“Nuclear Energy is Suddenly Back on the Agenda”

   The Belguim windmill looks nice, but the electiricty is produced by the nuclear plant in the background.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.


The latest word on energy, from the 2006 World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland:


. . .  nuclear energy is suddenly back on the agenda — and not just here.  Spurred on by politicians interested in energy independence and scientists who specialize in the field of climate change, Germany is reconsidering a commitment to shut down its nuclear power plants.  France, Europe’s leading nuclear power producer, is increasing its investment, as is Finland.

At a time when industrialized countries are wrestling with how to curb carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear energy has one indisputable advantage: unlike coal, oil, natural gas, or even biological fuels, it emits no carbon dioxide. That virtue, in the view of advocates, is enough to offset its well-documented shortcomings.

“It has put nuclear back into the mix,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. “We’re seeing a new balancing of the costs and benefits.”


For the full commentary, see: 

MARK LANDLER. "Europe’s Embrace; With Apologies, Nuclear Power Gets a Second Look."  The New York Times, Section 4  (Sun., January 28, 2007):  3.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)



Utilities Propose to Build 27 New Nuclear Reactors

W tours one of Constellation Energy’s current nuclear power plants.  Source of the photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below. 


(p. C1)  BALTIMORE — Nobody in the United States has started building a nuclear power plant in more than three decades.  Mayo A. Shattuck III could be the first.

As the chief executive of Constellation Energy, a utility holding company in Baltimore that already operates five nuclear reactors, Mr. Shattuck is convinced that nuclear power is on the verge of a renaissance, ready to provide reliable electricity at a competitive price.  He has already taken the first steps toward achieving that, moving recently to order critical parts for a new reactor.


The full story is strongly biased in favor of the standard politically correct environmentalist antagonism toward nuclear energy.  But if you want to read it anyway, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Slow Start for Revival of Nuclear Reactors."  The New York Times  (Tues., August 22, 2006):  C1 & C4. 


  Source of map graphic:  online version of the NYT article cited above. 


Power to the People

VogtleCoolingTowers.jpg Cooling towers at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia.  Source of photo:  the online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

A long, and informative cover-story in the NYT, discusses the costs and benefits of nuclear power.  My read is that, on balance, the considerations in the article favor nuclear energy.  Here are a few passages from near the end of the article:

(p. 64)  Gary Taylor, . . ., the C.E.O. of Entergy Nuclear, says he believes a doubling of the number of nuclear plants around the world is inevitable, both to satisfy energy demands and to counter global warming.  As Taylor puts it:  ”The reality is, what is scalable in the time frame that addresses the issues?  If it isn’t this technology, I don’t know what it would be.”  Diaz, the former head of the N.R.C., told me he sees a similarly bright future for nuclear.  ”The world is going to go nuclear, because they do not have any other real alternatives,” he says.  I met plenty of other engineers within the industry who went even further.  Their feeling about nuclear power is close to evangelical, in that they seem to approach the technology with moral certitude while being loath to acknowledge any of its many negatives.  Would that include the utility executives who will ultimately decide if — and what — to build?  I’m not sure it would.  To those I spoke with in the uppermost ranks, nuclear power isn’t a belief system.  It’s a business.  And to them, what might come out of, say, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 — the waste and the power and the profits — would be nearly identical to what comes out of Units 1 and 2.

At least that was my conclusion in Georgia, where Jeff Gasser, the Southern Company’s chief nuclear officer, took me through a long tour of the plant.  He was smart, meticulous and intensely committed to the obscure safety protocols that go on at nuclear power facilities.  Most of all he was forthright about the advantages and disadvantages of the nukes business.  When we went to visit the spent-fuel pool in Vogtle, where the used fuel-rod assemblies are stored under 20 feet of protective water, Gasser let me know that we would die if we pulled one of the fuel assemblies out of the pool.  ”We would receive, before we could get to the exit door a few feet away, a lethal radiation dose,” he said.  I quickly had to check the radiation dosimeter I was wearing — another legal requirement of the N.R.C. — to see if I was already glowing.  (It read zero.)  ”The communications people hate it when I use words like ‘lethal’ and ‘irradiated,’ ” Gasser continued.  ”But the fact is, there is no perfect way of generating electricity.  There are byproducts for every type.”  Like many others, he went through the positives and negatives of coal, gas, solar, wind and nuclear.  In his opinion, he added, with Vogtle’s engineering, redundancy of safety systems and its trained operators, it was a safe, reliable and efficient way of making electricity.  That was his sales pitch.

We had already passed through the containment buildings, where the reactors heat the pressurized water.  So Gasser took me through the turbine building, an enormous room the size of a soccer field, where the steam turns the fan blades.  Eventually, we went out a back door into the sunlight.  The deafening sounds of turbines and machinery subsided to a dull thrum.  We removed our earplugs and walked over to a small forest of electrical transformers, our backs to the plant.  The electricity from the turbines inside comes out here, Gasser explained, its voltage is transformed, and it is then put into the grid.

Gasser made a pushing motion toward the green hills before us.

