Saturday, November 8, 2008

Vermont Yankee protestors raise a stink

Group leaves noxious chemical at state government offices

News media reports from Montpelier, Vermont, say that a group of 15-20 adults, with some children, engaged in a protest over Vermont Yankee that has taken anti-nuclear protest tactics to a new level. The people involved must have granola for brains.

This past week the group came to the offices of the Vermont Public Service Board where they made their way to the 4th floor of the state office building. Once there they began chanting protest songs and reportedly ripped open plastic trash bags which contained styrofoam popcorn soaked in a noxious smelling chemical.

The Montpelier Fire Department was called and the building was evacuated. One employee was hospitalized with an asthma attack as a result of a reaction to the fumes. The chemical was later identified as deer urine. State employees told WPTZ TV news they were scared out of their wits by the chemical attack.

The Rutland Herald reports the protesters handed out flyers that said the group was named Green Mountain Earth First! and was rallying against the "unsafe conditions" at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power reactor and petitioning the Public Service Board to revoke Entergy's "Certificate of Public Good."

Vermont_ProtestIn the past protests against Vermont Yankee have included civil disobedience blocking the plant's main gate and a nude bicycle ride through the streets of Burlington, Vermont. This incident using animal waste is entirely different.

Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos said the protesters, if found, could be charged with unlawful mischief. Because a state agency office was vandalized, Vermont State Police are also involved in the investigation.

It shouldn't be too hard to find them. According to Green Mountain Earth First member Erik Gillard, who was dressed during the protest as Santa Claus, the protest was staged to bring attention to Entergy's commitment to the decommissioning fund for the plant. Gillard claims Entergy will fail to make payments into the fund. He issued a statement to Vermont news media calling attention to the group's role in the protest and the reason for it.

The Vermont Public Service Board is responsible for regulatory oversight of power plants in the state. However, it does not have the authority to revoke the plant's license which is what the protesters were demanding when they unleashed their stink attack. Since then the Board's offices have been closed to the public while a video monitoring system is installed at the site.

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Idaho Falls GNEP Hearing Nov 20th

Time/location - 7:00 PM Hilton Garden Inn, 700 Lindsay Blvd

gnep logoIn March 2007 over 700 people from eastern Idaho stunned Department of Energy officials by turning out to support the location of GNEP advanced nuclear energy facilities in eastern Idaho. It was the biggest show of support in the nation for the program.

The entirely unexpected bonus was that the massive outpouring of support for nuclear energy caught the attention of French nuclear giant Areva which eventually decided to locate a $2.4 billion uranium enrichment plant 18 miles west of town. While Areva's new plant has nothing to do with GNEP, or federal nuclear energy programs, the support of communities throughout eastern Idaho for the project was clearly signaled by what happened at the GNEP hearing. See - Idaho aligns its stars for GNEP

GNEP's original plans

In March 2007 the scope of GNEP included a proposal to design, construct and operate three new facilities to recycle spent nuclear fuel and destroy long-lived radioactive components:

  • a nuclear fuel recycling center,
  • an advanced recycling reactor, and
  • an advanced fuel cycle research facility

Things change, the center cannot hold

In the past two years, a number of challenges including funding, feasibility and especially a lack of congressional support have led to a significantly narrower programmatic scope. These proposals are now documented in a draft programmatic environmental impact statement. (PEIS). The National Academy of Sciences also weighed in with critical comments about the science behind the proposals and the need to emphasize start-up of new commercial nuclear power plants.

nuclear fuel assemblyThere are no project specific or on site-specific actions proposed in the new Draft GNEP PEIS, even as DOE states a preference to move from a once-through open fuel cycle. Instead, the new PEIS focuses on the programmatic analysis that will support a decision of whether or not to pursue this option.No GNEP sites were ever selected for construction of new facilities.

DOE still contends that GNEP will allow for the expansion of nuclear energy production domestically and internationally and, by closing the fuel cycle and recycling spent nuclear fuel, will reduce proliferation risks and minimize radioactive waste.

