Gas Speculators are Licking Their Chops in New York

With New York Governor reaffirming his opposition to Indian Point, natural gas speculators are lining up to position themselves to fill the enormous energy gap that would be left if the plant shuts down. One such speculator is a privately owned Swiss-based company, Advanced Power Services.  They have begun preliminary work to build a 1000 MW gas fired power plant in Dutchess County New York, about 40 miles north of Indian Point.  There was a front page article in the Poughkeepsie Journal today describing how shutting down the 2100 MW nuclear plant could help the local project gain traction. News that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued his strongest statement yet in favor of closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant has improved the chances that a proposed plant in Dutchess County would be built. I know something about Dutchess County, NY because I lived there for several years while working at Indian Point.  In reading the story, I wondered if the editors of the Poughkeepsie Journal gave one moments thought to the fact that many of the people who work at Indian Point live in Dutchess County?  There’s no mention in the article of the serious economic impact that would befall the county shold Indian Point be prematurely shut down. Here’s a copy of the comment I posted on the online version of the article: This article seems to imply there would be a silver lining for Dutchess County if Gov. Coumo has his way and shuts down Indian Point. In reality, trading Indian Point for a 1000 MW gas fired power plant is a terrible idea and would harm Dutchess County. A large number, probably at least 300 of the 1100 men and women who work at Indian Point live in Dutchess County. They earn good paychecks and spend most of it in the county. Most own homes and pay property and school taxes. Sure, the new plant would hire a few people, but nuclear plants pay WAY MORE than gas plants, and it takes ten times as many people to run a nuclear plant as a gas plant. The net effect would be a huge loss of jobs. If Indian Point is shut down, hundreds of families will leave Dutchess County. As they go they will flood the already depressed real estate market with homes for sale. Do you remember the impact of the IBM layoffs of the 1990’s on housing prices? It took a decade for home prices to begin to recover. Then there’s the impact on electricity rates. While natural gas is relatively inexpensive now, nuclear energy is still cheaper. More gas power and less...

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Can Shumlin’s Arguments Against Vermont Yankee Pass the “Sniff Test”?

The State of Vermont and their Governor Peter Shumlin want to shut down Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant.  Unfortunately for their cause, only the Federal Government, in this case the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the legal authority to regulate nuclear plant safety.  In March the NRC granted the plant permission to operate for another 20 years. Shumlin and his followers don’t like that.  They really want the plant shut down.  In fact, it will be a major political defeat for Shumlin if he looses this fight against the evil foreigners from Louisiana.  Plus, if he fails, he’ll renege on a campaign promise he made to all the anti-nuclear activists that gravitated to his cause. But they can’t shut the plant down for SAFTEY concerns because they don’t have that authority AND because the plant is undeniably safe.  You see, the NRC has a very structured and systematic process for determining whether or not a plant is being operated safely and Vermont Yankee passes with flying colors.  In fact, much to the chagrin of Pete Shumlin, VY consistently gets some of the highest safety marks of the 104 commercial reactors in the USA! So what does the state of Vermont say?  “Oh we’re not trying to regulate SAFETY!  We’re concerned over RELIABILITY and the ECONOMICIS of the nuclear plant.  That’s why we want it shut down!” I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll refrain from passing judgment on the legal virtuosity of Shumlin’s claims.  Instead, why not exercise a more basic test we can all understand: the “sniff test.” I’m sure Governor Shumlin knows what the sniff test is.  After all, he grew up on a dairy farm. One of several Internet dictionaries defines a sniff test like this: Noun sniff test (plural sniff tests): An informal reality check of an idea or proposal, using one’s common sense or sense of propriety. In the small town in Indian where I was raised we’re a bit more blunt.  We say if an argument smells like manure it probably is, and therefore it would fail the sniff test. So let’s look at Vermont’s claims that it would shut down Vermont Yankee nuclear plant because of economic and reliability concerns. First the facts of the economic case: in negotiations with the state, Vermont Yankee agreed to sell electricity to Vermont utilities at lower rates than it would charge customers in neighboring states. The plant employs more than 600 full time employees whose payroll adds $50 million per year to the local economy. Each year Entergy, the plant’s owner donates approx. $370,00 to local charities. If the plant is allowed to run for an additional 20 years it would add over $2 billion...

