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Showing posts from April, 2015

What the Simpsons Gets Wrong About Nuclear Safety Culture

I love The Simpsons.  The Simpsons cleverly, mercilessly, and democratically gore everyone's sacred cows.  None are off-limits, including the professionals who comprise the commercial nuclear power industry.
From the avaricious Montgomery Burns, owner of the Springfield Nuclear Plant, to the bumbling Homer Simpson, control room operator and safety inspector, the people of the nuclear enterprise are portrayed as incompetent and unconcerned about their responsibilities to serve and protect their fellow workers, the public and the environment.  As you can imagine, the truth is quite different.

How different from that comedic portrayal are the real people of the nuclear power industry?  A recent briefing by our NEI colleagues, Sue Perkins-Grew and Rod McCullum, reminded us how different indeed.

Sue and Rod recently attended an elite leadership training course offered by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations' (INPO), the industry-supported agency for promoting excellence in all…

Have China and Russia Stolen the Nuclear Thunder from the U.S.?

This is startling: Lenin and Mao referenced in a pro-nuclear energy op-ed written by Eric McFarland of the Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation at the University of Queensland:The ghosts of Lenin and Mao might well be smirking. Communist and authoritarian nations are moving to take global leadership in, and profit from, the commercial use of nuclear power, a technology made possible by the market-driven economies of the West. New research and development could enable abundant, affordable, low-carbon energy as well as further beneficial products for industry and medicine. This is published in the Wall Street Journal, so the goal may well be to wake up the capitalists from the dolorous slumber.Governments are right, of course, to monitor and tightly control the application of nuclear energy, as they do chemical and biological weapons. But the well-intentioned systems, agencies, regulations, legislation, safeguards and bureaucratic mass that have been applied to every aspect…

What Americans for Prosperity Gets Wrong About the Ex Im Bank

The following is a guest post by Ted Jones, Director of International Supplier Relations for NEI.

A spokesperson for Americans for Prosperity told The Hill last week that Congress should allow the U.S. Export-Import Bank to expire when its authorization ends in June.
If a particular sector like the nuclear sector needs Ex-Im to survive, “the fact that your industry has grown dependent on taxpayer-backed loans doesn’t mean that it needs to continue forever,” Russell said. While that sounds like a principled free-market argument, a closer look at the realities of international trade demonstrates that it is a mistaken premise for ending the Ex-Im Bank. To the contrary, the conservative principles of fiscal responsibility and American leadership in global affairs should lead Tea Party groups to support Ex-Im.

Ex-Im Bank serves a crucial role for nuclear exporters that the private sector cannot. U.S. nuclear exporters turn to Ex-Im precisely because financing alternatives in the priva…

NRDC Misfires on Nuclear in Illinois Energy Poll

We have to hand it to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Their recent poll tries as hard as it can, but it can’t quite hide the truth about Illinois energy and its relative cleanliness, the subject of the poll.It finds, quite reasonably, that people there are much in favor of clean energy, which NRDC is quite sure includes only renewables. Why should that be, I wondered – well, until I looked at the questions.This is one of them:Some people/other people say we should transition to more clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power in Illinois. Illinois residents already get most of their electricity with nuclear power; the last thing we need is more safety risks from building more nuclear plants.This is part of another question.We already have more nuclear energy than any other state, and it is too risky for our health and environment.Yet, even with statements like that to ponder, 33 percent of respondents favor expanding nuclear energy in the state. Frankly, we expec…

What the Ecomodernist Manifesto Says to Nuclear Energy Advocates

Timed for Earth day, The Breakthrough Institute released what it’s calling the Ecomodernist Manifesto, a tract that deserves attention because of the quality of its creators and because it suggests a way forward – or perhaps I should say out of – the impasse between environmentalists and policy makers in crafting ways to protect the environment while maximizing the potential of people worldwide to prosper. It’s a blueprint to guide environmentalists away from seeing people as environmental destroyers – which, of course, turns off the folks they’re trying to appeal to – to partners.

The folks who signed on to this include Pandora’s Promise director Robert Stone and two participants in his pro-nuclear energy documentary, Stewart Brand and Mark Lynas, the latter of whom earned considerable admiration from me for his openness and curiosity toward nuclear energy despite considerable suspicion about it. Of course, it also includes the co-founders the Breakthrough Institute, Michael Shellenb…

Turkey Point's Innovative Waste Water Cooling Plan

Today and tomorrow, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting in Florida concerning adding two reactors to FP&L’s Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station. In this guest blog post, NEI’s Bill Skaff takes a quick look at how the nuclear energy industry is breaking new ground in using reclaimed water for reactor cooling.

