Thursday, May 17, 2012

Will India stay the course on its new nuclear build?

The nation continues to chart an independent course

Conceptual drawing of Russian 1000 MW VVER
According to research compiled by the World Nuclear Association, India expects to have 20 GWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63 GWe by 2032.

It aims to supply 25 percent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. That’s an ambitious program. Getting there won’t be easy.

India's plans for new nuclear reactors include technology from Russia and France.  Japanese firms would like to play as well, but the government has qualms about the fact Indian has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Whether or not U.S. firms, including small modular reactor vendors, will have any access to the Indian market remains an open question.  One reason may be that state owned firms like Nalco, the aluminum manufacturer, want to become independent power producers.

Read the full details exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A timely correction to nonsense about Fukushima spent fuel

A crowd sourced response published at ANS Nuclear Cafe corrects serious misinformation about spent fuel at Fukushima

Fukushima Tag Cloud
Led by Will Davis at Atomic Power Review, a group of nuclear bloggers and analysts has crafted response to information posted by Robert Alvarez about spent fuel at Fukushima and the structural integrity of reactor #4.

It has been analyzed and labeled for what it really is - alarmist nonsense.  This is a deep dive into debunking FUD.

Anti-nuclear activists, like Alvarez, have an agenda to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt, otherwise known at FUD, about the progress of decommissioning the six reactors at Fukushima-Daiichi.  Any time you can create more fear about Fukushima, you create more distrust of nuclear energy generally.  That's the objective and that's why there is an answer at ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Alvarez's first claim is that the reactor building #4 is at risk of collapse. Second, he claims the spent fuel pool could catch on fire. These assertions, both of which are demonstrated to be false, have been picked up by others in the anti-nuclear world and some it has made its ways into the mainstream news media.

Senator Rod Wyden (D-Ore) echoed these issues following a trip to Fukushima prompting a newspaper editorial asking if he over-reacted having toured the facility in a full body personal protective jumpsuit.

There are two points to be made.  First, Fukushima reactor bldg #4 is not on the verge of collapse. Second, none of the spent fuel pools at Fukushima can catch on fire.

In a piece called Spent Fuel Safer than Asserted published at ANS Nuclear Cafe, a group of nuclear bloggers, writers, and analysts dissected Alvarez's claims and pointed out numerous, serious errors in them.

Reactor Building #4 will not collapse

In the past year TECPO has added massive concrete and steel reinforcements to the #4 reactor.  It has removed debris from the building.  The building is now stronger than when it was originally constructed 40 years ago.  See the blog post at ANS Cafe for the technical details.

Spent fuel pool #4 will not catch on fire 

For starters, Alvarez claims there are 10,893 spent fuel assemblies at Fukushima. In fact, there are only 2,724 spent fuel assemblies and all of them are in conditions which are below the temperature at which fuel cladding could oxidize.  The technical details are laid out in the ANS Cafe article.

Alavarez claims, in particular, that if the spent fuel in pool #4 were to lose its cooling water, that the zirconium cladding on the fuel would oxidize and that all of the curies of radioactivity in the fuel would simultaneously be ejected into the open air.

This sequence isn’t possible based on the current condition of the spent fuel at reactor #4 nor is it possible for the other spent fuel stored at Fukushima.

First, the spent fuel isn’t hot enough. It has been out of the reactor long enough that even if all the water was lost, the remaining decay heat would still be below the point of ignition which is 900C for the cladding and 2,880C for the uranium oxide in the fuel.

Second, the fuel has been out of the reactor for more than a year. The fuel has been out of the reactor longer than the point at which it could catch on fire.

Alvarez has made these claims for political reasons in pursuit of an anti-nuclear agenda and by the distortion of technical information which when presented accurately shows an entirely different situation.  In summary, his claims are not credible.

Alvarez was an Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy during the Clinton Administration so he understands "spin" in the nation's capital. In this case, his efforts appear to have gone seriously off track.

Propaganda is never a substitute for engineering reality.  You might just as well try to build railroads on snow drifts.

Video - Making Short Work of a Snow Job

I encourage readers to widely copy the URL (below) of the ANS Cafe piece and post it where others may see it.
Who did the critique?  

Readers of this blog might be interested in who did the review and how it was done. Will Davis contacted a number of nuclear energy bloggers which led to others who also participated in the effort. At ANS Cafe Will Davis expresses his gratitude for assistance in this analysis.  Here's the list.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Svinicki nomination at the Senate

The White House finds itself in the role of supporting a Republican for reappointment to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

pretzelsThe pretzel politics of life in Washington took on new twists this month. The White House nominated sitting NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki for another term over the objections of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)  Svinicki occupies a “republican” seat at the NRC, but Reid’s ire isn’t about partisan distinctions.

