Saturday, February 7, 2009

William Tucker speaking in Idaho Falls March 5

The author of Terrestrial Energy will speak to the American Nuclear Society

tucker book coverWilliam Tucker, the noted author of a new and well-received book on nuclear energy, will speak to the Idaho Section of the American Nuclear Society at the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls, ID, on Thursday, March 5. (map) The event is open to the public. Social hour with no host bar at 6:30 PM. Dinner served at 7:15 PM. [Idaho ANS Poster]

William Tucker first told us about his new book on nuclear power Terrestrial Energy in a guest blog post published by the New York Times last August.

The book will be available for purchasing and signing for $20 (retails for $27.50) at the meeting.

RSVP to: Nikki Iwert-Bays 208-526-7785 or email her at by close of business on Tuesday, March 3rd. The cost of dinner is $25.00. There is no charge if you just want to hear Tucker speak starting about 8:00 PM.

. . . more information on Tucker and his book.

The power of the atom is found in a journey to the center of the earth

Tucker is an advocate for nuclear energy and he positions it in comparison to coal, solar, wind, and geothermal sources. He's also an award winning journalist who has garnered kudos from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times among others.

He writes clearly pointing out that the concentration of power in the nucleus of the atom is incredible. The disintegration of a single uranium atom produces two million times more energy than the breaking of carbon-hydrogen bonds in coal, oil, or natural gas. it also has zero carbon emissions and emits zero greenhouse gases.

Here's a slice from the NYT blog post . . .

What is the source of this energy? Amazingly, 50 to 90 percent of the earth’s heat (no one is sure of the exact figure) comes from the radioactive breakdown of uranium and thorium, which make up two percent of the earth’s crust. The energy released from these radioactive elements is enough to raise the earth’s internal temperature to 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hotter than the surface of the sun.

GTYel02So here’s a suggestion. Instead of digging down ten miles to access terrestrial energy, why not use its source on the surface?

What Tucker is talking about is not the Yellowstone hot spot. He's talking about the nuclear fuel cycle which starts with mining uranium and ends with the recycling of spent nuclear fuel.

No question he's going to drive the geothermal, solar and wind people nuts. Big coal, which has been mounting a campaign to turn back the advance of nuclear energy, has some explaining to do when it comes to greenhouse gases and the the amount of energy, pound for pound, you get from uranium compared to coal.

Early readers of the book, even one or two nukes, think it is worth your time. Kirk Sorensen, at Energy from Thorium writes,

"Terrestrial Energy" is outstanding . . . this is a book that I would recommend without reservation to all of my friends and colleagues who are concerned about the severe energy crisis that is only beginning. I promise you, no matter how much you know about energy and energy policy (and I don't consider myself a novice in the field) you will learn more, or at the very least have a greater insight into these issues after reading Mr. Tucker's book."

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Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Energy Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Energy Odyssey ISBN-13: 9780910155762

Tucker's book was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal on 12/17/08

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Slogan contest for Ms Atom pageant

And now for something completely ridiculous

missatomFuel Cycle Week, a nuclear energy industry trade newsletter, reminds us this week that the world of atomic energy is not solely the serious realm of mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineering. There is room for "festivals" according to a Russian nuke by the name of Iliya Platonov who is heading up the annual "Miss Atom" beauty contest. This is an official event of the Russian nuclear industry and they are very serious about it. Here is the announcement in Russian just in case you don’t believe this is on the level.

This annual event, which has been held since 2004, selects the most charming and good looking woman working in the Russian nuclear industry to be crowned as "Miss Atom." It's kind of like the Miss America contest except on protons. Wired magazine covered the beauty contest in 2008, and sends us a photo of last year’s winner. The current sponsors are continuing the excitement in 2009.

“Once again we are glad to welcome charming and fascinating representatives of nuclear industries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and other countries at our contest,” Nuclear.Ru Project Leader Iliya Platonov said. “We hope the participation in the contest will be a real festival for them.”

figment of imaginationReportedly, Russian nuclear workers with Internet access can vote for their choice for a contest winner. Unfortunately, no one is sure whether Mr. Platanov is a real person or merely a figure of speech or a figment of imagiantion. A search for his photo, or some evidence of his existence prior to the beauty content, comes up empty. However, I’ve been assured, by a former member of the Soviet nuclear industry, now working at an undisclosed location in the West, that the contest is real.

No western beauties in Russian contest

The bad news, according to Andrea Jennetta, publisher of Fuel Cycle Week, is that the Russians have ruled out any contestants from western countries. She protests this ban on women from the West saying "it is patently unfair." And what’s more, she writes in the current issue, "I don’t want to let a silly detail like geography get in the way of being part of the contest festivities.”

