Communications professionals have often counseled nuclear professionals to stop sounding so much like scientists and engineers. We often purposely avoid emotion because we like to think of ourselves as rational people that make decisions based on hard facts, numbers and quantifiable metrics.
Many of the people who have sought and obtained positions of responsibility and decision making over nuclear energy technology have no emotional tie to the technology. They are not imbued with a sense of awe and wonder at the amazing capability of turning truly tiny quantities of otherwise unused materials into massive quantities of heat that can then be used in the same way as heat created by less capable fuels.
Plant owners and government decision makers often do not recognize the people that work in the nuclear business as special people with unique, virtually irreplaceable intellectual capital that is their very own because it has been earned and stored over a lengthy career in which it would be impossible to document everything they see, touch, smell and hear.
Because they think of the technology as just another way to boil water and the people as interchangeable cogs that can always be replaced later if needed, they have chosen to evaluate the utility of operating nuclear plants using strict numerical algorithms that we all know have some missing valuation columns that end up being assumed to be zero in the final solution.
It was encouraging, therefore, to see that someone in the DOE’s GAIN office decided to invite a speaker to the recent Summit on Improving the Economics of America’s Nuclear Power who could tell a story that would illuminate some of the valuable characteristics of a nuclear power plant that do not yet show up in the spreadsheets used by the green-eye shade types who somehow figured out that the plant wasn’t worth saving.
According to their numbers, it didn’t make enough predictable profit and it had some enemies that worked hard to make continued operation as difficult as possible. Somehow, that situation led to a decision to stop operating the plant–which halted all sources of revenue–in a vain attempt to pacify the opponents. Those unpacified opponents continue to make it as difficult as possible to perform the actions needed to maintain the now closed facility.
Here is an extract of Patty’s talk to the Summit. I apologize for the issues associated with sound quality. I’m trying to figure out a better way to capture and share the video. In the meantime, it is still worth watching and listening to Patty putting an emotional, human face on the pain that closing a well-operating, competitive, emission-free source of reliable electricity can cause.
The people who used to work at Vermont Yankee are still hurting and confused. They did a great job operating a plant that could have easily remained a competitive factory producing a product that remains in high demand. Instead of making adjustments or making better political friends, Entergy gave in and gave up.
PS: From what I have learned in private conversations with well-informed sources, Entergy has lost all interest in continuing to operate its merchant nuclear plants. Unless there is a dramatic change in the situation, I believe that all of Entergy’s nuclear plants in restructured markets are at a high risk of being closed within the next couple of years.
I remain perplexed, however, as to why the company has not made any effort to find a buyer for the fleet instead of destroying their productive capacity. It seems to be moving awfully close to a situation where powerful market players have determined that their most profitable course of action is to reduce capacity to drive up prices.
Though it’s legal when individual players make independent choices to take that kind of action, there is a zone with fuzzy boundaries in which such actions look like restraint of trade that is not dissimilar from the actions of the Standard Oil Trust.