Friday, June 28, 2013

Pandora's Promise: The Stars Talk to Google

My latest blog post was a guest post by Guy Page: Nuclear is Green Energy.  His article is also being published in Vermont newspapers and web sites.  In particular, Page's op-ed has appeared on Vermont Digger . On that site, it has provoked a very lively comment stream (over 30 comments at this writing).  I think readers of this blog will enjoy Willem Post's careful calculations: it is impossible to meet Vermont's energy needs with renewables.

In one comment, one nuclear opponent made a rather disgusting statement, in my opinion.  Here's the quote:

The core problem that no one seems to ever want to talk about is that there are over 7 billion (soon to be 9 billion) people on the plant all demanding more and more energy. It’s not that we have too little resources and need to produce more nuclear (or any other kind of) power. It’s that there are too many of us.

In a later comment, Guy Page asks the author of that quote to explain himself.  The author doesn't answer.

Is this man recommending genocide, or perhaps widespread famine? But maybe he doesn't want to make his recommendation too specific?  No, of course, that couldn't be what he is saying. (sarcasm alert)

The answer in Pandora's Promise

The first few minutes of this interview about Pandora's Promise refutes that man.  The promise of nuclear is the promise of an energy-rich world for all people.

Pandora's Promise is a documentary about nuclear energy.  The clip below features the stars of that documentary in an interview with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. They are straightforward, not snarky.  They say what they mean.

(This clip is also the Friday Matinee at ANS Nuclear Cafe today.)

See Pandora's Promise if you can possible arrange to do so.  Here's a list of theaters and cities. Also, if it amuses you, you might go on the Vermont Digger posting and add your own comment

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nuclear is Green Energy: Guest Post by Guy Page

Last Friday morning, on my way to work in Montpelier, as I zipped on my bike down Berlin Street past a house with a prominent solar array, I began thinking about some comments the homeowner made to the media about the future of renewables. In particular, he cited some new solar and wind power construction statistics and concluded, “so much for the belief that green energy cannot replace nuclear.”

In one important sense — low-carbon content — nuclear power is already “green.” The “lifecycle” (including mining, processing, everything) of its carbon footprint is virtually identical to that of wind, solar and hydro power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It makes little sense to replace a large, existing, reliable source of very low-carbon power, in the name of climate change activism.

Furthermore, wind and solar energy cannot “replace” nuclear, any more than heating oil can “replace” gasoline. Fill a gas tank with heating oil, and the car stops. Replace a 24/7 baseload generator like Vermont Yankee with intermittent, weather-dependent wind and solar, and the carefully balanced transmission grid will crash in a flurry of brownouts, electrical fires, and blackouts. The modern transmission grid can accept about 20% intermittent power. More than that, and service and equipment will degrade.

Renewables proponent David Blittersdorf estimates that by 2050, Vermont will need 18,000 million megawatt-hours, or three times the electricity we use now (from his column in the April, 2013 Green Energy Times). Last year, all of the industrial solar generators in the Vermont SPEED program produced just slightly more than a millionth of that amount - 19,000 MWh. Or to bring the matter closer to home: according to the Vermont Dept. of Public Service,  moving just five percent closer to the state’s goal of 90% total renewable energy would require solar panels on every square inch of an area 1.3 times the size of the City of Barre.  

Guy Page with Great Grandfather
Urban Woodbury
Vermont Governor and
Civil War "empty sleeve"
As technology improves, Vermont and the rest of New England may very well have a sparkling (and not merely sparking) renewable power future. But at present, intermittent renewable power alone cannot be its backbone. Perhaps we can avoid the fate of Germany, which opted to close nuclear plants and then was forced by demand for baseload power to order the construction of many new coal-burning plants. At least until a clean, safe, economic, reliable, baseload alternative is up and running in Vermont, we should not throw out the Vermont Yankee baby with the bathwater.


