Dog Days of Summer

The phrase is used to describe those hot, sultry days in July and August. Here in the southeastern U.S., these days are typically almost unbearable with the heat and humidity. We welcome the break in weather that comes in the fall that allows us to open the windows to enjoy fresh air.

The Greeks and the Romans believed that the “Dog Days” were an evil time. Here’s how Brady’s Clavis Calendaria put it: “The Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies,”

I made the mistake of traveling during this evil time over the past couple of weeks. My odyssey of weather, mechanical problems, delayed flights, missed connections and luggage was almost worthy of Homer.

I know that everyone reading this has experienced the same. I try to use these experiences as learning opportunities. While it is tempting to say “I learned never to travel again,” I know that I will be on planes and going places within a few weeks. So what were my lessons?
The airlines are using some kind of optimizer to minimize the number of planes and maximize their time in the air. Makes sense. They don’t make money if a plane is sitting on the ground.
The optimum the airlines are finding is a “brittle optimum.” If you think of optimums as either a peak or a valley, where a ball will sit still, the airlines have chosen a “peak” where once the ball shifts even SLIGHTLY off the optimum, it will roll further and further away.

A “valley” is a stability point; the ball moves away, but rolls back to the optimum with no external forcing mechanism.

They count on the overnight reset to bring the system back to “optimum.” In other words, they roll the ball back up the hill overnight, but that’s a different Greek myth (Sisyphus) for another day.

We passengers are at least partly to blame. Few travelers are willing to pay even a few dollars more for an improved on time rate. In the world of deregulated air travel, we’ve demonstrated to the airlines that the only thing that matters is the cheapest fare.
From now on, I will try to remember Harding’s First Principal of Travel: ALWAYS FLY IN THE MORNING.

Cheapist Aint Best. What does this have to do with nuclear energy? The electricity system in the U.S. is in real danger of doing EXACTLY the same thing. Ratepayers, public utility commissions and independent system operators are always looking for the cheapest electricity.
The fact that some of the players get outside subsidies, or that some players get state mandates to support their chosen form of generation, are inadequately considered in electricity markets. Also improperly considered is the need for capacity to be available whenever the demand is there.

The capacity issue is the one that haunts the nuclear industry the most. Flying a plane half full to get equipment to the right place, and to have some extra equipment in the system to allow for potential failures, is the right thing to do but it costs money.

If the airline cannot get compensated by the passengers for having extra planes available when and where they are needed, they eliminate those flights that don’t pay enough.

Base load plants operate best when they run flat out as much as possible. Having them on line and operating gives the system cushion for when other generation isn’t available or demand peaks high enough.

The problem is that the markets will not pay (reward) these plants for their capacity to generate electricity when demand is low or their ability to stabilize the grid, or they don’t pay enough to keep the plants running.

This is where the analogy ends. There is a profound difference between the airlines and electricity. If passengers decided that on time performance was worth paying for, airlines could quickly add planes to their fleets and improve that performance over a matter of a few months.

If nuclear plants are closed, and their licenses withdrawn, there is no way to bring that generation capacity back. New plants take time to build.
If we allow nuclear plants to continue to close for economic reasons alone, we’re going to wake up one day and realize that we allowed a terrible decision process to destroy our way of life.

We have to stop talking to ourselves and get out there and start shouting to the world about these issues. Too many people are asleep and dreaming of a make-believe world where windmills and solar panels will keep them warm and dry and well fed.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week Vol 13 #582, 08.28.2014 where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to www.FuelCycleWeek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

Liar’s Poker and Other Games of Chance

According to the Urban Dictionary, Liar’s Poker is an American bar game played with one-dollar bills. Each player picks from a pile of face-down bills, and uses the eight-digit serial number on the face of the bill (kept private) to shape a playing strategy.

This is a consecutive bidding game where players “bet” on the total number of occurrences of digits on all bills involved in the hand. The winner of each hand is decided when a bid is challenged by all the other players. If the bid is successful the bidder wins all the one-dollar bills. If he loses the bid he pays everybody a dollar.

Why am I writing this month’s column on Liar’s Poker? Because it is (1) a game of statistics and combinations, and (2) makes a point about bluffing versus knowledge.

