How much of our electricity is generated from emission-free energy?

The purpose of this post is to organize US electrical production data for easy access. To impact global warming what matters is the developing world. But the US data is easy to access, so here it is:

 

Most Renewable-Generated Electricity is from Hydropower

Renewable energy sources provided about 12% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2012. The largest share of the renewable-generated electricity came from hydroelectric power (56%), followed by: wind (28%), biomass wood (8%), biomass waste (4%), geothermal (3%), and solar (1%).

Electricity generation from renewable resources is primarily a function of generation capacity and the availability of the resource. The history of electricity generation has been different for each renewable source.

  • Nearly all of the hydroelectric capacity was built before the mid-1970s, and much of it is at dams operated by federal government agencies.
  • Biomass waste is mostly municipal solid waste which is burned as fuel to run power plants.
  • Most of the electricity from wood biomass is generated at lumber and paper mills. These mills use their own wood waste to provide much of their own steam and electricity needs.
  • The amount of installed wind generation dramatically increased in the past decade, due in part to Federal financial incentives and State government mandates, especially renewable portfolio standards.
  • Unlike other renewable sources, a significant amount of solar power is generated by small-scale, customer-sited installations like rooftop solar (or, distributed generation). According to the Annual Energy Outlook 2013, these small solar facilities are projected to generate an estimated 14.13 billion kilowatthours of electricity in 2013.1

Why Billionaire Paul Allen Backed Pro-Nuclear Power Film Pandora’s Promise

(…snip…) It took four years for Stone to make the film. He got initial funding from technology types in Silicon Valley. Ray Rothrock {pictured left}, a venture capitalist at Venrock (who majored in nuclear engineering in college), told me he got a call from Jim Swartz, founder of venture firm Accel Partners, and serial entrepreneur Steve Kirsch (founder of Infoseek) asking him to support the documentary. Rothrock met with director Stone to get a sense of his goals, and Rothrock, Swartz and Kirsch seed funded the film two and a half years ago with enough money to make a trailer. Then they hosted a fundraiser in Silicon Valley and raised funds that allowed Stone to complete the film. The budget for the project, according to Stone, was “over $1 million.”

One of the people who watched the screening of Pandora’s Promise at Sundance this year was Bonnie Benjamin-Phariss, director of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Films division. She thought it was so well done that she showed it to Paul Allen, who, after several months of “vetting every detail in the film,” according to Stone, decided to finance a big chunk of the cost of distribution. Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, who is president and CEO of Vulcan Inc., the investment firm she and her brother cofounded, is backing the film as well. UK billionaire Sir Richard Branson also came in as an executive producer after the film was complete. Branson’s representative did not respond to a request for a comment.

A common aim for Stone, Allen and Rothrock is to spark a dialogue. “The goal of this movie is to start a conversation that we are not having as a nation,” explained Rothrock, adding that there has been a ton of innovation in nuclear power technology. (…snip…)

This is an excerpt from a Forbes article by Kerry A. Dolan. I found Dolan’s article because I follow Venrock partner Ray Rothrock on Twitter. From the article, here’s the summary of the heavy hitters who backed Pandora’s Promise – who have I failed to include?

  • Paul Allen
  • Jody Allen
  • Richard Branson
  • Steve Kirsch
  • Ray Rothrock
  • Jim Schwartz

Greenpeace, FOE, Sierra Club, UCS et al will do everything they can to prevent this conversation from starting, so please do what you can to stimulate discussion in your real/virtual community.

Paul Blustein: Everything you thought you knew about the risks of nuclear energy is wrong

Brookings scholar Paul Blustein reviews Pandora’s Promise from Kamakura, Japan:

Chances are pretty high, based on prevailing public opinion, that you will think my wife and I are a tad crazy, maybe even guilty of child abuse. During the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which is a couple hundred miles from where we live, we stayed put while thousands of others fled the Tokyo area and many foreigners left Japan for good. Not only that, we buy as much of our fruits and vegetables as possible from Fukushima Prefecture, the Connecticut-size jurisdiction where the plant is located (we even specially order boxes of Fukushima produce) while millions of others in Japan take extreme care to consume only food from the far west and south of the country. And yes, our whole family, including our 12- and 10-year-old sons, eats Fukushima food. We’re convinced it’s perfectly safe, and we like helping people whose products suffer from an unjust taint.

