The Future of Commercial Atomic Power -- A Case for Nationalization

Posted on August 31, 2009
Posted By: Jim McInvale
Topic: Nuclear
 
Commercial atomic power was the moniker used when the current generation of nuclear plants were built. Distrust grew as the public mind fused the concepts of atomic power and atom bombs, and questioned the ability the government to both promote and regulate. A re-marketing scheme was necessary. The Atomic Energy Commission of the sixties became the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)1 of the seventies and atomic power became nuclear energy. Though the names have changed, the plants and many of the people that operate and regulate them are much the same as they were then... only older. With a focus on safety, this article examines the present state of the industry in part one, and looks to the future in part two.

Part 1: State of the Industry

Age is not the only concern. The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979 ended orders for new plants in this country but demand for electricity continued to rise. Nuclear utilities responded by up-rating and extending the lives of their operating reactors. A unit up-rate makes the physical and licensing changes necessary to support higher power output. A life extension project seeks a twenty-year addition to the license of a plant originally designed for forty years. This too often involves some equipment upgrades.

Aging plants are now pushed harder and longer to meet growing demand. These two processes, up-rates and life extension, are analogous to taking a middle-aged runner who puts in twenty miles per week, asking him to do thirty, do them faster, and keep at it way past retirement.

Nuclear plant safety rests on a three-legged stool. Active and redundant safety systems, to prevent and mitigate accidents, form the first leg. The second leg is safety margin: a cushion between success and failure under limiting conditions. The third leg is the skill, commitment, and culture of the nuclear workforce -- the safety culture.

So, are the plants still safe -- is the stool stable? The first leg, the safety systems and equipment, are older now and becoming obsolete. Up-rates and license extensions are eroding safety margin (the second leg of the stool) while production and profit demands of the private sector threaten the third leg -- the safety culture. A detailed look at the three foundations of safety follows.

Active safety means that when the accident happens, pumps must start, valves must stroke, and emergency power sources must start-up. Redundancy means that there are at least two independent sets (or trains) of all the emergency equipment, in case one should fail when needed. Designs based on active and redundant systems present two intractable problems. Redundancy is necessary to accommodate active failures; however, redundant systems can never be truly independent. Common mode failures are insidious, be they errors in common maintenance procedures, or design flaws in common spare parts.

Availability is the second problem with active safety equipment. Frequent maintenance and testing is necessary to prove that systems and components are reliable, but these activities render them unavailable to perform their intended function. The plant staff must trade availability for reliability. As the equipment ages, more maintenance is necessary, and the price of reliability, as measured in out of service hours, rises.

Active safety systems require actuation systems to monitor vital parameters and initiate protective actions when needed. The protection and control systems deployed at most domestic nuclear plants were state-of-the-art design in the sixties and seventies. The analog instrumentation, relay logic, early vintage solid state logic, and first generation digital technologies can now be found primarily in nuclear plants and museums. Though troubling, there is a sound reason for this condition.

The nature of their mission demands a rigorous qualification process and a long performance history to demonstrate reliability of reactor protection systems. Innovation may be a top priority in enterprises where the consequences of failures are low, but this is not that kind of business. Innovation takes a back seat to caution in the nuclear world, where a deliberate approach to change is essential. State-of-the art digital instrumentation and control systems are being actively pursued by the industry, but replacement technology must be of pedigree equal to the original. Thorough qualification testing must demonstrate that new digital systems are free of common cause failures embedded in software or firmware which would compromise the diversity and defense in depth designed into current systems.

Safety margins are at the very heart of nuclear safety. All of our plants have a body of analyses to demonstrate that the public will be protected, even under the worst accident conditions. The responsible regulatory agency, the NRC, will not grant a license without such a body of analyses. These analyses are the benchmark against which all equipment performance and proposed changes are measured, and safety margin is the room between success and failure under limiting accident scenarios. Age-related performance degradation, or plant changes that demand better performance, are acceptable only if the equipment continues to perform at least as well as required in the analysis of record.