How this relates to the energy industry in general and nuclear industry in particular in this brave new “carbon free” world is very simple: regardless of generation type the cost of construction, operation, fuel and electricity produced is a game of Liar’s Poker.
With respect to nuclear, different reactors will cost different amounts in different countries with different economic and regulatory structures. In other words, the costs of building reactor X in China won’t be the costs of building it in the United States.

The capital costs of new nuclear power plants in the U.S. are far from well known.Large light water reactors have not been built for many decades, and the current Westinghouse designs under construction in Georgia and South Carolina haven’t been built more than a few times anywhere in the world.Frankly, anybody that claims to know is playing Liar’s Poker.

Predictions about the cost of building small modular reactors are clearly Liar’s Poker, and the way things are going lately some of the bids by the players in the SMR world might be challenged. How many 1’s are on your dollar bill?

Wind and solar installations are also beginning to run into a NIMBY enthralled public that wants energy, as well as goods and services, but doesn’t want any of the messy bits to be located too close to their homes. As the local populations become more sophisticated in how to use government red-tape against ANY industrial facility, the cost of electricity will continue to climb. How many 2’s on your dollar bill?

Throw renewable portfolio standards, production tax credits and increased environmental regulation into the mix, and the bluffing and betting that goes on begins to boggle the mind. How many 3’s on that dollar bill?
The coal industry is trying to bluff its way through the entire issue by convincing the world that their product is really clean, and that coal ash spills are not really their fault. Oh, and did we mention the number of jobs coal provides around the country? How many 4’s on that dollar bill?

Then methane comes riding in to the rescue with its claims of being a great back-up for renewables, how much lower carbon it is than coal, how low cost it is and how wonderfully safe it is— until a major winter storm smacks the Northeast or a pipeline blows up under a building.
Let’s not even talk about the international issues related to methane. Russia’s current stranglehold on some countries in Europe could be an entirely separate discussion. How many 5’s do you have?

On and on it goes. 6’s? 7’s? 8’s? 9’s?

All of these costs, risks, and benefits are almost impossible for the average citizen to comprehend. Is it any wonder that we have no well thought out long-term energy policy that might result in reliable energy available at reasonable costs both to the environment and to our economy?

We have to challenge the bid and start to move forward with the BEST options available to our country. The “all of the above” strategy we are currently playing is, in the end, NONE OF THE ABOVE.

What really matters is how many 0’s are on the bill. Too many of those and there will be no winner, only losers in this game of Energy Liar’s Poker. •

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week Vol 13 #566, 04.24.2014 where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to FuelCycleWeek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

Yucca Mountain Follies: Let’s Rewrite The Ending, Please

Another act in the long running farcical melodrama called Yucca Mountain is unfolding this month. We have such a cast of characters that Broadway, or perhaps Monty Python’s Flying Circus, would be envious.

The dastardly villain has been played well by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has managed to include henchmen that are then disposed of when their usefulness has ended.

His chief minion was Dr. Greg Jaczko, whom he manipulated onto the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s five-person commission, then again into the chairmanship.

Dr. Jaczko proved himself more dastardly than even Harry could manage, what with his ill- timed outbursts at staff and overt manipulation of the other commissioners.

After banishing the good doctor into oblivion at the Department of Energy, Harry brought in a new minion, one with more charm, Dr. Allison Macfarlane.

Our hero in this story at the moment is the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia, which finally issued a Writ of Mandamus against the NRC.

The judges waited for a year, in the hope that Congress would do something to make its intentions clear, but between the political stalemates in almost every aspect of government and Harry’s Machiavellian maneuvers in the Senate, no clear intention was forthcoming.

This Writ is historically significant as it represents the first time in U.S. history that the judicial branch has compelled the executive branch of government to complete an action.

The NRC seems to have chosen the role of well-meaning but ineffectual country bumpkin. The other commissioners are unable or unwilling to stand up to the machinations of Sen. Reid and his minions and, with their silence, have allowed an extreme miscarriage of justice—not to mention a blatant flouting of the laws passed by Congress and ratified by a sitting president.

