizers.

I hope you can come.  It will be a chance for Howard and me to come south from Vermont and see some of our supporters from Connecticut and other "points South."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thorium Update: The SuperFuel Reviews

SuperFuel, the book, and THORIUM, the book

In June, I reviewed Richard Martin's book SuperFuel in this blog.  It wasn't exactly a positive review, as you can tell by the title of my post; SuperFuel, a Book I Wanted to Love.

On Monday, I received my copy of Dr. Robert Hargraves book THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.  I plan to review it within a few days.

However, before I did that, I thought I would pull together other reviews of the SuperFuel book in one place, if only for reference when I review Hargraves book.

Here's my annotated list of reviews of the book, SuperFuel.

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee
Superfuel, a Book I Wanted to Love
Review summary: This book is full of factual errors. It also spends much time bashing the existing nuclear energy industry. People in favor of light water reactors are "the nuclearati." Rickover is compared to Stalin.  I didn't like the book.

Rick Maltese at ThoriumMSR
Superfuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source, by Richard Martin reviewed
Review summary: A positive review of the book. The review concentrates on  the promise of thorium and how that promise was de-railed.

Rod Adams at Atomic Insights
Rod Adams has four separate posts concerned with this book.  Two are podcast interviews.

Review summary: Fighting amongst nuclear fuels? Why do this, when the world is still dominated by fossil fuels?

Identifying Antinuclear Slants in Richard Martin's Superfuel
Review summary: This book considers thorium the only safe reactor, and talks about the "nuclearati" as "tone-deaf" for pointing out that their technology is safe. Richard Martin may be a fossil fuel wolf in sheep's clothing.
Podcast: Kirk Sorensen Co-Founder FLIBE energy
Podcast summary: Mostly positive discussion of alternative ways of using fission energy and being a nuclear entrepreneur.
Podcast: Richard Martin and Kirk Sorensen: Is Thorium Superior to Uranium?
Podcast summary:   Somewhere about fifteen minutes into the podcast, I stopped listening. Martin was saying that facts don't convince people, so the good safety record of current reactors doesn't matter very much (I am paraphrasing).

I am not good at listening to podcasts: I am very visual-oriented.  When I begin to get irritated, I'm outta there.

As usual, the comments on all Adams' posts are a treat to read, especially the comments on his blog posts (as opposed to his podcasts). His thorium posts have forty and more comments apiece!

Will Davis at Atomic Power Review
Review: "Super-Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Resource for the Future."
Review summary: This is a thoughtful book about alternate technologies and deserves a place on the bookshelf. Davis expected more of a rah-rah, airhead book and was pleasantly surprised with this book.

Bob Apthorpe at Overscope
Review: SuperFuel by Richard Martin
Review Summary: A balanced review, pointing out errors and also pointing out where the description of reactor types is excellent.  Overall, however, Apthorpe can only recommend a few chapters of this book as error-and-bias-free enough to be worth the reader's time. He recommends other books instead.
Note: For those of you on Twitter, you know Apthorpe as Arclight.

Guest Post by David Archibald at Watts Up With That
Book Review of SuperFuel
The reviewer points out that the book is full of "howler" errors, but is also useful and interesting.  He is particularly pleased with  the discussion of reactor development history, particularly about Rickover and Weinberg.  The reviewer also says that Martin is a "warmer" ( a person who believes that climate change is taking place) and that hurts the book.


I have been meaning to put this post up for weeks.  Really.  Having received the Hargraves book, I wanted to get this post out of the way.  I have now cleared the decks for the Hargraves review.

I have given my opinion of the gist of each of these reviews.  I hope this was helpful.  I welcome comments (and corrections) from the reviewers themselves or others.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coming Attractions Plus the 118th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers: The Butterfly Edition

Coming Attractions

Thorium: I just received the final version of Dr. Robert Hargraves book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal.  I reviewed a draft version earlier, and I will be reviewing the book on my blog soon!  In the meantime, you can buy the book on Amazon.  I can tell you ahead of my official review: this is a terrific book.

Carnival: At the end of this week, Yes Vermont Yankee will be hosting the next Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers.