The methods of analyses used to license the current generation of plants are deterministic, and these methods too are dated. In such analyses, there are no gray areas; equipment is assumed to either perform or fail, and if it performs, it does so the lowest allowable level. If a valve must stroke in five seconds, but is always measured at two, the analysis assumes five. If a pump is designed to deliver a minimum of 300 gallons per minute (gpm) at 400 feet of head, but it always tests to 350 gpm, only 300 gpm can be credited in the analyses. The analyses generally assume that the plant, equipment and environment at the time of the accident are at their absolute worst possible initial conditions for the accident of interest. They also assume that a single failure occurs at the time of the accident and disables an entire protection train.

While deterministic methods and assumptions are generally conservative, they do not model reality very well. In the real world, the worst possible initial conditions never occur simultaneously, and equipment performs better than barely good enough. Further, multiple failures sometimes occur. A new risk-based method of analyses, probabilistic risk analyses (PRA), accounts in real time for the actual state of the plant, environment and equipment, and has built-in failure probabilities for all major safety equipment. Caution is warranted, however, before the old methods are discarded. The fidelity of PRA models must be up to the task.

Plant up-rates reduce safety margin, generally by imposing more demanding performance requirements. Plant life extensions require that the safety equipment continue to function acceptably for a period half again as long as originally intended. The active equipment mentioned above is not the only safety equipment of interest. Plants also rely on passive equipment: piping systems, pressure vessels, containment structures, electrical cables, support structures, and buildings. These too must continue to perform at high levels, and they are not so easy to maintain or test. Consequently, any license extension usually imposes requirements for supplemental inspection and monitoring programs.

The NRC had approved 110 up-rate applications as of 2006, and anticipates another 25 by 20112. The industry will have expanded capacity by the equivalent of 8-10 large reactors, and is extending the life of most reactors by 50%. This expansion is not free, and part of the cost is in safety margin.

Human fallibility is a reality that any enterprise must acknowledge and address. Mistakes are born of both inexperience and complacency, and mistakes are not the only behaviors that present risk. Self-interest, confused priorities, and pride -- in short, the entire spectrum of the human psyche can, if not properly managed, get in the way of safety.

A strong safety culture is the most effective defense against human behaviors that threaten safety. Such a culture exists when everyone holds an almost spiritual reverence for nuclear safety. There is no confusion of priorities, and if any doubt exists, decisions default to the safest one. Generally, the nuclear industry has successfully cultivated such a culture, but threats persist. The domestic nuclear industry resides in the private sector, historically in the hands of public utilities. De-regulation in the electric utility industry coupled with an economic crisis has introduced new production and profit pressure on plant owner/operators.

The goals of profit and safety do not always align; production and safety are sometimes in conflict. There will always be those clever enough to interpret safety rules in a manner that, though technically legal, undermines the spirit of the rules. In the competitive business world, such behavior earns promotion, and those exhibiting such skills rise through the organization to lead. This is a fundamental danger demanding regulatory vigilance.

There is another more subtle and innocent threat to safety culture. A healthy safety culture requires that everyone see how his or her task supports the goal. As processes grow more complex, workers lose that line of sight. Three decades ago, the nuclear industry formed an internal watchdog organization: The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). This group, fully funded and partially staffed by member utilities, is chartered with moving the industry ever closer to excellence. INPO is often even more intrusive and demanding than the regulator, driving for ever-increasing levels of performance by imposing new processes and programs. Though well intentioned, they have had the unintended consequence of breaking the worker's line of sight to the task.

A popular variety show of the sixties occasionally featured plate twirlers -- performers that would spin plates on freestanding poles. The entertainer would slowly add more poles and plates to the act while running from plate to plate to keep them all spinning. Plant operators find themselves in a similar predicament as INPO adds more and more process requirements. The entertainers on the old Ed Sullivan show sometimes managed to end the show in a controlled manner, removing plates one-by-one. Other times, the act did not end so neatly. The nuclear industry is procedure heavy and process-bound, the fundamental knowledge of its workers is in decline, and nuclear safety suffers.

The nuclear fleet produces over twenty percent of the nation's electricity and, despite the challenges of age, duty and design, it continues to operate safely, a fact substantiated by the performance record of the last half-century. Large safety margins, robust and redundant design features, intrusive regulatory oversight, and a pervasive safety culture are the reasons. The industry has stalled though, and the safety record is at risk.