Of course, the victim here is Yucca Mountain.

Sadly, the project is still on life support and the prognosis is not good. The hapless NRC has insufficient funds to bring it back to life, but only to complete the documentation of what kind of repository it could have been.

Dr. Macfarlane, Reid’s latest minion at NRC, has decided to ask the parties to the lawsuit to tell her what to do.

It would seem that her charm and her proclaimed desire for scientific truth does not permit her to find more devious and cut- throat methods to keep Yucca Mountain in a coma and waiting for death.

It appears that she is hoping that the wily Sen. Reid will get other henchmen to give her the air cover she needs to put Yucca Mountain back on ice.

To be a true melodrama, though, audience participation is required. We audience members must boo and hiss the villain, cheer the hero, and sigh for the victim.

We have a chance at participation, though it requires more effort than just loud applause. The NRC asked for the public to comment and suggest what the agency should do next.

They have about $11 million to spend, not enough to complete everything in their purview on Yucca and rescue it from certain death, but enough to tell us what it could have been. Flaws and

positive aspects of the facility. Lessons to be learned for the next time we perform this work.

Help the NRC step up to the hero’s role and stop being the stumbling, bumbling fool. Send an e-mail to the Secretary of the NRC: secy@nrc.gov.

Tell him that the NRC should issue the essentially complete volume 3 of the Safety Evaluation Report, then complete issue volumes 4 and 5.

Then demand that after that, the agency should lay before Congress and the nation what it will take to complete the work mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

Let the next act begin.

By providing that statement, perhaps we can help the other commissioners decide that the courts should not be the only hero in this story and demand a different ending to this multi-act play.

Such an action would allow the NRC to resolve the Waste Confidence issue that has brought all licensing actions to a halt and allow the U.S. to move forward with nuclear energy.

Whether or not we ever bury a single fuel bundle underground at Yucca Mountain is not, in fact, the point.

But having the option available when we finally need to store fuel is—and all we are asking for.

After all, nuclear is the only energy capable of delivering the vast quantities of electricity to drive our country without polluting our air and our water. That’s pretty heroic.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #5383, 09.26.2013. where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to FuelCycleWeek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

Of Pandora and Prometheus

The myths of Pandora and Prometheus are some of the most interesting of the Greek myths.

What I didn’t realize until recently is that these two myths are related.

Prometheus—whose name means “forethought” or “forward thinker”—was a Titan who helped to create humans and stole fire from Zeus and the rest of his Olympus gang to help humans live a better life.

For his troubles, Zeus eventually chains him to a rock and has an eagle eat his liver each day. The liver grows back each night so that the punishment can be eternal.

Many know this myth and many nuclear projects use the word “Prometheus” in honor of his actions.

Certainly, given nuclear energy’s potential it feels a great deal like we’ve stolen the ultimate fire from the universe.

Pandora, though, I was less familiar with.

Like most folks, I knew that Pandora’s box was filled with evil things and that she loosed them on the world by unlocking a box she’d been told to keep shut.

We’ve all heard the phrase “opened

Pandora’s box” to connote something that someone had done that created all kinds of problems.

Anti-nuclear activists like to describe nuclear technology as an act of opening a Pandora’s box.

They almost gleefully describe a litany of ills and problems that the curious scientists that developed this technology have opened with their discovery.

When the documentary “Pandora’s Promise” was released this past summer, and director Robert Stone explained that Pandora’s myth ends with the revelation that hope for all mankind was at the bottom of the box, I decided to investigate a bit further the story of Pandora.

Who was this Pandora woman anyway?

Pandora—the name means “all gifts”—is the first human woman in Greek mythology. Before her, all females were either gods or Titans.

Zeus demanded that the other Olympian gods create her in order to play a trick on mankind as punishment. What transgression was Zeus so angry about? He was angry because Prometheus stole fire and gave it to mankind.

Depending on the version of the myth, the gods first tried to give her to Prometheus, who recognized the potential trick and refused her.

The gods then give her to Epimetheus, Prometheus’s brother. Epimetheus means “after thought” or “hindsight.” He’s less well known than Prometheus, mostly because he always failed to plan ahead.

