Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nuclear Spent Fuel Expert Describes Vermont Yankee Dry Cask Safety; Guy Page Guest Post

NRC illustration
Generic Dry Cask
By 2020, the spent fuel left over from all 42 years of Vermont Yankee’s operation is scheduled to be stored in huge steel “dry casks” on pads at the plant site in Vernon.

Just how strong and reliable are Vermont Yankee’s “dry cask” spent nuclear fuel containers? Consider the following dry cask testing conducted at Sandia National Lab:

  • A tractor-trailer carrying a container ran into a 700-ton concrete wall at 80 MPH.
  • A container was broadsided by a 120-ton train locomotive traveling 80 MPH.
  • A container was dropped 2,000 feet onto soil as hard as concrete, traveling 235 MPH at impact.
  • A container was subjected to a device 30 times more powerful than a typical anti-tank weapon.
  • A container was subjected to a simulated crash of a jet airliner and the armament of an F-16.

In each case, post-incident assessments demonstrated that the containers would not have released their contents. All of the information shared above was reported Jay Tarzia, Principal of Radiation Safety and Control Services Inc. and chair of the New Hampshire State Radiation Advisory Committee, on March 26 to the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen’s Advisory Panel at Brattleboro Union High School.

Dry casks are designed to resist floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, projectiles, and temperature extremes. Tipped over, they will stay intact. And of course, heavy shielding prevents radiation leakage. They also remained intact after being submerged in water for eight hours and exposed to a 1,475 degree fire for 30 minutes. There have been no known or suspected sabotage attempts or releases of radiation since the first dry cask system was licensed in 1986.

At Fukushima, 400 dry casks were exposed to earthquake and tsunami. Although knocked over and tossed around, none were breached.

The U.S. Nuclear Regultory Commission (NRC) licensing allows fuel to be stored for up to 100 years and the NRC is developing an extended storage program for up to 300 years.

After 100 years, the fuel’s radioactivity will have shrunk to about one percent of its beginning total radioactivity. Stress on the canister will be greatly reduced. But Mr. Tarzia did not minimize the long- term nature of dry cask management. After about 4,000 years, the fuel’s radioactivity will return to the level of the original uranium ore. “The fuel will be radioactive for a long time. We need to manage it,” he said. “The security doesn’t go away when the plant goes away, when there’s a long-term storage site.”

The industry is running computer models now showing the outer limits of how long the canisters will last. Ultimately, a long-term storage process or facility will make dry cask storage unnecessary, he predicted.

In closing, Mr. Tarzia predicted that within decades, waste-free nuclear fusion will produce limitless electricity.


Guy Page of Vermont Energy Partnership (VTEP) is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  This post has also appeared on the VTEP blog and on Atomic Insights blog. As usual, the Atomic Insights blog post has great comments.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Support for Ginna: Write a Comment to New York State

Ginna Station
from NRC site
To the New York State Department of Public Service:

I want to express my strong support for keeping Ginna Station operating.

I worked in energy research for many years. My background includes renewables, gas-fired plants, and nuclear plants. I have worked to improve them all. I live in Vermont, and  I am now a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG)  for ISO-NE.  I must stress that the opinions I express here are MY OWN: they are NOT official opinions of the Committee.  I mention the CLG to explain that I have some expertise in grid issues. The purpose of the CLG is to advise the grid operator in support of the electricity consumer.

Right now, the New England grid makes almost 50% of its electricity with natural gas.  This has been a problem for grid stability, especially in the winter.  ISO-NE has had two “Winter Reliability Programs” that basically paid dual-fired generators to keep oil on hand. They used the oil during the times in deep winter when natural gas was not available to power plants.  These reliability programs have cost $70-$80 million a year, and FERC wants them to stop, because they are targeted, not market-based.  FERC may be right, but the programs have kept the lights on in New England during the winter.  These programs mainly bought oil, though LNG was also fed into our grid (though not as part of the Winter Reliability Program). Other grids are encountering the same issues, as they become more dependent on natural gas.