Part 2: The Path Forward

Though the commercial atomic power industry has successfully met the human and equipment performance challenges, it has failed in other ways. All of the spent fuel ever produced - and its burden of highly-radioactive fission products - is stored on sites, in deep pools or dry casks, spread across the country. This is clearly not the most effective or efficient way to protect the hazardous material from accident or mal-intended purpose.

Further, the spent fuel contains a tremendous energy potential in the form of fissile and fertile isotopes that could go a long way towards meeting future energy needs. Re-processing spent fuel not only expands available energy supplies, but also dramatically reduces high-level radioactive waste. A completely closed fuel cycle could reduce Uranium consumption by two orders of magnitude and reduce the volume of high level waste by a factor of 243. Tapping that potential demands a national will that we have not mustered, but a will that others have.

Nuclear plants in this country fall into about a half dozen broad categories, based on the vendor that designed and supplied the reactor and associated support systems. In reality, each nuclear unit is a one-of-a kind design. Several vendors made weak attempts at standardization early on, but the concept never took hold, and the industry efficiency has suffered. In a standardized nuclear industry, everything from training programs to operating procedures, spare parts to fuel design would be common. Expertise and equipment would be fully transportable. The failure to standardize is a costly mistake.

In the nineteen-eighties, vendors, regulators, and plant operators saw a need for a new generation of plants and a new regulatory process to license them. The next generation was to be based on modular designs that were passively safe. Under accident conditions, decay heat is removed by natural circulation without a need for pumps and valves and power sources. Advance design certification would expedite the licensing process and reduce uncertainty and financial risk. Further, this was a new opportunity for standardization.

Unfortunately, the concepts of passive safety and standardization fell victim to the free market pressures. Passively safe plants cannot be built as large as other designs, and economics favor building plants as large as possible. Absent a controlling government agency, there was no one to force standardization.

As the current generation of plants successfully lumbers forward, albeit with a bit of brute force, the nation stands on the brink of a nuclear renaissance. The large problems of the past, however, remain unsolved. Perhaps it is irresponsible to launch this new generation without addressing those issues. There is a way to deal with the problems and a working model upon which we can base our national strategy.

The nation of France generates over seventy-five percent4 of its electrical power from nuclear plants of a standardized design. They also reprocess fuel and have a working strategy for storing high level waste. Perhaps it is time that we nationalize our nuclear industry -- including a complete and closed fuel cycle. Re-processing fuel introduces the concern of controlling potentially weapons grade fissile material, but our government (i.e. the Department of Energy) has the experience and a long history of managing such material for the nation's nuclear weapons program. We have at our disposal the world's greatest military to protect the material.

Commercial Atomic Power remains safe in this country, but large obstacles block its path forward, specifically: spent fuel disposal, passively safe designs, standardization, private sector conflicts, and re-processing. A nationalized fleet of passively safe, standardized reactors operating with a closed fuel cycle is a viable and coherent solution. The Westinghouse AP-1000 is a passively safe, modular design already certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Four such plants are under construction in China and five US utilities have placed orders. The technology and the economic and regulatory models for a safe commercial nuclear future exist; only the will is lacking.

In a fervently free market society, nationalization sounds like heresy. There is a deep-seated belief that government-run businesses always produce wasteful bureaucracies. That kind of thinking is not appropriate for the commercial nuclear power industry, an enterprise in which the consequences of failure are much more than financial. Safety and security must always trump innovation in this business.

References

1. U.S.NRC "A Short History of Nuclear Regulation 1946-1999.
2. Teresa Hansen, "Nuclear Plant Uprates," Power Engineering International, March 2007
3. E. Bertel, "Advanced Fuel Cycles and Radioactive Waste Management" NEA News 2006 Volume 24, Number 2,
4. World Nuclear Association, "Nuclear Power in France", 26 June 2009.