”Once the power is sent out of here, it can go everywhere,” he explained.  And I could see that it did go everywhere.  The high-tension wires stretched away from where we stood, in several directions, through deep cuts in the pinelands, as far as I could see.


For the full article, see:

JON GERTNER.  "Atomic Balm? ‘   The New York Times Magazine, Section 6  (Sunday, July 16, 2006),  36-47, 56, 62 & 64.

Parts Order is a Major Step Towards a Nuclear Renaissance

WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 — A partnership established to build nuclear reactors has ordered the heavy steel parts needed to make a reactor vessel, as well as other crucial components, apparently the first hardware order for a plant since the 1970’s.

The order, which an executive of the partnership said was worth “tens of millions of dollars,” was a major step toward actual construction after several years of speculation about a nuclear renaissance.

. . .

The design is derived from the Westinghouse layout already in service, but with several changes.  It is 1,600 megawatts, about a third larger than the largest reactor operating here.  It has a double-walled containment building designed to withstand the crash of a large aircraft.  It has four emergency core cooling systems, any one of which would be sufficient in an emergency, so that it can continue operating even if some of the systems are deactivated for maintenance and repair.  And because of design changes, it has 47 percent fewer valves, 16 percent fewer pumps and 50 percent fewer tanks than a typical existing model.


For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Nuclear Power Venture Orders Crucial Parts for Reactor."  The New York Times (Fri., August 4, 2006):  C2.

Chernobyl Accident Cannot Occur In U.S. Type Reactors

Twenty years ago (April 25, 1986), the Chernobyl nuclear accident sent a plume of radiation into the air above Ukraine.  The word "Chernobyl" remains the most emotionally charged argument used by the opponents of nuclear energy.  But if examined carefully, the main lesson from Chernobyl may be that what happened there cannot occur in the better designed light water reactors used in the United States, and most of the rest of the world.  William Sweet, the author of the commentary below, has also authored Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.


(p. A23) . . . , though it went unnoticed at the time and has been inadequately appreciated since, Chernobyl also cast into relief the positive features of the reactors used in the United States and most other advanced industrial countries.

The reactor at Chernobyl belonged to a class that was especially vulnerable to runaway reactions.  When operating at low power, if such reactors lost water, their reactivity could suddenly take off and very rapidly reach a threshold beyond which they could only explode.  Making matters worse, surprisingly little more pressure than normal in the machine’s water channels would lift its lid, snapping the vital control rods and fuel channels that entered the reactor’s core.

On the night of April 25, 1986, poorly trained and supervised plant operators conducted an ill-conceived experiment, putting the machine into the very state in which reactivity was most likely to spike.  Within a fraction of a second, the reactor went from being barely on to power levels many times higher than the maximum intended.

This kind of accident cannot happen in the so-called light water reactors used in the United States and most of Western Europe and Asia.  In these reactors, the water functions not only as a coolant but as a "moderator": self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions cannot take place in its absence.  This is a very useful passive safety feature.  If coolant runs low, there is still a danger of a core meltdown, because the fuel retains heat; but the reactor will have automatically and immediately turned itself off.


For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM SWEET.  "The Nuclear Option."  The New York Times  (Weds., April 26, 2006):  A23.


The reference to Sweet’s related book is:

Sweet, William.  Kicking the Carbon Habit:  Global Warming and the Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy.  Columbia University Press, 2006.

Source of book image:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0231137109/sr=8-1/qid=1146071688/ref=sr_1_1/104-5668094-9083929?%5Fencoding=UTF8

Founder of Greenpeace Endorses New Nuclear Reactors

MoorePatrick.jpg   Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace.   Source of image:    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/25/us/25nuke.html?_r=1&oref=slogin


(p. A24) WASHINGTON, April 24 — The nuclear industry has hired Christie Whitman, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, the environmental organization, to lead a public relations campaign for new reactors.

Nuclear power is "environmentally friendly, affordable, clean, dependable and safe," Mrs. Whitman said at a news conference on Monday.  She said that as the E.P.A. leader for two and a half years, ending in June 2003, and as governor of New Jersey for seven years, she had promoted various means to reduce the emission of gases that cause global warming and pollution.

But Mrs. Whitman said that "none of them will have as great a positive impact on our environment as will increasing our ability to generate electricity from nuclear power."

. . .

Mr. Moore said he favored efficiency and renewable energy, but added that solar cells, which produce electricity from sunlight, were "being given too much emphasis and taking too much money."  A dollar spent on geothermal energy, he said, was "10 to 12 times more effective in reducing greenhouse emissions."

Mr. Moore is the director of a company that distributes geothermal systems in Canada.  He is also a supporter of what he called "sustainable forestry" because, he said, building with wood avoided the use of materials whose manufacture releases greenhouse gases, like steel and concrete.

Mr. Moore, who left Greenpeace in 1986, favors many technologies that some environmentalists oppose, including the genetic engineering of crops, and has referred to his former colleagues as "environmental extremists" and "anti-human."

. . .

Representatives of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the Teamsters also spoke in favor of new reactors.

For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD.  "Ex-Environmental Leaders Tout Nuclear Energy."  The New York Times (Tues., April 25, 2006): A24.