This guest post is written by Guy Page, Communications director of VTEP. Page has been a frequent guest blogger on this blog, with most recent posts being As Germany Goes, So Goes Vermont? and Specific Power Sources in Vermont, VTEP Report.  Today's guest post is also appearing as a letter to the editor in various newspapers and web sites in Vermont, for example, at Vermont Digger.

About the picture: My granddaughter is visiting me, and Guy Page was kind enough to give us a tour of the State House.  In the past, Page had told me that his great-grandfather was a Civil War veteran and Governor of Vermont. Portraits of all (or most) of the governors are in the State House, but I had never located the picture of his ancestor.

Yesterday, Page gave me and my granddaughter a State House tour.  He showed me the portrait of Urban Woodbury, and I took this picture of Page and Woodbury together, so to speak. (In the portrait, note the empty sleeve, which is slightly hidden by the artist.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Underpinnings of Energy Choices: Philosophy and Power

ANS Plenary Session, from ANS blog
Showing Up and Paying Attention

I returned recently  from the American Nuclear Society meeting in Atlanta. The plenary session featured chief executives from many facets of nuclear energy.  However, in my opinion, there was a pall over the meeting, due to the recent permanent closing of four American nuclear plants.

I have a blog post up today at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Philosophy, Shale Gas and the ANS Annual Meeting.

In this post, I discuss the statements of the industry executives in terms of the philosophy; Show Up, Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, and Don't be Attached to the Consequences.

 Fair Share

Clearing for a wind turbine
Earlier this month, my friend Howard Shaffer had a post at the ANS Nuclear Cafe: A Dangerous Precedent or a Slippery Slope.  This was also cross posted at The Energy Collective.

In this post, Howard looks at local control over energy projects, and discusses when this is a good thing, and when it is the slippery slope to unbridled nimby-ism.  The philosophical question: What is a community's "fair share" of a common burden? He includes extensive discussion of wind energy regulations in Vermont.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

National Climate Strategy: It's about the money. My prediction

Last night, two friends sent me the same link to President Obama's announcement: he announced that he will announce his climate strategy on Tuesday.

Here's the Washington Post link: Obama to announce Tuesday he will regulate existing power plants as part of climate strategy

Here's the video of the pre-announcement.

One of my friends is pro-nuclear and she wrote something like:
"OMG, this is great news for nuclear energy!"

The other friend is a libertarian, and she wrote something like:
"OMG, what new area for regulation is coming next?"

Of course, I answered with some predictions, which I will also share right here, on my blog.

My Predictions

 IMHO, the climate change initiative will be a fundamentally a tax-raising scheme.

The scheme may include something like Vermont has now:  Entergy must contribute to a Clean Energy Development Fund (though its own energy is clean, of course).  The government will steer that shiny clean money to the people and projects that they think should receive it. In Vermont, the money goes to renewable projects and efficiency.

But I suspect that most of the money collected at the federal level will go to directly to the government.  The national government is desperate for new sources of revenue.

What about emissions? At most, this  carbon tax could tilt the balance  from coal to natural gas.  However, unless the tax is so high that it would have a visible effect on electricity prices (and no politician wants that), the main driver will continue to be the relative prices of gas and coal.  In other words, this scheme won't affect carbon emissions very much, but it will raise revenue.

The utilities have their plants in place. Unlike other industries, utilities can't move out of the country. So--voila! The sitting ducks!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Energy Made Simple: Southern Company's 90 second videos

I just returned from the ANS Meeting in Atlanta.

At the meeting,  I attended a panel on Communicating for New Nuclear Facilities, chaired by Mimi Limbach. Limbach's blog post about the panel appears today in ANS Nuclear Cafe:

Transparency and Proactive Outreach in Good Nuclear Energy Communications.

During the panel, Todd Terrell  of Southern Company showed a new video clip:
86 Seconds on Nuclear Energy and Gumballs.