 
 
Authored By:
Jim McInvale is a nuclear engineer and recreational writer, with articles published in Nuclear News and a variety of other electronic publications. He is a licensed professional engineer, formerly held a USNRC Senior Reactor Operator License, and is currently employed as a supervisor of a Reactor Engineering and Core Design group at a mid-western Commercial Nuclear Plant. Jim's career in the commercial nuclear industry spans 28 years.
 
 
 

Comments

August, 31 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

I put it this way. Energy - or at least some of energy - should be considered a public good (or public-like good), like streetlights, parks, roads or even crazy wars fought thousands of miles away from the home country, and which cost billions of dollars every month. Those wars were won years ago, and the money being wasted on them now is needed to rejuvenate the nuclear sector, and to do some other useful energy things.

The word nationalize though is a problem, as is nationalization. Somehow I don't see it. The energy thing is extremely simple, but it has been made complicated by know-nothings and busybodies, some of them in the energy bureaucracies. I do however appreciate reference to the French experience, but the question is how much of it is applicable to the US.

August, 31 2009

Len Gould says

Ask a Frenchman why he trusts his government, and he will answer "Because we keep them (elected officials) scared of us (the people)". The French are accustomed to occasionally taking to the streets and breaking some crockery often for no reason, simply to remind their elected. Most other polities have not caught on to this mindset yet, and therefore don't (and don't dare) trust their elected.

August, 31 2009

Len Gould says

"It's not healthy for a society if the people hate their own government." - Garry Wills

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." - James Madison (1788)

National Conference of State Legislatures - Trust for Representative Democracy Quotes

August, 31 2009

Harry Valentine says

While there is certainly great potential for nuclear power, I'm not convinced of the merits of nationalization. North America's state-owned utility was the former Ontario Hydro than ran up a debt of over $32-billion . . . and cost over-runs galore in their nuclear sector. Chernobyl was a nationally owned nuclear power station. There is a downside to state ownership and state control . . . especially when the party faithful and the politically-well-connected are rewarded with plum political appointments, like head of the nulcear energy politburo.

There are advances occuring in radiation-free nuclear power, fusion power and mini-nulcear power. Nuclear definately has a future in electrical energy production, however, I'm not convinced of the merits of state ownership.

August, 31 2009

Bob Amorosi says

Harry cites a stark example of the old state-owned Ontario Hydro and its massive debt buildup over decades before it was dissolved. The problem however was not simply being state owned, it was a much more complex. Recall Ontario Hydro owned all generation and transmission infrastructure, not just nuclear plants alone.

For decades the Ontario government believed, as Fred suggests the US should do, that above all electrical energy was for the public's own good. Most importantly it had to be reliable AND cheaply available to every customer in Ontario, especially industry. This belief was a cornerstone that for a long time promoted a growing and thriving manufacturing sector in the Ontario economy. Ontario became one of the premier places in North America to set up your new energy-intensive factory or business, with lots of cheap reliable electricity available for use to make your new business very competitive.

The strategy worked attracting the largest concentrations of commerce in Canada, and indeed North America, generating a legacy of being the richest Canadian province with lots of employment and business opportunities for its citizens. It was supported by Ontario’s regulators keeping a lid on rate growth, the result which unfortunately allowed spending at Ontario Hydro to grow much faster than rates did as the system was expanded and maintained.

Over time Ontarians were no longer paying in rates reflective of the true cost of electricity generation and transmission. The debts piled up by Ontario Hydro were viewed by many in elected office as a necessary vice to keep the system reliable “at any cost”. Oversight of spending was at that time unheard of as cost overruns were never questioned or controlled. Ontario Hydro salaries spiked way above most other average wages in the rest of the Ontario economy. The thinking was after all it was really only just government debt piling up anyway being a state-owned crown corporation, not unlike than what most governments routinely do, and as many around the world are doing now, to stimulate development and expand the economy.

The desire for a growing and maintainable electrical system to remain world-class reliable and provide some of the cheapest energy around was of course conflicting requirements. Sooner or later the chicken had to come home to roost.

Ontario Hydro was finally broken up and now Ontarians are paying back the debt as a decades-long mortgage. If Ontario Hydro had been privately owned all along instead, the chicken might very well have come home sooner and avoided paying back a debt. But one must wonder if Ontario would have built its world-class electrical grid and nuclear fleet, and created an envious manufacturing economy that it has had until very recently.

