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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Episode 74 – The Renewable Question and Germany’s Nuclear Reversal (audio podcast)

Download the Audio File Here In this podcast I discuss the question “Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?” that I first posed in a recent blog post. In addition, I added the following discussion of recent news and events: Indian Point License Extension Proceeds Despite Anti-Nuclear Hurdles Despite barriers erected by anti-nuclear groups to block the license renewal for the Indian Point nuclear reactors, the two unit nuclear plant in NY has passed two major hurdles in the life extension process. On August 12 NRC issued their final safety evaluation report and concluded there are no safety issues that would preclude running the plants for another 20 years. On Sept 23 the independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, and independent team of experts that advice the NRC, recommended that the license extension be granted. Unless renewed, the current licenses expire in 2013 and 2015. In 2007 the anti-nuclear group Riverkeeper filed five contentions opposing the 20 year license extensions.  The NRC granted Riverkeeper a hearing to review arguments on three of their five contentions.  In those hearings Riverkeeper was unable to provide sufficient evidence to support their claims and the NRC ruled the contentions had no merit. On the NRC’s web site they have a schedule showing a tentative final decision on Indian Point’s relicensing in February of 2010. Riverkeeper’s opposition of the plant is backed by several elected officials including Andrew Cuomo, the State Attorney General with a long family tradition of anti-nuclear politics.  Twenty years ago his father, then Governor Mario Cuomo successfully closed the brand new Shoreham nuclear plant.  In Super Mario’s deal the state purchased the plant for $1, and passed on $5 Billion in construction costs to taxpayers who received nothing in return except some of the highest electricity rates in the country.  That case was a perfect example of the flawed two-step licensing process in which utilities were first issued a permit to construct the plant, and then after the plant was built they applied for a license to operate the reactor.  The new reactor licensing process is a combined construction and operating license (called a COL) that should be more predictable for utilities and investors. The NRC has received 17 COL applications from utilities interested in building 26 new reactors, but has suspended the review of four applications at the request of the applicants. Pro-Nuclear Victory in Germany This week there was a huge win in Germany for supporters of nuclear energy.  Angela Merkel was reelected Chancellor and vowed to reverse that nation’s plans to prematurely shut down their 17 nuclear reactors.  Nuclear energy currently provides 31% of Germany’s electricity and closing the reactors...

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Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

Broad support for nuclear energy is growing.  The once maligned energy source is finding new friends across the political and social landscape from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bob Geldolf of the Boomtown Rats.  Conservatives Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh have been talking up nuclear energy for some time.  Now even people like liberal columnist Thomas Friedman and Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace are advocating a nuclear expansion.   All this is happening because people are becoming more educated about nuclear energy.  They are beginning to view the anti-nuclear crowd as close-minded and unable to acknowledge the differences between nuclear weapons and the peaceful, safe uses of nuclear energy. With this kind of support building, it’s time to answer an important question… Is Nuclear Energy Renewable ? It’s an important question because “renewable energy” is viewed by governments, policy makers and opinion leaders as the path to a cleaner, safer world.  In addition,  “renewable portfolio standards,” designed to reduce carbon emissions and cut fossil fuel consumption by forcing utilities to generate part of their power from renewable sources, ignore the carbon-free contribution made by nuclear energy facilities.  Permitting utilities to credit nuclear energy towards meeting renewable portfolio standards would help the nation meet greenhouse gas reduction targets more quickly and more cheaply. It’s time to examine the definition of “renewable” and determine if nuclear energy deserves to receive the RENEWABLE seal of approval. First let’s look at the definition of RENEWABLE.  The Energy Information Administration, a non-partisan section of the US Department of Energy, is tasked with providing “policy-neutral data, forecasts, and analyses to promote sound policy making, efficient markets, and public understanding regarding energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.”  The EIA defines “renewable energy,” as “Energy sources that are naturally replenishing but flow limited.  They are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time.”  The EIA currently recognizes biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action and tidal action as renewable energy sources. There are three key phrases in the renewable energy definition: “naturally replenished”, “virtually inexhaustible” , and “limited in the amount of energy available per unit of time.” We’ll evaluate the attributes of nuclear energy against each of these three criteria to determine if nuclear meets this definition of renewable.   Criteria 1: Is nuclear energy naturally replenished? Nuclear energy is naturally replenished under the certain conditions.  Most people view nuclear fission as a man-made phenomena, and would be surprised to learn about the Oklo Natural Nuclear Reactor.  The Oklo reactor was a naturally occurring fission reactor that...

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Episode 73 – Exploring Nuclear Lake (Video Podcast)

Download the Video File Here Join me on an expedition to Nuclear Lake, the site of an early atomic research and development facility.  The Nuclear Lake Facility was the site of a plutonium spill that has been the target of a great deal of anti-nuclear criticism over the years. Episode 73 – Exploring Nuclear Lake   This Week in Nuclear   Recently anti-nuclear activists have posted fictitious accounts of mutant fish and acid-like water in Nuclear Lake. We were shocked fishing in nuclear lake at the shear size and magnitude of the fish. They were nothing like we had seen before. We had several basscrocodile mix fish that weighed in at 17-30 lbs. i do not understand why this is not catching the eye of the authorities. I reported this to the nuclear regulatory commitee with no response. Beware fishing there, fish from shore, I personaly saw several fish over 8 ft. in length feeding on large canadian geese. and do not swim here. I has lost a lure in a submerged tree brance and was severely bitten by the strange fish there when reaching in to retrieve the line. Do not submerge human flesh in any way!!! The fish here do not resemble normal fish. beware, i would not eat them. Come with me to Nuclear Lake and we’ll discover the...

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