When I went to embed that clip on my blog, I found another great clip by Southern Company on YouTube.  This clip is about the importance of energy diversity:
91 Seconds on Scrambled Eggs and Energy Policy

I am amazed and impressed with how much these clips communicate in such a short time.
Great going, Southern Company!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pandora's Box -Commentary

Pandora's Promise is Robert Stone's film about five turncoat environmentalists' paths to the knowledge that nuclear power might just save the planet. Their former comrades now turn on them in fear-mongering reviews describing "dangerous myths" and "false promises". But reviewers do not dispute the facts of the movie; they can't; the facts have been verified by a Nobel laureate physicist.

Nuclear power is inexpensive (1/4 the cost of solar), safe (zero deaths from TMI or Fukushima), CO2 free, and has already saved millions of lives from air pollution deaths.

Fear of nuclear power helps Greenpeace raise $336 million annually, so they oppose it. Fossil fuel companies fear nuclear power competition and so they fund opponents such as NRDC. Fear of nuclear war creates unease with nuclear power, although no commercial power reactors have ever produced weapons material. Fear of radiation makes the dentist drape a lead X-ray apron on you, though any risk is infinitesimal compared to deaths from dental surgery.

Suspend your own fears long enough to see the facts in Pandora's Promise.

Robert Hargraves

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pandora's Promise: Nationwide now

Pandora's Promise Launches Nationwide!

Pandora's Promise is a documentary in which prominent environmentalists explain how they began to favor nuclear energy.
The official trailer is embedded below.

Reaction, Eyes Open

I was lucky enough to see the film about a month ago at Dartmouth College, with the director in attendance. The film opens people's eyes to possibilities that they had not considered.  Watching the film is not intended to be a road-to-Damascus experience about nuclear power.  Instead, the film hopes to encourage people to think about energy supplies in a new way.

For example, Terry Tempest Williams claims thirty years of antinuclear activism.  She attended the same showing that I attended, and she wrote this in The Nation:

For me, this film’s strength was not that it changed my mind, which it did not, but that it expanded it. I am interested in having an open conversation about nuclear energy. Climate change is real. We know we must wean ourselves off fossil fuels. So what are the alternatives? Are renewable energy sources enough for the energy-poor around the world?

Reaction, Eyes Closed

Not everyone was has eyes that can actually open.  Robert F. Kennedy Jr. saw the film on Tuesday of this week.  After the showing, he discussed it with the director, Robert Stone.  Well, I guess Kennedy thinks he discussed it.  It sounds to me as if he went on a rant. Apparently, Kennedy thinks that insults are very effective in convincing people.

Kennedy said the film was "an elaborate hoax" and the environmentalists in the film were "liars."    Their exchange was moderated by Andrew Revkin of the New York Times. After Kennedy had accused everyone in the film of working for (or being paid-off by)  the nuclear industry, Mr. Revkin said this to him: "You invest in solar, why should I believe you?"  Read the whole story at the NEI blog post: Robert Stone and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Clash After Screening of Pandora's Promise.

Also, an anti-nuclear organization has been printing up something called "Pandora's False Promises." I gather it is 38 pages of opinion and scare-stories. I have heard (rumor only) that they are handing out copies to people at the movie showings. Luckily, a recent Ph.D. in nuclear engineering refutes their document point by point in his blog post: Pandora's Revenge.   Thank you, Nick Touran, for this careful and well-documented rebuttal!

What you can do

Of course, go see the movie!  Write about it on your FB page, and perhaps post a review at the Internet Movie Database (or other places, such as Rotten Tomatoes).

If you go to a public venue, you might think about taking a copy of Touran's blog post with you, in case you get leafletted by the opponents.  You could hand a copy to them. Turn-about is fair play, right?

