Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nuclear Plant News for August 23 2015

Subtitle: Plenty of News and All of it Bad

As readers of SLB will know, the Truth About Nuclear Power series of articles included statements that modern nuclear power plants cost far more than $4,000 per kW, also that nuclear power plants do not have a 60 year useful life, unplanned shutdowns occur frequently, and nuclear plants require massive subsidies.   Several articles in the press this past week provide yet more evidence to support the TANP articles.  (see link to the Truth About Nuclear Power articles).

First, the Chinese are building a nuclear plant in Pakistan for approximately $9,900 per kW.  The announced cost is likely too low, and the final cost will likely be several billion more than quoted.  

"KARACHI: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today (20 August 2015) inaugurated construction work on a China-backed $10 billion nuclear power plant here.   The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant II (Kanupp II) with the capacity to produce 1,100 MW electricity is being built with the assistance of China."  -  see link

Second, a nuclear plant in Switzerland is the subject of calls to shut it down due to it being the oldest operating commercial nuclear plant in the world, and not designed for the earthquake risk in that location.   The plant has been operating for 46 years, many years short of 60 that nuclear advocates claim.    see link 

Third, yet another unplanned shutdown of a US nuclear plant occurred on Saturday, 22 August 2015 when the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant shut down without warning at around 4:30 pm local time.   see link 

Fourth and finally, Exelon continues to cry to the government for subsidies to keep its nuclear plants operating.   Once again, the Quad Cities nuclear plant could not win a bid to supply electricity to the grid.  It is a candidate for closure.  see link

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved











Hottest July On Record - Misleading

Subtitle:  Bad Data Yields Bad Results 

The US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) made yet another alarming announcement this week, stating that July, 2015 was the hottest month ever measured, globally.   What they wrote is shown below, then my commentary follows.  Essentially, the keepers of the temperature files have adjusted data, changed data, created data where none exists, dropped temperature records out of the data, and included temperature records that should never be allowed into the data, and done this over and over and over again.  Therefore, it is utterly meaningless when such "warmest ever" statements are made.   Curiously, this past July had the Pacific Ocean in the midst of a very strong El Niño, and that has warmer-than-usual ocean surface temperatures.   Coincidence?  

The quote from NOAA:

"The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2015 was the highest for July in the 136-year period of record, at 0.81°C (1.46°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.4°F), surpassing the previous record set in 1998 by 0.08°C (0.14°F). As July is climatologically the warmest month of the year globally, this monthly global temperature of 16.61°C (61.86°F) was also the highest among all 1627 months in the record that began in January 1880."  (see link)   Citation is "NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for July 2015, published online August 2015"

Commentary

The NOAA global temperature records are touted as the best, yet one must wonder how good the data is, when it is adjusted not just once, but over and over and over again.  The adjustments are downward for older data, typically starting around 1970.  The downward adjustments make the past cooler, and the present warmer relative to the past.   Such adjustments also create the appearance of a warming trend over time, which can be used to sound the alarm that the climate is changing in a disastrous warming manner. 

When a scientific body, such as NOAA, makes an official pronouncement, many who read that pronouncement actually believe it.  They don't have the training nor education to determine if the conclusion is plausible, is accurate, or instead was the result of poor scientific practice.   

It is one thing to obtain data during research or experimentation, do one's best to verify the data is accurate and suitable for analysis, then perform valid statistical analyses and draw supportable conclusions.   It is quite another to periodically adjust the database and publish yet another conclusion.  The fable of the little boy who cried "Wolf!" comes readily to mind.   Are we to accept the official pronouncement each time, and forget that just a few years ago, these same officials had a different conclusion?  

A second troubling point in the NOAA announcement is the absolute absence of any reference to uncertainty in the data.  A search for the word "error" turns up zero instances.  Zero is the result for the word "uncertain."    However, the older data has more doubt, and in many cases data is completely missing for many areas of the globe.   

Now to the curious timing, the coincidental occurrence of a very strong El Niño.   An El Niño is, by definition, a periodic warming of certain portions of the eastern Pacific Ocean surface near the equator.  This particular El Niño has warmer surface water compared to previous events.   Is it any surprise, then, that the July global temperature computation is warmer than ever before?    NOAA had this to say about the ocean surface temperatures:

 "For the oceans, the July global sea surface temperature was 0.75°C (1.35°F) above the 20th century average of 16.4°C (61.5°F), the highest departure not only for July, but for any month on record. The 10 highest monthly departures from average for the oceans have all occurred in the past 16 months (since April 2014)."  (same source as above)

In their usual fashion, NOAA does not mention that "the 10 highest monthly departures from average for the oceans" all coincide with the strongest El Niño ever measured.   Of course the sea surface temperatures will be warmer.   

What would be far, far more interesting is for NOAA to take their huge database and perform the same analysis that Mr. James Goodridge performed in his eye-opening work on temperatures in California. (Goodridge, J.D. (1996) Comments on “Regional Simulations of Greenhouse Warming including Natural Variability” . Bull, Amer. Meteorological Society 77:1588-1599.)   See chart at right (Urban Heat Island Effect)  for the results:  Goodridge found that essentially zero warming occurred in California counties with low population, over an 85-year period from 1909 to 1994.  Yet, counties with high populations experienced warming of almost 2 degrees Celsius per century. 

Conclusion 

It is no surprise that NOAA found this past July to be the warmest in their record.  After all the adjustments to make modern temperatures hotter than past temperatures, inclusion of heat islands to also pump up the warming, and using a record-breaking El Niño for ocean temperatures, the July temperatures should indeed appear warmer than usual.  

