Richard Lester’s “A Roadmap for U.S. Nuclear Energy Innovation”

Dr. Richard Lester, the Japan Steel Industry Professor and Associate Provost for International Activities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published a thought and discussion provoking piece titled A Roadmap for U.S. Nuclear Energy Innovation in the Winter 2016 edition of Issues in Science and Technology, the quarterly policy journal of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Arizona State University.

Dr. Lester’s piece is both hopeful and challenging; he foresees the possibility of large contributions to our future energy supply from emission free nuclear energy, but he also notes the very real possibility that the United States will be a laggard instead of a leader in the field. Here is a paragraph that summarizes possibilities, his recommendations and the challenges that he sees in the future of U.S. nuclear energy developments.

This nuclear agenda is ambitious, but attainable. It draws on the deep strengths of the U.S. economy in entrepreneurial risk-taking, as well as on a series of remarkable advances in other scientific fields that can now be applied to the traditionally insular and conservative nuclear industry. It also draws on the still-formidable capabilities of the nation’s nuclear research and security complex. But implementing this innovation agenda will require a new political coalition capable of neutralizing the longstanding opposition of people for whom the biggest dragons to be slain are nuclear energy or the federal government itself. A failure to act will undermine U.S. climate goals. It will also compromise important national security objectives. And it will further disconnect the nation’s industry from a global nuclear marketplace that is likely to be worth many hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.

Lester offers several prescriptions that might antagonize a few atomic advocates and describes timelines that seem almost depressingly extended compared to the recent pace of developments in new industries like smartphones, GPS enabled devices, and large, flat-screen displays. However, his projected timelines recognize realities associated with long-lived nuclear energy systems and the challenges of accelerating some of the testing programs required during new technology development.

As a supplement to his article, Dr. Lester provided the following slide listing the activities associated with four stages of innovation and rough estimates of the investment scale required.

Adaptation of a figure that appears in the book Unlocking Energy Innovation (by Richard Lester and David Hart), published in 2012. Used with permission.

Adaptation of a figure that appears in the book Unlocking Energy Innovation (by Richard Lester and David Hart), published in 2012.
Click to expand
Used with permission.

In some areas — like high temperature, TRISO coated particle fuel for gas cooled reactors — innovators can take heart from the fact that major proof of concept demonstrations have been completed and the required modern fuel qualification testing programs have been quietly pursued in a reasonably steady fashion for more than a decade.

Lester laments the current tendency of innovators to begin their research and development work in the U.S. and to then seek more accommodating regulatory regimes in distant lands.

My view is that this path is fraught with the kinds of hazards that generally accompany a “grass is greener somewhere else” attitude towards overcoming obstacles. Lester agrees and believes that it is worthwhile to offer suggestions for improvement here, even if it might be too late to attract some of the more established development efforts.

The U.S. owns all of the necessary tools, it simply needs to take some of them out of the bottom drawer, knock rust spots off of others, selectively sharpen a few, and connect others to a power source. We have knowledgable people, a large physical infrastructure, laws that protect intellectual property, a system that enforces those rules, well positioned tracks of land, an established power grid with multiple points of connectivity near consumers, and, perhaps most important of all, we all speak and write the language that is most commonly used to conduct international business.

Of course, we need to use internationally accepted units of measure, but that is a separate topic.

I think Dr. Lester would agree with my summary, but he is a more conventional engineer than I am. He sees political obstacles as less tractable than I do, and he gives people who tenaciously resist improving the overall nuclear regulatory and public acceptance situation too much benefit of the doubt for pure motives.

In private communications between us, he expressed doubts about the ability of nuclear energy supporters to build the kind of momentum needed to make substantial changes in such imposed obstacles as the “no safe dose” assertion and the notion that nuclear energy’s proven safety performance is good enough.

I believe we are on the cusp of shifting the discussion about radiation to one where people want to understand how to best use technologies that involve radioactivity while monitoring their doses and keeping them within reasonably safe amounts. When people realize how the mythology of “no safe dose” was invented and promoted and they understand WHY that happened, they will be far more likely to embrace atomic energy development. (See, for example, the very recently published short paper titled Leukemia and Ionizing Radiation Revisited.)

Large numbers of people will stop asserting that “nuclear power is too expensive” and instead push engineers, financiers, manufacturers, regulators, legislators, and project developers to use well understood techniques for driving down the costs of manufacturing and construction.

In many areas, innovation will not mean inventing new devices, but in finding ways to make devices better, more reliable, easier to manufacture, easier to inspect, and simpler to use. Moving from virtually handmade craftwork to series manufacturing often improves quality while dramatically lowering the cost and the sales price.

Designers and regulators also should be enabled to use improved technology to reduce active safety system requirements and perhaps reduce redundant containment barriers instead of being required to achieve ever smaller probabilities of harm. Better physical protection should allow dramatic reductions in security personnel instead of just being viewed as a security improvement added to the capabilities provided by the existing guard forces.

Lester also touches on an area in the following sentence that continues to disturb me.

They have captured the attention of utility executives, who have already been forced to adjust to the implications of a decade of zero electricity demand growth.

I continue to want to know why electricity suppliers have accepted the notion that they must adjust to zero demand growth. Why aren’t they out there doing what all competitive industries are supposed to do in a free market — tout the benefits of the product that they sell in order to encourage more sales? Why are electricity manufacturers allowing propane, diesel fuel, heating oil [virtually the same product as diesel], natural gas, and wood to supply markets where they have a better product that can provide better results to customers?

