Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Alaska Natives Embrace Drilling at Ground Zero for Climate Change Debate   Leave a comment

Barrow, Alaska

It’s a rather long article that deserves a read, so follow the link, but the synopsis is that most Alaska Natives favor oil and gas development … especially if it is done by an Alaska Native corporation.

For the record, I do too. Alaska cannot survive on tourism alone. We need real long-term year-round jobs and the gas and oil industry, particularly if Alaska based, can provide that. Alaskans deserve the opportunity to support ourselves that every other citizen on the United States has … or had before the environmental movement decided to save us from ourselves.

Posted September 1, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Energy

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Unintended Consequences of Renewable Energy?   Leave a comment

Unintended Consequences of Renewable Energy?.

The article and attached comments say it all.

Popular Madness   1 comment

Ouch! I went to the gas station on Saturday morning fully intending to drive out to our cabin site with a full tank of gas.

$3.98 a gallon! This is for regular unleaded in the second largest city in Alaska. Alaska! Where the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs just 10 miles from my house and the second-newest refinery in the nation (35 years old and counting) operates 15 miles from my house. Alaska, sitting on an ocean of oil. What the heck?!

You have probably had a similar experience. I hear Chicagoans are paying $4.36 a gallon. They deserve it more than I do.

What? Yeah. The main reason your gasoline prices and my gasoline prices are so stinking high can be found with a good look in the mirror in most American households. It’s not OPEC that’s screwing you. It’s you or your fellow Americans who support policies that block new drilling and the building of new refineries on American soil. You are the cause of high gasoline prices!

Tom Deweese of Canadian Free Press suggested that the real political parties in the United States are the NIMBYs (Not in My Back Yard) and the BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). These two political forces are driving the nation’s future by dictating the policy agendas of the Republicans and the Democrats. These are one variety of progressives who infest both major political parties and have far reaching effects.

I like to call these people collectively “the ostrich party”. They want towns to remain small, but they want homes of their own and jobs to support them. They want to build those homes in rural areas with beautiful vistas and clean air, but complain when someone else gets the same idea. They complain that a neighbor’s new home has blocked their view, never considering that their home blocked someone else’s open space. They want to be able to use their cell phones and computers wherever they go, but they support programs that lock away land to keep wilderness pristine, free of human development, power lines and, uh, cell towers.

There is something entirely ironic about a nation of three-car-garage homes that opposes filling stations, refineries and power plants. Our lovely, clean, well-ordered American landscape has no place for industry to make the things we need, but then we expect our policymakers to make those things work at a reasonable price.

This is the result of at least three decades of implementing the radical agendas of special interests like the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy – rich powerful groups that have spent billions to push their policy of no growth, which they brand as Sustainable Development, through Congress and into our local communities. The news media and corporate commercials constantly barrage us with the “go green” message to indoctrinate the nation into a collective guilt complex because we need to use energy and grow food to eat.

Banning the building of things that have been termed “not green” sounds noble. Americans pack public meetings to express our outrage over plans to build a power plant in our community. If, as recently happened in Fairbanks, the public demands were to have one of those smelly polluting coal plants built to relieve our 27 per kilowatt hour electric bills, the local newspaper is deluged with comments from people who live elsewhere demanding to know why we’re so stupid. Don’t we know that breathing coal fumes will give a small percentage of the population asthma and possibly acserbate the COPD of elderly smokers in 30 years?

Don’t you know that cold will kill us this winter if we can’t afford to keep the power on? But what about the view of Denali (Mt. McKinley to the Outsiders)? We’ll destroy the view of that precious peak by wreathing it in pollution. I can live with smack-awesome winter sunsets to keep my modestly-sized home warm.

Modern American society is properly indignant with no responsibility for the consequences. We restricted our access to energy and our ability to process it into a useable form to the point where the cost of heating and cooling our homes, driving our cars, and flying our planes is spinning out of control.

Eighty-eight percent of the energy for America’s transportation, industry, government, and residential needs comes from oil, gas and coal. The nation shuts down without them! Except for a handful of House members, there is no drive in Congress to ease regulations to allow for domestic production and the Executive branch insists the only solution is the stop using energy … be “sustainable”.

Is freezing to death sustainable?