Yet, where are the studies that include only pristine, untouched non-urban temperatures?  Surely the vaunted and vast NOAA temperature data has such records.  Why aren't those records analyzed and published?  One could do as Mr. Goodridge did, simply sort the temperature records by county population (or the equivalent in each country) and show the long-term trend.   

The temperature record, as kept and massaged by NOAA, is not at all helpful.  What bears watching, though, are indicia of global cooling.  The northern hemisphere has excellent data records of lake ice, and sea ice in, e.g. Hudson's Bay.    It is significant, and perhaps ominous, that ice on the US Great Lakes is far above the historical average.    

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California 
Copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved





Thursday, August 6, 2015

South Australia Nuclear Prospects Q13-17

Subtitle: Nuclear Power For South Australia Not Justifiable

This is part 4 of my responses to the 17 questions.   South Australia's Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle requested written responses to 17 questions on the topic of nuclear power reactors.  see link The reactors are but one of four topic areas, with the others being 1) uranium mining, 2) uranium enrichment into civilian power fuel, and 3) nuclear waste management and storage.  I was unable to submit answers to the questions for formal consideration by the Royal Commission, however, the answers are below for the final 5 questions.  Answers to the previous questions appeared in separate posts.   The conclusion is that a nuclear power plant cannot be justified.  A small nuclear reactor would be required, which suffers from reverse economy of scale and is, therefore, very expensive for the amount of power produced.   The usual safety concerns also apply: operating upsets and radiation releases, population evacuation plans, spent fuel storage or reprocessing, and sabotage and terrorist attacks, to name a few.


The Commission's Questions and Responses  (13-17)

3.13 What risks for health and safety would be created by establishing facilities for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? What needs to be done to ensure that risks do not exceed safe levels?

As stated in the answer to question 3.8 above, the risk to health and safety from a radiation release is too high for insurance to accept. The liability from a radiation release can easily reach hundreds of billions of dollars, and no company would build a facility with that level of potential exposure.  Therefore, governments allocate a small part of the risk to the nuclear plant owner and accept the majority of the risk.  This is the case under the Price-Anderson Act in the US.   

The most serious risk is a loss-of-coolant-accident or LOCA.  The Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns of 3 reactors and reactor building explosions was directly caused by prolonged loss of cooling to the reactors.  The Three Mile Island meltdown was also caused by a loss of coolant to the reactor, although in that case it was operator error that cut the water flow.  

The IAEA and US NRC both have extensive publications on how to reduce radiation risks to safe levels.  These usually require multiple cooling sources that are independent, back-up on-site generators with adequate fuel for operation, and multiple links to the grid to power the plant and its cooling systems while the plant is down for any reason.  As stated above, the US requires regional centers with emergency generators that can be rapidly transported to a stricken nuclear plant. 

In addition, an emergency evacuation plan is required, with audible sirens to notify the affected population.  It is notable that Japan considered evacuating approximately 15 million people from Tokyo due to the Fukushima meltdowns.  

Ensuring safe levels of radiation exposure is typically done by several means, including multiple layers of containment, including an alloy metal tube or rod that contains the nuclear fuel pellets, a heavy alloy metal reactor that contains the fuel rods, and finally an air-tight containment building with thick walls in which the reactor and other equipment are placed.  Also, multiple and redundant reactor cooling systems are installed.  Finally, multiple and redundant grid connections are provided to ensure power for cooling when the reactor is off-line.  Plant design must account for earthquake shaking, flooding of any type, and all the other means by which a loss-of-coolant-accident could occur.  There are many, many other safety requirements listed in the various regulatory agency regulations. 

The safest means of producing power to ensure no radiation exposure to workers or the public is to not build nuclear plants.  

3.14 What safeguards issues are created by the establishment of a facility for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? Can those implications be addressed adequately? If so, by what means?

The question 3.14 asks about safeguards, but is vague as to what safeguards means in this context.  The answer below is for safety against security, direct attack, and sabotage. 

Nuclear power plants are targets for saboteurs and terrorists.  The US NRC requires that all new nuclear plants be built to sustain and continue normal operations after an impact from a large commercial aircraft.  The reactor, cooling systems, and spent fuel storage must all continue normal operation.  Design and operation must ensure these conditions are met. 

In addition, a robust security program must be established to deter and prevent unauthorized access to a nuclear power plant.  In the US, several security breaches occur annually.  However, details of the security breaches are not made public. 

If a nuclear power plant is computer-controlled, and if it has access to the worldwide web or internet, still more safeguards must be established to deter and prevent computer hacking, virus acquisition, and other cyber-sabotage.  

3.15 What impact might the establishment of a facility to generate electricity from nuclear fuels have on the electricity market and existing generation sources? What is the evidence from other existing markets internationally in which nuclear energy is generated? Would it complement other sources and in what circumstances? What sources might it be a substitute for, and in what circumstances?

Recent evidence in the US shows a baseload nuclear plant produces unwanted power at night, driving down the electricity prices at night.  This is especially true where wind energy is produced at night.   A baseload nuclear plant forces other forms of generation to reduce output during off-peak periods.  This forces those resources to incur operating expenses from load changes, and inefficiencies from operating at non-optimal output.  

Nuclear plants initially were expected to reduce high electric rates that occurred due to shortages of oil and natural gas.  Nuclear plants more recently are being built to reduce a country’s reliance on imported fuel, especially natural gas.  Where a resource-rich country exists, such as Australia, nuclear power cannot be justified. 

In the 1980s, France chose nuclear power rather than importing oil which had become expensive due to OPEC price increases.  In the US, nuclear power replaced oil-burning power plants in almost the identical fraction of total power produced, which was approximately 20 percent.  However, nuclear power could not compete with coal, natural gas, nor hydroelectric’s share of the power demand.   It is also noteworthy that opportunities for industry to co-generate power and heat are met with natural gas usually, and not by nuclear power.    