I am so glad that we now have this excellent movie available, and that many people will see it.  Robert Stone is an award-winning director, and he devoted years of his life to making this movie.  And now we all can enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

San Onofre reactions: The Accurate, the Mixed, and the Ugly

The Accurate and the Mixed

In the post at ANS Nuclear Café today, there's an accurate analysis of the San Onofre shutdown: Environmental Impact Evaluation--Seeing the Bigger (Nuclear vs. Fossil) Picture. In this post, Jim Hopf discusses various issues, including San Onofre. Among other things, he notes that old fossil-burning plants at Huntington Beach have been brought out of retirement to make up for San Onofre's power. As Hopf says:  the shutdown will  result in ~2000 MW of additional fossil fueled generation for several decades.

For a mixed analysis, let's go to NEI Nuclear Notes, with an blog post that quotes many California newspapers on the closing: Reactions to San Onofre Closing: It "ought to jolt the governor."  The Sacramento Bee admits The plant cannot be replaced solely with sun and wind, at least not with current technology. The Bee notes that Senator Boxer hails the shut-down. The article also notes that the possibility of rolling blackouts: ought to jolt the governor [Jerry Brown], the official who will be held most responsible if California faces rolling blackouts this summer and beyond, as happened during [former Gov.] Gray Davis' truncated tenure. 

Ah yes, I remember it well.  I lived in California during the earlier set of rolling blackouts.

However, according to a recent article in the San Luis Obispo paper, the California System Operator does not expect rolling blackouts due to the plant shutdown. They expect to make up the loss of power with gas systems, renewables, and transmission lines. Earlier articles on the shut-down focused on how tight electrical resources are likely to be: this article is more reassuring. Meanwhile, Jim Hopf's statement at ANS Nuclear Café remains true: closing San Onofre means more fossil generation.

The Mixed and the Ugly: The debate at Huffington Post Live

Yesterday, the Huffington Post Live (webstreaming) sponsored a discussion about San Onofre.  This was an excellent idea.  Instead of reading short quotes, you can hear several people discuss the closing. The four people were:
  • S. David Freeman, a former nuclear regulator (against nuclear energy)
  • Steve Kerekes, spokesperson, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • Jim Riccio, Greenpeace, antinuclear activist 
  • Ben Bergman, Reporter, KPCC
I think it always helps to hear people speak directly. The moderator, Jacob Soboroff, kept things going and prevented anybody from hogging the spotlight for too long.  I have embedded the debate below.  If you want to see the comment stream from the listeners (138 comments, including a few from me) you need to go to the web page.

So why do I call this debate "mixed" and "ugly"?  The idea was good, the moderator was good, and so forth.  What more do I want?

The Ugly

My main problem was that Mr. Freeman made the most outrageous assertions and was seldom challenged.
  • Early in the debate, Freeman claims that renewable power is a better choice nowadays because now we have storage options for electricity. Huh?  We do?  
  • Later, he speaks of cogeneration without mentioning that  cogeneration generally depends on a fossil fuel source being burned within an industrial facility. 
  • Similarly, Freeman talks about getting heat and cooling directly from the earth, without bothering to mention heat pumps. Heat pumps are run by electricity.
I expect Riccio to say things about nuclear power that are not true: this doesn't surprise me.  But the Freeman statements bothered me.  Over and over again, Freeman spoke as if there's a free lunch out there: there's grid-level storage, there's co-generation (without mentioning fossil fuels), there's heat right from the earth!

There is no free lunch, Mr. Freeman.  Sorry.

Face Time and Faces

I congratulate Steve Kerekes of NEI for his excellent job at answering some of Freeman's statements. For example, Freeman claimed that large plants decrease the reliability of the grid. Kerekes answered that was a funny thing to say when you had the kind of grid reliability we have had in this country.

However, in order to answer the endless assertions of Freeman and Riccio, Kerekes would have had to take all the time of the discussion. This was clearly impossible.

Another thing: Riccio, Bergman and Kerekes had webcams aimed at them, and you can see them speaking.  Webcams are easily available, but Freeman didn't use one.  Instead of facing a camera,  Freeman chose to show a picture of himself in a cowboy hat. Therefore, you can't read his face as he spoke.  Did Freeman know he was saying some things that weren't true? I wish I could have seen his face on-camera.