It then pretends to address the energy shortage with massive grants for “alternative energy,” like wind mills and solar cells. We have to get off our dependency on foreign oil, Barack Obama insists, as these alternative energy sources supply only about 1% of our energy needs with no signs of immediate improvement despite massive “investment”.

Just suggest to a green that the solution to reducing our dependency on foreign oil and lowering costs at the pump might be a few more oil wells on American soil and watch their blood pressure soar. Veins will start popping in their foreheads! Congress and federal agencies have banned oil activity on more than 300 million acres of onshore federal land and 460 million acres of offshore territory. The United States may well have the largest oil reserves in the world, but 67% of oil reserves and 40% of natural gas reserves are locked away on federal lands in the western states because environmentalists fear that drilling will damage ecosystems.

Such green scare-mongering is little more than bedtime terror stories told to frighten children. Technology allows for safe drilling, even in Alaska’s tundra wasteland of ANWR and the shallow Chukchi Sea.

Oh, but we don’t want oil wells in our back yards! Really? Are you that stupid? Maybe it comes from living through -50 (that’s below zero) every winter, but I’d be fine with seeing an oil wellhead pump on my way to work every day if it meant it didn’t cost me $7000 a winter to heat my home.

But access to the oil in the ground is just a small part of the problem. The spoiled brats packing the public meetings have created a much greater crisis than that.

Fracking Paranoia   2 comments

Hydraulic fracturing has been around for more than 60 years. Despite that length of time, fracking has received much negative attention due to misreporting and dramatic exaggerations. Much of the public’s concern over hydraulic fracturing has been over the possibility of contaminated drinking water, the chemicals used in fracking, the potential to create earthquakes, and waste-water management. Such concerns do not take into account the federal and state laws and regulations that address these very issues. So, let’s look at the myths and the facts.

Myth #1: Hydraulic fracturing threatens underground water sources and has led to the contamination of drinking water.

FACT: Hydraulic fracturing is subject to both federal and state regulations. There have been NO instances of fracking causing contamination of drinking water.

Groundwater aquifers sit thousands of feet above the level at which fracking takes place, and companies construct wells with steel-surface casings and cement barriers to prevent gas migration. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Groundwater Protection Council, and independent agencies have found no evidence of groundwater contamination. In May 2011, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself affected water although there are investigations ongoing.” Three of those investigations are in Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, and thus far the EPA has found no evidence of contamination.

Although previous EPA analysis of hydraulic fracturing found the process to be safe, the EPA has announced plans to publish a full study that demonstrates a lack of safety. The non-profit technology research and development organization Battell analyzed the EPA’s “Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources” and highlighted concerns, including cherry-picked data, lack of peer review, poor quality control, and a lack of transparency.  Wow, I’m so surprised that the EPA is involved in this. Aren’t you?

Myth #2: The chemicals used in the fracking process are foreign chemicals that industry hides from the public.

FACT: Fracking fluid, which is primarily sand and water, uses a small percentage of chemicasl that have common household applications and are regulated by the states and federal government.

The fluid used in hydraulic fracturing is 99.5 percent water and sand. The 0.5 percent of additives (typically between three and 12 different chemicals) depends on the composition of the shale formation that varies by region and by well. The combination of additives function to dissolve minerals, prevent bacteria growth and pipe corrosion, minimize friction, and keep the fractures open or propped up. All chemicals used in the fracking process have common applications from swimming-pool cleaners and laundry detergents to cosmetics, and even ice cream (that one is polypropolene glycol which is also used as an anti-freeze agent in home heating distribution pipes). None of these chemicals is hidden from the public, and federal law stipulates that a company must provide detailed chemical information sheets (MSDS) to emergency personnel in case of an accident. While states that have hydraulic fracturing laws have their own stipulations for chemical disclosure, the U.S. Department of Energy, in collaboration with the Groundwater Protection Council and industry, created the website  The site provides a full list of chemicals used in the fracking process and companies voluntarily disclose the chemical makeup for specific wells across the country. FracFocus allows users to search wells by operator, state, and county.

Myth #3: Waste-water from hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and unregulated.

FACT: Companies mostly recycle the “waste” from hydraulic fracturing, but they also dispose of waste-water using many different methods, all of which are compliant with existing federal and state laws.

