Atomic Show #237 – Dave Lochbaum, UCS
On March 26, 2015, Cleveland.com published a story titled Perry refuels its nuclear reactor, critics concerned about storage (photos).
The story described how a group of activists had tried to generate concerns and actions in response to First Energy’s decision to improve the Perry plant by adopting fuel designed to provide more energy per fuel rod before needing replacement. The activists were worried because the “high burn-up” fuel would be more radioactive when it was removed after use.
The article included a quote that motivated me to issue an invitation for the Atomic Show.
David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group that is not opposed to nuclear power, dismissed the fears of the anti-nuclear critics.
He too traced the opposition to the fuel to the report made by the Argonne National Laboratory in 2012.
“Imagine that, a researcher at a national lab concluding that further research was needed to more fully understand something. I cannot imagine a researcher depending on future funding ever concluding that all that needed to be known was already known and that money could henceforth be spent researching something else,” Lochbaum said in an email.
“In this case, the self-serving conclusion by the researcher has spawned an army of activists around the country who contend that high burn-up fuel in dry storage is the greatest risk to humanity yet created. That’s so far from the truth that the truth could not be seen using the Hubble telescope (with a good lens).”
Hat tip to Dan Yurman, publisher of Neutron Bytes for sharing the link to that story.
Over the years, I’ve been critical of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and their actions. Though the group has often stated that it is not antinuclear and only works to improve nuclear safety, it’s often been difficult to tell its positions from groups that have nothing good to say about nuclear technology.
Dave Lochbaum has occasionally violated my general perception of the organization by focusing on issues that are actually a problem and my defending the technology and the industry against misdirected accusations.
I’ve often considered inviting him to be a guest on the Atomic Show, but never issued the invitation. The above quote gave the “round tuit” I needed.
During our discussion, Dave and I spoke about perception versus reality, the strength of the programs that the nuclear industry has implemented to learn and improve, the weakness of the nuclear industry’s ability to communicate its routine good news, and the impact of actions taken by individuals and organizations who have chosen to consistently oppose the use of nuclear energy.
Dave admitted that antinuclear activists have an impact, but he generally concludes that the industry shouldn’t have made the initial “poor management” decision that gave the activists a loose thread to yank on in the first place. My position was that if the standard required is perfection, we’ll never get there.
We also talked about the fact that nuclear systems have been designed so that even a series of significant errors don’t result in catastrophic consequences, even when they result in hype and efforts to portray accidents as disasters.
We talked about San Onofre, early closures of other plants, and the impact that “locked up” decommissioning funds have on nuclear plant owners decisions about continued plant operations.
Dave is a frequent contributor to the UCS’s blog All Things Nuclear. During the show, we discussed two of his more recent contributions – Nuclear Plant Aging and CSI Nuclear.
I hope you enjoy the discussion as much as I did. Dave and I didn’t always agree, but that’s ok.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:11:53 — 65.9MB)
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Dave Lochbaum’s dissection of the post-earthquake, pre-tsunami data from the Fukushima reactors 1 (link), 2 (link) and 3 (link) are some of my go-to references for debunking wilder claims about what happened in that period.
Can a BWR operator review Mr. Lochbaum’s dissection of the U1 data in reference 1 above and give it a sanity check? I’m a PWR operator, but I do understand his points about what can affect BWR vessel level in this scenario. On page 10 of the reference he makes the statement:
“The reactor vessel pressure plot on page 8 shows a steadily rising pressure trend, not the kind responsible for downward step changes in reactor vessel water level.”
I honestly can’t see that the data supports this claim. First is I don’t describe a level change over one minute as a “step change” at all; it’s not a step and both P & L are trending in the direction to explain the level decrease “trend” over the time interval in question.
So I’d like a second opinion. It is important because it is a credibility issue. I am not saying Mr. Lachbaum’s conclusion is wrong, I’m just saying I can’t see it from the data. And this particular point should be easy to determine on a BWR training simulator.
@mjd To me it looks like a small void collapse that coincides with turning off the iso condensers. Also the Iso condenser can cause small perturbations in indicated reactor water level due to the dynamics of where it is putting its condensate into the vessel. Nothing to worry about, just normal behavior of fluffy water.
The comment on page 10 about HPCI confused me though. I didn’t think unit 1 had HPCI.
From my most reliable BWR source, Fukushima 1 is a BWR-3 with a Mark 1 containment. So they would have had both a HPCI and RCIC (AKA IC) system if really a clone of US BWRs. However the source adds if they had not done Append R upgrades (or discovered a need by some other method) they would not have power to HPCI valves after the LOOP. But pre-tsunami HPCI would have valve power. Since the 2 systems are functionally equivalent (I think) and totally redundant, if RCIC was initially functioning there is no need for HPCI, so it likely did not play a role in the vessel water level.
I agree with your assessment that the data does not show any suspicious level response when RCIC was shut down. IMO Mr. Lochbaum’s observation seems likely intended to create FUD. I trust the opinion of actual experienced BWR operators.
