Battling for nuclear energy by exposing opposition motives
It is difficult to do battle with imaginary boogeymen, especially when you are a rational-minded person steeped in reality. In the money-driven battle over our future energy supply choices, the people who fight nuclear energy have imagination on their side. They can, and often do, invent numerous scary tales about what might happen without the need to actually prove anything.
One of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal is the embedded fantasy that a nuclear reactor accident can lead to catastrophic consequences that cannot be accepted. This myth is doubly hard to dislodge because a large fraction of the nuclear energy professionals have been trained to believe it. When you want to train large numbers of slightly above average people to do their job with great care and attention to detail, it can be useful to exaggerate the potential consequences of a failure to perform. It is also a difficult myth to dislodge because the explanation of why it is impossible requires careful and often lengthy explanations of occasionally complex concepts.
I am in no mood to develop those arguments today. They wouldn’t be read by enough people anyway. The bottom lines of both Chernobyl and Fukushima tell me that the very worst that can realistically happen to nuclear fission reactors results in acceptable physical consequences when compared to the risk of insufficient power or the risk of using any other reliable source of power. The most negative consequences of both accidents resulted from the way that government leaders responded, both during the crisis stage and during the subsequent recoveries.
Instead of trying to explain the basis for those statements more fully, I’ll try to encourage people to consider the motives of people on various sides of the discussion. I also want to encourage nuclear energy supporters to look beyond the financial implications to the broader implications of a less reliable and dirtier electrical power system. When the focus is just on the finances, the opposition has an advantage – the potential gains from opposing nuclear energy often are concentrated in the hands of extremely interested parties while the costs are distributed widely enough to be less visible. That imbalance often leads to great passion in the opposition and too much apathy among the supporters.
Over at Idaho Samizdat, Dan Yurman has written about the epic battle of political titans who are on opposing sides of the controversy regarding the relicensing and continued operation of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Station. Dan pointed out that there is a large sum of money at stake, but he put it in a way that does not sound too terrible to many people because it spreads out the pain.
In round numbers, if Indian Point is closed, wholesale electricity prices could rise by 12%.
A 12% increase in wholesale electricity prices does not sound so scary, especially in a densely populated city where electricity bills are probably not a dominant cost of living due to small spaces and shared walls, floors and ceilings. For the people who are looking to profit from the closure, however, the numbers are much more impressive. A recent study quoted in a New York Times article put the initial additional cost of electricity without Indian Point at about $1.5 billion per year, which is a substantial sum of money if concentrated into the hands of a few thousand victors who tap the monthly bills of a few million people. Here is a comment that I added to Dan’s post:
Dan – thank you for pointing out that the battle is not really a partisan one determined by political party affiliation. By my analysis, the real issue is the desire of natural gas suppliers to sell more gas at ever higher prices driven by a shift in the balance between supply and demand.
They never quite explain what is going to happen as we get closer and closer to the day when even fracking will not squeeze any more hydrocarbons out of the drying sponge that is the readily accessible part of the earth’s crust.
The often touted “100 – year” supply of natural gas in the US has a lot of optimistic assumptions built in. First of all, it is only rounded up to 100 years – 2170 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2010 divided by 23 trillion cubic feet per year leaves just 94 years.
Secondly, the 2170 number provided by the Potential Gas Committee report includes all proven, probable, possible and speculative resources, without any analysis of the cost of extraction or moving them to a market. Many of the basins counted have no current pipelines and many of the basins are not large enough for economic recovery of the investment to build the infrastructure without far higher prices.
Finally, all bets are off with regard to longevity if we increase the rate of burning up the precious raw material.
However, greedy people do not think much about tomorrow or much about the people that they hurt by forcibly shutting down low cost facilities to allow higher priced fuels to compete.
This battle over Indian Point will be interesting because there are a lot of very wealthy and media savvy people on both sides. I hope that the nuclear energy supporters recognize the value of exposing the underlying motives of the opposition. We have to take back the moral high ground from the antis to show that we are working in the interest of the majority to provide clean, abundant, affordable, reliable power.
