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Showing posts from 2014

The Nuclear Year 2014

Years end, as everything finds an ending. Vermont Yankee is ending its 42-year run. Nuclear energy, which generated 70 percent of Vermont’s electricity, is ending in the Green Mountain state – as the year ends – as everything finds an ending.But you don’t need to see the old feller of 2014 shuffling off as the 2015 babe supplants him to know that endings portend beginnings. Vermont Yankee is closing because it is not making enough money, not because it has ceased to be an effective supplier of clean energy. Under the proposed EPA rules regulating  carbon dioxide  from electricity generators, Vermont is the only state that did not have to reduce emissions at all – in large part due to Vermont Yankee (hydro supplies most of the remaining 30 percent, so Vermont had a particularly good emissions profile). So now Vermont will turn to its neighbors New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Quebec to fill the gaps in its energy portfolio – some of that may be nuclear, but a lot of it likely will not…

Winter Fury, Meet Nuclear Reliability

Unless you live in Siberia, you probably don’t care much about when it snows there. But some meteorologists care, because it may act as a bellwether for how things will go in the rest of the northern hemisphere. And things are looking a little rough this season:About 14.1 million square kilometers of snow blanketed Siberia at the end of October, the second most in records going back to 1967, according to Rutgers University’s Global Snow Lab. Global Snow Lab? And their logo isn’t a snow globe!? Anyway, what does the snow in Siberia mean for us? Taken together they signal greater chances for frigid air to spill out of the Arctic into more temperate regions of North America, Europe and Asia, said Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather. There’s been a tendency lately to pay more attention to the weather, likely because the polar vortex last year …

Vogtle First to Implement New Voluntary Rule Allowing Improved Safety Focus

The following guest post comes from Victoria Anderson, senior project manager for risk assessment at NEI.

Since the NRC published the Probabilistic Risk Assessment Policy Statement in 1995, both the industry and NRC have worked to use risk information to better focus implementation of regulations at our country’s nuclear reactors. Risk information has helped advance maintenance efforts, routine inspections and testing procedures to ensure that licensees direct resources to the equipment and practices that are most important to safe, reliable operation of their plants.

In one such effort, in 2004, the NRC published a voluntary rule – 10 CFR 50.69, Risk-informed categorization and treatment of structures, systems and components for nuclear power reactors – that would allow licensees to refocus their equipment special treatment requirements on the structures, systems and components that are the most important to protecting the plant. Specifically, licensees implementing this voluntary ru…

Chief Nuclear Officer, Passionate Communicator

I have the fortune of being able to meet and work with plenty of exceptional people in this industry. Randy Edington is one of them. As the executive vice president and chief nuclear officer for the largest nuclear energy facility in America, Edington travels domestically and internationally sharing his passion for our technology. He welcomes the opportunity to convince plant neighbors and nuclear opponents that Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is a safe, clean and reliable source of power—not to mention the nation's largest source of power.

Edington knows well the importance of communicating nuclear after logging 33 years in the commercial nuclear energy industry and serving in the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine program prior to that. Last week, he shared a career's worth of lessons learned with the communications team at NEI. His presentation is truly remarkable and something to behold in person. I'll do my best to convey the highlights below.
Shared Respon…

What Do Amazon's Drones and Advanced Nuclear Reactors Have in Common?

Later this morning, the House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the "Future of Nuclear Energy". Click here to watch the hearing live on UStream at 10:00 a.m.

Featured on the witness list is a name that our readers will be familiar with - Dr .Leslie Dewan of Transatomic Power. She was kind enough to pass along a copy of her testimony so we could preview it for you right now.

We've gotten to know Dr. Dewan very well over the past year thanks to her role in NEI's Future of Energy campaign. Transatomic is developing a new reactor that's designed to burn used nuclear fuel. It's an incredibly promising new technology, but one that Dr. Dewan is concerned won't come to market first in the U.S. because of regulatory hurdles. It was just those sort of challenges that led the Bill Gates nuclear startup Terrapower to decide to build their first prototype in China:
The commercial nuclear regulatory structure in the United States is currently set up only for li…

Cyber Security and Defending What’s Important

We read all the time about various data breaches that cause – potentially, anyway – a good deal of pain. Probably the best known example recently was the theft of over 40 million credit card numbers from Target last year, which has led to a lawsuit from the companies that had to replace all those cards and a class action suit from disgruntled customers.We’ve no brief on Target’s cyber security strategy, except that we expect it to get a full review. But it certainly suggests the value of a good cyber security program:  defending what must be defended to ensure the public good.Cyber security at nuclear energy plants – and all essential infrastructure - is extremely important because the potential for malicious mischief is very high – not from thieves as much as terrorists and others who want to cripple the electricity grid or cause a radioactive release. Stealing credit cards can be discomforting, but attacking a nuclear facility could have grave impacts.For these and other reasons, nu…