Major program alternatives

In the PEIS there are several alternatives evaluated:

  • No Action (open cycle as it is now)
  • Three action alternatives with recycling of spent fuel (closed cycle)
  • Two action alternatives without recycling of spent nuclear fuel

There are at least four notable conclusions identified in the Draft GNEP PEIS:

  • The closed fuel cycle alternatives offer the greatest opportunity to reduce the impacts associated with disposal of future spent fuel.
  • All domestic programmatic alternatives would require the development of additional geologic repository capacity.
  • Most of the alternatives have candidate processes for fabrication of fuel, and the timeframe to complete the additional R&D required ranges is estimated at between 5 and 10 years.
  • The closed-fuel cycle alternatives require significantly more disposal capacity for low-level radioactive waste and Greater-Than-Class C low-level radioactive waste than required under the open fuel cycle alternatives.

Unfortunately, GNEP's timetable leaves ultimate decisions to the next president and Congress, where there has been strong resistance to the program.

Public hearings scheduled

DOE has scheduled 13 public hearings on the draft PEIS, starting with one in Hobbs, New Mexico, on November 17 and concluding with one in Washington on December 9. The Idaho Falls hearing will be November 20. The department will also accept written comments on the document until December 16, 2008.

You can submit comments via the Internet. Use this link.

Or mail your statement:

U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave. SW
Washington DC 20585

Contact Lane Allgood at 208-313-4166

Watch this blog for more information.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

NGNP reactor project faces multiple hurdles

Westinghouse cites technical, funding, and schedule problems

PebblesThe project manager at Westinghouse, which is under contract to the Department of Energy develop a design for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), told attendees at an ASME conference this week construction for the plant won't begin until 2021, a five-year delay.

Officials at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) have been citing a start date for construction of 2016. However, they told an energy industry trade publication earlier this year the long range plan for the project lacks the funding to meet this schedule.

Sten A. Caspersson,the project manager for the design effort at Westinghouse, said in a presentation to the annual Congress of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) the project is facing technical, funding, schedule, and regulatory challenges. Count them for what you will, but they add up to a pile of potential headaches.

This isn't the first time Westinghouse has raised these issues. Last December, DOE released a report with a range of cost estimates developed by several firms, including Westinghouse, that had a "swag factor" of as much as $500 million. Of course if you are projecting costs for a first-of-a-kind nuclear reactor that won't even start construction for another decade, you'd probably want some slack in your numbers too.

ICB_TwinNGNP is expected to be a high temperature gas-cooled reactor with commercial manufacturing, hydrogen production, and the generation of electricity. The plants are expected to be built in the power range of 300-600 MW. This is not your father's light water reactor.

According to Caspersson, Westinghouse and its partners plan to build a pebble bed modular reactor that uses enriched uranium fuel balls surrounded by a sphere of graphite moderator. These are stacked in a close-packed lattice and are cooled by helium, not water. The term "pebble bed" derives from the use of spheres.

The challenges laid out in his talk to the ASME are briefly . . .

  • Licensing - Pebble Bed reactors are not light water reactors, which is the design most familiar to the NRC. In a speech to a nuclear industry conference last summer, Dale Klein, NRC Chairman, said the agency was starting to address the issue of licensing small reactors. However, a measure of the uncertainty the agency faces is his invitation to the industry to develop technical working groups to flesh out the regulatory issues.
  • Economics - The current cost estimate for the NGNP, according to Caspersson, is $2.4 billion, which is twice the amount authorized by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. He says the economics of the plant for production of hydrogen, process heat, and electricity "are marginally acceptable." He called for commercial partners to step forward to help drive design to meet industry needs.
  • Technology - The high heat generated by the NGNP will present significant challenges to the materials used to transfer heat from the helium in the reactor to hydrogen production, a secondary loop for process heat supply, and for generation of electricity. He said new ceramic alloys may provide the answer. Another issue is whether the hydrogen produced by the plant will be pure enough to be useful to industry.

While Westinghouse is debating the future of NGNP as an R&D project in the U.S., it is joined at the hip with the PBMR project in South Africa. At the rate things are going, it is likely that Westinghouse will be building PBMR pebble bed reactors in South Africa for export before the NGNP is proven as a commercially viable technology on Arco desert in Idaho.

Similarly, China announced commercial development of a Pebble Bed reactor after several years of R&D work in a university. China is looking at the Pebble Bed design for domestic use, but also has plans for commercial exports.

