Seattle Monks Protest While Dalai Lama Supports Nuclear Energy
Dec03

Seattle Monks Protest While Dalai Lama Supports Nuclear Energy

Last week a group of Buddhist monks joined the protest against San Onofre Nuclear Plant.  The local press made a big show of the spectacle as if the presence of members of a Seattle monastery somehow added stature to the demonstration and validity to their claims. The monks said they also want to call attention to what they believe are the global dangers of nuclear power.  “We need to shut down the San Onofre,” Gyosen Sawada of Los Angeles, who said he was born in Fukushima, Japan, told the group before beginning a three-hour walk from Dana Point Harbor. “No more Hiroshima. No more Nagasaki. No more Three Mile Island. No more Fukushima. No more San Onofre.” As is so often the case with anti-nuclear activists, these monks toss all things nuclear into one evil pile; in their minds atomic bombs and nuclear energy facilities are equally vile.  Funny how they avoided mention of CT scans, diagnostic x-rays, and nuclear medicine which account for virtually all of the man-made radiation exposure we receive (even for members of the public around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant). I guess they missed the memo from the Dalai Lama who, after the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant went on the record in support of nuclear energy. The Tibetan Buddhist leader said he supports nuclear energy as a way to bridge the socioeconomic gap in developing nations and in the absence of more efficient alternative energy sources. That’s a pretty insightful view from a leader who understands the causes of human suffering and the connection between access to energy and poverty.  He also recognizes alternatives like wind and solar energy will be difficult to expand on the scale needed to alleviate global poverty. We might expect these monks to hold similarly informed views, after all they come from a Japanese Shingon monastery.  This set of Buddhist teachings falls under the Vajranaña school, which also includes Tibetan Buddhism.  On the other hand, one of the monks described himself as a “homey from the projects in New York City.”  Perhaps he’s been more influenced by the misguided energy policies of NY Governor Andy Cuomo than by the teachings of the renown Tibetan spiritual leader....

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Canadian Nuclear Regulator Speaks Out on Safety of Uranium Mining
Nov25

Canadian Nuclear Regulator Speaks Out on Safety of Uranium Mining

Activists, medical practitioners and politicians who have demanded moratoriums [on uranium mining] may have various reasons for doing so, but their claims that the public and environment are at risk are fundamentally wrong. That about sums up the facts on the safety of uranium mining and the validity of motives of those who oppose it.  What’s particularly noteworthy about this statement is its source: Michael Binder, the President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  It’s impressive to see this level of leadership from the Canadian equivalent of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It’s also in stark contrast with the actions of former NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who remained silent last year when the US Department of Interior banned uranium mining for 20 years across 4000 square km of Arizona.  Their excuse was “protecting the Grand Canyon,” but the area in question is outside both the Grand Canyon and the buffer zone that protects the park. It would be great to see new NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane following Mr. Binder’s lead to dispel the myths around uranium mining and take a first step in overturning the arbitrary...

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Explore a Great Career in Nuclear Energy
Jan24

Explore a Great Career in Nuclear Energy

Note: this post also appears at the ANS Nuclear Cafe   What better way to celebrate National Nuclear Science Week than to acknowledge amazing career opportunities that exist for people interested in joiningthe nuclear renaissance. If you are a middle or high school student (or are the parent of one) considering college alternatives, you would be hard pressed to find a better investment than earning an associates or bachelors degree in nuclear-related science, engineering, or technology. Opportunities for entry level positions have not been this rich at any time during the past three decades, and the nuclear industry is partnering with many schools to ensure graduates have the knowledge and skill for success as power plant engineers, operators, and technicians. Because of a combination of national and international trends, there have never been more opportunities for young people to begin careers in the nuclear industry. About 120,000 people are currently employed in the U.S. nuclear industry. Over the next several years, many of these workers will retire. As a result, the industry will need to hire more than 25,000 new employees just to maintain the existing workforce. The economic slowdown  over the past few years has caused many workers to delay their retirement. Today retirements are once again on the rise because 401K balances have recovered and workers have earned additional credits in pension plans. For example, in 2011 about 2,000 workers retired from the 104 operating nuclear plants in the United States, prompting many utilities to increase hiring. Four new nuclear plants being built in Georgia and South Carolina will each add up to 2,400 workers during construction, plus 400 to 700 permanent jobs when each is operating. In addition, the nuclear industry is booming overseas with more than 60 plants under construction around the world and many more planned. All of this means ample opportunities for rewarding careers in many nuclear related fields. The industry hires almost every type of engineer, not just nuclear engineers. The most common are mechanical, electrical, civil, and power systems engineers. Since there are engineering colleges and universities in every state that offer one or more of these degree programs, opportunities are plentiful. Earning a bachelors degree in these engineering majors opens the door to an entry-level engineer position with a starting salary of approximately $60,000 to $65,000. Some of the positions in greatest demand at nuclear plants are power plant operators and technicians. These opportunities generally require an associate’s degree or equivalent training. Starting salaries range from around $45,000 per year to about $50,000. As workers gain experience, salaries can rise $20,000 or higher to an average of $65,000 to $70,000, and overtime...