The 118th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

The 118th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers is up at ANS Nuclear Cafe.   Some Japanese scientists found butterflies that may have been affected by Fukushima radiation.  Since the article about was from a peer-reviewed journal, it had to be taken seriously, and a group of nuclear bloggers took it seriously.  Susan Voss of Nuclear Diner started the review process, and Rod Adams and NEI continued it.  (By the way, the journal wasn't peer-reviewed in the sense we are used to hearing: each article was sent to only one reviewer. )  If you want to see  what I consider a really careful review, read the posts, and read the very thoughtful comment streams on the blog posts!

Of course, there's more in the nuclear world than butterfly reports. For example, the ANS sponsors a Utility Working Group Conference: Rod Adams and Margaret Harding report on it. Brian Wang at Next Big Future reports on new developments and on the extravagant materials costs of offshore wind turbines.  Rick Maltese at Thorium MSR suggests that Canada look at thorium reactors. Les Corrice at Hiroshima Syndrome continues his investigation into decision-making in the first five days of the Fukushima nuclear accident.  Will Davis has a retrospective look at Sylvania-Corning nuclear reactors at his blog, Atomic Power Review.  Meanwhile, ANS Nuclear Cafe, Davis writes a blog post that knocks the ball out of the park, describing and assessing the possible pressure vessel issues in Belgium.  Also at ANS Nuclear Cafe, Dan Yurman carves the, Dan reports on the competition to carve up the market for reactors in Turkey.  Turkey will buy new reactors, but from whom?  At Yes Vermont Yankee, I write about black out (grid), black out (station) and black start (grid).  It's a pretty upbeat post, actually.  Not noir.

Visit the Carnival!  Have fun!  Remember, you can always find the latest Carnival through the masked lady at the right of this blog post.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Subways of New York and Indian Point

 Grandma on the Subway

I just came back from a trip to New York City, where I hung out with my grandson.  One thing my grandson and I did together was take the subway to his day camp in the morning. I chose to visit at the last minute, so he was enrolled in camp for part of the day. If the parents had known I was coming, I could have spent more time with him.  He wouldn't have been in camp. Ah well.

So, there I was on the subway, thinking a bit, especially on the way home, after dropping him off at day camp. One of the things I thought about was the Indian Point nuclear plant.  It makes over 2000 MW of power and that power is widely described as the power that runs the New York subways.

When I think about the New York. subways, I am always amazed at how inexpensive and effective they are.  All these trains, all those people, so fast!  All electric. Most or all of the power coming from Indian Point.

Nobody on the subway probably knows that the power for the subways comes from Indian Point.  They may read an article in the Times or the Post or see something on TV about Indian Point, but they don't know much about it.  I bet that most subway riders don't think that Indian Point's inexpensive, reliable, non-polluting power makes any difference to their own lives.

I wish I could change that.

Advertising on the Subways of New York

There's a place above the windows of a subway cars where there's usually some advertising (the same is true on most buses).  In most New York subway cars, the entire car was advertisements from one company.  For example, a life insurance company might have all the ads.  So the first ad would be "insurance you can afford" next to another ad that said "don't get high blood pressure worrying about health insurance" next to an ad that urged you to "see the best doctors in New York on our plan."  (I am paraphrasing, of course.) The statements were short and positive, and the cumulative effect was greater than any of the individual statements.

I was especially amused by one subway car that contained  advertisements for New York Yankees Fragrances. Some ads encouraged you to show that you are a Yankees fan by buying these products.  Other ads noted that there were Yankees perfumes for men and women.  Another ad included a picture of a ballplayer in the dugout.  Again, each message was short, but the cumulative effect was great.

I decided that Indian Point should advertise on the subway.  Each ad could be short and sweet.
  • Indian Point Energy runs this subway!  
  • Indian Point: adding more than  half a billion a year to the New York economy! 
  • Indian Point: reliable and inexpensive.  
  • Indian Point:  less radiation to the public than they would get walking through Grand Central Station.
  • Indian Point: safe for the community.
  • Indian Point: Green Energy avoiding so many tons of greenhouse gases a year.  
I think it would be a great campaign. Of course, I thought of it so I think it's great....

Take the Bus?

While I was thinking, I thought about buses. What if there weren't any subways in New York or if the subway electricity costs were dependent on "cheap natural gas"and natural gas does one of its periodic price doublings?

As I was heading out with the grandson one morning, my son-in-law said: "You can take the bus if you want. If you don't like the subway." Luckily, I like the subway.

