Nuclear Energy: Past, Present, and Future

On Friday, March 28, 2014, I had the privilege of attending a symposium at Dartmouth College titled Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy. If you are curious and have a free nine hours, you can watch an archived copy of the main event on YouTube.

The thing that you will miss by watching instead of attending, of course, is the conversation that takes place in the corridors and common areas during breaks. Without being there, you also don’t have the opportunity to ask penetrating — or pestering — comments.

Peter Bradford and Rod Adams

Notice that Bradford is on a lower step.

I was glad I made the trip and hope that I represented Atomic Insights readers well by asking a few challenging questions. I also enjoyed meeting Peter Bradford face-to-face. He is a genial giant (probably 6′ 7″ or so) who is a pleasant conversationalist, even though we don’t share many common points of view about nuclear energy.

My biggest regret was that there was not much time available for the Q & A portions of the event. The program was crowded with a variety of experienced presenters with wide ranging points of view. I cannot think of which speakers should have been given less time, though I can think of a couple demonstrated practiced skills of stretching their answers to ensure that they don’t get too many questions.

Aside: One of my career experiences was being part of a team of staff officers assigned to prepare a flag officer for congressional testimony. One of the techniques we taught him was to answer the easy questions with complete answers that took up as much time as possible. We also worked with supportive congressional staff members to make sure that their congressman was supplied with some questions we wanted the admiral to answer.

I think those techniques are also taught at law school. End Aside.

The symposium leaders did a terrific job of selecting speakers and then organizing them into a coherent program. I suspect that most of the people who attended were enthralled at some point, frustrated at other points and perhaps even a little bit angered at times. Since the audience apparently had as wide a range of opinions about nuclear energy as the speakers, each of those responses occurred at different times for different parts of the audience.

One of the talk sequences that I most enjoyed was having Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force immediately follow Amory Lovins. Cohen is one of the first leaders of an established environmental organization — as opposed to an individual environmentalist — who has revised a previous stance on the use of nuclear energy. He used to oppose the technology but has recently run the numbers to see that renewable energy sources are simply not adequate. He still supports renewable energy development, but believes that the excess capacity that would be required to ensure reliability is completely impractical.

Almost everything that Cohen said directly contradicted something that Lovins stated. That made me smile quite broadly. His talk starts at 7:33:45 of the YouTube archive of the event.

Like one of my fellow pro-nuclear bloggers, Cohen is a hockey fan. He used several hockey analogies in his talk. As he said, we need a lot of shots on goal to tackle the challenge of climate change. He also said it is not a good time to take one of the highest potential contributors off of the ice.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll probably post several individual commentaries on selected presentations. There was a lot of very good information presented, some important observations about past mistakes, and a few interesting predictions about the future.

I now have a new fantasy – sometime soon, a university will organize another meeting with a similar speaker line-up that will be in a larger venue and stretch out over several days. The organizers will work with the housing offices to find low cost accommodations that make the event accessible to students, rank-and-file workers, and retirees. There will be social events planned and plenty of time for questions, answers and hallway conversations.

It’s not too late for such an event to happen this summer, but there is not much time to waste. Snow is melting even in Vermont, spring is officially in progress in most of the country. The first thing I need to find is a willing location, but a close second is a team of volunteers who can make it happen.

A series of such events might result in new friendships, softening of existing positions, and a spirit of cooperation that will enable real progress to be made in turning nuclear energy from a somewhat frightening technology requiring enormous, bureaucratic structures and tight central control into a more accessible, extremely capable technological tool that can fit comfortably into a distributed energy system vision.


Interesting side note: The flag officer whose testimony I helped prepare is mentioned in Tom Friedman’s column titled Parallel Parking in the Arctic Circle.

About Rod Adams

52 Responses to “Nuclear Energy: Past, Present, and Future”

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  1. Meredith Angwin says:

    Hi Rod

    You made terrific comments and asked great questions at the meeting. I especially note your explanations of the way Yucca Mountain was funded (utilities, not taxpayers) in answer to Representative Welch claiming this great expense to taxpayers of dealing with this waste. Plus your comeback to (?Lovins?) about how Price-Anderson works.