More discussions please!

Enjoy the debate discussion below, and go to the web site if you want to see the viewer comments.  We need more of these multi-person events.  I am glad that Huffington Post Live arranged this one.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

160th Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs: Here at Yes Vermont Yankee

Carnival carousel
Some gloom, some light

On Friday, the owners of  San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) announced that they would close the station and decommission it.  That was a very gloomy end to the week.  I had volunteered to host the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs.  Was I in for a miserable experience, documenting much wailing and gnashing of teeth?

Well, no.  The SONGS closing is a huge piece of bad news, but it is far from the only news in the nuclear world.  So here we go.  Let's start with SONGS.

The SONGS closing (gloom section)

SONGS to retire, decommission, posted by Will Davis at ANS Nuclear Café.
The latest news on the recent decision to retire the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California. The post includes information from a press teleconference held by Southern California Edison, and many explanatory links.

San Onofre Closing Wasn't Necessary, posted by Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee.
I was a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute, in the Steam Generator group.  In my post about San Onofre, I assert and explain that the closing simply wasn't necessary.  It shouldn't take the NRC more than a year to determine whether a plant can be run safely at reduced power.  My post also has explanatory links.

The rest of the nuclear world (non-gloom section)

Nuclear Uprates in the U.S., and a new reactor in China. Posted by Brian Wang of Next Big Future.
NextEra Energy has just completed 700 MW of reactor uprates at six plants.  Meanwhile, in China, a 1080 MWe PWR just began commercial operation.

New Tepco groundwater study confirms that isotopic levels are negligible Posted by Les Corrice at Hiroshima Syndrome/ Fukushima Commentary.
Japan's Press says Tepco's recent report of the actual levels of Cesium in F. Daiichi groundwater is a reversal of their previous assessment of it being negligible. To the contrary, the new assessment proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the cesium value in the groundwater is indeed negligible.

Carnival fireworks
Pandora's Promise--The Sundance Film Festival's Nuclear Exposé Posted by James Conca at Forbes.
Academy award-nominated director Robert Stone has premiered a new look at nuclear energy, at the Sundance Film Festival.  The film is due to open in theaters all over America the week of June 12.

Questions and Answers about Nuclear Power Posted by Jessica Lovering of the Breakthrough Institute at ANS Nuclear Café.
The Breakthrough Institute recently compiled some of the tough questions it is frequently asked about nuclear power by fellow environmentalists.  Many careful explanations of how nuclear energy helps the environment, compared to the alternatives.

Vermont Yankee Gets Permission to Install Diesel Posted by Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee.
Sometimes "Moot" is good.  The Public Service Board (PSB) was delaying and dragging their feet about allowing Vermont Yankee to install a necessary back-up diesel. When Vermont Yankee sued the PSB in federal court, the PSB decided to give permission for the generator installation. This rendered the federal court case "moot".

Washington Internships for Students of Engineering Posted by Gail Marcus at Nuke Power Talk.
At Nuke Power Talk, Gail Marcus follows up on an earlier blog in which she discussed a technology policy internship for engineering majors from different schools across the country.  She now reports that this year, she will be serving as the faculty member in residence for the program, and she hopes to provide input from time to time during the summer on how engineering students respond to what they learn this summer about how the government handles technical issues.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.

Too often, the nuclear industry in the United States is the bug: for example, SONGs.  But even in the U.S., there is good news: Pandora's Promise is opening, new internships for engineering students, power uprates at existing plants.  And when you look abroad, the situation is even better.

Enjoy the Carnival!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

San Onofre Closing Wasn't Necessary

I was a project manager in the Steam Generator Owner's Group at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).  In other words, I am a steam generator expert.

Which led me to a bit of an email battle yesterday about the Southern California Edison decision to close the San Onofre nuclear plants (SONGS). The question under debate was whether the NRC was being reasonable in saying they needed a year to determine whether SONGS would be able to re-open.   My friend said that the delay would improve safety.  I felt the NRC was being unreasonable.