These myths are compelling. Nuclear technology is indeed the fire we stole from the gods.

As mere mortals, it has taken thousands of competent and dedicated engineers and scientists to wrest this fire from Olympus and bring it to mankind.

Some days, it certainly feels like our livers are being pecked out by something—and that, like Prometheus, we are being punished.

However, the campaigns by anti-nuclear activists over the past several decades now appears to be Epimetheus-like.

Lacking any foresight, they’ve been seduced by a pretty vision of the future. The ills our continued reliance on fossil fuels has created certainly seems to be Pandora’s box.

Our air is dirtier, our energy more expensive and less reliable, and our future less certain because of the delays in getting nuclear energy used more widely, not just in the U.S, but globally.

But there is still hope at the bottom of that box.

Many environmentalists have rejected the traditional anti-nuclear stance. There has been quiet talk in the corners of the movement that perhaps that knee jerk stance was wrong.

The documentary “Pandora’s Promise” brings that discussion into the forefront and perhaps begins to get us to the bottom of that box and to the hope that it brings.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #543, 10.31.2013. where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to fuelcycleweek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

A love letter to Engineers

Popular media describe engineers in two ways:

1. Bumbling white male nerds in ill-fitting garb and thick glasses with only a vague awareness of the world outside our books, computers and equations. Not evil, but frequently patsies of more worldly people like James Bond.

2. Active evil-doers in cahoots with the evil scientists, helping to create machines that will destroy mankind, if not the entire world, only to be defeated by the infinitely better looking and certainly more personable heroes.

But those of us who work as engineers, have managed engineers, are the proud parents of engineers, or just hang around with engineers, know the truth: engineers are pretty cool people.

Most of us became engineers because we like to solve problems and make things work better. Usually, we broke things as kids. We took apart watches, or cars, or (in my case) musical instruments and either succeeded or failed in putting them back together.

Somebody we respected, a teacher or parent or scout leader, suggested we should be an engineer. Little did we know how much fun engineering would be. Engineers get to take scientific discoveries and use them to improve life on our planet.

It is a well-kept secret that engineering requires extraordinary creativity alongside those familiar skills of discipline and logic. Such skills are useful in almost every possible career. Engineers do much more than traditional engineering roles. Engineers become salesman, lawyers, and doctors. Engineers teach at all levels of education—primary, secondary, and college level.

Engineering should be the greatest equal opportunity career on the planet. Engineers don’t have to be white or male. We don’t care if you are good-looking, married, gay, or disabled. We don’t care if you can run a four-minute mile or bench press 150 pounds. A true engineer cares mostly about solving the problem at hand. Anyone who can provide insight and solutions is sought out and encouraged.

Engineers moved us beyond the bounds of earth’s gravity. Engineers improve the lives of people today. Engineers will be the ones to solve future energy needs while improving the quality of the land, air, and water.

We are not those bumbling nerds people love to laugh at.

My engineering friends are gourmet cooks, master bakers, outstanding musicians, photographers, artists, actors, and writers. They love history, studied the classics, and debate the merits of the Byzantine empire.

Engineers knit, crochet, quilt, cross-stitch, and sew. They are deacons in their churches and coaches of kids’ soccer, baseball, and basketball.

Stereotypes do have a basis in fact, though. I’ve never met an engineer that doesn’t like science fiction, Star Trek, Star Wars, or Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It is to varying degrees that we enjoy these things, but I’ll admit that I can quote the dialog to most of these shows with ease.

Without engineers, life would be shorter, dirtier, darker, and much less fun. Engineers are behind every major technology in your home and business, from light bulbs to computers to refrigerators, plumbing, and HVAC. Engineers make vacuums work better and buildings safer. They make cars faster and more efficient.

What we don’t seem to do, though, is politics. In the U.S. Congress, only five representatives and one senator are engineers.

The proud heritage of creative problem solving that is the heart of the engineer should be in Washington, D.C.

Even more importantly we should be in the state houses helping ensure decisions are being [made] with sound information and solid technical understanding of the consequences.

Question: How can you tell an extroverted engineer from an introverted one?
Answer: The extrovert looks at your shoes instead of his own.