Reading the Morning Nuclear News

From Fox News (which can be intensely partisan, but this is by former Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) and Judd Gregg (R-New Hampshire). They have a plan, which I’ve extracted here (read the story for the rest of it):Before we close more nuclear power plants, we need a national conversationWhat might be done to ensure that existing nuclear energy plants are preserved? … [W]e have laid out a framework of possible solutions that might be considered by policymakers.First, markets should appropriately value existing nuclear energy plants for their reliability…  Second, electric transmission lines could better link nuclear energy plants to the markets that need their power… Finally, nuclear energy plants could be recognized for the fact that they emit no carbon…  The whole thing is worth a read.From the Business Standard:China launches nuclear power expansion schemeScheme? Let the evil laughter and overwrought rubbing of hands commence.They write letters, this one to the Morris County N.J. D…

NEI's Pietrangelo to Testify Today Before Senate EPW Committee

Later today, Tony Pietrangelo, NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer, will testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee concerning "NRC’s Implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force Recommendations and other Actions to Enhance and Maintain Nuclear Safety (click 'Live Hearing' at link beginning at 9:00 a.m. U.S. EST to watch webcast).” 

The first panel will be comprised of the five current members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, including outgoing Chairman Allison Macfarlane. Pietrangelo will appear in the second panel in the afternoon, along with Daniel Hirsch of UC-Santa Cruz and Sam Blakeslee, a former California state senator who was once a member of the state's Seismic Safety Commission. A preview of Pietrangelo's oral testimony follows.

America’s 100 nuclear power plants provide approximately 20 percent of our electricity and nearly two-thirds of our carbon-free electricity.

They produce that electricity 24 hours/day and are not de…

To Jupiter and Beyond with Nuclear Energy

Sometimes, irony abounds:When it comes to space travel, plutonium-238 is the perfect fuel: long-lasting and, as I'll explain later, relatively safe. Without it, we have no hope of going much further than Mars, after which it simply becomes too dark to rely on solar panels, the most common alternative power source in space. But the world is rapidly running out of plutonium-238. Where’s the irony? Plutonium-238 is a byproduct of producing plutonium-239, which was used in nuclear weaponry. With the end of the cold war, and the dismantling of much of the nuclear arsenal, there’s no call for plutonium-239. It a case of undoubted progress blocking further progress.Happily, that’s not the end of the story. The government is looking into another way of making plutonium-238. Sarah Zhang at Gizmodo explains the process:The production plan, for now, involves hopping between no fewer than three DOE labs all over the country.Idaho National Laboratory: The precursor material, neptunium-237, is …

Happy Thanksgiving from NEI!

NEI's offices are closed today in honor of the Thanksgiving Holiday. 
We'll be back in this space on December 1. See you then.

Message Sent and Received on Nuclear Value

It’s one thing for nuclear advocates to say that nuclear energy should be correctly valued as a carbon dioxide-free energy source. This means not just any new plants that will happen along, but, as important, those now in service. If the Environmental Protection Agency does not get this right in its upcoming rules covering emissions from electricity generators, it potentially could harm its goal.
If a nuclear facility is lost, then so is all that emission free energy and it puts their host states at a disadvantage at hitting their emission reduction targets. The relatively low cost of natural gas can seem appealing from one angle but not quite so attractive when it is filling in for a nuclear facility and not a coal plant. The emissions profile changes for the worse in the former case. 
Among energy mavens, this has become glaringly apparent. Here’s American Nuclear Society President Michaele Brady Raap:
The EPA proposal is laudable in many respects, but it needs significant adjust…

Pain From Vermont Yankee Closing Spreads Far and Wide

We continue our focus on the closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant with a guest post by Vermont resident Meredith Angwin. A nuclear industry veteran, Angwin is now project director of the Energy Education Project at the Ethan Allen Institute.

Vermont Yankee will close at the end of the year. I have blogged at Yes Vermont Yankee for five years. It’s hard to even know how to begin a description of the effects of closing Vermont Yankee. The pain starts with the people who work at the plant.

Hundreds of Goodbyes

Jan. 30, 2014, was the day that the “lists were up” at the plant. The plant will cease operations by the end of December 2014, and fuel should be unloaded to the fuel pool by the end of January 2015. In August, 2013, Entergy announced that the plant would close and not be refueled. "This was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us," said Leo Denault, Entergy's chairman and chief executive officer, when the company announced its plans to clo…

Closing Vermont Yankee and All That It Does Not Produce – Greenhouse Gases

What becomes a nuclear facility most? These days, it may be its emission-free quality – its production of nothing, in other words, at least in terms of the greenhouse gases that have concerned policymakers and the public in recent years. In NEI’s third article on the closing of Vermont Yankee, we look at the implications of closing not only the source of 72.3 percent of Vermont’s electricity, but the implications of losing all that nothing – those gases that it doesn’t produce.
The loss of 604 megawatts of carbon-free generation will hinder efforts to reduce emissions in the region. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s draft plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants includes an initial estimate of how much each state will need to reduce emissions by 2030.  The proposed reduction targets show the difference that energy mix makes from state to state. And not only does it impact the region’s proposed EPA target, but it could make a mess of a more local concern, Ver…