It is no small thing for the White House to send a nomination forward against the wishes of the Senate Majority Leader.  However, the President’s hand was forced by Senate Republicans who saw an opportunity to make hay over the delay in sending her name forward for confirmation.

svinickiSvinicki (left) has been an outspoken critic of Reid’s former aide and now Chairman of the NRC Gregory Jaczko.  She called for him to resign during a hearing last December before the House Oversight Committee.

Her reasons were based on charges that Jaczko was verbally abusive to women who worked for him at the NRC and that his erratic management style was detrimental to the safety mission of the regulatory agency.  Jaczko has denied the accusations as “categorically untrue.”

Also, when she was an aide to powerful republicans in the Senate, she disputed efforts by Jaczko to stop work on the development and licensing of the Yucca Mountain spent fuel site located at a desolate site in Nevada. 

Reid has made it an article of faith that Yucca Mountain will never open hence his vitriolic attacks on Svinicki.  He accused her of lying at her first confirmation hearing a charge she has denied. 

Svinicki’s nomination has another formidable challenge in the Senate in the form of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. 

Boxer has said that she will hold hearings in time to clear the nomination for a senate vote prior to the expiration of Svinicki’s first term on June 30th.  Boxer and the other Senate Democrats have to decide whether they will stand with the White House, and against Reid, to support Svinicki’s confirmation. 

Calculating the outcome on the merits?

Mobius roller coasterThe political calculus of the situation is daunting so this blog turned for advice to one of its long standing sources of seat-of-the-pants wisdom. Our friend Jenkins Hill is no stranger to the ways of Congress.

He told me Svinicki has a strong case to make on the merits of her record during her first term at the NRC.  Plus, he said, she stands out as a consensus seeker in terms of working with the other NRC commissioners.

Hill is good with numbers and he says things could add up support for Svinicki in the Senate.  In true DC fashion, Hill gave it to me in talking points.

  • Svinicki voted on a total of 135 publicly-available, policy or rulemaking-related matters from 2008-2012.
  • Of these, Svinicki's votes generally approved the NRC's staff recommended action 91% of the time (123 of 135 votes).
  • Svinicki voted with the majority of the Commission in 96% of these votes (130 of 135).
  • During the same period, either as a commissioner or as chairman, Greg Jaczko differed from the majority in 21% of publicly-available voting matters (29 of 135 votes). In 93% of these cases, he was the lone dissenter (27 of 135 votes).
  • From 2008 to 2012,  Svinicki participated in 102 adjudicatory voting matters. Of these, she voted with the majority approximately in 98% of the cases (100 of 102).
  • She only entered dissents on two occasions, both times being joined by Comm. Apostolakis.
  • During this same time period, either as Chairman or as a Commissioner, Greg Jaczko dissented 18 times. Each time, he was the only vote in opposition.

Those are interesting numbers, but it will take more than this type of arithmetic to swing enough Senate votes to confirm her.  Support from outside the beltway also matters.

ANS supports Svinicki

The American Nuclear Society weighed in with a statement of support for Svinicki to be reappointed to the NRC. The 11,000 member organization said in a press statement;

Ms. Svinicki is a nuclear engineer and policy advisor and is well qualified to continue service as an NRC Commissioner. She has extensive nuclear technology experience. She is a longstanding ANS member, where she served two terms on the ANS Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. In 2006, the Society honored her with a Presidential Citation in recognition of her contributions to the nuclear energy, science, and technology policies of the United States. “

In addition to ANS, the Nuclear Energy Institute issued a statement in support of confirmation of Sviniki’s nomination.  While NEI is decidedly an insider when it comes to DC politics, it is important to note it represents the nuclear utilities that own and operate the nation’s 104 reactors.

Here’s what NEI said . . .

“NEI has maintained that for the NRC to operate at peak effectiveness, it’s necessary to have a full complement of five commissioners to work on important regulatory issues. This is especially the case as the agency is considering new safety measures for U.S. plants as an outgrowth of the Fukushima accident last year, above and beyond its normal workload. “

My friend Jenkins Hill is a big fan of the Star Trek movies and tends to describe politics in science fiction terms.  His closing observation about Svinicki’s nomination is right along these lines. He said “the Svinicki starship has left space dock, but there are a lot of Klingons out there.”

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