    Oh yeah. It was fun (not!) to hear Welch’s answer to you…that the laws about funding nuclear waste cleanup were passed before he joined Congress, so he isn’t clear on them!

    Is he clear on the Constitution? This also was passed before Welch joined Congress.

    I live-tweeted the meeting. People can read my tweets at @yes_vy These are un-expurgated tweets. Live-tweeting is a bit dangerous. Maybe people shouldn’t read them. I like to keep my reputation as a gentlewoman. Anyhow, they are there, and it won’t take 9 hours to read them.

    • PissedOffAmerican says:

      “Is he clear on the Constitution?”

      Don’t count on it. Seems that the simian puppet GWB voiced it quite clearly, if you’re wondering about the respect the DC criminals have for the Constitution……

      “Its just a piece of paper”.

  2. Daniel says:

    Rod,

    What do you mean by ‘He is a genial giant’ ?

    Thanks for explaining

  3. Atomikrabbit says:

    Since wife is out of town, I may take you up on this 9-hr endurance test.

    Others taking up the gauntlet should fast forward past the first 29 minutes, when nothing happens. Also, for an event at an engineering school, there is a disappointing lack of audio during the video presentations.

    The bio sketch of John Kememy is interesting and poignant, as usual Matt Wald gets MOST of it right, but as genial as Peter Bradford is, it appears that he has not gained a lot of technical expertise on nuclear energy over the last 35 years. Infuriating.

    • Daniel says:

      For Bradford, lack of nuclear expertise did not prevent him from becoming a NRC commissioner.

      I wonder what his opinion on this would be. How would he like a non trained lawyer to hold a key position in a federal agency that would demand legal acuity ?

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Daniel

        Didn’t you know that Yale trained lawyers make good Nader Raiders and that Nader Raider-experienced lawyers make excellent NRC commissioners from the point of view of a president who claimed nuclear expertise, but was actually fearful of radiation due to his vast, 90 second experience as an LT? (Sorry for the run-on sentence.)

        • Atomikrabbit says:

          I’m finding I have to declare a cooling-off period about every 20 minutes to decompress from listening to Bradford’s avuncular misinformation. With his impressive build, genial presentation, and sterling credentials it’s no wonder he’s one of the antis go-to guys.

          Yale trains some good lawyers, but I could factually take apart his presentation sentence-by-sentence, phrase-by-phrase. Anybody willing to fund the substitution of my day job?

          • Meredith Angwin says:

            Being there was even more fun. No decompression allowed.

            You will need even more breaks during Welch and Lovins presentations.

            Some of my tweets included the phrase “pants on fire.”

          • Daniel says:

            If Bradford were a smart man, he would realize that he has no clue and at least not piggy back his NRC commissioner status as a sign of competency.

            He may be tall, sweet and also dishonest.

  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Wish I was able, technologically, to view the archived event. Alas, this old desk top on dial-up ain’t up to the task.

    I’m curious if the way the nuclear energy advocates, scientists, and industry insiders present themselves to John Q Public was a topic of addressed by any of the speakers, or whether any of the pro-nuclear speakers addressed the issue of how events such as Fukushima affect “your” ability to market your technology.

    Seems to me that symposiums such as this are useless if marketing strategies are not addressed, debated, and proposed.

    This particular posting from Rod prompted me to do an internet search looking for nuclear energy advertizing, logos, ads, etc. It was astounding how the negative advertizing from the anti-nuke crowd far surpassed, in sheer volume, the positive marketing efforts of the pro-nuke crowd. I was able to find very little in the way of positive marketing, but it would take a year to wade through all the negative ads.

    • Atomikrabbit says:

      I’ve seen some internet banners from Indian Point pop up on relevant pages from time to time, pointing to their website at safesecurevital (dot) com, and there are sporadic radio ads, but I have seen nothing remotely approaching the natural gas media juggernaut.

      Therefore the local Hudson Valley TV station feels free to say that if 9/11 had targeted the plant, hundreds of thousands would have died from radiation.

      • PissedOffAmerican says:

        “Therefore the local Hudson Valley TV station feels free to say that if 9/11 had targeted the plant, hundreds of thousands would have died from radiation”

        This has always interested me since Condi Rice’s perjury before Congress, when she claimed that no one predicted that terrorists would use aircraft as weapons.

