Friday, December 9, 2011

Bad blood boils over at the NRC

Four commissioners write to the House Oversight Committee blaming Chairman Gregory Jaczko about a toxic atmosphere

Next Wednesday December 14 the House Oversight Committee will hold a very unusual hearing in which four NRC Commissioners will air their complaints about NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.

All four are so unhappy with the way Jaczko does business at the NRC that they signed a letter October 13 to White House Chief of Staff William Daley detailing how badly things are going at the agency.

Current circumstances have the appearance of the heat and smoke of lava flowing down the side of a Hawaiian volcano and setting off clouds of steam as it flows into the ocean.

Not to be deterred, Jaczko sent a rebuttal on Dec 7 claiming that his colleagues at the agency are soft on safety and that he is the only thing standing between a complacent nuclear industry and an accident waiting to happen.  Rep Ed Markey (D-Mass) issued a fiery press release late Friday night charging that there is a conspiracy to undercut nuclear safety at the NRC.

The Associated Press has detailed coverage of the back-and-forth in the letters. The New York Times has additional coverage.

Last June Jaczko was the subject of a harsh investigative report by the NRC Inspector General. While the IG found no laws had been broken, it was critical of Jaczko's management style. It appears that since then things have simply gotten much worse.  In a webinar I conducted with Jaczko last October, he was unapologetic about his management style.

Lid comes off on White House correspondence

All of the letters have been kept under wraps by the White House. President Obama has no apparent interest in annoying Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who wants to keep Jaczko in place to continue to bottle up the Yucca Mountain license from ever seeing the light of day.

The House Oversight Committee wants some answers, but even if they get a he said, she said type hearing, at the end of the day, the 'so what' question is whether the four NRC commissioners stuck their heads out for nothing.

Washington is consumed with political battles over a failing economy and Congress, with the failure of the budget Super committee, has set off a mad scramble to prevent "deus ex machina" type legislation from wrecking what's left of the federal budget.

Who's going to pay attention to a dust up at a federal regulatory agency where no one speaks plain English? Yes, preventing a Fukushima type accident in the U.S. is important, but is this dispute going to stand in the way of the NRC's mission? The four commissioners think it will, but Jaczko has some high cards in his hand and will play them for all they are worth.

What the House Committee will cover

Rep. Darrel Issa
 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif) said

“We believe that [Chairman Jaczko’s] actions and behavior are causing serious damage to this institution and are creating a chilled work environment at the NRC. We are concerned that this will adversely affect the NRC’s essential mission protect the health, safety and security of the American people.”

The Oversight Committee’s request to the White House comes after it obtained the October 13 letter from the four NRC commissioners last week in the course of its ongoing investigation into the operations and decision making of the NRC.

“The President has the authority to take action to address these concerns,” Chairman Issa wrote in his letter to Daley.  “The White House has now been aware of the Commissioners concerns for nearly two months, and the public deserves to understand what actions have been taken and whether the President still believes that Chairman Jaczko is capable of leading the NRC.”

The Full Committee hearing entitled “The Leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission” will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, December 14th in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.  Chairman Gregory Jaczko, Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, Commissioner George Apostolakis, Commissioner William Magwood, and Commissioner William Ostendorff will testify.

Does it matter?

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko
at the White House
From the point of view of the White House, the situation may look like a personality conflict run amok rather than a dispute over how to regulate nuclear power plants.

In the current political environment, Obama may not care what happens at the NRC, or what the other NRC commission members think, so long as he continues to appear to Nevada's voters that he is keeping his promise to stop Yucca Mountain.

That means keeping Jaczko in place no matter no badly he fails to get along with the other commissioners.

Sen. Reid has no interest in allowing a scenario to play out that will force Jaczko to resign thus removing the one fulcrum he has for leverage to keep his promises to Nevada's voters about Yucca Mountain.

The nuclear industry might privately say that Jaczko is a pain in the neck, but he did vote today for certification of the AP1000 reactor design and indicated that combined construction and operating licenses to build four of them are not far behind.  And, Jackzo has ammunition to use to defend his record.
  • He can make the case for a "red" finding at Browns Ferry,
  • The NRC basically saved the Omaha Public Power District from itself earlier this year by insisting it beef up flood control measures at Ft. Calhoun,
  • The short-term recommendations of the NRC's task force issued last July on Fukushima are reasonable and even NEI agrees many can be implemented with little apparent pain.
People who follow the NRC much more closely than this blog tell me that in the world of nuclear safety regulation, having a dysfunctional relationship among the commissioners, especially with four of them lined up against the chairman, is itself a threat to safety. It means they are paying more attention to their disputes than they are to the agency's business.  That's the real "so what" as seen from here.

