Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Packing for Mars? Don’t forget the nuclear reactor.

Did you see the movie The Martian? The hero, Mark Watney, an astronaut given up for dead by NASA, uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a sort-of "space battery," to keep warm during his trek across Mars.
The movie is science fiction but these devices are real- NASA has been using RTGs to power satellites for nearly forty years, and they've been used on major trips to the moon and other planets. But NASA recently announced plans to use nuclear power in a different way- one that hasn't been fully attempted in fifty years. 
The RTGs like Mark Watney’s harness the heat from passive radioactive decay and produce a few hundred watts of electricity, which on Earth would be enough to run a handful of household appliances. But a mission to Mars would require far more power. Now, NASA is working on a reactor that splits atoms, as reactors on Earth do, to make 100 times more electricity than an RTG. The initial plan calls for 40 kilowatts, which on Earth would meet…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…

21 Experts Debunk a Radical Claim about Renewable Energy

Energy experts are at war over a radical assertion that by mid-century the United States will be able to meet all its energy needs with wind, solar and hydro power.

The claim was made in 2015 by four academic researchers, led by Mark Z. Jacobson, for the continental United States, and it asserts that those renewables will replace not just the coal and natural gas used to make electricity, but also the gasoline and diesel that run cars and trucks, and the gas used in home heating. The paper is regularly cited by environmentalists who claim that the current fleet of U.S. nuclear reactors could close without any consequences to grid reliability.

But last week, a group of prominent researchers, some from Stanford and UC-Berkeley, and others from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Carnegie Mellon and other mainstream organizations, published a second paper that said that while they support the expanded use of renewables, Professor Jacobson et al. were dreaming.

One o…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

TMI Cancer Study: Radiation, Health and Questionable Claims

Researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine recently published a study claiming that analysis of thyroid tumors showed tissue differences, based on where the patient lived. People who lived near Three Mile Island at the time of the 1979 accident had tumors more likely to have come from radiation exposure than people who developed thyroid cancer while living elsewhere, according to the researchers.

Science is advanced by experts who publish new findings, and readers who then evaluate the conclusions and how they fit into the existing body of knowledge. We welcome all contributions to knowledge. But scientific studies should be read with care, so their claims can be understood, and so we can determine how the findings fit with what was previously understood. And these findings don’t fit.


Despite what a reader might assume from a news headline, this paper does not assert that Three Mile Island is the cause of any cancers. It goes off in a new direction, in ways that may not be obvi…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …

Why #NEA17 Is at the Intersection of Nuclear’s Present and Future

Nuclear power is working for America. On May 22, hundreds of engineers, scientists, plant operators, entrepreneurs and students will gather in Scottsdale, at the annual Nuclear Energy Assembly, to talk about the multiple benefits that our technology provides, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

In preparation, NEI's Matt Wald sat down recently with Lenka Kollar, the director of business strategy at NuScale Power, the company that submitted the first application for design certification of a small modular reactor. Lenka will be a panelist on the first day of the conference.


NuScale is one of several companies working on small modular reactors, reactors that can be built in a factory and then shipped by barge, rail or truck to sites around the country or the world. It’s not quite plug-and-play, but it’s closer to it than anything the nuclear industry has done so far. NuScale is further down the path to deployment than others; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently accept…

What's the FERC Technical Conference About and Why Is It So Important?

Here in a Washington that's preoccupied with political spectacle, it can be easy to miss important details about the business of government that really matter. One of those is coming up next week when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) holds a two-day technical conference about electricity markets in the Northeastern U.S. 

Since policymakers in Washington have not been able to find consensus on a comprehensive energy policy for the country, states have shown leadership in trying to ensure that the electricity system of the future will meet their needs. For some time, state governments have adopted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) to spur the growth of wind and solar to meet environmental policy goals. More recently, states like Illinois and New York have enacted similar programs to preserve nuclear power plants, in order to support nuclear energy's unique package of grid stability, zero emissions and fuel supply diversity.


How these state policies are implement…

An Ohio School Board Is Working to Save Nuclear Plants

Ohio faces a decision soon about its two nuclear reactors, Davis-Besse and Perry, and on Wednesday, neighbors of one of those plants issued a cry for help.