Carbon-free nuclear energy must continue to play a major role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Moreover, the industry is responding in innovative ways.

For instance, Florida Power & Light's (FP&L) Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Stationplans to use 80-90 million gallons of recycled municipal waste water each day for the cooling system of its two new nuclear units (6 and 7). This shouldn’t be a surprise since the nuclear energy industry has been and continues to be a pioneer in the large-scale use of reclaimed water for cooling.

The Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona was the first nuclear plant in the world to use recycle…

Why the China 123 Agreement is Good for America

Dan Lipman is NEI’s Vice President for Suppliers and International Programs. Before joining NEI in 2012, he spent 31 years at Westinghouse Electric Corp.

In 1985, China had only recently begun its transformation into an economic powerhouse, and had just begun construction of its first nuclear power plant. It was also the year that the United States and China agreed to cooperate in commercial nuclear energy technology.

Thirty years later, China has overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy and it is the world’s largest market for nuclear power plants, equipment and technology. Consider: 23 reactors are now in operation, another 26 are under construction, and even more are preparing to break ground. Consider further: China’s nuclear generating capacity, which is about 19 gigawatts today, is expected to increase three-fold to 58 gigawatts by 2020 and to some 150 gigawatts by 2030. In short, for any company that is a global player in nuclear energy technology and equipmen…

Earth Day Reminds Us Why We Need Emission-Free Nuclear Energy

Tomorrow is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Last year, we discussed how the U.S. electric grid had evolved since the founding of Earth Day in 1970. The updated chart below tells the story of how nuclear energy grew to produce 19 percent of America's electricity. Though it might be hard to believe, oil produced more than 10 percent of the nation's electricity on that first Earth Day. That it doesn't any longer is in large part attributable to the growth of nuclear energy and other low carbon sources of electricity on the grid.

Nuclear energy's growth over the past four and a half decades should not be taken for granted. One of the greatest environmental challenges we face today is reducing carbon emissions while maintaining modern living standards. The electricity sector is the largest contributor of carbon emissions (one-third) in the United States, and nuclear is the only source that includes 24/7, large-scale production, industry-leading efficiency and zero carb…

Nuclear Caviar

You can tell right away that this report from the World Uranium Symposium in Quebec City is not very friendly toward nuclear energy, but I have to hand it to redoubtable attendee ArnieGundersen for coming up with the least apropos simile ever:The nuclear industry is gamely trying to rebrand nuclear power as the solution to climate change, but, as former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen quipped at the symposium, "Trying to solve global warming by building reactors is like trying to solve global hunger by serving caviar."Gundersen means that nuclear energy is as expensive in its way as caviar. But caviar is also a deluxe food product. That works better. Caviar may be a poor choice for solving world hunger because its output is relatively sparse. That’s what makes it deluxe. The deluxe nature of nuclear energy is that, once you spend the (admittedly lush) sum to build a reactor, you have inexpensive, emission-free energy for 60 or more years that is far from sparse. C…

How WANO & INPO Measure Excellence in Nuclear Operations

The following is a guest post from Anthony R. Pietrangelo, NEI's Chief Nuclear Officer.

Achieving one great year of performance for an industry or an individual is noteworthy. Sustaining exemplary performance over a decade or more is the true measure of excellence. The U.S. nuclear energy industry’s long-term performance is documented by the performance indicators monitored by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO).

Why are these indicators so important? They are used as a management tool by nuclear operators to monitor their performance and progress against their peers, to set ambitious goals for improvement, and to benchmark the best practices of operators worldwide.

According to the 2014 industry performance indicators, U.S. nuclear energy facilities set or approached record levels of performance in many categories. Nuclear power plants have multiple safety systems which, if ever needed, can be used to safely s…

Yucca Mountain: Nuclear Albatross or Top 10?