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MOX Fuel in Fukshima Daiichi Adds Little Risk to Public

There is a good deal of misinformation being circulated about the potential harm to people in Japan from plutonium present in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in the unit 3 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi.  The real story comes from an independent group of scientists who make up the American Nuclear Society Special Committee on Nuclear Non-Proliferation .  Their conclusion? Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel has been used safely in nuclear power reactors for decades.  The presence of a limited number of MOX fuel assemblies at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 has not had a significant impact on the ability to cool the reactor or on any radioactive releases from the site due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. Here’s a link to their full report.  It’s a short read and provides an excellent explanation of the current situation and risks associated with MOX fuel. Back in TWiN Episode #77 I covered the topic of MOX fuel, where it comes from, and where it is used.  Here are some important facts about MOX nuclear fuel: MOX present in nuclear plant fuel changes some aspects of the fuel’s performance in accident conditions, but these changes are relatively minor (see the ANS letter for details on this). MOX fuel comes from two main sources; recycling former weapons material into nuclear fuel, and recycling used nuclear power plant fuel for reuse. Creating MOX for power reactors is a safe way to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. MOX fuel can not be used to make nuclear weapons.  The NRC states “Using the plutonium in the reactor as MOX fuel makes using it for any other purposes difficult.” Plutonium in nuclear fuel is not unique to MOX fueled reactors.  All nuclear reactors contain plutonium after the reactor has been in operation for any period of time.  In fact, at the end of life of a typical low enriched uranium core up to about 20% of the heat being generated is from the fission of plutonium atoms. Plutonium in MOX fueled reactors can not cause the reactor to explode.   John Wheeler This Week in...

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NY Gov. Cuomo Reacts to Flawed Report on Earthquake Risk at Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Bloomberg.com and other news outlets reported yesterday that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is meeting with the NRC today in Washington DC to discuss the risk of earthquake damage at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant.  According to Bloomberg, the Governor’s concern was sparked by an MSNBC.com report that concluded Indian Point is the most likely nuclear plant in the USA to experience core damage and a release of radioactive contamination following an earthquake. This is a perfect example of how erroneous news reports about nuclear energy never seem to die.  Even when such reports are refuted by multiple more qualified sources, politician still react.  Anti-nuclear groups are astute at using these flawed reports to support their calls for nuclear plants to shut down.  The details of this situation are contained in my letter to the editor of Bloomberg.com responsible for the story.  Here’s a copy: My letter to Mr. Theo Mullen, Editor, Bloomberg.com News on March 22, 2011 Mr. Mullen, Your story “New York, NRC Set to Meet About Indian Point Plant Safety” that appeared yesterday on Bloomberg.com news missed some important facts that are highly relevant to the issue of safety at the Indian Point nuclear plant. Concern by Gov. Cuomo and other NY officials over the earthquake risk at Indian Point was heightened when they learned that Indian Point Nuclear Plant is “at the top of the list” for earthquake risk in the USA.  The source of their heightened concern was a poorly researched report that first surfaced in this article by MSNBC.com: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42103936/ns/world_news-asiapacific/.   This erroneous report was spread quickly by countless news organizations and anti-nuclear groups. The story by MSNBC.com reporter Bill Dedman was fundamentally flawed; he misused and mischaracterized NRC data.  In addition, his article contained many gross inaccuracies.  In fact, the NRC, in a very uncharacteristically blunt manner, refuted Dedman’s inappropriate use of their data as was reported here: http://www.dailytech.com/NuclearGate+US+NRC+Confirms+MSNBCcom+Reporter+Lied+Sensationalized+Story/article21170.htm In summary, Gov. Cuomo’s concerns over earthquake risks at Indian Point are misplaced, and are the result of sloppy reporting and an overt attempt to sensationalize the risks. Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this story. Sincerely, John Wheeler Producer, This Week in...