Ginna Station and other nuclear stations make low-carbon electricity and increase the diversity of the New York grid.  Please value that diversity! Grid diversity contributes to system reliability and price stability.  Without the nuclear plants, the grid will move more and more to natural gas, which emits greenhouse gases.  Also, putting all your eggs in one basket (having only one predominant fuel supplier for the grid) is a very bad idea. Supply crunches and price rises are not only likely: they happen, and they will happen more if the grid goes mostly to natural gas. The amount of “subsidy” given to Ginna to keep it operating will be only a small amount, compared to the amount you can expect to pay for winter reliability programs or if there is a price rise for natural gas.

For the sake of your consumers, keep the grid diverse and keep Ginna (and other nuclear plants) operating. For the sake of the planet (greenhouse gases), keep Ginna (and other nuclear plants) operating.

Who Digs Deeper, and For What Do They Dig?

A friend on Facebook alerted me to the opportunity to support continued operation of Ginna Station in New York.  Thank you, Michael Mann!

I just posted the comment above on the New York State Department of Public Service site. The Department is asking for comments on a case to allow a "reliability support services agreement" for Ginna Station. This agreement would give Ginna slightly increased pay on the grid, in return for the reliability and support that the plant gives to the grid.

An upstate New York newspaper has an article headlined Regulators examining plan to prop up Ginna plant.   The first sentence says that consumers will have to "dig deeper in their pockets" to keep the Ginna plant operating.

Old steam locomotive
Best I could do for "steam"
This really annoyed me.  When our local grid reached into our pockets for a $70 million dollar Winter Reliability Program, and used that money to buy oil.….hey, nobody asked me if I wanted to dig deeper for imported oil! But keeping a nuclear plant going and getting away from such oil-based emergency programs: that is the sort of thing that leads to a catchy headline about "propping up. "

Sometimes you can almost see the steam coming out of my ears.

Don't Just Steam, Take Action

Write your short letter about Ginna here:

It doesn't have to be long, but make sure it is personal.  Make sure it is clear that the letter is your personal opinion.  If you live in New York State, that's a great reason to have a pro-Ginna opinion.  If you live elsewhere, compare the issue to something in your area: coal plants shutting down, electricity price rises, whatever is going on.  Make it personal.

As an example of what NOT to write, look at the existing letter collection.
Approximately a thousand letters all say the same thing.  They all start:

Dear Secretary Burgess:
I am writing to oppose a consumer subsidy for the Ginna nuclear power reactor, owned by Exelon.
Ginna is one of the oldest nuclear reactors in the U.S. Propping up this uncompetitive reactor …..

Not very convincing!

When you have finished your note to the New York regulators, please consider also sending it as a comment on this post. The more examples of letters that we have, the easier it will be for the next person to post a letter to the New York State regulators.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Tale of Two Meetings: Keeping NRC meetings safe for everyone

The Vermont Yankee NRC meeting: Bullying

Vermont flag
About four weeks ago, I attended the NRC decommissioning review meeting about  Vermont Yankee.  It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. At the bottom of this post, I link to four blog posts about this out-of-control meeting.  The four posts include some shocking quotes from the NRC about how the NRC doesn't eject people from meetings, pretty much under any circumstances. Even people committing assault don't get ejected.

A few days ago, Dan Yurman of Neutron Bytes wrote a new post, based on NRC information: Closing the Civility Gap at NRC Public Meetings.  Yurman discovered that the NRC actually had a task force to improve its public meetings. The task force submitted its report in late January 2015, just a few weeks before the Vermont Yankee meeting.  (Clearly the report did very little good for Vermont.) Yurman looked up the improving-meetings report on the almost-indecipherable ADAMS data base of the NRC.  Reading the report, he learned that the NRC task force has a very good idea of what makes good public outreach, and more good ideas on why the NRC is failing at it.

The report talks about a "center of excellence" for training for public meetings, and outlines various types of training.  It does not, however, go so far as to suggest staffing or funding for this purpose. As Yurman points out, the report contains good ideas, but no real plans for carrying out those ideas.

I encourage you to read Yurman's clear and thoughtful post on the civility gap.  Brave souls can also go the NRC ADAMS citations ML15029A460, ML15029A463, and ML15029A465.

The Pilgrim NRC Meeting: Civility

Massachusetts flag
My experience is that the bullying is worse when opponents are a majority in the room.  Therefore, I was truly happy to read about the March 18 Pilgrim NRC meeting.  Many supporters attended: the headline in a local paper was  NRC: Supporters outnumber critics at annual Pilgrim performance review. It is a great pleasure to read that article.  If you don't have time to read about the good things being said about Pilgrim in the article in the Wicked Local paper, at least follow the link to see the faces of the people speaking on behalf of their local nuclear power plant.  The proponents include men, women, young people, old people, people of different races.