3.16 How might a comparison of the unit costs in generating electricity in South Australia from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources be quantified, assessed or modelled? What information, including that drawn from relevant operational experience, should be used in that comparative assessment? What general considerations should be borne in mind in conducting those assessments or models?


An excellent comparison of levelized costs of generating technologies was published in 2010 by California’s Energy Commission.  The CEC conclusion is nuclear power is one of the most costly of all generating types.  

From Chapter 1 of the CEC 2010 study: “[t]he levelized cost of a resource represents a constant cost per unit of generation computed to compare one unit’s generation costs with other resources over similar periods. This is necessary because both the costs and generation capabilities differ dramatically from year to year between generation technologies, making spot comparisons using any year problematic.

“The levelized cost formula used in (the CEC) model first sums the net present value of the individual cost components, and then computes the annual payment with interest (or discount rate, r) required to pay off that present value over the specified period T.”

Figure 7 of the CEC 2010 study shows nuclear power at $340/MWh, coal using IGCC at $180/MWh, and advanced combined cycle natural gas at $160/MWh.   The nuclear technology in the CEC 2010 study is a Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR with 960 MWe. 

3.17 Would the establishment of such facilities give rise to impacts on other sectors of the economy? How should they be estimated and using what information? Have such impacts been demonstrated in other economies similar to Australia?

Electric power prices will increase to all customers, creating a drag on the economy.  The high capital cost and operating costs of a small nuclear power plant necessitate higher power prices.  This problem is more acute if a load-following nuclear power plant is installed. 

Subsidies that are required to install and operate a nuclear power plant will increase the tax burden on citizens, further depressing the economy.  The response to question 3.6 above listed eight types of subsidy to nuclear power plants. 

Bureaucracy will increase by establishing an effective nuclear regulatory agency and all of its employees, offices, travel and other expenses.  

Frequent nuclear-related lawsuits brought against various parties will require defending.  This will line the pockets of lawyers but will drain the coffers of the defendants. 

Delays in completion of nuclear power plants require utilities to purchase expensive spot-market power, or operate inefficient and perhaps unsafe facilities to provide power to the grid.  

A spent-fuel management industry will be required, with capital resources, utility consumption, labor and maintenance, security forces, and many other operating costs.  This industry will endure for decades at a minimum, and far longer depending on choices made in the spent fuel disposition.
  
Nuclear plant decommissioning costs will additionally burden the electricity consumers.  Where actual decommissioning costs exceed the estimate, the electricity consumers of the future will be billed for those costs.  

Since Australia must import nuclear plant parts and expertise, much of the capital cost for a nuclear plant will go overseas.  

Local workers could be employed during plant construction and operation.  However, a single nuclear power plant would employ a few hundred people at most.   


Questions 1-4 and answers, see link
Questions 5-8 and answers, see link
Questions 9-12 and answers, see link
Questions 13-17 and answers, this article


Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell 



South Australia Nuclear Prospects Q9-12

Subtitle: Nuclear Power For South Australia Not Justifiable

This is part 3 of my responses to the 17 questions.   South Australia's Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle requested written responses to 17 questions on the topic of nuclear power reactors.  see link The reactors are but one of four topic areas, with the others being 1) uranium mining, 2) uranium enrichment into civilian power fuel, and 3) nuclear waste management and storage.  I was unable to submit answers to the questions for formal consideration by the Royal Commission, however, the answers are below for the third set of 4 questions.  Answers to the remaining questions will appear in separate posts.   The conclusion is that a nuclear power plant cannot be justified.  A small nuclear reactor would be required, which suffers from reverse economy of scale and is, therefore, very expensive for the amount of power produced.   The usual safety concerns also apply: operating upsets and radiation releases, population evacuation plans, spent fuel storage or reprocessing, and sabotage and terrorist attacks, to name a few.

The Commission's Questions and Responses  (9-12)

3.9 What are the lessons to be learned from accidents, such as that at Fukushima, in relation to the possible establishment of any proposed nuclear facility to generate electricity in South Australia? Have those demonstrated risks and other known safety risks associated with the operation of nuclear plants been addressed? How and by what means? What are the processes that would need to be undertaken to build confidence in the community generally, or specific communities, in the design, establishment and operation of such facilities?

The primary lesson from Fukushima is that a loss of cooling accident, LOCA, is a serious event and should be the primary concern.  LOCA have two versions: short-term and long-term duration.  A short-term duration may be manageable with proper design and operating procedures, as happened by sheer luck at Three Mile Island in 1979.  LOCA of long-term duration is what happened at Fukushima where meltdowns, explosions, and extensive radiation releases occurred.  One lesson from Fukushima is that emergency generators, cooling pumps and motors, and associated electrical equipment must not be positioned where they will be inoperable after or during a grid failure.  This is true no matter what causes the grid failure, tsunami, flood, earthquake, wildfire, sabotage or terror attack, ice storm, cyclone, tornado, or any other cause.  At Fukushima, emergency generators were placed in basements that flooded during the tsunami.   

In Japan, nuclear reactors are shut down at present following Fukushima's 3 reactor meltdowns.  Detailed studies are being performed at each existing reactor to determine if the reactor can be restarted and operated safely.   In the US, the NRC required detailed study of each operating reactor to determine if changes must be made to ensure safety.  In addition, the NRC required several new facilities to be constructed that store emergency generation equipment that can be rapidly deployed to any nuclear reactor that cannot sustain its own emergency generating system during a grid outage or for any other reason. 

Even Germany, with little risk from tsunamis, recognized the high risk of multiple and simultaneous system failures in nuclear plants that endanger the public.  The government chose to shut down the entire reactor fleet in an orderly fashion while new non-nuclear generation facilities are built to supply the grid. 