BTW – In case your readers are interested in the motives of a group like Riverkeepers, founded and led by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., here is a link to a video clip of him explaining his support for natural gas.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
The organized opposition to the intelligent use of nuclear energy has often painted support for the technology as coming from faceless, money-hungry corporations. That caricature of the support purposely ignores the fact that there are large numbers of intelligent, well educated, responsible, and caring people who know a great deal about the technology and believe that it is the best available solution for many intransigent problems. There are efforts underway today, like the Nuclear Literacy Project and Go Nuclear, that are focused on showcasing the admirable people who like nuclear energy and want it to grow rapidly to serve society’s never ended thirst for reliable power at an affordable price with acceptable environmental impact.
So, my plea to you is to get out there and fight for nuclear energy. Question the motives of the powerful people who are adamantly opposed to sensible use of nuclear technology. Question the motives of those who claim that they are only interested in improving safety by demanding an explanation for how they intend to improve over a nearly zero casualty record developed over a 50 year operating period. The consequences of not having access to nuclear energy capabilities are far more negative the reality of actual accident experience.
The exaggerated, fanciful accident scenarios painted by the opposition are challenging to disprove. I am tired of trying, but not tired of trying to find ways to help people understand the widespread benefits of increased nuclear fission power supplies.
I just read an excellent post on Yes Vermont Yankee about a coming decision that might help to illuminate the risk to society of continuing to let greedy antinuclear activists and their political friends dominate the discussion. According to Meredith’s post, Entergy must make a decision within just a week or so about whether or not to refuel Vermont Yankee in October. Since the sitting governor is dead set against the plant operating past its current license expiration in the summer of 2012, the $100 million dollar expense of refueling would only result in about 6 months of operation instead of the usual 18 months.
Meredith has a novel solution to the dilemma – conserve the fuel currently in the plant by immediately cutting the power output to 25%. That would provide enough continuing revenue to maintain the exceptional trained staff at peak performance levels and it would give state residents a taste of the consequences of not having a reliable nuclear plant providing summertime baseload power. It will be interesting to see if any Entergy decision makers are are thinking along the same lines.
Rod, thanks for the good words and the link!
The 25% power idea sounds like it could potentially be a very good one, Meredith.
This is not necessarily as good an idea as it sounds. Operating at 25% would cut revenue markedly to the point where it would be uneconomic to continue to operate. This would put a large strain on the Rx Engineering department as well as plant operations staff since large nuclear plants operate best and most reliably at 100% power. One thing you learn from long tenure at a Nuclear Plant is that the safest and most reliable plant is one that is operating at its maximum output. Frankly the plant is best tuned to operate at its maximum output any other output is a transitional phase best passed through on the way to maximum output.
Regarding the 100 year supply of fracked natural gas, understand that this is calculated at current consumption rates. If we replace coal with natural gas, that supply drops to just 29 years. The supply of thorium for nuclear power reactors in inexhaustible in the foreseeable timescale of civilization.
“One of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal is the embedded fantasy that a nuclear reactor accident can lead to catastrophic consequences that cannot be accepted.”
The US NRC Chairman disagrees in http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1119/ML11199A148.pdf.
“The [Fukushima] Task Force was clear, however, that any accident involving core damage and uncontrolled radioactive releases of the magnitude of Fukushima – even one without significant health consequences – is inherently unacceptable.”
He is a Democrat. He was appointed as Chairman by a Democratic President for whom you voted. VY’s operation is threatened by a Democratic State Legislature. IPEC’s operation is threatened by a Democratic governor. You stated you are proud to be a liberal progressive Democrat.
But in true Democratic fashion you will delete this as “unacceptable.” Those really cool sunglasses you are wearing in your photo are coloring your vision and filtering out the truth.
Could we simply substitute any future comment from you as: ‘Rod, you are a BAD, BAD Democrat’?
I second Steve’s comment. Or as an alternative, Rod could have his canned response of “yes, I voted for Obama…I somewhat regret that choice….and I do not consider myself to be affiliated with the Democratic party”. I’ve seen Rod use that basic response on multiple occasions, but Ioannes continues his non-value-added broken record here.
So wait a minute, you contend that I have to agree with everything someone I vote for does, and everything anybody he/she appoints does? Really? And I have to do this even if what they do after they are elected doesn’t match what they claimed when campaigning.
So you believe that about 99.9% of voters should not vote because they don’t agree with any candidate on EVERY issue?
I always thought I was supposed to vote for the candidate I thought would do the BEST job, not a PERFECT job; and who BEST matched my beliefs, not necessarily PERFECTLY matched my beliefs just matched them better than their opponent(s).