Here is my email to my friend.  I include background and links at the end of the post.


Well, let's say that I am not sure about the existence of "technical questions of safety."  The tube wear issue was caused by an unexpected vibration mode in the steam generators, and changing the power to 70% changes the vibration pattern.  Changing the power output should put the SONGS steam generators into an operational mode in which that type of vibration will not happen.

Also, unless quite a few steam generator tubes break at once, a tube break is not a safety issue that should affect anyone outside the plant. Operating at a lower power is less likely to cause a tube rupture in the first place, and SONGS was going to check the condition of the tubes after six months of lower-power operation.  I would bet a bunch of money (if I could) that the tubes would be fine after the six month test. Then they could run the plant longer.   I don't know why the NRC needs over a year to look at the safety implications of operating a plant at lower power.  It seems excessive to me, and I don't mind saying so.

Look, I am not saying it's a just a public-relations problem or that the utility or the steam generator supplier did everything right and they are being picked on by the NRC, etc.  I am just saying that we have forgotten some basic facts about how steam generators work.

And we may have forgotten some basic facts about the NRC, which may yet lead to closing more plants and never licensing new ones.  The NRC takes insane amounts of time to do anything, and is very vulnerable to intervenor pressures.  For example, they reviewed the Duane Arnold relicense in about two years, and they took over five years for Vermont Yankee. These two are sister plants, but
Los Angeles Smog, 2005
the Arnold plant is not in Vermont.  We have more intervenors, so the NRC takes more time. If you don't believe this is part of the issue in CA, you are naive.

Oh by the way.  Some of the first engineering  projects I worked on were funded by CARB and EPA, about trying to cut NOx pollution in the LA basin.  Gonna be fun, replacing SONGS with gas-burners in that neck of the woods.  I absolutely hate it.  It didn't have to happen.


SONGS Background

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station  (SONGS) consists of three separate plants, two of which were operating and one was retired. The two operating plants added up to more than 2000 MW of capacity. In January 2012, after excessive tube wear was discovered in newly-purchased steam generators, Southern California Edison took SONGS off-line for more inspections and possible changes. The wear was due to an unexpected form of vibration, which caused some tubes to rub against each other.  Edison submitted a plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for restarting one of the reactors: the unit would run at lower power (70% power) which should eliminate the vibration.  It would run at this power for five months, and then be carefully inspected.

After a request by anti-nuclear groups, the NRC determined that the proposal to limit SONGS Unit 2 to 70% power would require the plant to obtain a license amendment. The license amendment process requires public hearings and would take more than a year. The NRC made this decision in May.

Faced with this delay and uncertainty about the NRC process, on June 7 (yesterday), Southern California Edison said it would permanently close the two SONGS units.


Will Davis at ANS Nuclear Cafe on closing San Onofre: Excellent overview and links
Will Davis blog post on Steam Generator Design, at his blog, Atomic Power Review
My post on Steam Generator Design and Testing, also at Atomic Power Review
Bloomberg news on regulatory battles on shut-down costs
Nuclear Energy Institute blog post on the need for a predictable regulatory process

Let me finish with a quote from Will Davis at ANS Nuclear Cafe.  He sums up the situation beautifully:

Some might quickly respond that it was technical problems that killed the plant. Perhaps in the bigger picture, this is correct; but in the earlier days of nuclear energy, quite a large number of technical problems were encountered in nuclear plants and overcome after testing periods. 

As I said above: This shutdown didn't have to happen.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Vermont Yankee Gets Permission to Install Diesel

Late yesterday, the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) issued a Certificate of Public Good for the diesel generator at Vermont Yankee.  I link to their order issuing the certificate here.  

It's a 42 page order, fairly evenly divided between the history of the docket, boilerplate, and snark.  