Since she cannot submit herself as a contestant, nor any of the staff, who refused to a man to be part of it, she has taken the novel approach that, "in the spirit of peace, love and international nuclear trade, Fuel Cycle Week is submitting slogans, not females, for Miss Atom 2009.”

Soviets historically have been very big on slogans

overloadedNow the reason for this, in terms of history, is that the Soviets are very big on slogans, like "make more tractors for the five year plan," and "deliver both a right and a left shoe the same size in every box." So, without further ado, here are five slogans to get the ball rolling.

  • “Miss Atom; putin’ a positive spin on nuclear power”
  • “Miss Atom; hotter than a fusion reactor”
  • “Miss Atom; fueling excitement in the nuclear industry”
  • “Miss Atom; every particle is perfect”
  • “Miss Atom; makes electrons spin with just one glance”

Slogan contest open to all

fuel cycle week logoYou can join in the fun. Fuel Cycle Week is sponsoring a contest for the best slogan to be submitted in lieu of a real live contestant. Readers with advertising copy writing and jingle experience are especially encouraged to enter. You can also just vote for one of the five slogans we've developed on our own.

Send your entries, as many as you like, but put all of them in one email message, to:

Like the Miss Atom 2009 contest, voting will be open until March 6. A winner will be announced the same day. The prize will include a 100% digital copy of the photo of the winner if and when it is released to the western press.

No taking liberties with Ms. Atom

jcl-3We assume the picture of the winner, and the runners up, will be safe for work like their predecessors published last year. Note that the photos of last year’s contestants are really quite tame, at least by Internet standards. If that turns out not to be the case, you’ll still be notified if you win the slogan contest, but, you’ll have to settle for a tourist class photo of the Statue of Liberty. There is always the possibility Miss Atom in 2009 could be too hot to handle.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Greenpeace takes on Areva

The anti-nuclear group wants to stop the next EPR to be built in France

epr logoIn a long article, over 800 words, the New York Times brought two of its reporters to bear on the issue, raised by Greenpeace, of whether the Areva 1,600 MW EPR reactor produces spent nuclear fuel that is literally too hot to handle.

The article is a perfect example of how an aggressive anti-nuclear activist organization can successfully inject complex assertions about threats related to nuclear energy into the mainstream media leaving the lay person to sort out competing claims.

The strategy is intended to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt and it works. In this instance, the NYT faithfully reports both sides of the dispute, but fails to provide the reader with the means to evaluate the alarming claims made by Greenpeace on their own merit.

The data cited by Greenpeace is misleading because it deals with radiation releases from damaged canisters and not normal conditions for dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel. More details on this below.

The issue comes to a head as French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced late lat week that Électricité de France had been chosen to develop a second reactor using EPR Penly in northern France.

rianne-teule-nucleair-expert (1)Greenpeace provided information to the International Herald Tribune in Paris that claimed the spent fuel from an EPR would be more radioactive than spent fuel from other light water reactors. According to the NYT report, Rianne Teule (right), who focuses on nuclear issues for Greenpeace, said, the spent fuel would be seven times more radioactive than conventional spent nuclear fuel from light water reactors.

However, the Greenpeace press release did not report specific nor summary levels of alpha, beta, or gamma radiation to substantiate its claims. The information reported by IHT and NYT did not include a list of radionuclide, fission products, expected half-lives, or other conventional measurements of the constituents and levels of radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel. Greenpeace did not specify whether the claimed levels of very high radiation would take place immediately after the fuel was removed from the reactor, or several years later once the fuel was moved from wet to dry storage.

However, that did not deter Ms. Teule at Greenpeace who said, "the next wave of reactors “poses an ever-increasing burden on people’s budgets and danger to their health, now and far into the future.”

A spokeswoman for Areva, Patricia Marie, said the claim was “grossly inaccurate.” She said the waste would be 15 percent more radioactive at the most.

Greenpeace misleads the press

caskThe NYT reported that Greenpeace's Teule said the evidence about the waste’s radioactivity was drawn from a report by Posiva, a waste disposal company owned by Finnish nuclear operators, and from Nagra, which oversees management of nuclear waste in Switzerland. The latter is a 2004 report about MOX fuel and does not mention the EPR. It wasn’t even off the design drawing boards in 2004.

A spokesperson for Posiva and one for Nagra told the NYT they were unable to give any immediate comment about the reports. That’s too bad because Greenpeace mis-used their reports.

