Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Nuclear News from Japan, Part 2:

An Interesting Rumor

In my last blog, I reported on some of my observations during my recent meetings in Japan.  In this blog, I will continue my report.

I have many friends and acquaintances in Japan, both inside and outside the nuclear field.  This wide circle of friends sometimes gives me an opportunity to get insights into non-nuclear aspects of Japanese society, or to get views of nuclear issues from a Japanese perspective outside the industry.

My recent trip to Japan gave me such an opportunity.  At this point, I would have to classify what I learned as unsubstantiated.  Still, I think it is worth mentioning my conversation in this forum.

Over lunch one day during the trip, one of my acquaintances from outside the nuclear field, after pumping me for my views on various aspects of nuclear power, suddenly turned to the subject of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the support he has expressed for the reopening of some of Japan's idled nuclear power plants.

This acquaintance noted that Abe was very pro-nuclear.  However, he said, there are local elections scheduled in the coming months, and furthermore, the Prime Minister is putting forward some controversial proposals to amend the Japanese constitution to modify the provision that "renounces war as a sovereign right of the nation" and promises that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained."

Since nuclear power is very unpopular in Japan at the moment, and since Abe's Liberal Democratic Party needs the support of other parties to pass this amendment, he opined that Abe might want to have nuclear power keep a low profile until after the elections and after the constitutional amendments are finalized.

Hence, despite some approvals for restarts from Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), my friend suggested that any actual restarts might be delayed until after these issues were resolved.

I want to hasten to say that he was unclear on whether this was his personal view or a widespread view, whether there were any signals from the Abe administration to support such a view, or how such delays might be assured.  (There are opportunities for delay in the local approval requirements, but my understanding is that there are differing views in different local jurisdictions.)

My friend does dabble in Japanese politics, so he certainly knows more than I do about such matters.  However, at this point, I have no other educated views on the subject.  Therefore, I am only passing this information on as a factor that Japan watchers may want to keep in mind as events unfold in Japan in the coming months.

***

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Nuclear News from Japan:

Several Perspectives

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Japan, where I had the opportunity to meet with a number of people, both in and out of the nuclear field.  One highlight was that I was invited to give a presentation to a group of industry executives.  The talk was scheduled at what turned out to be a pretty eventful time.

In my presentation, I was asked to cover several subjects that were of particular interest to Japan in their post-Fukushima environment.  These included the US actions, both by the regulator and by industry, following Three Mile Island, and the efforts in the US to improve the capacity factor of operating nuclear power plants.  I was also asked how public confidence was rebuilt after TMI.

To address these questions, I had prepared a talk that touched on a number of areas, among them, the evolution of the Principles of Good Regulation in the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The presentation particularly focused on the issues of independence and openness.  

Just two days before I delivered my talk, the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) posted on their webpage a report from their international advisory group.  The advisory group is made up of former regulators from several countries, including Richard Meserve, a former chairman of the USNRC and current chairman of the IAEA Nuclear Safety Group; Michael Weightman, a former executive head of the British Office for Nuclear Regulation; and Claude Lacoste, a former chairman of France's Nuclear Safety Authority.

The report from the group specifically expressed a concern that a mandatory review of the performance of the NRA could lead to a loss of independence of the agency.  The news hit the front page of the Japan Times the morning I was scheduled to speak.

When the NRA was started, the enabling legislation provided for a review of the operation after three years of existence with a proviso to consider placing it under the Cabinet Office.  While the advisory group welcomed a review of the NRA's performance, they expressed concern that that the potential for the agency to be brought under the Cabinet Office could subject the agency to political interference, and could risk undermining its independence.  They noted that this independence is crucial to the effort to restore public confidence in nuclear power. 

I had already planned to address the subject of regulatory independence in my talk, but this timely announcement made the presentation seem particularly in tune with the news of the day.  I was able to refer to the announcement and to discuss political independence very specifically.  I also discussed independence from the industry, and the difference between independence and isolation.   

In addition, I addressed industry behavior, particularly the problems that arise when operators try to hide problems, whether from the regulator or from the public.  I didn't refer to any particular incident, but I was aware of past attempts to present a positive "face" to the world--often called tatemae in Japan--and knew this was an important issue.  

Thus, I was very disappointed to discover that the news just a couple of days after my talk contained a report that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had just announced a possible leak of contaminated rainwater that it had known about since last May.  Unfortunately, even if the leak is minor, such behavior is counterproductive to the efforts in Japan to rebuild public confidence.

I came away from Japan with the feeling that there is still much to be done there to change the institutions and the behaviors of the nuclear community in a way that will truly assure a higher level of performance and that can ultimately help rebuild public confidence.  