Imagine the greenhouse gases if everyone in New York was taking the bus. It's an appalling thought. Those subway trains are sometimes twenty cars long (or longer) and often packed with people.  Putting all those people on surface transportation would be horrific. The city would practically close down.

The streets and sidewalks of New York would be impassable and impossible without the subway.  All hail to the subways and to Indian Point for providing the power!

Now, we have to figure out a way to tell the subway riders about the role of nuclear energy in their lives.


Reference needed: I tried to find a truly authoritative reference on the amount of power used by the subways, and the agreements they might have with Indian Point.  I couldn't find it easily and I hope my readers will help me if they know of this.

Harlem School of the Arts: Our grandson was going to day camp at the Harlem School of the Arts. The grandkids go for a week or two at a time: our granddaughter went earlier this summer.  It's a great place and the kids really enjoy the camp. Harlem School of the Arts is mainly a theater and arts school for older children, but it has many outreach programs in the summer.

Children and subways.  First, when traveling with a four-year-old, always take the local train because the four-year-old is eager to read the numbers that describe the stations. 135th Street was my grandson's favorite, because it is a big number and his stop was next, at 145th.  Second, I was amazed how many children I saw on the subway. They were traveling with their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, or they were in groups of children. I saw a far higher percentage of children on the subways of New York City than I do at the average grocery store or park in Vermont. Of course, the state of Vermont has the second-highest median age in the nation.  (Florida is fifth-highest, in case you were wondering.)  Not so many children up here in Vermont.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Catching Up: $21 Million, Author Tour and Waste Confidence Rule

In honor of summer
and catching-up

You Loan Twenty-one Million and What Do You Get?

Well, if you are a Vermont ratepayer who loaned money to Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), you do not get the money back.

Ratepayers were supposed to get the money back if anyone bought CVPS.  Green Mountain Power bought them, but there was a decision that that money-back idea was just silly, when the money could go to a fund. People can borrow from the fund for efficiency improvements. That would the same thing as getting the money back, if not better! (heavy sarcasm alert)

Gaz Metro is now owner of Green Mountain Power and CVPS. Gaz Metro doesn't have to return the money to the Vermont ratepayers.

 I have many posts on this, including Money Settles into Gaz Metro Pockets Dust Settles Under the Dome.  In mid-June, the Public Service Board approved the merger, without any direct refunds to ratepayers.

In completely un-related news, the former Vermont House majority leader has taken a new job with Green Mountain Power. In general, the House Democrats have supported Governor Shumlin on everything connected with this merger. As Randy Koch commented on the Vermont Digger article about Lucy Leriche's new job: It’s really nice to know that what sorta looks like disgusting corruption à la New Jersey is actually just neighbors working for neighbors, working for Vermont, all on the up and up.  (Second sarcasm alert in one post.  This might be a record for me.)

Author Tour with Nuclear Supporters in Attendance

A few days ago, we posted about an anti-nuclear author that was touring the area for the Hiroshima anniversary.  The author's name is Cecile Pineda, her book is The Devil's Tango, How I Learned the Fukushima Step By Step, and the tour was sponsored by the local anti-nuclear umbrella organization, the Sage Alliance.

Mainly due to Howard Shaffer publicizing this tour, there were pro-nuclear people at three of the author's events. In Brattleboro, Vermont, Richard Schmidt handed out his Vermont Yankee fact sheet.  On Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Dr Sam Martin, an ANS Northeast Region member, asked some questions about the rebuilding of Hiroshima (the author did not answer).  Here at the Howe library in Hanover, New Hampshire, near his home, Howard Shaffer attended.  Shaffer's post about this tour is up today at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Vermont Yankee Supporters at Anti-Nuke Book Tour.  

Showing up is the first thing that nuclear supporters need to do.  This post is about the author-- and about three people who showed up. Read it and be inspired!

The Waste Confidence Rule

The NRC is now required to write Environmental Impact Statements for spent fuel storage. This is leading to the possibility of licensing changes (no new licenses will be granted until the NRC has set up plans for such statements) and a great deal of speculation.  Of course, I must blog about how this affects Vermont Yankee.  (It basically doesn't affect Vermont Yankee, for now at least.)