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NRC's man in Japan opens up about Fukushima

It sheds new light on the high profile statement of NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko about the condition of spent fuel pool #4

The Associated Press has an insightful and disturbing report about how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission came to do two things in the first week following the events at Fukushima which are still producing backlash in Japan and the U.S.

In those early days of the crisis NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a Congressional committee March 16th that the agency believed all of the water in the spent fuel pool at unit #4 was gone and that it was releasing huge amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere.

Based on this assessment, Jaczko issued a statement advising all Americans in Japan within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactor site to evacuate the area. This statement was emphasized in a March 17 White House press briefing.

The Japanese government immediately protested these statements saying that to the best of their knowledge the  spent fuel was still covered in water. Even more important, they objected to Jaczko interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

It wasn't until two months later that the NRC revised its views on the condition of the pool based on video evidence and water chemistry samples that showed the fuel was undamaged by a hydrogen explosion at unit 4 and that water was covering the fuel right up to the top of the pool.

Enter a career government official

The Associated Press article quotes at length Charles Casto, an NRC career executive stationed in Japan at the time, who said he made the assessment that the spent fuel pool had lost its water. He blames "the fog of war" because there was no sensor data from the plant and no visual information on the condition of the pool.  He added that there were high radiation levels being detected around unit 4 so that led to the assumption it was coming from the spent fuel pool.

This raises the question of what did the NRC really know and when did they know it?  For instance, by the time Jaczko delivered his testimony to Congress a week after the tsunami hit the plant, there had been time for remote sensing UAVs and low earth orbiting satellites to provide data about the condition of the spent fuel pool. It was now visible from the air since the hydrogen explosion blew off the top of the building structure that surrounds the plant.

What can IFR sensors see?

Image: U.S. Army
Infrared sensors on a UAV or on a low-earth polar orbiting satellite (200 miles up) can detect  the heat from a structure or vehicle as small as a truck or car.  In the visual light spectrum such satellites have resolutions down to an object one meter in length (40 inches).

Infrared sensors on UAV's can report the approximate temperature of the hood of a car in a parking lot differentiating it from residual heat of the blacktop. See this Aviation Week report on the use of IFR sensors on UAVs.

According to a retired U.S. nuclear utility executive, at Fukushima the Unit 1 & 2 spent fuel pools have surface dimensions of 7 meters by 12 meters.

They have a depth of 14 meters, with 7 meters of water above the tops of the stored fuel bundles when pools are full. Unit 3& 4 spent fuel pools have surface dimensions of 10 meters by 12 meters, with the same depth and above-fuel water levels as units #1 & 2.

These are large objects and their temperature would easily be detected by am infrared sensor on a UAV, helicopter, or satellite. The question is if these data were collected, were they ever sent to the NRC?

History of remote sensing data acquisition at Fukushima

The New York Times reports that aerial sensing of radiation from the Fukushima plants was acquired in the first week following the disaster.  The U.S. Department of Energy took extensive aerial air and ground samples.  Their report from October 2011 provides a summary of the flights, data acquired, and maps of the extent of radioactive contamination.

What we are left with is that Mr. Castro is explaining the uncertainty he dealt with at the time and how it was translated into congressional testimony and a judgement call by the NRC for the 50 mile evacuation.

Arguments will continue for a long time over these responses.  Mr. Castro's forthcoming remarks don't make the agency look very good, and perhaps even appear as though he is falling on his sword, metaphorically speaking, in the Japanese tradition.  That's probably too harsh a judgement.  He's provided some transparency into the sequence of events.  That's helpful and a lesson learned for his successors.

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Nuclear News Roundup for December 9, 2011

Another in a series of reports about progress in the global nuclear energy industry

Fennovoima To Choose Finland Reactor Design By 2013

Image: World Nuclear News
(NucNet): Finland’s Fennovoima, which has been given permission in principle to build a new nuclear unit on a greenfield site in the west of the country, expects to choose a reactor design by 2013.

The company sent bid invitations to Areva and Toshiba for construction of the new plant, the company’s chief nuclear officer Juhani Hyvärinen told the European Nuclear Assembly.

The two technologies being sought are Areva’s 1600 MW European Pressurized Water Reactor and Toshiba’s 1300 MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR).