***


  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nuclear Anniversaries--March:

An Exceptional Month

Last month, I reported that February was a rather thin month for nuclear anniversaries.  This month, if anything, the opposite is true.  March seems to hold many memorable moments in the history of of the development of nuclear power.  Sadly, March also marks the anniversaries of two of the most serious accidents in the history of nuclear power.

Most of the anniversaries highlighted below are described in more detail in my book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development:

March 1, 1970:  First on-line refueling in a full-scale reactor (Douglas Point Plant, Douglas Point, Canada)

March 12, 1945:  First practical separation of uranium (K-25 gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee)

March 14, 1955:  First reactor training program established for foreign students (Argonne International School, Argonne, Illinois)

March 14, 1958:  First approval for radioisotope food irradiation (using Co-60 to inhibit potatoes from sprouting, in the U.S.S.R.)

March 19, 1974:  First power reactor in South America (Atucha-1 in Lima, Argentina)

March 23, 2000:  First plant to receive license renewal (Calvert Cliffs, Lusby, Maryland)

March 26, 1999:  First geologic repository for transuranic wastes and first purpose-built deep geologic repository (WIPP, Carlsbad, New Mexico)

March 30, 1953:  First true pressurized water reactor and first reactor built to supply energy for an application (mechanical energy for submarine propulsion) (STR, also known as S1W, Arco, Idaho)

March 30, 1961:  First closed-loop (Brayton) gas turbine cycle reactor; first land-transportable, mobile nuclear power plant (ML-1, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)

March 31, 1952:  First non-zero power LWR (MTR, NRTS, Arco, Idaho)

The two accidents I mentioned above, of course, are historic in their own right.  These are the March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 in Pennsylvania and the March 11, 2011 accident at Fukushima, Japan.  TMI-2 is the first serious accident at a major power plant, and Fukushima Daiichi is, among other things, the first accident that involved multiple units.  Both have had (and in the case of Fukushima, are still having) major effects on the evolution and development of nuclear power.

As always, some developments have proved more important than others to nuclear power development, but all are steps forward in different ways.  In addition to the number of "firsts" this month, what is also impressive is the variety (different kinds of reactors, as well as propulsion, enrichment, repository, and food irradiation), and the fact that these events took place in several different countries and several different states in the U.S.

***



Monday, February 16, 2015

Nuclear Power Plant Performance 2014:

Maintaining High Levels

One recent bright spot was the announcement by the Nuclear Energy Institute that the performance by the U.S. nuclear power industry in 2014 was the highest ever.  In particular, the average estimated capacity factor for 2014 was 91.9 percent – the highest capacity factor achieved by the U.S. nuclear industry in any year.

The second highest capacity factor in a year was 91.8 percent in 2007.  Now, one can argue that this isn't a statistically significant improvement.  However, what this does tell us is that U.S. nuclear power plants are continuing to operate at very high levels of performance, probably about the highest that can realistically be achieved.  And they are doing this in an environment where there are a lot of negative pressures, both economic and other, that are affecting operating nuclear power plants.

I therefore take the news as a positive indication.

***

More Acronyms:

Beyond Energy

I remain fascinated by the number of acronyms that pop up on my radar screen.  I've blogged about acronyms a couple of times over the years, first in one of my earlier blogs (in 2009) and again last year.  In between, I've written several pieces on different subjects in which I incorporated some of my own acronym creations.  Once again, these pieces ranged over several years, from 2010 to last year.

So perhaps it should not be too surprising that I am moved to write about acronyms once again.  This time, my work has been done for me, because Richard Ingham and Mariette Le Roux have compiled a whole list of acronyms and initialisms related to discussions of climate change that was posted on Phys.org as well as on several other sites.

Since anyone who deals with nuclear energy issues these days is surely following the concerns about climate change, I thought others might find this list helpful.  The full list, of course, is at the link above, but here, I thought I'd highlight the acronyms (and a few initialisms) that I found most useful or most fun. 