Companies typically use around 4 million gallons of water to fracture a well. That’s about what a golf course in Texas uses in a week. I’m not saying the Texas golf courses aren’t wasting water. It’s just a comparison, since millions of gallons is hard to envision. Fracking companies use water from lakes, rivers, or municipal supplies. Much of that water remains in the ground; about 15-20% of the water returns to the surface by flowing back through the well head. The flowback water contains the chemicals used in the fracking process and can also collect other naturally harmful substances in the ground. This water is never used for drinking and the disposal is subject to federal and state regulations. States have different regulations for disposal, and companies employ a variety of methods including temporary storage of waste-water in steel tanks or contained pits. More companies are recycling or reusing the flowback water because it makes both economic and environmental sense. Other disposal methods include storing waste-water underground in injection wells that states regulate individually, and the EPA regulates under the Safe Water Drinking Act. The demand for waste-water disposal and recycling is creating opportunities for new companies with emerging technologies to treat waste-water.

There have been concerns that treating waste-water at sewage treatment plants that discharge into rivers supplying drinking water would contaminate drinking water with radioactive material. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection found levels of radioactivity well within federal and state standards. Norm Zellers, manager of the Sunbury Generation treatment facility in Synder County, Pennsylvania, emphasized that “[y]ou can have more radioactivity on a bunch of bananas in the store or on a granite countertop.” Waste-water management is another aspect of the fracking process that has been well regulated by existing federal and state laws, and the increased demand for waste-water treatment has driven the process to be cleaner and cheaper.

Myth #4: Fracking causes earthquakes.

FACT: The fracking process itself does not cause earthquakes. In rare instances, the use of underground injection wells has caused tremors. Induced seismic activity from underground energy activities is not a new phenomenon and has been closely monitored by the Department of Energy.

After a series of small earthquakes that range from 2.1 to 4.0 on the Richter scale in Ohio and Arkansas near oil and gas sites, many have raised concerns about future tremors resulting from hydraulic fracturing, but the fracking process itself did not cause these earthquakes. The use of injection wells, an efficient and cost-effective way to dispose of briny waste-water, produced the seismic activity. Instances of seismic activity are rare; out of 30,000 injection wells, there have only been eight events of induced seismic activity—none of which caused significant property damage or injury. Fairbanks Alaska experiences between 50-100 earthquakes a WEEK in that range. Most of us hardly notice a quake of less than Magnitude 4. Induced seismicity does not occur only from oil and gas extraction. A recent National Research Council study highlights the fact that geothermal activities (capturing and using heat stored in the earth’s core) have caused relatively small earthquakes (some felt, some not) at more frequent rates from far fewer projects. The study also warns that continuously injecting carbon dioxide at high pressures (carbon capture and sequestration from coal plants) could induce earthquakes of higher magnitudes.

Seismic activity as a result of underground activity is also not a new phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Energy has been observing and monitoring induced seismic activity from energy-related activities since the 1930s. While companies that induce seismic activity should be liable for any damage they cause, calls for bans of hydraulic fracturing or the use of underground injection wells are unfounded.

So, despite the paranoia in some sectors of the population concerning hydraulic fracturing, there is really no more risk associated with the process than there is with any other resource-extraction process.



Fracking Jobs   Leave a comment

Natural gas is already a critical part of America’s energy portfolio and consequently a critical part of the country’s economic growth. It provides over 25% of electricity generation, but it also provides feedstock for fertilizers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, waste treatment, and food processing. It is the largest energy source for home heating and fuels industrial boilers.  The abundance of shale gas brings the possibility of low, stable prices. North America has approximately 4.2 quadrillion (4,244 trillion) cubic feet of recoverable natural gas that would supply 175 years worth of natural gas at current consumption rates. Further, the National Petroleum Council estimates that fracking will allow 60-80% of all traditionally-drilled wells during the next 10 years to remain viable.

The abundance of natural gas makes the United States an attractive place to do business for energy-intensive industries. Royal Dutch Shell recently announced plans to build a petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania, cited the proximity to natural gas production as the reason for the location. The $2 billion plant will create 10,000 construction jobs and thousands of permanent jobs for Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Shuttered steel towns like Youngstown, Ohio (where pipe and tube producer, V&M Star, is building a factory to manufacture seamless piples for hydraulic fracturing), are seeing a re-emergence of manufacturing employment opportunities. That one factory will employ 350 people.

