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11 Comments

  1. “…….nuclear plant projects in California, including Bodega Head, Malibu, and Diablo Canyon”

    Malibu??? Where the heck was that plant? I grew up in that area, and am unaware there was such a plant.

  2. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the many ways in which the industry itself has been its own worst enemy. And this does not involve the fossil industry. (Not saying that it’s not also true that the fossil industry has been working to hold back nuclear!)

    Many in our industry seem to have bought into the notion that nuclear is somehow special and that therefore nothing less than perfection is good enough for this one industry, Either some misguided sense of professional pride or a real misconception that the potential consequences are uniquely high. At a minimum, there is resignation to the fact that “that’s just how things are done” in our industry (not thinking much about how it got that way).

    This may be the reason that our industry largely just accepts whatever burdens NRC or politicians place on it, whereas the fossil industry almost always sues (or has their bought-off politicians wage a political war) when any significant regulations, no matter how desperately needed or warranted, are attempted (e.g., regulations on coal pollution and/or soot, CO2 reductions, or fracking regulations).

    Anyway, another insidious factor is companies that make money off of the incredible (unnecessary) regulations and burdens that are placed on our industry. They seem to have no fear that they may actually kill off the host industry, or sense that if we (instead) had several times as many plants that they could still make more money.

    The geology companies Rod discusses above are one example of this, but other examples throughout our industry of companies making money off of the industry having to comply with extreme regulations and requirements. These include endless, needlessly rigorous analyses, needlessly expensive safety measures, attaining extremely low dose levels (to workers or the public), absurdly strict cleanup requirements, and measures to contain or process materials that should be just free released into the environment. Another example is national lab scientists, who hype “problems” with nuclear so that they receive funding to work on “solutions”.

    Despite the fact that these requirements/measures, and associated (needless) expenses, are tragically indefensible, companies do not question them, but instead say that they can find ways to perform those tasks (for a fee).

    Perhaps I’m being too hard on these companies. Perhaps it’s not their job to question the requirements, or get involved with the politics. But these companies, and the people who work in them, represent a large fraction of our industry. And it seems clear that this whole segment of the industry is doing nothing to question excessive requirements. Indeed, to the extent that they speak at all, their voice may lean towards keeping or promulgating requirements, since they stand to make money. The only people on the other side are plant owners themselves, and they don’t seem to be fighting too hard…. All of this must have some political impact over the long run.

    The real tragedy is that since these companies, labs, etc.. are within the industry, politicians tend to view them as the “pro-nuclear” side. They are the ones that have politicians ear to a large extent. Those entities are the ones that represent our side, despite the fact that their interests often do NOT coincide with the interests of nuclear power (i.e., increased use of nuclear). When it comes to increased requirements, it could be that the voices of this “pro-nuclear side” will line up with what the anti-nukes are saying. At a minimum, they won’t fight against new requirements all that much.

    Perhaps Rod could start another “smoking gun” series. In this case, it’s not the fossil fuel industry trying to hold back nuclear, but examples of nuclear-related companies (or labs) trying to make a buck off of excessive nuclear requirements. Just a suggestion……

    1. @ Jim Hopf

      Nuclear is special and unique. So we in the industry are constantly reminded.

      I agree whole heartedly in your words above and would add that until the industry, the NRC, and the politicians embrace the FACT that we do NOT live in a risk free world, our chosen field, at least in this nation, will continue to decline.

      1. Well we can complain about the “special” treatment all we want, and bemoan the misunderstanding that the public has about the effects of tiny radiation doses, but the fact remains that the public at large does believe radiation is special. Just look at the situation in Japan – fifty some reactors shut down now going on four years. In what other industry do you see a response like that?

  3. I think I spot a fundamentally flawed premise of some of those involved in the story related by this book?

    “Geologist members, having been treated to beer and steaks were led to inspect some open trenches, then invited to sign a petition stating that the site was unsafe for a nuclear power plant. A hundred or so signatures were collected.”

    So, it seems to me that geologists should be consulted for expert opinion on the likelihood of frequency of occurence and magnitude of earthquakes happening at a potential site, However, it is not within the scope of expertise and competence for a geologist to determine if a site is suitable for a particular use, such as a nuclear power plant.

    The opinions of geologists should factor into the decision making process of nuclear engineers and the NRC in determining what design(s) would be suitable for a site given the possibility of an earthquake. It’s entirely possible (and I believe, someone correct me if I’m wrong, the NRC REQUIRES this of all nuclear plants ) for a nuclear plant to be designed to safely withstand earthquakes of a particular magnitude (and history has borne out that nuclear plants have routinely survived earthquakes).

    So, the whole premise of geologists signing a petition that a site isn’t suitable for a nuclear plant, to me, seems flawed?

  4. The role played by the oil & gas industry & AAPG recounted by Meehan is ironic given that today’s mounting controversy, and one which I think will have some legs, is the role that increased hydraulic fracturing (actually the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells) plays in inducing and propagating earthquakes along known fault lines, something that has been know and documented in the scientific literature at least since the late 50s & 60s. Compelling studies of the situation in OK have been published in the past few years notably by the USGS and the ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics at U of OK (PDF).

    “Within the central and eastern United States, the number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years. Between the years 1973–2008, there was an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude three and larger in the central and eastern United States. This rate jumped to an average of 99 M3+ earthquakes per year in 2009–2013, and the rate continues to rise. In 2014, alone, there were 659 M3 and larger earthquakes.”

    Imagine for a moment if the locations of NPPs could somehow be linked to dramatic (factor of >1000) increases in earthquakes, some of which damaged buildings e.g. M5.6 Prague, Oklahoma. How much would the news media take notice? Courts? Regulatory agencies?

    1. @Aaron Rizzio

      Another ironic facet of the use of geologic risk as a way to discredit nuclear power plant projects starting in the 1960s is the fact that the impact of oil and gas extraction on surface geologic stability was becoming apparent at about the same time. As noted in the post, Meehan and Hamilton, his partner, published an influential article the April 23, 1971 issue of Science titled Ground Rupture in Baldwin Hills: Injection of fluids into the ground for oil recovery and waste disposal triggers surface faulting.

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