        Fact is, that one of the regulatory parameters imposed on nuclear containment buildings, prior to 9/11, was that they could withstand the impact of a 707 jetliner. It had been considered that terrorists might use aircraft as weapons prior to 9/11, and quite frankly, Condi was lying through her teeth in an effort to protect the criminal Bush Administration from accepting responsibility for the ease with which the 9/11 terrorists were able to complete thier mission.

        Many perjuries, committed by the Bush Administration, corrupted the actual truths behind what occurred on 9/11. And the 9/11 commission was little more than a concerted effort to conceal those perjuries. Obama’s complicit BS about “looking forward not backward” protected the Bush criminals from exposure, and made a mockery of our laws. There were actual crimes committed, and Obama refused to pursue investigations and indictments. Proving, beyond contention, that our “leaders” hold themselves above and beyond the law.

          • gmax137 says:

            Anyone have any more info on pre-9/11aircraft impact capability of the containment structures? PoA’s linked document says aircraft larger than 707s were not considered; but as far as I know, the implication (that a 707 impact *was* in the design basis along with hurricane, tornado, flood, etc.) is just not true. I haven’t seen it in any of the FSARs that I’ve read. Maybe it was analyzed without being discussed? Or maybe in selected licensing instances (plants close to large busy airports?) Many of us have seen the Sandia films of fighter impact into simulated containment wall, and maybe they looked at aircraft impact in general, but that’s not the same thing as being in the design basis. I would appreciate any factual input on this question.

          • Engineer-Poet says:

            And you’ll notice that the actual vulnerabilities being tested by terrorists aren’t powerplants at all, but major electrical substations.  Nuclear plants were extremely “hard” targets long before 9/11; they weren’t attacked then either.

          • PissedOffAmerican says:

            “Anyone have any more info on pre-9/11aircraft impact capability of the containment structures?”

            Doing a search trying to find answers to your query, I ran across the following essay. I’m linking to it here because it is an excellent example of the kind of basic understandable communication that lay people such as myself can use to improve our knowledge. To many here I suppose it may be oversimplistic. But the essay resonated with me, and at no point did it discourage me from reading further due to content “over my head”. I would be interested in any comments Rod or the blog partticipants have to offer about this guy’s essay. Credible?? Over simplified?

            http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/chudnovsky13/indian-point-energy-center/

          • PissedOffAmerican says:

            “PoA’s linked document says aircraft larger than 707s were not considered; but as far as I know, the implication (that a 707 impact *was* in the design basis along with hurricane, tornado, flood, etc.) is just not true”

            This intrigues me, as I have believed, since soon after 9/11, that there were regulatory imperitives imposed on plant construction in regards to containment vessels being able to withstand the impact of a 707. Where I got that belief is beyond me, considering the huge media discourse post 9/11 about “homeland security”.

            However, on further reflection induced by your comment, I fail to see how such an imposition on containment vessel design could actually be determined. How would you figure the stresses, destructive energy released, area of concentrated impact, etc?

            So I echo gmax’s query. Are there, in fact, regulatory mandates specifying a containment vessel’s ability to withstand the impact of a modern commercial aircraft?

          • Jason says:

            The NRC imposed specific requirements to assess the impact of a commercial airplane on new reactor designs in 2009: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2009-06-12/pdf/E9-13582.pdf. The rule did not apply to exisiting facilities, for reasons explained more completely in the rule. The only airplane impact-related requirements for operating plant prior were imposed after 9/11 as the so-called mitigating strategies requirements, found at 10 CFR 50.55(hh)(2), (imposed by order in 2002, and later codified in 2009) but these did not require design change, only strategies for mitigating the impacts of losses of large areas of the plant due to fires or explosions. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part050/part050-0054.html.

          • gmax137 says:

            thanks Jason

          • PissedOffAmerican says:

            “The NRC imposed specific requirements to assess the impact of a commercial airplane on new reactor designs in 2009″

            Thanks for the comeback.

            So how did this whole 707 thing become part of the discourse about plant security?