Fennovoima chose Areva and Toshiba as plant supplier alternatives in 2008 and since then, technical development work has been done with both companies as well as with alternative turbine suppliers Alstom and Siemens.

Construction in Pyhäjoki, on the Hanhikivi peninsula, is expected to begin in 2015 and the plant could enter revenue service by in 2020.

Finland's continuing investment in nuclear energy is intended to address energy security and to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas.  Finland's harsh winter makes it one of the most intensive users of electricity for heating in Europe.

Finland has four nuclear units in commercial operation and one, the European Pressurised Water Reactor Olkiluoto-3, under construction. Olkiluoto-3 is scheduled to be connected to the grid in 2013.

Vietnam Agrees To Push Ahead With New Nuclear Plans

(NucNet) Japan’s prime minister and his Vietnamese counterpart have agreed to a plan to build a new nuclear plant in the southeast Asian country.

“We will go forth with the construction of nuclear power reactors with Japan’s aid”, Nguyen Tan Dung said in a statement after their talks.

The governments of the two countries reached an agreement in October 2010 for Japan to build two reactor units with the first beginning commercial operation by 2021.

Vietnam’s initial nuclear plans are for four nuclear units in the southeastern province of Ninh Thuan.

An agreement has already been signed with Russia to build the first two units, with Japan scheduled to build the second two.

Vietnam decided on the purchase in October 2010, but the plan was thrown into doubt after the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Vietnam’s formal endorsement of Japanese nuclear technology came days after Japan’s foreign minister Koichiro Gemba and his Indian counterpart agreed to move ahead with talks about a civilian nuclear enrgy agreement.

UK Energy Minister Says ‘No Reason’ Not To Proceed With Nuclear

Chris Huhne
(NucNet): The UK’s energy minister has responded to a post-Fukushima report on nuclear safety by saying he continues to see no reason why the country should not proceed with its policy that nuclear should be part of the future energy mix.

In a letter to the report’s author, chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman, Chris Huhne said the UK should go ahead with plans for new nuclear “providing that there is no public subsidy, beyond that available to other low-carbon energy sources”.

In the letter Huhne sets out the government’s plans for addressing areas where Weightman’s report made specific safety recommendations.

Those areas include a call for the government and the nuclear industry to support international efforts to improve the review and implementation of International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and initiatives.

Huhne also said the government would be carrying out a review of the Japanese response to the civil emergency that followed the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

The letter said: “We will then compare our findings with our own civil contingency planning to identify whether there are lessons that can be learnt from the Japanese experience to improve our own planned response to (catastrophic) emergencies.”

Weightman’s 300-page Fukushima report was made public in October 2011.
It said there was no reason to curtail the operation of UK nuclear sites or to change siting strategies for new nuclear units in the UK.

The report said the UK approach to identifying the design basis for nuclear facilities for events such as earthquake and flooding is sound.

SMRs Could Compete With Natural Gas, Says University Report

(NucNet) A report by the University of Chicago says small modular reactors (SMRs) could compete with natural gas and have the potential to achieve “significant” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The report ‘Small Modular Reactors – Key to Future Nuclear Power Generation in the US’, considers market prices in 10 to 15 years from now when SMRs will be ready for commercialisation, said report co-author Robert Rosner.

According to the report, the electricity from a combined-cycle natural gas plant would range in cost from $60 to $80 per megawatt-hour “in the post-2020 timeframe”.

The report, commissioned by the US Department of Energy, estimates that the first SMR would involve electricity costs of approximately $91 to $123 per MWh, and that after “significant learning” from the deployment of the first 18 units of the same design, an SMR could produce electricity at $80 per MWh.

With the full effects of learning achieved after the manufacture of 54 SMR modules the price predicted by the study is $60.95 per MWh.

The report suggests SMRs could be built in factories where mass production could increase efficiency.

The lower-end of the estimate is based on a projected natural gas price of
$5.45 per million British thermal units and the upper-end on $7.98/per million Btu, says the report.

UK Confirms Plans To Convert Plutonium Into MOX Fuel

(NucNet) The UK government says it intends to convert “the vast majority” of the country’s civil separated plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use in civil nuclear reactors.

Any remaining plutonium whose condition is such that it cannot be converted into MOX, will be immobilised and treated as waste for disposal.

The statement said: “Only when the government is confident that its preferred option could be implemented safely and securely, that is affordable, deliverable, and offers value for money, will it be in a position to proceed with a new MOX plant.

“If we cannot establish a means of implementation that satisfies these conditions then the way forward may need to be revised.”