I fear that we engineers are not working hard enough to reach out to our friends and neighbors. Too many young people today are not looking into engineering as a career. Society idolizes the gifted athlete and celebrates celebrity. Engineers are relegated to the audience, not the spotlight.

Yet that spotlight would not work without the brilliant design and technological understanding of an engineer. Not everyone can be an engineer, but everyone can understand the principles. We must find more ways to reach out to today’s youth.

If we can create celebrities at fixing houses and baking cakes, surely we can create more role-models than Bill Nye, the science guy, and MythBusters.

I am proud to proclaim my association with engineers and engineering. The men and women who work as engineers in the nuclear industry, and in every industry, are problem solvers. That, my friends, is what engineers do.

And if we are going to tackle climate change without bankrupting our economies or destroying our quality of life in the process, we will need engineers to push up their glasses, take their pencils out of their pockets and get to work.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #558, 2.27.14. where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to fuelcycleweek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

RIC NRC – Part 1

I was at the NRC’s Regulatory Information Conference in Washington, DC this week. Every March, a couple thousand nuclear industry professionals, journalists, and members of the public come to the conference center across the street from the NRC’s headquarters in Rockville to hear the NRC discuss issues that concern them.

Many, if not most, of the people come for the first two days to hear the commissioners speak. That is frequently the most interesting part of the week as they do not confer with one another, nor do the staff recommend specific topics. The Chairman always speaks first and many times, the other commissioners will respond, directly or indirectly to her comments. This wide-open format can provide significant insight into each commissioner’s agenda as well as where there is disagreement between them.

In years past, when Dr. Jaczko was still the chair, there were some direct and pointed comments from other commissioners. Funny, at times, but showed the clear schism between the commission and the chair. Dr. MacFarlane is not as controversial, nor has she been as aggressive, so comments from other commissioners have been more muted.

First up, as always, is the chair. Allison MacFarlane opened noting that the conference was opening on the third year anniversary of the Great Tohoku earthquake of Japan in 2011. I find Dr. MacFarlane’s speeches to be vague and with limited useful content. This year, she chose to use her knowledge of earth sciences to tell the nuclear industry that we should recognize that knowledge and understanding about science changes. What? Does she think we haven’t looked at and incorporated new science and technology in the last 40 years? Then she lectured us about the volcanic risks in the US. I am still trying to work out how any of that was relevant to our industry. Was she trying to say that we should account for the possibility of 200 million year events in the lifetime of nuclear facilities? She talked about all the NRC is doing internationally, but failed to provide any specifics. Frankly, as she said similar things at the Platts conference in early February, I stopped listening.

The one thing of note was a brief mention of the Yucca Mountain review process. Dr. MacFarlane has been careful to remain within the executive branch directives of not completing the Yucca Mountain review. Although directed by the courts to spend the remaining money, she made it clear that the NRC had insufficient funds to complete the process. The fact that she failed to asked congress for the needed funds to complete the work was not mentioned, nor did anyone bother to ask the question. We assume that she would claim that DOE has to ask for the funds for NRC to complete the review. The fact that the courts have also whipped DOE about this whole mess is apparently not her problem.

Next up was the new EDO of the NRC, Mark Satorius. He has been in the position less than a year as Bill Borchardt retired in 2013 after the RIC. Because he is relatively new, his speech was more about the changes he was or wasn’t making and the learning curve of issues and events he had to gain speed on. He did state that the NRC is on track to complete its revision to the Waste Confidence Decision by fall of this year.

Aside: Dr. Dale Klein, former chair of the NRC, gave a speech to the local ANS section on Wednesday night. He took the entire government to task for its failures in this area. His lucid and clear headed discussion of the issues was refreshing. I wish he was still in the chairman’s position. End aside

After the break, Christine Svinicki spoke. She is always interesting at the RIC. Major public speeches with little direction are not her favorite activity and her talks at the RIC are sometimes rambling. This time she was both amusing and poignant with her talk. Her description of procrastination activities to avoid writing the speech hit a nerve with me. Although I‘ve never stooped to doing my taxes to avoid doing something else. She then spoke eloquently about suffering and the harm done to the Japanese people by the earthquake and Tsunami. Not just about Fukushima, but the entire coastline. I have been frustrated by the continued drumbeat of Fukushima at the expense of the 18,000 people who lost their lives, the families with no one left to mourn them, or even bury them at some villages. The 170,000 people that remain homeless due to the tsunami who receive little or no help from anyone in the world.

