This post brought to you by the generous readers who provided support for my travel and lodging in San Antonio. I hope you enjoy the resulting reports.
My first observation is to note that Texans drive fast. The Texas segment of I-10 between the eastern border and San Antonio is the first road I’ve been on in recent years with a 75 MPH speed limit. Like most interstates, people who travel at the speed limit need to stay to the right to allow those exceeding the speed limit by 10-30 MPH to speed on by.
I chose to drive from Lynchburg to San Antonio for several reasons.
- Last minute airline tickets from Lynchburg are pretty expensive.
- I like to see new places from the ground.
- My mom, brother and sister-in-law live almost exactly half-way between Lynchburg and San Antonio.
- Driving allowed me to bring my bicycle.
- Driving allows a more flexible return trip that isn’t yet planned.
- My car gets at least 40 MPG on the highway, even while attempting to keep up with Texas drivers with a bike on the back.
- I’m getting increasingly frustrated with airport security theater.
After arriving a little earlier than expected on Saturday, I ran into Sama Bilbao. She mentioned that there was an invitation-only reception planned for Saturday evening. Fortunately, I know a few people in high places, so I managed to wrangle a last minute invitation.
At the reception, Alan Waltar (a past president of ANS, former director of nuclear energy at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, former department head of Nuclear Energy at Texas A&M, world renowned fast reactor expert, and community theater actor) and I had a great conversation about an LNT-related retreat.
I’m not suppose to provide many details since the attendees are still working on a product. I’ll limit my report to the fact that there are talented and knowledgeable professionals who believe it’s time to revise our officially accepted model. Not surprisingly, there are others who aren’t yet convinced of the need for a change.
It dawned on me that I was worn out. Long drives can have that effect. No post reception gathering to report.
Sunday morning, after completing yesterday’s lengthy post about the monetary influences on Stanford’s energy, climate change and environmental programs, I took advantage of a cool morning to go exploring. I took the photos that decorate this post on the Mission Trail that heads south along the river out of San Antonio.
While waiting for the start of the President’s reception, I spent some time at the pool, getting in a few laps and taking the opportunity to talk to a few people. One of them turned out to be Nichole Ellis, who was my guest on Atomic Show #95 in May 2008. It took a while for us to recognize each other. I’d grown a beard and she’d gone from blond to dark brunette. Her business is still going strong.
I introduced myself to a couple who looked like they might be there for the ANS meeting, but it turned out that they were just on ahort vacation from Oklahoma where Derek worked in the oil and gas business and Amy worked as a personal trainer and in a chiropractor’s office.
We had a great conversation about energy; they were fascinated by my description of performance of my submarine reactor – 14 years without refueling using a fuel mass that weighed only a bit more than I do. I then used the numbers from the ANS fuel pellet card — one commercial fuel pellet contains as much energy as a ton of coal or 147 gallons of crude oil — to pull more questions from them.
They asked what the downside was. They had no fear and no preconceived notions. Derek immediately got it when I told him how frequently people mention our three major accidents (TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima), saying he wished that his industry could name their major accidents — each year — on a single hand.
My reason for reporting this conversation is to remind readers to stop making assumptions about what the public thinks about nuclear energy. I think it is safe to say that most of them don’t think about it at all and that they are wide open to learning more.
I was having so much fun talking to Derek and Amy that I lost track of time and ended up being a little late to the President’s reception.
As usual, there was a good crowd. However, there was something quite unusual that I didn’t even think about until just now.
Every other President’s reception that I’ve attended took place in the vendor exhibition hall. That provided the attendees the opportunity to wander through the booths, collect a few give aways, and listen to a few pitches about new projects or products.
Last night, there were no vendors. I think there might have been a few tables at the edges, but nothing like the kinds of displays that I’m used to seeing. I’ll have to follow up on that today.
Persistence is often mentioned as a common trait among people who succeed in tough fields of endeavor. I’m beginning to understand the value of showing up over and over again.
Even though I was wearing a prominent flag on my nametag indicating that I was there as a member of the media and looking for some stories, I was included in a number of fascinating conversations. When I get a little more time, I will probably turn some of these into individual posts, but I’d like to provide a quick summary here.
There are well-connected people that are working to convince the Senate to pass a bill similar to the House bill that passed last session to take a new look at the health effects of low dose radiation. They are seeking to have the Senate make a relatively small change that would reassign responsibility from the National Academies of Science to the National Commission on Radiation Protection.
The idea is that the NAS has a broad range of interests while the NCRP was chartered by Congress for a very specific task of evaluating science associated with radiation health and assisting in determining the most reasonable standards that would allow us to gain the maximum benefits from radiation science. I think that would be a good move and would produce a better product.
The North Anna 3 project is continuing on a steady path forward. The COL application process is currently scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016. No one should expect any final investment decision until after that process has been completed. It is a necessary, but not sufficient hurdle that must be overcome.
Believe it or not, the decision timing will be directly affected by the liquified natural gas export industry. Dominon, the company that owns the North Anna nuclear power station, needs to finish its project to turn Cove Point into a liquefaction facility before it can finance another multi-billion dollar, multi-year project.
It might be time for nuclear professionals that live in Virginia and North Carolina to make friends with the groups that have organized to oppose the two natural gas pipelines that are supposed to pass through places like Nelson County, Craig County, Roanoke County and Montgomery County. Those pipelines are planned to provide a transportation pathway to move Marcellus Shale gas to combined cycle plants planned for North Carolina.
If the pipelines aren’t built, nuclear energy will benefit. Existing plants won’t be undercut and William States Lee will be even more necessary than it already is.
Of course, there are a number of Virginia nuclear professionals who will have conflicts of interest, since they work for Dominion, one of the pipeline owners. It’s time, however, for us to recognize what our competitors already know; the energy business sometimes involves active opposition in order to win.
My final teaser is the fact that fast reactor advocates need to come together yesterday to help the federal government understand that the only facility in the world capable of providing the neutrons needed for fuel qualification tests for fast reactors is the BOR-60 located in Russia.
Think about the implications of that, given the current political situation. Consider the risk that a vendor would have to accept even if they were to start a fuel irradiation program in that reactor. What if they invest a few years into that effort, only to have the fuel stopped from leaving Russia. No performance data — which is absolutely required to support licensing in any country — would be obtained if that happened.
We don’t have to build a new facility. There is one located just a few hours drive from TerraPower’s Seattle office. The FFTF may have been forcibly shutdown, but the people assigned to the task carefully ensured that it was laid up in a condition that would allow a restart.