Innovators in other industries know that technological progress requires investments in capital equipment, infrastructure improvements and human knowledge development. Those investments are rarely made if future sales projections are flat or falling, but they are enthusiastically supported by the financial markets when sales are growing.

My advice to electricity suppliers on this issue is to quit whining and start selling.

Aside: Someday, I might get around to explaining what might appear to some to be a paradox — I’m pretty sure that the intensively promoted energy conservation movement has been used by the hydrocarbon establishment as a tool to discourage nuclear energy investments that would reduce their future sales. End Aside.

Finally, I’d like to quote Dr. Lester’s list of federal government actions that would help unleash a torrent of atomic innovation in the U.S. that will also benefit the rest of the world.

The role of the federal government should be to create an environment in the United States that could attract and encourage such groups. This would involve:

  • Providing sites and facilities at one or more national nuclear laboratories for testing, prototyping, and conducting precommercial demonstrations.

  • Opening up these capabilities to both domestic developers and qualified development groups based overseas.
    Aside: In a similar vein, the obsolete prohibition on foreign ownership of nuclear power plants should be eliminated. End Aside.

  • Providing adequate funding for the NRC to address the regulatory issues raised by innovative designs in a timely way.
  • Enacting administrative reforms that would establish a staged licensing process, with clear and well-defined interim approval milestones and increasing levels of review at each stage from pilot scale to full commercial deployment, allowing developers to take graduated investment risks.
  • Promoting organizational reforms at the NRC, most importantly by establishing a regulatory “skunk works”—a separate unit responsible for regulatory development and licensing of innovative nuclear technologies, with a small staff of highly capable experts dedicated to working out nuclear safety requirements collaboratively with nuclear developers. (This unit would preferably be located far from NRC headquarters and would surely attract some of the NRC’s best engineers).
    Aside: There are some terrific potential locations in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountain area of south central Virginia. End Aside.

  • Providing financial incentives designed to encourage a more decentralized strategy for nuclear technology scale-up, demonstration, and early adoption, with a greater role for interested states and regions and a new kind of partnership between the federal government, the states, and private innovators and investors.
  • Convening an International Nuclear Safety Evaluation, with the goal of establishing safety requirements for the next generation of reactors capable of achieving expected safety levels an order of magnitude beyond the level of today’s most advanced reactors.

If Dr. Lester’s Issues piece stimulates productive discussion and actions in 2016, it will indeed be a Happy Nuke Year!

About Rod Adams

60 Responses to “Richard Lester’s “A Roadmap for U.S. Nuclear Energy Innovation””

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  1. Brian Mays says:

    Convening an International Nuclear Safety Evaluation, with the goal of establishing safety requirements for the next generation of reactors capable of achieving expected safety levels an order of magnitude beyond the level of today’s most advanced reactors.

    Hmmm … reminds me of Finis Southworth’s presentation on the gas-cooled reactors a several of years ago with “Too safe to regulate?” in the title. (It was at a Virginia ANS meeting; I can’t recall whether you were there, Rod.) The title came from a off-hand comment made by someone at the NRC during a presentation showing a graph of frequency of events leading to fuel damage. The comparison between the gas-cooled high temperature reactors and current light water reactors was quite stark — especially since the scale was logarithmic.

    With these advanced reactors approaching a limit where they’re becoming “too safe to regulate,” we’re going to set up a body (and not just any body, an international body, with all the baggage that involves) just to come up with stuff that’s wrong with them?!

    Isn’t this a case of regulatory ratcheting and penalizing innovation?

  2. SteveK9 says:

    The area with the potential for enormous growth in electricity demand is transportation. EV’s are coming and that will require a lot more electricity. Secondarily heat pumps are now the practical source for heating / cooling in most of the US.

  3. Jim Van Zandt says:

    “Someday, I might get around to explaining what might appear to some to be a paradox — I’m pretty sure that the intensively promoted energy conservation movement has been used by the hydrocarbon establishment as a tool to discourage nuclear energy investments that would reduce their future sales.”

    I think the hydrocarbon establishment promotes wind and solar power first, knowing they get something like a 3:1 payback – every MW-hr from one of these “renewable” sources required about 3 MW-hr from a “backup” generator, most likely burning gas.

    Second choice would be efficiency improvements, which (due to the Jevons paradox) do not save as much energy as one might expect (e.g., when more efficient light bulbs become available, people tend to use brighter lights) and may actually increase over-all energy use (because they promote growth of the economy as a whole).

  4. poa says:

    “When people realize how the mythology of “no safe dose” was invented and promoted and they……..”

    Rod, out here in “not into the nuke thing land”, you would be very lucky indeed to find even one person that is aware of the premise of “no safe dose”, much less who cares how the premise was created.

    I am coming to the realization that there is a very confused tendency here of confusing John Q with lobby organizations. John Q is not your problem. The lobby groups, working against you, are your problem. And these lobby grroups could care less about science, truth, or the environment. And it is they that shape the mindset of John Q. Lobby groups have but one purpose, and that is to represent whatever special interest it is that they are tasked to market. And in today’s political and economic atmosphere, that means lying, ignoring science, and character assasination are all acceptable means to an end. Until the NE industry can pony up with the funds to lobby on or above the scale that the groups fighting against you do, John Q will continue to fear radiation. You are fighting a message that your own industry helped to foster. Accidents such as TMI, Fukushima, etc, wrote the script that the anti NE lobby groups read from. Convincing John Q requires a gold plated podium, and, so far, the nuclear industry doesn’t seem to wanna buy one. They better do it soon, though, because John Q is falling in love with RE, and the lobby groups are the matchmakers.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @poa

      By now, you should have noticed that Atomic Insights does not speak for the nuclear industry. There are pretty good indications, however, that Atomic Insights speaks TO the industry. Sometimes, the right people pay attention and act on a suggestion or two.