In the spirit of full disclosure I did not vote for Obama although I have voted for Democrats in the past. In fact I have voted for Independents, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Greens, Libertarians and just about any other party you care to mention, as long as I thought they would do the best job.
I just got in the offensive by pointing out that almost all of the health damage from reactor accidents comes in form of “nocebo” and is caused by the irrational fear crowd. While they paint themselves as trying to mitigate damage,they are actually the ones inflicting most of it.
As someone who has seen the explosions from Tokyo, I am quite fed up of having these people try to convince me I should feel sick.
Rod – Great and thanks. Karl – I had to look up nocebo. I didn’t realize that the placebo effect had an evil twin, but in hindsight it’s obvious that there should be one.
Interesting that Joe Romm at Climate Progress blog is now putting the boot into Robert Kennedy Jr for opposing the Cape Wind power project( which would impinge on the view from the family mansion), and instead touting Canadian hydro, which he’d previously called an environmental disaster. Given a few more years maybe Kennedy will be a nuclear zealot- some fracking in the back yard might do it
I like the idea of avoiding the technical argument of low risk for nuclear. Not that it can’t be made, just that most people won’t understand it anyway. Keep the message simple:
1. Make them prove that shutting down existing nuclear or stopping new construction will result in fewer cancers or deaths.
2. Make them prove that the electrical grid will be more reliable without the nuclear plants, both in normal operation and when nature strikes.
3. Make them show where the financial gains will be and who will bear the financial costs for shutting down nuclear.
4. Make them show that shutting down nuclear plants will lower the risk that our military forces become involved in overseas combat operations, particularly operations that will evolve into occupations and national re-building.
I totally agree, John. So, the question becomes how can the burden of proof be shifted to that paradigm? If it would be possible to shift it to that, nuclear would be the obvious winner.
This could turn into a letter writing (or email) campaign to our elected representatives. Start with a short paragraph extolling the virtues of nuclear fission then go into more details explaining that the there are efforts to shut down nuclear power across the US. politely demand that congress bring in leaders of these efforts and make them answer my four questions.
I think the the plant could run at 1/2 to 2/3 of normal capacity just by not replacing any fuel. About 1/3 of the fuel is replaced during each refueling. Take the old 1/3 of the fuel out as normal and don’t replace it. Now you have 2/3 of the fuel left. Can the plant run that way?
I’m pretty sure that would screw up the core geometry quite a bit, Martin. I’m not sure sustained fission would even be possible with 2/3 or a core.
Burnup and any possible core “re-design” (constituting a shuffling of the fuel assemblies currently in the core) would seem to be the biggest issues with the 25% capacity idea. The shuffling would present some cost, but it would be considerably less than the $100M cost of a full, “normal” refueling outage.
Joel and Martin. I’m a chemist, not a licensed operator, so I was suggesting the equivalent of a very LONG coast-down. Coast-downs happen at the end of many cycles. I am not sure of the ins and outs of other suggestions, but something like a long-coast-down could work, I think. Other suggestions could also work.
I just saw a press release that Entergy’s board approved the fabrication of fuel and refueling of Vermont Yankee in October, for the plant’s 29th refueling.
The commentators who think McCain would of been any different simply don’t get it. It is not about partisan politics at all, but what those partisans advocate as a solution to the energy crisis. To the degree that one party “owns” the issue of being pro-nuclear it means it’s DEAD in the water as the other “partisans” can kill it for purely political, and not policy, reasons.
What Rod, and many others have done, is try to win over those that are opposed to nuclear energy within the anti-nuclear partisans on the left. Oddly, the Democrats are NOT against nuclear, it’s just more of ’em are than Republicans. We need to remove the issue from *either* party’s weapon against the other and…fracture…any developing anti-nuclear unity on the left.
Nuclear energy grew in the US and *every other country* when there was a national consensus to do so. Once it because the opportunist weapon of one side against other, it fails. See Germany, See the US.
The first step is to show how dangerous lack of electricity is. Electricity is often taken for granted, seemingly as natural as sunshine and rain. For example, in the year 2000, a survey of ASME members showed that they thought that refrigeration/air conditioning was among the top 10 inventions of the 20th century. Electricity is needed for almost all refrigeration. No doubt estimates of how many lives are saved each year by safe, refrigerated foods and comfortable living spaces are available.