Greenpeace has provided misleading information to the press. The analysis on Pg. 137 of the Posiva report, cited in the Greenpeace press release, relates to an scenario involving radiation releases from a damaged canister. Spent nuclear fuel has been safely stored in dry conditions in canisters at reactors all over the world for years and none have ever been breached despite catastrophic testing. Further, the Posiva analysis deals with BWR fuel and the Areva EPR is a PWR.

Greenpeace has some explaining to do and the New York Times needs to spend more time verifying the science in claims made by anti-nuclear groups.

EPR in Europe and Asia

There are no EPR reactors in revenue service. The first is under construction at Olkiluoto, Finland, and the second in Flamanville, in France. Both reactor projects are behind schedule and will cost more than originally budgeted. Still, they could come in at between $3,500-$4,000/Kw which is competitive in today’s global nuclear market. Both units are expected to enter revenue service in 2012.

The NYT reports that Greenpeace has vowed to oppose construction of the plant in France, but has not said how it will pursue that goal.

Two more EPR reactors, Taishan 1 and 2, are scheduled for construction in China. Areva said the design was also being used by Électricité de France which is bidding to replace old nuclear reactors in the UK.

Areva also is bidding to sell the technology to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as part of a project led by Total and GDF Suez.

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Nukes beat casinos and rock quarries as neighbors

A national real estate survey shows the NIMBY effect is widespread across America

rock quarryOwners of casinos, landfills, and rock quarries may have something to learn from nuclear power plants. A new survey says most Americans would rather have nuclear power plant built in their community than a landfill, a casino, or even a rock or sand & gravel quarry. [Charts]

The NIMBY effect refers to the phenomenon of “Not IN My Back Yard” which involves the projection of illogical fears about risk with equal intensity on an odd mix that includes commercial real estate projects, rock quarries, casinos, nuclear power plants, and even Wall Mart.

The astonishing news comes from a recent survey on attitudes towards real estate of 1,000 Americans conducted by Saint Consulting of Hingham, Mass.

It should come as no surprise that, according to the annual survey, 78% of American adults oppose a landfill project in their community, and nearly as many oppose a casino (77%). An aggregate rock quarry is opposed by 62%. Only 60% oppose nuclear power plants giving them the lowest ranking on the survey's list.

Politics of power plant opposition

ap1000Opposition is down, and support up, for all types of power plant projects, including nuclear energy. A nuclear power plant is opposed by 60% of Americans, down from 65% a year ago. It explains why Progress Energy is locating its two new AP1000 reactors in rural Levy County, Fla., and why there is relatively little local opposition to them.

See this video for a deeper discussion of the politics of power plant opposition from a developer perspective. This year’s headline, Saint Group says,”is that it is still tough out there.” However, the numbers that support nuclear energy are a slight improvement. Even more startling is the support for nukes when compared to other types of development.

A nuclear power plant, while the least-favored type of power plant, would still be preferable as a local development project to a landfill, a casino, or an aggregate quarry, the survey results show.

Things are improving for wind energy investors with 43% of Americans supporting a local power project, up from just 23% in 2006. Wind power remains the top choice for a power plant among Americans if one were to be built near them (82% support).

Real estate takes it on the chin

Americans seem to be conflicted when it comes to new development. They want to economic benefits, but they don’t want to see what produces them from their backyards. A key finding of the Saint survey is that . . .

America’s opposition to local real estate development remains strong, with 74% of adults opposed to new development in their community, according to the Saint Index. And 78% of American adults oppose a landfill development in their hometown, making it the most unwanted type of local real estate project in America. A casino is the second most unwanted local project with 77% opposed.

If you take this juxtaposition of facts to its logical conclusion, 56% of Americans would oppose having a new Wall-Mart and 60% would oppose having a new nuclear power plant. It seems that America's illogical fears of spent nuclear fuel, and of the crowd that seeks out deep discount prices at the country's largest retailer, are equally matched.

poker chipsThe casino folks will be scratching their heads how they came out with a lower ranking, and higher loathing, than nuclear power plants.

Key reasons for opposition to a casino project are protecting the environment (22%) and protecting the value of a home or real estate (21%). Other reasons for opposition include fear of too much new traffic (19%) and protecting community character (18%). All of these factors, and their numbers, are comparable to opposition to power plants or large retail developments.