  5. Rob Brixey says:

    Re: I continue to want to know why electricity suppliers have accepted the notion that they must adjust to zero demand growth.

    In business, customers determine demand. The US economy has exported industrial manufacturing since the 1980s. That pretty much killed the industrial load growth utilities were experiencing in the 1960s and 70s when the current nuclear fleet was acquired and built. The reduction of manufacturing jobs in the US preceded the destruction of household growth seen in this decade. Residential load growth is stalled out as well. Young 20 something folks live at their parents home in unprecedented numbers.

    In addition to stalled growth, the US utility industry was permanently altered in the late 1990s by the devastating and fraudulent model of Enron. At the time, I worked for a 100 plus year old utility, Illinois Power. The CEO targeted Enron as the competitive target of the future. Illinois Power and Commonwealth Edison sought to deregulate Illinois utility structure – ostensibly to compete with the merchant gas turbines popping up in the Midwest. They succeeded, offering a ten year rate freeze for deregulation. Needless to say, Illinois Power divested from generation, spun off fossil to Dynegy, sold the nuclear plant to AmerGen and only exists today as a wires and natural gas company.

    ComEd deals with deregulation by annually threatening to close a few of its Illinois nuclear plants.

    The regulated rate structure, and the aspect of cost recovery were essential in nuclear power’s biggest home state. Those days are gone. You’ll note that regulated states host the new build sites.

    The combination of stalled economic growth and deregulated structure are the road blocks to nuclear growth in the US.

    • Rod Adams says:

      In business, customers determine demand.

      If that was strictly true, it would indicate that an awful lot of smart people in sales, marketing and advertising were wasting both time and money.

  6. Mitch says:

    >>> Accidents such as TMI, Fukushima, etc, wrote the script that the anti NE lobby groups read from.

    Nukers could turn lemons into lemonade by saying this took the very rarest worst of nature and reactor management to happened yet the lives lost and damage are still at the bottom of the accident consequence totem pole with those made by the fossil fuel industry. So why do all the far far greater deaths and carnage wrought by the fossils and even hydro camps get a major pass and royal shrug in the media while nukes get the shaft?

    • Brian Mays says:

      Because nobody ever made a movie about Deepwater Horizon.

      • EL says:

        Because nobody ever made a movie about Deepwater Horizon.

        @Brian Mays

        Does that mean you will be being a ticket in September?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_(film)

        Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich and Kate Hudson.

        Frontline, National Geographic, Independent Lens don’t count either? The idea that the oil industry has no critics (or that nuclear critics are somehow better) is pretty absurd. The nuclear industry may have a thin skin, and an impulse to limit free expression, but too many critics … it doesn’t look that way to me.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @EL

          You’re right that Deepwater Horizon captured the public attention and received sustained publicity. So did Exxon Valdez.

          However, how many people do you think have heard of the natural gas explosions in places like Middletown, CT, San Bruno, CA, or Carlsbad, NM where there were actually bodies to count?

        • Brian Mays says:

          EL,

          Welcome back from your vacation! I hope that the negotiations over your new contract went well. Since you’re back, so I assume that they did. Congrats.

          So … the (yet unreleased) “Deepwater Horizon” film … Please forgive me from not knowing about a film that nobody knows about. I guess that I’m just too average to be on top of things like this, but let’s see, the link that you provide describes the film as follows

          On acquiring the article to develop a film, President of Participant Media, Ricky Strauss said,”This is a perfect fit for us — a suspenseful and inspiring real-life account of everyday people whose values are tested in the face of an impending environmental disaster.”

          Well, the film hasn’t been released yet, so I can’t say for sure, but it sounds to me like the oil workers are set up to be the heroes in this film.

          Compare that to The China Syndrome, which had two liberal reporters and an ineffective whistle-blower-wannabe as its heroes.

          Frontline, National Geographic, Independent Lens don’t count either?

          Not if nobody sees them, they don’t. Do you really want to get into a counting match of how many “independent” films have been done on oil-rig disasters versus how many “independent” films have been done on just say Chernobyl?

          The idea that the oil industry has no critics (or that nuclear critics are somehow better)

          No … the nuclear critics are just better paid … by the oil industry.

          • EL says:

            Welcome back from your vacation! I hope that the negotiations over your new contract went well. Since you’re back, so I assume that they did. Congrats.

            @Brian Mays

            Are you suggesting Rod allows paid contributors to site. News to me. I’ve asked that he ban ad hominem attacks such as this. Clearly, he wishes to let it slide.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            As attacks go, Brian’s would only hurt the feelings of someone with very thin skin. Words like “welcome back”, “went well”, and “Congrats” don’t seem to be aimed at producing a hostile environment.

            Please recall where I spent my professional life and where I received my academic training. Joshing and sarcastic remarks were commonplace and often a welcome sign of being accepted. It was certainly much better to be teased than to be ignored or shunned.

          • Brian Mays says:

            I suggest nothing other than you refused to address the rest of my comment.

          • EL says:

            I suggest nothing other than you refused to address the rest of my comment.