The snarky part is their insistence that they are issuing this order because Vermont Yankee needs the diesel generator even if it were "in compliance" with their previous orders and was shut down.  (They do not actually have such a previous is just implied within other orders.  They could have issued an order to shut down, but then they would find themselves in court...) The last two pages of this order, by one of the commissioners, is definitely worth reading. The commissioner blames Vermont Yankee for the delay in issuing the order!  Amusing, in a sort of sick way. (I am a blogger.  I have opinions.) 

Still, the whole thing was a win-win.  And the winners were:
  • Vermont Yankee got permission to put in their diesel generator. 
  • The Public Service Board had an opportunity to write about "their previous  orders," which they love to reference.  Since an order to shut the plant does not exist, they can't quote the actual order, but that's nit-picking. 
  • The Public Service Board avoided federal court judgment about the diesels.  With this PSB ruling, the on-going federal court case became moot. The federal court will not rule against the PSB on the basis of pre-emption about nuclear safety equipment, because the case is moot. Therefore, the PSB can consider their honor intact.  Also, if the federal court had ruled against the PSB on pre-emption about the diesels, the state would look pretty bad in terms of  the main federal case about pre-emption
In short, the PSB dodged a major federal court bullet by issuing the certificate, and everybody wins. 

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Diesel Case in Federal Court

Yesterday, Vermont Yankee appeared in federal court in order to get permission to put in a safety diesel.  The Public Service Board has been delaying even considering the diesel docket.  They delayed for months and wrote all sorts of complex opinions about whether they would consider the diesel docket: "compliance with other orders" and so forth.

Yes, the whole court case is a bit I said in my blog post yesterday:   In my opinion, these court cases could have been avoided if the Public Service Board just knew how to spell "pre-empted." Emergency diesels are clearly safety equipment, and adding safety equipment is clearly the business of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, not the state.  The state cannot regulate nuclear safety: it's pre-empted.

Summary of the Arguments in Court

Vermont Yankee arguments: Vermont Yankee argued that the state had no business interfering with nuclear safety.

State arguments: The state argued that Vermont Yankee could put in the diesel more quickly than they claimed they could put it in.  Therefore, there was no reason for them to be in court: they could  wait for the PSB to rule.

  • The judge rejected this argument: what if the PSB rules the other way? We might as well hear the case now, actually. (from VPR report on the hearing)
  • Cheryl Hanna (Vermont Law Professor) reported that the state spent two hours examining an Entergy witness about project scheduling for the diesel. She noted that this whole line of questioning was somewhat off the point. (from Vermont Digger report and WCAX video on the hearing)

Various intervenors: They now claim that Vermont Yankee is wasting court time, since the PSB is sure to rule in their favor anyway.  Of course, these intervenors themselves bring lawsuit after lawsuit against Vermont Yankee. (from VPR report on the hearing).

My Opinion:

Snark opinion: Funny how the PSB issued threatening statements and ambiguous statements ("not in compliance with other orders" and "this order is narrow" and so forth) until Vermont Yankee sued.

Sad opinion: Cheryl Hanna of Vermont Law School talks about how polarized and angry the entire situation is, and how there are five on-going law suits about Vermont Yankee. (WCAX video clip below).   It didn't have to be this way.  It really didn't.

Governor Peter Shumlin vowed to close Vermont Yankee. In my opinion, he did this in order to retain his support with the Progressive Party. His political ambitions led pretty directly to all this hatred.  Yes, there were people opposed to nuclear power and Vermont Yankee before Shumlin ran for office, but Shumlin made it much worse.  He marginalized the people at Vermont Yankee (for example, his deliberate and planned use of the term "Entergy Louisiana") and he aimed at costing them their jobs. They are fighting back. There's a lot of anger there, and it didn't have to be this way.  (I encourage you to watch the Cheryl Hanna video below and listen to what she says about polarization.)

  WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Catching Up With the Diesels: Updated

A Diesel Deadline

Vermont Yankee needs new diesel generators as a safety back-up system. There will be two court hearings about this: today and tomorrow.