I have a special interest in North Dakota because my mom is from there and I still have distant relatives living there. The average worker in the oil and gas sector in the Bakkan oil and gas fields earns more than $90,000 a year — a sum so large that it’s pushed up incomes in non-oil sectors. The overwhelming majority of these oil jobs require a high school degree or less. The oil and gas workforce in North Dakota has increased from 5,000 in 2005 to more than 30,000 today.  North Dakota recently approved a budget that increased 12% over the previous two-year cycle.

So what’s the problem? Is there really one?

Why Fear Fracking?   Leave a comment

While Americans continue to be disappointed by dismal jobs reports and a high unemployment rate, one of the few bright spots in the U.S. economy has been energy production, particularly the shale oil and shale gas revolution. It is estimated consumers saved about $100 billion from the reduction of natural gas prices due to shale gas production in 2010 alone. The technological one-two punch of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has created a remarkable energy boom resulting in hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. The possibility of continuously low natural gas prices is turning the United States into a prime destination for chemical companies and other businesses that rely on abundant amounts of natural gas. While the energy development has been substantially positive, the process of hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny over concerns about contamination of drinking water, the use of chemicals, wastewater management, and the potential for causing earthquakes.

Let me preface this discussion with an acknowledgement. I am not a petroleum engineer. What I present here is from literature. However, I did ask a petroleum engineer if I was basically correct. Go figure that an Alaskan would know a petroleum engineer or a dozen.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking”, is a process whereby producers inject a fluid consisting of water, sand, and chemical additives deep into the ground in order to free resources, including oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, and even water trapped in deep rock formations. With respect to shale gas (natural gas lodged in shale rock formations), producers drill wells that are on average 7,500 feet below the surface. Drinking water aquifers are typically are less than 3000 feet below the surface. After a company completes the well drilling, it then “fracks” the rock formation at high pressures that extend for several hundred feet away from the gas well. This process takes between three and five days, at which point the well will produce natural gas for 20 years to 50 years, or longer. After the drilling, the company also restores the land with soil and new vegetation, leaving only the wellhead and collection tanks. Some of the fracking fluid rises to the surface through steel-cased well bores and is temporarily stored in lined pits or steel tanks. Companies then recycle and reuse the wastewater or store it in an injection well deep underground.

Used in over one million wells in the United States for more than 60 years, fracking has been successfully used to retrieve more than 7 billion barrels of oil and over 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Just one trillion cubic feet of natural gas is enough to heat 15 million homes for one year. The development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has increased access to proven reserves for oil and natural gas in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming.

Although geologists and energy companies have long been aware of the shale oil and shale gas reserves, the technological advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are helping some regions of the country extract those resources and buck the economic downturn. In North Dakota, 4,600 wells produced 7.5 million barrels of crude oil in December 2009. In January 2012, North Dakota had 6,600 wells pumping out 16.9 million barrels of oil. In Pennsylvania, natural gas production more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2011. The oil and gas boom has created work for geologists, engineers, rig workers, truck drivers, and pipe welders. That also means a higher demand for restaurants, repair shops, hardware stores, hotels, and laundromats in those areas. Energy production could be a catalyst of economic revitalization across the country, and the fracking process will be essential for the development of America’s future oil and gas production.

Blowing in the Wind   Leave a comment

Much of the justification for subsidies, tax credits, and mandates for increasing wind energy production in the U.S. is that it will create jobs and help cool our planet’s fever. Given that Interior Alaska just set a record for the longest period of time between 50 degree days, I doubt the planet has a fever, but let’s just follow that rationale for a moment.

Subsidized green jobs destroy other jobs in the economy, but it also turns out that increased wind power decreases carbon emissions much less than previously thought, and in some instances, could increase emissions.

First, wind power displaces power from natural gas more than it does coal, and coal combustion emits almost double the carbon emissions that natural gas does.

Second, the intermittency of wind forces coal and gas-fired plants to operate inefficiently and actually increase emissions. Coal plants run most efficiently when continuously running, so the ramping up and down of conventional coal plants to make up for intermittent wind pumps out more carbon dioxide.