          • Jason says:

            Much of the recent history of the NRC’s treatment of airplane impacts post 9/11 is not public, but a paper released in the 2011 timeframe provides a fairly detailed history of the agency’s approach. http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0929/ML092990417.pdf. This is also explained, of course, in the aircraft impact assessment rule. Also, you can look at the 2007 Design Basis Threat rule for an explanation why the agency decided not to require protection from deliberate airplane strikes. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2007-03-19/pdf/07-1317.pdf.

          • gmax137 says:

            If still interested, here’s a link to videos from the 1988 F4 impact test at Sandia:

            https://share.sandia.gov/news/resources/video-gallery/index.html#rocketsled

    • Engineer-Poet says:

      Wish I was able, technologically, to view the archived event.

      If you use FireFox, the “Download Helper” plugin can pull YouTube videos at whatever speed your connection allows and just file them for you to play later.  Let it run overnight if it has to.

      • Engineer-Poet says:

        Also, your local library probably has a decently fast connection.  If you can install Download Helper there, you can save to a USB stick and watch at home.

        • PissedOffAmerican says:

          “Also, your local library probably………..”

          Local library??? I’ll ask the elk standing in my front yard for directions.

  5. Tom says:

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned it yet but a lot of the “poster countries” like Denmark and Germany also outsource a lot of their carbon-intensive manufacturing to places like China. Dieter Helm makes a good argument in books like “The carbon crunch” that national carbon footprints need to account for consumption as well as energy use.

  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    One wonders how many of the measures regarding nuclear power plant security, mandated by the “Energy Policy Act of 2005″, were actually implemented.

  7. Peter Bradford says:

    I enjoyed our conversation too, and I agree that a less compressed format would provide opportunities to explore areas of potential agreement. At the rate gravity is settling me, it’s likely that only the geniality will remain if we wait a little while.

    I apologize for what came across as filibustering. I actually like answering questions and would happily have taken more, even hostile ones. But the first one on Friday was an involved part-question-part-observation from Dr. Kemeny’s daughter about precurser events to TMI and how they had been dealt with by the NRC and the industry after the accident. Because the event was in part a commemoration of her father’s role and because her question raised important issues, I did take time to give the rest of the audience some sense of what the B&W precurser events had been (and the fact that there had been several of them). No doubt I used enough time to frustrate others who had issues to raise. A judgement call that I’m sure was annoying but that had no obfuscatory intention.

    • PissedOffAmerican says:

      I really look forward to the possibility of exchanges between those such as Rod and Peter occurring on this website. I would like nothing more than to see civil engagements between polar points of view about the safety and utility of nuclear energy. Seeing Peter respond civilly here, despite some fairly abrasive comments directed towards him upthread, gives reason for optimism that such an exchange of opinions and ideas may come to pass.

      • PissedOffAmerican says:

        BTW, I hope those participating here see Peter’s polite response as the opportunity it represents for constructive exchange, instead of an opening to throw destructive derision.

        • Daniel says:

          Science and the laws of physics do not change no matter your genial IQ.

          • PissedOffAmerican says:

            “Genial IQ”

            Hmmm…an unpretentious mensa?

            Perhaps a humble nerd?

            Or uh, maybe….oh…uh…egads, I give up.

          • Meredith Angwin says:

            Daniel and POA

            Personally, I appreciate it when nuclear opponents are polite. For one thing, that means we can discuss, dis-entangle and refute their statements without participating in a shouting match. Behaving in a civilized fashion is always worthwhile IMO. For both sides.

            That doesn’t mean we have to let opponents get away with false statements. We can and SHOULD challenge false statements. Rod was great at this during the meeting. We can challenge politely.

            Out in the hallway, where I was sitting at first, there were many opponents of nuclear energy. I know several of them. One is a tall man who shouts a lot and has been escorted from various meetings by the police (I have seen this). He was quiet this time, but I gave him a wide berth. Another is a woman who is in the same choral group as my husband, and we had a good chat about music and the next group of concerts. Both these people are dedicated opponents. I am not going to change either of them. But there still is a difference.