Are you recoiling in horror, perhaps even wishing the Japanese child welfare authorities would seize custody of our kids? If so, you are the ideal audience member for a provocative new film, titled Pandora’s Promise. This documentary focuses on five thoughtful environmentalists who were once terrified of radiation, and thought nuclear power was imperiling the planet’s future, but after educating themselves, they gradually realized that their assumptions were wrong. For people who are instinctively opposed to nuclear power but open-minded enough to consider evidence that goes against their predilections, this film will, and should, force them to question their certitude.

(…snip…) 

As someone who had to learn about radiation in a hurry after Fukushima, I was gratified to see how the educational process worked with these five environmentalists. Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, recalls being bewildered at first by the plethora of radiation exposure measurements (in millirems, microrems, millisieverts, microsieverts etc.). “You’re looking and squinting. ‘Okay, that looks like a large number. Is that a number I should worry about?’ Compared to what? What’s the background radiation level relative to all this?”

Like me, the enviros in the film were astonished to come across extensive evidence about the minimal physiological impact of contamination from major nuclear accidents. The best example is Chernobyl, where the radiation emissions in 1986 were by far the largest in history; nearly three decades later, studies show that the main effects on the general population in the area have overwhelmingly been on the mental and emotional health of people who thought they were doomed to cancer and succumbed as a result to maladies such as depression and substance abuse. (The chief documented exception is the 6,000-odd cases of thyroid cancer contracted by children after drinking milk from cows fed on grass contaminated with radioactive iodine. Soviet authorities failed to warn people of this danger, though only a handful of the victims have reportedly died of the ailment, which is one of the least lethal forms of cancer.)

Paul Blustein was formerly the Tokyo correspondent for the Washington Post.

Pandora’s Promise: director Robert Stone interviewed at Documentary Channel

A surprisingly good interview, and better questions than I expected, with typically frank answers from Robert Stone. Here are a few snippets: 

The disaster has definitely made this film an even more topical work, which actually is probably good for drawing people to see it. Do you see it as sort of benefit?

Sure. The grim joke among documentary filmmakers is that the worse things get for your character the better things get for your movie. If your central character dies or gets shot or run over by a bus, as sad as that may be, it’s drama for your movie. In my case nothing worse could have happened to nuclear energy, if you consider that my central character, than what happened to Fukushima. But it did provide a level of drama and story that I think does make the issue more relevant, more on people’s minds.

(…snip…)

When you say this was a difficult film to embark on as a documentarian, do you mean because the angle of the film is so against what the popular belief and consensus is on the subject?

If I had decided particularly after Fukushima to make an anti-nuclear film, given my background I could have gotten funding in a heartbeat. I probably could have done a dozen anti-nuclear films. But this film, nobody wanted to touch it. None of the sources of funding that I normally approach — PBS and places like that — wanted to go near it. They didn’t want to do a film that was pro-nuclear. They didn’t want to do a film that profiled people who changed their minds. The whole approach to it ran counter to what was the established thinking in that world.

But I was determined. I wanted creative control over this film. I wasn’t going to change my way to do it. I knew the story of conversion was the way to tell the story, that the same people who are anti-nuclear become pro-nuclear. That was the hook. Rather than having pro-nuclear people and anti-nuclear people, which certain television people had pushed on me.

(…snip…)

Nuclear is simply a means to an end. Nobody thinks… and I certainly don’t; I don’t give a damn about nuclear power; I’d be happy to power the world on algae if that would work. In that sense it’s not a pro-nuclear film, it’s a film that’s offering a viable solution to the climate crisis and is in fact a really hopeful environmental documentary, which is a rare thing these days

 (…snip…)

One of the most amazing screenings I had was at Mountain Film in Telluride, which is an environmental film festival. All the leaders in the environmental movement were there. Wind power people and solar people… There was a big environmental conference going on. There were about ten anti-hydro-fracking movies there. It was an activist, environmental film festival. There were 650 people packed to the gills, and they watched the film and it was like 98% that the people in that auditorium were won over. People were coming up to me saying they completely changed their mind. People who’d been against nuclear their whole life.

 (…snip…)

Now that you’ve seemingly made one of the most challenging docs of all time, what’s next? Or are sticking to this film and devoting your energy to its message for a while?