Also, if you pardon me saying so, the proponent's faces are open, kind and sincere. I could look at the pictures of the Pilgrim supporters all day. It comforts me to see their faces.

Alas, when I think of an NRC meeting, I see the shouting, hate-filled face of our most noisy local opponent.  I know that many nuclear opponents are good people, but in our local NRC meeting, the opponent group comes across as a mob scene. They cheer while their designated bully threatens and attacks people.  They may be sweet enough in private life: I don't know.  In the meetings, frankly, only the pitchforks are missing.

A Tale of Two Meetings

The Vermont Yankee meeting had two problems: bullies who knew they outnumbered the plant proponents, and an ineffective NRC who caved in to the bullies completely, refusing to keep order.

The Pilgrim meeting was different for one reason and one reason only: plant supporters outnumbered the plant opponents. Therefore, the opponents could not get control by bullying and shouting.  It the opponents hadn't been outnumbered, I think they would have tried to turn the Pilgrim meeting into the same kind of dangerous shambles as the Vermont Yankee meeting.  But they were outnumbered, and they didn't try.

By the way, it is amusing to read the comments on the article about the  Pilgrim meeting.  The opponents claim the reporter is "unfair" and that Entergy "bribed" people to come to the meeting by offering pizza. (Entergy did offer pizza.  Those meetings are right after work, and people are hungry.)  Opponents think that people will give up an evening and sit in an uncomfortable room in a long meeting….just in return for free pizza!

I am always amazed at the perception gap between many plant opponents and…well…..reality.  This gap extends far beyond the issues about technical understanding of radiation.

Keith Drown of Pilgrim commented on the Wicked Local article.  I will use his words as the last statement on this blog post.  Hail to Pilgrim!

Employees volunteered to attend the meeting and show their support for Pilgrim without coercion from the company. We live in the community and understand the facts concerning the safe operation of the plant. We not only work at Pilgrim, we also live in close proximity to the plant. It appears that some within the anti-Pilgrim groups are upset that we had a pizza before the meeting. They should be upset, the pizza was wonderful and they missed out. In addition to the pizza we also had cookies and brownies, not to mention a good time just being together. 


Earlier posts about the Vermont Yankee NRC meeting

I have a blog post about the NRC meeting, Bullying at the NRC Meeting.

Rod Adams posted about it and made a short, watchable video (25 minutes) from the four-hour video of the meeting.  His post Agencies should not allow creation of a hostile environment at public meetings includes his video and almost 50 comments, some of which are very informative.

Dan Yurman has an earlier post on this meeting, including his own important exchange with the NRC: NRC must do more to insure civility at its public hearings

Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues compares the actions of the nuclear opponents with the actions of those in the Old South, right after the Civil War, in denying free speech and rights to newly-freed slaves.  It's a good analogy, and no harsher than the behavior deserves: Free speech, Monty Python, and Civil War reconstruction: anti-nukes are not funny

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Distributed Generation for Vermont: Making a Virtue of Necessity

Panel, from left to right: William Driscoll of A.I.V at podium,
me,  TJ Poor of Vermont DPS, Douglas Smith of GMP,
John Goodrich of  Weidmann
Photo courtesy of Howard Shaffer

The panel about power

On Friday March 13, I was panel moderator at an ISO-NE (New England grid operator) meeting of the Consumer Liaison Group.  We discussed the past and the future of the grid in Vermont and the Northeast.

I enjoyed the meeting, and I hope I was able to be a good moderator.  Here's my post about the meeting, and here's a direct link to the ISO-NE web page about the meeting. All the presentations were excellent and worth reading. They are posted on the ISO-NE page. In this following post, I share some of my personal opinions, inspired by this event.

Importing Vermont's Electricity

I moderated a panel. One of the panel participants claimed that closing Vermont Yankee had no effect on Vermont utilities. He said that the utilities had no power contracts with Vermont Yankee  after 2012 (this is true). So didn't matter to Vermont utilities that the plant closed in 2014.