In round numbers, if Indian Point is closed, wholesale electricity prices could rise by 12%.
The higher cost of electricity will cause job loss. Instead of saying just how many jobs will be loss, it might bring home the point of selecting a town with a population that matches the job loss, and then stating that the higher cost of electricity will cause the equivalent of said town being wiped off the map.
My experience is with PWR refueling and coastdowns, not BWR, so if this is technically incorrect someone correct me.
What the Entergy managers should do depends upon whether the new fuel to be ordered is custom-blended and enriched for VY, or could if necessary, (before fuel loading) be diverted to another Entergy GE Type 4 BWR like Fitzpatrick (Type 4 ) or even Pilgrim (Type 3).
If the new fuel is usable in another Entergy plant (or sellable to another utility), they should order it and continue running at 100% power. If political/legal conditions are decidedly unfriendly in October, cancel the outage and coastdown for as many months as they can.
If things are looking good in October, do the outage, refuel, and run for 18 months, fighting all the way in court.
The judge may not have bought the irremediable harm argument (possibly because of the alternatives I have outlined), but Energy’s overall case is much more persuasive. VT has no argument whatsoever for unreliability and no jurisdiction for safety.
I keep asking — is FEAR that something MIGHT happen is a legitiment case to close a plant. That’s the brass tacks here, right? What leg do anti-nuclears have to stand on except WHAT IF vs a _historical_ record of not just near zero casuality nuclear operations but of radiation’s hyper-exaggerated pernicious health effects as a whole. Can Perry Mason shut down a plant — all over — based on FEAR???
Someone should investigate A. Cuomo’s connections to natural gas companies in general, and perhaps T. Boone Pickens in particular-Cuomo’s both massively anti-nuclear stance, and his recent approval of fracking for NY does make one wonder.
In VT, the cost of higher electricity in terms of jobs is very clear since IBM, the state’s largest employer, has said they will have to close up shop if electricity becomes too costly.
I would simply remind folks at the beginning of any debate, of the fact that there is an ongoing, organized effort to stop nuclear power, and the people behind it are willing to exaggerate and distort facts to achieve their goal. With that in mind, many anti-nuclear arguments quickly lose credibility.
This is just an observation, nothing of great moment, but I have yet to determine if this is an indication that we are winning, or it is just a change of tactic on the part of the opposition.
There is a type of crypto-antinuke I am seeing more and more of these days, these are the ones that start their remarks with some riff on the phrase; “I support nuclear but…” in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with pronukes while they serve up some FUD. Pressed some will admit their position is: “nuclear if necessary, but not necessarily nuclear,” and push the stand that wind and solar should be “part of the mix.”
Looks to me that they are yielding some ground strategically to keep their real message from being buried, but in the end they are not pronuclear at all.
Though I remain confident in the ultimate outcome of the energy debate, it’s all about the energy density, I would urge recognition of the fact that being pro-nuclear does not mean being anti-everything-else.
It is impossible to win every single engagement, and sometimes holding what you have in many areas, temporarily going retrograde in others to consolidate your position, while advancing in a few, is all that you are capable of.
With the exception of legacy hydro, there are no options except nuclear that are not overly polluting or ineffectual, and the sooner that message sinks in the better.
Right now wind and solar projects are underway for one reason and one reason only and that is at some level, someone has been made to believe they can work. This opinion is also rife among the public as well, and there is no way to sugar-coat the bald fact that this opinion is wrong.
The fact is that the level of ignorance on how the whole electric energy system works, even in the ranks of nuclear supporters, nevermind the renewable zealots is appalling. Statements where people pitch for nuclear baseload and wind (or solar) for peaking is typical of those that have no grasp of how the grid and the market that drives it works.
It’s a mistake, in my opinion to give any ground to this sort of thinking at the best of times. However I have come to the conclusion that most of there people are paying lip-service to nuclear, and really believe that renewables will carry the day in the end. They are not our friends.
Has anyone pointed out:
That during the last two major, catastrophic, natural disasters in the US;
a. Katrina in New Orleans
b. Hugo in Southern Florida,
Both regions had, Nuclear Plants(Waterford and turkey point) that survived without incident, then powered both regions to recovery?
Why has no one pointed that out?
That should have been the topic of a great ad. Why do you have to think of it and not those who have the means and an interest in sprucing up their industry.
I’m so looking for the “Like” button on here.
Well done Ron.
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