I do not know what I want to know next for a movie. This is probably the movie that’s going to be on my obituary. It’s probably the most important film I will ever make. It’s more than a movie for me. This really is about something way bigger than anything I’ve ever been involved in. And the people I’ve met along the way are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met.

My mission is to get as many people from the United States and around the world to see this movie and to start talking about this and to truly try to make a difference. As long as I can keep doing that, I’m going to keep doing that. I’m having a great time showing this film around. And I feel like I’m actually making a difference and maybe making a little small dent in the universe, which, who could ask for more than that?

It is just possible that his film could make a “dent in the universe”.

The Bigger Picture: Nuclear Energy vs. Fossil Fuels

A guest post by senior nuclear engineer Jim Hopf(This post first appeared on ANS Nuclear Cafe June 11, 2013; and on The Energy Collective June 12, 2013):

DC PerspectivesAs I discussed last fall, a federal appeals court ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to perform more thorough evaluations in support of its new Waste Confidence Rule, particularly with respect to the potential impacts of long-term storage of spent fuel at plant sites. While those evaluations are being performed, the NRC has suspended all new plant licensing and plant license renewals.

As discussed in that post, most experts believe that this issue will be resolved, in a timely manner, through additional analysis. Permanent cessation of licensing activity (until a repository is sited or built), or substantial new requirements (such as moving all fuel over 5 years old to dry storage) were considered unlikely. The NRC predicted that it could finish the required evaluations in ~2 years.

Reactions to NRC’s Waste Confidence Evaluations

spent fuel pool 180x119Predictably, anti-nuclear “environmental” groups are claiming that the evaluations that the NRC are doing are insufficient. They say that the evaluations should consider waste being stored on site for centuries, consider risks of terrorist attacks, and risks from severe earthquakes like that which struck Fukushima. They also advocate moving all >5 year spent fuel to dry storage. Finally, they say that 2 years is nowhere near long enough for the evaluations, and that all licensing activity should remain suspended for as long as it takes for “adequate” review to be performed.

And now, the attorneys general from four New England states are joining in, filing a petition for the NRC to do a “more thorough” review of the risks/impacts of long term on-site fuel storage. They are asking the NRC to reject the conclusions and recommendations of its technical staff, because they did not “adequately address the risks of spent fuel storage.” The AGs also state that the NRC’s evaluation did not give enough consideration to two options; requiring that all >5 year cooled fuel be placed into dry storage, and not allowing further production of spent fuel until a repository is constructed. (Yes, you heard that right, the AGs from four states are actually asking the NRC to consider shutting down the nuclear power industry.)

What are they after?

One hopes that all the AGs are asking for is for the NRC to do more homework to provide a stronger case. That would allow them to tell the public that they forced the NRC to do a “better job” and look out for their safety. Or perhaps, they’re hoping for the 5-year dry cask storage requirement, allowing them to point to a tangible “improvement” that they can take credit for (or perhaps to just extract a pound of flesh from the industry). One really hopes that they don’t really want the industry to shut down.

In my view, is it’s not that those risks (of long term storage) have not been evaluated. It’s that the people in question don’t like the answer. In other words, they will never be satisfied until the “evaluation” gives them the answer they want, which is that the risks are unacceptable, or that the industry must take some extensive, expensive, and burdensome actions.

Negligible risks/impacts

dry cask 190x141As someone who works in the area of dry fuel storage, I can tell you that the answer is pretty obvious. The risks of spent fuel storage are utterly negligible, compared to other risks that society routinely faces in general, and in particular, compared to the risks associated with alternative (fossil) power generation options. No credible scenario for a significant release from dry storage casks exists. Even terrorist attacks would have a minimal public health consequence.

Spent fuel pool risks are also quite low, and neither the 5-year cask requirement nor a repository would do much to reduce those (small) risks, since almost all the heat in spent fuel pools is from the fuel younger than 5 years. The theory of spent fuel pool cladding melt or fire (in the extremely unlikely, hypothetical event of pool drainage) is quite dubious in the first place, and it is being addressed at the few plants where it is thought to be a potential concern. Also of note is the fact that the spent fuel pools did NOT release any significant amount of radioactivity at Fukushima.