The government’s conclusions follow a consultation that has been going on since February 2011.

DECC said the next steps will see “further information” being gathered through detailed commercial discussions on the market for MOX fuel and the availability of reactors in which it can be burned.

Other discussions will focus on detailing the costs and timescales for procuring services or facilities, including a suitable MOX plant.

DECC also said overseas owners of plutonium stored in the UK could have their plutonium managed alongside UK plutonium, “subject to acceptable commercial terms”.

The UK is storing about 112 tonnes of civil separated plutonium. This amount includes about 28 tonnes of material belonging to overseas customers.

In the 1950s plutonium separation was carried out in the UK for defense purposes. In the 1960s when it was thought that fossil fuels would run out, this plutonium was made available as fuel for fast reactors.

Eventually, in 1994, the UK abandoned almost all research into fast reactors because it decided they would not be commercially viable.

The consultation document on the management of the UK’s plutonium stocks is online:

IAEA Report Outlines Benefits Of Nuclear Energy

(NucNet): Nuclear power can address the twin challenges of global climate change and acute growth in energy demand while also having the largest potential to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the lowest cost, a new report says.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ‘Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2011’ report, a revision of a similar 2009 report, says enormous increases in energy supply are needed to lift 2.4 billion people out of energy poverty and, “nuclear power is among the energy sources and technology that could help meet the climate energy challenge”.

The agency is presenting the report to the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), which took place in Durban, South Africa.

The report outlines the basic benefits and competitiveness of nuclear power which, in the electricity sector, has been assessed as having the largest potential to mitigate GHG emissions at the lowest cost, the report says.

The report says nuclear energy could account for about 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions reduction in electricity generation in 2050.

“GHG emissions from nuclear power plants are negligible and nuclear power, together with hydropower and wind based electricity, is among the lowest CO2 emitters when emissions throughout the entire life cycle are considered.”

It says nuclear power can help alleviate concerns about energy security and increased volatility in fossil fuel prices. Ample uranium resources are available from diverse sources and the cost of uranium is a small fraction of the total cost of nuclear electricity.

Radiation risks from normal plant operation and waste management are small, the report adds. Radiation risks from normal plant operation remain at “a negligible level” relative to natural and medical sources of public radiation exposure.

The report adds: “The scientific foundations for the safe geological disposal of radioactive waste are well established.”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NRC's Jaczko presses his case for 2012 budget

In an end of year meeting with reporters the Chairman explains what the agency plans to do next year

(Note to readers - this blog post has been updated to indicate the budget being discussed is the FY 2012 federal budget which began 10/01/11)

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko sat down with reporters from the mainstream media and the major wire services this week to discuss his agency's budget. He got lots of ink from it, metaphorically speaking, as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and Associated Press wires all covered it.

There is just one problem with the pitch to the media. While they write the news, they don't write the appropriation language in Congress starting in the Republican led House who have, metaphorically speaking, a facsimile of his hide tacked up on a dartboard.

Critics of the highly visible NRC chairman point out he made himself a target being a former aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) who's over-the-top anti-nuclear advocacy has a self-inflated importance that competes with the skyline hugging profile of Mt. Rushmore.

For example, in the middle of the revisions of the design certification of the Westinghouse AP1000, last May Jaczko went public with his complaints about it in an unprecedented press release.  Since then the reactor vendor appears to have addressed all the agency's objections.  It expects the NRC to issue the Final Rule before the end of 2011.  (U.S. NRC blog August 11, 2011)

Then last October he said in a speech at the National Press Club he was in "sympathy" with a contention filed by two dozen anti-nuclear groups to stop all NRC licensing activities, both new and renewals, until the agency had completed all its changes to regulatory requirements based on the Fukushima events, a process that could take years.  That may have been the idea, but reason prevailed and the NRC rejected the contention.

What's the hubub about the budget?

Jaczko told the news media this week that the NRC may slow down renewals of licenses for existing reactors though he also said that none would be forced to close as a result of this action. Instead, he said it would take longer for the regulatory agency to process the paperwork.

That's a bit of a stretch since Entergy's Indian Point has two reactors up for license renewal in 2013 and 2015 respectively.   New York Governor Andrew Cuomo actually might be happy about the possibility of a delay since he does better at funding raising from green groups when he has Indian Point to thump on the stump.  What would he do if the NRC was actually efficient and got the licenses out on time?

There are 10 reactors with their licenses under review and another dozen which will come in between 2012 and 2017.  Most of the nation's nuclear fleet have been relicensed including two of the oldest plants - Exelon's Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Entergy's Vermont Yankee.