The final speaker on Tuesday was Dr. Apostolakis. I appreciate his deep knowledge of and ability to explain how Probabilistic Risk Assessment to those of us who have a smattering of statistics and probability but only enough to get it wrong in the more complex analyses. He took apart a common statement from anti-nuclear folks about the probability of an accident being far greater than PRA calculates. Most of them have used a simple formula: the likelihood of an accident has to be determined by dividing the number of accidents into the number of reactor years. Dr. Apostolakis pointed out that this calculation assumes that all reactors are basically the same, operated under similar conditions, with similar regulation. Since this is clearly not true, the basic formula is false. His analogy was the calculation of riskiest professions. Under the same assumptions, being president of the United States was far riskier than being a police officer. Clearly circumstances and new measures put in place after each assassination or attempt have improved the safety of the president. Thus the simple calculation cannot be used to compare these issues.

Wednesday was “the two Bills”, William Magwood and William Ostendorff. They frequently present interesting and related views about the commission. That will be the subject of a blog early next week.

Global Warming or Not, Methane Is A Bad Plan

Last year at the end of January, spring was already beginning to be felt in my little corner of the world and I was writing about my spring flowers.

This year the scene is quite different.

As I sit and write this column, we are hunkering down for a storm of nearly epic proportions for my part of the world: six inches of snow (15 centimeters for those of you with a metric bent).

That storm will start with several hours of freezing rain, then sleet, then snow—and will be accompanied by some pretty impressive winds.

Any small mis-prediction of the progression of precipitation and temperature by the weather forecasters and it could get even uglier very quickly.

This combination of rain, sleet, and snow is extremely dangerous, even by more northern standards.

Thick ice coating electricity lines and trees and whipping winds is a recipe for wide-spread power outages.

The hours of freezing rain mean that the local road crews can’t put salt, sand, or anything else on the roads as everything will simply wash off before the pavement freezes solid.

Many of our roads in this part of the world have fairly high crowns and deep ditches to help channel water during hurricanes and tropical storms.

That means when they freeze and then get snow, motorists brave enough, desperate enough, or just stupid enough to go out, run a high risk of sliding off the road and into the ditch.

I grew up in Iowa, where terrible blizzards and dangerous winter driving was a fact of life, but we learned how to drive in the stuff and when to stay home.

Our homes mostly had methane heat and additional wood burning fireplaces were as much a safety feature in the case of winter power outages as anything else.

Here, though, in coastal North Carolina, people don’t expect such conditions. Houses have electric heat pumps but, frequently, no fireplaces.

I don’t have access to methane—no pipeline in my neighborhood—but  we do have two 20-pound propane tanks and a camping stove for cooking if the electricity goes out.

This winter has brought some extreme weather to a wide swath of the United States. The Midwest has endured cold more extreme than it’s seen in decades.

My brother and sister-in-law in Minneapolis are scraping huge piles of snow off the roof to prevent ice dams from damaging their home.

I was in Ames for the first week of classes at Iowa State earlier this month and enjoyed single digits, whipping snow, and slick sidewalks, all the while being told that “I should have been there a week earlier when it was minus 20.”

Watching the news reports from around the country, I see that propane and methane prices are skyrocketing in the face of these extreme weather conditions.

Even coal fired electricity generation is struggling to manage the extreme weather. Those mountains of coal freeze into giant lumps that are impossible to move into the system to be crushed and burned.

Whether you believe these weather events were caused by global warming, or prove that global warming isn’t happening, the sheer impact on our electricity supply cannot be ignored.

Nuclear electricity has continued to hum along, providing clean, reliable, and consistently priced electricity no matter WHAT the weather is doing outside.

Hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or not, sunny, cloudy, or dark— nuclear energy continues to power our homes, our businesses, and our factories.