The primary lesson to be learned from the Three Mile Island meltdown is that human operators are fallible and will make mistakes.  Even when the grid is operating normally, meltdowns can occur.  That meltdown incident began with the simple failure of a water pump.  Operator errors compounded the problems leading to intentional shutdown of a reactor cooling water pump. Only by sheer luck was the reactor cooling water pump started again, after approximately one-half of the reactor fuel had melted down. It is noteworthy that the Three Mile Island operators were supposedly some of the best in the world, being former US Navy atomic submarine operators.

Additionally, recent events in Japan related to the Fukushima meltdowns include criminal charges filed against utility executives.  The criminal charges include what would be termed involuntary manslaughter in the US, the loss of human life due to negligence.  In Japan, the charge is professional negligence resulting in death and injury.  The utility executives allegedly knew the seawall to protect against tsunamis was too low for the expected, foreseeable tsunami.  They also knew the nuclear plant designs had placed the emergency generators in the building basements where they would be inundated by flood or tsunami waters.  Then, when a foreseeable tsunami occurred, knocking out the grid for days, the emergency generators would not operate.

Other nuclear accidents of lesser harm occur regularly as documented by the Union of Concerned Scientists in their annual reports on US reactor safety.  An unplanned, emergency reactor shutdown, or a serious security breach, occurs approximately once every 3 weeks in the US reactor fleet over the past five years, 2010-2014 inclusive.  Some of these incidents resulted in radiation releases to the environment.  Also, leaks of water laced with tritium occur regularly.  Radioactive steam is also released, as occurred at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in California. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists reports mentioned earlier have much to say about reactor safety, from operating procedures to replacement parts to operating training.  

Instilling public confidence in nuclear power plants is difficult, if not impossible, given the nuclear industry’s long and abysmal record of false information, cover-ups, and secrecy.  The internet information age now enables information sharing that was not possible before, so that industry falsehoods are more easily exposed.  One such area of critical information is the evacuation zone around nuclear power plants, and emergency preparedness. 

From the NRC’s backgrounder on emergency preparedness, “[b]efore a plant is licensed to operate, the NRC must have “reasonable assurance that adequate protective measures can and will be taken in the event of a radiological emergency.” The NRC’s decision of reasonable assurance is based on licensees complying with NRC regulations and guidance. In addition, licensees and area response organizations must “demonstrate they can effectively implement emergency plans and procedures during periodic evaluated exercises.”

Also, “[f]or planning purposes, the NRC defines two emergency planning zones (EPZs) around each nuclear power plant. The exact size and configuration of the zones vary from plant to plant due to local emergency response needs and capabilities, population, land characteristics, access routes, and jurisdictional boundaries. The two types of EPZs are:

1) The plume exposure pathway EPZ extends about 10 miles in radius around a plant. Its primary concern is the exposure of the public to, and the inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination.

2) The ingestion pathway EPZ extends about 50 miles in radius around a plant. Its primary concern is the ingestion of food and liquid that is contaminated by radioactivity.”

For instilling public confidence and assurance that people will be safe near an operating nuclear power plant, the very fact that an evacuation plan is required is sobering, if not heart-stopping.  Children are particularly susceptible to nuclear radiation effects.  Property values near nuclear plants necessarily decline.  

The NRC uses the least-alarming measure by stating a 10-mile radius around the plant defines the plume exposure pathway EPZ.  The fact is, the smaller, plume exposure pathway EPZ is a circle 20 miles across, with an area of 314 square miles.  The larger, ingestion pathway EPZ is a circle 100 miles across with an area of more than 7,800 square miles.  Clearly, using the numbers 10 and 50 sound much more reassuring than 314 and 7,800.  

Yet another rather clever method of minimizing alarm and concern is the nuclear industry's use of acronyms for some phrases.  As seen just above, the acronym EPZ is used instead of 'emergency planning zone.'  

The facts of nuclear power, related to instilling public confidence, are illustrated by the following. Over the decades, the nuclear industry’s position on reactor safety has changed from “no one has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has died”, to “nuclear power is safer than coal or natural gas.”   That is an interesting progression, as it implies that non-industry people, the public, have been injured and have died from nuclear plant radiation.  

With legal settlements of one million US$ or more for deaths caused by a defendant’s actions, the deaths of 100,000 people from a nuclear plant radiation release amounts to US$ 100 billion.  It is also noteworthy that the US EPA uses US$ 6 million for the value of a statistical life saved.  Therefore, 100,000 deaths from a radiation release would require payment of US$ 600 billion.  If the event were to kill 200,000 people, the payment would be US$ 1.2 trillion. No nuclear plant owner can absorb such an amount. Even a national government, such as Australia, that absorbs any excess liability from nuclear radiation releases would find such an amount staggering.  

Finally, my own series of articles on nuclear power plants included 12 articles on nuclear plant safety, out of 30 total articles.  These 12 articles addressed the topics of: safety regulations are routinely relaxed, many serious near-misses occur (one every 3 weeks), safety issues with short term and long-term storage of spent fuel, reprocessing safety issues, radiation illness and deaths, Chernobyl explosion, Three Mile Island meltdown, Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns and explosions, the San Onofre Shutdown Saga, the St Lucie plant imminent tube rupture, the Price-Anderson Act details, and evacuating populations to escape radiation.  These articles are Truth About Nuclear Power, numbers 15 through 26, inclusive. See link.
  
The conclusion can be none other than instilling confidence in the public is essentially impossible.

3.10 If a facility to generate electricity from nuclear fuels was established in South Australia, what regulatory regime to address safety would need to be established? What are the best examples of those regimes? What can be drawn from them?