The reactors’ problem is that the price of electricity they sell on the high-voltage grid is depressed, mostly because of a surplus of natural gas. And the reactors do not get any revenue for the other benefits they provide. Some of those benefits are regional – emissions-free electricity, reliability with months of fuel on-site, and diversity in case of problems or price spikes with gas or coal, state and federal payroll taxes, and national economic stimulus as the plants buy fuel, supplies and services. Some of the benefits are highly localized, including employment and property taxes.

One locality is already feeling the pinch: Oak Harbor on Lake Erie, home to Davis-Besse. The town has a middle school in a building that is 106 years old, and an elementary school from the 1950s, and on May 2 was scheduled to have a referendum on i…

Why Ex-Im Bank Board Nominations Will Turn the Page on a Dysfunctional Chapter in Washington

In our present era of political discord, could Washington agree to support an agency that creates thousands of American jobs by enabling U.S. companies of all sizes to compete in foreign markets? What if that agency generated nearly billions of dollars more in revenue than the cost of its operations and returned that money – $7 billion over the past two decades – to U.S. taxpayers?


In fact, that agency, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), was reauthorized by a large majority of Congress in 2015. To be sure, the matter was not without controversy. A bipartisan House coalition resorted to a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver in order to force a vote. But when Congress voted, Ex-Im Bank won a supermajority in the House and a large majority in the Senate.

For almost two years, however, Ex-Im Bank has been unable to function fully because a single Senate committee chairman prevented the confirmation of nominees to its Board of Directors. Without a quorum on its Boar…

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy

An exceptionally successful twenty-year nuclear-powered mission is about to enter its grand finale.
The Cassini-Huygens mission will begin its final phase on April 26, when the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn makes a course adjustment to swing through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not yet explored.
Presuming it survives in that space without colliding with anything else orbiting Saturn, then this fall, it will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. A NASA video explains.
The dramatic end is deliberate; it will eliminate the possibility that the probe could crash on a planet that could support any form of life that stowed away on the spacecraft.
Cassini took seven years to get to Saturn, and then transmitted dramatic pictures of the rings. It confirmed an ocean of water on the moon Enceladus, raising the possibility of life there. It found new rings. Its fin…

Holtec Applies for License for CIS Facility in New Mexico

Storage of used nuclear fuel today is safe and secure, but scattered. However, a consolidated “interim storage” facility appears likely in the next few years, where the material would cool slowly inside sealed casks while the government prepares a burial spot.
Holtec International, one of the builders of those casks, will discuss later today its recent application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build a “consolidated interim storage” facility on a 1,000-acre patch of land half-way between Hobbs and Carlsbad, New Mexico.
The project aligns with key aspects of industry’s principles for the management of used fuel. One was the establishment of an interim facility so the casks would not have to be monitored and guarded in scores of different locations. The other was that the project have the support of its host community and state.
In this case, the land was bought by two New Mexico counties, Eddy and Lea, with just this use in mind, and Holtec has won approval to …

Critical American Jobs: Vacancies President Trump and the Senate Need to Fill ASAP

When a new president takes office, there is always a lot on the White House’s plate. But recently 93 members of the House of Representatives sent President Trump a letter asking him to move one particular issue higher on the list: picking new members for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, so that body can resume its crucial work of overseeing energy infrastructure.
The members of Congress are correct about that agency, known as FERC, but it is not the only part of government that is short-handed.

FERC is supposed to have five members, but the number had dwindled to three, and recently one of the three quit, so FERC is not able to muster a quorum.

FERC does many jobs. The one most important to the nuclear industry is oversight of the Independent System Operators, the non-profit companies that run the electricity markets and operate the electric grid over most of the country. Those markets have serious problems but, with FERC out of action, proposed reforms will have to wait. So …

Pennsylvania Boasts America’s First-Ever State Legislative Nuclear Caucus

If you believe that a lot of action is taking place at the state level when it comes to policy affecting nuclear energy, you’re right, and the latest news comes out of Pennsylvania. State Senators Ryan Aument (R-36) and John Yudichak (D-14) along with Representatives Becky Corbin (R-155) and Rob Matzie (D-16) last week announced the formation of the Pennsylvania Nuclear Energy Caucus -- a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to focus on nuclear energy issues. Theirs is the first nuclear caucus in a state legislature in the history of the United States.
“This caucus will give members of the General Assembly an opportunity to become more educated about nuclear energy’s economic and environmental value and provide another voice in other important discussions, including electric power reliability, affordability and safety,” said Senator Aument.

Pennsylvania is home to five nuclear stations, making it the second largest nuclear capacity state in America. The elec…