August, 31 2009

Bob Amorosi says

The high safety standards and reliability requirements imposed on nuclear plants have many similarities to what is imposed on our military equipment manufacturing industries. As a result, all military products tend to be higher cost relative to industrial or consumer products, and command a premium price selling mainly to our governments.

Given the emerging competition in electricity generation from many different sources, one is inclined to believe in the author’s claim that nuclear might only survive longterm if they were to become state owned.

September, 02 2009

Joseph Somsel says

Having worked at nuclear plants owned by private companies and at plants run by governments, my experience is that the private companies do a better job, on average. Contrary examples exist of course.

Once read a book by James Wilson, a professor of political science at Harvard, called "Bureaucracy." His main point was that the main enemy of a bureaucrat is not the public, it's not Congress or the President, but ANOTHER BUREAUCRAT!

We have seen this in the relationships between NRC and TVA, for example. TVA had big problems at times, with their regulators. TVA had political backing that allowed it to push back on the NRC at times.

Since TVA was been cut off a bit from federal tits. it has been more responsive.

That said, I pine for the good old days of the AEC.

September, 08 2009

William Steigelmann says

Very well written, and an accurate commentary. I, too, am a nuclear engineer with a lot of experience that goes back to the days of the AEC. I have three concerns related to safety: Has sufficient attention been paid to aging degradations to equipment -- especially safety-related electrical components -- over 60 years? Are ever-larger reactors the best route forward? Are LWRs, with the need for thick pressure vessels made elsewhere in the world, the best route forward? There is a lot to be said in favor of highly standardized, domestic built, small, modular, liquid-metal fast reactors, operating at low pressure, that burn spent fuel from LWRs. EBR-II and FFTF solved a lot of the technological problems 20+ years ago. The biggest problem today is that there is no financial angel/sponsor ready to fund the remaining development, licensing, and demonstration, while there are many vested interests anxious to push forward with very expensive LWRs. William Steigelmann

September, 09 2009

Don Hirschberg says

I guess I just don’t get it. For the last 33 years I have lived in an all-electric house I designed with 6 inch studs and four foot overhanging eaves (the sun comes in the windows only in the winter.)My co-op for many years has been able to cut off my A/C/ heat pump and water heater for twenty minute periods in near peaking conditions. Realistically what more can all the electronics and IT do to reduce my power consumption? Sure, I could use the lake for my heat pump source and A/C sink – fun for an engineer but I will not live long enough to pay it off.

France says yes to nuclear. Germany says no but is weakening in their policy. Nationalization scares most of us.

September, 09 2009

Vidyardhi Nanduri says

Sub: NECESSITY DEMAND : WISDOM COUNCIL : Liberalisation prerequisite -Internal Discipline- Index : Global Technology Assimilation -prerequsite-Technology strength-Index : Science and Technology Advancement -Prerequisite-Technology Management-Index : Nuclear Technology- Prerequisite- Regulation- Index : Cosmology Research Necessity-Best of the Brains Trust- Index Cosmic Signatures : Neutral Governance- Necessity-Demands- Conscious Index NECESSITY-DEMAND-CURIOSITY-SUSTENANCE - BASE STRUCTURE FOR HUMAN RESOURCES-ADVANCEMENT INDEX Vidyardhi Nanduri Cosmology World Peace

September, 09 2009

Vidyardhi Nanduri says

Sub: NECESSITY DEMAND : WISDOM COUNCIL

1.Liberalisation prerequisite -Internal Discipline- Index

2. Global Technology Assimilation -prerequsite-Technology strength-Index

3. Science and Technology Advancement -Prerequisite-Technology Management-Index

4. Nuclear Technology- Prerequisite- Regulation- Index

5. Cosmology Research Necessity-Best of the Brains Trust- Index Cosmic Signatures

6. Neutral Governance- Necessity-Demands- Conscious Index

NECESSITY-DEMAND-CURIOSITY-SUSTENANCE - BASE STRUCTURE FOR HUMAN RESOURCES-ADVANCEMENT INDEX Vidyardhi Nanduri/Cosmology World Peace

September, 13 2009

Ferdinand E. Banks says

Mr Steigelman wants a "financial angel" in order for us to obtain the nuclear sector that we deserve. So do I, but the natural financial angel is the government. I'm not talking about nationalization, but subsidization in some simple or complicated way - perhaps through loans. And not just for nuclear, but for the entire energy sector. Can the government afford this? They can afford to continue to fight wars that were won five years ago, and as a result I would have to vote yes.