            @Brian Mays

            You mean that there are numerous other films and documentaries about deepwater horizon accident (that you said didn’t exist). I didn’t think that deserved an additional comment?

          • poa says:

            What strikes me about the Deep Water Horizon event, when compared to the Fukushima event, is the two industry’s claims as to extent of environmental damage. Both industries claim minimal damage, and a quick environmental rebound, when the truth is that the full impact, (or lack of impact), of these events will not be known for generations. These rosy estimations of effect are pure PR, and disingenuous when being presented as fact. Both TEPCO and BP are guilty of this, while their perspective industry compatriots abet the deception. Industrial big money is industrial big money, and the tactics used to support and market big money industry doesn’t vary from one industry to the next. The nuclear energy representatives will lie just as quick, and just as outrageously, as the big oil representatives will.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @poa

            A major difference is that material that spewed from the Deep Water Horizon event killed 11 people immediately, made numerous people sick enough to require hospitalization, and killed a fair number of sea and sky creatures.

            The material that was emitted from the damaged reactors has not caused any measurable health effects on anyone. The carefully stoked fear of the material has caused about 2,000 evacuation related deaths so far.

          • poa says:

            Actually, Brian, you suggest through insinuation that EL is a paid troll. Thats ironic, considering the recent “conversation” on here about opposing advocates being “attacked” by one side or the other. Despite Rod’s prior attempt, and his more recent one, above, of sugar coating this overt hostility, your statement about what you are merely suggesting is disingenuous, and your general tone is overtly antagonistic and obnoxious.

          • poa says:

            “The material that was emitted from the damaged reactors has not caused any measurable health effects on anyone. The carefully stoked fear of the material has caused about 2,000 evacuation related deaths so far”

            I don’t share your confidence that the effect on the environment, particularly the marine environment, can be assessed accurately so soon after the main event, and while the “accident” is still ongoing. Its not that I dispute your claims up to this point, but rather that I do not think you can honestly predict the effect on the environment long term. People tend to think Fukushima is a past event, but in fact, it is still a current event. I see no way that you can project an environmental outcome on an event that is far from over.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @poa

            Your comment indicates that you are getting your perspective from a purposeful FUD campaign. The Uncertainty and Doubt parts come through loud and clear. When scientists and engineers make measurements and perform predictive calculations, they are not just guessing. The universe really does work in predictable ways, especially when talking about topics of physics and biology that are not controlled by human political and economic interests.

            We know with reasonable precision how much material was released and what the highest concentrations are in the oceans and in the well publicized tanks. We know that the health effects of exposure to the resulting doses are so low that they have never been proven to be harmful; in fact we know that exposure at far higher levels does not produce measurably harmful results.

            Though there may be a few outliers, most of whom are well paid to spread FUD, subject matter experts have agreed that there will be no long term health effects on people or animals as a result of the radiation released by the three relatively harmless core melts that were mostly contained by the engineered barriers.

          • poa says:

            Rod…you will note that the study you cite admits that the effect on the marine mammal population is unknown.

            Honestly, reading the wording, and the general tone of this “report”, makes me think that I may be mistaken about the feckless PR efforts of the NE industry. This “report”reads like an advertisement for a cruise line that just experienced a power loss and sewage overflow on one of its flagships. Sorry man, but I just ain’t buying it. I have no idea what the long term effects of this unfolding event will be, and I don’t think you, or anyone else, does either. The same can be said for the Deep Water Horizon event.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @poa

            I didn’t link to the actual report, but to a “fact sheet” based on the report. Here’s a link to the full report.

            http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2013/14-06336_Report_2013_Annex_A_Ebook_website.pdf

          • EL says:

            … subject matter experts have agreed that there will be no long term health effects on people or animals as a result of the radiation released by the three relatively harmless core melts that were mostly contained by the engineered barriers.

            @Rod Adams

            Are you suggesting wind direction, most of the radiation getting blown out to sea, and early protective and mitigation actions (including evacuation) have nothing to do with minimizing “radiation released by three relatively harmless core melts that were mostly contained by engineered barriers”. It find it unlikely that subject matter experts would agree with you that the radiation released from Fukushima containments is “relatively harmless.”

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Wind direction played some role, but what makes you think that wasn’t part of the engineered barrier? Sites are evaluated and selected on many criteria, including the prevailing wind directions. Operating and casualty procedures also give guidance on the best time to vent containment structures.

            I personally wish that the Japanese operating procedures would have allowed onsite personnel more freedom to vent the containments before core damage occurred when the materials released would have been far less radioactive. That would have not only released a good deal of pent up heat, but it would have also made it far easier to push water into the core even without any external sources of power.

            As US BWR operators say “Vent early; vent often.”

          • EL says:

            Wind direction played some role, but what makes you think that wasn’t part of the engineered barrier?

            @Rod Adams

            Because it wasn’t. Wind direction was variable over the course of the accident, and Japan has a fair number of nuclear plants (perhaps a majority) on the east coast of Island. If you have a reference that suggests otherwise, it would be good to provide it.

            http://www.nature.com/news/much-of-fukushima-s-fallout-was-gone-with-the-wind-1.12528

            “”Had the winds been less favourable, the consequences could have been more serious than Chernobyl,” says Keith Baverstock, a radiobiologist at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.”