Paying the piper

And it is expensive paperwork.  Agency engineers bill the nations nuclear utilities $273/hr for the privilege of having their applications reviewed for safety compliance.

More than 90% of the NRC's, or about $900 million, comes from industry fees not taxpayers. While the nuclear industry pays fees for regulatory reviews, only Congress can appropriate money for operations.  The payments from utilities go to the U.S. Treasury.

If utilities want their licenses on time, why, if they are paying for them, is the agency slowing things down? According to the NRC, there are 14 reactors with pending license renewals.  But Jaczko told the reporters at his round table event he has other priorities including implementing new regulatory requirements recommended by an NRC task force last July.

Another priority Jackzo plans to focus on is to tighten scrutiny of nuclear reactors with safety performance problems such as Browns Ferry which got a rare "red" safety notice for failing to detect a long standing equipment problem in its emergency cooling system.

Jaczko is also planning to pay more attention to First Energy's Perry plant in northeast Ohio which almost exposed four contract workers to a blast of radiation.  It is called a "near miss" and is as serious as an actual accident.  Then there is the luckless Ft. Calhoun power station on the Missouri River near Omaha, Neb., which is still closed following the flooding along the river last summer.

Jaczko is quick to point out he's not calling out a decline in safety performance among the nation's reactors, but he does warn about "complacency" and plans to work to overcome it.

The budget by the numbers

In a briefing document released to the media, the NRC said it is working in 2012 with about $29 million less than what it got in 2010.  Of the $29 million decrease, $20 million, or about two-thirds of the decrease, comes from licensing activities.

This shifting of resources takes place inside a budget that is being reduced, measured in constant dollars, from $1.07 billion in 2010 to $977 million in 2012.

Separately, the agency will spend $12.5 million more on oversight of construction of new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Southern's Vogtle site in Georgia, Scana's V.C. Summer Station in South Carolina, and two reactors being completed by TVA - Watts Bar in Tennessee and Bellefonte on Alabama.

When asked by reporters about Jaczko's briefing, the nuclear industry appears to have taken the high road.  According to the Associated Press report, as published in the Washington Post, Tony Peitrangelo at NEI said his group "is in broad agreement" with the NRC on its response to Fukushima.  He said nuclear utilities are ready to adopt short-term measures including more equipment to deal with prolonged loss of off-site power.

Yucca not a pressing issue

Jaczko has been a target of House Republicans because he ended the NRC's review of the license application for the Yucca Mountain geologic repository  He said that he feels spent fuel can be safely stored at reactors in wet and eventually dry storage for up to 100 years.  That doesn't thrill the utilities who have multiple lawsuits against the federal government for having taken the money to build Yucca Mountain and then left them holding the spent fuel.

As many of his critics quickly point out, Jaczko is also a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who has done everything in his power to insure that Yucca Mountain never opens.  In a nod to Reid's influence over the President's legislative agenda, the White House appointed a so-called Blue Ribbon Commission to look at alternatives for dealing with spent fuel.  Some wags call it the "do nothing until after 2012 commission" which apparently is also the strategy the election bound president has taken with a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

The formula appears to be one which has House Republicans fuming.  Jaczko is doing what Sen. Reid wants him to do, and as long as Reid is happy, and is carrying legislative water buckets for the President in Congress, the White House could care less what else Jaczko does at the NRC. So while the House can put language in the appropriation bill reflecting their annoyances, it is likely to come out on the Senate side and disappear in conference committee. The good news is that in an election year the odds are in favor of Congress actually producing appropriation bills.

What to do about the NRC Chief's sleight of hand?

My friend and fellow nuclear blogger Rod Adams thinks the House Appropriations Committee ought to hold Jaczko's feet to the fire and write specific language telling him how to spend the agency's money. That's a good start, but there is more Congress can do.

If Congress is serious about energy policy it will fund the NRC in a way that promotes safety through licensing and oversight and add money to the agency to cover Fukushima-related recommendations.  Robbing money from the utility fee pool to pay for regulatory improvements isn't going to make anyone happy and it will have an overall corrosive effect on the agency's effectiveness and credibility.

As long as we're adding to a wish list, I would also ask Congress to change the reimbursement requirement for small modular reactors, e.g., those with less than 300 MW in electrical generating capability.  If this nation is going to be competitive on a global scale, we have to do more to get innovative technology out the door and not keep it bottled up inside the DC beltway.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good news about nuclear energy – December 2011

Another report in a continuing series in the post-Fukushima era

coolhandnukePlans for development of new nuclear reactors continue to emerge, or change from the past, as a result of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. This  trend is visible in China where the government is getting ready to start approving new reactor projects following a safety review.