            In my opinion, the polite opponents are more effective in turning people against nuclear energy. The true-believers may like to watch one of their gladiators as he shouts and disrupts meetings. However, I doubt that such actions convince anybody else. Or maybe they do. I don’t know. Sorry, I am rambling a bit.

            I just want to give credit and encouragement to civilized behavior.

    • Atomikrabbit says:

      Mr. Bradford, thanks for dropping by, and for bringing your now-famous geniality with you.

      If you could indulge me just one question, sir. On what basis can you say “the fuel rods got out of the reactor, and some got out of containment” (1:45:00)?

      I will let others address the Wing study.

      Thanks.

      • Peter Bradford says:

        The fuel rods did not get out of the reactor or the containment. I’d be chagrined to find that I said that. I’m.not sure when I’ll have time to listen, but I hope I said “radioisotopes” or “radioactivity”, not “fuel rods”. I’ve frustrated sunshine laws and my wife alike for years by mumbling and may have done so here.

        • Atomikrabbit says:

          Yes, unfortunately, it was “fuel rods” rather than “radionuclides” (almost all noble gases). That gives some people nightmarish visions of plutonium on their front lawns. I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.

          I don’t mean to lecture, but a person of your stature needs to be technically circumspect. Thanks for responding.

          • PissedOffAmerican says:

            “I don’t mean to lecture, but a person of your stature needs to be technically circumspect. Thanks for responding”

            Ah….results stemming from engagement. Rather than a purposely stated falsehood, we find that Peter simply mis-spoke. Not an uncommon mistake, particularly when nervously addressing an audience.

            In respect to credibility, (at least considering this single issue about errant fuel rods), Peter has gone from anti-nuke liar, to simply being a fellow human being that makes the occassional mistake. Just like the rest of us.

            How much of the rest of this animosity between the various proponents of nuclear and renewable energy is due to misunderstandings, poor communication, and simple human frailty? In just a couple of blog postings, a point of contention has been settled amiably. One hopes this has turned the lights on in the minds of a few of your more confrontational compatriots, on BOTH sides of the debate.

          • Peter Bradford says:

            I’ve now had a chance to listen to this part of the program. As I suspected, I spoke indistinctly in saying something along the lines of “The radioisotopes escaped the fuel rods. Some escaped the containment. A lot got out of the reactor.”

            My apologies for the confusion, but what I meant was that the radioisotopes were released, not the fuel rods.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Peter Bradford

      Thank you for stopping by and providing details about why your response to Dr. Kemeny’s daughter was so long. That makes sense.

      I guess I was a little impatient because I really wanted to ask you a question about Dr. Wing’s paper and the low credibility that it has been given by radiation health professionals and in Judge Rambo’s courtroom.

      • Peter Bradford says:

        I finally found time for a quick look at the Court of Appeals decision reviewing Judge Rambo’s conclusions https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F3/199/199.F3d.158.96-7625.96-7624.96-7623.html.

        Apparently Wing submitted two studies, one of which she excluded entirely, though not because of its quality. She admitted most of the other. The Court of Appeals reversed her exclusion of part of this study, so the whole study was ultimately admitted.

        At Dartmouth I didn’t endorse the Wing work but did mention it to show that the conventional wisdom isn’t unanimously held. I haven’t read the commentary of other radiation health professionals and have no opinion on the merits of their critique of Wing’s studies.

        Peter

    • mjd says:

      Mr. Bradford, I truly hope I am not taking something you said out of context, and I also have not had a chance to watch the tape yet. However your statement:
      ” I did take time to give the rest of the audience some sense of what the B&W precurser (sic) events had been (and the fact that there had been several of them)”
      is grossly in error. It is unfortunate you took the time to give the audience this information.

      Either you don’t have correct recall or are misinformed, as the Kemeny Commission study of the TMI precursors was lacking. The best discussion of precursors is in the Rogovin Investigation.

      There were exactly 4 precursors extensively discussed in Rogovin, the Dopchie Letter of 1971 and the actual Beznau Incident of 1974, both Westinghouse 2-Loop PWRs. In these precursors it was pointed out a design error in the ECCS actuation system resulted in a failure of HPI to actuate for a leak in the steam space of the Pressurizer, because the designers had assumed the Pressurizer level would go down for this leak, when in fact as TMI proved it goes up. How this was not Part 21 reportable is beyond me, perhaps you can shed some light on that.