In the US, the NRC regulates safety for nuclear reactors.  The regulatory regime is extensive.  Australia is also a signatory to the International Atomic Energy Agency and must follow its requirements.  

The US NRC is criticized for not being sufficiently pro-active in its enforcement, in not requiring safety modifications in a timely manner, and for relaxing safety requirements instead of requiring reactors to comply.  

3.11 How might a comparison of the emission of greenhouse gases from generating electricity in South Australia from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources be quantified, assessed or modelled? What information, including that drawn from relevant operational experience should be used in that comparative assessment? What general considerations are relevant in conducting those assessments or developing these models?

A greenhouse gas emissions inventory for nuclear reactors ordinarily concentrates only on Carbon Dioxide, of which little is emitted during normal operations.  However, a much more important greenhouse gas is water vapor, which is produced in far greater amounts from a nuclear plant due to the large cooling requirements. 

It must be noted that almost every form of renewable energy has near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide and water vapor.  The exceptions are those technologies that use renewable heat to produce steam to turn a turbine, and that exhaust steam is condensed against cooling water.  As noted above, a cooling tower produces water vapor into the atmosphere.  Three examples of renewable energy that produce power via a steam turbine are geothermal, concentrated solar power, and bio-gas. 

Typically, carbon dioxide emissions accounting from an operating nuclear power plant do not consider, nor count, the emissions from off-site manufacturing to support the nuclear power plant.  Examples include the oil refineries that produces the vast quantities of lubricants, oils and greases, that are used in the great number of pumps, motors, turbines, generators, transformers, and electrical switches.   Also, petrochemical and plastic plants that produce the myriad compounds that are formed into electronics and plastic parts used in maintenance and upgrades.  The same is true for every metal part replaced over the operating lifetime, because fossil-fuel combustion is almost certainly used to mine, refine, then fabricate the metal parts.  

3.12 What are the wastes (other than greenhouse gases) produced in generating electricity from nuclear and other fuels and technologies? What is the evidence of the impacts of those wastes on the community and the environment? Is there any accepted means by which those impacts can be compared? Have such assessments making those comparisons been undertaken, and if so, what are the results? Can those results be adapted so as to be relevant to an analysis of the generation of electricity in South Australia?

Nuclear wastes include long and short-lived radioactive products and the heat they produce.  Community and environmental impacts from long-term storage and cooling of the nuclear wastes include fear of radiation exposure, actual radiation exposure from loss of cooling to a spent fuel pool, and water vapor from cooling towers where those are the cooling source.   One must also consider transportation issues where spent nuclear fuel is moved from place to place, and the inevitable accidents and consequences. 

Coal-fired power plants produce waste as fly ash and sludge from the stack scrubber.  The amounts and relative composition depends on the coal, plus any pre-treatment. 

Renewables typically produce zero wastes, such as solar, wind, biogas, ocean current, waves and tides.  A renewable that does produce some wastes is geothermal, with various minerals brought to the surface in the hot water.  


Questions 1-4 and answers, see link
Questions 5-8 and answers, see link
Questions 9-12 and answers, this article
Questions 13-17 and answers, see link


Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

South Australia Nuclear Prospects Q5-8

Subtitle: Nuclear Power For South Australia Not Justifiable

This is part 2 of my responses to the 17 questions.   South Australia's Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle requested written responses to 17 questions on the topic of nuclear power reactors.  see link The reactors are but one of four topic areas, with the others being 1) uranium mining, 2) uranium enrichment into civilian power fuel, and 3) nuclear waste management and storage.  I was unable to submit answers to the questions for formal consideration by the Royal Commission, however, the answers are below for the second 4 questions.  Answers to the remaining questions will appear in separate posts.   The conclusion is that a nuclear power plant cannot be justified.  A small nuclear reactor would be required, which suffers from reverse economy of scale and is, therefore, very expensive for the amount of power produced.   The usual safety concerns also apply: operating upsets and radiation releases, population evacuation plans, spent fuel storage or reprocessing, and sabotage and terrorist attacks, to name a few.

The Commission's Questions and Responses  (5-8)

3.5  What are the conditions that would be necessary for new nuclear generation capacity to be viable in the NEM? Would there be a need, for example, for new infrastructure such as transmission lines to be constructed, or changes to how the generator is scheduled or paid? How do those conditions differ between the NEM and an off-grid setting, and why? 

New nuclear generation capacity in the NEM would be no more than 300 MW and preferably 200 MW to avoid unnecessary idling of load-following generating capacity.  Such small nuclear reactors are not economically favored.   The small minimum load of 700 to 800 MW at night is very small for a power grid.  Grid operation stability normally requires that no single generator exceed approximately 40 percent of the load.  If that single generator trips off line, additional generating resources must be brought on line rapidly to avoid grid failure.  

The NEM setting would also require a nuclear plant to be located where a radiation release to the atmosphere would be blown away from populated areas by prevailing winds.  

An off-grid setting would be specific to the demands of the off-grid load, including load-following.  Also, with no grid to provide power during unplanned shutdowns and shutdowns for maintenance, the off-grid load likely will require a shutdown whenever the nuclear plant is stopped for breakdowns, maintenance, refueling, severe natural events, security threats, or safety violations.  

3.6  What are the specific models and case studies that demonstrate the best practice for the establishment and operation of new facilities for the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels? What are the less successful examples? Where have they been implemented in practice? What relevant lessons can be drawn from them if such facilities were established in South Australia? 

There are, at present (2015) approximately 438 operating nuclear power plants globally, with another 60 under construction.  Very few new nuclear plants have been started up recently.   The usual model for a nuclear plant is the government assumes almost the entire liability for a radiation release, and subsidizes the plant construction costs.   As noted in the US’ Price-Anderson Act, which provides for the government assumption of liability, no nuclear plants would be built absent the government assuming the liability.  Insurers would require far too much money in the form of insurance premiums for nuclear-based power to be cost-effective. 

