Another blogger for Nuclear Energy – Evan Twarog

Atomic Insights is expanding. I’d like to introduce our newest writer, Evan Twarog. Some of you may recognize his name; in the friendly world of pro-nuclear bloggers, Evan has made a name for himself as a bright young man who started learning the importance of public communications about nuclear energy when he was just 14 years old.

Evan was 16 when Entergy had announced that it planned to close Vermont Yankee despite the fact that the plant operates in one of the highest priced — and potentially lucrative — electricity markets in the United States. At the time, Evan’s father was a shift manager in the operations department at the plant.

According to the owner, the facility does not make enough money, a situation that I believe is driven by refusal by a subsidiary of Gaz Metro to sign a power purchase agreement, an unfavorable revenue sharing contract, special taxes, and intense public scrutiny that makes every plant event or modification into a costly battle. Entergy’s decision was not driven by “the market” as some observers repeat in simplistic terms.

Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has featured Evan’s writing and discussed his participation in public meetings in the — so far — unsuccessful battle to save the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant from early retirement. Evan contacted me several weeks ago with a proposal I could not refuse. We’re not sure how much time he will have as he works through his final semester of high school and the college admissions process, but I expect that each of his columns will bring fresh insights from a unique perspective.

Here is Evan’s self-introduction. After this, he will have his own by-line.

By Evan Twarog

If you read much about my generation, “Generation Y”, one of the major things you’ll observe is that we’re extremely mission driven. We want to make an impact. We look for challenges and opportunities to push ourselves. I’m not all that different from this picture of the “average” Generation Y-er. As a senior preparing to head out to college, I’m in the process of applying to schools and planning for after I leave Keene High School. The plan is to become either a mechanical or civil engineer and eventually work in the energy field.

In the past few years, I’ve had a few opportunities that have led me down the path of becoming an engineer. From an internship at a civil engineering firm, to CAD courses, to trips to India and El Salvador, I’ve been lucky to see many facets of what life is like as an engineer. The most defining has been my experience surrounding the future of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. For the past fifteen years, my father has worked there and risen through the ranks as an operator to a shift manager. In the time since Entergy bought the plant in 2002, a legal battle over its future has divided the state of Vermont. Early on in the battle, my family became vocal supporters, and I involved myself alongside them. I had the chance to write editorials, attend support rallies, and speak before the Public Service Board. Eventually I had the opportunity to work as an intern for the Ethan Allen Institute’s Energy Education Project. Coupled together, these opportunities have shown me the impact that engineers can have on humanity, its development, and the environment.

Looking at the problems that face the world, the energy field offers incredible potential to make a huge impact on the development of the world. Hundreds of millions of people are going to be lifted up and out of poverty over the coming decades, and this rise is going to be driven by cheap, reliable energy. As Robert Hargraves put it, “Access to cheap energy is one of the limiting factors to the economic development of any nation”. Giving people in the developing world the opportunity to lift themselves up and out of poverty is a truly beautiful thing. Every person deserves that one chance to create a better future for themselves, and cheap energy offers that opportunity.

Cheap energy, however, doesn’t necessarily mean clean energy, as most of the world’s “cheap” energy is derived from the combustion of fossil fuels. The environmental impacts of their combustion creates numerous problems. Ultimately, it will be up to engineers to lower the cost of generating clean, reliable energy in order to preserve the environment for future generations to come. The challenge of lowering this cost of clean energy deeply intrigues me.

Growing up in a house supported by the nuclear industry has arguably biased me towards nuclear energy. In all reality though, it is the only clean, scalable, reliable form of energy available to man. Because of this, it has the most potential to make a meaningful impact on the reduction of carbon emissions of any energy form. Renewables are intermittent, largely unscalable, and they lack power density. While nuclear energy has issues that face its growth ranging from poor government support, high market-entry costs, slow innovation, relatively high costs and waste issues, these are all issues that have readily available solutions.

For me, a career as an engineer offers opportunities to make an impact that will last centuries. One of the things I’ve learned in the past few years is that it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on them. While one person cannot do the job admittedly, they can certainly make a measurable difference. We must live for the future of the human race, and not for our own success or comfort.