After his comment, I decided to make my own comment, as the moderator.  I noted that whether or not local utilities were contracting with Vermont Yankee to buy power, the Energy Information Administration looks at states in terms on what electricity is produced within the state. Vermont Yankee used to make about 70% of the power produced in the state.  When it went off-line permanently, that left the state with only 30% of its previous in-state power supply available. Therefore, shutting Vermont Yankee makes a huge difference to Vermont, if you look at the power produced within the state, not the power contracts.

I basically shared the comments above, as a clarification, during the meeting.  In this blog, I will go a little further.

Power contracts are written by utilities. Utilities can make long and short term contracts with all sorts of power generators, near and far. The types of power under contract can change in a week, a month, or in the very instant that a new piece of paper is signed. However, power produced in the state changes more slowly.  Power produced within the state is far more indicative of the state-of-the -state,  in terms of electricity.  That is why the Energy Information Agency looks at power produced within the state, not at power contracts.

Vermont electricity

With Vermont Yankee closed, the state of Vermont produces less than 1/3 of the electricity that it produced a year ago.  If someone asked me: "Where does Vermont get its electricity from?" I would have a simple answer.  We get our electricity from out of state.  

This answer means that the Vermont Energy Plan for 90% renewables and the newest energy bills that are now debated in the Vermont legislature are a bit…well, maybe… a bit silly?  No. "Silly" is a loaded word.  "Unrealistic" sounds better.  I'll go with "unrealistic."

Thinking about Distributed Generation

6.5 Kilowatt Wind Turbine
Two of the speakers, Douglas Smith of Green Mountain Power and TJ Poor of the Department of Public Service, emphasized Vermont's push into Distributed Generation.  As a matter of fact, the title of Douglas Smith's presentation is Distributed Generation in Vermont.  Vermont plans to build small renewable power facilities (farm methane, wind farms, biomass plants, solar photovoltaic installations) instead of big centralized power.

In his third slide, Smith admits that most of the Green Mountain Power electricity supply is sourced from outside of Vermont.  Much of the rest of his presentation concerns Vermont incentives for renewables and distributed generation: those incentives that are in place now, and those that are proposed.

Our choice by choice---or our choice by necessity?

When you are listening to a well-organized presentation, you can't help but "buy in" to the presenter's view of the situation. When I was listening to Poor and to Smith, I thought that Vermont had chosen distributed generation.

But afterwards, I began to wonder.

Have we chosen distributed generation because distributed generation is such a great thing?  Or is it because it is really Vermont's only choice?  Vermont Yankee is closed, we import around 70-80% of our power from out of state or even out of the country.  Nothing wrong with that. However, if we want to say something to the world besides "We'll buy whatever electricity you are selling," we have to build some power production in-state.

What power production can we build in Vermont? Only a madman would try to site a good-sized thermal plant in Vermont. Gas pipelines are fiercely opposed, and coal would be laughed out of the state. (People wouldn't even protest coal. They would just laugh, I think.) Nobody would ever try to build another nuclear plant. We can build some more hydro, but hydro is pretty tapped-out in the Northeast.  Certainly there are no further sites for big hydro.

So there you have it.  If we build anything in Vermont, it will be small. It will be "distributed generation."

Virtue and Necessity

We can make a virtue (clean! small!) of the necessity to build only small facilities.  We can make comprehensive energy plans and pass new laws about renewables.  We can get good press.  We can pat ourselves on the back. We can claim to be the cleanest and the greenest state in the whole United States.

Well and good.  However, in the meantime---

If someone asked me: "Where does Vermont get its electricity from?" I would have a simple answer.  We get our electricity from out of state.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Pico is Tiny: My Post at Northwest Clean Energy

White radium paint
on an old clock

The term "pico" refers to a trillionth of something.  It would take a thousand "picos" to make a billionth.  The term "pico" is mostly used in describing radiation.

A Curie is the amount of radiation emitted by one gram of radium.   But radiation limits are usually described in pico-curies. That's a trillionth of a curie.  There are very few things that can be measured at such a low level.  You can't just go into a lab and measure a "trillionth of a gram" of something.

But you can measure pico-curies.

I wrote a blog post about this which is published at Northwest Clean Energy blog.  My post is Me and Pico--Nuclear Power and Scare Stories.  In this post, I also share some stories of the days when I was a water chemist, specializing in analyzing pure water (and water problems) at power plants. I write about water and what it contains at low levels (like urea).