If we limit this discussion to the U.S., I have no doubt that the Obama economic team has what it takes to clear up the economic-financial troubles. That will probably be clear before the next presidential election. The question has to be asked however as to what is the point in moving on health care before the economic-financial thing iis back on the rails. As for energy, it's time to get rid of the environmentalists in the upper echelon of the Energy Department so that Secretary Chu can formulate and put into operation the nuclear-friendly energy policy that the country cannot do without.

But note, a nuclear-friendly policy does NOT mean abandoning renewable energy, but keeping it in its place. In the long run renewables will be more important than nuclear, although explaining why cannot be done in this comment.

September, 14 2009

Joseph Somsel says

Mr. Hirschberg,

You've described my ideal home (almost)! I could do without external interference with my consumption but I've noodled the idea of a water-source heat pump for years.

Unfortunately, my piece of California is a marginal desert with little free water.

As to nationaliization, I don't see the politicians wanting to pick up that hot potato. As is, if something creates bad press, they have a non-governmental actor to blame and play the fall guy. For nationalized reactors, it would be on the government's hands.

September, 14 2009

Warren Reynolds says

Mr. McInvale I know "nuclear power's" dirty secrets. This author, having spent 10 years as a nuclear engineer with General Electric, realizes from first hand knowledge that nuclear fission energy is an option as discussed in later sections below. Thus, we have to actively develop other energy options that are more immediate. Currently, there is a ruxh to install solar energy power plants worldwide. NUCLEAR POWER'S DIRTY PAST Let me put the final nail in the nuclear power coffin. It is not well known but each nuclear reactor puts out hundreds of curies of radioactive Kr85 and Xe133 gases into the atmosphere each year. The Xe133 decays within a year to radioactive iodine. This eventually falls to the ground into plants and our thyroids. The 1980's witnessed a virtual worldwide collapse of orders for new nuclear power plants. The previous 10 years had been marked by frequent technical mishaps, serious accidents, huge cost escalations, and a rapid decline in public acceptance of nuclear power. Electricity planners were beginning to favor faster and cheaper efficiency improvements over commitments to massive centralized nuclear power stations. Today, nuclear power has fallen far short of expectations. Just 370 gigawatts of nuclear power are actually in use which is 1/10th the amount expected. Currently, this is about 17% of the world's electrical demand. Now, only 25 nuclear reactors remain under active consideration while a growing number of aging reactors are retired. These massive centralized units are now "dinosaurs" that is costing the public $ Billions to phase them out. The reasons for the collapse of nuclear power systems include: (1) Safety problems, (2) Inability to dispose of nuclear waste, (3) The potential uncontrolled proliferation of fissile materials in the hands of terrorists. (4) Highest cost for generating electricity (14.5 cents/kWhr) of all fossil fuels and all of the renewable energy sources. (5) During the period 1985-2007, there was a huge cost escalation from $1 billion to more than $9 billion for the same size nuclear plant. In the late '80s and early '90's, The Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Monju breeder (Sea of Japan) nuclear incidents led the death knell of the nuclear industry. As serious as these problems are, they are secondary to a more fundamental failure of nuclear energy to establish itself as an economically competitive means of generating electricity. By taking into account the cost of uranium mining, processing, conversion to nuclear power rods, and waste disposal, there is only a net 3% margin over cost. However, with the Government subsidies, it was a little more profitable for the nuclear power companies. Thus, nuclear fission power is no longer an option. In a German report (2009), they doubt the resurgence of nuclear power.The average age for the current reactors is 25 yrs assuming a 40 yr. life span.The U.S. has extended the life span from 40 to 60 years. Germany has banned and will shut down all nuclear power plants as of 2020 as well as 18 other European countries. Do not nationalize just get rid of the "dinosaurs". Dr. Warren Reynolds (ret.)