Herewith, my favorites:

AOSIS: Association of Small Island States (i.e., those highly vulnerable to sea-level rise)

BASICs: Bloc comprising Brazil, South Africa, India, China (not to be confused with the previously popular BRICS:  Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)

BINGOs: Business and industry non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and their counterparts:
•  ENGOs:  Environment NGOs
•  TUNGOs:  Trade union NGOs
•  YOUNGOs:  Youth NGOs

INDCs: Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

LMDCs: Like-Minded Developing Countries

LULUCF: Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (a Kyoto Protocol provision to count trees as "sinks" which absorb carbon dioxide)

MOP: Meeting of Parties (under the Kyoto Protocol)

MRV: Measurement, reporting and verification

NAMAs and NAPAs: Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action and National Adaptation Programmes for Action

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp
NAMAs: Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action, and the related
NAPAs:  National Adaptation Programs for Action

QUELRO: Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Obligation

REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation

There are far more in the original article, but I left some of those off either because I thought they were generally familiar (for example, BAU for business as usual, CCS for carbon capture and storage, COP for conference of parties, GHG for greenhouse gases, LDCs for least developed countries, and KP for Kyoto Protocol--in this context!), or because I felt they weren't as interesting, or because they weren't really acronyms or initialisms. 

***
LULUCF: Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. A KP provision to count trees as "sinks" which absorb carbon dioxide, a hugely vexatious issue.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp
BINGOs: Business and industry non-governmental organisations. ENGOs, TUNGOs and YOUNGOs are environment, trade union and youth NGOs

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp
BINGOs: Business and industry non-governmental organisations. ENGOs, TUNGOs and YOUNGOs are environment, trade union and youth NGOs

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp
BINGOs: Business and industry non-governmental organisations. ENGOs, TUNGOs and YOUNGOs are environment, trade union and youth NGOs

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp
BINGOs: Business and industry non-governmental organisations. ENGOs, TUNGOs and YOUNGOs are environment, trade union and youth NGOs

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-beginner-climate.html#jCp

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nuclear Anniversaries--February:

Continuing the Story

A couple of months ago, I promised to provide a monthly list of nuclear anniversaries, drawing mainly from my book, Nuclear Firsts:  Milestones on the Road to Nuclear Power Development.

When I looked at the list for February, I almost had second thoughts.  It's not that the firsts in February were any less worthy than those in other months.  It's just that there are fewer of them.  In the end, I decided not to shortchange some significant firsts just because I only have a short story to tell this month. 
  • February 1950:  First zero-power light water reactor in the world (LITR, Oak Ridge)

  • February 8, 1961:  First reactor on the African continent (ETRR-1, a research reactor in Egypt)
  •  
  • February 8, 1963:  First time food irradiation was approved in the United States (Co60 to irradiate bacon)
Of these, only the first is a "true" first, in that it was the first time anywhere.  The other two firsts are firsts for a region or a country.  In fact, the U.S. was the third country to approve food irradiation, after the USSR and Canada.

LITR, which stands for Low-Intensity Test Reactor, was the first reactor to use light water for both moderating and cooling the reactor.  In this sense, it was a very early forerunner of the light water reactors that followed, even though it used a heterogeneous design that was very different than the pressurized water reactors or boiling water reactors operating today.  It was also one of several light water research reactor facilities that started up the same year.  The others were the Zero Power Reactor (ZPR-1) at Argonne and the Bulk Shielding Reactor (BSR) at Oak Ridge.  

For convenience, my past monthly blogs on anniversaries were:

December 2014 anniversaries
January 2015 anniversaries

***

Australia and Nuclear Power:

Does Change Lie Ahead?

One of the most striking news items in the last few days has been the announcement by Jay Weatherill, the Premier of South Australia, that South Australia should consider the use of nuclear power.

This announcement is notable because Australia has remained consistently against using nuclear power over the years.  They have kept this stance even though their heavy use of coal gives them the dubious status of having the highest carbon emissions per capita of any country in the world, and even though they have one of the highest amounts of uranium reserves.  They also, I should note, have a solid nuclear research program and have operated a research reactor for many years.

It is difficult to know where this initiative might lead.  Weatherill is the first to say this isn't a decision, it is the opening of an inquiry, and it is only right that the inquiry be conducted as broadly and openly as possible.

I wondered whether public opinion might be changing.  One article has a survey (still underway as of this writing) that looks like it is showing 2/3 of the respondents in favor of nuclear power, but that survey is not restricted to Australian citizens.

The reopening of the question of nuclear power may, in part, be sparked by the interest in small reactors.  Some of the articles have quoted Weatherill as saying that the economics may not be right for reactors in Australia, but then those statements seem to be qualified by other statements that developments such as small reactors could change the economics.

Other comments seem to indicate the Australians may want to look at other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, including high-level waste disposal and developing an enrichment capability to "add value" to the ore they sell.  The articles so far have not addressed any issues or concerns about such options, including expected reactions of the local population, or concerns the U.S. and other countries have about the expansion of enrichment capabilities.

Therefore, on all fronts, the statements from South Australia leave a lot of unanswered questions--how seriously the government intends to explore this issue, what the public reaction is likely to be, and just what is on the table.

***