Wind energy preferred over Wall-Mart

Wall Mart also ranks high as the least desired type of shopping mall development homeowners would want to see in their neighborhoods. According to the Saint Survey, “Wall-Mart this year fell into a tie with a mall or large shopping center as the most opposed local retail development project. Both types of development are opposed by 56% of adults for their community.” What Saint says is that Wall-Mart is no longer alone as one of the top most reviled large-scale types of real estate developments.

Walmart protestsOpposition to Wall-Mart actually fell by a few points from the survey results recorded last year. This may reflect the fact that more people are seeking out “falling prices” due to the deteriorating economic conditions in the U.S.

Like many Americans, I also shop at Wall-Mart because the prices are so low, but also, like many Americans, I am disturbed by some of their business practices when it comes to how they treat their employees. The social safety net of the nation is torn in many places. Wal-Mart, for better or worse, has become a touchstone for perceptions of what’s wrong with health care coverage and the lack of it for some many people.

This doesn’t make the company an “evil empire,” but the fact that some people make this comparison, even if unjustified, shows what happens when public perceptions start moving in wrong direction relative to the preferred path for a firm’s brand image. Nuclear power plant operators in Vermont and New York take note.

Lessons for Vermont Yankee and Indian Point

VYcoolingtowercollapseThere are astonishing parallels between unreasonable public perceptions of Wall-Mart and remarkably strong public aversion to the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee and Indian Point nuclear power plants even though safety was never at risk at either plant. All it took at Vermont Yankee was one bad picture in 2007 to unravel years of community support. Opposition at Indian Point boiled over when the plant couldn’t make its low-tech emergency sirens work in 2008.

Things are turning around at Indian Point where the plant owner committed to implementing $100 million worth of plant and safety improvements following recommendations from an independent committee of nuclear energy experts and orders from the NRC. Things are moving more slowly at Vermont Yankee. Last July the NRC sent top-level nuclear engineers to review Vermont Yankee’s operations and recommend improvements. Public opposition to relicensing the plant by 2012 remains off the charts.

The lesson learned here is that Americans are slow to warm up to new development and easily turned into unreasonable and even malicious opponents of new development if they think think their homes and communities are at risk even if they aren’t. Here’s another example. People complain about dropped cell phone signals, but turn out in droves to oppose new cell phone towers in their towns. Go figure.

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The Saint Consulting Group has been doing its annual survey for years, and the firm has been in business since 1983. It has done similar surveys in the UK and Canada. Check the firm’s website for additional details.

Update - Hat tip to Rod Adams at Atomic Insights who has another perspective on the Saint Consulting Group based on report from Forbes Magazine called Nimby Wars

Prior coverage of risk perception

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Nuclear news roundup for 02/01/09

Former Missouri environmental lobbyist leads pro-nuclear group

Missouri show meThe St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that a pro-nuclear group has begun operations in Missouri “to carry a statewide message that clean and renewable energy must power the state’s economic development engines.” The group, to be known as “Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future” (MBEF) describes itself as non-partisan and led by former environmental lobbyist Irl Scissors.

The group supports building a new nuclear power plant in the state. It specifically supports a proposal by Missouri utility Ameren now before the legislature which would allow the utility to charge consumers for construction costs while the plant is being built.

Mark Fohey, the group’s secretary and a labor-union activist, told the Dispatch, “if AmerenUE is able to build a second nuclear plant in Callaway County, it would be the largest construction project in Missouri history, with a projected cost of more than $6 billion. The Callaway II project would employ approximately 4,000 workers at its peak and generate an estimated $1.2 billion in annual economic activity.”

Al Gore slams “clean coal” and side swipes nukes

climate_change_carbon_taxThe Wall Street Journal reported that former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his advocacy about dealing with global climate change, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that clean coal isn’t an answer, isn’t available, and may never be. He also took a swipe at nuclear energy citing concerns about proliferation of fissile materials and costs of new construction. Gore’s testimony included support for carbon tax strategies as a way to control greenhouse gases.

Gore provided his views as input to U.S. preparations for a global climate change meeting scheduled to take place in Denmark later this year. Diplomats from around the world will meet to discuss a new treaty on global climate change. The former VP said the U.S. has some explaining to do, and some credibility to regain, after eight years of neglect of the issue by the Bush administration.

See prior coverage on this blog

NRC takes next steps for license renewal of Indian Point

The NRC has issued a safety evaluation report listing “open items” that must be addressed as part of Entergy’s application to extend the Indian Point nuclear plant license by an additional 20 years. This is a normal milestone in the license renewal process, but it has extra visibility due to opposition from the State of New York.

The 2,045 MW plant is essential to providing electricity to the New York metropolitan area, and anti-nuclear activists haven’t a clue where the replacement electricity would come from, or at what cost, if Indian Point were to be shut down.