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Wind direction might have been variable and there are certainly plants that are constructed “upwind” of population concentrations, but that does not negate the fact that nuclear plants are sited with attention paid to prevailing winds and weather conditions. It also does not negate the fact that operators are trained to take advantage of the local, existing weather conditions during their actions to respond to a casualty. (I say this as both a trained operator and as one who has been responsible for training many other operators.)

            “”Had the winds been less favourable, the consequences could have been more serious than Chernobyl,” says Keith Baverstock, a radiobiologist at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.”

            Is that the same Dr. Keith Baverstock quoted liberally in the following piece?

            http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/12/04/4465_british_scientist_blasts_un_report_on_fukushima

            If so, I’ll take his commentary under skeptical advisement.

          • EL says:

            @Rod Adams

            There is no downwind siting standards for nuclear power plants in Japan. If this were the case, the siting of plants would follow a very different pattern. I’m a bit confused about your claims. Why is there a need for a siting standard based on wind direction in your view if “subject matter experts” agree, as you suggest, that the radiation from a triple meltdown is “relatively harmless.”

            And yes, this is the same Dr. Keith Baverstock who did post graduate work with AECL and was head of radiation protection and public health program for European Center for Environment (a division of WHO) from 1991 to 2003. He is now an outspoken critic of UNSCEAR report on Fukushima. I’m unclear why you think this means we can discount him?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            You don’t get it. I didn’t say there were downwind standards. I said that all aspects of site conditions are considered during the siting process.

            I also stated that specific weather conditions during an event involving any release are considered as part of operational and emergency procedures.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Dr. Baverstock is a well known critic of nuclear energy who exposes his tendency to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt in this presentation to the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoBLa2K7_6Y

            The first clue to his frame of reference is the “Radiation: Not in My Body” sticker decorating his laptop. (I’ll admit that I cannot be certain that it is his laptop, but I find it difficult to believe that sticker was chosen by the FCCJ.)

            During his talk, he discredits the UNSCEAR because its members are sponsored by countries with nuclear power plants, which in his opinion, makes them biased and not independent. Another example of the kind of misinformation that he is spreading are his use of low dose “risk coefficients” from the LNT assumption to assert a certain number of early cancer deaths that, in his words, will occur. That use of the LNT is specifically not recommended by radiation protection bodies like the ICRP and the NCRP. It is not scientific to make assertions about the effects on populations using a model that is inherently probabilistic.

            Baverstock calls for the dissolution of the UNSCEAR and its replacement by an “independent” body, presumably one that does not include anyone whose professional and academic record is tainted by any association with the presumably “evil” nuclear energy industry.

            That’s why I both discount his advice and recommend that others do the same. I’m really, really tired of people who assert that professionals are biased and imply that they have no biases or vested interests of their own.

            I admit I’m biased by 35 years worth of training, education, experience, and study to be strongly in favor of the use of nuclear energy. I’m also biased to believe it’s important to share accurate information about radiation health effects aimed at reassuring people and helping to eliminate their sense of victimhood instead of trying to instill fear, uncertainty, doubt, confusion and mistrust.

          • EL says:

            @Rod Adams

            I guess I’m still unclear what “subject matter experts” consider “relatively harmless” about the radiation released by three core melts. It seems to me that subject matter experts clearly state the opposite, and are clear about the dangers associated with such releases, and the fundamental significance of early steps taken to minimize such exposures (via early protective and mitigation actions, including evacuation, careful medical long term follow up, and operational and emergency procedures as you describe).

            Have I misunderstood you (and the “subject matter experts”) once again?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Yes, you’ve misunderstood again. There is no need for long term follow-up since there were no potentially hazardous doses received. The evacuation didn’t matter. The efforts to minimize the hazards, both during plant design/construction and operation worked to protect the people.

            The long term monitoring is redundant and unnecessary, though it will probably be pushed by people who are either genuinely curious or just want long term employment.

          • EL says:

            The evacuation didn’t matter.

            @Rod Adams

            Are we talking about the same “subject matter experts” that you referenced above? Because this is not what the UNSCEAR panel concludes:

            http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2013/14-06336_Report_2013_Annex_A_Ebook_website.pdf

            The actions taken to protect the public significantly reduced the radiation exposures that could have been received. This was particularly the case for settlements within the 20-km evacuation zone and the deliberate evacuation zones, where the protective measures reduced the potential exposures in the first year by up to a factor of 10. The Committee estimated that effective doses thus averted ranged up to 50 mSv for adults; the absorbed doses to the thyroid of 1-year-old infants averted by evacuation ranged up to about 750 mGy (p. 210).

            If there are misunderstandings here, I’m not sure they are originating with me.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            That is a perfect quote for illustrating my point.

            Yes, the evacuation reduced the radiation exposures that could have been received. As the paragraph notes, the averted doses ranged up to 50 mSv for adults.

            Here is a quote from the HPS position statement titled Radiation Risk in Perspective.

            There is substantial and convincing scientific evidence for health risks following high-dose exposures. However, below 50–100 mSv (which includes occupational and environmental exposures), risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent.

            The UNSCEAR, though including a large number of scientists, is a political organization that works for an international body of which Japan is an important member and contributor. The words in the paragraph might say that Japanese leaders did a good job in taking actions to reduce radiation exposure, but to a hard-headed former navy nuke engineer — someone who was trained and paid to be careful with money, lives, and capital resources — they scream out “You %$#*ing dummies, you expended all that money, spread all that fear, disrupted all those lives, impeded the progress of a useful technology to avoid doses where the health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent! Please tell me why you haven’t taken traditional action in the face of such a shameful act of irresponsibility.”

