A letter to the editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times published on January 6, 2012 got me riled up. The letter is intended to encourage people who live in Asheville to organize to resist the William States Lee nuclear power plant development project proposed for a site in Gaffney, SC., which is about 60 miles from the outskirts of Asheville.
Here is a quote from that letter:
The website of Massachusetts’ Rep. Edward J. Markey, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, quotes him regarding the Westinghouse reactor approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: “… the NRC has presented its holiday gifts to the nuclear industry. Instead of doing all they should to protect nuclear reactors against seismically induced ground acceleration, these commissioners voted to approve the acceleration of reactor construction.
“While they continue to slow-walk the implementation of recommendations of the NRC professional staff’s Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima, they have fast-tracked construction of a reactor whose shield building could ‘shatter like a glass cup’ if impacted by an earthquake or other natural or man-made impact.”
I could not let those assertions stand without response, so I submitted the following comment.
Rep. Ed Markey is not telling the truth. The AP1000 design certification application was initially filed on March 28, 2002, nearly ten years ago. It was initially certified by the NRC in January 2006.
However, Westinghouse and its construction partner recognized that there were significant construction material innovations that had been developed since the design had been submitted that could ease the difficulty of construction while providing a better final product.
In order to incorporate the improved techniques, Westinghouse was required to resubmit its application. That new submittal opened the company to a requirement to meet a new rule that the NRC had imposed called the Aircraft Impact Rule. Though nuclear power plants are some of the most resilient and secure pieces of industrial infrastructure in the country, they are now required to produce detailed analysis about their ability to withstand a direct attack. Westinghouse’s revised application was submitted in May 2007, about 4.5 years ago.
The NRC staff completed its exhaustive review of the slightly revised design in August 2011 after more than four years worth of questions, comments, and even more required testing. It issued its Final Safety Analysis Report on August 5, 2011.
During the lengthy review process ONE engineer raised concerns and used some vivid language comparing the strength of a thick sandwich of steel and concrete to that of a glass cup. Westinghouse had the design tested by a well qualified group at the Purdue University. “The researchers determined that the structure is flexible and strong enough to withstand earthquake forces more powerful than federal design requirements, and that the structure provides a significant reserve margin to ensure radiation is contained.”
The Chairman of the NRC, Dr. Greg Jaczko, worked on Rep. Ed Markey’s congressional staff for 2.5 years from 1999-2001, before he began working for Senator Harry Reid. He has been slow walking the process of having the five member commission review and vote on the AP1000 ever since that final staff action was completed.
He FINALLY ran out of excuses and put the vote on the agenda for a final approval that was issued on December 22, 2011, 4.5 MONTHS after the technically qualified staff issued its report. No reasonable person could look at that timeline and make a statement calling it a “fast track”. However, Representative Markey has never been reasonable when it comes to his battle to stop nuclear energy from competing with the liquified natural gas that is imported into his Massachusetts congressional district by Gaz Suez.
(As an aside, Chairman Jaczko has no experience in any branch of engineering. He has a PhD in particle physics, but he has not published a single meaningful paper in his field since earning that degree. Instead, he has spent the past ten years on Washington DC congressional and senate staffs and then as an appointed commissioner who was put on the commission after his senate sponsor blocked more than 100 judge appointments to encourage that action.)
Disclosure: I own stock in both Toshiba and Shaw Group. I have purchased that stock over the past several years because I understand the details of the advanced design that they have produced and believe that it has a bright future.
I encourage others to take whatever action they think should be taken. It almost makes my blood boil to see how much time and effort some deluded people will put into the task of slowing down valuable infrastructure projects that can provide not only thousands of well-paying jobs during the component manufacturing and plant construction processes, but also will provide many decades worth of reliable, clean, prosperity-enabling power for a large population exceeding several million people.
Decision makers and leaders need to quit talking about how cheap natural gas is – today – and recognize that it is a volatile (in multiple senses of the word) commodity whose price can fluctuate rapidly with changes in supply and demand. If they really want energy to remain affordable, they will recognize that the best way to ensure that is to make sure that the supply is larger than the demand.
Of course, it is beneficial to many existing suppliers to keep the supply constrained so that it is generally a little less than the demand. That helps to keep prices higher than they should be, resulting in reliable and substantial profits, even for less efficient producers.
Citizen groups need to be taught that fighting new nuclear power plants over concerns about cost is one of the most reliable ways to increase the cost of not just the nuclear plants (time is money and fighting with lawyers, regulators and politicians can get very expensive) but also the consumer cost of the fuel sources that do not have to compete with non operating nuclear plants that have been tied up in politically imposed delays.
As the president of the American Petroleum Institute has said recently, Americans need to vote for energy – more energy means more power and more prosperity. It eventually leads to lower energy prices due to the inevitable effects of competition.
Sufficient capacity, with sufficient margin to allow for variations in demand as the weather changes, is the best way to keep prices under control. (Don’t expect John Rowe, Mayo Shattuck, or Jim Rogers to help anyone understand that relationship. They all LIKE high power prices.)
Update (Posted January 8, 2012) Sometimes useful information shows up in the comment threads here, but it can be buried and overlooked. I occasional elevate those comments to a more prominent position. In the below thread, a man who recently retired from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission made the following comment about Dr. Jaczko’s vote in favor of granting a design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000:
…it is unusual for commissioners to make their votes public until the SRM is written or at affirmation. The simple matter is that until affirmation, votes get changed, added to, or sometime withdrawn. Occasionally, a commissioner will make their vote public early to press a point. In this case, Jaczko voted after the majority had already approved the AP-1000. His vote was irrelevant to the outcome, the matter had already been decided.
It is important to understand other aspects of the timing of the public release. Dr. Jaczko announced his vote on the morning of Friday December 9, 2012.
Later on that same Friday, at a time when potentially damaging political news is often released in hopes that everything will blow over by Monday morning, the news was released that all four of Jaczko’s fellow NRC commissioners (two Democrats and two Republicans) had written a letter to the White House Chief of Staff complaining about his abusive behavior and dictatorial leadership actions.
December 9, 2012 was also the same day that Rep Ed Markey, one of his political patrons, released a report claiming that the four complaining commissioners were engaged in a conspiracy against the Chairman.
I spent too many years inside the Washington DC beltway dealing with sensitive political issues to believe that there is anything coincidental about the timing of the Chairman’s vote. I strongly suspect that he was attempting to throw a bone to nuclear energy advocates in hopes that they would not push too hard to get him fired for incompetence and exceeding his statutory authority.
This particular dog does not like being thrown bones that have no meat on them. End January 8, 2012 Update.