Basically, the Public Service Board (PSB) has been dragging their feet about granting permission to install the diesels.  Vermont Yankee must begin pouring the concrete for the diesel pad in mid-June to meet a Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirement to have the diesels in operation by mid-September.

The PSB has been seriously dragging their feet.  First the PSB took months to even set up the docket and open it (Vermont Yankee applied for the permit in August, the PSB issued a statement opening the docket in late December).  The PSB gave "intervenors" status in this matter, and plans to hold public hearings to hear what these groups have to say. (Hint to the PSB: the intervenors always say the same thing. If you want, you can ask me what they are going to say. I think I can tell you.) Recently, the hearing officer recommended that the diesel permit be granted, but the PSB did not amend the timing on its docket.

I blogged about the diesel time-line in two posts: The PSB, the Diesels and Sherlock Holmes about non-action also being action (like the famous "incident of the dog in the night-time") and A Court Case With A Deadline: The Black Start Diesels.  In that case, the deadline I was considering was Entergy's requirement to get the diesel pads ready.

Court Deadlines

Now, as the deadline approaches, two hearings are under way, today and tomorrow.

Andrew Stein of Vermont Digger has a post on these hearings: State, Entergy head to federal court Tuesday. Stein's article includes a quote from an intervenor's lawyer, Brice Jordan.  Jordan claims that since the state does not need Vermont Yankee, the diesel permit should not be granted. (Jordan also has said that he does not have to share information on hydro plants, but that was a different hearing.) In other words, in Jordan's opinion, the diesel hearings are a stand-in for the hearing on the certificate of public good for the whole plant. 

Jordan's opinion is not shared by the State Department of Public Service (DPS). The DPS makes a clear distinction between 
  • the diesel permit, which they think should be approved
  • the certificate of public good (CPG) for the plant operation, which they think should not be approved.
  In an earlier Vermont Digger article, the DPS commissioner, Chris Recchia, said: “This [the generator permit] has no relationship to the overall CPG for operation of the facility; it’s specific to the back-up generator, and we think they’ve done what they need to do."

Meanwhile, the state and Entergy are once again busy in court.  In my opinion, these court cases could have been avoided if the Public Service Board just knew how to spell "pre-empted." Court hearings are a very expensive way to learn to spell.  Yes. I'm a blogger, and I have opinions. 

Update: At the Federal Court hearing today, the state argued that Vermont Yankee didn't actually need all that time to put the diesels in place.  Meanwhile, nuclear opponents made statements implying: "Of course VY was going to get the diesels, why are we even in court about it?"

Well, let's see.  The long gap between when Entergy applied for the permit and when the PSB started working on the docket: that might be one reason they were in court.  The PSB's snarky "if Entergy is not in compliance with our earlier orders" comments: that might be another reason. I am sure you can think of more reasons.

Here's my link to John Dillon's VPR report on today's hearings.

Second Update: Andrew Stein's Vermont Digger article on the federal court hearing was just published.  It includes Cheryl Hanna's masterful description of the different possible outcomes of the diesel case before the PSB, and the implications of those outcomes for the federal hearings. Also, Hanna points out that the legal wrangling about "how many days does it take to install a diesel" isn't very relevant. Cheryl Hanna is a professor of constitutional law at Vermont Law School.   

Two links on other subjects

I was proud to be a participant in an important pod-cast on nuclear communication.  Peter Sandman Teaches Nuclear Communicators.   This was an Atomic Show podcast at Rod Adams blog, Atomic Insights.  Peter Sandman, Rod Adams, myself, Margaret Harding, and Suzy Hobbs-Baker participated. I expect to blog about this in a few days. 

I also recommend the 159th Carnival of Nuclear Energy at Next Big Future. Great posts, including updates from Japan and China, and an apology from a nuclear opponent for factual errors. This may be the first time in history such a thing has happened. Read about it!