          • EL says:

            Please tell me why you haven’t taken traditional action in the face of such a shameful act of irresponsibility.”

            @Rod Adasms

            The thyroid dose to children is unacceptable, and 50 mSv exceeds standard for evacuation set by “subject matter experts” in Japan. UNSCEAR is pretty clear dose reconstruction is problematic and estimated doses are averages (and “individual doses may have been higher”). 5 mSv and 1 mSv are established remediation guidelines (long term) following an accident, and when exceeded contribute to stress and disruption to local populations (including lost income, reduced home values, and business losses). Again, you seem to be disregarding higher risks for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and populations in higher risk categories. The shameful act is misrepresenting subject matter experts who have been careful to describe accident exposures and risks, and who do not consider such exposures to be “relatively harmless.”

          • Brian Mays says:

            The thyroid dose to children is unacceptable

            EL – What thyroid dose?

            The thyroid dose delivered to the children in the vicinity of Chernobyl came from I-131 in the first few days after the accident. This radioisotope was picked up by cows eating grass with fallout on it and transferred to the children by drinking milk straight from the cow, which is what the rural locals used to do. (Never mind the other health risks associated with drinking raw milk.)

            The thyroid dose can be almost eliminated by not drinking milk from any animals in the region, or if you have to drink it, then ultra-pasteurize it and let it sit for a while. The vast majority of any thyroid dose that one would get from the milk will be gone by the time the expiration date on the milk is reached.

          • EL says:

            EL – What thyroid dose?

            @Brian Mays

            The thyroid dose reported by UNSCEAR, and higher doses had wind direction and rainfall pattern been less favorable.

            the absorbed doses to the thyroid of 1-year-old infants averted by evacuation ranged up to about 750 mGy (p. 210).

            Ingestion on food and inhalation.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            FYI – No evacuation is needed to minimize thyroid doses. A temporary change in diet and water consumption is sufficient action. Taking KI tablets AS ADVISED BY EXPERTS, not your neighbor, is also effective.

            Please get this through your stubborn, information resistant, anti-nuclear brain — forcing whole communities to leave their homes, farms and businesses for just a few days is terribly disruptive. For certain vulnerable segments of the population, it can be deadly. Putting them into temporary housing, telling them their children shouldn’t go outside to play, and telling them they might have ingested something that will give them cancer some day is bordering on psychological torture.

            Enforcing the situation for what is now going on FIVE YEARS is completely and utterly absurd, immoral and incredibly wasteful of all kinds of resources when the whole effort is aimed at avoiding doses so low there has never been any experimental or defensible epidemiological evidence that it is harmful.

          • EL says:

            … there has never been any experimental or defensible epidemiological evidence that it is harmful.

            @Rod Adams

            Of course there is Rod, especially for regions that were evacuated. Suggesting otherwise is indefensible, absurd, immoral, and wasteful of the time of nuclear advocates trying to make a case that is impossible to make (and discounts available science and creates distrust in the general public). Such things don’t bolster the case for nuclear power, they do the opposite.

            Your statement that subject matter experts agree that radiation released from three meltdowns is “relatively harmless” is unsupported. Especially when FIVE YEARS of significant protective and mitigation actions have contributed to lowering the risks for health impacts as subject matter experts report. Continuing to misrepresent subject matter experts and available science on these issues should be called out by members on the site (especially those who believe a better case can be made around defensible arguments for nuclear power, and not indefensible ones).

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Your quote said that the reconstructed “avoided dose” was a max of 50 mSv. I quoted the statement from the Health Physics Society about the risk of that dose level. That is my evidence that all of the effort was expended to avoid a dose that has never been proven to harm humans.

            If you have different reliable information about the avoided dose being something higher than 50 mSv, feel free to share it. Otherwise, your comments on this topic are complete because you are wrong and trying to baffle with more BS.

            Lots of other words have been said or written about the response and the effectiveness of the cleanup with praise for the hard-working people who have done the heavy lifting. Those words are mostly feel good political or propaganda statements.

          • EL says:

            Enforcing the situation for what is now going on FIVE YEARS is completely and utterly absurd, immoral and incredibly wasteful of all kinds of resources when the whole effort is aimed at avoiding doses so low there has never been any experimental or defensible epidemiological evidence that it is harmful.

            @Rod Adams

            The storyline coming out of Fukushima could be that errors were made in engineering, regulation (“nuclear power village”), and siting of early generation plants, and that these mistakes have been addressed (or will be addressed in the future) and incorporated into lessons learned. Public health impacts have been kept very low by clearly defined and consistently implemented protective and mitigation actions. This is a normalized response to an industrial accident of this size and scale (informed by a long history of accidents of a similar size and scope in countries that are industrialized, with good governance, and meaningful opportunities for citizen direct action). Making such an accident abnormal in it’s scope and response (the product of inconsistent standards for public safety, and denials that any harm could take place or any errors in engineering, regulatory or siting of plants were made) is really a bit dumfounding and not very well thought out. Pointing out these issues doesn’t seem to make any difference to you? What will … a global pull back of nuclear prospects and interests (and additional lost decades)?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            Making such an accident abnormal in it’s scope and response (the product of inconsistent standards for public safety, and denials that any harm could take place or any errors in engineering, regulatory or siting of plants were made) is really a bit dumfounding and not very well thought out.

            I never claimed there were no correctable errors in engineering, siting, construction, or operations. I do not deny that there is a remote possibility that a cascade of such errors could potentially result in harm to humans.