This has proven to be the case in Colorado and Texas, two states that have adopted a renewable portfolio standard, which mandates that wind be included in the state’s electricity supply. The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States looked at the power plant records from these two states and found:

Coal-fired power plants are designed to run most efficiently at stable rates and are not well-suited to accommodate the load variability imposed by the integration with wind generation. Cycling causes coal-fired power plants to operate less efficiently, and reduces the effectiveness of their environmental control equipment, which together drive up emissions. Paradoxically, using wind energy in such a way that it forces utilities to cycle their coal generation often results in greater SO2, NOX and CO2 emissions than would have occurred if less wind energy were generated and coal generation was not cycled.

The study also found that in Texas, the use of wind saved only 600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2008 and found an increase of CO2 by 1,000 tons in 2009.

How much environmental benefit are we really getting? Let’s pretend wind power will reduce emissions as much as the government says it will. A renewable electricity standard (RES) mandating that 25% of our energy be generated from renewables would reduce emissions by only 4.9% by 2030. To put this in perspective, President Obama and Congress’s target is to reduce carbon 80% by 2050.

Are your teeth grinding yet? According to climatologist Chip Knappenberger an 80% reduction would moderate temperatures by only hundredths of a degree in 2050 and no more than two-tenths of a degree at the end of the century. These temperature reductions are almost too small to measure. How much temperature moderation do you think a 5% reduction in CO2 will produce?

None of this would matter if wind energy could compete without mandates and subsidies and provide consumers with cheap electricity. Higher electricity prices have rippling effects throughout the economy. More expensive electric bills force businesses to make production cuts and reduce labor.

A Heritage Foundation study found that if Congress implemented a 22.5% RES by 2025, household electricity prices would jump 36% and industry prices by 60% by 2035. There would be 1 million fewer people working on average with the RES in effect than if there were no RES. As the mandated level of renewable use rises over time, so do the economic losses. It is estimated GDP lost from these impacts will total $5.2 TRILLION by 2035.

If wind can compete absent subsidies, mandates, or tax credits, then Americans will benefit from a more robust, competitive energy market. To suggest that windmills are the answer to our economic and alleged climate problems is nothing but blowing smoke to the American people.

Simplifying Nuclear   Leave a comment

I am certainly no expert in nuclear power generation. Alaska has no (acknowledged) nuclear plants. I say “acknowledged” because it is an open secret that the military base at Eielson has or had a mothballed nuclear plant that never contained fuel and the military has long kept secrets that the public has a right to know.

I don’t’ fear nuclear energy. I was scheduled to travel with a student group to Washington DC when the Three Mile Island incident occurred. The school asked parents to waive any liability should harm come to us. I had just turned 18, so I got to waive my own liability and I did so with very little trepidation after talking to my parents and investigating the risks as well as I could in those pre-Internet days. I wasn’t raised to fear things.

As nuclear power generation has become established, the size of reactor units has grown from 60 MWe to more than 1600 MWe. This has reduced people’s electric bills through economies of scale. What many people do not realize is that most nuclear power reactors are smaller and found mostly on naval vessels (nuclear submarines and ships).

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are gaining attention as an inexpensive, “green” energy for electrical grids under 4 GWe. Partly due to the high capital costs of large power reactors generating electricity through using nuclear energy to heat water into stream and partly due to the need to service small electric grids, there is a move to develop smaller units that can be built independently or as modules in a larger complex where capacity can be added incrementally as needed. There is also interest in developing small units for remote sites as they are seen as a much more manageable investment than the huge plants.

One reason there are no nuclear plants in Alaska is that we don’t have the population to provide economies of scale for a larger plant. The capital investment is simply too great to recoup the costs in a reasonable amount of time. Moreover, Alaska is a seismically active region, so that large plants pose a risk of failure that some people consider to be unacceptable. However, with our long frigid winters, low-cost energy that doesn’t contribute to air pollution is attractive. A small, self-contained nuclear module could power the entire state if placed appropriately.

Three main options are being pursued: light water reactors, fast neutron reactors and also graphite-moderated high temperature reactors. The first has the lowest technological risk, but the second (FNR) can be smaller, simpler and with longer operation before refueling.

A 2009 assessment by the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA) concluded that there could be 50 to 100 small modular reactors (SMRs) in operation around the world by 2030. None of them would be in the United States, however. A 2011 report by the US Department of Energy says development of small reactors could be an opportunity for the United States to recapture a slice of the nuclear technology market that we’ve allowed to erode over the last several decades, but no US factory has advanced beyond the planning stages of this. Small reactors could significantly reduce the financial risk associated with full-scale plants, allowing nuclear energy to become competitive with coal and natural gas for power generation.