The fact is that nuclear waste is generated in a miniscule volume and, unlike the wastes from fossil plants and other industries, it has always been safely and fully contained, has never been released into the environment, and has never caused any harm. Further evaluation needed? In my view, the health/environmental impact evaluation for long-term onsite storage of used fuel could be adequately given in one sentence:

“The public health risks and environmental impacts of long term onsite storage of used nuclear fuel are clearly orders of magnitude less than those of the fossil fueled power generation that would otherwise be used in place of nuclear generation.”

It’s clear that shutting the industry down until a repository is built will result in fossil fuels being used for most of the replacement power.  Even if new plant licensing and plant life extensions are suspended, for a long time, the result will eventually be some reduction in nuclear generation, and will result in some increase in fossil generation.

San Onofre

san onofre 190x148Meanwhile, in Southern California, the San Onofre plant has been shut down for years due to tube failure problems with its steam generators (as discussed on this site here and here). The NRC has required that the plant remain shut until all the issues are thoroughly investigated; a process that has been taking a very long time. The NRC has been under a lot of political pressure to take its time and do a “thorough” investigation.

Steam generator replacement has been discussed. The utility also proposed running one unit at 70-percent power, based on evaluations showing that it would not result in significant tube vibration and degradation. The NRC has decided to allow public hearings on that (70-percent power) restart request, and having it require a license amendment is even being discussed. In order to meet peak power demand while San Onofre remains shut, two ~50 year old, highly polluting fossil plants in Huntington Beach were taken out of out of retirement and fired up.

In terms of the potential consequences of steam generator tube failure, it seems (based on what I’ve read) that the notion of steam generator tube failures causing a meltdown (i.e., core damage) is a real stretch. The only real potential is that the sudden failure of a large number of tubes could cause a significant fraction of the primary coolant loop water (and the radioactivity therein) to be released into the environment. (Note that even nuclear opponent Arnie Gunderson did not say that steam generator tube failures could cause a “meltdown” in this article.)

While one can only guess what the political/public reaction to such a release would be, its actual health consequences would be negligible to non-existent, particularly in comparison to the ongoing impacts of fossil generation. In reality, what is most likely to happen if things didn’t work out and the tubes started to fail is that some tubes would fail, the plant operators would notice the increase in secondary side activity, and they would safely shut the plant down.

Not only have old, dirty fossil fueled plants been fired up while the whole San Onofre saga played out, but the utility has just announced that it will close both of the reactors due to this issue. This will result in ~2000 MW of additional fossil fueled generation for several decades.

Blinders – Not looking at big picture

huntington beach power plant 190x116The common theme for these two stories is that nuclear risks are being evaluated in isolation. Overall impacts, such as the effects of reduced nuclear on the overall power generation system, are not being considered. Nuclear operations are held to a standard of perfection, or some arbitrary standard that regulators and other politically powerful stakeholders view as being adequate. That, as opposed to being compared to other risks accepted by society or, more importantly, the risks related to the alternative (primarily fossil) generation that would be used in place of nuclear.

Again, what are these people seeking from another several years of waste storage evaluations, when it is obvious, by cursory inspection, that the risks of waste storage are negligible compared to those of fossil generation alternatives? Perhaps they hope that the evaluations will uncover practical steps that could reduce the risks even further. At least the dry storage proposal is ostensibly that kind of step, although whether it is worth the cost and effort is highly debatable.

New England is home to many gross-polluting coal plants (many of which make the “Dirty Dozen” list of top polluters). If those states’ AGs really cared about their public’s health risks, they’d focus their efforts on getting those plants cleaned up or closed. They wouldn’t be wasting any time or effort on negligible risks associated with used nuclear fuel.

Why is the mindset that San Onofre cannot be reopened until everything is completely analyzed, understood, and resolved, and until the chance of steam generator failure is all but eliminated? And if all the hoops result in the plant’s closure, so be it. Where was the environmental impact evaluation that compared the risk of running San Onofre to the health risks of operating two 50-year old fossil plants that are located in a relatively high population density area? Given the limited health consequences of any credible steam generator failure scenario, it seems clear what such an evaluation would show.