And yet, my post is not really about pico-curies.  David Ropeik wrote about recent anti-nuclear videos. Ropeik describes the ways that people have strong motivations to fit in with their group. If the group says radiation is unacceptable, then the people in the group will agree that it is unacceptable.

However, anti-nuclear groups often place a high value on an imagined future in which people use very little energy and live in rural surroundings.  I point out how such a future is actually a dystopia.

Talking about picos is not usually effective with people who are "going along" with an anti-nuclear group.  However, it is effective to talk about the values of living a life with abundant clean energy.

I hope you will read my post and perhaps comment on it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Update: Consumer Liaison Group Meeting This Friday

Update: More information about the meeting is now available on this website:
You can scroll down to see the call-in number, the meeting agenda, and you can read or download the slides that will be presented.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am one of the two Vermont members of the Coordinating Committee for the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) of ISO-NE. ISO-NE is the New England grid operator.

The purpose of the CLG is to bring the voice of the consumer to the grid operator.  The CLG is administered (meetings set up, website maintained etc) by the Office of the Attorney General in Massachusetts.  The Office hosts a page about the history and purposes of the group.

Meetings are free and open to the public, but are generally advertised through existing groups and not-for-profits, not in the popular press.  You can see that Vermont Energy Partnership and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility helped to publicize this meeting.  The meetings include a free lunch and some rather heavy-duty discussions of grid issues. I think that is why the CLG doesn't put announcements in the newspapers.  (That's my opinion, NOT an official CLG statement!)  At any rate, the meetings are free and open to the public.

The meetings are held quarterly, and they rotate from state to state in New England. This is the first time in about three years that the meeting has been held in Vermont.  I am very pleased to be the panel moderator for this meeting.

I made a jpg of the announcement in order to put it on this blog, so the links in the jpg do not work. Here is a link to the ISO-NE page about the meeting. You can register on that page.  If you plan to come to the meeting, I do urge you to register in advance, because they order food.  The presentation pdfs for this meeting will also be posted on the meeting page.

To see pdfs of presentations from earlier meetings, scroll down the main page to see documents and resources.

I hope to see some of you at the meeting!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

UPDATE; Bullying at the NRC Meeting: Rod Adams, Dan Yurman and Steve Aplin

On February 19, I attended the NRC meeting about decommissioning Vermont Yankee.  I didn't expect it to be fun, of course.

This February 19 meeting was pretty bad.

After this meeting, I was trying, really trying, to write a post about bullying and why a federal agency would allow citizens at a meeting to be bullied.  Not just a little random shouting: the bullies make non-stop efforts to intimidate.

I think federal agencies owe the public to run their meetings so that EVERYONE can speak at a public meeting in relative safety.  I wondered why the NRC thinks that enabling bullies is such a good idea. I wondered why the safety of pro-nuclear people means so little to them.    

But I was too close to the subject.  I have a lengthy draft of a blog post, but it still needs work.  I found it very upsetting to relive the meeting and work on the post.

Happily, Rod Adams posted about the NRC meeting.  I had posted a link to the Cable TV video of the meeting in various places (including Facebook) and Rod followed the link and took action.

Rod is a hero!  From the four-hour video of the meeting, he extracted a twenty-minute video of "lowlights."  He emailed the NRC, and got some really bizarre responses (The NRC seems proud that they don't take action, even when people throw manure at other people.)  Rod has those responses in his post.

I urge you to read and circulate his post. Meanwhile, I will continue to work at my own post.  (It's hard for me.)



Dan Yurman posted on this subject, including his own exchange with the NRC.  Dan is a hero, too!

Yes, it is time that everyone felt safe at these meetings.  Time and past time!

Thank you,  Rod  Adams and Dan Yurman.



Wow, I am ever OUT of it!  Steve Aplin at Canadian Energy Issues also saw my link to the meeting video, and he has a wonderful post comparing the activities of the nuclear opponents, and the non-activity of the police in the meeting, with the methods of intimidation used against newly-freed slaves during Reconstruction.

Thank you Steve!  Great comments on this post, too!

Free speech, Monty Python, and Civil War reconstruction: anti-nukes are not funny


I decided to embed a video of the entire meeting. The three posts above are a far better introduction, but in case you want to see it…here it is.