A businessman here in Fairbanks, Alaska actually looked at a very small fast reactor of under 50 MWe. While still under development by Hitachi, he was interested in being the site of a prototype that was conceived for small grids. These sort of reactors are considered “plug and play” and inherently safe because they require no refueling or service for a 10-year life expectancy. There are four such units already operating in Siberia, producing steam for district heat and 11 MWe electricity each. They have performed well since 1976, much more cheaply than fossil fuel. The Department of Energy said they’d get back to him. I asked him a while ago if they’d ever done that. It’s been three years and … yeah.

American energy engineering firms in conjunction with the Department of Energy are developing prototypes that are designed to be factory-built and shipped to site on a truck, train or barge, then shipped back to a regional refueling center at the end of life. They would mostly be installed below ground level and with a high surface area to volume ratio so they have good passive cooling potential. Disposal is envisaged as entire units, without separate spent fuel storage.

So, why is the United States thinking about building and exporting such units, but not putting any into service here? Why are these units good enough for foreign countries, but not something we want in the United States?

Do I hear crickets?

I think those are crickets. It’s what I hear every time anyone asks the question — Why wouldn’t we want a clean, low-cost, efficient energy source. Yes, there are risks to nuclear energy, but there are risks to coal and natural gas as well. Any steam-cycle plant can blow up and devastate the area around it, but the public doesn’t get all lathered over a coal-fired steam-cycle plant’s explosive potential. We complain about the air quality instead. But the true risk of both plants is the same — that the steam will devastate the surrounding area. Nuclear is really no more dangerous in a practical sense than any other power source. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukashima — these past nuclear “disasters” have gotten far more hype than they deserve. One has to ask “Why?” What do we have against low-cost, high-efficiency, low-emission electricity?

Crickets! I hear crickets!

Wasting Nuclear Energy Potential   Leave a comment

 There are environmental impacts to every form of electrical generation. Environmentalists tend to think that nuclear energy is completely devastating. We’ve all seen photos of Three Mile Island with steam issuing from its cooling tower. There ought to be a lot of two-headed babies born in Pennsylvania. There aren’t because there was almost no radiation released from the Three Mile Island accident.

Cooling towers are extremely evocative, but they hold no radioactive materials. Ventilation exhaust from buildings containing radioactive processes are monitored and routed through filters before release. Nuclear plants use diesel generators (sometimes natural gas) for emergency electrical power. In the event of the nuclear reactor shutting down – in case of an earthquake, for example, the back-up generators are there to maintain the cooling system and to restart the reactor when the time comes.

Deprived of a Godzilla-producing event that will permanently catalyze the public against nuclear energy, environmentalists must focus on disposal of spent fuel rods. It’s not sexy, but it is what it is. Nuclear plants are not allowed to hold spent fuel rods on-site for an indefinite period, but we really have no geologic repository to send them to. The public wants a repository, but not in their own backyard. What to do? Well, if you’re the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, you dodge the dilemma.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted last year to dispose of all pending matters in the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository plan without approving or disapproving the Department of Energy’s application to construct and operate the facility. While this obviously avoids a solution to nuclear-waste disposal, the vote also damages the prospects for nuclear energy expansion. Under current practice, the NRC can license new reactors only if it expresses confidence that the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the reactors will be disposed at an off-site facility. This requirement is referred to as the “waste confidence” rule.

Recognizing the link between new construction and waste disposal, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, persuaded the NRC to revise the waste confidence rule to reflect an assumption that no waste repository will be built in the foreseeable future. This revision undermines the original purpose of the rule, which was to assure the public that nuclear waste would not remain at nuclear reactor sites indefinitely, calling into question the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act that mandated the completion of the Yucca Mountain project and providing the anti-nuclear movement with an opportunity to slow the expansion of nuclear energy through litigation. This weakens investor and public confidence in nuclear power and undermines incentives for government and industry to develop long-term waste-disposal solutions.

The regulatory state in all its glory. You can’t build a plant if you can’t dispose of the waste and there’s no place to dispose of the waste, so you can’t build a plant.