It is likely that the operation of the Huntington Beach fossil plants has already had a larger public health impact than what would occur even in the event of a worst-case steam generator failure scenario (i.e., release of primary coolant loop activity). And finally, how about the consequences of the plant being closed?  Have they compared the risks of steam generator failure (low probability times limited consequence) to several decades worth of fossil fueled power generation? How about global warming impact?

Less nuclear = More fossil

smokestacks 150x100One thing that people need to be clear on is that using less nuclear power primarily results in increased use of fossil fuels. That’s certainly what’s happening in Japan. (They’re turning to coal to replace nuclear, since imported oil and gas are costing too much.) In Germany, where a huge effort is being made on renewables, coal generation is being significantly increased to offset the loss of nuclear. Even if Germany did succeed in building enough renewable generation to offset the lost nuclear generation, they’d still effectively be choosing fossil fuels over nuclear, since they could have used the renewables to replace fossil instead.

Reducing nuclear use will not cause renewable generation to increase. Construction of renewable capacity is primarily driven by government mandate and/or large subsidy. The final fraction of renewable generation will likely be close to the maximum practical amount based on intermittentcy limitations.

The only real question is whether the net effect of reduced nuclear would primarily be an increase of gas or coal use. If one assumes future environmental regulations that will limit the use of coal, then arguing that nuclear will be replaced by gas may be reasonable (especially in California). On the other hand, unless coal is limited by policy, one could argue that, in the end, reduced nuclear would mean more coal since the supply of gas will reach its limit at some point. Use of gas to replace nuclear would drive up the price of gas, which would result in more existing coal plants remaining open or operating more hours per year. This is already happening in the United States, now that gas prices have risen somewhat from historic lows. This would result in a net effect of nuclear being replaced by coal.

When pressed, nuclear opponents usually cede that fossil fuels are worse than nuclear (since the facts are actually pretty clear on that point). And yet, it’s generally the case that nuclear plants are closed when anything is out of sorts, and are required to address all the issues before they are allowed to restart. In the interim, fossil fuels are always used in its place, regardless of their much larger health and environmental risks.

You don’t hear people say, although the situation with San Onofre isn’t ideal, that we must keep it operating while the issues are resolved, since firing up old fossil fueled generators would have an unacceptable impact. A no-compromise philosophy is taken for nuclear risks (when anything is not just right), whereas reducing the known, ongoing health risks and climate impacts of fossil generation seems to be treated more like an aspirational goal. Something that we really should do, and will get around to some day (kind of like a New Year’s losing weight resolution). When anything happens, fossil fuels are always the backstop, or default. Although fossil fuels’ impacts are known to be vastly larger, they simply aren’t taken that seriously by our society; definitely not in comparison to our response to any issues with nuclear.

In any event, any REAL environmental impact evaluation would fully consider such issues. It would evaluate the impact of any reduction in nuclear generation, due to waste issues, etc., on the overall power sector. It would objectively compare all the risks of nuclear generation (including those of on-site used fuel storage, or imperfect steam generators, etc.) to the risks and impacts of the generation sources that are likely to be used in its place. If such evaluations were performed, and were objective, nuclear would have nothing to fear.

___________________________

Hopf

 

Jim Hopf is a senior nuclear engineer with more than 20 years of experience in shielding and criticality analysis and design for spent fuel dry storage and transportation systems. He has been involved in nuclear advocacy for 10+ years, and is a member of the ANS Public Information Committee. He is a regular contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Is it really faster to deploy solar than nuclear power?

In brief, no. Ask an industrial engineer to study the wind, solar and nuclear deployment cycles. I am confident that she would quickly conclude that wind and solar are dramatically slower to deploy – limited by the massive physical scale required to achieve meaningful electrical generation from such dilute energy sources. E.g., non-dispatchable wind power requires roughly ten times the steel and concrete as required for dispatchable nuclear power. 

At Climate Spectator Geoff Russell uses actual historical data to demonstrate the relative deployment speeds of solar and nuclear power (only the UAE nuclear projection in Geoff’s chart is not actual data). I cannot improve on the wording Geoff chose for his conclusion:

(…snip…) the French have been producing electricity with nuclear reactors for less than 80g of CO2 per kwh for over 20 years. The Germans are stuck at 450g of CO2 and still building more coal power stations.

Being cool, profitable and popular is fine, but irrelevant. We need a reliable technology that delivers deep energy emission cuts and we need it fast.