            What if vociferously will not agree to is the characterization of the response to Fukushima as something that is common to events of similar hazard or risk levels in other industries. It was an extraordinary response driven by “nuclear exceptionalism” and irrational radiation standards.

            I also stand by my assertion that the sequence of actual occurrences and radioactive material releases at Fukushima would not have hurt any humans even if no evacuation was ever ordered by the government.

          • Brian Mays says:

            The thyroid dose reported by UNSCEAR, …

            EL – Why are you even here?

            Since you have no background in science or the scientific method, it is not surprising that you make the childish mistake of believing that this one number is somehow accurate, at least representative of the potential exposure.

            But since you’re now back on the clock, perhaps you can take some time to read the following:

            1. That single number was a maximum value (hence the “up to about”). It was the number calculated for one small town that was fairly close to the reactors. Almost all of the rest of the sites examined had an “averted dose” that was a factor of 10 smaller. One-third of the evacuated locations had no averted thyroid dose at all. That is, even by the Committee’s calculations, the evacuation did nothing at all.

            2. The potential effects of “thyroid blocking” (i.e., taking KI pills) was not considered at all.

            3. It is uncertain whether the estimates take into account the restrictions that were imposed by the Japanese government on ingesting certain food. Although the report claims that the Commission assumed that the restrictions were followed, it explicitly states that they ran the calculations for dose both ways. It is not clear to me which set of calculations was used to arrive at the one number you quote. As I have stated above, a substantial amount of dose can be avoided simply by not drinking local milk and not eating local produce for a period of time (until the I-131 decays away).

            4. When the Committee’s estimates of internal doses were compared to direct measurements of radioactivity in people as they became available shortly after the accident the measured, the doses due to internal exposure were lower than those estimated by the Committee by a factor of about 3 to 5 for thyroid doses. The Committee “considers that its dose estimates may overestimate actual exposures” and is happy about this because of … well … you know … conservatism.

            So, EL, you cite one number that is not only unrepresentative of the vast majority of people in the area, but that is known to be overestimated least three times over, perhaps as much as five. Furthermore, the most common means of avoiding such dose have either not been considered or, at least in once case, have been purposefully ignored.

            So once again, I ask: what thyroid dose?

          • EL says:

            @Rod Adams and Brian Mays

            Did you miss the comments by UNSCEAR about averages, the uncertainty of dose reconstruction, and that “individual doses may have been higher.” They apparently included these caveats for a reason.

            http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/reports-in-brief/beir_vii_final.pdf

            “In special cases, such as in utero exposure, some evidence suggests excess cancers can be detected as low as 10 mSv.”

            Once again … “subject matter experts” do not state exposures are “relatively harmless.” Nobody has said this (despite your obvious claims to the contrary). Even members of SARI know that low statical significance is NOT the same as no risk.

            Again the best case for nuclear are arguments that are supported and are scientifically defensible. If the challenges and several decades long retreat faced by nuclear aren’t enough to get you to change your view on these things, I am uncertain what else will?

            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3365850/

            “Even doses as small as 50–100 mGy have been associated with an increased risk of thyroid malignancy in children …”

            Disaster zone are not optimal for averting food and water restrictions (on short or long term basis). Assuming these will be sufficient involves a great deal of innocence and wishful thinking.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL

            “Relatively harmless” is not the same as “zero risk.” Life is dangerous. In fact, it is inevitably fatal.

            In the real world, a risk whose detection is questionable even after decades of intensive study qualifies as “relatively harmless.”

          • Will Boisvert says:

            “Disaster zone are not optimal for averting food and water restrictions (on short or long term basis). Assuming these will be sufficient involves a great deal of innocence and wishful thinking.”

            EL–Huh?

            Food and water restrictions would not be “sufficient?” In Japan?

            You’re saying that the Japanese government and economy would be incapable of supplying people in the Fukushima EZ with bottled water and uncontaminated food, on both “short or long term basis?”

            You’re saying that instead people would subsist on contaminated local farm produce? In the middle of March?

            You’re saying that rather than going to grocery stores for food and water, Fukushima-ites would wander the countryside, gleaning the wintry fields, swigging milk straight from the cow’s udder?

            Weird, EL.

          • Engineer-Poet says:

            How dare you examine EL’s enthymeme closely!  Don’t you realize that formal logic is outmoded, not to mention patriarchal and racist?!

          • Brian Mays says:

            EL – People in a disaster zone, such as the one caused by the Tsunami in March 2011, are going to be evacuated regardless. Anyone who saw pictures of the devastation after the event, realized that nobody was going to be living there anytime soon. This had nothing to do with the nuclear reactors, however.

            Reducing one’s exposure to I-131 (by far the greatest exposure to the thyroid) can be accomplished by something as simple as not drinking locally produced milk for a while.

            Once again, EL demonstrates that his entire purpose here is to spread FUD. Notice how he changes the subject. Once again I ask: what thyroid dose?

          • EL says:

            You’re saying that the Japanese government and economy would be incapable of supplying people in the Fukushima EZ with bottled water and uncontaminated food, on both “short or long term basis?”

            @Will Boisvert

            Yes, it is very difficult to provision hundreds of thousands of people on a short and long term basis in a disaster zone when local food and water resources are contaminated (and not fit for consumption). Supply chains are disrupted (on which local livelihoods and businesses depend), local infrastructure is shut down, poor and underserved areas get hit hard, vulnerable populations get pushed to the margins, etc. Such a response is far from normal and takes a significant toll on local livelihoods, stability of households, national and local economies, community resources, etc. For a man-made disaster that was entirely preventable, suggesting such things are easy or would have negligible impacts is callous and insensitive (particularly when it serves an obvious agenda). Weird is an understatement.