For today, however, I will direct people to the Forbes article Nuclear Waste Confidence, NRC Ruling No Big Deal by James Conca, and (compare and contrast!) the Vermont Digger article Nuclear Regulator Commission Halts Nuclear Power Licensing Decisions.  The Digger article includes many interviews with nuclear opponents.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Black Start, BlackOut and Diesels: Some Clarity

Vermont Yankee and Vernon Dam

This picture of Vermont Yankee shows the plant and Vernon Dam.  Vernon Dam has always been one of Vermont Yankee's potential sources of back-up power, along with the plant's own diesels, batteries and so forth.

Recently, the grid operator decided that, starting next year, Vernon Dam will no longer be "maintained as a black start unit." Due to that change, Vermont Yankee will have to ask the Public Service Board for permission (Certificate of Public Good) to buy a new diesel generator and pour a concrete slab to hold it.

Reading this material, it's hard to understand what is going on.  Does the plant need a new diesel generator for safety in blackout conditions? Is "blackout" the same as "black start"?

Intevenors Ready for Action

Whatever it means, the usual-suspect intervenors are getting set to intervene.  According to this article by Bob Audette in the Brattleboro Reformer, Ray Shadis of NEC has already offered his opinion, which includes the idea that "the state even today regulates certain aspects of existing emergency generators -- such as exhaust emissions, petroleum leaks and noise," he said.  Other groups are also considering intervening in the diesel placement.

Three Shades of Black

Blackout and blackstart are different. Grid blackout refers to the grid going down, and black start is about bringing the grid up again.  Confusingly, "station blackout" (not the same as grid  blackout) means that the grid is down AND the station's emergency diesels don't operate.  In other words, there are three shades of black: grid blackout, station blackout, and black start.

To avoid station blackout, all nuclear plants have other backup sources of power, all of which have to approved by the NRC.  At the end of the year, apparently, Vernon Dam will no longer be a black start plant, so the NRC will no longer approve it as a backup power source against Vermont Yankee station blackout.


All three "black" conditions start the same way: the grid goes down.  Power isn't flowing. The nuclear plant has a loss of offsite power. At that point, however the three terms diverge: blackout, station blackout, and black start  are different.

Nuclear plants have lost offsite power many times.  This is grid blackout. When this happens, the reactors scram automatically, because where are they going to send their energy?  No grid, no place to receive the  power.  At that point, the emergency diesels begin operating and cool the reactor.  This has happened many times all over the country.  That is grid blackout, and the plant takes care of itself.

It is important to note that the emergency diesels are not running the plant, and they are not sized to run the plant.  Operating the plant at full capacity takes a lot of power for pumps and so forth, and the plant uses grid or its own power for that work.  The emergency diesels are sized to keep the plant's core cool while the plant is off-line and generating only residual heat.  Vermont Yankee has two qualified emergency diesels, and it  also has a hard-wired connection to Vernon Dam, which has acted as a back-up source of emergency power.

If, for some reason, the plant diesels didn't start, the current next step would be Vernon Dam providing power.  Vernon Dam would prevent "station blackout."

However, the grid operator decided that Vernon Dam will lose its qualification as a Black Start station in the future. Vernon Dam will not be one of the "Black Start" stations that re-energizes the grid. Based on this grid operator decision on the future of Vernon Dam, the NRC decided Vernon Dam could not be a "station blackout" resource for Vermont Yankee in the future. (Note, Vernon Dam is still a qualified Black Start station right now..this is all about planning for the future.)

Black Start

Black Start refers to the grid.  When the grid is down, plants have to be brought on line to restart it.  There's an entire sequence of events to energize a grid, and I am beyond my depth to describe it all.  However, I do know that hydro plants have generally been  the "black start" plants.  It takes very little power to start a hydro plant (opening gates rather than starting big pumps) and then the hydro plant supplies power to the grid.  Next, other plants use the hydro power to start their pumps.  Eventually, the whole grid is re-energized.  The workers at Comerford Hydro plant first explained this to me when we visited the hydro plants on Energy Safari last year.  Wikipedia also has a good article on black start.

One of the reasons I like the picture of Vermont Yankee and Vernon Dam at the top of this post is to show the differences in power output. Vernon Dam, like all renewable sources, tends to be land-hungry.  The dam floods a large territory, and makes only 34 MW  of power.  Vermont Yankee makes 620 MW.