Additional forms of nuclear power subsidy include:
1) huge construction loan guarantees from government, approximately $8.3 billion for the US’ Vogtle plant construction alone,
2) regulation that no lawsuits during construction will be allowed (with a minor exception),
3) a carbon tax on fossil-fuel based electric power generating plants, 
4) regulation to raise electricity prices during construction to avoid interest costs on construction loans,
5) operating regulations that are routinely relaxed to allow plants to avoid spending money to comply,
6) direct subsidy of typically 1.5 cents (US) per kWh sold for the first decade of a nuclear plant’s operation,
7) a large guaranteed power price that is far above competitors’ pricing, as at UK’s Hinkley Point C proposed plant.

The best practice at this time appears to be the EPR reactor system under construction at two locations, Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland.  Both reactors are large to attempt to capture economy of scale, at 1600 MWe output.  Both projects failed to meet target schedules by several years.  Both projects also failed to meet target budgets by billions of Euros.  The Finland project is involved in legal claims between the various stakeholders.  

Four new reactors are under construction in the US, two each at Vogtle in Georgia, and Sumner in South Carolina, with all four having the Westinghouse AP-1000 PWR reactors at 1,200 MWe output.  All four reactors are years behind schedule and substantially over budget.

There are claims that nuclear plants being built in China are much less costly and are completed in four years.  The lower costs may be attributed to the very low wages for labor.  
If nuclear plants are built in Australia, construction costs can be expected to be more in line with the US and Europe rather than the China experience.  With the small size required for the NEM, costs will be much greater as economy of scale will not exist for a 250 to 300 MW reactor.  

Less successful examples include the Three Mile Island reactor and its partial meltdown.  The Rancho Seco nuclear plant in California, USA was shut down after repeated radiation releases and safety issues.  

3.7  What place is there in the generation market, if any, for electricity generated from nuclear fuels to play in the medium or long term? Why? What is the basis for that prediction including the relevant demand scenarios?

There is no place for electricity that is generated from nuclear fuels in the medium term, or long term.  As stated above, a nuclear plant in South Australia would be small, and suffer from high capital cost due to economy of scale.  Electricity from such a small reactor would be, therefore, far more expensive even if fuel costs were small.  In the long term, electricity that is generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and ocean currents are expected to be far less expensive, more reliable, much safer, and have less environmental impact than nuclear-produced power.  It is noted that Australia has a tremendous ocean current off the East Coast, the East Australia Current.  In addition, for intermittent wind energy, grid-scale power storage or its functional equivalent is available with the MIT system of submerged hollow spheres offshore near the coast.

For a relevant demand scenario, it is advantageous to consider historic grid demand growth and extrapolate into the time period of interest.  Grid demand typically follows population growth, but must be adjusted for anticipated industry needs, cogeneration, and distributed generation.  It is noteworthy that mineral processing may be performed near the mine if low-cost electricity is available at the mine.  However, the mineral processing may also be performed at sites nearer the end-user where electricity costs at the mine are high and transportation costs are low. 

Given the above, a demand growth of only 2.5 percent per year results in demand more than triple in only 50 years, and approximately 10 times greater in only 94 years.  A three-fold increase in demand for South Australia would bring minimum demand to 2,100 MWe, which would still not support the 1,200 MWe nuclear plant that is presently considered the best available technology.  Considering time frames beyond 50 years is very likely too speculative.  


3.8 What issues should be considered in a comparative analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the generation of electricity from nuclear fuels as opposed to other sources? What are the most important issues? Why? How should they be analysed?  

As noted above, substantial subsidies are required for any size nuclear reactor, else no reactor would be built.  Large size is required for economy of scale, but the grid must provide the load when the large nuclear plant is off-line for maintenance, refueling, breakdowns, emergencies, severe natural events, and security and safety violations.  Other considerations are radiation emissions, evacuation plans, spent fuel storage for a very long time, cost to decommission, and excessive water use in nuclear plants compared to other forms of generation. 

When a nuclear reactor is not generating, it is a substantial load on the grid to maintain core cooling.  Provision must be made to provide redundant and reliable grid power to the nuclear plant so that adequate cooling is maintained for the decay heat in the reactor and spent fuel pool.  

Other sources of power generation also should have their relative advantages and disadvantages quantified and compared.  The California Energy Commission's study, referenced in Q3.4 above, compared 21 technologies including various forms of coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, nuclear fission, and renewables.  The renewables included onshore and offshore wind but both without storage, solar PV and thermal, geothermal, biomass, and ocean waves.   It should be noted that the CEC study did not include grid-scale storage as described by MIT, which involves placing hollow spheres in moderately deep ocean water such that wind energy pumps seawater out of the spheres.  When power is required on the grid, seawater flows into the spheres through conventional hydroelectric turbine/generators.   Such grid-scale storage adds to the installed cost, but substantially increases the value of the intermittent power from wind, is load-following, and dispatchable.

Also from Q3.4 above, factors for installing any generating facility on a grid, including NEM, include infrastructure availability, capital cost, operating cost, safety, reliability, turn-down ratio, ramping rate, fuel availability, cooling requirements, transmission requirements, impact on the grid from planned and unplanned shutdowns, years required during construction before connecting to the grid, and environmental impacts from both ongoing operations and after the facility closes at the end of its useful life. 