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Only the Energy Impoverished Run Towards a Gasoline Spill

There was a horrible accident in Kenya this week.  More than 100 people were burned to death, and hundreds more were injured when a gasoline pipeline began leaking and then exploded.  My heart goes out to the victims, and their families, and to all the people of Kenya who are dealing with the worst industrial disaster in their history.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing burning people leaping into a nearby river trying to extinguish the flames that engulfed them.  Rescue workers had to place a net across the river to catch the charred bodies of the dead so they would not wash down stream. The death toll continues to grow, and most of the 100+ injured including many children are not expected to survive. The pipeline runs through Sinai, a Nairobi ghetto of corrugated tin and cardboard huts.  When the pipe began leaking hundreds of people gathered around to scoop up the spilled gasoline.  As the crowd grew a spark from a cigarette butt or some other heat source ignited the fuel.  The blast incinerated scores of people nearby.  Flames cascaded down on nearby huts then raced through the crowded slum. Trying to image the chaotic and horrific scene, I realized there was something so far outside my own paradigm that I had to stop for moment to collect my thoughts…who runs TOWARDS a leaking gasoline pipeline?  Maybe that’s a silly question; but if anyone reading this came upon a leaking gasoline pipeline they would stop, back away, and call for help.  You would keep your distance while warning others not to go near for fear of igniting the leak and causing a fire or explosion.  If you were forced to approach the leak you would fear for your life and rightfully so! So what is different between you and the hundreds of people in Kenya that did the exact opposite?  As word spread through Sinai about the leaking pipeline hundreds of people grabbed every container they could find and rushed towards the explosive spill! You might settle on a simple socioeconomic answer: because they are poor they’ll risk their lives for a few dollars worth of anything of value.  The real answer is a lot more complicated.  These people are not only poor, they are super poor, and one of the factors that separates the poor from truly impoverished is the lack of access to even basic energy sources that human beings need to survive.  They are energy destitute. Another way of saying this is availability of plentiful, accessible energy is the greatest single factor that allows people to rise out of poverty.  All of the world’s developed economies got...

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The San Diego Blackout – Is New York City Next?

California politicians and utilities were quick to assign blame for Thursday’s blackout of 6 million customers on a single unfortunate utility worker in Arizona.  In reality, they need to look a lot deeper at the root cause of the major electrical system failure that lasted about 12 hours.  Why? Properly designed, maintained, and operated electrical grids just don’t collapse when a single error takes place or a single piece of equipment fails. If things are running properly there are redundant transmission lines, spinning reserves, and power plants on standby.  When a failure happens a single transmission line may go down, but system operators can reroute power around the failure and if necessary order standby power plants to pick up the load.   What happened in San Diego is likely a symptom of a much bigger problem.  Strategies focusing on conservation and expanding intermittent renewable energy sources, while ignoring the need for base load power plants close to population centers may have weakened the California grid. In southern California there exists insufficient electrical generating capacity close to electrical loads; the cities.  Instead, utilities rely heavily on power imported over long distances from neighboring states, and there may be too few power plants inside transmission “bottle necks.”  This places cities like San Diego at much greater risk of blackouts.  When the umbilical cord from Arizona was unexpectedly severed, the few power plants close to the city simply could not provide enough power to maintain grid voltage.  As voltage dropped those power plants automatically disconnected to protect themselves from the low voltage condition.  The result?  A major blackout. If the San Diego grid had sufficient local power they should have been able to isolate a small part of the grid and continue to run on their own power plants.  Even if the local grid lost power, they should have been able to call reserve power plants into operation to repower the grid within a few minutes.  Unfortunately, the power plants were over loaded; there simply wasn’t enough capacity to repower the grid without assistance from the outside. California’s much touted renewables were of no use.  The wind was blowing only 8 mph at the time, and skies were partly cloudy.  Any tiny wind and solar capacity that was available was out-gunned thousands to one. New York had better take notice!  Shutting down Indian Point Nuclear plant would have exactly the same impact on the electrical grid.  This is because Indian Point’s 2100 megawatts are physically located INSIDE the transmission bottleneck feeding New York City.  In a future without Indian Point operating, a similar failure of a single transmission line could easily black out New...

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NY State Gives Fossil Fuels Favored Treatment

Podcast – Download Audio File Here This is a follow up to the podcast titled “Water Wars in New York” on May 27, 2010 in which I discussed how NY State is using their authority to issue Water Quality Certificates to wage war against the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.  In case you missed that show, New York is holding the plant’s 20 year  license renewal hostage by refusing to issue a Certificate of Water Quality unless the plant agrees to install expensive cooling towers.  The plant has argued that the cost of cooling towers, approximately $2 Billion, is excessive and disproportionate to the environmental benefit that would be derived.  In fact, the plant has identified an alternate technology that would provide greater environmental benefits at about one-tenth of the cost of installing cooling towers. Thus far those arguments have fallen on deaf ears. In my further research on this topic I discovered a damning piece of evidence that proves NY State is giving preferential treatment to fossil fuels while at the same time imposing unfair regulations on neighboring nuclear energy facilities, the largest competitors to fossil fuels. There are several other large power plants on the Hudson River that generate electricity by burning coal, oil, and natural gas.  All of those plants, like Indian Point, use the Hudson River for cooling.  One of the plants, the Bowline plant, is in Haverstraw, NY only about five miles across the river and downstream from Indian Point.  Bowline is a two unit gas and oil fired power plant with a combined output of 1,182 MW (slightly larger than each Indian Point nuclear unit). There are many similarities between Bowline and Indian Point: Bowline, like Indian Point, is required to maintain a NY State water permit.  Bowline, also like Indian Point, evaluated several alternative technologies to reduce fish and fish larva mortality. The Bowline analysis reached similar conclusions to the one performed by Indian Point; they concluded that converting to a closed cooling water system using cooling towers would provide the greatest reduction in fish mortality, but at a very high cost.  Instead, the Bowline plant offered to use a combination of technologies that would provide 80% to 95% percent of the benefit that would be derived from the vastly more expensive cooling towers, but at 1/30th of the cost. That’s where the similarities end.  In the case of the Bowline oil and gas plant, the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation accepted the lower cost alternatives to installing cooling towers.  On the topic of cooling towers, in a letter from Denise Sheehan, the DEC Commissioner they stated; The estimated cost of retrofitting...

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