RCIC is basically a feed water turbine pump driven off of reactor pressure (steam) and doesn’t rely on electricity. HPCI is a high pressure pump that relies on electricity. Fukushima unit 1 did not have a RCIC.
For the record, I would personally punch Lochbaum in the face if I ever had the pleasure to meet him in public.
The UCS’ positions are sometimes a bit odd, yes.
They are mostly anti-nuclear but with a bit of perspective.
Another example is the UCS position on the new reactor designs. They were of the opinion that AP1000 and ESBWR are unsafe because they are focused on cost-cutting (which means they don’t have a clue on the design philosophy of simplification of these plants). On the other hand the UCS has been quite positive about the EPR design, heralding it for its double filtered containment, robust external event shields etc.
Though I can’t help but think that this is at least partly because the EPR involves more material and equipment and therefore would be more likely to be uneconomical. Similarly I worry that much of the anti-nuclear groups support for SMRs is because SMRs will, at least initially, have higher cost per Watt.
I would have preferred that Adams focused half of the show on why UCS is concerned about the ESBWR and the AP1000. I think that he could have shown a light on some of the more unreasonable positions.
I think you’ve nailed it exactly. Nothing else really makes sense to me. Why would UCS endorse an EPR when it just compounds the exact problem that drives the price to uneconomical; the cost of active safety systems. In fact why would a designer even consider going from 2 trains to 4 as a solution to a cost problem? But it is not a case of UCS is clueless at all; this position fits their true agenda. It’s a matter of strategy for the path of least resistance for criticism of the USC real agenda. They can maintain their claim to not being anti nuke by an endorsement, but pick a design least likely to succeed.
I think that SMRs have the potential to be more competitive than other plants if they meet two criteria:
1) They are no smaller than 250MWe.
2) They can shut down completely with no operator action and no electrical power or electrical controls.
If they can meet those two criteria, then there is the potential for reduction in cost. It’s what Adams hinted at in the show: there will never be human perfection in the industry, but if we can get to a place where human failings have no effect, then the needs for regulation are greatly reduced. And yes, UCS are hypocrites if they complain about cost and then complain when companies attempt to reduce cost even when such reductions actually increase safety.
It seems that a “safety focus” of Mr. Lochbaum fits well with the UCS’s quiet objective of driving costs up. How he manages to deal with the organizational duplicity We’ll never know.
Were his overriding objective human safety instead of Nuclear safety, He’d be working hard to replace electo-weak combustion with strong Nuclear. UCS’s annual budget is $25 Million and climbing. Economic “environmentalism” is a very fruitful enterprise. He works for a wealthy organization with a bright future. Too bad such a future for them is on the backs of the masses.
The 4 trains are there to enhance availability, you can do repairs on one without shutting down the reactor.
It´s probably a very EDF like mentality, they never managed to get a very high availability rate of the standart units. Probably also that decision was taken before US operators had really shown how high a rate could be reached without that kind of solution, the design decisions of the EPR have been taken quite a while ago now.
It’s also worth remembering that the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) was designed by a team that included equal contributions from Siemens as well as Areva.
The German influence is part of what made the design so expensive to construct.
Didn’t the NRC and European regulators have concerns about the independence of the I&C for the Safety and Control Systems for the EPR?
Interesting podcast. Especially noteworthy are Dave’s wriggling around the facts of San Onofre, that it simply needed proper husbanding, not shutdown.
And, we in calif. now burn coal as well as gas to make up for its 2 million homes worth of clean power. How can anyone at UCS not be railing publicly against that un-environmental foolishness, regardless of whether So Cal Edison was concerned with expenses or not? we’re in the process of wasting ~$7.7B to now ruin San Onofre.
Ohio’s FirstEnergy replaced their Davis-Besse plant’s steam generators* and are running again, eliminating as much CO2 as shutting San Onofre has added. Our Calif. regulators, Legislature and Governor have made us a laughing stock…
“California, Germany, and Japan have one thing in common, increased carbon emissions for Earth Day. Within the past three years, each closed nuclear power plants and replaced the virtually emission free power source largely with coal and fossil fuels.”
Having talked directly with Dave, reagarding his book with Lyman on Fukushima, it became clear that his shaky comments about San Onofre mask a genuine desire to exploit nuclear fears for benefit to UCS, and perhaps for him as well.
I asked him why they waited 3 years to publish a book that simply re-iterates facts already known about Fukushima, but without discussing the root cause or the fact that no other plants suffered similar, foreseen disasters.
He had no answer. When I asked him why he & Lyman failed to mention plants like Onagawa, that were actually so safe they housed tsunami refugees, again no answer. IT became clear that UCS has a problem with inconvenient nuclear facts, like…
They also have a lack of scientific respect for critiques of their policies — never responding to, for instance, Lyman’s errors in their policy re thorium-reactor concepts. So, after helping them for free on their ‘spent’ fuel policy development, I simply realized other places would do better with the little money I used to contribute to UCS.
650 400 3071
* “Davis-Besse nuclear power plant is operating again after undergoing a $600 million upgrade. FirstEnergy spent the last 3 months replacing the two original steam generators at the plant near Toledo.” http://tinyurl.com/mem8lhq
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