It’s rapidly becoming crystal clear that the biggest enemy we face in preventing ongoing climate destabilistation is the anti-nuclear movement. They have cost the planet two decades which could otherwise have seen many more countries with clean electricity, and now they are running a distracting strategy promoting technologies which are intrinsically slow to roll out. They have, in effect, created an energy growth vacuum being filled by coal seam gas which is quick to build but which won’t prevent further climate destabilisation. 

I recommend that you read Geoff’s complete essay, which is well-resourced with citations for all the relevant data.

Economist: Environmental lunacy in Europe, Wood – The fuel of the future

In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption.

One has to ask “What the hell were they thinking?” Clearly, instead of thinking, the EU political elites were seduced by Greenpeace, FOE and similar activists. The EU defines “renewable” to include wood (biomass) but excludes nuclear power. This upside-down perspective has led Germany (via subsidies) to spend more than $350 per ton CO2 avoided by mass harvesting of forests around the globe.

The Economist has done a real service by detailing this bizarre EU policy.  I hope that we can rely upon “Herbert Stein’s Law,” which he expressed as “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”. Or my shorthand “What can’t continue won’t”.

So we know the EU energy policies are not the future. But we don’t know how long this fantasy can persist. Merkel faces re-election in September – can we hope for a shift towards evidence-based energy policy?

Here’s a few excerpts from The Economist:

(…) By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood.

In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption. In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable-energy demand. Even in Germany, home of the Energiewende (energy transformation) which has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power, 38% of non-fossil fuel consumption comes from the stuff. After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon energy revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favoured fuel of pre-industrial societies.

(…) But if subsidising biomass energy were an efficient way to cut carbon emissions, perhaps this collateral damage might be written off as an unfortunate consequence of a policy that was beneficial overall. So is it efficient? No.

Wood produces carbon twice over: once in the power station, once in the supply chain. The process of making pellets out of wood involves grinding it up, turning it into a dough and putting it under pressure. That, plus the shipping, requires energy and produces carbon: 200kg of CO2 for the amount of wood needed to provide 1MWh of electricity.

This decreases the amount of carbon saved by switching to wood, thus increasing the price of the savings. Given the subsidy of £45 per MWh, says Mr Vetter, it costs £225 to save one tonne of CO2 by switching from gas to wood. And that assumes the rest of the process (in the power station) is carbon neutral. It probably isn’t.

(…) As another bit of the EU, the European Environment Agency, said in 2011, the assumption “that biomass combustion would be inherently carbon neutral…is not correct…as it ignores the fact that using land to produce plants for energy typically means that this land is not producing plants for other purposes, including carbon otherwise sequestered.”

Tim Searchinger of Princeton University calculates that if whole trees are used to produce energy, as they sometimes are, they increase carbon emissions compared with coal (the dirtiest fuel) by 79% over 20 years and 49% over 40 years; there is no carbon reduction until 100 years have passed, when the replacement trees have grown up. But as Tom Brookes of the European Climate Foundation points out, “we’re trying to cut carbon now; not in 100 years’ time.”

In short, the EU has created a subsidy which costs a packet, probably does not reduce carbon emissions, does not encourage new energy technologies—and is set to grow like a leylandii hedge.

Highly recommended!

How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the atom

An astounding example of the skewed coverage of Fukushima could be observed last year during the “contaminated beef” scare. An NHK special broadcast featured a lengthy and worrisome introduction, footage from cattle farms in Fukushima, an examination of flaws in the inspection system, shrill announcements of becquerels in the hundreds and thousands, interviews with crying supermarket managers who had inadvertently sold the meat, and clips of young mothers fearfully clutching their babies and wondering about the safety of their families. Finally there was a 15-second clip of a university professor calmly stating that you would have to eat a kilo of that beef a day in order for the radiation to have any measurable effect upon your health.

It is that contrast — between 45 minutes of fear-mongering and 15 seconds of calm science — that tells you all you need to know about the nuclear “crisis” in Japan. 

Writing for Japan Times Michael Radcliffe shows how an inquiring mind can convert from anti-nuclear to pronuclear with a bit of reading and study. 

Like millions of other people in Japan, I watched the events of March 2011 unfurl with shock and trepidation. The massive earthquake, the terrible tsunami and then what seemed to be a dreadful nuclear disaster.