      The other 2 were B&W (hardly “several”). The Michelson Report of September 1, 1977 (~3 weeks before the DBNPP event, 18 months before TMI), and I personally am the 4th one. I was the Shift Supervisor for the Sept 24, 1977 precursor event at Davis Besse NPP. And if the Kemeny Commission had chosen to talk with with me I would have given them an earful.

      If you wish to get better informed on this issue, ask Rod to hook us up. I’m sure we both would prefer future discussion on this issue has accurate information available for the public. Mike Derivan, SRO (Retired).

      • Peter Bradford says:

        Dear Mike,

        Thanks for your offer to better inform me regarding precursor issues. In part, I suppose it’s a matter of what one considers a precursor to be. Spelling of the word aside, the Rogovin report is consistent with what I said. The section entitled Precursor Events says in its opening paragraph, “Several such events occurred during the preceding eight years….One problem at TMI-2 was also a possible precursor to the March 28, 1979 accident”.

        Further on the same page (129), the Report adds “the precursors discussed in this report are best described as a representative sample of all the precursor events associated with the accident at TMI-2″.

        Among the events to which this refers (in addition to yours and the earlier one at TMI) are ones at Rancho Seco and ANO as well as a second (November, 1977) event at Davis, Besse, all B&W units. Also discussed are events at B&W itself.

  8. Mitch says:

    This has always interested me since Condi Rice’s perjury before Congress, when she claimed that no one predicted that terrorists would use aircraft as weapons.

    What does it matter? Long long before Rice said it this was considered and engineered in. There’re naked LNG and chem plants that deserve way more attention! Kamikaze Airlines on nukes are just a masturbation issue for anti-nukes as far as reason’s concerned.

  9. Daniel says:

    Hollande’s socialist party is taking a beating in municipal elections in France. Nuclear out in France? Not in your lifetime.

  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “What does it matter? Long long before Rice said it this was considered and engineered in”

    What “matters” is her uncontested perjury before Congress, when she was under oath. THATs what matters.

    You’re so anxious to pick a fight that you see my every comment as an attack on Nuclear energy. I only raised the nuke/plant/707 example to illustrate the fact that terrorists using aircraft as weapons was a realized concern prior to 9/11.

    Or perhaps it doesn’t bother you when politicians holding high office lie through their teeth while under oath.

  11. Engineer-Poet says:

    That ought to make you ask yourself, why do they want it?

    The answer is very simple:  it lets them stop burning oil to generate electricity and make fresh water, and sell it instead.  Nuclear power would also let us charge electric cars without burning a pound of coal, and get rid of our need for their product.

  12. James Greenidge says:

    For me, the terrorist attack on nuclear plants via RPG/kamikaze plane/truck bomb issue is just one of those tired turn-over-every-rock-to-find-some excuse-not-to-build-nukes argument. As mentioned above there are far more lethal gas and chemical facilities around than nuclear plants which are wide open and prone to terrorism and sabotage but totally ignored by media and greens. In fact, the terrorists win their defacto PR war with this persistent public tunnel view that it’s only nuke plants with their far more formidable inherent protections we have to worry about from their wrath than more poorly defended “mundane” gas and chemical plants. Antis spread this terrifying image of nuclear domes split like eggshells by pin-point crashing planes than much more easily achievable (and forgotten) induced Bhopals in our neighborhoods. It’s an irrational misplaced hypocritical fear, and terrorists rightfully bank on that fret to lower public concern and defenses regarding LNG and chemical facilities. I wish we can all move off these quibbles and get something productive done.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  13. KitemanSA says:

    Dumb question folks. If Rod were to start selling pro-nuclear items in order to have an baseline income, what would you like to buy from him?

    I’ll start it off. I’d like a hunk of thorium. Not probable, but maybe.

    You?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @KitemanSA

      There is a difference between a pronuclear item and a nuclear item that is a controlled bit of commerce. There is no chance of me engaging in the latter kind of trace until many laws are changed.