Caspersson said it will be a "bellwether" for nuclear energy policy in the new administration whether the government will continue to fund the NGNP project. Even if the government wants to fund the project, it may be constrained in terms of the degree to which it can commit funds given the other claims on federal spending by the current financial crisis.

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AEHI loses a round in Elmore County

Planning & Zoning Commission votes 4-2 against rezoning for 1,600 MW nuclear power plant

confusedA controversial proposal for a 1,600 Areva EPR to be built by Unistar in rural Elmore County, Idaho, was shot down this week in a 4-2 vote against rezoning a 1,400 acre parcel of farmland.

P&Z Commissioner Alan Sobtzak said the proposed plant is not in line with the county's 2004 comprehensive plan. The application will next be considered by county commissioners. They can accept the recommendation or overrule it. State planning law requires them to review the hearing record from the P&Z commission as part of their decision process.

Alternative Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI) requested the land use change after moving the site to Elmore County from Owhyee County earlier this year.

This vote is the latest in a series of setbacks for the thinly capitalized nuclear developer. Earlier this year it abandoned the first site, which was three times larger, due in part to conflicts with the county commissioners over $50,000 in filing fees. The firm eventually paid the money, but also gave up trying to site the plant on a 4,000 acre parcel south of the Snake River. It cited as reasons geotechnical issues and the costs of building a bridge across the river to deliver reactor components and construction materials to the site.

AEHI said to be confused about Elmore County action

The Twin Falls Times News reported that AEHI said it was "confused" about the vote by the commission. Don Gillispie, CEO of AEHI, said in a press release sent to the newspaper that if county commissioners reject the rezone, it will mean the end of the company's efforts in Idaho. AEHI, he said, would instead focus on projects in Colorado and Mexico. AEHI is looking at potential sites near Pueblo, Colo.

Simco RdReportedly, Elmore P&Z commissioners were not willing to zone the site chosen by AEHI for heavy industrial use. Instead, they focused on the county's comprehensive plan which designates an area around Simco Road as a heavy industrial zone. That area is 20 miles west of AEHI's preferred site.

Gillispie said that he found the argument "puzzling," and he thought other forms of heavy industrial power plants - including wind, solar and natural gas facilities - have been given preferential treatment in the comprehensive plan. He also stated that the Simco area didn't make any sense as a site for his plant.

"Any industrial plant at the Simco Road location will get most of its employees from Ada County, not Elmore, and there are no water sources nearby vital to most all industry."

He's got a point. According to Google Maps, the site is a long way from the Snake River. It is high desert scrub land with little water and no infrastructure. However, it is near a low-level radioactive waste dump operated by American Ecology west of Grand View, ID.

County hearings next but not scheduled

Bonnie Sharp, administrator for Elmore County's Growth and Development Department, told the Times-News she expects county commissioners to hold their own hearings on the application. However, the commissioners have not set a date for the hearings.

In July 2007 AEHI announced it had an agreement with Unistar to build an Areva EPR in Idaho. AEHI also notified the NRC of its intent to file a COL for the plant, but never raised the money to paid for the license application. A COL for the plant, at a greenfield site, could cost as much as $50 million.

While the NRC still lists AEHI's project as an expected license application, Unistar does not include it on its web site of planned new nuclear reactor projects.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The arc of history unfolds

Yes we can

Barack Obama victory speech Grant Park, Chicago, November 4, 2008 - a few highlights . . .

electron_beam_welding_flareIt's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day . . .

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too . . .

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand . . .

US symbolTo those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you . . .

And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope . . .

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment . . .

& & &

Do well President-elect Barack Obama

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Browns Ferry pays off for TVA

In a flat economy nuclear energy is more cost effective than natural gas

It all depends on the blades / Auf die Schaufeln kommt es anThe Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is finding that even in a period of flat or declining electricity consumption, that building new nuclear energy powered generating capacity is more cost effective than new coal or gas fired plants.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that in the past year, the restart of TVA’s oldest nuclear reactor at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant helped the utility save an estimated $800 million.

The $1.8 billion restart of Browns Ferry Unit 1, originally forecast to pay for itself within eight years, will now end up paying for itself in 2 1/2 years because of the unexpected jump in the costs for power generation for gas for peak power. TVA reopened Browns Ferry in May 2007.

