Water Wars in New York

Podcast – Download the MP3 Here In April the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation denied Indian Point Nuclear Plant’s application for a water quality certification. In their 28 page letter, the NY DEC told the plant they have no alternative but to install expensive cooling towers to eliminate the plant’s impact on fish and fish larva in the Hudson River. Power plants of all types (not just nuclear plants) that draw cooling water from bodies of water adversely affect aquatic organisms in three primary ways: thermally by heating the water, by entrainment where small fish and fish larva are sucked into the cooling system and are injured as they pass through, and by impingement where fish are injured by the plant’s intake but not sucked though the cooling system. The plant had proposed installing “wedge wire screens,” essentially large high tech strainers on the water intake. The screens would virtually eliminate fish impingement, and would reduce entrainment (according to the DEC) by between 72% and 76%. That was not a sufficient reduction in entrainment to satisfy NY State. The letter covered many issues, but the main reasons they denied the proposal are: They said cooling towers are a better option because they would eliminate about 20% more entrainment (at least 90%) than wedge wire screens. They said wedge wire screens are still “experimental in nature” and unproven in aquatic environments like the Hudson River, and at nuclear power plants like Indian Point. They also stated Indian Point was violating the law by killing endangered shortnose sturgeon by impingement and entrainment. I would like to address each of these three claims: First, while it is true that on any given day cooling towers are slightly more effective at eliminating fish and larva entrainment than wedge wire screens. That’s not the whole story. To assess the full benefit to the river one must consider how long each mechanism is in service. Wedge wire screens are relatively easy to install and could be in service within five years. That would mean the screens would be working and reducing entrainment for virtually the full term of Indian Point’s 20 year license extension. Cooling towers on the other hand would require 15 years to permit and build. This means cooling towers would provide no benefit at all for at least 15 years. When you consider the entire remaining life of the plant, wedge wire screens offer far more protection to Hudson River aquatic life. It is illogical for NY State to object to the use of wedge wire screens one the basis that the technology is experimental and unproven. According to the US...

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Huge Untapped Uranium Reserves in Virginia

Podcast – Download the MP3 Here  This has been a deadly year for fossil fuels in the United States.  In February five workers lost their lives in an explosion at the Kleen Energy natural gas power plant in CT.  Then in April 29 coal miners perished in a mining accident at the Massey Energy coal mine in West Virginia.  Of course that was followed by the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that killed 11 workers and caused a massive oil spill that is contaminating hundreds of miles of coastline. With events like these (and others similar events around the world), and our growing reliance on huge quantities of imported oil and natural gas, it is time for America to expand its domestic supply of uranium.  On this show I was joined by a panel of experts who discussed efforts underway in Virginia to unlock the vast potential of uranium resources that have been discovered there.  My guests were: Aaron Ruby from the Virginia Energy Independence Alliance Patrick Wales, the project manager and geologist for Virginia Uranium, Inc, and Lisa Stiles, a nuclear engineer with many years experience in the nuclear industry, and a former president of NA-YGN and the International Youth Nuclear Congress. Topics we discussed included why allowing safe uranium mining in Virginia is so important,  the huge untapped Coles Hill uranium deposit, uranium mining safety, and the many benefits that developing the Coles Hill mine would bring to an economically depressed region. Enjoy! John Wheeler “This Week in...

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Putting Picos In Perspective
Feb12

Putting Picos In Perspective

Fast Fission Podcast #23 – Download mp3 Here Ever thought about how many zeros there are there in a “pico” something? Remember back in grade school when we learned the metric system of measures?  We started out with units that are easy to visualize: meters get 1000 times bigger and become kilometers; meters get 1000 times smaller and become millimeters.  We understand these intuitively because we have a frame of reference and can visualize each of those unites of length and distance.  Units of mass are the same way; we know a gram is a small unit of mass – we can hold a gram of almost any material in the palm of our hand.  For example, a penny weighs 2.5 grams. Stack up 400 pennies and you have a kilogram, or 1000 grams.  Cut a thin copper shaving off a penny and you have a milligram, or one 1,000th of a gram.  Again, these are things we can see, and that makes it easier to understand. As our schooling progressed we learned about very large and very small numbers, exponents, and scientific notation.  We put these principles to use in science and learned there are other units of measure larger than a “kilo” and smaller than a “milli”.  These are harder to visualize because we have to think in terms we can’t see.  For example, the mass of Mount Everest,  is 3E18 grams, or 3 “exa-grams” and the mass of the planet earth is 6×10^24 kg, or 6E27 grams (6,000 “yotta-grams”) (see note below). On the opposite end of the scale is the prefix “nano” or 1E-9 of a unit. A nanometer is 1E-9 meters, and a nanosecond is 0.000000001 seconds.  I had a hard time visualizing a nano second of time until I learned that it takes about 1 nanosecond for a beam of light to travel one foot.  That kind of puts a nano into perspective, doesn’t it?  The newest computer chips, for example have transistors with a thickness of 45 nanometers!  We can only see things that small with powerful electron microscopes. A “pico” is even smaller than a “nano” , 1000 times smaller!  “Pico” means there are 12 places behind the decimal point.  Even for a person like me who deals with engineering and science all the time, it can be difficult to visualize a “pico” of something.  A pico is so small that even a million picos is still very small amount. It takes a million, million pico grams to make one gram.  If you have a million pico-curies in a liter of water, it would take one million liters to provide a...