Yet now I wonder at my naivety, because the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant triggered in me a critical review of everything I thought I knew about radiation and nuclear power. I am now firmly pronuclear, and not despite the Fukushima accident, but because of it.

UK environmentalist George Monbiot did his homework after Fukushima. His conclusions are here “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power” from 21 March 2011.

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

Since then Monbiot has been a highly effective explainer and proponent of the essential role of nuclear power in a carbon free future.

Is Environmentalism Anti-Science?

We recommend Keith Kloor’s short essay on the anti-science, anti-GMO activists. Keith doesn’t discuss this, but aren’t there strong parallels to the anti-nuclear ideology? I speculate there is a lot of overlap between the two anti- populations. E.g., Greenpeace.

As I try to answer Keith’s captioned question, I think of the example environmentalists that we know by reading or personal contact. Those who have a science/engineering background are much more likely to be influenced by the data than by some politically-correct ideology. Can you name a person who understands the peer-reviewed literature who is anti-nuclear or anti-GMO?

We are pro-people and anti-anti. Our interest is how to feed ten billion affordably. Especially the Bottom Billion — that will grow to at least two bottom billion around 2050 – all wanting a share of the low-cost energy and low-cost food enjoyed by today’s rich countries. There are no anti-GMO activists amongst the hungry.

Here’s an excerpt from Keith:

(…) I’ve been particularly interested in this question lately. In doing some catch-up reading, I came across a fascinating roundtable of views in a 2009 Seed magazine article, set up by this introduction:

Most Europeans don’t consider themselves to be anti-science or particularly technophobic. In fact, Europe’s full embrace of the scientific consensus on another environmental issue, global warming, has enabled the continent to take the clear lead on climate change, with the most ambitious emissions targets, the first carbon trading market, and the greenest urban infrastructure plans on the planet.

Europe’s scientific disconnect is more broadly true of eco-minded citizens worldwide: They laud the likes of James Hansen and Rajendra Pachauri but shrink in horror at the scientist who offers up a Bt corn plant (even though numerous studies indicate that Bt crops—by dramatically curbing pesticide use—conserve biodiversity on farms and reduce chemical-related sickness among farmers).

So why the disconnect? Why do many environmentalists trust science when it comes to climate change but not when it comes to genetic engineering?

Before you click on the link to learn some of the proffered reasons, think about it first.

Utilities join Westinghouse SMR alliance

It appears there is some momentum building behind the Westinghouse SMR effort. I don’t know what financial commitment the new partners are making. What we know is they are working together to win the DOE $450 million funding contribution – much of which will be consumed by first of kind licensing costs.

Three major US nuclear utilities have joined an alliance formed by Westinghouse and Ameren to support the licensing and deployment of Westinghouse small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

Plant based on Westinghouse SMR
How a plant based on Westinghouse’s SMR technology could look (Image: Westinghouse)

Exelon, Dominion Virginia and FirstEnergy are among a dozen power utilities and electricity suppliers to sign up to the NexStart SMR Alliance – a group formed by Westinghouse and Missouri Electric Alliance to help secure investment funds from the US Department of Energy (DoE).

Also signing up to the NexStart Alliance are Tampa Electric Company; Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation; and Savannah River National Laboratory. The Missouri Electric Alliance is led by Ameren Missouri and its members include Missouri Public Utility Alliance; Associated Electric Cooperative; Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives; Empire District Electric Company; and Kansas City Power and Light Company.

Members of the NexStart SMR Alliance have signed a memorandum of understanding that recognizes “the importance of advancing nuclear energy in helping secure clean, safe and reliable electricity in the future by deploying the Westinghouse SMR.”

Discussions are said to be underway with other utilities and enterprises considering membership to NexStart in order to support the potential deployment of a Westinghouse SMR at Ameren’s existing Callaway nuclear power plant site in Missouri.

The DoE announced in March 2012 that a total of $450 million would be available to support first-of-a-kind engineering, design certification and licensing for up to two SMR designs over five years. The DoE is seeking proposals for SMR projects that have the potential to be licensed by the NRC and to be in commercial operation by 2022. The total funding, through cost sharing agreements with private industry, is expected to provide a total investment of about $900 million.

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