The most important factors are safety, reliability, and unsubsidized-cost of power sold to obtain a modest return on investment.   Almost all of the other factors can be partially or entirely overcome with sufficient care in design and expenditure of capital, but that capital expenditure increases the final cost of power sold.    None of the non-nuclear alternatives pose the safety threat of serious radiation exposure, which places public safety at the top of the list of important factors.  

For the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) perspective on the safety considerations posed by a nuclear power plant on a grid, one should refer to "Safety of
Nuclear Power Plants: Design, No. SSR-2/1 Specific Safety Requirements (2012)" available online from www.iaea.org.  see link This is but one of 13 Safety Guides available from IAEA.   This Design document lists 82 specific design Requirements for nuclear power plants.   The conclusion to be drawn is that a nuclear power plant is a serious threat to public safety and must have expensive and elaborate design and operational safeguards.  Even with such design and operational safeguards, nuclear power plants have melted down with subsequent radiation exposure that impacts people and the environment (3 reactors melted down at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Japan). 

For the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) perspective on the reliability considerations posed by a nuclear power plant on a grid, one should refer to "Interfacing Nuclear Power Plants with the Electric Grid: the Need for Reliability amid Complexity," available online from www.iaea.org.  see link From page 7 of the IAEA Interfacing publication, 

"In addition to assuring that the electric grid will provide reliable off-site power to NPPs, (nuclear power plants), there are other important factors to consider when an NPP will be the first nuclear unit on the grid and, most likely, the largest unit. If an NPP is too large for a given grid, the operators of the NPP and the grid may face several problems. 

• Off-peak electricity demand might be too low for a large NPP to be operated in baseload mode, i.e. at constant full power.  (note, operating at other than full power requires a higher sales price for electricity - Sowell)

• There must be enough reserve generating capacity in the grid to ensure grid stability during the NPP’s planned outages for refuelling and maintenance.

• Any unexpected sudden disconnect of the NPP from an otherwise stable electric grid could trigger a severe imbalance between power generation and consumption causing a sudden reduction in grid frequency and voltage. This could even cascade into the collapse of the grid if additional power sources are not connected to the grid in time."

Questions 1-4 and answers, see link
Questions 5-8 and answers, this article
Questions 9-12 and answers, see link
Questions 13-17 and answers, see link


Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell







Tuesday, August 4, 2015

South Australia Nuclear Prospects Q1-4

Subtitle:  Nuclear Power For South Australia Not Justifiable

South Australia's Royal Commission on the Nuclear Fuel Cycle requested written responses to 17 questions on the topic of nuclear power reactors.  see link The reactors are but one of four topic areas, with the others being 1) uranium mining, 2) uranium enrichment into civilian power fuel, and 3) nuclear waste management and storage.  I was unable to submit answers to the questions for formal consideration by the Royal Commission, however, the answers are below for the first 4 questions.  Answers to the remaining questions will appear in separate posts.   The conclusion is that a nuclear power plant cannot be justified.  A small nuclear reactor would be required, which suffers from reverse economy of scale and is, therefore, very expensive for the amount of power produced.   The usual safety concerns also apply: operating upsets and radiation releases, population evacuation plans, spent fuel storage or reprocessing, and sabotage and terrorist attacks, to name a few.

The background parameters for the South Australian power grid, the NEM or National Electricity Market, are as follows. 

1. SA has peak demand of approximately 1400 MW, at times soaring to 2400+ MW in Winter; recently has hot summer peaks of 3000+ MW in January.  (Figure 4, Issues Paper 3)
2. Typical peak demand is 1400 MW, see Figure 4, Issues Paper 3.  
3. Typical minimum demand (nights) is 1000 MW, with lows in Spring of 700 to 800 MW. ( ibid, Figure 4) 
4. Generation total capacity is 5,000 MW on the NEM. 
5. Demand growth has slowed, and demand has decreased in the past few years.  The decrease is attributed to deliberate conservation measures, solar on rooftops, and demand removal via industry closures. 
6. Commission concludes that SA has 600 MW of excess, surplus, generation that could be removed from the grid without difficulties arising.  
7. There is some fraction of wind energy in the generation mix.  The balance is coal and natural gas. 
8. The grid is connected at high voltage to other Australian grids via the National Electricity Market, NEM.  A spot market exists on the NEM.  Export or import capacities are 650 MW and 220 MW, both to Victoria.
9. Some off-grid generation and demand exists, presumably in remote locations such as farming, mines, and desalination. 
10. Background information correctly identifies earthquakes as a concern, also requirement for adequate cooling water, and accessibility to power transmission lines. (No information yet on evacuation plans, tsunami threats, grid loss from other forces such as wildfires, storms, cyclones, sabotage, and large aircraft crash.)  

The Commission's Questions and Responses  (1-4)

3.1  Are there suitable areas in South Australia for the establishment of a nuclear reactor for generating electricity? What is the basis for that assessment?

Nuclear plants have been built on a variety of sites, including ocean coasts (e.g. Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California, USA, Fukushima Dai-Ichi and Dai-ini in Japan), lake shores (Perry in Ohio, USA on the shore of Lake Erie), on islands in rivers (Three Mile Island on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, USA, and South Texas near the mouth of the Colorado River in Texas, USA), and in a desert (Palo Verdes near Phoenix, Arizona, USA).  Cooling for Palo Verdes is provided by treated waste water from the nearby city of Phoenix and other towns.  It is probable that suitable sites exist in South Australia, however many factors must be considered as discussed below. 

Factors that are required to provide a meaningful answer on site selection include the size and type of nuclear reactor.  This impacts several aspects for site selection including cooling water required, infrastructure for building the plant and ongoing work, reliability of the grid at that location, probability of natural forces that impact the reactor and other parts of the plant, such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, ice storms, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, any other site-specific natural events, and size of population downwind of the site that must be evacuated in and when a major radiation event occurs.  