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What if: Nuclear Rules for Automobile Safety Recalls?

Fast Fission Podcast #23 – Download MP3 Here I’ve been reading a lot about the Toyota gas pedal recall because I own a Camry that is a few years old.  Several people have been killed in accidents resulting from sudden acceleration caused by a faulty accelerator design. So far my car is not in the group of affected vehicles, but I’m keeping my eye on it. I’m sure you’ve noticed the press is having a feeding frenzy and many are demonizing Toyota. Congress has decided to get involved – they’ve scheduled a hearing to oversee the government’s response. Overall it’s been much like when an airplane crashes or a contaminated food product gets recalled – some people die, government agencies demand action to fix the immediate problem, and politicians act concerned until the media moves on to the next high profile news story. Then the hypocrisy dawned on me – how differently we treat problems in the nuclear industry! For example, in Vermont where a minute, a barely measurable quantity of slightly radioactive liquid in test wells has politicians demanding action from Federal regulators, the state government and Public Service Board are delaying important decisions that threaten the plant’s long term financial viability, and many newspapers are regurgitating unsubstantiated claims of environmental harm made by sworn enemies of the plant.   Keep in mind that the tritium that has leaked from Vermont Yankee has not broken any laws, not exceeded any environmental limits, nor harmed even the smallest field mouse. Consider that in the entire history of the US nuclear industry (about 40 years) not a single person has died from a reactor mishap at any commercial nuclear reactor in the United States. However, in this single instance of a gas pedal design defect a number of people have died (the exact number is not available) , many more have been injured, and these types of problems occur almost every year! If the government response to the Toyota acceleration issue, a problem that has actually killed people, used the same rules that we apply to the operation of commercial nuclear plants (where no deaths have occurred) we would have Placed a federal ban on driving all Toyotas until the problem was thoroughly analyzed, the root cause determined, and repairs completed. There would be an extent of condition analysis by a team of engineers to determine what other vehicles have similar gas pedals, and to recommend a course of action. We would have added two full time government (NTSB) inspectors to every automobile manufacturing plant and every licensed automobile repair shop. The auto makers and repair shops would have to pay the salaries of the inspectors, plus...

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Tritium: Fuel for Antinuclear Reactions

Fast Fission Podcast #22 – Get the MP3 File Here There is a political and public relations cauldron boiling in Vermont over a recently discovered tritium leak at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.   Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen and has a 10 day biological half-life when it is ingested by humans.  The leak is minute and completely inconsequential from a safety standpoint: the tritium levels very low.  Only one ground water sample is slightly above federal drinking water standards (even though the sample points are far away from any sources of drinking water).  In fact, the levels are so low that even if you drank water from the test wells, and nothing else, for an ENTIRE YEAR your radiation exposure would be only about 1/10 of what you would receive from one medical x-ray, and a small fraction of your exposure from the natural background radiation.  Eating the same quantity of brazil nuts every day, one of the most naturally radioactive foods, would result in MORE exposure to radiation than bathing in the water in these test wells! These facts have not stopped the antinuclear groups in the area from going berserk.  They know when they have the upper hand on a public relations issue, and they are doing everything they can to take advantage of it.   Adding fuel to the fire are allegations of false statements by plant officials.  At a PSB hearing last spring a plant executive stated he did not believe there was any active buried piping containing radioactive fluids.  The official said the plant would verify that was the case and would get back to the board, but reportedly they did not.  Potentially adding to the communication difficulties –  the phrases “Buried piping” and “underground piping” do NOT mean the same thing.  To an engineer the term “buried” piping refers to piping that is buried underground in direct contact with the soil.  Underground piping means the piping is below grade and could be located in a vault or concrete trench.  Plant personnel have apologized for the miscommunication and are actively looking for the source of the leak.  Timing could not be worse because the VT public service commission has yet to make a ruling on Entergy’s proposal to create a new nuclear only generating company, and the VT state legislature has yet to vote on the plant’s request for a license extension. Vermont Yankee has passed every NRC inspection in flying colors and is operated both safely and reliably.  In fact, the plant recently earned the highest possible rating from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. John Wheeler This Week in...

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Cloudy Days Ahead for the Sunshine State

Download the MP3 Here This past week the Florida Public Service Commission voted to deny requests by the state’s two largest utilities to upgrade the state’s electrical systems by adding renewable energy, new gas turbines, a new gas pipeline, new reactors, and transmission lines.  This politically motivated decision is mind-numbing in a state with an over-taxed grid and an electricity supply that has not kept up with population increases. In this podcast Rod Adams of The Atomic Show and the Atomic Insights blog joins me for a chat about this terribly near-sighted decision, some possible motivations, and what it means for the people of Florida. Some other links related to this story: Renewable Energy plans will be scuttled by the FL PSC Decision. Westinghouse condemns the FL...

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