The problem is currently in the courts, but the proposed plants that applied for licensing since 2007 cannot be built until the issue is resolved.

Congress can provide significant clarity by setting up some sane regulatory structure and monitoring the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to assure that the procedures are being followed.

The United States has struggled for decades to implement a predictable and rational nuclear waste management policy. The difficulties are the result of poor policy choices, not of technological or economic obstacles. This government-created problem has led to unnecessary impediments to the expansion of clean and safe nuclear energy. Fixing this problem should begin with Congress demanding that America’s governmental bodies follow the law.

Why Do We Fear Nuclear Power?   2 comments

The US nuclear power industry currently generates about 20% of the nation’s electricity, but it faces an uncertain long-term future. No nuclear plants have been ordered since 1978 and more than 100 reactors have been canceled, including all ordered after 1973. No units are currently under construction. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 1 reactors, ordered in 1970, were licensed to operate in 1996 and are the most recent US nuclear unit to be completed. High plant construction costs, public hysteria about nuclear safety and waste disposal, extremely complicated regulatory compliance procedures, and environmental lawsuits are just some of the challenges that face the American nuclear industry.

Construction costs of reactors completed since the mid-1980s range from $2-6 BILLION, averaging $3,000 per kilowatt of electricity-generating capacity. Plants have mostly been custom-built. The industry predicts new plants could be built for half that if identical plants were built in series, but they haven’t been. A 1,000-mega-watt reactor operating at 90% capacity could generate 7.9 billion kilowatts in a year. That’s enough to supply electricity for 690,000 households. Generating that much electricity with oil would take 13.7 million barrels; coal 3.4 million short tons; natural gas 65.8 billion cubic feet.

There are 104 licensed reactors at 65 plant sites in 31 states. Electricity production from US nuclear plants is greater than that from oil, natural gas, and hydroelectric, and behind only coals, which accounts for more than half of the US electricity generation. Nuclear plants generate more than half the electricity in six states, without emitting carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. Like coal, oil and natural gas plants, nuclear plants produce electricity by boiling water into steam, which turns turbines to produce electricity. Nuclear plants use uranium fuel pellets contained in rods cooled by water.

The industry’s safety performance has been extraordinarily good, resulting from high standards of reactor operations, robust plant designs, government oversight, and extensive workforce training. Radiation is easily detected and managed. American electric companies take extensive measures to prevent release of radiation from nuclear energy facilities. The US nuclear energy industry is applying the lessons learned from Fukushima to enhance safety and emergency preparedness at American’s reactors. Nuclear plant design and construction ensure the plants can withstand powerful earthquakes and other extreme natural events like tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods. Sensitive monitoring instruments at each nuclear facility detect earthquakes, so operators can shut down a plant if ground motion exceeds a specific level, well below the maximum the facility is designed to withstand. Following such a shutdown, owners must perform extensive inspections to evaluation the impact of the earthquake and the condition of safety systems and equipment. NRC approval is required by operators can restart the reactor. When a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake on the East Coast in 2011 shut down the North Anna reactor in Virginia, the NRC took 80 days to restart the plant and after 110,hours of inspections and analysis concluded that “safety system functions were maintained” and “reviews of the plant equipment, systems and structures did not reveal significant damage.”

It is important to recognize that the Tohotu earthquake and tsunami killed an estimated 20,000 people. The human tragedy of that should not be downplayed. However, contrary to popular hysteria, radiation from Fukushima has not resulted in any fatalities. Not even repair workers have died from radiation exposure, though some involved in the plant clean up did die from other conditions. Members of the Health Physics Society, drawn from academia and medicine, studied the event extensively and said the radiation doses from Fukushima were too small to have a significant health effect. In early 2013, the World Health Organization concluded that there were no observable increases in cancer rates in the general population. Of course, it’s early days yet, so let’s look at other disasters.

Three Mile Island had a similar outcome. Twenty years after the accident, there were no deaths or increased cancer risks associated with radiation in the surrounding area or among plant personnel.

Chernobyl, which stupidly lacked a containment dome, had fatalities, but the long-term health effects of those living in the nearby region have proven minimal.

So, what are we afraid of? That is NOT a rhetorical question. What are you afraid of when it comes to nuclear energy?

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Steven Smith

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The Peaceful Revolution Liberate Main Street

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