The newspaper also reports that the TVA board also voted last year to finish a second reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., by 2013 at a projected cost of $2.5 billion. TVA projects that another Watts Bar unit will generate power for less than the continued costs of buying power from other generators or building new coal- or gas-fired plants.

Sputtering Economy

sputterThis investment is taking place in an economy which is charitably called "sputtering" by the media and it is slowing down electricity use in TVA's service area.

In 2007 TVA's power sales were 2% below what the utility budgeted and were below the level of total electricity sales two years ago.

Even so TVA still had to buy 12% of its power from other independent power producers. TVA also uses gas fired plants peak power and it is expensive.

Critics of TVA's strategy argue the utility should stress energy efficiency and conservation rather than invest in cost effective energy supply.

However, Tom Kilgore, President of TVA, told the newspaper new nuclear plants still are needed to limit TVA purchases of power from other, more expensive producers.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Another blogger for nuclear energy

Facts not fiction is the focus of this effort

Hat tip to Dave Bradish at NEI

rational functionYucca Facts is a new blog that aims to cut through the fog of political hysteria and public displays of outlandish pandering to Nevada's irrational aversion to dialog about spent nuclear fuel.

The online pursuit is the exposition of the rational function, which is an uncommon but welcome quality in the world of public discourse on spent nuclear fuel. The blogger is Chuck Muth who has plenty of experience in the political arena.

A charter for a start in the right direction

A calm voice is just what is needed to advance dialog about the site. [Note to journalists and elected officials - Yucca mountain is not a "dump." It is a spent fuel geologic repository.] The new blog has an invigorating charter, to wit;

The purpose of this web site is to provide factual and scientific information on the proposed nuclear waste repository being built at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada.

The authors of the site are not advocates for the project; however, we believe that much of the information the public has received in the past is disingenuous.

We hope that by better understanding the advantages and disadvantages the state might receive by hosting the repository, as well as safety assurances the state must continue to insist upon, combined with the progress being made in the area of reprocessing, that the state’s elected officials will consider changing to a neutral position on Yucca Mountain and allow an unbiased assessment of the project.

Check it out.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Obama supports nuclear energy - CNN Fact Check

The 24-hour cable news channel has the answers

barack-obamaCNN Fact check: Does Obama think nuclear power is unsafe?

McCain has pushed for more nuclear power – and claimed Obama is completely opposed to it.

The Statement: Sen. John McCain, speaking at a rally in Newport News, Virginia, on November 1, touted his energy plan and said, "We'll invest in all energy alternatives, wind, solar, tide and safe nuclear power." Then he said, "You know, Senator Obama doesn't think that nuclear power is safe."

The McCain campaign, repeatedly asked for specifics to back up McCain's assertion, declined.

The Facts: The Obama campaign says Obama "has consistently been supportive of more nuclear power."

Frank Bowman, the president of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a nuclear energy industry group, issued a press release praising the "favorable comments" from Obama and McCain about nuclear energy at the October 7 debate in Tennessee.

The Verdict: Obama's voting record and public statements indicate he is receptive to harnessing safe nuclear power, and there is no evidence he believes the proper deployment of the technology is intrinsically unsafe.

And here is the rest of the story on CNN's web site.

Goodnight Chet.

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Green extremism is not a public virtue

Vermont Yankee is a case in parallel with Indian Point

apologyThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) found itself in an awkward position last week when it wrote a letter of apology to former Vermont Governor Thomas Salmon. The letter was sent after an NRC regional administrator lost control of a public meeting held in Battleboro in October. At the hearing Salmon, who is a former chairman of the board for the Green Mountain Power Company, was shouted down by green extremists in the audience and prevented from giving his testimony.

The Rutland Herald reports that Samuel Collins, NRC Region 1 Administrator, out of Boston, wrote to Salmon this week.

"I sincerely apologize that you were unable to complete your statements due to the conduct of some of the audience members. As I know you are aware, the issues surrounding Vermont Yankee can strike an emotional chord with some stakeholders, at times making effective communications extremely challenging."

Collins also noted, according to the Herald, that "we continue to evaluate our public outreach strategies for ways to promote civil discourse on the important subject of nuclear power safety."

Collins should take a page from his colleagues in New York who ejected people from licensing hearings for Indian Point when they became raucous and rude. There NRC hearing officer warned about efforts to turn the hearings on their head.