Vermont Yankee and the Looming Energy Crisis

Is New England facing an energy crisis? Today, in the second of three parts about closing Vermont Yankee, NEI looks at the looming energy shortages in the far Northeast.
Along with Vermont Yankee, nearly 1,400 megawatts of baseload electric generating capacity will retire in New England this year, including a 750-megawatt coal- and petroleum-fired power plant in Massachusetts. But New England is using a lot of natural gas these days, right?
New England has significantly increased its reliance on natural gas for electricity in the past few years. The increase has contributed to pipeline transportation congestion in the region’s natural gas market, particularly in the winter when it competes for heating homes and businesses. Which can lead to, indeed, did lead to:
These supply constraints contributed to extreme spikes in spot natural gas and electricity prices in New England during the winters of 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. During the severe cold snap of January 2014’s polar vortex, the

Closing Vermont Yankee – And All That it Means

Vermont Yankee is a relatively small nuclear facility in a relatively small state. Its closure later this year will cause Vermont to import more electricity, but what happens in Vermont does not impact Vermont alone.

That’s important and this week, NEI will put up a set of Web pages that zero in on the implications of shuttering a nuclear reactor. The articles are grouped under the title “Closing Vermont Yankee” and covers the electricity markets, the possibility of an energy crisis in New England and the efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the region and country. And Vermont Yankee has an important role in all three topics.

The first article, available today, focuses on the electricity marketplace. The polar vortex showed the importance of nuclear plants to provide reliable energy (notably in New England) and the coming EPA carbon dioxide emissions rule makes manifest the value of clean nuclear facilities. In the article, industry executives warn that more nuclear plants …

From Verne to Rickover with the Nuclear Navy

Forbes’ takes on an interesting topic that flies under the radar of just about everyone, including many nuclear energy advocates: the Nuclear Navy.The Nuclear Navy has logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free operations and travelled over 130 million miles on nuclear energy, enough to circle the earth 3,200 times. The nuclear reactors can run for many, many years without refueling. They operate all over the world, sometimes in hostile environments, with no maintenance support except their own crew. These reactors can ramp up from zero to full power in minutes, as fast as any natural gas-fired plant.And a fair number of Nuclear Navy veterans find their way into the domestic industry (not to mention NEI). The Monticello (Minn.) Times features an interview with Thomas Shortell, training manager at Xcel Energy’s Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.“When you think about rites of passage and academics, you’ve done it in the military,” Shortell said. “If somebody has made it through…

The China/U.S. Deal and Its Nuclear Portensions

The greenhouse gas deal reached by the United States and China promises to be exceptionally consequential. Reining in China’s emissions has always seemed a difficult, practically impossible goal because the huge country is very quickly trying to develop an industrial sector while providing electricity to a widely scattered and mammoth population. Despite a large commitment to nuclear energy, China has had a larger one to fossil fuels. The ghastly, and widely reported, air quality found in Beijing and other urban centers has been a result – and a symbol of China’s reluctance to change course.Now, it will change course.Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to cap China's emissions in the future — a striking, unprecedented move by a nation that has been reluctant to box itself in on global warming.To be more specific:China, whose emissions are still growing as it builds new coal plants, didn't commit to cut emissions by a specific amount. Rather, Xi set a target for China's emi…

None Dare Call It the Polar Vortex

Well, except for CBS News, which senses potential viewers for weather freak out news and is willing to turn “cold weather” into a brand – the way the Weather Channel has attempted to name snow storms despite no pressing need to do so.It's the return of the polar vortex that brought misery a year ago. A mass of whirling cold air will dip southward this weekend, sending the mercury plunging.But here’s the problem: the polar vortex is right where it should be. And that’s important, because the actual polar vortex has implications for the energy sphere which risks getting muddled if every cold blast is called a polar vortex.The actual polar vortex sent temperatures plummeting so fast last January that it froze natural gas lines and coal piles. During that time, when the prices of natural gas skyrocketed and coal facilities had to shut down, wind and especially nuclear energy kept the lights on. The event basically demonstrated the value of energy diversity, where one type of electric…

Go Nuclear and Go Now – The Inescapable Message of the IPCC

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report on climate change is its fourth such  report this cycle. This report synthesizes the findings of the previous three working group reports. The result can be considered hair raising if this is the kind of thing that raises your hair (assuming you have any, of course.) Here’s the summary:Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. [italics theirs]What drives much of the response to the IPCC’s work is not the science, which is way above the…