From the HPS President – Health Physics News November 2014

This is a reprint of an article published in HP News, an official publication of the Health Physics Society ( Neither the Health Physics Society nor the author of the article have any affiliation with Atomic Insights.

Barbara Hamrick, CHP, JD, HPS Fellow

HamrickAt 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST) on 11 March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and 41 minutes later it was followed by a massive tsunami. Together these events took the lives of over 15,000 people. Many thousands more were injured, lost family and friends, and lost homes and businesses. As one of our colleagues, Matt Moeller, recently said to me, discussions of the events following the tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS) should always be prefaced by honoring those who lost their lives in one of the greatest natural disasters in recorded history. So, before I begin, I would like to ask you, the readers, to take a moment and reflect upon all those who lost their lives and loved ones that day.

Over the last couple of years I have had the honor and privilege of serving on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Lessons Learned From Fukushima.1 A prepublication report was made available at the NAS website in July 2014 (download a free PDF version of the report by clicking on the blue tab on the right side of the web page). The report provides detailed findings and recommendations relating to nuclear plant safety, risk assessment, and emergency response, among other areas.

My focus here is on emergency response. Emergency responders in Japan were already undertaking a massive response to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami when at 7:03 p.m. JST on 11 March 2011 the prime minister gave public notice of the occurrence of a nuclear emergency situation. The electrical power and communications infrastructures were severely damaged, and there was extensive damage to buildings, roads, and highways. Despite all this turmoil, evacuations began within a 2-km radius of Fukushima Daiichi NPS at about 8:50 p.m. JST the evening of 11 March 2011.

At that time, there was no knowledge of actual or imminent release, because there was no electrical power to allow dissemination of real-time information on the state of the plants. By 16 March 2011 approximately 140,000 people within a 30-km radius of the plant had been evacuated. In Japan at the time of the Fukushima Daiichi accident (as it is known in the United States), there were no official limits (for either dose or activity) to make decisions with respect to resettlement of the evacuated areas.

As of March 2014, three years after the accident, over 80,000 evacuees still lived in shelters or other temporary locations. Notwithstanding the estimated 100–500 PBq of I-131 released to the environment as a result of the accident, the World Health Organization anticipates that disease incidence resulting from the releases is likely to remain below detectable levels.

Conversely, as reported by Evelyn Bromet in Health Physics (February 2014), follow-up studies of populations impacted by the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl show long-term negative impacts on mental well-being, and it is likely the same effects will appear in the population impacted by the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Also, in a study by S. M. Yasumura and colleagues in Journal of Epidemiology (2012), it was reported that there may have been as many as 109 excess deaths in the elderly institutionalized population attributable to the evacuations.

The NAS committee recommended that industry and emergency response organizations in the United States should “assess the balance of protective actions” taken in response to a nuclear emergency and specifically noted that attention should be given to special populations (e.g., the elderly); to long-term social, psychological, and economic impacts; and to the development of resettlement

The issue for our profession and our society is how one makes that balance. Perhaps the hypothetical risks of low-level radiation exposure should at some point give way to the manifest detriments of death by evacuation, depression, chronic anxiety, and economic losses that go beyond simple economic solutions—e.g., losing the family business. While it is integral to our policies on risk management in this country that individuals have the right to make their own decisions related to what is an acceptable risk and what is not, if the decision is not adequately informed by the facts, then the right to make it cannot be fully exercised.

We, as health physicists and radiation safety specialists, must contribute to the conversation on risk, including, and perhaps especially, by acknowledging the competing risks in any given circumstance. When our focus becomes too narrow, we diminish the value of our information. In reality, nothing is perfectly safe, and context is everything. If emergency response organizations undertake an effort to revisit the balance of protective actions, with full stakeholder input, the starting point should not be “is it safe,” but “what is safe enough” in the full context of competing risks.

1 Barbara Hamrick serves as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee on “Lessons Learned From the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants.” This commentary, however, should not necessarily be construed as the committee’s representative position.

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