We need  to  remind  EVERYONE just  how well nuclear  has performed for this country.

Nuclear plants are fueled for 1.5 to 2 years, and utilities can easily hold enough inventory for another fuel reload.

The U3O8, UF6 and LEU turned into that fuel is stored in containers in warehouses with no risk of damage from weather.

The only affect extreme cold has  is to  increase the  relative efficiency by lowering the temperature of the ultimate heat sink.

Investing in building more nuclear plants, creating new designs, and  finding more  ways to  use this  technology in  delivering energy to our homes, schools, businesses, and factories is one of the best things we can do as a country—especially today, when extreme weather events are increasingly disrupting the economy and wreaking havoc on everyday life.

Let’s stop closing plants, and find ways to expand them instead.

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #554, 1.30.14. where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to fuelcycleweek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

 

Time for DOE to Complete Its Part 810 Nuclear Export Reform

This opinion by Margaret was just posted on Nuclear TownHall.

In August 2, 2013, DOE published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNOPR) regarding revisions to 10 CFR Part 810, its regulation controlling nuclear exports. The SNOPR was the culmination of years of effort by DOE and industry to modernize a regulation that was based on Cold War era nuclear proliferation policies, politics, and trade patterns. The process is made more complex because the underlying law – The Atomic Energy Act was written during the Cold War and has not been updated either.

For the rest, click here:

I urge other members of the community to add their comments at http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=DOE-HQ-2011-0035-0056

 

 

Kill the Goose That Lays Golden Eggs

Once upon a time, a poor state named Vermont hosted a nuclear power plant called Vermont Yankee.

Vermont lacked the money to do many needed things. But it wanted to spend money on luxuries, like cleaning up a lake and generating electricity as expensively as possible.

The power plant, meanwhile, lacked the state’s permission to do needed things that would allow its owner, Entergy, to continue to generate inexpensive electricity on a small plot of land without creating any carbon or huge piles of toxic waste.

The state decided to make Entergy pay lots of money to clean up a lake on the opposite side of the state before it would grant permission to make the small, needed changes on the little plot of land.

Entergy, knowing that its operating costs were so low that it could sell electricity and still earn a reasonable profit, gave Vermont the money it wanted for luxuries.

This was the state’s first golden egg.

Vermont was pleased that it could clean up Lake Champlain without increasing taxes, and even more pleased by the increase in tourists who visited the cleaned up lake.

The state then asked for Entergy to lay another golden egg, this time in the form of annual taxes that would be used for renewable energy investment.

As electricity prices were still high and operating costs at Vermont Yankee still low, Entergy gave the state a second egg.

Vermont, however, was not satisfied. While it wanted the goose to go away, it wanted the golden eggs, too.

It made it harder and harder for Entergy to take proper care of the goose, but still demanded the golden eggs.

Finally, the state demanded that Entergy kill the goose and hand over all of the golden eggs.

The goose will be killed at the end of this year. In the most recent chapter of the fairy tale, Vermont demanded, and Entergy agreed, to one last set of golden eggs as the goose is murdered.

The golden eggs were quite a basketful:

  • $25 million in site restoration beyond what is required by Nuclear Regulatory Commission decommissioning
  • $10 million in economic development for Windham country (which would not be needed, if the plant stayed open)
  • $5.2 million in “clean energy development funds” Entergy also committed to some acceleration of the decommissioning beyond what is required by the NRC.

Specifically, the company committed to moving spent fuel into dry cask storage as soon as it is deemed reasonable. And to start decommissioning work as soon as there are sufficient funds in the decommissioning trust, as opposed to waiting the 60 years allowed by the NRC.

In my opinion, neither of these concessions are going to result in any change in plans by Entergy. Both options are reasonable business decisions on their own merit, but they allowed the state to crow that it extracted a schedule concession, in exchange for killing the goose.

Just like the fairy tale, Vermont will no longer receive golden eggs and, in fact, will lose even more eggs as the families and businesses around the plant will be forced to move away or close when the workers no longer receive their pay to do business there. Just like the fairy tale, the state will one day wake up and wish it still had that goose.