Small is Not Beautiful

The small size of Vernon Dam has become a problem to the ISO grid operator, Recently ISO-NE managers have decided that big plants, not small hydro plants, will become the black start plants.   As the Brattleboro Reformer article statesThe current (ISO-NE) plan calls for smaller generators, such as the Vernon Hydro Dam, to go online first. The new plan calls for the biggest generators to startup first.

"Vermont Yankee currently credits the Vernon Hydro Dam as its NRC-required Station Blackout AC power source because the dam is a Blackstart facility," said Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "After the end of the year, the Vernon Hydro Dam will no longer be maintained as a Blackstart facility."

Apparently, when the grid operator decided that Vernon Dam will lose its Black Start qualification, the NRC decided that Vernon Dam was not going to be maintained well enough to be a source of backup power for Vermont Yankee  With the loss of Vernon Dam as a qualifying back-up, the plant will have to buy another diesel generator.  Vermont Yankee will keep its connection to Vernon Dam.  However, that connection will not "count" in the NRC assessment of plant safety.

Why The Change

Combined Cycle Gas Turbine
Schematic from InfoPix
According to the Wikipedia article and the Brattleboro Reformer article, ISO-NE has been revising its black start procedures and incentives.   I didn't quite understand why ISO has made this change: hydro plants are traditional black start plants, and Vernon Dam hydro was recently refurbished and upgraded.  I called ISO-NE and Lacey Ryan was kind enough to answer my questions and send me a link  to ISO-NE's position paper on the "Black Start" change.

Basically, with small hydro plants as "Black Start", ISO predicts it will take many hours for the grid to be re-energized.  However, with more large natural gas plants on the grid, using these plants as Black Start plants will bring the grid up sooner.  Natural gas plants can come up to power very quickly, with limited auxiliary equipment.  This is why they are back-ups for wind turbines, and why ISO is designating them as Black Start plants on the New England grid. Much of the information about this choice is on pages 6 to 9 of the ISO document. Starting the grid will be "top down" in the future, with big plants coming on-line first, rather than bottom-up, with small plants first.

Note that plants that raise steam (like nuclear plants) cannot be "black start" plants. It takes time to raise steam.  Combined cycle gas turbines must run open cycle when they operate in black start mode: they can't raise steam either. (Information from ISO document.)

What Does It Mean?

Plant opponents will somehow claim that this shows Vermont Yankee wasn't safe and shouldn't be operated until it gets a new diesel.  That is not the case.  The Vernon Dam plant will be re-classified by ISO-NE, but nothing else has changed. Due to the re-classification, the NRC will also reclassify it and require a new diesel for Vermont Yankee in the future. The NRC's rule is a typical forward-looking safety requirement for the nuclear industry. Things change, and the NRC stays on top of the changes.

However, any time new equipment is required or a new hearing must be held, plant opponents become energized and active.  That's pretty much the only thing wrong with this story.


A huge thank you to Howard Shaffer for reading and correcting an earlier version of this draft, and to Lacey Ryan of ISO-NE for her help.  Grid operation is not my strongest knowledge base, and I welcome further comments and corrections from my readers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

117th Carnival of Nuclear Bloggers at Next Big Future

The 117th Carnival of Nuclear Energy is up at Next Big Future!  It has been quite a week in nuclear, and there's an amazing collection of blog posts in this Carnival. There's Mars, for example.  The Curiosity Rover is nuclear-powered (what else could it be) and some posts describe nuclear batteries or the Rover itself.  Brian Wang, the blogger at Next Big Future, has several posts about new types of power sources, and a very important post about health effects of Fukushima (lesson learned: don't evacuate old people).  Several posts cover the Waste Confidence Rule. There are also a couple on the positive effects of nuclear energy.  Two positive effects include the resurgence of crocodiles in Florida, and successful emergency planning for the Iowa floods, inspired by existing planning for Duane Arnold (the plant was fine throughout the flooding, but the planning for plant emergencies helped first responders in the flood).  Michael Angwin of Australia took part in a successful debate, and that debate inspires some posts at the Carnival too.

Visit the Carnival! There's nothing quite like it in the nuclear industry!  Have fun!

Remember: you can always link to the latest Carnival through the lady-in-the-mask in the right hand column of this blog.