A couple of mentions in the Nevada press about Yucca Mountain suggested that the state might become at least a bit more open about reactivating the project. You can read about this a couple of posts below.That’s just the tip of the mountain. There’s lately been a regular boomlet in interest in the brown mound, keyed largely to a Congressional delegation paying a visit there:Five U.S. Congress members are heading to the mothballed site of a proposed national radioactive waste dump in the Nevada desert, amid new talk about a decades-old problem — where to dispose of spent nuclear fuel stored at commercial reactors around the U.S.Note the word “dump” there? We’ll be coming back to that.The daylong tour is being led by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, Republican chairman of the House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee and a supporter of plans to entomb the nation’s most radioactive waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. “Our nation desperately needs to advance our nuclear waste strategy and…

Resilience Inside and Outside the Nuclear Plant

Yesterday, a group of folks got together to talk about sustainability and resilience, especially in energy infrastructure and especially as a means of developing urban centers responsibly. It may seem that nuclear energy has only a tangential role here: it provides emission-free electricity to cities that want to be as emission-free as possible. But there’s more to it than that.Sustainability in this context means doing the least damage to the environment in building and operating buildings and entire cities, with special attention paid to urban infrastructure in developing countries – a project in Cameroon was mentioned a couple of times as an example. Resilience proved to be a bit more interesting (to me) because it spoke to issues that have engaged the nuclear industry since the Fukushima Daiichi accident – ensuring that a facility can withstand and recover from a catastrophic natural disaster.The major appeal of this meeting was the participation of Amos Avidan, the senior vice pr…

Yucca Mountain: “What if the answer were ‘maybe?’”

The ongoing discussion on used nuclear fuel has taken a number of twists and turns over the years, with interest in consolidated storage facilities growing – and Waste Control Specialists in Texas offering to provide such a facility – and and a permanent repository, such as was the purpose behind the Yucca Mountain project. It’s not an either/or proposition – the first collects used fuel from military and domestic sites – where it is safe as is – and the second will be its final resting place. Consolidation is the right word for the goal – it reduces the number of sites holding used fuel, over time, from many to some to one. It’s been a vexing issue, but not impossible.Nevada’s Yucca Mountain holds a special place in the conversation because the Nuclear Waste Policy Act specifies it as the permanent repository and because the project was progressing apace until President Barack Obama closed it down soon after his first election. This fulfilled a campaign promise he made during a Nevad…

Missing the Nuclear Target by a Populist Mile

The Boulder Daily Camera offers what can only be called the economic populist’s objection to nuclear energy:On the economic side, we have this Darwinian capitalism that emphasizes profit at all costs. Nothing can ever be done without everybody slurping at the trough, somewhat of an unstated mandate to always put the risk on the other guy and not pay for it ourselves, and the disastrous need for short-term profits. This would force the operators and owners to cut corners on maintenance and safety, use low-cost unqualified labor, try to circumvent the rules, and pull the profit out in terms of money early in the endeavor so as not to put the profits at risk.You can see where this argument, if valid, could go in the nuclear energy sphere. Movies such as The China Syndrome and even the more sophisticated Cloud Atlas showed capitalistic greed trumping good sense in nuclear energy (actually, Cloud Atlas made the villains the coal industry out to crush a nuclear plant). But this argument, an…

CNN Botches Uranium Enrichment Numbers

Earlier today, the CNN network crawler put out incorrect information about Iran’s uranium enrichment.

The crawler stated that 3.67% is "roughly halfway to weapons grade." That is off by several magnitudes. The cited figure is actually well within the range of reactor grade, magnitudes away from weapons grade. Weapons grade uranium is enriched to at least 85%-90% U235, the fissile element.

Quoting the Smithsonian, "U-235, however, is fissile; it can start a nuclear reaction and sustain it. The 0.7% in naturally occurring uranium is not enough to make a bomb or even a nuclear reactor for a power plant. A power plant requires uranium with 3-4% U-235 (this is known as low-enriched or reactor-grade uranium).

Most importantly, a nuclear bomb needs uranium with a whopping 90% U-235 (highly enriched uranium)."

Here are our tweets reacting to this major error:

COMING UP: Our response to @CNN’s botched reporting on uranium enrichment.
— Nuclear Energy Inst. (@NEI) April 3, 20…

An Obvious Nuclear Role in U.N. Climate Change Goals

Not specifically about nuclear energy – or is it?The White House on Tuesday introduced President Obama’s blueprint for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by nearly a third over the next decade.Mr. Obama’s plan, part of a formal written submission to the United Nations ahead of efforts to forge a global climate change accord in Paris in December, detailed the United States’ part of an ambitious joint pledge made by Mr. Obama and President Xi Jinping of China in November. And how to cut greenhouse gases?Mr. Obama’s new blueprint brings together several domestic initiatives that were already in the works, including freezing construction of new coal-fired power plants, increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and plugging methane leaks from oil and gas production. It is meant to describe how the United States will lead by example and meet its pledge for cutting emissions.These are all fine, but this is the bit where nuclear energy enters the picture:At the heart of the p…