I keep hoping that everyone involved will come to their senses and realize that Vermont Yankee could continue to provide golden eggs to the state for many more years, if only Vermont would just treat it like the good business goose that it is.

I am also watching other nuclear plants in this country. We need to remind people to remember the fable of the Goose That Laid Golden Eggs and not kill these geese.

The clean, reliable, low cost electricity that comes from these plants by itself should be enough to demand that they be kept online.

Throw in the high quality employment and the boon to the local economy, the school system, and public services funded by the taxes, and it just doesn’t make sense to close them.

Let’s make sure that Vermont Yankee and Kewaunee are the only nuclear geese that get killed, shall we?

Working together we can find ways to keep costs competitive, generate carbon free electricity, and keep the geese laying golden eggs for everyone for decades to come.

———-

This article was originally published in Fuel Cycle Week #550, 1.3.14.  where Margaret is a regular columnist. To become a subscriber, go to fuelcycleweek.com or contact the publication at info@fuelcycleweek.com.

Report from 10th annual Platts Nuclear Conference

I’ve just spent an interesting two days at the 10th annual Platts Nuclear conference. Once again, I met with old friends and colleagues, as well as some new folks in the nuclear industry. We are a small industry, but there are so many interesting things going on.

The conference theme was “Opportunities for Growth and Investment” and we spent a great deal of time learning about both the US and the international market.

The opening session on Tuesday was chaired by the inimitable Donald Hoffman, president of Excel Services and current president of the American Nuclear Society. Don’s energy and enthusiasm for this industry is infectious. As he’s done for the past several years, he reminded everyone in the room that they should be members of the American Nuclear Society and should be active in working with the society to help get the important message about our industry out to policy makers and everyone else in the world.

The first plenary speaker was Dr. Peter Lyons, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. Dr. Lyons provided a fairly typical overview of DOE’s activities in nuclear technology. During the Q&A, he reminded me of something I’ve been reminding people about. Many decisions that affect nuclear power are actually taken at the state level and the federal government has only limited influence on those issues. We, as an industry, need to pay attention to LOCAL politics as well as federal level. The old adage, “All politics are local” is most certainly true.

Next up was Dr. Allison MacFarlane, current chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Dr. MacFarlane provided no real new insights into the NRCs thinking or direction. Of course, the commissioners usually reserve those comments for their own spring event, the NRCs Regulatory Information Conference (RIC) in early March. She did talk about the NRCs efforts to mold and guide regulators around the world. I find frustrating that US industry is not encouraged to help teach INDUSTRY in these developing countries how they should be thinking and behaving as well.  If the industry side of that relationship does not understand what is expected, there are significantly more issues and much more likelihood of a failure in the regulatory oversight process. These expectations are frequently more cultural, than regulation driven. For example, if workers feel unable or unwilling to report issues, or find fault with work done by their peers, verification processes fail. Yet, in many cultures, it is deeply impolite to imply that someone has made an error. These cultural norms take more than a good regulator to overcome. The US industry can help other companies understand and comply with these concepts in parallel to the work being done by the NRC. High time the NRC acknowledged that, and encouraged more participation.

The final speaker before the break was Christofer Mowry, president and CEO of mPower, B&Ws SMR program. Chris MOSTLY avoided being an advertisement for the mPower design, talking about the market landscape for SMRs and debunking some common SMR myths. I have to take exception to Mr. Mowry’s argument that SMRs can load follow and pair with wind and solar just as well as methane. There are some fundamental cost profile differences that make that economically unreasonable. While the smaller SMR is PHYSICALLY more nimble and able to load follow more easily, the fact that SMRs are still a high capital cost proposition make SMRs a poor choice to pair with renewables, unless there is a sea change in Washington regarding a price on carbon emissions that changes the cost profile for methane based electricity.

SMRs are still a great choice for replacing older, dirtier coal plants and some innovations to allow them to be “black start” facilities on the grid make them even more appealing as replacement for coal facilities.

There were two more speakers after the break discussing new build in the United States, but I had an appointment and had to leave. Stay tuned as I will be talking about Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning in my next blog (or two).