Other southeast Asian nations are also making plans or looking at the potential for nuclear energy. Chief among them is Vietnam with expectations of building as many as eight new reactors.

India is emerging as a major player in the business of building new reactors despite protests from opposition parties.  New reactors will go forward at Jaitapur and Koondankulam.

And there is lots of other positive news about nuclear energy.

Read the complete story exclusively at CoolHandNuke online now.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

81st Carnival of Nuclear Energy Bloggers

Fermi reactor concept -
Image courtesy of Will Davis at Atomic Power Review
If you want to hear the voice of the nuclear renaissance, the Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs is where to find it.

Past editions have been hosted at Next Big Future. Yes Vermont Yankee, Atomic Energy Review, Canadian Energy Issues, and CoolHandNuke, as well as several other popular nuclear energy blogs.

The publication of the Carnival each week is part of a commitment by the leading pro-nuclear bloggers in North America that we will speak with a collective voice on the issue of the value of nuclear energy. While we each have our own point of view, we agree that the promise of peaceful uses of the atom remains viable in our own time and for the future.

If you have a pro-nuclear energy blog, and would like to host an edition of the carnival, please contact Brian Wang at Next Big Future to get on the rotation.

This Week's Carnival

Some fish story

At Yes Vermont Yankee Meredith Angwin finds another reason to distrust the Associated Press when it comes to reporting on nuclear energy topics. 

AP reported that Vermont Yankee "released" strontium without including the quantities released.  She notes that anti-nuclear bias may be part of a pattern at AP, and quotes Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) criticisms of national-level four part series of AP articles on nuclear subjects.

The CJR article published last September titled, "A Frustrating AP Series on Nuclear Safety," carried a subhead which captures what's wrong with the wire service's reporting on nuclear energy.  It said, "the industry’s blunder-buss response doesn’t help; public left confused"

But later CJR found more reasons to be concerned about AP. In November it wrote that AP's coverage of the potential for cancer from radiation releases at Fukushima was more scary than factual.

December a busy month for nuclear energy

At Atomic Power Review Will Davis lists all the 'firsts" that took place in December in the history of nuclear energy.  They include the Chicago Pile and the generation of electricity at EBR-1 in Idaho.

He has some interesting technical details about Enrico Fermi's work at the Chicago site where a sustained chain reaction first took place December 2, 1942.  Along with good story telling, Davis also has some wonderful graphics from the era.

The real cost of nuclear weapons

At the Nuclear Diner Cheryl Rofer writes that if you want to account for what nuclear weapons have cost the country since they were invented during World War II, you would have to include the damage to the environment and people’s health from poor judgements about worker conditions and waste disposal, the work that has gone into development of treaties to control them, and today’s monitoring of other nations that hold them or may be trying to get them.

Rofer notes that Stephen Schwartz, most recently with Deepti Choubey, has tried to reckon up that full cost. That number is useful for a great many things, among them ways to consider what nuclear weapons might cost us in the future and how we might deal with those costs.

Three from Next Big Future

Brain Wang at Next Big Future is one of the most productive bloggers I know cranking out interesting stuff every day.  Here are links to three of his most recent efforts.
Future of nuclear safety in Japan

At Nuke Power Talk Gail Marcus casts a critical eye on the future of nuclear energy safety regulation in Japan.  She profiles an article posted on-line by Professor Yoshiaki Oka of Japan identifying some of the same concerns that have been raised in her previous blogs, as well as by others in the West, about the need for changes to the Japanese nuclear regulatory process in the wake of Fukushima.  She points as well to other experts who are looking at these same issues, calling it a growing chorus of concern. 

What's a subsidy?

At ANS Nuclear Cafe Jim Hopf offers a must-read explanation of the differences between renewable and nuclear loan guarantees, what is a subsidy and what is not, energy market failures, external costs, and the possible impacts of the Solyndra "scandal" on America's nuclear future.

Off-the-mark at Limerick?

At Idaho Samizdat Dan Yurman analyzes the details of a contention filed by NRDC against license renewal for Exelon's Limerick reactor near Philadelphia.  In talking with NRDC and Exelon, as well as an independent nuclear engineer, he finds NRDC may be attacking an element of the license renewal that doesn't matter, at least as far as the NRC is concerned. 

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