            Once again I ask: what thyroid dose?

            @Brian Mays

            You mean the dose avoided by evacuations … it seems that question was already answered.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @EL and others

            This way-off-topic thread fragment is done. I won’t delete it, but I will delete any future posts.

            I get the final word.

            EL – Japan is not Bangladesh or a remote part of Indonesia. A large portion of the people who were evacuated in fearful anticipation of a dose of radiation that would have, over the course of an entire year, exposed them to a maximum of 50 mSv did not life in a disaster zone because they were far enough inland to have escaped the effects of the tsunami. They were forced to leave areas that were in essentially pristine condition with the exception of the invisible boogey-man of predicted radioactive material.

            They were not allowed time to carefully pack up a life’s worth of belongings, to make provisions for family pets, or to figure out a way to keep their livestock from starving to death.

            You keep asserting this was the correct response.

            You would not be my choice of a leader or a first responder. Your ability to prioritize and make effective decisions is non-existent, even with the benefit of nearly five years to study the actual information, learn from previous errors in similar situations, and make plans to do better the next time.

    • poa says:

      “So why do all the far far greater deaths and carnage wrought by the fossils and even hydro camps get a major pass and royal shrug in the media while nukes get the shaft?”

      My post, and Brian’s, answer your question.

  7. David Walters says:

    I wanted to comment the takeout quite Rod used in his piece:

    They have captured the attention of utility executives, who have already been forced to adjust to the implications of a decade of zero electricity demand growth.

    This is one of the attitudes that drives me crazy! The idea that nuclear (or any new energy generation tech) is somehow only appropriate as there exists a new market for it, or new demand. I think this is a cowardly approach utilities take. It is part of the short and closed minded attitude of investor owned utilities whose only concern *appears* to be the bottom line.

    We need a national energy policy. Not just a way, a method, a long part to “fitting in” nuclear. We need a policy nationally implemented that says we are phasing out coal and natural gas to be replaced by all the nuclear tech mentioned in that article. Without a complete approach to this, we will always be worried about “$2 gas” and the utility companies sort term out look.

    David Walters

  8. Dan Yurtman says:

    Thanks Rod for taking on a big paper with big ideas. My view is that Lester’s ideas about innovation assume everything else stays the same.

    My view is that the nuclear industry must respond to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Changes are taking place in the industrial world that will shape the future of the nuclear industry. While some innovations that are taking place outside the industry will present challenges to the process of designing a new generation of nuclear reactors, others will present opportunities.

    One thing is for sure, the next generation of nuclear innovation won’t occur like the last one.

    http://neutronbytes.com/2016/01/01/why-the-nuclear-industry-must-respond-to-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

  9. Charles Barton says:

    I recently posted a serie on the naisant Molten Salt Reactor Industry, wiiched had as its theam, that the MSRs being currently developed in the United States and Canada, were for the most part, closely related to reactors technology my father had worked to develop at oRNL between 1950 and 1969. The one exception to this was the Mark 1 Reactor being developed at the University of California at Berkley. I argued, however that the 21st century MSR development in North America presupposed a very different relationship between r\MSR designers and manufacturers than that which existed during my father’s career.

  10. Joris van Dorp says:

    I find that antinukes seem to increasingly be referring to a 2015 paper in The Lancet which claims that LNT is correct down to zero dose. This paper was discussed on AI here:

    http://atomicinsights.com/leukemia-and-lymphoma-study-recently-published-in-lancet-being-strong-challenged-by-sari/

    Has this paper been debunked/criticised yet?

    All I could find is this:

    http://thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanhae/PIIS2352-3026(15)00131-3.pdf

    Is there anything more/better?

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Joris van Dorp

      I’ve seen a preliminary version of a paper that the authors tell me has been submitted for publication. It is currently in the review cycle.

      That paper points out significant flaws in the assumptions made by the Lancet paper authors.

      I’ll let you know once that paper has been accepted and published.

  11. Eino says:

    “Large numbers of people will stop asserting that “nuclear power is too expensive” and instead push engineers, financiers, manufacturers, regulators, legislators, and project developers to use well understood techniques for driving down the costs of manufacturing and construction.”

    This refinement of technique happens after you get something started, i.e. you get something built. Other than news reports from China, I don’t see that happening. Private enterprise can’t do this because they will find themselves quickly bucking heads with Uncle Sam and his regulators. There are people that are in the US government that would like to see new developments, but there is not the political capital out there to get these things going.

    Dr. Lester is certainly correct in that we have the tools and technology to develop new reactors. However, does the American public have the desire? Key people must be weaned away from fossil fuels and made a supporter of this. They can convince the public.

    The country could afford to develop new reactor technology 60 years ago. The country had bright people then and now. The country had adequate resources then and now. What happened? Sixty years ago, there was direction from the top to develop these things. Sometimes I think the leaders may have been a bit smarter those many years ago.

  12. Mike keller says:

    Rod,
    The accident in Japan has cost billions of dollars. Seems to me the risks of conventional nuclear power are too high for a private industry to accept. A more benign (as in less concentrated fuel type that cannot melt) technolgy would be a much better approach. Risk & reward would be much better balanced.