According to a news report in the New York Times for 03/16/08, "Lawrence G. McDade, warned that the next person who spoke out would be removed from the courtroom." Later in the hearing process, a high-profile environmental leader was told to leave for calling NRC officials foul names in the courtroom and in statements to the press.

Open meeting laws apply to everyone

Vermont has laws on the books that provide penalties for people who disrupt public meetings. Local officials should enforce them. The point is there is a price to be paid for trying to thwart democratic processes by disrupting open pubic meetings.

Equal protection under the law is a civil right guaranteed by state and federal constitutions. That includes the rights of all citizens to be heard at public hearings on regulatory issues no matter how challenging the issue. The NRC could have done more to deal with people at the Vermont hearing who chose to disrupt it.

However, the NRC deserves credit for working to prevent these types of hearings from being hijacked and turned into rump public referendums on the future of nuclear energy and the operation of the plants in question.

Decommissioning talk is propaganda

In New York and Vermont elected public officials opposed to the re-licensing of Indian Point and Vermont Yankee have been talking up the issue of decommissioning costs. The Brattleboro Reformer reports that Entergy, which owns and operates both nuclear power plants, is being pressed by both states to provide additional detailed information on the status of its decommissioning funds for the two facilities.

The funds accumulate money over the operating life of the plant and are used to decommission it once it shuts down. Like all such funds, the proceeds are invested in conservative investment instruments to preserve the capital. However, the unprecedented financial meltdown on Wall Street has taken its toll on the funds.

Both have reportedly lost more than 10% of their value. However, as the economy recovers over the next few years, so will the funds. With a 20-year re-licensing scenario, the funds should be there when the time comes to safely closed the plants.

Propaganda is the message, but it is not the issue

propagandaCritics of the utility's management of the plants have focused on the decommissioning funds because they want to create a perception of inevitability in the mind of the public that the plants will not be re-licensed and will be shut down in the next few years.

In short, the upward spiral of political charges about the financial viability of the funds is a really a propaganda campaign to shape public opinion outside of the boundaries of issues considered by the NRC in a re-licensing process.The relevant issues are safety and management of the facility in compliance with NRC regulations.

A deliberate distraction from real issues

distractionIf the debate is all about decommissioning, then the public is diverted, and even confused, from thinking about or dialog over other issues like where does the electricity come from if the nuclear power plant is closed.

Also, the public is distracted from considering that this electricity would come from high cost fossil-fired power plants with the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact the decommissioning issue is a regulatory requirement in which Entergy, like all other nuclear operators, has no discretion except to comply with it. Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, told the 'Reformer,"

"It's only to be expected that the stock market would affect the decommissioning funds, which are controlled by financial management firms independent of Entergy. I am confident once Wall Street stabilizes, the funds will continue to grow.

As in Vermont, we have an obligation in New York to insure adequate decommissioning funds for both plants in New York and an obligation to decommission these plants when that time comes."

Should people who live in glass houses throw rocks?

These reassurances are not having any impact on critics of Indian Point. The 'Reformer' quotes New York State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky who unloaded with both barrels.

"Entergy's disregard for the process is notorious. They say one thing and do another all the time. They have no regard for the public interest here. Their concentrated greed and cupidity is beyond belief."

distraction drivingBasically, Brodsky wants to tell the public, metaphorically speaking, it is OK to drive while talking on a cell phone or doing make up. Don't worry about the energy crash that is looming just ahead.

While Brodsky, as an elected official, is entitled to sound off about Entergy's problems at Indian Point, like the sirens, he is going overboard with these kinds of comments.

In fact his statements are beyond harsh and represent 'Green extremism' at its worst. It is also the kind of statement that got an anti-nuclear group sued for libel in Idaho by a thin-skinned nuclear developer.

So far, Enertgy is showing a public face of patience. Steets said that it takes time and money to turn over documents to state authorities and that the utility is "not stonewalling."

Stakes are high

The future of energy supply in the U.S. from nuclear power will come as a result of a combination of re-licensing of existing plants and construction of new ones. The anti-nuclear movement knows that if it can stop the re-licensing of just one plant, it will create fear, uncertainty, and doubt among investors over new ones. The stakes over the future of Indian Point and Vermont Yankee could not be higher.

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