See prior coverage on this blog

NRC awards $6M grant to Oregon State for HTGR reactor study

PebblesOregon State University (OSU) has received a five-year, $6 million grant from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to research heat and materials issues for high temperature, gas-cooled reactors also known as the “pebble bed” design.

OSU’s role in this project is to build a one-quarter scale reactor and test designs, see what works best, simulate accidents, and provide safety data to regulatory agencies. The facility will cost $3.6 million and the remaining funds will be used for experiments and simulations. Texas A&M University and the University of Michigan are partners in this project.

Two different designs for these types of reactors are already under way in at least three consortiums in China, South Africa and the United States. License applications could be on their way to the NRC within five to seven years, said said Brian Woods, an OSU assistant professor of nuclear engineering.

See prior coverage on this blog

Brazil to start uranium enrichment

World Nuclear News reports that Brazil will start enriching uranium on an industrial scale at a plant in Resende. It is expected to produce 12 tons of enriched uranium by December 2009. The Brazilian plant uses gas centrifuge technology similar to Urenco’s units. It currently has two cascades with plans for 10 more by 2012.

Samuel Fayad Filho, the director of production, told WNN, that until now the country had relied on external services from Cameco in Canada and Urenco in Europe to obtain nuclear fuel.

Brazil has two nuclear power plants and has plans to complete a third one. All of the output of the Resende plant is allocated for use by these reactors.

See IEEE Spectrum “How Brazil Spun the Atom

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Charles Julian Barton, Sr

fusion graphicFull obituary at Nuclear Green highlights here

A pioneer of molten salt reactor (MSR) chemistry (large image)

Charles Julian Barton, Sr, a reactor chemistry pioneer, died of causes incident to age on January 31, 2009, in Oak Ridge, TN. He celebrated his 97th birthday on January 16, 2009. His son Charles Barton blogs on nuclear energy topics at NuclearGreen. This blog post is based on a much longer obituary published there.

Dr. Barton studied at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he obtained a BS in 1933 and an MS in 1934. He then went on to obtain a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Virginia in 1939. He worked for TVA and in the chemical and mining industries.

Nuclear fuel accomplishments

nautilusIn 1948 he accepted an offer to join Warren Grimes’ chemistry group at Y-12, where his most notable assignment was the development of a technique for the separation of zirconium from hafnium. This was an important step to the development of the light water reactors, because zirconium is essential for both naval military and civilian power reactor technology.

Dr. Barton joined ORNL in 1950. Between 1950 and 1969 much of Dr. Barton’s ORNL research focused on molten salt reactor technology. His pioneering efforts and accomplishments included:

  • Pioneering research on the NaF, ZrF4, UF4 salt mixture concept, and shared credit for the final reactor formula.
  • Shared research on the LiF, BeF2, UF4 salt mix, and the creation of the final formula. This is the salt formula used for the 1966 to ‘69 molten salt reactor experiment.
  • Research on the use of plutonium as a MSR fuel. This research opened the door for using molten salt reactors to dispose of plutonium stockpiles left over from nuclear weapons and for burning plutonium found in nuclear waste.
  • Research on the extraction of protactinium from blanket and core salts. This was a vital element in the use of molten salt reactors to efficiently convert thorium into a nuclear fuel.
  • Research on the use of molten salts in a blanket to extract power from a thermonuclear reactor. This research opened the door to approaches to extracting energy from fusion machines.

Advancements in radiation safety

radiation safetyIn addition to these accomplishments, Dr. Barton made notable contributions to nuclear safety. When Dr. Barton was asked to perform plutonium chemistry in the mid 1950’s, he learned of safety concerns with the then current methods of handling plutonium.

He requested an expansion of his research assignment, to include improvements in plutonium handling technology and techniques. Dr. Barton’s findings pointed to long term improvement in worker and researcher safety, while handling radioactive materials at nuclear facilities.

Dr. Barton went on to team with the late George Parker between 1960 and 1964 in the study of chemical aspects of reactor accidents. In that research, Dr. Barton specialized in improving understanding of the transport of radioisotopes in the environment following reactor accidents. Dr. Barton’s research took him to England where he studied the release of radioactive materials following the Windscale reactor fire.

During the late 1960’s, Dr. Barton also undertook a pioneering study of natural sources of radioactive radon found in many American homes.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

A number of stories related to Dr. Barton’s professional career and his scientific accomplishments can be found on the Internet blogs, Nuclear Green and Energy from Thorium.

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