Nuclear Power Looking “Increasingly Attractive”

(p. A2) Nuclear power has looked increasingly attractive in many nations amid advancing energy prices and concerns about rising emissions believed to cause global warming. Costs for energy sources such as coal have risen amid global expansion and China’s increasing need for raw materials. China and India, especially, are looking to nuclear power as their consumption expands.
Meanwhile, emissions of the gases believed to cause global warming have risen despite efforts in many nations to adhere to the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.
At the same time, improved reactor design has led to increased interest in the long-dormant U.S. market, which dried up in the early 1980s amid public outcry about safety and investors’ dismay over high costs. Since then, manufacturers have continued to build reactors overseas in Asia and Europe, while the U.S. remains the most coveted market because of its economic might and hunger for new energy sources.

For the full article, see:
DENNIS K. BERMAN. “Toshiba to Buy Nuclear-Power Firm.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., January 24, 2006): A2.
(Note: A somewhat different version of the article appeared in the online version of the WSJ, under the title: “Japan’s Toshiba Wins Nuclear-Power Assets; Purchase of Westinghouse May Open Door to Markets Like U.S., China and India.”)

Finland Building Europe’s First New Nuclear Reactor in 15 Years

Petr Beckmann holding a copy of his The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear. Golem Press, 1976. Beckmann died on August 3, 1993. Source of photo and Beckmann date of death: http://www.commentary.net/view/atearchive/s76a1928.htm

Not all those who are right, live to see their ideas vindicated. Thank you Petr Beckmann, for writing the truth, when the truth was not popular.

. . . when Finland, a country with a long memory of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and considerable environmental bona fides, chose to move ahead this year with the construction of the world’s largest nuclear reactor, the nuclear industry portrayed it as a victory, one that would force the rest of Western Europe to take note.

But the decision to build the reactor, Olkiluoto 3, Europe’s first in 15 years, was not taken quickly or lightly.
. . .
“There is an expectation that others will follow, both because of the way the decision was made and the boosting of confidence in being able to get through all the oppositional fear-mongering,” said Ian Hore-Lacy, the director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, an industry lobbying group.
The United States, which has not had a nuclear plant on order since 1978, is experiencing a groundswell of interest. Taking the first step in a long process, Constellation Energy, a Baltimore-based holding company, announced in late October that it would apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to construct and operate a pressurized water reactor like the kind being built in Finland, possibly in upstate New York or Maryland. The Finnish reactor, designed by Areva, the French state-controlled nuclear power group, is being built by Framatome ANP, a joint venture of Areva and Siemens, a Germany company.
In addition, President Bush signed into law an energy bill in August that offers billions of dollars in research and development funds and construction subsidies to companies willing to build new nuclear plants. Several utility companies have applied for early site permits, a preliminary step toward building reactors.
Worldwide, the resurgent interest in nuclear power is even more pronounced. Twenty-three reactors are under construction this year in 10 countries, most of them in Asia, which has aggressively pursued nuclear energy. India is building eight reactors. China and Taiwan are building a total of four reactors and are planning eight more. Russia is building four and South Korea is planning eight.

Nuclear energy’s selling points were timely: it does not create emissions, unlike coal, oil and gas, and provides predictable electricity prices, a major bonus for Finnish industries, nuclear proponents said.
“The only viable alternative, if we want to maintain the structure of the economy, maintain our industries and meet our Kyoto targets, is nuclear,” said Juha Rantanen, the chief executive officer of Outokumpu, one of the world’s largest steel producers and one of Finland’s biggest energy users. “We can’t have a declining economy. We face huge challenges and an aging population. Something had to be done.”
Environmentalists, however, argued that nuclear reactors could never be entirely safe. They are always radioactive, and their waste remains toxic for 100,000 years.
But the designers of Areva’s pressurized water reactor, which is costing $3.5 billion to build, helped counter those arguments. In the event of a core meltdown, they said, the nuclear material would flow into a separate enclosure for cooling. They also said that the reactor is being built with enough concrete to withstand the impact of an airliner.
In the end, Finland’s largest trade union supported the project, basically sealing the deal.
. . .

Read the full article at:
LIZETTE ALVAREZ. “Finland Rekindles Interest in Nuclear Power.” The New York Times (Mon., December 12, 2005): A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The French Are Not Always Wrong

Editorial page advice from the budget minister of France:

The choice of nuclear power dates back to the end of World War II.  With insufficient fossil fuel reserves, our country very early on invested in energy alternatives.  The two oil crises of the ’70s convinced us to accelerate the construction of facilities to produce safe and economically profitable nuclear energy.  That strategy paid off:  In 30 years, France’s energy independence has risen from 30% to 50%.  While turning toward nuclear energy might have seemed unusual 60 years ago, I believe that it was an especially visionary choice.  The development of nuclear energy enabled us to meet several objectives:  energy independence and security of supply, and competitive, stable energy prices.  This nuclear option is also an economic and commercial asset for our country, whose capabilities in this cutting-edge area are world-renowned.  (p. A20)

JEAN-FRANCOIS COPE. "Energy a la Francaise." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 5, 2005):  A20.