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Is NRC’s Jaczko Positioning the Administration to Ratchet US Nuclear Emergency Planning Zones from 10 to 50 miles?

The Japanese government had established a 20 km (12.8 mile) evaluation zone around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, a recommendation supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The US NRC had several experts on the ground to assist the Japanese government.  The Americans had access to the same information that was available to Japanese authorities and the IAEA.  Then on Thursday March 17, 2011 an unusual thing happened. NRC Chairman Jaczko came straight from a meeting in the White House and told members of Congress that Americans in Japan should evacuate to a distance of 50 miles from the reactors.  His comments sparked alarm across the globe because he also stated the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4 fuel storage pool was dry, the uncovered used nuclear fuel was overheating, and they could expect large releases of airborne radioactive contamination. Jaczko’s statement included this: Now, in addition to the three reactors that were operating at the time of the incident, a fourth reactor is also right now under concern.  This reactor was shut down at the time of the earthquake.  What we believe at this time is that there has been a hydrogen explosion in this unit due to an uncovering of the fuel in the fuel pool. We believe that secondary containment has been destroyed and there is no water in the spent-fuel pool.  And we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures. Jaczko’s statements were factually wrong and the NRC’s recommendation to evaluate 50 miles were not based on any credible assessment of the risks.   The Japanese government and the IAEA disputed Jaczko’s recommendation.  In the days since, the media and anti-nuclear groups have jumped on the 50 mile bandwagon, questioning the basis for the current 10 mile emergency planning zone (EPZ) criteria in US regulations.  Jaczko has yet to issue a retraction or apologize for his remarks. Did Chairman Jaczko jump to conclusions and simply misspeak? OR Was he intentionally setting the stage to ratchet US nuclear plants into a much larger emergency planning zone? Anti-nuclear groups have long been arguing for expanding nuclear emergency planning zones from the current 10 miles to 50 miles.  They know this would create an almost impossible financial burden on nuclear plants, and would foster political pressure to shut them down. Issuing overly conservative evaluation orders can have serious consequences.  The unnecessary movement of large numbers of people carries significant risks: traffic accidents and panic alone can kill people.  Jaczko should have issued a retraction as soon as the basis for his recommendations were proven to be wrong.  Instead he has been silent. This is not the behavior we...

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Japan’s Nuclear Plants and their Operators are Performing Amazingly Well to Protect the Health & Safety of the Public

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan as they deal with this natural disaster of unprecedented magnitude. While I’ve been unable to post blogs or record a podcast this weekend, I’ve been trying to stay engaged by sharing news and bits of analysis via my twitter feed. There has been some excellent fact based coverage of the reactor damaging event at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  Unfortunately, very little of the excellent coverage is coming from mainstream media sources. When the opportunity arises, please point your friends and colleagues to one of the following sources for factual coverage of the events: · The Atomic Insights blog · The American Nuclear Society Blog · The Depleted Cranium blog · Idaho Samizdat · Brave New Climate This is an incomplete list, but these are a good starting point and they will lead you to other accurate reports and analysis. As I have watched the events unfold I am encouraged by the deliberate and methodical actions of the plant’s operators and the performance of the robust nuclear reactor design.  Even in these incredibly adverse conditions that far exceeded the plant’s design basis the public is being kept safe.  When the dust has settled we’ll be able to say once again that even in worse case situations nuclear energy is a safe and important part of our energy supply. As one person commented on my twitter feed, the refineries, natural gas plants, and other  fossil fuel infrastructure in the quake affected area are all damaged beyond recovery.  By contrast, the nuclear plants held up amazingly well.  Most will be able to resume operation after repairs and thorough inspections.  As I write this post there are no reports of members of the public being harmed by the nuclear plants and the World Health Organization has issued a statement that no public health effects are expected from the nuclear fuel damaging events. John...

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