3.2  Are there commercial reactor technologies (or emerging technologies which may be commercially available in the next two decades) that can be installed and connected to the NEM? If so, what are those technologies, and what are the characteristics that make them technically suitable? What are the characteristics of the NEM that determine the suitability of a reactor for connection? 

Demand on NEM for SA is small at 1400 MWe typical daily maximum, and 3,000 MWe annual maximum.  Population served is approximately 1.6 million.   Night minimum demand is approximately 700 MWe.   This places NEM on the small end of utility grids, and likely unsuitable for a nuclear reactor.  It is notable that zero islands with similar power demand have nuclear power for electricity.   There are, however, commercial reactor technologies that could be installed and connected to the NEM.  The grid’s operational stability, and economics of generation, would be severely compromised.  

Determining if nuclear technologies may be commercially available in the next two decades requires prudent speculation.  One such technology undergoing research is the PRISM, or Power Reactor Innovative Small Module.  (S-PRISM Fuel Cycle Study, For Session 3: Future Deployment Programs and Issues, A. Dubberley et. al. 2003, see link)  PRISM technology would require a spent fuel reprocessing plant to extract fissile and fertile material, then react the extracted material via fission to produce power.  The plants would consist of multiple 760 MWe power blocks.  It can be seen from the above that the PRISM technology is too big to suit the NEM and South Australia.   The costs would also be prohibitive. 

In addition, PRISM technology requires ready access to spent nuclear fuel, which must be imported into South Australia.  The safe transport of spent nuclear fuel from Japan, the US, Europe, and elsewhere presents very great problems.  A ship containing spent nuclear fuel would be a prime target for terrorists and pirates.  A spent nuclear fuel ship could be held for ransom.  Also, the environmental consequences of a sunk ship would be devastating.  
The safety of a PRISM, which is a Liquid Metal Fast Reactor, LMR, is dubious at best and catastrophic at worst.  If a LMR is located underground, one then has an atomic land mine.  The liquid metal is typically sodium, which reacts furiously with air or water to produce great quantities of heat or explosive gas.  Leaks are inevitable in a process system.  

Other small reactor technologies under research include thorium-based SMR, and high temperature gas reactors.   None of these have any advantages to recommend them. 

3.3  Are there commercial reactor technologies (or emerging technologies which may be commercially available in the next two decades) that can be installed and connected in an off-grid setting? If so, what are those technologies, and what are the characteristics that make them technically suitable? What are the characteristics of any particular off-grid setting that determine the suitability of a reactor for connection?

Other than military ship and submarine nuclear power plants, none are available, and none likely to become available and economic.   A nuclear reactor in an off-grid setting must compete successfully with two alternatives: the expense of bringing reliable grid power to the off-grid load, or the expense and variable reliability of on-site generation such as diesel-powered generators, and gas-turbine cogeneration systems.  For many off-grid applications, both electricity and steam for heat are required.  A gas-fired cogeneration system may have excellent economics in such a location.  A small nuclear reactor would have unfavorable economics.  

3.4  What factors affect the assessment of viability for installing any facility to generate electricity in the NEM? How might those factors be quantified and assessed? What are the factors in an off-grid setting exclusively? How might they be quantified and assessed? 

Factors for installing any generating facility on a grid, including NEM, include infrastructure availability, capital cost, operating cost, safety, reliability, turn-down ratio, ramping rate, fuel availability, cooling requirements, transmission requirements, impact on the grid from planned and unplanned shutdowns, years required during construction before connecting to the grid, and environmental impacts from both ongoing operations and after the facility closes at the end of its useful life.  Several comparisons of multiple sources of electricity have been performed, including e.g. California’s cost study from 2010. see link

Factors for an off-grid setting also include most of the above factors for NEM, noting that infrastructure additions are almost certainly required, e.g. roads for heavy components, and reduced efficiency where the off-grid setting is far from cooling water so that air cooling must be used.  One factor for the NEM that likely will not be present for off-grid consideration is the impact on the local grid from an unplanned shutdown.  However, the load that is serviced by the off-grid power plant will certainly be impacted by any shutdown of the power plant.  
  
Note that an off-grid setting would almost certainly require load-following capability from a nuclear power plant, which adds to the cost of the plant, decreases safety, decreases the operating lifetime, and increases the price that must be paid for the electricity produced.

Questions 5-8 and answers, see link.
Questions 9-12 and answers, see link
Questions 13-17 and answers, see link


Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell





Saturday, August 1, 2015

Japanese Nuclear Utility Executives Face Criminal Charges

Subtitle: Fukushima Dai-ichi Disaster Was Alleged Crime 

From the Japanese on-line newspaper, English version, Mainichi Shimbun editorial of August 1, 2015, "Decision to indict ex-TEPCO executives in court over nuclear accident is meaningful."  see link   

From the editorial:  "The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution recommended that former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, be prosecuted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. This was the second recommendation by the
Fukushima Dai-ichi Plant before earthquake
source:  ORNL
prosecution inquest panel, whose eleven members were selected from among members of the general public.


In 2008, three years before the disaster, TEPCO released its estimate that the atomic power plant could be hit by a tsunami up to 15.7 meters in height. The inquest panel determined that the three former executives failed to take necessary measures, and neglected their duty to prevent a serious accident, even though they knew of this possibility."

This is significant because the Dai-ichi nuclear plant was designed for only a 6 meter tsunami (23 feet).  The 15.7 meter tsunami estimate from 2008 would be 51 feet.  The actual tsunami was approximately 50 feet high.  

If the TEPCO executives do stand trial and are convicted, a clear message will be sent to nuclear utility executives to modify their nuclear plants when new information becomes available, and not wait until a disaster occurs. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell