This Week in Nuclear Begins It’s 5th Year!

Download the MP3 Here Last week the Pakastani government arrested five American citizens on the suspicion that they were planning to attack the Chashma Nuclear Plant.  All five men are dual nationals of Pakistan and the USA and they recently lived in Washington DC.  According to news reports all five have been questioned by both the Pakistani police and the FBI.  They were arrested while trying to make contact with Al-Qaeda terrorist groups.  Another news report indicates the five have been charged and will stand trial in Pakistan. The Chasma Nuclear plant is a small 300 Mw pressurized water reactor that was built in Pakistan with the assistance of China.  It is very similar to the Quinshan nuclear plant.  The plant is very reliable – during a recent fuel cycle it ran at 95% capacity factor.  It’s unclear what sort of threat the men posed to the plant, but it is doubtful that there was much of a risk to the plant or to the public.  Even if the men had taken control of the plant, without detailed knowledge of the plant’s safety systems it would be very difficult for them to cause reactor damage.  Core damaging events usually take many hours to reach the point at which the fuel begins to over heat and by that time the military would be able to retake control. Happy Holidays everyone!  This week marks the 4th anniversary of the first episode of This Week in Nuclear.  Wow!  Time has flown by! Producing the show has been an amazing experience for me; I’ve met people from all around the world, many of whom I consider my friends; I’ve been exposed to new ideas and new situations; and I’ve expanded my knowledge of the nuclear business in areas like politics, communications, and financing.  While I came into this adventure with a lot of experience operating nuclear plants and training nuclear workers, and the longer I do this the more I learn.  God willing I’ll be at this for at least another four years!  Thank you for your support! I apologize for the slow down in the number of shows over the last three weeks.  I’ve had a very busy time at work since the beginning of December trying to get the typical end of year things taken care of in time for the holidays.  I’m taking some time off, too, so I had to make sure everything was set before I left.  Thank you for your patience and I’ll be starting back up again the first week in January.  Until then I’m taking a little time...

Read More

New Jersey Anti-Nuclear Groups Fight On

Fast Fission Podcast #20 – MP3 File In April of 2009, after a long fight with well-funded anti-nuclear groups, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant in New Jersey was granted a 20 year license extension.  At the time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called Oyster Creek’s application “the most extensive license renewal to date.”  It’s worth noting that the NRC commissioners voted 3 to 1 in favor of the license extension, the only dissenting vote was from Gregory Jaczko who was subsequently appointed NRC Chairman by President Obama and continues to serve in that position. Anti-nuclear groups viewed the plant’s license extension as a temporary setback, and they are again trying to shut down the plant.  They have been unable to show any safety or environmental basis for their cause, so they are taking another approach – trying to force the owners to make enormous plant modifications they hope will make the plant too expensive to operate.  They have succeeded in getting a bill in front of the New Jersey state government that would force the plant to install cooling towers, something that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.  They argue that the plant’s cooling water intake from Barnagat Bay kills fish and a forcing the plant to use cooling towers would reduce the number of fish killed by the plant’s cooling water system.  The anti-nukes are trying to get the State to require cooling towers as a condition of renewing the plant’s water discharge permit. A similar tactic was attempted by the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper in New York against the Indian Point nuclear plant.  That case went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In the end Riverkeeper’s claim was denied. Local newspapers are predicting large crowds will be on hand Monday, December 14 at the State House Annex in Trenton where the hearings will take place.  This will be an interesting case because similar bills are before both houses of the NJ legislature, and lame duck Governor, Jon Corzine opposed the plant’s license renewal. These attempts to portray nuclear plants as evil fish killers are laughable.  All central station power plants use large quantities of cooling water.  They pull the water in and discharge it back a few degrees warmer.  Environmental permits already specify how much the plants are allowed to heat the water, and I’ve known of times when power plants have reduced power because they were approaching the water discharge thermal limits, particularly in the heat of the summer.  Also, many plants like Indian Point were forced years ago to install multi-million dollar fish catching systems on the water intakes to gently redirect the fish...

Read More

Indian Nuclear Workers Poisoned – Media Botches Story (Again)

  Fast Fission Podcast #19 – mp3 file On November 24th a strange thing happened at the Kaiga nuclear plant in southern India.  During a routine check for radiation exposure, about 65 maintenance workers tested positive for higher than normal levels of tritium in their urine.  The plant is a CANDU reactor which uses heavy water as a moderator, and heavy water contains tritium.  Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen with two neutrons and one proton.  It is radioactive with about a 12 year half-life. When plant officials investigated the source of the exposure they discovered someone had intentionally contaminated a cooler of drinking water with a vial of water containing tritium.  The workers were sent to the local hospital for monitoring and were later sent home.  No one required hospitalization and the highest exposure any of them received was about 3 rem, about 60% of the annual limit in the USA for occupational exposure.  The tritium-containing heavy water is not chemically poisonous – it behaves in the human body like regular water.  It has a biological half-life in humans of about 10 days, and that can be shortened by doing things to speed the fluid exchange process like drinking extra water, administering intravenous fluids, and in severe cases dialyses.  Based on what I’ve read of the event and the levels of exposure it is most likely the workers were sent home and told to drink lots of water for the next several days. Tritium decays by firing off a beta particle (essentially a high energy electron) leaving behind a helium-3 atom.  Beta particles are relatively weak and can not penetrate the dead layer of skin on your body.  It is of most concern when it is ingested into the body as it was in this case.  As I said the total exposure here was nothing for the workers to be concerned about.  There are some reports that the workers were sickened, but I’m unsure of the accuracy of these reports.   It is more likely that people not familiar with the details believed the workers were sickened because they were sent to the hospital for monitoring.If the reports are true, then the illness was not caused by radiation. The Indian authorities are investigating to determine who poisoned the drinking water, and why.  There are several theories being considered; one related to anti-nuclear sentiments surrounding India’s expanding commercial nuclear energy plans, another related to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Bopal chemical plant disaster that happened on December 3, 1981. This was certainly an event that will cause the Indian government some concern, not because of the consequences, but because...

Read More

Clean, Green Energy Jobs

  Fast Fission Podcast # 18 – mp3 file Duke Energy is one of the largest power producers in the Western Hemisphere.  They produce 35,000 MW of electricity in the USA, plus 4,000 in Latin America.  They have virtually every type of power plant: nuclear, coal, gas, hydro, wind, and solar. They also run natural gas distribution systems in two states. Duke knows energy, and Jim Rogers, their CEO, knows Duke.  When Jim Rogers speaks about energy people listen.  Last week Mr. Rogers was talking energy and jobs.   Jim says Duke’s experience has shown that nuclear energy provides more jobs and higher paying jobs than wind or solar power plants. “In an operation of a nuclear plant, there [are] .64 jobs per megawatt. The wind business–and we have a very large wind business – is .3 jobs per megawatt. In the solar business – and we’re installing solar panels – it’s about .1. But the difference in the jobs is quite different, because if you’re wiping off a solar panel, it’s sort of a minimum wage type of job, [with] much higher compensation for nuclear engineers and nuclear operators.  If our goal is to rebuild the middle class, nuclear plays a key role there, particularly if coal is out of the equation.” Mr. Roger’s comments made me wonder how many jobs might be created if we were to build new power plants of each type to meet our energy demands.  I started with the most recent Energy Outlook provided by the US Government at the Energy Information Administration web site.  This report states that 259 GW of new plants will be needed by 2030.  The number includes 30 GW to replace aging plants and the rest is for modest energy demand growth. Multiplying that 259,000 MW times the Duke estimates for the number of people per MW, we get the result (rounded to the nearest 1000): New Nuclear: 166,000 jobs New Wind: 78,000 jobs New Solar: 26,000 jobs                                 These numbers ignore the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs created building each new nuclear plant during the four year construction process.  Building wind and soar would also provide temporary construction jobs.  I also did not adjust for the lower capacity factors associated with wind and solar generation. We’ll assume smart grid technologies will enable improvements in wind and solar energy capacity and existing reserve capacity will back up wind and solar.  After all, these are the kinds of assumptions that wind and solar proponents make all the time. In Episode 60 of “This Week in Nuclear” I discussed...

Read More

“Leak” at Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant: CNN and ABC News Get it Wrong

  This Week in Nuclear Episode 80 – MP3 File If you were watching CNN or ABC News last night and this morning you may have believed a major accident was underway at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. Both news sources reported there had been a “radiation leak” at the plant and more than 100 workers were contaminated.   Both CNN and ABC News were blatantly wrong; there was not a “radiation leak” from the plant. What happened was a minor spread of radioactive dust and particles during maintenance activities inside the reactor building. Some workers in the vicinity got material on their clothes and skin that had to be washed off. The material was easily contained and there was no leak from the plant into the environment. I first learned about this from April Schilpp, who I follow on Twitter. April is a communications specialist in Lancaster, PA.  In this podcast April and I discuss what happened, how the social media helped get the word out, and how the companies and other stakeholders could have used social media to keep the mainstream news sources...

Read More

Was it Lots of Wind or Lots of Hot Air in Spain Last Sunday Night?

 Fast Fission Podcast #16 – mp3 file Renewable energy supporters were spreading the word today that this past Sunday wind energy in Spain produced 53% of the country’s electrical demand. The Spanish wind power industry broke a record on Sunday morning, when turbines nationwide met 53% of the nation’s demand for electricity with production of around 10,170 megawatts (MW), according to La Asociacion Empresarial Eolica (AEE), the Spanish wind industry alliance. This was certainly an achievement, but before we get too excited we need to read carefully and consider the situation. This was an intermittent peak in wind energy output that happened to achieve 53% of the electricity demand when the total demand was very low.   This occurred during a 5 ½ hour window in the early morning hours of a Sunday morning in November. Everyone was asleep, there virtually no lighting load, no cooking, few factories were running, no air conditioning, and probably very little heat.  As a result, total demand was relatively low. Before we declare renewables a resounding success, take a look at a more telling statistic:  the 11.5% overall contribution of wind to Spain’s grid during all of 2008. That means that day in and day out 88.5% of Spain’s electricity came from nuclear, gas, oil, and coal. Of that, the only carbon-free source was nuclear. John...

Read More