September, 14 2009

Warren Reynolds says

Correction: . . . . . "Nuclear power is NOT an option".

September, 14 2009

Don Hirschberg says

Warren, I am a bit curious. You say you were a nuclear engineer with GE for ten years, and that you are retired. As there have been no nuclear plants built in the US for many years I am trying to sort out just what and when you might have been doing for pay regarding nuclear plants. Did the ideas of your screed about fission plants only occur to you that is, perhaps only dawn on you and need venting after retirement?

You put out a scare alert about the radioactive emissions. Yet you don’t give any perspective. How does the radioactivity of fission plants compare to say an annual dental x-ray? Isn’t it quite insignificant?

September, 15 2009

Kent Wright says

Warren, thank God you are retired. Your information that you imply is something you authored is straight out of some of the anti-nuclear propaganda mills nearly word for word... including the fearmongering lie about xenon-133 decaying to radioactive iodine-133. I have seen numerous times what you have simply copied and pasted so quit trying to come off as a scientist, economist and of course Nuclear Engineer. Next time please rembember to insert a paragraph break or two so we can follow along faster.

I trust that your chart of the nuclides has not decayed away by aging, as perhaps your memory has, but readers can now see for themselves by searching online (Google Chart of Nuclides).

Just for the record everybody, the various radioactive isotopes of xenon all decay FROM radioactive iodine, not the other way around. Xenon, in turn is a noble gas, stickable to virtually nothing, and ends up either as stable xenon or stable cesium in hours in most cases, and Warren's fearsome case of 5-day half-lived Xe-133, in under a month (applying the 10 halflife rule).

Furthermore Warren, radioactive fission product iodine is not a daily effluent product, except at Vallecitos where you intentionally damaged fuel just to see the effects, and as I recall, you did not even have an Offgas Treatment System to hold it down a little.

Just to save the readers a little time here, the longest-lived parent of xenon, iodine-131 (I-131), decays by half in only 8 days. Therefore iodine-131 can exist in abundance only shortly after a nuclear accident involving large scale reactor fuel damage and release when large fission product inventories still exist, which means that within a couple to three months any quantitiy of I-131 so released is immeasurably small.

A few changes have occurred since those halcyon days at Val when you thought no one was looking Warren. BWR designs have changed. They now have multiple barriers, or layers, of containment which serve to minimize, if not actually prevent realease -- but even if released by accident, there are plenty of countermeasures that can further reduce the effects to zero. The advanced reactors on the table as we live and breath, have gained orders of magnitudes in safety and simplicity, hence lower cost as well. Sorry you could not have kept up.

And don't throw Chernobyl into everyone's face because there is not one reactor like it on the western hemisphere, and besides, NO countermeasures were taken after that tragic event... ever more the tragedy. It is obvious that in all your time from so many years ago at Vallecitos, you never once had the benefit a course called "Mitigation of Core Damage" and I do not believe from your statements that you have any knowlege of the current fleet of GE BWRs either.

As for your trumped up charges of high cost, historically added by obstructionist lobbying and parroted on nearly every anti-nuke propaganda website, consider this... the current fleet is aging very gracefully, thank you, and some are already paid for thanks to a little thing called 90% CAPACITY FACTORS. What with power uprates and lifetime license extensions, they are presently the biggest cash cows in the entire power industry. If the next generation of advanced reactors can get started up without the obstructions of the past there is NO reason to believe that they cannot be timely, cost effective, and safe.

Don, regarding your challenge to Warren about paychecks, I don't believe you will need to wait for an answer. Please go to the home page of this website and use the dropdown menu, under "Browse by Contriibutor" and find his name under "W's" . Then ask yourself why Warren says, "...Thus, we have to actively develop other energy options that are more immediate."

Warren if you must abuse your nuclear experience in the bad old days of dirty secrets, I suggest you at least update your propaganda with something original. Have nice day.

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